Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Necessity of a Glorious Church Part 3

I feel I need to clarify a few things before I continue on in my argument. First is that most of what I am writing, I have been thinking through for quite some time, but that doesn’t not necessarily mean that I have the entire argument or picture in view at any one point. There is probably much that I intend to say that I’m not, and much that I don’t intent that can easily be read into what I’m saying.

Second, I tend to talk largely in absolutes. Whether that is a bad thing is up to you, but I tend to be slightly more open-minded than I probably come across.

So I start this post official with a bit of a story. As I stood in New Life Church one Sunday morning earlier this semester, I was struck with a picture in my head. I can’t remember if it was during worship or during the sermon, but I do know that it was more vivid than most of the random things that pop into my head. Some might say it was a vision, and others might think that is weird, so to keep it user friendly, I’ll call it a simple mental image.

The picture was that of evangelism. There were two people, the evangelist and the one being evangelized to. The scene was dark, as if the two men were suspended in a void, yet the men were perfectly visible. The evangelist obviously knew all the right words to say, I could literally see them coming out of his mouth, as if a ticker tape with the words was being sent through the air to the other man. The argument was the equivalent of what you’d see on a tract or the bridge diagram. Jesus loves you, died for you, all the Christian jargon.

The problem was that there was some sort of fog between the two people. As the words entered the fog, I could see the mist laying hold of the words, almost like a man trying to make his way through a dense jungle without a machete. Only a few words actually made it out of the fog, enough for the second man to grab onto a few of them, like Jesus and salvation, and a few other broken words. Enough for the man to understand the basic message, but not quite enough to move past the confusion of the fog.

Then the scene rest, the two men and the fog were still present. This time, the evangelist reached out his hand, as if to lay hands on the man to pray for him. Out of the darkness surrounding the men came flying in white arrows from all directions. The arrows lit up the second man, the fog dissipated, and the image ended.

I instantly knew what the whole picture meant. The first scenario was about the current model of evangelism that is dominant in most churches today; the intellectual approach. In it, we try to convince the world through logic that Jesus is lord and savior. We have all sorts of plausible arguments, logic puzzles, and snazzy diagrams explaining the cross, salvation, and love.

As I spoke about in the first post, the lack of a changed lifestyle for most Christians leaves little room to legitimize ourselves within the culture on a whole. We therefore rely upon emotional experience and consumerism to lend credibility to our own conversion experience.

I’d like to now argue that the necessity of the justification of our conversions by these means is contingent upon the means by which we were converted. Our logical approach to evangelism begets logical approaches to understand God.

The problem is, these logical approaches are lacking. We are left to spend years trying to piece together a picture of God by reading endless amounts of books, listening to countless sermons, and arguing about theology on facebook. This in turn creates an industry to support this endless search for God. We have Christian book publishers, Christian movies, and GodTube, our own little version of youtube.

So we get caught in this cycle caused by broken evangelism, trying to grab the missing words from the mist.

But I would like to propose that the gospel was never meant to make sense. It was never meant to be a logical assertion to be assented to. It was never meant to be preaches exclusively with words.

(This coming from a guy who spends most, if not all, of his time pondering, creating theories in his head, and trying to debunk arguments. I’ve spent the last two and a half years trying to create an understanding of God using logic. I bring this up only to say that what I am writing now is as much of a critique of my own life as it is of Christianity as a whole.)

As I spoke rather vaguely of in the last post, preaching the gospel of the kingdom and seeing the miraculous is intimately connected. Multiple times in Matthew, Jesus is said to be preaching the gospel, and healing every sickness and disease. Jesus even sends his disciples out to do the same in Mat 10.

In 1 Cor 2, Paul talks of his evangelism in Corinth. He says, “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

The word “power” is \doo'-nam-is\, which comes from the same root as our modern word dynamite.

Our gospel should be explosive.

Two chapters later, Paul is speaking about some arrogant men in the church and he says that when he returns to them, he won’t judge the men by what they are boasting about, but by the power that they demonstrate.

1 Cor 4:20 ‘For the kingdom of God does not consist of talk, but in power.”

Again to the Corinthians, though in his second letter, Paul talks about the glory of God. He speaks of Moses’ shining face after Moses descends from the mountain. Moses just had an encounter with the Lord, and now his face is literally glowing so brightly that the Israelites make him wear a vale over his face, as to hide themselves from the glory of the Lord.

Paul says, ”For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.” (2 Cor 3:9)

If there is glory in the Law, then how much more glory should there be on display from the believers in the new covenant?

2 Cor 3:10 “Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.”

Have you ever look directly at a flashlight in the dark? It is blindingly bright.

Have you ever looked at a flashlight in broad daylight? You can hardly tell that it is on.

The glory manifested in our lives should be like the sun, compared to the flashlight of the Old Testament.

But what does that mean?

In the Old Testament, God’s glory was understood to be a physical manifestation. It filled the temple. The psalmist’s heart and fleshed ached to return to the weighty presence of the Lord.

And it is just that, a weighty presence. The Hebrew word for glory is the same word as heavy. It is a physical manifestation of weight.

The glory also manifested as a cloud and fire in the desert to lead Israel.

Have you ever lain in bed at night under a warm blanket heavy on your chest? There are few more comforting feelings than that. I imagine God’s weighty presence to be like that, only far, far, far superior.

In Isaiah, and other prophetic writings, the call is for the Lord’s weighty presence to fill the whole earth. For his glory to cover the lands as water covers the seas.

Paul proclaims that the glory of our time should make the glory in the Old Testament not only pale in comparison, but it shouldn’t even be in the same conversation. We shouldn’t be speaking of the great triumphs in the old days, as if God doesn’t intend to move even greater in our lifetime.

Jesus says in John 14 that we will do greater works than he ever did.

We are called to do greater works than Jesus.

The one who has all authority on heaven and on earth is calling us to do greater works than he ever did.

We are called to disciple nations.

To preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.

The gospel, that when preached causes lame people to stand and dead people to raise up, that when mentioned is surely to be followed by a miracle of some sort.

We are called to preach this gospel to all peoples. Not to logic them into heaven, but to bring heaven to them.

To bring heaven to earth.

To be a people of his glory, of his weighty presence.

A people with faces shining brighter than the sun because we’ve seen Jesus.

And there in lies the problem. How are we to tell others of a God we’ve never actually met, of a God we know only through diagrams and sermons?

How are we supposed to live in His glory?

I’m not entirely sure, but it is my most earnest prayer that we find out. That as you are reading this, God will send his glory upon you. That you will be struck with weighty presence.

And that we’ll be able to introduce the world to a God that we’ve met, face to face, as friends, as lovers.

May His glory cover the earth, as water covers the sea.

The Necessity of a Glorious Church Part 2

(Please read Part 1 to get the full effect)

I know what you are thinking now. I'm going to tell you to live a different life, to love your neighbor, and to do the right thing in all circumstances. I harped on the church in the last post for not looking different morally, for being just as likely to look at porn, to steal, to swear. The obvious remedy for this is to live a changed lifestyle.

But what kind of changed lifestyle?

Is it enough to simply love your neighbor?

Of course it is!

But the real question of this post is, "What does loving your neighbor mean?"

Before I dive into that question head on, I'd like to return to the idea of identity. When one is to examine how to identity oneself as a Christian, it seems a good idea to look at how Jesus identified himself.

Matthew 11:1-6 1When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" 4And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6And blessed is the one who is not offended by me."

John's disciples ask Jesus a very fundamental question. Essentially, "Are you the Messiah?" "Are you the one who is going to free Israel from Rome?" "Are you the one who is to reconcile us to God?"

"Who are you?"

But what does Jesus say in response? Look at my actions, not my words. It is easy to say I'm the Messiah, or a Christian, but it is tough to live it. We've all heard this before.

I believe that the real crux of the argument comes in what Jesus is doing next. He is doing miracles. He is reaching into heaven and pulling down the Father's glory. He is operating as any perfect human being should.

He is loving people into heaven in a completely different why than we do today. He is loving people into heaven by bringing heaven to them. He is praying for God's kingdom to come, and his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

What Jesus isn’t doing is solely using the world’s means to love people. He isn’t starting a gov’t-sanctioned fund to fight poverty. He isn’t getting people to trust more in Caesar’s saving ability (when Joey was in DC over break, he said it felt eerily like Rome). He isn’t preaching a feel good message.

He isn’t breaking down the path to heaven to salvation into a simple prayer, then ticking another off his list when they pray it.

He is bringing salvation to the people. I read once (more than likely in an NT Wright book, great man), that salvation in the 1st century had nothing to do with escaping to heaven. It had everything to do with Caesar coming in with his army and saving the people from evil. It was a here and now thing, not a dead and gone thing.

Jesus was bringing salvation here and now.

Salvation from sickness, from disease, from death, from all the woes of sin. He sets us free here and now.

And he told us to preach his message to the nations.

Matthew 4:23 “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”

There is an intimate connection between preaching the gospel of the kingdom and seeing the miraculous. When we preach the gospel of the kingdom, the physical presence of God comes on earth as it is in heaven. When we heal the sick, we are making God's will for all people manifest on earth as it is in heaven.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that in the middle of the bible’s most explicit discussion about spiritual gifts is the bible’s most explicit discussion about love. Read 1 Cor 12, 13, and 14. He gave us spiritual gifts, little pieces of heaven to steward, in order to love others. And he tells us not to be ashamed about this, but to pursue the higher gifts.

I believe God gave us a mission, to love the world into heaven. He gave us the means to do this, by bringing heaven to the world.

He gave us a prayer to pray, and he gave us gifts to use, and he gave us his spirit to guide us, and it is all for his glory, to renew this earth, to bring heaven here, now.

I once heard a pastor speak about the miraculous, in regards to the Christian identity. He said that our love must be better, different, more than the Lions Club and Rotary. He said that he loves what they are doing, but if the world can’t tell the difference between Rotary and Jesus, then there is a problem.

If we are not different than Rotary, then we are nothing. Paul says that if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then we have faith in nothing.

Col 2:11-12 “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Romans 8:11 “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

If Jesus wasn’t resurrected, that’s the ball game. We are just a church who does fund raisers and tries to convince a broken world that we have the answer.

But if we aren’t operating in the same power that Jesus did, that Peter and John and Paul did, that thousands throughout church history did, then how are we any different than Rotary?

Peter and John, maybe through lack of money, or maybe through a true understanding of the beggar’s needs, didn’t give him money. He gave him a piece of heaven.

Acts 3:6 “Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk."

Is Rotary the hope of the world, or is Jesus?

I’m on not trying to rip of Rotary. My beautiful fiancĂ©’s mom is a very active member of Rotary, and I wouldn’t dare try to belittle her work. Rotary is a great thing, but the church is meant to be greater. Rotary wasn’t called to be a light on a hill.

Indeed, if there is no difference between Rotary and the church, then we've missed the point. We don't hold a message that is good news. Its is just the message of the world, with a more exclusive membership.

If the church is not operating in the power of God, then we are missing the point.

Then we aren't the church.

We're just a group of elitists think we're something because we can repackage a message that the world already has. A message that says if we love people just enough, if we raise just enough money, then the world will be okay.

But Paul says to have faith in the power of God. I quoted a verse about, and there are more.

We are called to more. We are called to bring heaven to earth. It is a simple prayer, but it might just change this world.

Have faith in the power of God. Without it, we're just Rotary.

The Necessity of a Glorious Church

This is a excerpt from a paper I wrote for a film class last semester. I will post this for now, let it brew a bit, then expound a bit a little later when I have more time.

Hopefully the necessity of a miraculous church will make more sense in Part 2, but I felt the need to explain this first part of my argument before moving on, and how better to do it than with something I know I've already written well.

So read, respond, and if you are confused or intrigued, offended or outraged, let me know, and wait for the second post....

Hopefully the rest of the entries will be a bit shorter. I think it is worth the read though.

"The Passion of the Christ: A Cultural Phenomenon" excerpt

"It makes sense to use emotional impact as a measuring stick for the likelihood of a conversion, considering the reliance upon emotion as one of the sole factors in defining the conversion to the Christian faith. In the postmodern world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to define what exactly a conversion constitutes. A personal relationship is a rather subjective criterion by which to measure, so the reliance upon emotional experience to validate personal conviction is seemingly logical.

In the Bible, the book of Ephesians says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (2:8-9, NIV). If one hangs around any Evangelical long enough, one will surely hear these verses quoted, whether word for word, or more commonly as a catch phrase thrown about with other Christians. Their meaning is essentially this, it is a matter of the heart and a personal knowing as to whether or not one is “saved”, a matter of faith. It is not something you can earn by doing good works, but only receive as a gift from God.

The verse right after the ones quoted above states “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10a emphasis added). As the book of James puts it, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Something is lost in the distinction between doing works and earning salvation. The first point of view is based on doing good works in order to earn salvation. The second point of view is based on receiving salvation as a free gift, not based on works, yet because of the free gift, doing works to bless others (Romans 2:4b says, “God’s kindness leads you toward repentance”). The need to earn salvation was one of the many things that caused the split between the Catholic and Protestant churches. Catholics contended for the former point, Protestants the latter. It could be contended that in the Evangelical’s desire to move away from salvation based on works, they have lost too much in regards to works, enough that their faith, in some instances, has become nothing more a warm fuzzy feeling in the heart, with no outward expression.

As made evident by David Kinnaman in his book UnChristian, the distinction between born-again believers and the rest of the world is hardly noticeable. Kinnaman and the Barna Group, a market research company, have spent years doing market research through polling into matters concerning Christianity. Kinnaman defines born-again believers by the strictest terms in his research:

To be classified as a born-again Christian, a person has to say he or she has made a personal commitment to Jesus that is still important and that person believes he or she will go to heaven at death, because the person has confessed his or her sin and accepted Christ as Savior. (Kinnaman 46)

According to Kinnaman’s research, “the lifestyle activities of born-again Christians were statically equivalent to those of non-born agains.” Respondents were asked to comment on their activates over the last 30 days, and the results showed that born again believers were just are likely to gamble, bet, view pornography, steal, visit a medium or psychic, get in a fight or abuse somebody, be drunk, take illegal drugs, lie, take revenge, or talk behind someone’s back. They were also just as likely to have looked at online pornography, viewed sexually explicit magazines or movies, or to have had “an intimate sexual encounter outside of marriage” (Kinnaman 47). According to one study, 85 percent of respondents “personally know at least one committed Christian”, but only 15 percent of those respondents would label those Christians as “significantly different from the norm” (Kinnaman 48). Perhaps the most interesting bit of information from Kinnaman, in light of the above, is when asking Christians what “priorities [they] pursue in terms of their personal faith”, the largest number of responses was “being good, doing the right thing, not sinning” (Kinnaman 48-49).

So what do Christians turn to when, in trying to be “in the world, but not of the world” (Smith 48), they can’t distinguish themselves from the world and they can’t live up to the criterion that they set for themselves? To a certain extent, because their Christian identity is subjective, based upon their heart and not necessarily any outward expression, some Christians begin to lack means by which to distinguish their lives from the lives of the world. As stated earlier, one way to resolve this conflict is to rely upon emotion and personal conviction, but as these are inner states and not outer expressions. When they are indistinguishable from the world, it becomes very difficult for Evangelicals to evangelize.

Perhaps the most American way to resolve this problem is by buying things. By wearing a cross around your neck, wearing a t-shirt that says “Jesus Saves”, or plastering your bumper with catchy stickers, you can mark yourself out as Christian. Merchandise becomes a material representation of what happened in the heart. Buying Christian trinkets is easier than living a changed life style, and convincing others to do the same lends validity to one’s own shortcomings. An entire Christian culture is able to define it self based upon how much Christian merchandise it can own and display, as evidenced by the estimated $4.2 billion Christian retail market in 2004 (Patsuris).

Which explains why Evangelicals were so quick endorse the film, to buy the outreach tools, to invite all their neighbors, to hang banners up around their place of worship, as well as turning out in droves to see the film in theaters and to buy the DVD. The Passion was a form of worship for some, but for others, it was a reassurance of their reason to worship.

As one can see, when critics attacked The Passion, they weren’t just attacking the film, nor were they simply attacking the Evangelicals’ faith, they were attacking Evangelicals’ form of social legitimacy. In the Evangelicals’ battle against the secular world, the battle is based upon their chameleon like abilities to look like the world but not be the world. By criticizing the outlet of their outreach, critics are coming against everything that Evangelicals stand for. To some Evangelicals, The Passion was not just a film; it was a fulfillment of their deep-seated desire to reach the world through the world’s means."