Race, grace, and the work of the church

helping handsIn the midst of this Labor Day weekend, I was reminded of a piece I wrote for my church’s newsletter last year after a trip to St. Louis and thought I’d share it here.

Normally my Labor Day weekends are pretty non-eventful and I use the extra day to catch up on rest, reading or household projects. But this past Labor Day weekend busted that mold. I travelled to St. Louis, MO to attend the Leadership Development and Resource Weekend. LDR, as it’s commonly known, was started by a group of African-American students in conjunction with mentors at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN, a church of the PCA. The gathering has grown over the years into a multi-cultural representation of PCA members and friends to consider ways in which the church can address areas of disparities.

This year’s theme of the conference was Orthodox Activism: the Church in Pursuit of Social Justice. Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, crafter of the resolution on civil rights that was presented at the 43rd General Assembly,  gave the first plenary address and what rousing presentation. Dr. Lucas examined the doctrine of the spirituality of the church as cited in our WCF 31.5 calling for the church, “not to meddle with civil affairs . . .  unless by way of humble petition, in cases extraordinary.” Throughout the history of American Presbyterianism, the doctrine of spirituality had been used selectively as the basis for uninvolvment in matters of social affairs, most notably civil rights. However, Dr. Lucas pointed out that the doctrine had been inconsistently applied and exhorted the hearers to consider ways in which the church should rightfully engage in matters of social justice for the cause of the gospel.

The weekend drew to a close with an apropos visit to one of St. Louis’ oldest Presbyterian churches that had great significance for the work of the church. Memorial Presbyterian Church, as it is now named, was established in 1868 as a gospel experiment that began a few years prior, in 1864. While the Civil War was headed to a close, some Confederate and Union soldiers wanted to test the biblical call for unification of the body of Christ comprised of radically diverse people without any preference to race or political sympathies. Imagine that! At a time when a war was fought in large part over the outcome of it’s black citizens, most of whom did not even share equal citizenship, racial and political lines were set aside for the sake of the gospel. Continue reading

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On racial tension, convictions and hope in the Christian community

white_black kidsI’ll state up front that this is a reflection piece based on observations, conversations, on-line interaction and ruminations. It is a way for me to process the events and responses to events that keep swirling around in my head in the interest of being fair but also empathetic with concerns of injustice where it exists.

With yet more instances of police shooting of unarmed Black men, the lament and visceral reactions are understandable. And the more I consider the evidence of these isolated and tragic incidences, the more I ask what this is really about. The quick answer is racism, the devaluing and hatred of Black lives. Of course that is what the Black Lives Matter advocates will have us believe and nothing else.

And really, who can blame this response? Considering the lengthy trail of historical injustices against Blacks in this country, it makes sense to me that each incident is like a fresh reminder that all men [and women] have not been treated equal. In fact, I think its safe to say that reminders of sins past fuel fans on the fire of present grievances and contribute greatly to how these instances are viewed. For each police incident causes a sort of PTSD and demonstrates the toll of years, no make that centuries, of image bearing transgressions and the stain they left on too many souls.

The fear, though exaggerated, is completely normal under such circumstances. In fact, I think it’s to be expected and why empathy is so critical. When brothers and sisters see black bodies die at the hand of police, it is reasonable to hear the hyperbole of not wanting to leave the house, fearing for life, concern for fathers and sons and wondering if a routine traffic stop could end in death. Don’t be so quick to judge, correct or dismiss. There is pain involved. Continue reading

Why church matters matter . . . Revelation and deception

seekersI’ve been working on a post on Rev. 13:16-18 and in doing some commentary diving, was struck by Greg Beale’s commentary on Rev. 13:11.  The passage of Rev. 13:11-14 sets the backdrop of my next post and Beale’s poignant assessment of what this passage is saying;

And I saw another beast coming out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon. And he exercies all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. And he performs great signs, so that even he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast who, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life.

As I indicated in my post on reading Revelation, it helps if we understand Revelation to be a series of visions that describe the goings  on of what happens between the first and second Advent of Christ, these visions describe the reality of what occurs during that period particularly in relation to the opposition that comes against Christ’s church. In other words, it doesn’t help to see these visions transpire after the church is taken out of the way via a Rapture and isolated to a 7 year period, but rather describes happens from the tine of Christ’s ascencion until his return. As evidenced by the presence of the church, very much describes the onslaught of deception that eventually pits the mainstream culture against Christianity. (It also helps to see chapter 13 as a reflection of a larger series of visions beginning at 12:1). By way of observation in our culture, I have much to say about this, which I’ll get to in a bit, but I found this section from Beale compelling and sobering. Continue reading

On being called into ministry

This is a slightly edited version of a post I did for Parchment and Pen in 2011. These are some thoughts I spent some years in working out on the question of what it means to be be called into ministry. 

pupit w bibleOne of the essays in my application to Dallas Theological Seminary required that I respond to the question of how I knew I was called into ministry.  While I understood that question to be more related to affirming events that led me to apply to seminary, I find that the idea of being called into ministry has not only been a popular catch phrase but also bears some examination.  I say this because I believe the call to ministry has been designated as a special call to select individuals based on God’s selection for specific ministry roles.  I do believe that has some merit as I indicate below, but I think it might be different than what is commonly thought of as a call.

First, I think the ‘call to ministry’ as designated for select individuals is misleading.  All Christians are called into ministry because all Christians have spiritual gifts that are to be employed for service to the body of Christ (1 Peter 4:10).  That doesn’t require some specified direction but a working out of those gifts as we grow in our Christian walk and seek to serve the body.  1 Corinthians 12:12-24 identifies that everyone has a part to play in the growth of the body (also supported Ephesians 4:16).  I don’t dismiss the fact that God may have specific roles or even specialized ministries that he directs us to (after all the local assembly does require pastors, elders and deacons), but it is more indicative of our progress in the faith and a capacity bear larger burdens for service.

Second, the New Testament witness to the concept of calling is predominantly related to the salvific call of election. God calls individuals into the body of Christ. It is within the service to the body that one works out there inclination. And there is much to be said for passion and desire.  I heard a popular preacher say once that if you want to know what you should be doing pay attention to what drives you and what bothers you when its off.  I don’t believe that should be equated with a critical, fault finding mission, but an inclination of things that God has placed within us.  This is a process and it doesn’t happen overnight. But in time, we will find ourselves inclined and passionate in certain areas of ministry that we will gravitate towards. This actually factored in quite a bit in my essay. Continue reading

The church that Christ built (and is building): a Pentecost reflection

pentecost doveI’ve had some swirling thoughts today that I wanted to spit out in reflection on Pentecost Sunday. If you’ve read my About page, you’ll know that I’ve gone through quite a theological transformation. My Christian life began with prosperity oriented, Word of Faith, Pentecostal based teaching. I read the Bible in a very fragmented fashion that led to all kinds of erroneous beliefs about Christian faith and practice. I then went through a dispensational/baptistic phase because I started reading the Bible in a more holistic manner and came to recognize the connectedness in Scripture. That evolved in a solidly Reformed position.

I couldn’t help but think of this trajectory as I listened to the sermon today on Acts 2:14-36. In my earlier Christian days, the focus of Acts 2 had been about the evidence of tongues as proof of the Holy Spirit’s work. It demonstrated the miraculous work of the Spirit that moved people to prove their Christian position through extraordinary events. In this view, the Spirit moved individuals to do whatever it is they believed God called them to do based on some existential, individualized perception.

Since 2006, I’ve come to see that Acts 2 is but a reflection of the Christ-oriented nature of Scripture and God’s redemptive plan for his creation. The baptism of the Spirit had less to do with extraordinary events but had everything to do with the testimony and proclamation of Jesus Christ and our empowerment to proclaim him. After all, in John 14-16, Jesus had promised the Spirit after he was no longer with the disciples. Specifically, he said;

But when the Helper comes whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me and you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)

A good trinitarian understanding will negate seeing the Holy Spirit as a rogue agent that propels us to focus on the Spirit’s work apart from the work of Christ. The Spirit’s role is to glorify Christ and point to him according to the Father’s good purpose that he has already revealed. So while it might seem plausible to focus on the the extraordinary works of the Spirit, the central character of Acts 2 is not the 3rd person of the the Trinity, but the 2nd person – Jesus the Christ. (Also, regenerating hearts to believe the gospel IS a miraculous event.) This is wholly demonstrated in Peter’s speech in our sermon passage today, vv. 14-36. Continue reading