Occasionally, I come across an article stating reasons to either choose a church or make a decision to leave a church. The recommendations typically look something like this. Don’t leave for selfish reasons. Find a church that honors Christ, teaches the Bible and takes fellowship seriously. All that is well and good.
Over at Core Christianity, I thought this was a good list on 4 questions to ask when looking for a church;
What does the church believe about Scripture?
What is the church’s confession of faith?
Is the church man-centered or God-centered?
Is Christ faithfully preached each week?
But one thing I’ve discovered in my varied church experience and many years of being a Christian is that it’s not always that simple. You can have those standard elements present but there still be a hole. Just because the preacher uses the Bible doesn’t mean he’s being faithful to Scripture. Just because he quotes Bible verses doesn’t mean he’s preaching Christ. Just because people gather, doesn’t mean there is genuine love in the body. Just because there is evangelism doesn’t mean the church is being faithful to its whole task.
There’s also the varied expressions of church practice. Aside from the absolute essentials of the faith to which any Christian must be committed, there are questions to be asked about the way in which church is conducted. What does that church believe about the sacraments? The practice of spiritual gifts? The make up (liturgy) of the service? Continue reading
During Holy Week, I read a devotional centered around Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in John 13:21-32. The premise of the devotional was how much Jesus loved Judas, even though he knew he would betray him and he did. Here is a snippet that I think speaks to heart of the devotional;
It is one thing to consider what Jesus would do in our situations. It is quite another to put ourselves into his life situations. When we do this, we focus on Jesus and the contexts of his decisions, instead of our own. In John 13:26, Jesus is serving the person he had just identified as his betrayer. If we were in the presence of someone we knew had planned harm to us, could we do the same? Jesus served Judas, literally and figuratively, without resentment or any effort to “get even.” Now that is love.
Our brokenness can cause us to struggle with showing love. We could feel and behave as if an “other” was a personified WMD (weapon of mass destruction) aimed at us, making us feel MAD (mutually assured destruction) in response. But we do not have to wonder WWJD. We know what Jesus did. We have his road map. Yet, his path for us may still cause us some internal struggle. We need not, even as good Christians, ignore that struggle. It is part of the process. Even Jesus was “greatly distressed in spirit, and testified, ‘I tell you the solemn truth, one of you will betray me’” (John 13:21). However, his love was greater.
Now I gleaned from the gist of the devotional that Jesus is showing us how to love our enemies. However, I found this angle a bit short sighted. Yes, Jesus did demonstrate love for Judas and overlooked the offense. But to leave it at that kind of misses the point of what was transpiring. Jesus saw Judas. He saw the betrayal. He turned the other cheek. Why? Because he saw more than Judas. He saw us. He was set to offer himself over as a sacrificial lamb to redeem those whom the Father called into his kingdom. There was something more at stake than dealing with Judas but to be the deal for mankind so that we could know the Father and reflect his glory. Continue reading
Thanks to the memory section on Facebook, an article written by Dr. Anthony Bradley popped up from two years that I shared titled The KKK, Selma, and Southern Christianity. It was a raw reflection from seeing the movie Selma but also being from the South, he knew all too well the realities that existed for black citizens especially having parents that lived through Jim Crow.
But he makes a specific point regarding the church;
As a theologian, this is where the movie became really interesting. Those who joined King were mainly Jewish, Protestant mainliners from the North, Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox. Conspicuously absent were conservative Protestant evangelicals, especially those from the South. In fact, Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was the highest ranking non-black religious figure in America to join King in the Selma march. This raised several questions for me: What was different about Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions that allowed them to freely join the fight for voting rights while evangelicals chose to do nothing or join the cause to support Jim Crow? Where were the Calvinists who believed in total depravity? Where were the evangelicals? Where was Billy Graham? Where were the Jonathan Edwards fans? Where were the Presbyterians, Southern Baptists, Methodists, and so on? I am asking because I do not understand.
What is it about southern evangelicalism that prevented those churches historically from seeing the plight of blacks as connected to the Gospel and the command to love God and neighbor? Maybe there is a real deep theological flaw in what is known as “evangelical theology?” Maybe the evangelicalism of the 1940s, 50s and 60s did not really understand the Gospel as clearly as many are lead to believe. I honestly do not have the answers to these questions but if evangelicals were so blinded by these issues during the Civil Rights Movement it makes me wonder what evangelicals might be missing today.
These are great questions, especially considering the fiercest defenders of segregation were evangelical Christians. A common retort that I’ve heard is that people weren’t really Christians. I think that’s a cop out. But perhaps the answers are probably more obvious and sobering than we might think. I believe the cultural forces that saw black citizens as inherently undeserving of equal rights and treatment were so permanently entrenched in the church, that Bible reading and believing folks accepted this premise without batting an eye. How else do you explain the cognitive dissonance? Continue reading
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.
One 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
As I’ve watched the events unfold these past few days with Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S., I’ve watched another set of events unfold – Protestants. Angry Protestants. Protesting Protestants. Protestants that pepper the interwebs with angry rants about the evils of Catholicism and the falsehood of the pope celebrated as the head of the church (which actually he would say Christ is the head of the church as would any knowledgeable Catholic). Nonetheless, I’ve been somewhat amused at the “hit job” that has emerged from a simple visit as if the Pope is seeking to take over the United States and must be silenced.
Now, I am staunchly Protestant so please don’t confuse me with a overly mushy ecumenical sympathizer who just wants to blindly sing Kumbaya with my Catholic friends (some of whom really are Christian by Protestant standards BTW) while I bask in the presence of his majesty the pontiff. I’m no expert but I believe I have a somewhat firm grasp on the distinctions between Catholics and Protestants. While I am sympathetic to the premise of Catholic belief especially the intrinsic relationship of Christ to his church, I don’t agree with some tenants of Catholicism primarily the way the indistinguishable nature of the invisible church with the visible church leads to a faulty view of justification as a Christian. Of course, as a Protestant I believe that justification is a one time forensic act through the work of the Spirit not an infusion as one walks out their Christian faith in the context of the church. I am also vehemently opposed to the veneration of Mary and prayers to the saints.
However, given the tumultuous Catholic v. Protestant divide, I took the opportunity in seminary to really investigate Catholicism through a couple of required research papers with the intention of dealing fairly with the material, to the best of my Protestant ability. Considering the charges that are commonly levied against Catholicism and it’s adherents as being misled at best or a false religion at worst, I thought it was really necessary to examine the charges levied against this system by actually striving to understand the system. Given the love that Christ has lavished on his church, I think some caution is in order before banishing folks out as heretics. Continue reading