The church in the age of MLK: the culture and us

mlk_giving-speechThanks 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

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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

Pope Fiction: The clash of the Protestant Titans

pulp fiction_travolta and jacksonAs 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

About that day I stood on a stage OR what is church commitment?

Multicultural groupI stood on a stage in June 2013. Well, it was more like a platform where they pulpit resides. I stood with several other people in front of the congregation. We were reciting vows. No, not saying “I do” in matrimony but definitely making a commitment to the local church.  We professed faith in Jesus Christ. We agreed to be involved in the life of the church. And, wait for it…we agreed to be submitted to it’s leadership and including, should the need arise, agreeing to church discipline.

“Wait, whoa, what? You actually agreed to THAT? That’s what cults do!” I might be the reaction of the reader. Of course, this came after a 12 week class on basic Christian doctrine, the definition and role of the church and Presbyterian specifics. We each met the pastor and one of the elders to give our testimony and share with them where we are spiritually. This does give one the opportunity to see if this is something they want to be committed to. (On a side note, I have made similar commitments before. But prior to joining the PCA, I came from a place with very loose commitments and little accountability and it showed.)

But given the reaction to the recent social media explosion over The Village Church, I can bet that this scenario immediately inspires thoughts of control, abuse, and squashing love for members. Now granted, there was some fumbling on their part especially considering the highly sensitive and painful nature of circumstances. They did apologize for the careless and insensitive way in which is was handled (not that it will ever be enough for public outrage calling for their pound of flesh). Nonetheless, I’m not writing about that specific incident because there’s been enough ink spilled already. Rather, I want to address the mass response that I saw that by and large rejected any type of commitments to pastoral intervention in the lives of its members. It made me question what exactly do we consider being part of the life of the local church.

I’m no fan of J.D. Hall of Pulpit and Pen nor the site, but I think he delivered what I believe to be a fitting and poignant commentary regarding the situation and specifically the reaction against making any kind of covenant with the local church as unwarranted, unbiblical and otherwise unnecessary. In this post here, he states, Continue reading

Acceptable worldliness in the Church

contemporary church service2Well, I’m going to say upfront that I might say some things that will rub some Christians the wrong way, especially those in the non-denominational world. I’m just putting it out there. In fact, it’s safe to say that this post might get a bit ranty. But I have observed a kind of worldliness that has been brought into much of contemporary evangelicalism that gets a pass.

No, it’s not having a hot band playing secular music or what some might associate with secular music with Jesus lyrics. Nor am I referring to sexual immorality with fornication and adultery going, although of course that can definitely be classified as worldliness worthy of some serious discipline.

I’m referring to the way we do church. And by that I mean, structuring church according to the philosophies of this world including borrowing leadership principles and techniques in the name of church governance. I’m talking about creating corporations with the senior pastor as CEO, elders as the board of directors, staff as the implementers of whatever vision was cast by “leadership” so the church achieves its outcomes for the consumers called the congregation.

I don’t know where it started. I don’t know when pastors/elders turned from being shepherds of Gods people with qualifications specified in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7-9  into Jesus PR marketers, thought leaders, transformational strategists and vision casters. I don’t know when this informed the qualifications of leadership, with pastors being dismissed for ‘not being a good fit’ or ‘carrying out the strategies of the organization.’ I don’t know when it became acceptable to abandon the care of the visible church according to the vision Jesus already gave to come up with innovative techniques to run the company and franchising it out through satellite churches. I don’t know when pragmatism ran all over liturgy and kicked it out the door. I don’t know when the apostle’s teaching as specified in the NT, turned into storied, life principles and other cute methods to attract people, instead of boldly proclaiming the whole counsel of Scripture. Continue reading