Tag Archives: christianity

How The Church Can Grow

There’s a lot of talk about how the church in America can begin to grow again, or at least stop losing members in droves. If you’re a twenty something, you probably know better than most that there’s a large group of people who are leaving the church when they leave college. If you aren’t a twenty something, next time you step into church, look around for people in their mid twenties, those who used to fill young marrieds and singles classes. There aren’t many of them.

Many believe that the problem lies in the style of our worship services not being appealing enough to a younger generation, one that grew up with computers, the internet, and, well, pretty much whatever they could have possibly wanted. But I don’t believe that is the source of the problem. People my age are very interested in God, Jesus, the spiritual realm. The problem is not the worship services, or how cool the preachers or pastors are. The problem is, church no longer has anything of relevance to say, at least in generation y’s opinion. The thing is, they are wrong. The church does have something to say, and a whole lot to do. Its time that they stood up and became what they were always intended to be.

The way that the church can once again gain relevance is simple. Preach the Gospel. You might think that the church is all ready preaching the Gospel, that yes, they have got the whole substitutionary atonement thing down. They’ve read Paul backwards and forwards and argued about every possible paragraph he penned. But the church has forgotten that the Gospel is shown in full in the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Gospel is the life of Jesus. And unlike our traditional interpretations of Paul, ones based entirely in how redemption works, the Gospels show us salvation in action. They show us how we are to live our lives, which is the true mission of the church. Today’s church focuses on getting people to Heaven, which, if one reads the Gospels honestly, was never the focus of Jesus. His focus was on telling people how to live like God intended, which brings salvation from something, but not from hell. It brings salvation here and now, salvation from the ways of the world which leads to death. And Jesus’s resurrection is the foreshadowing of our own resurrection, with real bodies, into a real world the way God intended it from the beginning. This promise of resurrection gives us the courage we need to follow Jesus, to take up our own crosses, literally, to be willing to lay down our lives rather than die protecting them.

And this is what my generation is looking for. We’re looking for meaning. We look around at a world where we seemingly have everything, yet, things are still drastically wrong. Progress has certainly alleviated some problems, but it has brought on a whole new set. And we look to our faiths to find answers to our problems, but we’re taught private piety, and little else. There is no social ethic to the church, but there is a definitive social ethic to the gospel… and the hypocrisy drives us away. We read, “love your enemies” and hear praise for warriors in church. We read “true religion is taking care of the widows and orphans” but we see bigger and bigger buildings, more and more programs designed to benefit us, and well, we don’t really see any of the least of these sitting in church buildings.

This all comes back to how we teach salvation. If the church continues to focus on an other worldly heaven, with a mansion, robe, and crown… they will continue being irrelevant. If the church decides to teach salvation as its found in the Bible, salvation which shows up in our lives, that distinguishes us from the world, the church will continue to flounder.

Advertisements

Christians and Politics

After reading this piece from Shane Claiborne, I decided it was time to fire the blog back up again.

I guess what I want to do is be more disciplined about writing. Namely, I think its time for me to start expressing my ideas and creating dialogue, hopefully with some new people as well as some of the old readers.

I was thinking the other night, about what Jesus meant when he said, “Repent, and believe in me.” I recently read that Josephus, a Jewish historian who wrote during and after Jesus’s life, chronicled a story about a military officer with an unruly squad of men. They would not listen, they had their own agendas, and they were not coming together as a cohesive unit. What’s important about this story is that the squad leader, whom, if I remember correctly, was also named Jesus (coincidentally) used the same exact phrase that Jesus did when talking to his troops. But he didn’t mean it the way we’ve commonly come to understand it. I would argue that this is because the way we understand it is wrong.

When Jesus Christ, as well as Jesus the Army commander said “Repent and believe in me” they were telling their listeners to turn away from their own agendas, and follow the way of life of the speaker. This is telling because it gives us a whole new frame of reference for looking at Jesus’s message to his followers. He’s not telling them only to have this personal change of heart and try to stop sinning. He’s calling them to abandon their current worldviews, whether it be that of the Pharisees who believed that through strict adherence to the law, they would eventually be saved (from Rome, not to heaven) or that of the zealots, who believed that if they rose up and started a war, God would swoop in and save them (again, from Rome). Jesus, in telling people to repent and believe in his way of doing things was warning them of the destruction of following their own agendas, of trying to do things the same way everyone else does them. He warned of the hell that was to come if they didn’t repent, namely the destruction of Judiasm and their entire culture and religion that would come with the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70.

And this is where I am right now. I see the financial destruction that looms over our heads every day… I see how we’ve put our trust in our way of doing things, which in the grand scheme of things is better than things have been before, but it is still sinful, and I see Jesus saying “turn away from how you’ve been conditioned and follow me. America may not make it, but the goal isn’t America, the goal is to live the life God intended for you.”

And Jesus and the early church gave us a pretty clear example about what that life looks like. Its one that often times consists of poverty, it is willing to lay down ones life rather than kill to protect your life, its one that proclaims freedom for those who are captive, that shows that the power structures of this world are hell bent on not doing things God’s way, and that our job is to be a prophetic witness against them.

And that’s why, in conclusion, I will not be voting in this, or hopefully any other election. Our salvation does not come from a good government…. because a good government outside of the reign of God does not exist. When we participate in the process, it is essentially endorsing violence and injustice, something that we as Christians should be standing against. Shane says it better than I… so if you haven’t, check out that article.

Thoughts on the Upcoming Holy Week

I’m reposting an article from Lew Rockwell by Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy. Its a great piece.

As there are uses and abuses, by commission and omission, of history, theology, sociology, psychology, etc., in the service of ideology and politics, so also there are uses and abuses by commission and omission of religious liturgy for the same purposes. Just in case your Palm Sunday and Holy Week liturgies do not communicate it clearly, or just in case your priest, minister, bishop, preacher or pastor do not tell you it from the pulpit, Palm Sunday and Holy Week are 100% about the victorious and salvific Nonviolent Coming of God into His Nonviolent Kingdom through the Nonviolent Messiah Jesus.

The Palm Sunday narrative of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey is recorded in all four Gospels, which means it is highly probable that it is based on an historical event. But, Jesus has journeyed to Jerusalem on foot from Galilee, why then does He choose to complete His journey by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? There is no serious scholarly doubt that by this gesture He is symbolically referencing Himself and His mission to Zechariah 9:9–10. There is also no serious scholarly doubt that the Apostolic communities as evidenced by the Four Evangelists were well aware of this and understood its importance to the proper proclamation of the Gospel in general, and in particular to the center piece of the Gospel, the Passion Narrative. Zechariah 9:9–10 announces:

“Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion,
shout with gladness, daughter of Jerusalem!
See now your king comes to you;
he is victorious, he is triumphant,
Meek and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will banish chariots from Ephraim
and horses from Jerusalem;
The bow of war will be banished.
he will proclaim peace for the nations.
His kingdom shall stretch from sea to sea,
from the River to the ends of the earth.”

It is as certain that the manner of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is meant to be a direct reference to this prophetic passage in Zechariah, as it is certain that Jesus’ words on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”, are a direct reference to Psalm 22, which opens with these words. But look at the words of Zechariah 9:9–10: “meek,” banishing “chariots and horses.” Chariots and horses are the equivalent in Jesus’ time of today’s Stealth bombers and nuclear missiles: the maximal destructive technology of the hour. Again look at the words, this victorious king of Zechariah 9:9–10 will proclaim “peace” and his kingdom, which shall stretch “from the River (Jordan) to the ends of the earth,” will be completely without arms, the instruments of human destruction, “the bow of war.”

This unambiguous Nonviolent Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem is the beginning of the end of Jesus’ journey of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies for the salvation of all people. Contrary to popular piety, it is not be merely a “via dolorosa,” a way of suffering. Identification with Jesus suffering is identification with Jesus loving. His via dolorosa is a Way of suffering chosen in order to confront and conquer evil in a sin drenched world, not suffering chosen for its own sake or for the sake of placating an unforgiving, “eye for eye,” revengeful, terrorist deity. Jesus via dolorosa is the choice of the Way of nonviolent suffering love of friends and enemies made in order to embody and make visible God’s Nonviolent Love for all – even for lethal enemies, e.g., the healing of the ear of the armed servant of the high priest who comes to Gethsemane to take Jesus to His death, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” The Nonviolent King, who enters Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9–10, ultimately receives the stature prophesied for Him when crowned with thorns by those He loves to the end, He mounts His throne – the Cross of Nonviolent Love – and has, by order of Pilate, the ruling Roman official of this kingdom of the world at the time, a sign written in three languages, placed above His head on His throne: “King of the Jews.”

For the Nonviolent Jesus there is a direct route from His Sermon on the Mount, to His Nonviolent symbolic announcement of the Coming of the Reign of the Nonviolent God of Love on Palm Sunday, to His unequivocal incarnation of that God on Good Friday, to the incontestable validation of the reality, power and wisdom of that God on Easter Sunday. Take the Nonviolent Jesus of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies out of Palm Sunday, out of Good Friday, out of Easter Sunday and there is no Palm Sunday, no Good Friday, no Easter Sunday. Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies is integral to the very meaning and purpose of those days.

Take the Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies of Jesus out of Holy Week and there is no Holy Week. There is no “Holy” in the week, because God, the Holy One, is love (agape). Without Jesus enfleshment of Divine Nonviolent Love toward all – friends and enemies, faithful followers and betrayers – there is just a week of unholy, diabolical brutality, violence, torture, cruelty, injustice, suffering and death. Why? Again, only God is Holy and God is agapeic love. Jesus, the Word (Logos) of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is the incarnation of Nonviolent Love toward all because God is Nonviolent Love toward all. The Father and Jesus are one, consubstantial. The person who sees Jesus see the Father. Jesus comes to do the Father’s will and only the Father’s will. Starting on Palm Sunday, continuing through Good Friday and on to Easter Sunday, it is the Nonviolent Love of Jesus, God incarnate, that makes this week Holy – and I might add, makes it an efficacious moment in the long process of exposing and conquering evil.

If this were a week of remembering a Jesus entering Jerusalem in a warrior’s chariot – surrounded with manned war horses and a legion of soldiers carrying the most advanced killing technology of the time and ready to immediately kill other human beings on Jesus’ command – it would not be the beginning of a Holy Week. A Jesus telling Peter to “finish off” the armed servant of the high priest, after Peter slashes his ear off, would not make for a Holy Week. A week in which Jesus calls down from the cross curses and retribution on those who are killing Him would not be a Holy Week. A week that ends with a body corrupting in a tomb after a life of nonviolent love of friends and enemies would not be a Holy Week. It is the Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies enfleshed unto death in the now risen Jesus – the Word, the Way and the Truth of God who is love – that makes this week Holy.

The events and revelations of Holy Week unto the redemption and salvation of the world are events and revelations ineradicably united with the Nonviolent Jesus who taught and lived unto death and resurrection a Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies! This is the Holy Wek and Jesus of history, of the Gospel and of faith and therefore must be the Holy Week and Jesus of Liturgy and the pulpit. If this is not the Holy Week and Jesus proclaimed in Liturgy and from the pulpit during Holy Week – as well as during all other weeks until time is no more – then an abuse or misuse, culpable or non-culpable, of Liturgy and of pulpit is taking place.

What if Jesus was an Illegal Immigrant?

This story is heartwarming, depressing, and thought provoking. Wow.

Brian McLaren, Capitalism, and Common Sense

I want to preface this by saying I really like McLaren’s new book Everything Must Change. I think it succinctly and efficiently explains massive failures in Christian theology and the effects those failures have had on our culture. However, I just can’t fully agree with his take on Capitalism and Economics.

McLaren takes common jabs at Capitalism, criticizing things that should be criticized, but I think he errs in his understanding of the causes of poverty and wealth disparity around the world. Greed and bottom line production are not the causes of poverty. Massive capital accumulation and corporations are not the cause of poverty.

“Well then, what is the cause of poverty?” you might ask. I think the better question is, “What is poverty?”  How you define poverty is intrinsic in finding its causes as well as its solutions. In order to truly understand poverty and how capitalism effects it, you must look at poverty throughout history.

When the Industrial Revolution began in the United States, the way our citizens lived would be tantamount to how we see Third World Nations. Not so much in population density, but most certainly in luxuries afforded by citizens. No running water. No constant source of food. Constant threat of death from major storms, drought, lack of nurishment (anyone remember playing Oregon Trail and dying because there were no animals to kill?) . Clothes might be changed and/or washed weekly. People lived in Log Cabins with a wood burning stove for heat, bathrooms were outside, no toilet paper, etc etc. Life back then was far from comfortable.

But when Industry entered the country, people began leaving the agrarian lives for those in the city where they had steady jobs, and steady incomes. Were working conditions bad? Absolutely. Were people paid terribly small wages? Yes. But people chose that lifestyle, because, for better or worse, it beat the hell out of farming cause you knew at least you wouldn’t starve.

And what happened when this migration began? One of the biggest results was a new market for many living needs… clothing, food, shelter, in the city. These factor workers now had money but no way to provide these things for themselves, so those who couldn’t get jobs in the factory now could support themselves by providing these needs for those who were unable to provide for themselves. Eventually a self sustaining economy developed, and industry was no longer needed. Jobs were more plentiful and with jobs being more plentiful, competition forced wages to a point where industry left for greener pastures. Namely the American South.

And this process repeats, still today. In India, China, Mexico, etc.

Point being, we can’t compare the standards of work in Third World Nations to what we have currently here. What we may think of as terrible is possibly not problematic for people who live day to day. Having a factory job at 20 cents an hour is possibly the best thing that ever happened to them. And just because a business is paying someone those wages does not mean that they are being “greedy” and we shouldn’t force them to provide American standards in factories overseas.

Now, Christian business owners, whether in America or in Foreign Nations, should hold themselves to a higher standard. But it goes without saying that their presence in these countries, regardless of work conditions, is beneficial to these countries as a whole.

Another thing that McLaren addresses is sustainability. Does our constant consumption constitute a crisis for the earth? In some ways, yes… it does, but in others, it doesn’t. Are we running out of oil, or land, or coal, or other natural resources? Maybe. But when those things get scarce, new technology that previously wasn’t economically feasible suddenly becomes so. And when that technology is developed further progress is made. Could we have made solar panels and wind turbines without oil? Could we have acquired the technology needed to recycle and produce goods with less pollution without initial pollution? Probably not. We are polluting now. There is no question. But that constant development, whether its sustainable or not, is what pushes us towards new ideas that lead to new, more environmentally friendly options.

Most critics of Capitalism fail to notice that.