The Loving Militancy of Church Clarity: 5 Ways its just like the Nashville Statement

I choose messy relationships over Church Clarity.

And I choose messy relationships over the Nashville Statement (as I’ve said here and here, and David Fitch and I discussed on our podcast).

In fact, as I process the launch of Church Clarity I see 5 ways that Church Clarity is just the inversion of the Nashville Statement, albeit as a loving militancy.

What is Church Clarity?

You can read a supportive or critical summaries.  But roughly, Church Clarity believes (from their site)

“that churches have a responsibility to be clear about their policies on their primary websites [about being affirming or not of LGBTQ]. Following a simple, yet consistent method, our crowdsourcers submit churches to be scored on how clearly their website communicates their actively enforced policies. Once the information is verified by Church Clarity, it is published to our database. We believe that ambiguity is harmful and clarity is reasonable.” (emphasis added)

Their desire is to minimize confusion by maximizing clarity.  All of which—on the one hand—seems reasonable enought.

But let us think about the implication of a website like Church Clarity evaluating websites of local churches and posting the results. All of this is so abstract and disconnected—so far from the lived realities of local church life.

For this reason, beyond all their differences, Church Clarity is just like the Nashville Statement—but in an inverted way.

5 Ways Church Clarity is Just like the Nashville Statement

1) Truth and Love Dichotomy

On the one hand, the Nashville Statement pushed the agenda of truth without much regard for love or mercy.  This was the complaint for many people I know.

Church Clarity, however, is pushing hard for love without regard for truth—except expressing the “truth” of being either affirming or non-affirming.

Church Clarity explicitly says it doesn’t care about matters of doctrine, only of policy.  This is a typical progressive-liberal bifurcation of how love and truth need to work together.

Those of us upset with the “need to stand for the truth” posture coming from the Nashville State are likewise uncomfortable with the militancy—yes, militancy—of the Church Clarity site.  Church Clarity positions itself on the side of love, but a love reduced to one issue, an issue reduced to whether or not it is posted clearly on the church website.

2) Push Toward Statements—Away From Relationships.

Both the Nashville Statement and Church Clarity lead us away from relationships. They prefer to substitute relationships for statements.  The Nashville Statement says this explicitly, that we should separate from church that don’t sign.  But Church Clarity also says this implicitly.

Church Clarity suggests that churches are merely a different form of consumerism and that churches who are not clear on the LGBTQ stance are engaging in false advertising (See their FAQs, first section).  “Customers” could join a churches—engage in real relationships— and then find out the product was not what they thought.

This is a disastrous reduction—not just of the Church, but of all human ways of relating—the to principle of consumer choice. The application of this kind of clarity amid consumerism will just continue the deep antagonisms of our contemporary culture.

My questions is, Did Jesus function this way? Did he provide such clarity on his identity, the means of salvation, and every other question he was asked? No, he didn’t.

3) Tendency To Instrumentalize Humans and Institutions.

Both the Nashville Statement and Church Clarity drive toward reductionism and instrumentalization.

On the one hand, the Nashville Statement does this by instrumentalizing human beings for “God’s Glory.”  Humans are just a tool by which God accomplishes certain goals, principally the exaltation of God’s own glory.

But Church Clarity goes the opposite direction. It instrumentalizes the church according to the goals of the state.  As they say, churches

“are recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt religious organizations. In exchange for these subsidies, churches are expected to play a vital role of serving their communities. But there is very little accountability to demonstrate that they are earning that subsidy.” (emphasis added)

This continues the reductive, capitalistic view of human institutions—see the words “exchange” and “earning”.

But it adds the twist that the church is ultimately a tool of the government.

This is a curious inversion of the goal of the First Amendment where church and state would be separated—i.e. tax-exempt (esp. see this on tax-exemption)—so that government wouldn’t interfere with the Church.

But now, for Church Clarity, the government is expecting a return on investment from the church, with accountability pending if there is not (this is partly why I said this is more militant than the Nashville Statement.  It is not for nothing that people fear this database is just a precursor to litigation).

The signers of the Nashville State undoubtedly seek to use the government in service of the church.

Church clarity inverts this and seeks to use the church as a tool of the government.

4) Engaging in Culture Wars

It is interesting that Jonathan Merritt quotes conservative Al Moler of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on the importance of gaining clarity.

As Merritt states, “If one can set aside [Church Clarity]’s leadership team for a moment, it’s obvious that the organization shares a common goal with conservative Christians like Mohler: to pressure pastors and churches with unclear positions on homosexuality to unambiguously state their views.”

Yes, it is obvious that conservatives and progressives agree.  Which means they agree that they are playing the culture war game, but from different sides. The church, however, should not engage in this war any longer (see the previous three reasons for why).

5) Ideological in Nature

I suppose this is a restatement of #2 and #4, but I just want to say it again.

Both the Nashville Statement and Church Clarity, in the name of helping and serving people, reduce the entire complexity of human relationships and interactions to a narrow grid of ideas and affirmations.

This approach sucks the humanity right out of the situation, all in the name of clarity.

How Peace is Achieved

I spent 11 days in Israel this summer learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the different ways they are seeking peace there.

The ONLY ONES working are the ones worked out on the ground in actual relationships.  I heard of a water ministry helping to secure drinking water for everyone living off the Jordan River. I heard of school programs that brought Israeli and Palestinian children together. I heard of farming co-opts bring Palestinian and Israeli neighbors together.

On the ground relationships are the only way toward peace, mutuality, and reconciliation.  Everything else is lost in abstraction and will only reproduce the entrenched tendencies present between people.

The Clarity of Jesus

To both the signers of the Nashville Statement and the directors of Church Clarity, I ask this: If clarity is so important, why did Jesus offer so little of it?

Why did he answer questions with more questions? Why did he speak in parables? And why do we have FOUR different Gospels instead of one?

It is because the clarity we often seek is not the kind of clarity God is drawing us into. God is drawing us further and further into the messiness of relationship, and further and further away from ideological encounters.

And it is time for people on all sides of the ideological—cultural war—spectrum to get used to it.  Relationships are messy.  Let’s get to work.


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Haunted House or War Zone: Does God Test Our Faith?

Now that we are saved, why aren’t things awesome all the time?  Why isn’t life one continuous ascent into the perfect life with God?

And why are we told that God is testing us?

As 1 Peter 1:6 says,

In this [salvation] you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Why would God test faith like that?

Answering this question properly all depends on how we image these tests. It depends on whether we think of life as in a haunted house or a war zone.

Is God Scaring us or Leading Us?

Ready to Jump Out

Our youngest son loves to scare people when they enter the house.  He will hide behind a doorway or some furniture, lying in wait.  And then he pounces. Sometimes he scares us. Sometimes not. Sometimes we see him getting into place. Sometimes we don’t.

It’s in all good fun.

Except when we think of God acting like this?

Sometimes we image our Christian lives as if God is lying in wait, ready to spring out and test us. We think that God is actively testing us, laying out traps to see if we will fall away or lose our faith.

Sometimes we think God is testing us to see if we really, Really, REALLY believe.  And if we fail the test then God is going to…well, who knows what will happen.

The Haunted House of Faith

Sometimes we can image our life of faith like a haunted house.  God is actively trying to scare us, jumping out unexpectedly and tripping us up.

But—as the idea goes—if we can get through without freaking out too much then we will be saved.   If we prove to God that we won’t doubt or run away then we will be saved.

But his image of God actively testing us is horrible—and inaccurate. This view of God lurking behind doors to test us distorts who really God is and how God is accomplishing salvation for us.

Ready to Rescue

Life is not an artificially created haunted house where we need to steel our nerves against any surprises.

Rather, life is better thought as a war zone.

We live in a war zone full of hazards and dangers.  And it is filled roaming spiritual forces seeking to destroy us.

But God, in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, has promised to rescue us from this war zone.  Not only is this promised, but God IS rescuing us and saving us as the one who has come to us and is leading us to safety.

And the only way out of this war zone is to stay close to Jesus, to stay on the straight and narrow path that will leads to life.

The Loyalty in the War Zone

And the question is this, Will you give your trust, your allegiance, your loyalty to Jesus who is rescuing us, who leading us through this war zone?

Or will you, when trials and suffering and sorrows come, will you abandon him for something else? Will you put your trust and loyalty somewhere else when the attack comes?

In this war zone of life, the genuineness of our faith will be tested. But not because God is creating ways to scare us. But because this war zone is already scary enough, and we have continual opportunities to break loyalty with Jesus.

Jesus has the power to save and rescue us. And Jesus is willing to protect us. Jesus is leading us to life.  Will we trust him? Will we place our faith in him?

The Testing of Faith

God is not testing our faith.
But our faith will be tested.

Our faith–allegiance in Jesus is the beginning of our rescue. And our faith–allegiance to Jesus will lead us safely home.

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Are Evangelicals White? A Brief History

CEOs withdraw from Trump’s advisory councils because of the Presidents bankrupt statements about Charlottesville—maybe because of their moral backbone, but probably because of the financial bottomline. But so far no evangelical advisors have stepped down.

It makes people ask, “Are evangelicals really are just White?”
For some this is self-evident. Others vigorously deny it.

And statements like this by Jerry Falwell Jr. don’t help the cause of those trying to deny it.

So, are evangelicals white?

1976, the Year of the Evangelical

In 1976, pronounced the “Year of the Evangelicals” by Newsweek, Democrat Jimmy Carter won the presidency over Republican Gerald Ford. With each of them confessing to be “born again” Christians, Carter won with almost half of evangelical voters supporting him.

Only four years later evangelicals abandoned Jimmy Carter for Ronald Reagan. Opening his presidential campaign in the heart of Mississippi, Reagan presented himself as the “law and order” candidate advocating states’ rights, continuing the Republican “Southern Strategy” by obliquely cultivating racial fears while simultaneously courting evangelical voters. As Randall Balmer notes, throughout the campaign, Reagan operatives adeptly used “evangelical code language just as they had employed racially coded language in Mississippi.”

On the one hand, this quick reversal from Carter to Reagan confirmed the fears of black Christians who see evangelicals as merely a synonym for white, conservative Republicans. According to Anthony Bradley, associate professor of theology and ethics at The King’s College, evangelical leaders “sold out the mission of the church to win a ‘culture war.’”

Is this the Year of the Evangelical?

Thirty years later, 2016 could also be called the year of the Evangelicals. But this designation would be less congratulatory as white evangelical leaders fight with each other about supporting Trump. In the end, 4 out of 5 white evangelicals voted for Trump, prompting many to abandon the label altogether.

But on the other hand, evangelicals like Ed Stetzer contests collapsing the term to only meaning white conservatives. Formerly a Southern Baptist researcher and now the current Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center, Stetzer complains that “it’s not politics that unite all Evangelicals; it’s the gospel.” According to this broader, belief-based definition, many African American, Asian, and Latino Christians should be considered evangelicals.

And as alarming as it might be to some, recent surveys suggest the “evangelicalization” of American Christianity. As “self-identified Christians shrink and evangelicals have remained relatively steady,” says Stetzer, “American Christianity looks more evangelical year after year.”

But this kind of expansive definition seems rather self-serving as white evangelicals seek to distance themselves from the reality that 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump.

A focus on religious beliefs, rather than self-identification, effectively pushes out the far right white segment of the definition—by excluding those who identify as “born-again” but don’t regularly attend church—while also pulling in African American, Asian, and Latino populations who hold evangelical beliefs but don’t primarily identify as evangelical. A focus on beliefs conveniently diversifies evangelicalism but runs roughshod on how people identify themselves.

Pollsters looking at the same data see either a predominantly white religious segment with conservative political views, or they see a multicultural and politically diverse cross section of Christian America. “If we use a big-tent measure of evangelicals,” says Ryan Burge, instructor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, “we don’t find evangelicals to be different from other Americans. But if we use a measure based on what church people attend, then we find that there is an evangelical voter who is more likely to be politically conservative.”

So which definition is best when looking at evangelicals?


See also “Is Trump the End of Evangelicalism?”


 

Classical Evangelicalism

Examining the history of evangelicalism in America—rather than focusing on ideas or beliefs—is the best way to determine whether evangelicals should be considered primarily a conservative white expression of American Christianity.

Evangelicalism in America begins with the spiritual Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries. This classic period of evangelicalism—preceding the rise of fundamentalism by two hundred years—is best described as conservative Protestantism with a “revivalist twist.”

But this hope for spiritual revival also inspired a desire for social reform.

Celebrated revivalist Charles Finney and Jonathan Blanchard—the founding president of Wheaton College, a flagship evangelical institution—were both staunch abolitionists. And an evangelical feminism also flourished in the 19th century as women like Phoebe Palmer and Hannah Whitall Smith led revivals in America and Britain—a development continuing into the early 20th century with the rise of Pentecostalism.

Eminent historian of evangelicalism and professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, George Marsden observes that “in an era when social reform was not popular” it was evangelicals who modeled an impressive record of social service.

Evangelicals, before rise of fundamentalism in the 1920s, seamlessly united spiritual revival and social reform as a centrist movement balancing conservative theology and compassionate politics.

But the rise of fundamentalism within the US pushed evangelicals toward spiritual and social individualism. And the threat of Soviet Union outside the US pressed evangelicals toward a “Christian” nationalism. With the ascension of Soviet Communism and its militant atheism, evangelical-fundamentalists countered by championing a distinctively Christian American Capitalism. The political trinity of Christianity, American nationalism, and free-market Capitalism prompted evangelicals to abandon the work of social reform, leaving such service to the mainline Protestant churches.

This bifurcation of classic evangelicalism led, on the one hand, to evangelical-fundamentalists pursuing the spiritual revival of individuals while mainline Protestants, on the other, sought the political reform of society. As David Moberg notes, to this day each side “accuses the other of being untrue to the essential nature of Christianity.”

Evangelical Great Reversal

This rupture resulted in the “great reversal” of evangelicalism. Historian Donald Dayton notes how the previous champions of abolition came to resist the Civil Rights Movement, how an earlier evangelical empowerment of women came to oppose 1960s feminism, and how an original egalitarianism impulse succumbed to celebrity elitism. Dayton laments that since the 1920s a “great heritage of Evangelical social witness was buried and largely forgotten,” while its spiritual descendants reject as unbiblical activities clearly aligned with the early spirit of evangelicalism.

The abandonment of the Civil Rights Movement by self-described (white) evangelicals triggered the abandonment of black churches identifying as evangelical, creating the general impression that evangelicals are predominantly white conservatives.

But the spirit of classical evangelicalism—uniting spiritual revival and social reform—has not failed to haunt its children. There has always been a “moral minority” within post-fundamentalist evangelicalism promoting such integration. And even if they avoid the label, a growing number of mainline Protestants—and even Catholics—use evangelical terms to explain their faith.

This spirit of classical evangelicalism has always hovered between the extremes of conservative and liberal Christianity. Amid the chaotic waters of our bifurcated society, will this radical center emerge again?

The Spirit of Evangelicalism

Will this spirit breath life back into a three centuries old movement of multicultural and trans-denominational revival and reform? Or will it exhaust itself as the civil religion of white conservative Americans?

Are evangelicals white? It depends on which version prevails within the American religious landscape.

Deeper Than We Thought (2): The Colorblind Racism

 

Those brought forcibly to America for slavery are now forcibly carried away through imprisonment.

Cimagesolorblind Racism

Two weeks ago I talked about how in my journey of sanctification I seem to be really working only on two or so deeply ingrained sins that seem to keep popping up in different ways. Just when I think I have gotten over it I find it sprouting up again: instead of the fruit of the Spirit, these are the weeds of the flesh, and they are hard to pull out.

Similarly is our societal problem of racism: just when we free those imported here from Africa from slavery then up comes Jim Crow laws; and just when that oppressive system is struck down through the Civil Rights Movement comes a new form of “colorblind” racism.

Just what this “colorblind” racism is and how it has come about is the subject of Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Her conviction is that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it” (2).

Today I’m going to look at her compelling narrative (chapter 1) about the three stages or systems of racism in the US: Slavery, Jim Crow, and Mass Incarceration.

The reality that demands explanation by citizen of the US is “the stark and sobering reality is that, for reasons largely unrelated to actual crime trends, the American penal system has emerged as a system of social control unparalleled in world history” (8).

My brief summary here does not do justice to Alexander’s detailed and persuasive argument (I would let you know if I’m not persuaded).

Slavery

In colonial America, laborers were needed to farm the land, and while we often think of the idyllic farmer and his wife tending their own plot on the frontier, most often it was indentured servants who worked for wealth landowners, especially in the southern colonies. These landed elite needed cheap labor to make their “New World” venture profitable back home.

The economic need of the elite eventually settled on the solution of slavery of Africans (because Native Americans were too wild (they tried) and the idea of enslaving fellow Europeans was not entertained). Racism (the pseudo-scientific and social belief that Africans were inferior humans) was utilized to justify slavery in light of what seemed to be a contradiction of the American claim of the freedom and equality for all (i.e. freedom and equality did not conflict with slavery because these enslaved people were not really equal and could not actually handle freedom). The social and psychological benefits of racism split the poor white workers from the enslaved black workers, ensuring that both groups would never unite and rebel against the economic elites. Racist ideology therefore did double duty in justifying the institution of slavery and in creating distance between poor white works and enslaved black workers who material lives were almost indistinguishable (classic move to divide and conquer the working class by the economic elites…something that is happening to this day, as we will see).

The economic needs of slavery created the psychological and social reality of “racism”. But the twist of history is that the “fiction” of racism as proved more durable than the “reality” of slavery, which did eventually come to an end in the US.

Jim Crow

After the Civil War Reconstruction came the KKK Redemption campaign (historical term for reclaiming the South for whites) that effectively instituted post-slavery racial inferiority for African Americans. Vagrancy laws forced recently freed slaves to work their masters again (basically it was a crime not to have a job every day), and petty crime such as “mischief” and “insulting gestures” were harshly enforced against African Americans.

During this time, political conservatives, liberals, and radical populists sought out poor white swing votes by pandering to racist fears (again effectively splitting the poor working class so as to keep poor whites and blacks in their place, but now convincing the poor white class to do the dirty work of race policing). As William Julius Wilson notes, “As long as poor whites directed their hatred and frustration against the black competitor, the planters were relieved of class hostility directed against them” (34) Again, those who would most benefit their own economic destinies by working together (poor whites/blacks) are split by racism, a perception of racial inferiority created to explain and sustain the economics of slavery.

And so Alexander says, “History seemed to repeat itself. Just as the white elite had successfully driven a wedge between poor whites and blacks following Bacon’s Rebellion [a multi-racial rebellion against the plantation elites in 1675] by creating the institution of black slavery, another racial caste system was emerging nearly two centuries later, in part due to the efforts by white elites to decimate a multiracial alliance of poor people” (34).

Mass Incarceration

After the Civil Rights Movement, overtly racist ideology could not be utilized within economic and political discourses to motivate policy. But this does not mean the sentiments disappeared from individuals nor that politicians stopped playing off racist fears for swing votes. Rather, through a linguistic mutation centering around the themes of law and order a new racist discourse developed: this was the “colorblind” emphasis on “crime” and “criminals”.

During the Civil Rights Movement political activists were cast as common criminals violating proper law and order. Segregation was cast as reasonable for sustaining law and order, a system now thrown into chaos.. Those opposed to the Civil Rights Movement attempted to criminalize those advocating for equal rights and equal access.

While the attempt to criminalize Civil Rights activists as a way of saving Jim Crow segregation ultimately failed, the focus only “law and order” by getting “tough on crime” became the blueprint for the next iteration of racial oppression.

In Congress and on the street, those who had previously cast a ballot for segregation (of housing, education, employment) would uniformly vote for strict crime policies that implicitly targeted black and brown populations.

Indeed, as has happened before, the poor white voter was split from the poor black voter under the guise of “getting tough on crime.” While conservative politicians are traditionally aligned with corporate interests and business elites, these conservative politicians could grab poor white votes by playing up racial violence and the need for getting tough on crime. A “colorblind” rhetoric aimed against crime (and those on welfare) was clearly understood to be directed at garnering white votes but impossible to prove as overly racist.

This “getting tough on crime” instituted through the “War on Drugs” (begun in the ‘80’s) is the reason the US incarcerates the highest percentage (by far) of its population of all countries, and why in the last 30 years our prison system has grown by 350%.

Once in place, “The system functioned relatively automatically, and the prevailing system of racial meanings, identities, and ideologies already seemed natural. Ninety percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses in many states were black and Latino, yet the mass incarceration of communities of color was explained in race-neural terms, an adaptation to the needs and demands of the current political climate. The New Jim Crow was born” (58).

The actual mechanics of such a system of mass incarceration will be the themes of the next couple of chapters looking at the process of being arrested, the judicial process, and life after release.  These will be the themes of later posts.

ATV-prison-massWhat do you think?

In my last post I asked these questions:

  • Or, why does America have the largest incarceration rate of the “free world?
  • Why is that when people of all racial backgrounds use and sell illegals drugs at a similar rate, that people of color are disproportionately imprisoned for drug crimes?
  • Why does America imprison a larger percentage of its black population the South Africa did at the height of apartheid?

Do you have other answers than the one that Alexander is aiming at?

Deeper than We Thought (1): Our Society’s Sin

The Journey of Redemption 0e1140859_blog-racial-reconciliation

I’ve found in my journey of redemption that I don’t necessary sin egregiously in every category. Rather I’ve found I often keep struggling with the same two or three sins that seem to go all the way down to my core.

Every time I think I’m done with that sin God will gently tear off the Band-Aid and reveal just how bad the infection is. Over and over again this process goes on.

On a different level, this is true of our American society when it comes to race.

The Reality of Race

It seems that majority (white) people are often tired of talking about race (just like we are tired of dealing with that pesky sin of ours).  This is especially true of white evangelicals, where 69% think that the best way to improve race relations is to stop talking about race! It is as if we as a society think that because we acknowledge racism that we can now move on to our other sins.

But I would say this is probably one of the two core sins of our American society, and there is not easy movement beyond it.

And are we really working on it anyway? Or just managing it, like we manage having a short temper or indulging in too much dessert?

Aren’t we just managing “racism” when every so often we acknowledge the need for a “national debate”, or that those “real racists” need to be punished, or that perhaps the police are a little harsh on minorities, but never diving in to see how deep the sin goes?

These questions and concerns have directed me toward a book by Michelle Alexander called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

This book rips off the Band-Aid and shows how and why the problem of racism persists in a post-Civil Rights era of colorblindness.

The Questions

As any good pastor would, this books asks deeper and different questions about our sin, overlooking the “obvious” as it searches for the true causes.

For instance,

  • Why did the “War on Drugs” begin in 1982 (by Reagan) when drug use was on the decline, not considered a national problem, and a good 2-3 years before crack cocaine became broadly available in major US cities?

(Anybody remember this add?)

 

incarceration_1-800x510

 

And more specifically,

  • Why is that when people of all racial backgrounds use and sell illegals drugs at a similar rate, that people of color are disproportionately imprisoned for drug crimes?
  • Why does America imprison a larger percentage of its black population the South Africa did at the height of apartheid?

Notice the drift of these questions?

This is about our criminal justice system, not the proclivity of racial stereotyping by people or racial slurs spoken in the parlors.

Alexander’s questions seek to reveal the links between a new form of racism and our criminal justice institutions, forged through what has become known as the War on Drugs (all that is for the next post).

The Plan

So I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks reading through Michelle Alexander’s book and posting about it (mostly for myself but also in the hopes it will provoke some conversation among those who have and haven’t read it yet…acknowledging I’m a late comer to the party as the book came out four years ago).

In the next post we’ll look at her what she means when she says,

“We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

Evangelism and the Missional Church (video)

Evangelism In The Missional Church: How The Kingdom Breaks In Among Us

Missional Learning Commons 2014

November 7 @ 7:30pm – November 8 @ 3:00pm | $25

 (Wait for the 1:08 mark to learn what Fitch really thinks of Geoff, and evangelism…)

 

This year’s Missional Learning Commons will focus on the oft forgotten member of the 5-fold gifts: the Evangelists. While the Attractional Church focuses mostly on Pastors and Teachers, the Missional Church often gravitates toward the Apostles and Prophets. But what of the Evangelists?

On Nov. 7th and 8th we will focus our attention on the Practices of Proclamation & Presence as we seek the Kingdom of God among us in personal spaces, social spaces, and public spaces.

The Missional Learning Commons is a great value as a 2-day conference (only $25, lunch and childcare on Saturday included), bringing together experienced pastors and theologians into conversations around important themes for the contemporary  church.

Get all the DETAIL AND REGISTER HERE.

 

The Forgotten Lesson of Bonhoeffer, and the American Church

I am worried about the rising popularity of Bonhoeffer in the United States.

Very worried.

I’m worried not because of his theology, or his political views, or his activism.

I’m worried because so many people are interested in him…so many different people.

Some people laud him for his non-violent pacifism, and other for his violent attempt at activism. Some laud him for his commitment to community, and others for his religion-less Christianity. Some laud him for his non-metaphysical theology, and others for his pastoral care. Some laud him from the far left, and others from the far right.

When this happens we have to dig deeper and ask, “Is there something we are missing here?”

The Forgotten Lesson of Bonhoeffer

We often think of Bonhoeffer as a hero of the church, but I think of him more as a cautionary tale.

The forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer is not that we should all strive to be more like him, but that we should strive to be a church that wouldn’t need him!

article_images-3_8_Pastors_Does_the_American_Flag_Belong_in_Your_Church_766070041I worry that people will either look for the next Bonheoffer or try to be the next Bonhoeffer in some heroic protest, rather than entering the more humble protests of daily life. I worry that people will think that large gestures of protest are the way to change the world, rather than entering on the difficult daily path of ordinary resistance.

You see, Bonhoeffer had to be Bonhoeffer because the national church in Germany failed to be the church at all.

This is the forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer: The Church in Germany had failed!

Headed toward Failure?

So I’m worried that everyone interested in Bonheoffer might not be learning the real lesson: that we in America might be the type of church that, in a time of crisis, will capitulate to preserving the American Dream rather than living as a Kingdom Reality.

During this 4th of July weekend, are we Christians in America more American than Christian? How would we know? Does that distinction even makes sense? And if it doesn’t, then I worry that we have turned to Bonhoeffer into an inspirational story rather than a cautionary tale.

Let us not make Bonhoeffer merely into a Christian Celebrity…

Telling the Story: The Eucharistic Prayer

eucharist1
Last month, at the Ecclesia National Gathering, I had the privilege and honor to preside over communion for the whole group. I led through the time as we usually do here at Life on the Vine, but many people not from a more liturgical background asked about the prayer leading into the Table.  Many commented on how they really “liked how I re-told the story of salvation” leading into communion.

So I want to explain a little bit of the Eucharistic Prayer (of “Great Thanksgiving”) that I used.

The History

The idea of the Eucharistic prayer (and remember, “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving” which indicate that Communion or the Lord’s Table is meant to be a celebration of God’s great gift in Christ, not merely a somber remembrance), the idea is that as Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me” that the this didn’t just mean the taking of the cup and bread, but the whole process of giving thanks to God during the mealtime prayer.

Following Deut. 8: 10 (“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.”), at every meal a devout Jew would thank God the creator for the gift of land which was a promise of the covenant.  They would affirm God as the creator of all things who has covenanted especially with Israel by giving the land, and the fruits of this land now eaten come from the promises of God and therefore call for thanksgiving.  But now for Christians, in Christ, the Creator God has covenanted with all people and the entire world becomes the land of blessing.

Do “to this in remembrance of me” is to pray a prayer similar to Jesus’ when he prayed over the cup and the bread during the Last Supper, a prayer assumed by all those familiar with Jewish practice and not mentioned in the Gospel texts for that reason (although the very early Didache indicates such a prayer).

This prayer of thanksgiving to God becomes the first part of the “Eucharistic Prayer”, with the second part being the words of institution (action of the Son) and the third part being the epiclesis (action of the Spirit), making this prayer Trinitarian in structure.

The Structure

So basically there are three parts corresponding to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

743px-Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860_001
“God the Father” by Julius Schnorr (Woodcut,1860)

Part One: Thanks to the Father

The prayer begins with thanking/praising the Father for all of creation.  But creation is corrupted, but because God hasn’t abandoned creation, we thank the Father for the promise of salvation.  This can take many forms from the promise in the garden, to the calling of Abraham, the people of Israel, etc.  But whatever is said this first section ends with thanking God for sending the Son (Gal. 4:4 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law”).

This is where “telling the story of salvation” comes in, and depending on the liturgical calendar and the sermon you can emphasize different elements.  See the Book of Common Worship, beginning on page 126 for several different types of prayer to inspire you.

As a way of tying together the cosmic and eternal significance of such a salvation in Christ, this section is often concluded with the Sanctus from Is. 6:3 (Rev. 4:8): “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Example (I usually do this extemporaneously):
From Book of Common Worship, Prayer D

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is indeed right, our duty and highest joy,
that we should at all times and in all places
give thanks to you, O holy Lord,

Father almighty, everlasting God.
You created the heavens and the earth
and all that is in them.
You made us in your own image;
and in countless ways you show us your mercy.

We praise you for Jesus Christ,
who was tempted in every way we are, yet without sin,
and who, having overcome temptation,
is able to help us in our times of trial,
and to give us strength to take up the cross and follow him

Therefore with angels and archangels
and the whole company of heaven,
we worship and adore your glorious name,
praising you forevermore:

 Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.

"Last Supper" by Jacopo Robusti
“Last Supper” by Jacopo Robusti

Part Two: Thanks to the Son

The second part focuses on the words of Jesus in commanding us to repeat his Last Supper, and is often called the words of institution.  The purpose is to remind us that this is what Jesus commanded us to do.  For many traditions it is these words that make Communion be Communion, the Eucharist a Eucharist.

It must be remember that these words are still part of the prayer (we are not just teach the congregation about what we are doing).  We are still thanking the Father for the gift of the Son and for the Son’s sacrifice.

Example (I usually do this word for word, as best I can):
From Book of Common Worship, Prayer D

We give you thanks that the Lord Jesus,
on the night before he died,
took bread,
and after giving thanks to you,
he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Take, eat.
This is my body, given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.
In the same way he took the cup, saying:
This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood,
shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you drink it,
do this in remembrance of me.

Part Three: Petition to/for the Holy Spirit

"Pentecost" R. De Cramer
“Pentecost” R. De Cramer

The last part is a petition to the Father that the Holy Spirit would come for otherwise all is in vain.  It is the work of the Spirit to that makes us into the Body of Christ. Without the Spirit we would not have life.  It is prayed that the Holy Spirit would take the bread and the cup and make them into the Body and Blood of Christ so that we (the Church) would be make into the Body of Christ.

Sometimes it is thought that the main purpose of the Holy Spirit is to miraculously change the bread and wine.  But really, the whole point is that WE would be change!

Example (usually word for word):
From Book of Common Worship, Prayer D

Merciful God,
by your Holy Spirit bless and make holy
both us and these your gifts of bread and wine,
that the bread we break
may be a communion in the body of Christ,
and the cup we bless may
be a communion in the blood of Christ.

Now, I have left stuff out (the Acclamation and other parts), but this is roughly what we do at Life on the Vine and why we do it.

Summary

So basically we give thanks for the gift of God three times:

We thank the Father for the Son.
We thank the Son for his sacrifice.
We thank the Father for the gift of the Spirit.

In the first we thank the Father for the historical body of Christ.
In the second we thank the Son for the gift of his sacramental body of Christ.
In the third we thank the Holy Spirit for the gift of the ecclesial body Christ.

“Church” or Family?

church-house-hiI can see it on their faces when they come in. That look of surprise, bewilderment, and fear. “Oh, no! This isn’t a ‘church’. It’s a family!”

People visiting our Sunday morning worship gathering are often looking for and expecting a ‘church’.  You know: some worship music, a place for the kids and/or youth, and a practical sermon that helps people know how to follow God.  Perhaps they are just visiting some friends in the area, or they just moving in.  But I can always tell when they were looking for a ‘church’, and find a family instead.

This last Sunday about 20 minutes of our worship service, right at the beginning, was given over to family stuff, not typical ‘churchy’ stuff.  One family is moving away after journeying with us for four year.  So we hear their story of God’s call on their lives, and we all go up and laid hands on them.  But before that a mother updated us on the health of a child that had tripped into the family fire pit and been rushed to the hospital the night before. You know, normal stuff. (Oh, and I forgot, all the men and boys are hanging out this Saturday night, but I can’t tell you about it ’cause it’s a secret).

You see, instead of an anonymous ‘church’ centered on activities we are a family.  We strive to be a family where we can be known.  And all this sharing, and praying, and updating, this is what families do.  The whole point of being the church is really to enter into the family of God, right?

Now, of course, families can be quirky and annoying, certainly intimidating.  And it is hard to break into a family (insert all those awkward dating situations of meeting the parents or coming over for Thanksgiving for the first time).  So if people are visiting then we need to make them feel welcome and up-to-speed (of course, that is much easier if we already know them.  And of course the best way of bringing someone into a family is by inviting them in, rather than hoping they will just randomly show up on a Sunday.

So, when people think of your church, when they visit or are invited, do they find a churchy institution or a family relationship? Do they find primarily a “church building” or a “family bond”?

How have your cultivated the sense of being a family? How have you hindered the sense of being a family?

A Tribe ≠ The Church

The church, however, is not and cannot be “tribal”; rather the church is the community that enables us to recognize that, in fact, it is the world we live in which has a splintered and tribal existence. (Hauerwas, A Community of Character, 92)

If only this were true more of the time.