Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Although only Christ came to give His life for all, He sets the example for us. The "Bah-humbugs" run counter to God's design for us and can be debilitating. Don't let them get you down this holiday season. As you can see, I'm already starting to come out of mine!
lux lucis eternus fulsi in vestri vita is dies
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. [Acts 2:43-47]
Rather than pure numbers, the healthy church is concerned about character - a character reflected in the embodiment of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it would seem that the concern of the human members of the church described in Acts was to draw closer to Christ in worship and service. This was the work of the Spirit in each member's life. Numbers was the "Lords" concern, not theirs. What 'role' do numbers play then? If Luke mentions numbers, there must be a reason; even if they are not the central concern...
Here is a possible answer: numbers represent the fulfilling of need. The organization that is "increasing" in numbers is fulfilling a need; the organization that is decreasing, is missing the need. This 'need' can be filled in a holy fashion, or in an unholy fashion, resulting in either increase or decrease. In some churches, numbers can increase due to personality-driven leadership, entertainment-oriented ministries and comfort-focused facilities. The focus of this church is not Christ then, but self - yet the numbers increase - because the easiest thing for any organization to do is to appease the self. So numbers can't be the sole indicator of church health. The measure has to be something else.
Rather than numbers, the key to church health would seem to be 'character transformation'. Do the persons who make the church have transformed character? Together, do these people exhibit a community character that could be described as "like Jesus"? The addition of 'numbers' then becomes the responsibility of the Lord (Acts 2:47). The joy of the church then must come from the presence of the Spirit in the transformed character of the people of God. The Western - and particularly the American - church must change its understanding of the function of numbers and the reason the church exists. Indeed, the most satisfied self is ultimately not the comfort-driven self, but the self-in-Jesus.
Small, then, can be beautiful. A church whose members seek self-transformation in Jesus find 'solace' not in creature comfort, but in the cross. Church health then is reflected in a luminous character, imbued by the Spirit in the image of Christ. This luminosity draws hurting people in - some stay and are transformed, and yet some do not stay, finding the cost to self to be too high. Yet growth is present, first in character, then in presence. The healthy church will go through cycles of numerical growth and decline, but will always have a tremendous sense of character in the Spirit due to the abundant presence of love.
In the future, the church will focus on character transformation. The congregations of believers will vary in size, but due to outside pressures, will most likely be small. Rather than focusing on large rolls and big budgets, the church of the future will be smaller, more mobile and will be enclaves of the character of Jesus. Traditional or contemporary, believer or seeker sensitive, emerging or cowboy - those facets will not matter to the church in the future. The question will be - how do you embody Jesus?
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:43-47)
So what about the church now? What about the church tomorrow? What about the church in our life time? It is easy to project out an apocalyptic scenario that is far beyond our immediate experience. But where do we go from here?
Here and now is the heterogenous church. There are many expressions of the body of Christ; as many expressions as there are people types it would seem - particularly in the individual oriented West. Indeed many of our churches are 'personality' driven! The reformation of culture we are undergoing, however, is obviously influencing seismic shifts in our church cultures. The postmodern emphasis on community, as well as individuality; the demand that music and ministries be "relevant" and the increasing drive to be "missional" all contribute to this cultural shift. Nevertheless, there are many churches and communities that are not experiencing the postmodern influence to the degree that most are. These churches recall a time when the church seemed much more homogenous and long for the day when that homogeneity can be recovered. But that is simply not our reality.
In the West, the church is - not, will be - but is, fragmented. Despite the common assumption that the church is being a positive influence for change in culture - and it is to a degree - today, it is probably at its most ineffective and self-absorbed. Its focus tends towards the myopic or nearsighted and thus becoming less and less effective: it problematically focuses on worship preferences, service issues, denominational loyalties and doctrinal boundaries. As the church has grown over the years and become a popular 'spiritual outlet' on the whole it has lost its focus on spiritual transformation. Interestingly, these types of problems cropped up almost immediately in the early church. Paul's epistles to the Corinthians, the Ephesians and to Timothy are good examples of apostolic "fire control." Paul was right: until Christ returns, believers live in a sin-stained world, where the tension between following Christ and following self is excruciating. If this has been a problem since the church's inception, why the fuss now? Good question. In my opinion, due to the fragmenting of the church in North America today, we have an opportunity to recover a much more genuine understanding of what it means to be the church, the body of Christ.
As I read the passage from the book of Acts quoted above, I do not discern similar emphases in the earliest expression of the church. I am particularly drawn to the phrases "Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe" and "sincerity of heart" - There is an obvious focus on Spiritual transformation and the character of Christ. In our heterogenous church environment, we do not have to seek uniformity, but can communally seek the character of Christ. The homogeneity we can find is not to be found in the externals then - worship styles, minutiae of doctrine or denominational loyalty, but rather in an embrace and embodiment of the character of Christ not only as individuals, but as communities of faith.
This means a focus on biblical discipleship, spiritual transformation and prayer-filled worship that transcends any one style. It means a "turn towards the other" in love. If our churches will allow this shift to occur, Christ will use us to transform our world in the here and now.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Romans 12:4-5
What is the architecture of the church? In other words what should a church look like? What should a church look like in the future? We agree that the church, as in its current state is floundering, struggling for its life. It has forgotten that it is the ecclesia - "the called out ones." We agree that the church needs to refocus on its "life in the Trinity" and primarily recoup an understanding of the Spirit's work in its midst. Indeed, cooperation with the Spirit is crucial! But then what will this living and breathing organization 'look' like?
At some point in its 2000 plus year existence, the church became identified with the structure in which it met. Like a temple or synagogue, it had a sanctuary, an atrium and like the early Roman house churches a water source for baptisms. Within several hundred years, the church building took on a particular form and by the sixteenth century Reformation had found its ideal architectural style. In contemporary America, most people know a "church building" - it can be white or usually brick, a raised roof, stained glass lining the sanctuary and a steeple of some sort. Any one of these or a combination of these elements are indicative of the church building with or without a sign. But is this the church? According to our preliminary studies, the answer would have to be no.
Well, here are some preliminary thoughts:
1) The church is the community of believers, drawn out of the world (ekkaleo), by the Spirit, in Christ, to participate in the program of the Trinity.
We are a community of people, readily identifiable by our character in the Spirit, constantly pointing to Christ as our source and the Father as our glory.
2) The church looks and acts, like a "body."
Paul consistently referred to the church as the "body" of Christ. See Romans 12 especially.
3) The church functions as priest to the world.
The closest any other Biblical writer comes to Paul's vision of the church as "body" is Peter, in 1 Peter 2:5 - "you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
We stand as witnesses to a lost and dying world of the absolute love of God and point to the salvation that is to be found in Him alone.
With those thoughts in mind....
4) In the future, buildings will be irrelevant. Indeed for many churches in North America, function already trumps form.
This will be hard in a transitional age. There are many in North America who have so closely identified church with building that the shift in understanding will bring bewilderment, resentment and even anger. See the "emerging church" on this polarization. Nevertheless, as the church recovers its identity as the Body of Christ, an increasing focus will be given to mission and radical discipleship. The idea of catechetical instruction will return.
5) In an increasingly secular and antagonistic culture, the places where the church meets will increasingly focus on functionality - as staging points for ministry.
Locations of where the church meets, might even shift on a regular basis due to the emphasis on functionality and the possibility of antagonistic response by the secular community. This is already the case in third world, socialist or Islamic countries.
The signs of liturgy and sacramental beauty - such as bright brass crosses and communion vessels, stained glass and carved wooden symbols of our faith - will become portable and even hidden. The main form of worship will return to prayer and gentle singing. (See Ephesians 5:19)
6) The church will become a movement.
Different denominational expressions of the church in the community will dissolve. Much of the membership will be lost to secularization while a few will reform as the movement of Christ. The Holy Priesthood, the Living Stones, the Body of Christ will go about doing the miraculous work and ministry of Christ with no permanent place of worship; they simply will utilize what they have on hand to affect worship and make disciples.
7) The church will be anonymous. There will be but one name: Christ.
No more first, second and third churches. No more this street and this avenue churches. No more consumer based church shopping and hopping. No more church splits. No more personality driven ministries. There will be but one body, one Spirit and one baptism. The members of the body will exercise their Spiritual gifts in the name of Christ to the glory of the Father.
In an era where the institutional church has forgotten who she is, a younger generation of Christians is working over time to recapture the roots of the Christian faith. Especially in Protestant Baptist life, where we are so focused on Scripture and the revivalist tradition. This younger generation has finally said, "enough!" to the constant bickering over buildings and the nuances of biblical authority. They see it for what it is, the quest for power and division by the enemy. So the institutional church has given them no choice if they want to find the roots of their faith: start over. And they are. They are going to different denominational or non-denominational faith expressions. They are returning to the Roman church. They are forming house churches.
Although the church is fragmenting now, in my life time we will still have church buildings, traditions and beautiful stained glass. There will still be believers who love the liturgy and the beauty of where they worship. They will love the organ, the praise band and the Christian music stations. We will spend time in Christian bookstores and watch Christian movies. Nevertheless, we must prepare for the future and refocus our lives as the Body of Christ and invest ourselves in the concerns of our Savior.
Food for thought my friends.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.
But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.