So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Asking the Right Questions

 

 

It occurred to me the attitude of a person asking a question and framing the question correctly has a great deal to do with whether an answer comes and when it does whether the answer will really be heard.

If for example a question is raised with the intention of fueling a debate or showing the weakness of someone’s position, then any answer will probably be ignored or unheard. This happened often to Jesus when He was questioned by the scribes and Pharisees concerning His teachings. Their motive, and those like them, is not to gain perspective or knowledge but to defeat an opponent or bolster their own views. The issue of truth or whether a position is right or wrong is simply lost.

So with regard to the Christian faith, for every answer it gives to questions raised by people living in a messed up world there are many counterpoints form a myriad sources and many of them can raise doubt as to the veracity of Christianity. What we must understand is that the attitude of the questioner is as important as the question being asked. If a question comes from an attitude of arrogance and seeks only to critique Christianity any response we give is simply going to be ignored. If, on the other hand, the attitude is sincere and humble and the question an honest one concerning the Christian faith, then answers will likely be heard. And a question must be properly framed in order to receive an appropriate answer; if you want an answer about God it’s no use asking about the train schedule.

Ok, so here’s a question many people have been asking-why didn’t God do something to prevent the massacre in Colorado?  I read one answer from a pastor who said “I don’t know why God allowed this”. Now, for some, any answer like this reinforces the conviction there is no God or, if there is one, He is pretty nasty and unpredictable. For others, it only increases the despair.  But what if the question itself is based on a faulty premise, namely that God should, if He is God, go about preventing disasters from happening. And is there human culpability here and shouldn’t that be part of the question; i.e. what of the moral issue involved?

On the largest scale, God has already done something by providing salvation to sinful humanity but people don’t seem interested in the large-scale, just isolated incidents like horrendous, tragic events. Here’s the point: God can stop evil acts by changing evil hearts and evil hearts are changed when they yield to God, not before. So the elimination of evil incidents (like the one in Colorado), wherever in the world they might occur, the ones everybody talks about, depend on human beings participating in the large-scale intervention of God, the one people aren’t so interested in because that would acknowledge God’s claim on them.

Understand this; God is not about micromanaging the universe and turning freeways into foam rubber before accidents occur or removing alcohol out of booze before someone drinks himself to death, or turning bullets into confetti before they harm someone. And if He did no doubt people would complain about God violating a person’s right to drink themselves into oblivion or the insurance companies would complain that Deity is interfering with their bottom line by putting them out of business or someone would sue an ammunition company for faulty products. The simple fact is as long as human beings have free moral agency (and we believe they do otherwise laws, courts and prison time would be pointless) there will be evil in the world until their freedom turns to God and His redemption.

I’m not trying to be callous, but I’m slightly irritated with people questioning God, demanding some sort of explanation from Him, or about His intentions and capabilities in times of crisis and never giving Him a second thought the rest of the time. Besides, no matter what we say to such people, there never will be an answer that will satisfy every man’s itch for clarity especially when their questions aren’t even framed properly to begin with.

However, if the question and the seeker are sincere, then every attempt should be made to help them find answers. We just have to be smart enough to know what the right questions are and whether people really want answers.

 

 

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Dumb Christianity-Part 2

Unfortunately, there are some leaders who perpetuate this laziness (see part 1) by assuming their flock is incapable of understanding the ‘deeper life’ that all Christians can enjoy or they are too lazy to pursue it themselves. In other words, they dumb things down because they think their people are dumb and then join them in their dumbness; it’s all really dumb if you ask me. What follows in their preaching, almost by necessity, is suggesting that it’s easy being a Christian, almost like joining a club; “just pray this, sign here and you’re in”. The sometimes pathetically presented “give your life to Jesus, He loves you…” message really distorts what a person is getting into, and why, when becoming His disciple, not to mention giving a false impression of the King of the universe.

It’s true that becoming, and remaining a Christian is the most blessed condition possible for us, being redeemed from sin and hell, adopted into the family of God, being placed as members of His Body, inheriting eternal life (and I don’t mean living forever but possessing the very Life of God Who is Life), participating in the eternal purpose and destiny of creation, and enjoying the Holy Spirit as a constant Companion this side of heaven. However, what they leave out or gloss over is that being a disciple is not easy; it requires discipline (from which the word ‘disciple’ is derived) crosses to bear, a self that must die, enduring various sufferings and persecutions, a lifelong battle against sin, the flesh and the devil, even death at the hands of others, to name only a few. Just look at what the original disciples went through both before and after His Ascension.

Well, time to move on by considering this: faith in God is more than believing that a set of propositions about Him are true, like those contained in the Creeds, for example; it is at the same time about trusting and trusting God cannot be experienced without an ever-increasing knowledge of, and deepening relationship with Him. Jesus was able to speak about the Father intimately and with authority because He and the Father were one and the words He spoke and the works He did came from the Father; Jesus knew and trusted Him. The disciples spoke intimately and authoritatively about Jesus because they came to know and trust Him and upon their witness and experience of Him the Church is built as others through the centuries hear the Gospel, believe its claims and trust the God whose promises bring it all to pass. And so it is with us; to speak of Him, and for Him, we must know Him and know Him well lest people see a distorted Jesus through our actions and our words.

To this end I suggest the following: immerse yourself in Ephesians 1 because it, and the whole book for that matter, is like a guidebook to the Christian life. If you are a Christian, the first few verses of chapter 1 tell you where you came from and where you are as children of God; the following verses (Paul’s prayer for them) to the end of the chapter tell you where you must go. When you begin to master the ideas presented in these verses, comprehend the vision from which they sprang, and appreciate the pastoral heart of Paul (and Jesus, the Good Shepherd) from which they were written, then you will have advanced far in your walk with Him; your spiritual life will change, your witness will carry force and conviction. Devour these words, make them your own, study each one because they open doors to yet greater truth, read them again and again until the fog lifts in your mind and clarity takes its place. And understand this: even though I harp about the shortcomings of churches and their leaders to preach and lead as they should, you are ultimately responsible for “working out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God working in you.” Don’t be dumb just because others are.

 

 

Dumb Christianity

I’m using the word ‘dumb’ to mean two things; first, ‘dumb’ as in uninformed or ignorant and, second, ‘dumb’ as not able to speak, at least intelligibly, because of the first kind of dumb.

Our culture here in the United Sates is overrun with competing world-views and most of them, in my opinion, are just plain dumb (in the first sense) and those talking about them also often dumb (in the second sense); cultural pluralism and epistemological relativism are two examples.  My concern is this dumbness infecting Christians who are called to testify how and why Christianity is not only intelligent, coherent and rationally sound, but that it is also the Truth.

The early church (50-100 CE) recognized the perils of dumbness. That’s why new converts were required to undergo a rigorous catechism before they could be baptized; the Didache is a perfect example. These catechisms were based on the teachings of the Apostles and then formed into lessons by the first and second century church fathers.

You might be thinking “well, Jesus never required a catechism nor did Paul or the other apostles”. Well, think about that for a minute. In Jesus’ day it was Him and Judaism; Jews already knew what they believed and Jesus taught them the correct version.

With regard to Paul, most of his writings could be thought of as catechisms because they contain true doctrine and were written to teach and correct. The content of his letters became critical as Christianity expanded into the Hellenistic-Roman-Pagan culture. Why? It had to make its case against competing and entrenched world views (apologetics) and, more importantly, eventual heresies that would arise (polemics). So, here we are in 2012 and nothing has changed. In fact, many of the world-views and heresies the early church confronted are with us today (Arianism and Gnosticism to name just a couple); and this is not because their longevity is a sign they might be true, just that dumb people still buy into them, even Christians who should know better.

Fortunately for all of us, most of the intellectual heavy lifting is already done. The church fathers I mentioned earlier inherited the task of applying the writings of the apostles to settle profoundly significant theological disputes (the Apostolic creed is an example of one ‘settlement’) and less important disputes amongst churches and church leadership. It’s good to remember that during this time there was no Bible, only numerous letters (some quite dumb, by the way) and oral traditions, although some still think Paul used the KJV. But I digress.

I suspect, and hope, that most pastors desire their congregations be theologically well-informed but laziness and slothfulness are not just worldly problems. Christians can be enormously slothful; they think all this free stuff from God means they don’t have to do much; it’s not by works they say. Lazy and dumb… too many fit this description.

Next time we’ll discuss how to get into theological shape and why doing so is critical to our faith.

What’s With This Church Growth Thing, Anyway?

 

In my meanderings around the net looking at Christian websites I’ve noticed more and more manuals, books, seminars, studies, conventions etc. offering to help churches learn how to grow, all for a price of course. Three things came to mind; first, publishers, publishing houses, and writers need audiences in order to keep the wheels turning and keep the doors open. Since church growth is a hot topic many ‘experts’ offer their strategies, sell their wisdom, and make it all sound extremely important and necessary. Now, I may be wrong, but I haven’t found any reference in the Bible that church growth is required or commanded so on a scale of important topics, it ranks pretty low.

Which leads to the second observation; many churches that are into ‘growth’ usually mean numerical growth by ‘reaching the lost’ or something like that. I’ve also observed they seem to be following the pattern of secular corporations in their governance, finances and leadership (at least the independent and non-denominational ones); i.e. the ‘lost’ are like potential customers. In some churches it seems an MBA is superior to an M. Div. for its leaders. I guess the sheer size of some churches (aka campuses) require this kind of expertise; they are called ‘church administrators’ or “administrative pastors” I think. I guess putting a ‘pastor’ as part of the title legitimizes it as a proper ‘ministry’.

Third, big churches mean big budgets and big budgets need big offerings and big offerings need big numbers of people, otherwise the ‘church’ shuts down, goes into bankruptcy, leaders get indicted, or fraud is exposed. It’s sad but these very things are happening across the country with alarming regularity.

Now, let’s consider the meaning of church growth. Does it mean growth in numbers (the body count on any given Sunday) or is it spiritual growth? A quick response might be  “Both, you idiot”.  Ok, I can accept that but if and only if (you philosophy majors will recognize the significance of ‘if and only if’) numerical growth is in proportion to the successful advancement of spiritual maturity in the congregation. “Well”, some might say, “it’s much more difficult to measure spiritual growth than it is numbers.” Exactly… this is why numerical growth is often the main, or only, measure of a church’s or pastor’s ‘successes’. It’s almost like they’re thinking “the people are theologically dumb as a brick and spiritual midgets, but there sure is a lot of them, praise God.”

Well, in case you’re thinking I’m just a cynical grouch, I’m all for church growth.  However, I just think it’s a natural result of a healthy flock, not a lot of ‘creative’ strategizing; sheep beget sheep, after all. In other words, it’s not really that big of a mystery and besides, after all is said and done, it’s God that increases a church anyway. (1 Cor. 3:7) Since this numbers thing is never mentioned in the Bible as an indicator of spirituality but growth in the Spirit is, the number of people attending our church is secondary to how spiritually mature the one’s are who do and what steps are being taken to make them more so. (Acts 16:5) And this has always been the hard part, the long-term challenge, this “making disciples” thing.

I think that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is the only church growth manual any pastor or church needs. The first three chapters are a magnificent and profound description of what being a Christian is and how to become more so while the next three show what a Christian should do in practical, everyday life. If its wisdom is taken seriously and implemented faithfully all churches, no matter their size, and every Christian, no matter their age, will grow and thereby be worthy of the calling they have in Christ.

And, by the way, it’s free of charge and written by a great author.

 

 

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