Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Church Specifics

Lately my community has been discussing the form and function of "church". We come from various backgrounds with numerous experiences and all of that leads to preferences and those aren't a bad thing. However, when people confuse their preference or even their traditional experiences with God's will or God's effect "Christianizing" their preferences or opinions it becomes rather divisive and dysfunctional. Such an event happened this week when a guest to the group became overly assertive over an issue. Listing my preferences here wouldn't help this move ahead so I will simply list some observations compiled by Frank Viola regarding what the churches in the Bible did.

They met regularly in homes. Acts 20:20, Romans 16:3, I Cor 16:19

They took communion as a full meal. I Cor 11:21-34

Their church gatherings were open and participatory. I Cor 14:26, Hebrews 10:24-25

Spiritual Gifts were employed by each member. I Cor 12-14

They genuinely saw themselves as family and acted accordingly. Galatians 6:10, I Timothy 5:1-2, Romans 12:5, Ephesians 4:15, Romans 12:13, 2 Cor 8:12-15

They had a plurality of elders to oversee the community. Acts 20:17, I Timothy 1:5-7

They were established and aided by itinerant apostolic workers. Acts 13-21 and all of the Apostolic Letters

They were united and did not denominate themselves into separate organizations within the city. Acts 8:1, Acts 13:1, Acts 18:22, Romans 16:1, Thess 1:1

They did not use honorific titles. Matthew 23:8-12

They did not organize themselves hierarchically. Matthew 20:25-28, Luke 22:25-26

My PREFERENCE would be that the idea of church return to these rather organic roots and completely abandon the more institutional model...I guess the real question for any community of believers is how God may be moving them in their gatherings.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Egalitarianism or Complementarianism

The following is my reply to my community regarding a discussion we had last night regarding women being submissive to men and exactly what we are to do with the whole issue of "women's roles".

I think the debate and questions we were discussing last night is difficult at best. I don’t think it is difficult from a standpoint of “Biblical Authority”. I think we all believe the Bible is profitable for teaching, training and edification...among other things (2 Tim 3). I also think that we are unified in the understanding that the Bible can’t be taken literally in every instance since the Bible is a collection of poetry (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.), private letters (Timothy, Philemon, etc), public letters (Galatians, Ephesians, etc.), books of history (Pentateuch, etc.), etc. For example, the very fact that any female speaks inside the church building and no man openly rebukes her for it is proof that that we don’t take I Corinthians 14 literally when Paul writes:

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

I think this issue becomes difficult because of the ways in which the primary operational definitions have been molested for the purposes of control, domination and other forms of evil. Therefore I think it would be helpful if we establish, through Biblical example and texts what is likely meant by the teaching of the “husband being the head of the wife” and the “wife being required to submit to the husband”.

I like that Melea began in Genesis (which is never a bad place to start). Part of the curse of the fall was indeed that Eve and every woman to follow her would be ruled by their husband. That is found in Genesis 3:
To the woman he said, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

The Hebrew word that we translate into “rule over” is “mashal”. The meaning of that word is not just to reign over, have dominion over and govern over, but this word is one spoken with emphasis. I think it is safe to say that we all have seen evidence on micro and macro levels where this curse has come to pass and in many cases continues on today.
I think this is important because of what Jesus is in relation to the fall of man. More importantly we should ask who Jesus is in relation to the fall. Jesus came to restore everything lost in the fall. The primary thing we typically consider is that we can again be restored to God and His presence for all eternity but the presence of God wasn’t the only thing humanity lost in the fall of man.

We lost the intimacy shared between the male and female. Prior to the fall they were “naked and unashamed”. That was destroyed in the fall and more specifically with the curse of God listed above. That is important because we know that we are cursed from the fall but we also know that we are called, by our lives being firmly rooted in the new reality of the Messiah, to a new life and a new standard. In the kingdom of God, that Jesus proclaimed more often than he discussed love, grace or prayer, the relationship between a man and woman is to exist in a way representative of how things should have always been and will exist again at some point. This lends great weight to the scripture found in Galatians 3:
26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

For those of us who belong to Christ, I believe that we are expected to seek transformation to the point that we no longer see nationalities, races or gender. Not just because it is right to do so, but because we are called to appropriately represent the Kingdom of God. For those who are in the Kingdom of God there is no longer male or female. According to this school of though, the qualifications within the Kingdom of God become not if one a male or female, if one belongs to a particular tribe or if they are a member of the proper religious sect. The lone qualification becomes God’s gifting of individuals and God’s calling on those people.

So what of the verses that would argue a more traditional, complementarian view?
Ephesians 5 does say:
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Additionally I Timothy 2 says:
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

These verses are the core of the Complementarian debate. They seem to place the woman beneath the man and they tend to create a spiritual hierarchy within the Kingdom of God. When considering the curse for the original sin, this seems inconsistent with God. However, just because we think something is inconsistent or doesn’t make sense, we can’t discard it and maintain any kind of integrity.
I do think it is important to consider the context in which we find these verses. I think it is interesting that we prefer the specific verses above at times to prove our position or further substantiate our comfort but we rarely like the verses around them.

The Ephesians 5 passage gets very interesting near the end of the chapter. Paul is notorious for discussing a topic and seemingly going off on a tangent only to draw it back together. He does that in the famous chapter on “love” in I Corinthians 13. Paul is rocking along for 3 chapters (12-14) discussing the “gifts of the Spirit” and seemingly inserts “love” along the way. In reality Paul is actually using the discussion of love in relation to his discussion of gifts. A very similar pattern exists in Ephesians 5 as well. Paul concludes this passage in an interesting, though somewhat predictable way for him, when he says:
He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, people have never hated their own bodies, but they feed and care for them, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

The structure of that passage doesn’t exactly make sense considering the way we read more contemporary text. However, it is important to remember that the original manuscripts are void of punctuation and what we would consider usual sentence structure.
I think the verse from I Timothy is even more revealing. For the Complementarian Argument to stand up the passage in I Timothy must not in any way be a statement rooted in cultural relevancy. That is to say that it must be immutable and not negotiable based on contemporary values. The verses directly preceding the passage about women learning in quiet submission read like this:
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

I have yet to find the same level of zeal from the more fundamentalist followers of Jesus regarding the aspects of men lifting their hands as they pray, women braiding their hair, women wearing gold/pearls or expensive clothing. Yet if one wants to claim that they are a “Biblical literalist”, each issue can’t be interpreted on what one thinks is appropriate. Obviously, braided hair and certain jewelry were cultural issues during the 1st Century. It seems unreasonable to divorce that cultural relevancy of braided hair and that of women only learning in quiet submission and never teaching a man.

At the end of the day I think it is important to mention, as I attempted to last night, that this is a very applicable discussion and one that has divided churches and families. The fact that remains that those who wish to find substantiation of their positions, be it egalitarian or complementarian, in scripture can do so. I personally think that one way of dealing with this debate seems to more accurately reflect the heart of the God I find elsewhere in scripture than the other way does, but as Melea appropriately references in her email, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Lifespan of Democracy

About the time our original thirteen states adopted their new constitution in 1787, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh , had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years earlier:

'A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, those nations always progressed through the following sequence:
1. From bondage to spiritual faith;

2. From spiritual faith to great courage;

3. From courage to liberty;

4. From liberty to abundance;

5. From abundance to complacency;

6. From complacency to apathy;

7. From apathy to dependence;

8. From dependence back into bondage'

Professor Joseph Olson of Hemline University School of Law, St. Paul , Minnesota, points out some interesting facts concerning the 2000 Presidential election:

Number of States won by: Democrats: 19 Republicans: 29

Square miles of land won by: Democrats: 580,000 Republicans: 2,427,000

Population of counties won by Democrats: 127 million; Republicans: 143million

Murder rate per 100,000 residents in counties won by: Democrats: 13.2 Republicans: 2.1

Professor Olson adds: 'In aggregate, the map of the territory Republican won was mostly the land owned by the taxpaying citizens of this great country. Democrat territory mostly encompassed those citizens living in government-owned tenements and living off various forms of government welfare...'
Olson believes the United States is now somewhere between the 'complacency and apathy' phase of Professor Tyler's definition of democracy, with some forty percent of the nation's population already having reached the 'governmental dependency' phase.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Props to Mr. Culpepper

Life has changed in so many ways over the past three years. Alabama is no longer in the SEC cellar and Auburn is no longer enjoying the view from the top of the SEC. Three years ago Nick Saban was in his first year with the Miami Dolphins and the thought that he would be the next great coach in the storied Alabama tradition would have been laughable. Three years ago it seemed unlikely that Tommy Tubberville would be on the hot seat at Auburn…well, some things do stay the same.
Three years ago, while attending the Alabama-Auburn game at Jordan-Hare stadium in Auburn, my perspective changed and I haven’t viewed the Iron Bowl the same since. While sitting in seats that seem to have fallen into my lap by divine providence after my wife’s prayer for the tickets, the gloom of Auburn’s 3 touchdowns in the first quarter was shattered by the cries of Mrs. Culpepper. Mr. Herman Culpepper was having a heart attack and I found him unconscious and quickly fading. It seemed like an eternity before the EMS services responded, but a nurse and I did CPR on Mr. Culpepper as long as we needed to do so. After several unsuccessful attempts with the defibrillator Mr. Culpepper was taken down the steps and through the tunnel to the waiting ambulance. I prayed in my heart that he would live though my mind didn’t hold out much hope. By halftime of that game I received word that Mr. Culpepper had indeed survived and would be fine after stints were placed. The elation I felt at that moment completely placed that game and sports in general into proper perspective. Life isn’t about events, it is about people.
I spoke to the Culpeppers several times after that day and the story we share even made headlines in several newspapers and one national publication. I had the honor of speaking with Mr. Culpepper again today and I am pleased to report that he is doing just fine. In fact, the man that Mr. Culpepper is today continues to serve as an inspiration to me and so many others. Mr. Culpepper wasn’t exactly wasting his life prior to three years ago. The devoted husband, father and grandfather was most pleased after his last heart attack that he would be able to spend more time with his family. For him, life wasn’t about finances, schedules or politics. Life is only lived to the fullest when it is spent in devotion to impacting the lives of others.
Mr. Culpepper told me today about what is going on in his life. Not surprisingly, he spoke about his family first. He said, “I have been able to spend time with my grandchildren and discuss the Lord with them”. He went on to mention that he is a Sunday School teacher and continues to be very active in his church. He also serves disabled veterans that return from Iraq and Afghanistan and helps them find purpose and direction in their lives. As Mr. Culpepper talked I couldn’t help but smile. Few things are more encouraging and uplifting than people loving and serving others. Mr. Culpepper and I discussed on so many occasions before, and again today, that God has a reason for him to still be here. In fact God has a reason for us all to be here. Mr. Culpepper is a shining example of living out that purpose to the fullest. His example becomes more inspiring as I realize he does it all with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for life itself.
Mr. Culpepper thanked me today, as he has each time we have talked, but I couldn’t let it go at that. I thanked him too. For serving others, for putting his family first and for living each day with great purpose. He said, “You and God have given me three more years on this earth”. In fairness I think he is being way too kind. The life that was given by God alone is sustained by God alone and Mr. Culpepper seems content to celebrate that fact daily.
The Iron Bowl this year has changed as Alabama is expected to win for the first time in years. With Auburn’s success the past six years that is certainly a welcomed change for Bama Fans. If I can find some reasonably priced tickets for the Iron Bowl, I will be watching the game this year from the stands for the first time since the day Mr. Culpepper was given a new lease on life. While I will be pulling for Alabama as hard as ever, I will be doing so with Mr. Culpepper in mind. The Iron Bowl is discussed all year in this state and athletic success of coaches and programs are often determined by the results of this game. Mr. Culpepper serves as an example to us all that real success in life is determined what happens off the field, out of our offices and in so many ways, what happens outside of our own lives. Life is about the people we love and those who extend that love in return. Here’s to Mr. Culpepper for showing us all how that looks.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tongues and History

This past Sunday night in our small group (Church, for those of you not in the know) we began discussing charismatic gifts and their modern day existence. In a follow up email a buddy of mine asked why these gifts seem to disappear shortly after the death of Christ and not really show up in any written account until the 19th century. Below you can find my reply. Let me preface the reply by saying that I am shooting from the hip on this one...hoping my memory of previous study serves me well. Enjoy:

I would say that many reasons exist for why things such as speaking in tongues were not written. Christians were increasingly persecuted beginning even in Acts when the followers of Jesus fled to various cities and areas. Once being a christian or gathering as christians became crimes punished typically by death, I can't imagine many people would be willing to write about manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, once Constantine beat Maxentius on the Mulvian Bridge under the sign of Chi Rho (a cool story for another day), the persecution of christians the traditional form anyway. However, for the first time in the brief history of christendom, the church was "official" Blake's world I would call it "institutionalized". Constantine gave churches land grants and for the first time in history, a second class of humans were established within churches...leaving us, almost 1700 years later with pastors (or pick your choice label for paid leadership within a church) and lay people. Of interest, Constantine also gave the clergy Roman Senatorial Robes which became our modern day choir robes...and some denominations still have the paid leader person preach or perform communion in robes. Anyway, all of that is important because of the ecclesiastical subjugation to government. Once the elite, popular and wealthy of Rome began to flock to the new fad of christianity the more spiritual practices of the faith would understandably percentages anyway. Those who kept a more pure form of faith would have not been published nor would they likely have been willing to write of their experiences for fear of ridicule, demotion or some other form of embarrassment. With things like the Nicene Creed and the Edict of Milan being written by those in power, testimonies of tongues, healings and prophesy would be limited or grossly overlooked.
If we fast forward through the Middle Ages we pass through over 1000 years of Catholic controlled ecclesiology that extends well into the period of Protestant Reformation. For example, people like Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon were imprisoned even in the late 17th century by the Catholic Church for "Mysticism". Her form of mysticism was simply teaching people that the Spirit of God could live in them, guide them and even communicate with them supernaturally without the help or blessing of the "church". Strangely enough I still proclaim the same thing today and am sometimes met with similar skepticism...but I digress. That isn't really an environment to be too vocal or public with something like speaking in tongues.
Now with all of that said, it is important to note that even Plato mentioned what many consider to be "speaking in tongues" with the mention in some of his writings of "ecstatic speech". So obviously, charismatic gifts showing up in written form are not the gold standard of their existence or of their foundation being always rooted in God.
However, it is important to note that writings do exist indicating the practice of charismatic gifts. Origen, Tertullian, Athenogoras and Eusidius all mention these out-pourings of the Holy Spirit. The Schleitheim Groups founded in the mid 16th century were known for "waiting on the spirit of the Lord" and wait they would. If needed, they would wait in silence for days until the "Spirit" would show up in the form of charismatic gifts.

I say ALL of that to say that we can't really speak accurately about charismatic gifts being something that were and then took a break and now may be back again. I think that kind of reasoning, in addition to being historically inaccurate, is designed to cast immediate skepticism on the existence and practice of these gifts of the Holy Spirit. If we can effectively remove this argument based on their historicity, perhaps we can more clearly seek to understand what God intends for us in our present walk with Him. That is the goal after least I think it is.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monk Brawl 2008

So yesterday was Sunday. Sunday is seen by many Christians to be a "Holy Day". So in Israel yesterday two opposing religious groups did what any self-respecting groups would do on the "Holy Day"....fight like hell!!!

The clash between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks broke out in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.The brawling began during a procession of Armenian clergymen commemorating the 4th-century discovery of the cross believed to have been used to crucify Jesus.The Greeks objected to the march without one of their monks present, fearing that otherwise, the procession would subvert their own claim to the Edicule — the ancient structure built on what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus — and give the Armenians a claim to the site.

I think there is a hidden gem in that last paragraph...the Greek Monks FEARED...THE PROCESSION WOULD SUBVERT THEIR OWN CLAIM. It seems that these two rather ancient groups have passed on a few things to our modern religious sad.

Kind of like a grown man peeing his pants, the video of "Monk Brawl 2008" is as equally funny and strange. To see otherwise religious people, wearing religious clothes fighting like a bunch of drunk rednecks reminds me of Jesus' labeling of the Pharisees. He said they were like a white-washed tomb...pretty to look at but dead inside. What happens in Israel, between two groups barely even recognized in the Bible Belt of America seems irrelevant and far removed...but are we really any different?

I mean, how often do we or have we gotten dressed up, called ourselves doing something religious only to have horrible attitudes, rotten behavior and ungodly actions? It is easy to spot Monks fighting in a "Holy Place" but it is much more difficult to spot the rotten and often hidden, dark corners in our own world. I pray that you will join me in using the events of the Monk Brawl as a mirror to make sure we aren't all being equally absurd.

And if I may add one last thing...based on the video, Monks fight like wounded girl scouts...pretty angry and vicious but very few wild swings actually make contact and they don't seem to hurt very badly when they do. If you are going to pick a fight with your cross-town rival Monk Gang, you better be able to back it up...otherwise you end up on looking like a sissy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Revolutions Winning

Now that we as a country have a new leader waiting in the wings I wonder if the new regime will deliver on the promises they were so eager to offer in the previous year. Regardless of your political ideas, most people agree that the movement behind Obama has been almost in line with something religious. With that said, I wonder more than ever what happens when the movement or revolution for change enjoys a seat of power? The following quote is from Erwin McManus and I think he asks some appropriate questions about revolutionaries becoming "winners" and churches in general. Enjoy.

"Nothing is more dangerous to a revolution than winning. When a revolution wins, it must face the prospect of becoming an institution. No better example of this exists than when Constantine began mandating national baptisms. Christianity changed from a movement to an institution, from a global revolution to a world religion. You could now become a Christian without ever having met Jesus Christ personally. This was a bad thing-like keeping the shell and tossing the egg.
The irony in this is that the force of Christianity first changed the Roman world and then relinquished its power in the name of accommodation. It’s easy to see the difference between Christianity as a religion and Christianity as a revolution when we look back to the days of Constantine and the Dark Ages that followed. It’s more difficult to see that difference in our contemporary environment because we are standing in the middle of it. Our great awakenings were born through men and women who could see that the church had lost her way. They led the church back to the third day: from death to resurrection. They called God’s people out of the apathetic to the passionate.
Real, sustainable change occurs when actions are in response to values. For too long we have focused on making sure people believe the right things and have left their concerns alone. I know it may sound like heresy, but it is more important to change what people care about than to change what they believe! You can believe without caring, but you can’t care without believing. We cannot afford to fill our churches with members who have biblical beliefs and worldly concerns. When we awaken the apostolic ethos, the heart of God begins to pulsate throughout the church of Jesus Christ. The Christian faith is to be a moving experience!"

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bass Ackwards

If ever I got things backwards or out of order, my dad would say, "that's bass ackwards"...the implication obviously being that my actions or plans went against a normal or expected sequence of events. This past Sunday I think my wife and I were bass ackwards but in a good way.

Don't gasp or faint but I actually went and sat through an entire institutionalized church service. We didn't go to just any "church" either...we went to the largest church in the state of Alabama. Just this one worship time has cars backed up on the interstate and parking reminded me more of a sporting event than a place where believers of God were gathering to enrich their walks with God. We entered near the kids wing of the monstrous building and checked them in to the computerized security system and eventually found their class rooms and handed their teachers the digital printout explaining their names, DOB, potty training status...I think I saw blood type, previous medical information and mother's maiden name listed somewhere on the form. From there we walked past the in-house Starbucks...I kid you not, into the stadium-I mean auditorium. A band that looked more like a Pearl Jam setup than David with his harp was entertaining everyone and fortunately one of our friends found us and lead us to our seats in section J, row 43, seats 11 and 12.
Finally the super-pastor emerged under the sparkles of the spotlight...his incredibly white teeth momentarily blinded me when the spotlight bounced off of them and maybe burned my retina. And then the whole reason we were there happened. A family in our small-group had invited us to the dedication of their one year old.

The night before I was left with a dilemma...attend the antithesis of almost everything I hold dear within the kingdom of God and honor our brother and sister in the Lord or take a stand, not attend this mega-church and possibly offend our friends. As much as I didn't want to go I knew from the beginning that we were required to model what Jesus taught. Relationships always trump personal preference...people always win out over comfort.

So what is so bass ackwards about that whole scenario? I hear so many people say that they attend church to find a community. I think so many think that church is where faith happens and you foster relationships there that hopefully carry over into our everyday lives. Well, for us it is the other way around. We have "community" and we simply attended this church to deepen our relationships...not to find them. We went to this place not to get closer to God but to get closer to people who walk with us in our journey toward God. To many that may seem bass ackwards from the me, I just call it a new direction within the Kingdom of God as I experience it.

So was it worth it? Would I ever go back to that place again under similar circumstances? When it comes to honoring our fellow travelers on this spiritual journey and when it comes to fostering deeper relationships within what I consider our church...absolutely, I will go every time I am asked to do that.