Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Church (Page 3 of 5)

Called to share

The whole creation is in labour, longing for God’s new world to be born. The church is called to share that pain and that hope. The church is not to be apart from the pain of the world; it is to be in prayer at precisely the place where the world is in pain. That is part of our calling, our high but strange role within God’s purposes for new creation.

— Tom Wright, Paul for everyone: Romans, Part 1

The five ages of the church

In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.

(Attributed to Richard Halverson, former chaplain to the US Senate)

A glimpse of the Mystery

Yet, when all is said and done, what the world most needs from the church is not so much instruction about the nature of the mystery as a glimpse of the Mystery itself operative in us. It already knows its own passion, and the vastness of the shipwreck of history; it waits for us to show it the power of Christ’s Passion and to lift man’s agony into His.

— Robert Farrar Capon, An Offering of Uncles: The Priesthood of Adam and the Shape of the World

Lowering the masks

MaskContrary to what I may try very hard to convince you of, I am not:

– someone who has all the answers
– someone who mostly feels secure and confident
– someone who has God, the Christian faith and theology all figured out
– someone who has no worries about the present or the future

Why do I say this?

Because, as Christians living in the twenty-first century, and particularly in the western world, we feel pressure to appear this way. Or, to put it more accurately, we might not consciously feel any such pressure, but deep down inside we’re desperate to be seen as people who have it all together, who know what we’re doing and where we’re going, who are street smart and worldly wise.

But this is mostly an act. We many convince everyone, including ourselves, but the reality is usually otherwise. We are usually much less confident, self-assured, strong, wise and convinced than we think or pretend we are.

Or maybe it’s just me.

It seems to me that, in this image-driven age in which you are increasingly what people think you are, this is one of the greatest challenges facing the church: to encourage people (including, and especially, Christians) to lower the masks and be honest about their struggles, their weaknesses, their failures and their fears. I think this is very difficult for a church to do, but without it, the church is just another place where people go to get validation by meeting people’s expectations. Rather than, as it should be, a place where people can come “Just as I am, without one plea” and find grace, forgiveness and acceptance.

The church I dream of is a church that encourages and insists on honesty and transparency, but which meets disappointment, fear and failure with hope, encouragement and incarnational love.

Maybe I’m just a dreamer.

[ Image: gnuckx ]

In the bubble

BubbleIt occurs to me that many churches (in my experience at least) are self-sustaining bubbles. Let me unpack that.

Often, we believe what we believe (in terms of doctrine) not because we’ve personally explored the scriptures and prayed and sought God, but because we’ve been told by our church – either explicitly through teaching or implicitly through church culture – what to believe.

Now, don’t get me wrong, being part of a church tradition that shows us how to believe is important. This was recognised way back in the first few centuries of church history with the Apostles’ Creed.

And when I became a Christian at the tender age of fourteen, I certainly needed someone to show me and guide me in what to believe.

The problem comes when we swallow what we’re given without question. To my regret, at different times over the years I’ve more or less subscribed to some version of the health, wealth and prosperity gospel, the doctrine of the rapture (which I now believe to be unbiblical), a literal six-day creation, and plenty of other questionable beliefs besides.

And this is just to speak of doctrines or beliefs. When it comes to practices, there is also much that passes as an unquestioned part of church culture. Willy-nilly speaking in tongues, words of prophecy that boldly begin “The Lord would say…” and are accepted without question, strange forms of prayer and “ministry”… the list goes on.

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Temple and kingdom

TempleAs you’ll know if you’re a regular reader, over the past two or three months we’ve been surveying Tom Wright’s wonderful and important book Simply Jesus (you can find my review here). With only a few posts left, we’re into the final chapter.

Here’s today’s excerpt:

The Temple was the place, like the tabernacle in the wilderness, from which God ruled Israel. Now the new Temple — Jesus and his Spirit-filled followers — is the place from which and through which God is beginning to implement the world-transforming kingdom that was achieved in and through Jesus and his death and resurrection.

— Tom Wright, Simply Jesus

I first started reading outside of my safe charismocostal* bubble around seven or eight years ago. In so doing, I embarked on a voyage of discovery that would ultimately expose and demolish a good number of shaky beliefs, some of which I hadn’t even realised I held. (You can get an idea of the kind of thing I’m referring to by reading my very first post, which is still one of my most read posts, I used to believe.)

One of those unspoken shaky beliefs (in fact, it was more of a pervading Christian worldview) was that, since God’s plan in sending Jesus was to save the whole world, the whole business about the Jewish people and their complex and sometimes bizarre history was really no more than a parenthesis – a kind of historical quirk, if you will. It was certainly of little or no interest to us twenty-first century westerners.

OK, Jesus was a Jew, and that’s why we have to have all that Jewish history in the Old Testament – I get that. But the main point, surely, is that Jesus came and died was raised to new life for all humankind. That being the case, all that Jewish history and religion is really just a bit of local colour, right?

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Little Jesuses

If we’re going to impact our world in the name of Jesus, it will be because people like you and me took action in the power of the Spirit. Ever since the mission and ministry of Jesus, God has never stopped calling for a movement of “Little Jesuses” to follow him into the world and unleash the remarkable redemptive genius that lies in the very message we carry. Given the situation of the Church in the West, much will now depend on whether we are willing to break out of a stifling herd instinct and find God again in the context of the advancing kingdom of God.

—Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church

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