Restoring the Conversation

Recently I was approached by a friend who shares an opposite viewpoint on violence than I do and he was expressing some concerns about my steadfast belief that violence in all its forms is outside the reality of the kingdom of God.

And as he shared his concerns, he made one statement that has propelled me to greater research:  “That (viewpoint) isn’t what we teach here (at this church).”

no creed but christNow, to give you some context, I am a part of a non-denominational Christian church that has “no creed but Christ” and is a link in a long chain of churches that has held to the ideal that “we are Christians only, but not the only Christians.”

We are a movement that has held certain things we have considered essential to faith in Christ fiercely, but made allowance and grace for various other viewpoints on the periphery of these things to exist and be discussed in the life of the body.

It is, in my mind, a beautiful ideal and a marvelous history.  And though I believe we have not been totally (or in some cases even mostly) successful in achieving this ideal, it is a goal that I think is noble and reflects Jesus’ desire that we “be one” as a unified body made up of diverse and unique individuals.

Now these “Restoration churches,” as we call them, have tried to achieve this ideal by “restoring” the things we find in the early church.   The basic idea is that Christians can find unity together from various ecclesial backgrounds by escaping (as much as possible) the telephone game diversions in church history through returning to the “ancient reset-buttonorder of things” or The SOURCE (Jesus) and the early church.

It is an attempt to “restore” or “reset” to the biblical origins of church and abandon the many other traditions, creeds and theological constraints that people have evolved throughout history to designate people as either “in” or “out” of their particular brand of church club.

The forefathers of this movement believed that the body of Christ could exist in unity, despite different views of end times, atonement, predestination/free-will and many other tests of membership that groups throughout history have employed, by uniting around one simple statement, “Jesus is Lord.”

In short, these “restoration pioneers” made great sacrifice and dedicated their lives to allowing the conversation that we are having today.  I believe it was their intent and belief that the body of Christ is best when it talks, stretches, converses and grows in difficult issues, but always while maintaining the “spirit of unity”.

Now, some today would say that conversations like this one do harm to the church by causing division.   But, in response, I believe my church tradition would say that it is this very diversity that when approached in love and mutual respect is what makes the body of Christ so unique in this world; that it is one of the defining characteristics of the true kingdom of God.

Yes, unity is the ideal.  But unity is not achieved by taking a single theological cookie-cutter to clone the individuals of our body or by refusing to challenge each other to better model the life and teaching of Jesus.  Unity is not preserved in “turning off our brains” and skirting difficult issues. Unity is what we commit to and fight for as we share the burden of stretching and growing in the likeness of Christ.

conversationIn this regard, the enemy of true unity is not discussions like these, but a spirit-of-disunity within these discussions and a loyalty to any human rationalization or construct that takes priority over what we find in Jesus and the early church.

Most historically, this is what “my” church teaches.  And seemingly, it is as relevant today as it was in the 1800’s on the American frontier.

So, as we continue to think about this difficult topic and submit ourselves to God who is constantly working to move us to greater depth of understanding and participation in His kingdom, keep in mind that it may be discussions like this that help move us closer in that direction.  May the voice of God arise out of the murmur and discussion of His people!

Here’s what is coming next:

1)    What the “Restoration” church fathers thought about violence
2)    What to make of the nation of Israel’s war and violence in the Old Testament
3)    What is a Christian’s responsibility to government?
4)    So what?  Why is this particular discussion important?

The middle two topics will be addressed by two phenomenal guest bloggers (I can’t wait to tell you who they are!), so make sure and check back on their excellent insights!

In grace and for peace…

Divided in Discussion, United in Prayer

Military260Should we recognize “Armed Forces Day” in our church worship services?

What place does the community of God have with human armed conflict?

That was the question that we faced this week.   Apparently, AFD is this Saturday, and Memorial Day is, of course, soon upon us too.   So the question is, how much should we recognize military action in church context?

I doubt we were unified on our answer.   LOL!   It seems that many of us come from very divergent perspectives on the place and appropriateness of war and violence for Christians.  And so, a lengthy discussion ensued.

I thought I would mention it here in the blog, however, because I think I have learned a lot through this interaction.  And hopefully there is something you can learn here too, or contribute to this conversation.

I was already in the process of putting together a work on “non-violence” in preparation for Memorial Day and this discussion allowed me to purposely interact with my peers and colleagues and learn much more.

Over the next several days, I will be sharing with you some of my own conclusions on violence and war, based on how I understand Jesus, but I’d like to start today by sharing what I learned from just the act of discussing this issue this week with people I care deeply about.

1) I love my church! The great thing about the church I am a part of is that we have many divergent views on many topics, but we are committed to loving each other anyway.   I know of very few places in the world where people can feel safe to genuinely disagree on complex issues and still feel acceptance and love.

Often the church is criticized as a place where differing opinions are not welcome.  There is a sense that you must “check your brain at the door” and just go along with the party line when it comes to church.  And while I have seen places that this is true, church at its best is open to discussion and exploration and genuine conversation that seeks to understand God and our life with God better.

To those that are skeptical of church for this reason, I would like to encourage you that there are communities that are open to your dialogue.  These difficult issues can be what divide us.  Especially in church.  And yet, in the context of my community, I found it a wonderful chance to explore the reasoning and understanding of different views and grow in the process.   Thank you to my friends, Paul and Dave and others who chimed in and contributed their wonderful assessments and convictions!

It is discussions like this one this week that remind me of why I love being a part of the body that I am.  The Apostle Paul calls us to “be devoted to one another” or to stand by each other through thick and thin.  And in this interaction, I have seen yet again that our body models this call extremely well.  Cheers to you, brothers and sisters!

prayer2)  Whether pacifists or “just war” proponents, we all agree that we should support and pray for the people from our body that are currently surrounded by and engaged in violence.

And in the end, maybe that is what matters.  We may disagree about war, national violence, or the extent to which we should participate in our country’s defense of itself and ideals, but at the conclusion all of us love and care deeply about those in our body that are in danger (physically, mentally/emotionally, spiritually) due to war and violence.

I think we will all be praying even more diligently for these brothers and sisters over the next few weeks, in part possibly because of this conversation.  I know I will.  And I will be encouraging those around me to spend more time praying .

I would encourage you to spend some time praying for people that you know that are serving in the military this weekend as well.

Pray for their physical safety, of course.  Pray that they will return home to have full lives away from such violence.

Pray for their emotional/mental health.  We have all seen the devastating effect on the human psyche (especially in recent news stories of military suicides and post-traumatic stress issues) that violence-seen or participated-in creates.

personaluse2_9050019~A-Makeshift-Peace-Sign-of-Flowers-Lies-on-Top-John-Lennon-s-Strawberry-Fields-Memorial-PostersPray for their spiritual health as they wrestle with things they’ve seen, things they’ve been called to do and the terrible side of humanity that they have been exposed to.

Also, join me in praying for PEACE.  While it seems that eradicating the planet of violence is impossible, I believe that all things are possible with God.  Pray with me that we may sow seeds of PEACE and that because of the message of Christ our world will change.  Pray that our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and friends will no longer need to leave us to go to war.  Pray that nations will beat their weapons into plowshares.   Pray for PEACE.

In the next few days we’ll look at some Scripture and the message of Jesus to discuss the place of violence and war in the life of a follower of Jesus.  We will be thinking about whether Christians should involve themselves in various types of violence: national violence (military service), self-defense (if attacked by another), in protection of another that is being attacked, or various other situations.

Hopefully it will be helpful and create broader discussion.  I’ll probably break it into a three-part blog series.  So, check back and feel free to leave a comment and join the conversation.

‘Till then, Grace and peace…

The End of Christian America

[great article link at the bottom of this post!]

Until recently, I lived in the most “unchurched” region of the country.

Now apparently, that designation has switched (very slightly) from the Northwest part of our country to the Northeast (though really “church” hasn’t been popular in either region for years).  But, whether we are first in “lack of churchiness” or second, if there is one thing I know it is living in a post-Christian religion environment.

Newsweek coverWhich is why it interested me to read several articles recently that seemed to indicate what many of us have thought for years, that the rest of the country is catching up to us… in godlessness, that is.   [see “The End of Christian America” and  “The Coming Evangelical Collapse”]

Recent studies find that American people are exiting the Christian religion in greater numbers than ever.  Be it evangelical, mainline, etc, America is losing it’s religion.

So what does this mean?  Well, I suppose that depends on who you ask.  Many people think that it isn’t exactly ideal.  I have heard many well-meaning preachers proclaim it as the beginning of the end; the ushering in of Armageddon.  Ahhh, you premillenialist friends are always looking for the signs of the end, aren’t you?  =)

But, it isn’t among just preachers.  There is panic among many everyday Christians.  There is fear that what has been the driving force of morality in this country is going to erode and leave their children depraved and godless.  I have sat in a pew next to many parents who feel this tension all too keenly.  Even in Seattle (where we have a several decade head start in living in this environment) the church (generally), is characterized by great fear in this arena.  It seems as though this decline in the Christian religion–at least in the form we are accustomed to–can only be a bad thing.

Now, before going any further, I’d like you to know that I understand this fear.  I think I understand why many of my brothers and sisters, whom I love, feel this way.  It is indeed scary to see the moral/religious fiber of your country shaken.  I can sympathize with this uncertainty.

christian_america2However, I think our fear may be causing us to behave strangely.  If you read this blog, you know that I often call-out the apparent un-Christlikeness of the church.   In doing so, I am not meaning to say that I don’t believe in Jesus.  I do.  I believe Jesus has opened the fullest and most meaningful way of life for all people.  I want more people to experience this life, not less.  And, I am not trying to say I don’t believe in the church.  Christians don’t necessarily have bad intentions.  I simply think we need to be very careful and think extremely critically about our methods of communicating a message.  Too often, the methods have become the message.  Too easily we believe that we should use any means necessary to convey our point and “the ends justify the means” should never be the attitude of Christ’s people.  Especially as it relates to the fear of “losing our Christian nation.”

Fear of the end of Christian America.

Because of this fear, we have seen (I believe) many Christians behaving in ways that do not show love.  Whether it is the polarizing political attempt to legislate Christianity, the stereotyping generality of protest signs or simply the attempt to shame those who are perceived as the danger through our bumperstickers, t-shirts and slogans.

Because of fear we have reacted poorly.

But, perhaps, we do not need to fear this decline so much as we have thought.  Maybe what we feel we need to protect doesn’t need protected at all.  Maybe, the cause of Christ could be advanced in a much more meaningful way if what we are scared to lose was really to disappear.

You see, living in Seattle, I have heard for as long as I can remember about how non-churched this region is.  I grew up knowing that I was among less than 10% of my local population that attended any type of church each week.   I heard these statistics as a teenager, while in Bible college and beyond in ministry.  I was taught that I was the only beacon of religion in a depraved land.

But, as I’ve hung out with people, got to know them and seen many of them make decisions to follow the life and example of Jesus with their lives authentically, I have learned that these statistics are a bit misleading.  The reality of my interaction with people in this “godless” land is not as dire as I had been made to believe.  In fact, while we may be declining in religious fervor, I have found people here to be more spiritually open to discussion than ever before.

Almost no one that I meet anymore is unwilling to have a spiritual discussion with me, as long as it is honest and not aimed at “converting” them.   And though this seems strange to some of you, I actually think that the message of Jesus is finding more traction in this culture that we fear than in the one we felt comfortable in previously.  It is almost as if the dismantling of the “civic religion of Christianity” is helping people to rediscover the Jesus behind this cultural influence.

church_stateOf course we all know people that would label themselves “Christian” though they make no attempt to follow and model the life of Jesus.  This country, since its beginning, has been labeled by the same generic label, “Christian.”  It has become a cultural and national label rather than an affiliation with the personhood of Jesus.  This faux Christianity, I contend, has actually made it much more difficult to lead people to authentic relationship with Jesus.  And to see it decline, in some odd sense (to some of you) gives me great hope for the future.

I believe we live in the greatest moment for followers of Jesus in the history of our world (and country).  I believe that this decline is preparing the soil (and has already) for a much deeper commitment to Jesus in the hearts of people than we have seen in our lifetimes.   It is not a day for fear, but for great expectation.  It is a great day to be a follower of Jesus!

I have included a link below to a blog by Greg Boyd.  His excellent blog lays out several reasons not to fear this decline.  Hopefully, it will be very helpful to some of you.

“Don’t Weep for the Demise of American Christianity”

But he also has two excellent books on this subject.  The second of which just came out last week and is fantastic.  Both of these books should be required reading for Christians in America.  If you haven’t read them, please consider picking up a copy this week.

themythofachristiannation

myth of a christian religion

“Letter from MISSISSIPPI” – (#1)

[Letter #1 from Mississippi – Part 2 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hi SEATTLE,

[A recent] post on your wall inspired me to go to your blog since I hadn’t been there in quite a while. I’m always up for some deep thoughts to pass the time.

Well, going down and reading the earlier posts about all the embarrassed feelings towards outspoken anti-gay-rights Christians, has gotten me thinking. I just wondered about your current take on things considering the gay marriage news and protests in response to that. I am having a hard time finding the truth in the middle of everyone’s viewpoints.

I see a pendulum swing going on within the church.  We’re trending away from the unpopular, judgmental version of Christianity, and to the extreme at times of appeasing the culture at all costs.  This is a culture saying that standing up for or even speaking the truth is equivalent to “hate.” I know Jesus said that the world would hate us because it hated Him. But we don’t have to accept the world’s premise that the truth IS hate.

As long as Christians are not literally hating or holding signs that are hateful towards individuals (and I realize that goes on and it’s not cool), but if they are speaking out on the truth (marriage is sacred, gay relationships are not of equal moral value with marriages) in a non hateful way, what do you think about this?  Some people consider it hate although there is not hate involved.

There is a battle in today’s culture over having good defined as good, vs. sin being defined as “good” and to be celebrated. Yes, everyone sins and we do love the sinners, regardless of their sin.  But I don’t think we remain silent on what is good and right, and what is not.  We may not be able to live up to God’s standard but it is important for us as God’s people, the light of the world, to acknowledge that standard.

I researched this Day of Silence protest and tried to find signs or statements made by Hutch or his supporters that were hateful, and I couldn’t. Is the photo in your blog from his actual protest? Do they represent his views? It seemed that he was interested in protecting the educational rather than indoctrinational nature of schools.  He said he would be fine with them doing something like this before or after school; but not during school when students who didn’t support the movement would be penalized for not participating. Considering there is (rightly) nothing like this required by the schools in the support of Christian or other groups’ rights, doesn’t he have a point? You know he doesn’t think it’s right for gays to be harassed and bullied…this day of silence protest has to represent more than that.

I think there would be an implicit accusation that those who think homosexuality a sin ARE the oppressors and bullies, whether they harass anyone or not.  And everyone is standing in solidarity against them.  Against Christians and their hateful, judgmental, oppressive beliefs.  As a 9th or 10th grade Christian I can see where that might be intimidating and I might not want to be at school that day.

I totally get where you are coming from and your concerns as to what Christian is starting to mean in our culture. But I am just really having a hard time discerning the proper take on things like this.

I wouldn’t bother asking your thoughts if I didn’t respect where your heart is on this as it comes across in your words. I disregard what a lot of people think about this because I don’t think their hearts are as pure as they are politically motivated. So don’t take any of this as criticism (like that would bother you anyway!) but rather just a question, tell me more about what you think especially in light of recent events. Maybe you could blog about it.

Thanks for reading. I would have posted as a comment if the post weren’t 6 months old, and my point of view offensive to Christians our age, nowadays.

By the way Paytyn is adorable, and it looks like you guys are just totally sucked in! Congratulations. I think back to the days where you would get a freaked out look on your face at the idea of having kids and just have to smile. I hope you are well!

MISSISSIPPI