Category Archives: Church

The Church Can’t be a Scapegoat Anymore

For too long the Church has been a scapegoat. I’ve been guilty of this as much as anyone. Everything that has been or is wrong with Jesus followers is the Church’s fault. Writers and researchers tell us that people outside the Christian faith like the teachings and message of Jesus but they don’t like the teachings and message of the Church. Jesus teaches love, grace, forgiveness and countercultural ideals. The Church, on the other hand, teaches discrimination, guilt, fear and Christian- imperialistic ideals. They can get behind Jesus, but the Church- no so much.

And so we get categories like “spiritual but not religious” or “Jesus-follower” instead of Christian. There are even people like USA Today columnist Tom Krattenmaker who call themselves secular Jesus followers. I am currently reading Krattenmaker’s new book, Confession of a Secular Jesus Follower: Finding Answers in Jesus for Those Who Don’t Believe (Convergent, 2016) and I’ll write a full review next week, but his main point is that “Jesus and Christianity are not one and the same” and that “one can sense a respect for Jesus, even a fascination with him, despite the decline of institutionalized Christianity” (13-14). It’s hard to argue that he’s wrong. Taking an objective look at the message of Jesus and (in too many cases) the message of the Church that bears Jesus’ name, it’s easy to see one is not a good reflection of the other.

What are we to do? Our M.O. has been to make the Church the scapegoat: the Church needs to change, the Church needs to reform, the Church needs to be dismantled and rebuilt.

Here’s where we have to reframe the conversation because the Church (and we know this) isn’t an organization or an organism within itself. We can’t go and find “the Church.” The Church is constructed of people. And the people that construct the Church are you and me. The harsh reality is that when people have a problem with the Church, they have a problem with you and me and the way we live out the message of Jesus that we claim to believe.


When people have a problem with the Church, they have a problem with you and me.


No longer can we make the Church the scapegoat for our laziness, for our spiritual immaturity, for our the way we have coopted the message of Jesus for our own gain or for our pure disobedience. I’m guilty of it, you’re guilty of it, we are all guilty of it. And we all need to change.

The Church can no longer be the scapegoat for our sins. Individually we need to refocus our lives on what Jesus said, what Jesus did, what Jesus taught and believing when Jesus said that those who love him will do what he’s said and live the way he lived. When we individually refocus then the Church and our local churches will naturally refocus. If we take Jesus seriously there shouldn’t be a reason for anyone to express the sentiment of Gandhi when he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. You’re Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Are we ready to stop passing the blame and get serious about following Jesus?

A Fellowship of Holiness, Newness and Flourishing

9780310277675_1Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at Scot McKnight’s book A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014). Last time we looked at the first three of six traits that McKnight says should define a diverse church. Those three traits were: grace, love and table. In this final post on this topic, we’ll look at the final three traits: holiness, newness and flourishing.

Holiness

“There are three elements to holiness. First, we don’t make ourselves holy; holiness is the inner work of God. Second, holiness means learning to live a life that avoids sin. Third, holiness means learning to live a life devoted to God” (118-119).

McKnight notes what Christian author and minister A.W. Tozer said, “the Christian life begins right where the Bible says it does- with God- and that the only path to holiness is time in God’s presence” (118). Not only is the church a group of people committed to one Lord, it is also a group of people committed to one end: holiness. Holiness should be the result of putting our faith into application in our lives.

Newness

“Everything about this early-church life was new for everyone. including Paul. They were trying out a new kind of community under a new Lord with new people around them with all kinds of new ideas about how to live under the new Spirit with new assignments and new gifts and new morals” (147).

Newness: New freedom, new faithfulness, new politics. As people within the Kingdom of God, we have the freedom to live as people of the Kingdom. We have a new way to be faithful to God because of God’s love and God’s grace. We have a new way to look at the world, a new politic.

Flourishing

“Twenty centuries of dismal disunity and the witness of a fractured church ought to convince us of our raw inability to be the church God wants us to be. The hope of this book is that that history will be reversed by a renewed commitment to be the church God designed, a church that flourishes in a salad bowl fellowship of differents” (191).

McKnight goes on the say that this flourishing can only take place through the work and power of the Holy Spirit. Which means that we can only flourish through the work and power of God, as God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, transforms our hearts individually and collectively.

McKnight’s book is well written, challenging and encouraging. It made me want to be a part of and to lead a church of differents and to see God take people from different backgrounds, social and economic classes and be united under one Lord. Not that they would be melted together into a homogeneous mass but that, like McKnight’s picture of a salad, the best of individual identity and giftedness contributes to the beauty and flavor of the whole. I encourage you to pick up this book.

A Fellowship of Grace, Love and Table

We need diverse churches but we also need churches that are diverse.

We’ve been looking into Scot McKnight’s book A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014). We’ve said that bringing differents together is one of the fundamental things that makes the church the church. We also talked about the tension that exists between the need for diverse churches, churches that reach specific people, culture and language groups, while maintaining churches that are diverse in bringing differents together under the Lordship of Jesus.

We left the last discussion with the question, how to we maintain or become churches that are diverse? In his book, McKnight proposes six traits that characterize a fellowship of differents. These six traits will guide the discussion as we look at three in this post and three in the next post.

The first three traits McKnight mention are grace, love and table.

Grace

“Grace takes lonely people and gives them friendship with God. Grace takes our longings for love and ushers us into the presence of God. Grace transforms our yearnings for significance into gifts of significance. God’s grace speaks to us when we are alone and draws us into fellowship with God and with others” (42).

It’s not only God’s grace that saves us, it’s God’s grace that transforms us. It’s God’s grace that weaves people who are different, at one time hostile toward God and, perhaps, hostile toward each other and makes them into a family. Differents come together through grace.

Love

“For Paul, love is central. It was central because he knew the challenges of the Christian life for those who were in fellowship with one another in house churches dotting the Roman Empire. The only way they would make it is if each person learned to love the others” (52).

If that was true for Paul, how much more is it true for us? Just like churches in the first century, we still have to learn to love each other. It’s not something that we learn once, it’s something we have to continually learn, relearn and practice.

Table

“Against this background [the culture of status in the Roman Empire], the fathering of the Christians reconstructed everything from the bottom up: everyone was welcome, everyone got the same meal, everyone was equal, and everyone had one Lord, King Jesus. At the new family’s table they were one” (99).

McKnight is speaking here of Communion, Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. If status was a big deal in the Roman Empire, it remains a big deal in 2016 as well. So much of our lives is defined by what kinds of things we can afford. It defines what we eat, where we go to shop, who our friends are, what we do for fun and what we post on Facebook. As McKnight says, we need to rediscover the equality and unity within the act of Communion.

McKnight believes, and I think rightly, that if we can rediscover these traits, our churches will naturally begin to become more and more diverse. Differents will know that our churches are places of grace, love and equality.

We’ll look at the other three traits next time.

Diverse Churches that are Diverse

What traits should exist within the community of the church? What unites a community of people with different backgrounds? With different personalities? With different professions? With different economic statuses? With different family structures? With single people, married people, divorced people, widowed people, children, students, young adults and senior adults?

Not to mention people with different spiritual backgrounds and in various stages of their walk with Jesus.

How is it possible for a group that diverse to unite around anything?

These are some of the questions that Scot McKnight explores in his book, A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014). The very first thing we need to remember, if we want to bring differents together, is that our uniting force must be Jesus. McKnight writes, “The church is God’s grand experiment, in which different gets connected, unlikes form fellowship, and the formerly segregated are integrated. They are to be one– not scattered all over the city- and they are one in Christ Jesus. 

Before we ever get to the traits that should exist within the church, we have to first understand that if there are no “differents” in the church, then it isn’t the church.

On the universal level, the Church is the great mixing of different people. People united in love and worship to God, through Jesus, from South America to China, from India to Alaska, from Africa to Sweden, poor and rich, uneducated and educated, from groups of 10 to groups of 10,000.

But as we zoom in, the picture begins to pixilate. What we see is churches specializing and focusing on reaching specific groups of people. I don’t believe this is either good or bad but, rather, a tension that has to be balanced. We need churches that specialize in reaching groups of people that are not currently being drawn into church and into relationship with Jesus. It could be a language group, a culture group or a group that is isolated because of their location. But the desire to specialize has to be balanced with the design of the church to be a place that unites people together under the Kingship of Jesus.

We need diverse churches but we also need churches that are diverse.

That is the balance that we must try to maintain. How do we do that? I think that as churches live out the six traits McKnight outlines, they will tend to be diverse churches that are diverse.

We’ll look at these traits next time.

In the meantime, how many “differents” are represented in your church?

Individual and Community?

9780310277675_1Last week I reviewed Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin’s newest book, The Bridezilla of Christ: What to do When God’s People Hurt God’s People. If you read that review, you know that I was not impressed by the book. But what if you are looking for a book on church community, is there a better one?

There is a book I’m currently reading that I think answers that question. The book is Scot McKnight’s A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014).

McKnight’s book is not focused on conflict, it is focused on discovering how all kinds of different people can be in a community where each person is complemented while complementing the whole community.

He uses the image of making a salad. He says there is the America Way, where everything is thrown into a bowls and smothered with salad dressing. The problem is that everything ends up tasting like salad dressing. He says the right way is to assemble the salad ingredients and, instead of salad dressing, add just a little bit of good olive oil. The olive oil “somehow brings the taste of each item to its fullest” (14). The salad is good because each individual piece is brought it its full potential.

That should be the goal our churches. The whole is strong when each individual is strong and able to contribute to their highest potential. Our goal shouldn’t be to gather people together and smother them in “salad dressing” so that each person’s individuality and unique background, skills and calling are forced to be a single flavor.

So how do we do that? How do we allow each person to fulfill their highest potential while retaining the community? McKnight is going to give us some suggestions that we’ll look at next week.


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Why Our Metaphors Matter: Part 3

This is a series about the metaphors we used to describe the church- and if they are really helpful or if there are better metaphors that we could be using. So far we have examined if the church is like a gas station or a family and if the church is like a hospital or a Tough Mudder.

Is the church like a battleship?

Is the church like a battleship?

Perhaps you have heard this: The church is not like a cruise ship, it’s like a battleship. I’ve heard this metaphor several different times in sermons or in discussions on the role of the church. This metaphor tries to correct the spiritual consumerism that plagues Western Christianity- as that we talked about in Part 1. The cruise ship is equated with pleasure, consumption, entertainment, extravagance and a midnight buffet (wait, that really is only on a cruise ship). While the battleship is equated with mission, purpose, dedication and the whole being greater than it’s individual parts.

I know it sounds repetitive at this point, but I get where this metaphor comes from. It gives purpose and meaning to the Christian life and (again) combats the consumerism that plagues our churches and vision of Christianity. In part one of this series, I talked about how there are good metaphors and better metaphors. I believe the battleship metaphor is a good metaphor but there is a better metaphor. The reason we need a better metaphor is because, within the world in which we live, we must be careful using militaristic language to describe Christianity. What other metaphor could we use that expresses similar meaning as a battleship but without the militaristic undertones?

The US embassy in Brussels

The US embassy in Brussels

What if the church was like an embassy? An embassy expresses mission, purpose and a representative of something bigger. What makes an embassy unique is that an embassy is a piece of one nation inside of another nation. If I am in France and go to the United States embassy, as soon as I walked through the gates it is like walking in the US. The same is true for the French, Spanish or Dutch embassies in the United States.

The mission of the US embassy in France (or any country) is to look after the interests of the Unites States, to advocate for it’s interests within the government, to undertake diplomacy as the official representative of the US government. The embassy also exists to provide a resource to US citizens visiting, working or who have a problem in the country where the embassy is located. Additionally, the ambassador stands as the official representative of the US government- with all the responsibilities and privileges that come with it.

What if the church was like the embassy for the Kingdom of God within the world? What if Christians were ambassadors? That is what Paul calls us in 2 Corinthians. What if the church acted like the official representative of the Kingdom of God on the earth? What if we advocated for the interests of King Jesus? What if the church was a resource and advocate, not just for our “citizens,” but for all people? What if we lived like ambassadors, believing that each one of us is an official representative of King Jesus and the Kingdom of God?

Wouldn’t we be braver? An ambassador has the full weight and power of the government behind them, we have the full weight and power of God behind us and that’s even more powerful than a battleship.

Why Our Metaphors Matter: Part 2

In this series of posts, we are talking about the metaphors that are used for the church and examining them to see if they are the best metaphors to use- because our metaphors matter.

One metaphor I’ve heard repeated is that the church is like a hospital- a hospital for sinners. Once again, I understand what this metaphor is trying to express. This metaphor probably arises from Jesus’ words in Mark 2:17. There Jesus tells the religious leaders: “It is not those who are healthy that need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This metaphor shows that the church (and the Jesus that the church preaches) isn’t for people who are good and who have their life put together but for those who have problems, issues and who’s life is a mess. Hospitals are the place to go if you are very sick and need to get better. The church should be likewise.

But.

The problem with this metaphor is that no-one wants to go to a hospital. Hospitals are quiet. Hospitals are sterile and clean. Hospitals are uncomfortable- both physically and emotionally. Hospitals are where all the problems are hidden behind closed doors. Hospitals are the place where people die and where you just want to get out as quickly as possible. The hospital metaphor also perpetuates the idea that the “doctors” (pastors, ministers, church leaders, other Christians) are different from the “patients” (the sinners, unchurched, those with messed up lives). It makes us think that pastors, ministers, church leaders and other Christians are the “cured,” and that they are there to prescribe the medicine- while never being sick themselves. In a hospital, the doctor and the patient are not equal and that idea can bleed over into the church.

The truth is that we were all sinners, we still suffer from sin, we are all in the life-long process of sanctification and we are traveling this life together trying to do our best to follow Jesus.

Maybe church is more like this:

Did you catch some of the phrases that were used in this video?

  • “Everyone here is your teammate.”
  • “That’s the name of the game: people helping people.”
  • All you have to do is decide, deep down, that you’re going to finish.”
  • “Challenges that foster teamwork and camaraderie- things that are fun.”
  • “After this, you’re going to be a different person.”

I think those phrases could and should apply to the church and to our Christian lives as well. The church shouldn’t be a hospital where all the problems are shut behind closed doors and the professionals prescribe solutions. The church should be like a Tough Mudder. Church should be a place and Christianity a lifestyle where we help each other, push each other and get down in the mud with each other. Where we see challenges as obstacles to conquer- with the help of one another and through the power of Jesus Christ. And then, when we have conquered, we celebrate with each other, share our war stories, share about when we got knocked down but got back up again and how God remained faithful. That seems like more fun than a hospital.

So what is the church? Is it like a hospital or like a Tough Mudder?


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