Tag Archives: grace

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.

Fall To Grace, Not From It

This time it’s Perry Noble.

Perry Noble was founding and Lead Pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina. NewSpring is a mega-mega church 17 campuses and a weekly attendance of around 30,000 people. Perry was removed as Lead Pastor of NewSpring after admitting to alcoholism and “unfortunate choices.” It is a sad time for NewSpring Church and for the Church of Jesus Christ.

I have heard Perry Noble preach. I  have also heard and read things about his church and ministry that have caused me pause and made me question his orthodoxy in certain areas. However, to give him the benefit of the doubt, I pray that he had been genuinely engaging people with the gospel.

This isn’t the first high-profile pastor that has made a mistake. In recent memory  we have seen Mark Driscoll resign from Mars Hill Church and Acts 29 removed him from the organization (even thought he founded Acts 29) because of controversy surrounding, what has been called, abusive behavior toward church members, ex-church members and ex-staff. Mars Hill Church then announced that it would dissolve and sell all 14 campuses.

We have also seen the fall of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church pastor Tullian Tchividjian (who is Billy Graham’s grandson) who resigned after confessing t0 extramarital affairs. There’s also the revelation from Naghmeh Abedini who filed for separation from her husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was the Irania American pastor imprisoned in Iran because of “allegations of physical, emotional and spiritual abuse.”

As I mention these three “high-profile” examples, I’m sure you know of others- both locally, nationally and internationally (like South Korean pastor David Yonggi Cho who was convicted of embezzling $12 million from his church).

With all these example of pastors falling from grace, what are we to do? What do we do as Christ followers? What do we do as church leaders?

There is a lot that could be said, but I believe it can be boiled down to one overarching idea: fall to grace, not from it.

The phrase is not unique to me and it summarizes many of the other points. It reminds us that we all need grace. We are all sinners saved by grace. And we continually need grace because, though we are saved sinners, there is still the desire to sin within us. All of us are one mistake, one bad decision, one lapse of judgment away from being a thief, murderer or adulterer. That realization is a sobering one. It’s only by pressing into Jesus and falling into God’s grace each moment that helps us put to death the sinful nature and walk in the Spirit.

When we fall into the temptation that our strength, our ministry, our very life are derived from anywhere else but Christ, we move one step closer to falling from grace- in the eyes of those around us; we can never fall from God’s grace. When we don’t continually fall into God’s grace, rest in him and rely on his strength, we find that we will be let down by others and we will let others down.

I can’t say that I will never make a mistake. I can’t say that I will never let my wife, my children or my church down. I can’t say that I will never say the wrong thing. But I can say (because I believe it to be true) that the further I fall into grace, the harder it will be to fall from it.

 

References:

Alcohol Abuse, Perry Noble, and the Church’s Response” by Ed Stetzer

How a Megachurch Melts Down” by Ruth Graham

Tullian Tchividjian Confesses Second Affair Concealed by Two Coral Ridge Elders” by Morgan Lee

The strange case of the pastor released from Iran and his wife’s abuse allegations” by Bob Smietana

Living Grace: The Ragamuffin Gospel

9781601428684One of the foundations of the Christian faith is God’s freely given grace. Many Christians know the word grace and may even understand the concept of grace but fewer know how to live out grace. It is to this dilemma that Brennan Manning speaks within the pages of The Ragamuffin Gospel.

Brennan Manning began writing while working for the newspaper of the U.S. Marine Corps, in which he was enlisted. After the Marines, Manning ended up attending Saint Francis Catholic seminary. It was here that Manning meet God and had “a powerful experience of the personal love of Jesus Christ.” After completing his undergrad, Manning spent four more years studying theology and creative writing. He was ordained as a Franciscan priest in 1963. Through his many ministry assignments, Manning was drawn to those who had become outsiders to the church. Manning could have become one of those outsiders himself when he fell into the depths of alcoholism. After his recovery, Manning began writing. In addition to The Ragamuffin Gospel, Manning was the author of Abba’s Child, All is Grace as well as several other books. Brennan Manning passed away on April 12, 2013.

I mention Manning’s biography because his life was a life lived by grace. This is what Manning wants for those who choose to follow Jesus and it is the reason he wrote The Ragamuffin Gospel. Throughout the book, he focuses on two major themes. First, is the fact that we are all ragamuffins and there is nothing that we can do to make God love us any more than God already does. Manning writes that when Jesus hung out with the poor, destitute, impoverished and the sinners, Jesus was really hanging out with us. The beauty of the ragamuffin gospel “reveals that Jesus forgives sins, including sins of the flesh; that He is comfortable with sinners who remember how to show compassion; but that He cannot and will not have a relationship with pretenders in the Spirit” (57). When we understand who we are, it is only then that we can recognize that there is no personal effort that we can bring before God.

Manning’s second major theme is that grace is supposed to be lived out as much as it is to be believed in. This idea really sets the stage for the themes discussed throughout the book. For Manning, “our world is saturated with grace, and the lurking presence of God is revealed not only in spirit but in matter” (77). Manning sees grace within our desire to and ability to love. He finds grace in the truth we see in the world and within ourselves and he sees grace in our freedom from fear.

The Ragamuffin Gospel was first published twenty-five years ago but it remains a pointed work for Christians today. While some of his examples from contemporary life twenty-five years ago may not be relevant to younger readers (he uses The Cosby Show, for example), most of his stories about authors, Rabbis and philosophers are easily accessible even though they may not be familiar. Perhaps Manning’s ability to tell a story comes from his background as a newspaper writer. In fact, Manning’s writing style reminded me of newspaper journalism- with short sentences that quickly get the point. It is a style that makes the book assessable to a wide range of people. After diving into Manning’s work, it is easy to see why The Ragamuffin Gospel is considered a classic work and it’s one that should be on your radar as well.

I received this book from Blogging for Book for this review.

Read more about Brennan Manning on his website.

Avenues of Grace

Genesis.

Eve listens to the words of the serpent and she and Adam sin against God. God judges them and kicks Adam and Eve out of the Garden.

Cain is jealous of Abel’s offering to God and murders him. God judges Cain and causes him to be a wanderer on the earth.

The whole earth is filled with violence. God decides to cover the earth with a flood and kill every living creature.

Mankind wants to make a name for themselves and begin to build a tower to reach heaven. God sees their actions and scatters them across the earth.


Genesis.

God provides clothing and a new home for Adam and Eve.

God provides a mark of protection for Cain.

God provides an escape from the flood to Noah and his family through the ark.

In the midst of God scattering the people of the earth, God calls out Abram.


These are some of the biblical narratives we’ve been examining in our current small group study. In our discussion, one person suggested that in these narratives God seems to be weeding out people until God finds those who will believe through faith. I can see how someone might be able to extract that from the narratives but I see God doing something else.

Instead of God closing the door on people, God seems to be opening the door for them to come in. At the very least God is allowing the door to remain open when there is every reason to close it. In other words, what we see in each of these narratives is God’s grace. In the midst of each of mankind’s mistakes and coupled with God’s discipline is God’s grace.

Grace that doesn’t shut people out from God but provides a way for people to come to God. Grace that provides for needs. Grace that protects. Grace that saves. Grace that establishes a people called by God.

We see God’s grace in the midst of judgment so often in Scripture that I think we can safely say that God always provides an avenue for grace. If this was not true, how could Paul writes that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20)?

As we look around in our world, we can become overwhelmed by the amount of rebellion we see against God. We might even be amazed at the creativity in the means by which we see rebellion against God occurring around us. What are we to do?

Instead of being overwhelmed by the sins we see in the world, we should be amazed at the avenues of grace that we see. It takes a flip of our perspective.

What rebellion against God do you see around you? How can that become an avenue of grace?

“The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, as that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:20-21.

A Millennial on Why the Atonement is Still Important: A Response to Christian Piatt

imagesRecently another tidal wave of atonement wariness has swept through the Christian village. It has been subtle at times. It has even been constructive at times- seeking to reframe the atonement for a postmodern audience. It has also been blatant at times, and none so blatant as a recent article by Christian Piatt.

In his April 28, 2015 article entitled, “Is a Theology of Atonement a Ponzi Scheme that Enslaves Us to God?”, Piatt writes: “Aside from atonement theology (the idea that Jesus’ death paid a debt to God I could not repay myself) painting God as a bloodthirsty bully, it also raises the question of whether personal salvation based on this atonement principle is the greatest Ponzi scheme ever sold from the pulpit.”

He then goes on to show how this Ponzi scheme works; essentially arguing that the job of a person who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior is to “work for this deferred compensation [freedom from eternal suffering in hell] for the rest of your life. And chief among your jobs is to sell other people on this same deal so they can be covered under this sin umbrella policy, and then recruit others to do the same and so on…”

Piatt’s main problem with this is it makes Christians “act fundamentally un-Christ-like,” “act like jerks to everyone else,” live a life that is “fairly indistinguishable from indentured servitude” while “screwing” anyone who doesn’t “sign on” to this way. He closes the article by describing the way he sees God, or at least desires God to be. He writes: “If we believe in a God of unconditional love and grace, however, it seems we have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to also believe that we have to proclaim that Jesus paid our debt, or else no deal.” He says if God’s love is unconditional, then it cannot be based on any kind of deal or preference and since Jesus sought to erase the idea of insiders versus outsiders, the theology of atonement “paints God as particularly un-Christ-like.” Finally he puts it all out, “Personally, I choose to believe in a God that really offers love and grace freely, and that would not set up a man the likes of Jesus to be tortured and killed.”

As a Millennial (I was born in 1985) and as someone who classifies myself as either moderate or progressive on many theological issues, this post is not an attack on progressive Christians or liberal Christians, rather it is me standing as a young Millenial Christian to say that the atonement, for all the discomfort it causes our modern/postmodern minds, is still important. If we take the theology of atonement away, we aren’t left with Christianity- in fact we aren’t left with anything at all.

Without the atonement, we cannot use Scripture as a means to know and understand God. Piatt writes that atonement theology is un-Christ-like and that the God he chooses to believe in could not act in such a way, if that is true then the Scriptures are useless because from the Old Testament to the New Testament God’s character is seen through atonement. Without the atonement, we can throw out the Law because without the atonement we cannot say that anything someone does is wrong. Without the atonement, we can throw out the Prophets because there can be no reason or means to hold someone accountable for their behavior. Without the atonement, we can throw out the Psalms, because one of the underlying beliefs of the Psalms is the understanding that God judges wrong doing. Without the atonement we can throw out the Tabernacle and Temple. Without the atonement, we can throw out the gospels because they show Jesus as embodying God’s atonement. Finally, we can throw out Acts and the Epistles because they elaborate on the ‘Jesus is God’s final atonement’ idea. Once we take the atonement out of Scripture, we actually aren’t left with any Scripture at all.

Piatt’s other main point, namely that God’s love and grace can exist apart from the atonement, also causes some major problems. If you are able to keep Scripture, despite its atonement foundation, it’s hard to circumnavigate that Scripture links God’s love and God’s grace to the atonement. Texts like Romans 5:8-10, 1 John 4:9-10 and Galatians 2:20 all link God’s love to atonement in and through Jesus’ death. Likewise, God’s grace is linked to the atonement. Texts like Ephesians 1:7, Romans 3:21-26 and all of Romans chapter 5 show that God’s grace is shown and given through the atonement. To say that we believe in a God of love and grace and yet deny the atonement is like standing before a fireplace and affirming the existence of light and warmth but denying the existence of the fire.

The questions of how the atonement works and why Jesus had to die have existed within Christianity since its inception. Theologians through the centuries have proposed various ways to understand the atonement- ransom, satisfaction, moral influence, penal substitution, Christus Victor. Despite the questions of how and why, the Christian faith is the belief that the atonement works and that the atonement remains God’s means through which love, grace, mercy, redemption, forgiveness and salvation come. With its questions and with our uneasiness in aspects of the atonement, it remains the central and vital component of the Christian faith. Without the atonement, we cannot know God though Scripture and we cannot believe in a God of love and grace. That is why the atonement is still important.