Posts Tagged Church
Last Thanksgiving was one to remember. Somewhere in-between the compliments on my mashed potatoes and questions about whether dessert should be both pumpkin and pecan pie, I was told by a fellow Christ follower that I was accursed and going to hell. The conversation had turned from culinary choices to Christian responsibility in discussion of things like same sex marriage, security at church, and evolution versus creation. I felt comfortable around my fellow believers to speak openly about the bible and how it is used in our modern churches. I think that may have been my mistake. Honestly it probably was one of the better thanksgiving meals I have had. It was enlightening.
The specifics of the conversation are less important but the overall context speaks volumes to how we understand God and how the world actually sees us. The modern church seems to have adopted a unique view of biblical understanding. We mash verses like James 1:5 explaining where we should seek wisdom together with Colossians 2:8 about reliance on Christ and not human acumen and we end up with the ability to blame the Holy Spirit for our willingness to argue with the world about what we don’t like. Do we really think that is honoring God?
It seems like our desire for expedience and frankly our fears that we might agree with something we shouldn’t causes us to jump to conclusions about things we probably should chew on and struggle with more. Paul preached in a town called Berea and their response in Acts 17 was to examine the scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true. The word used (anakrino) is one of active and diligent searching. We seem to have sacrificed that today with a rote memorization of lists of things we are suppose to oppose. One offers the ability to swim in the words of the Creator himself and see how they change us to be more like him. The other affords us the ability to regurgitate on command. How can this truly honor God?
This is not a dark plot to squelch the words of the Spirit or a plan to usurp the throne of God with a conservative agenda of monotone “churchspeak”, it is more realistically a direction adopted from society itself to ease the burden of actually performing anakrino. With the information superhighway linked to everyone’s phones and the focus of modern communication, we are inundated with so many factoids that the only possibility to absorb them is to respond with “like” or “dislike”. We have exchanged the idea of a well-rounded and thorough education with a strong web presence. This does not honor God.
Don’t get me wrong, technology is not to blame, it is just a tool. Our use of it though will determine our efficacy in preaching the true gospel. I met a young man who was pursuing an online theology degree through a major Christian University. He explained it was faster and would get him into ministry sooner with the same educational value. He had been studying for a while so I asked who his favorite theologians were and his answer was that he couldn’t remember the names but he was willing to let me review his textbooks. If the quality of theological education being pursued by ministers today reduces the need to understand the history that brought us where we are and replaces that need with the requirement to offer an opinion in a class discussion post then we are breeding future ministers that will have no real ability to speak for the God they serve. Frankly this dishonors God.
If the some total of biblical examination that we are fostering in our church bodies is to look at an abridged online commentary or for that matter listen to a person who has done that and accept their version of truth, than how are we actually pursuing the call that was given? We are no longer preaching the gospel. We are preaching modern “churchspeak”. One of the clearest directives given in the text is from the prophet Micah. He tells us to pursue justice and mercy and walk humbly before our God. Humility starts with recognizing that our words about God are steeped in the tension of the fact we are speaking about something we have no possibility of understanding fully. If we present it as if it is simple and can be verified through a checklist, if we address the world’s concerns as if they are either on that list or not and therefore some type of abomination, if we stop examining the scripture and just read it to find agreement with our preconceived notions, than our ability to honor God has left the building. I have a large concern that God will follow shortly.
The message of the modern church is being obscured by our own voice. We are reaching some people, but I have to wonder if we are doing justice to them or the ones we are not reaching if we are encouraging compliance instead of diligent scripture searching. This does open up doors for possible misunderstanding and even not addressing sins in peoples lives. I am just not certain that is a bad thing. If we are truly seeking to honor God, then the most important thing to remember is we cannot bind his power to work in people’s lives by the insecurities of our own beliefs. The alternative is simply not working and I fear is an offense to the one we serve.
Somewhere between loss and recovery is a four letter word that both screams into the darkness and relishes in the light. It lays down beside our broken bodies at the worst points of our lives and comforts us. It reaches deep into our souls and pushes us toward rehabilitation and restoration and yet seems to cling to us when we think we no longer need it. It is a universal need and true universal constant that connects all living beings in a way that breaks the bonds of even death itself. It heals like no medicine can and without it no medicine can truly work. It provides the ability to stand against the worst of the world with resolve. It gives us the ability to lay our heads down and find true rest when needed. It’s echo lingers long after the word is spoken and it’s effect has changed the course of history. That word is hope.
Everyone needs it and yet you can so easily see when someone no longer has it. I saw a man in local parking lot recently. His beard was rough, untrimmed, and dirty. His clothes were similar in condition and somehow expressed his outlook but not his character. He struggled in the corner of a parking lot to cover his cart with a tarp to protect it from the rain. Moments earlier the tarp was his blanket but as the day began and people came around he needed to move so he would not draw too much attention to himself. He needed to protect his things. In his mind, that was all that mattered. In his mind, that was all he had. He was broken, whether by the world around him or by his own choice is a philosophical discussion he really didn’t care about. How he got there was academic in relation to where he was was. Each moment hung in the balance between fear and loss. They were his constant companions but offered no solace in their company. He was a man clinging to a rope over a deep pit whose life expectancy was measured in how long he could hold on. He had lost hope and he was merely waiting for his fingers to give way.
Christianity is supposed to be the embodiment of hope. In the first century the biblical writers cultivated the idea and focus around a term that in and of itself was rather mundane and simple. The word was gospel. It simply meant good news. It was the kind of thing that was said about a birth announcement or a wedding. You would send a message of good news to people to let them know there was a reason to celebrate. The early writers captured this term and used it to describe the message of Christ because it was the ultimate reason to celebrate. It was the pivotal point in time where all that was evil collided with all that was good and was obliterated. This meant the chains that held us to death, destruction, and separation from God were now gone. The idea was that we who were lost were now found in such a powerful and overwhelming way that the very core of existence has changed and our souls are now free to be with God forever. This is the truest possible good news. So I have to ask if we have made it something that is less than good?
Today’s message from the global church seems one saturated with political and social opinion. It is one of recognizing so called true strength by becoming enlightened through knowing the way. This “way” includes a structured method of achieving ones goals and desires through naming and claiming. It includes the power to devastate the opponents arguments through use of scripture (whether or not that use is contextual, synchronous with the rest of the church’s teachings, or even aptly applied to the circumstance). It involves social gatherings around music and light shows. Lastly (though I am sure not completely) it involves totems and spiritual symbols that are carried around and venerated at yearly festivals. In other words, it looks a great deal like paganism, idol worship, and gnosticism rolled together and tied in a bow made of new ageism.
Churches even within denominational structures are becoming brands and franchises seeking to be the center rather than reflect the center. They argue within themselves who is better, more accurate, more scripturally relevant, or more seeker sensitive. Or they go the other direction and work so hard to stay out of the arguments they miss the need to unite as one movement. This is truly a harsh message but one that if not heeded will cause us to not only close our doors but to close our hearts as well.
Please understand I know how cynical this sounds. I am not saying it lightly. I am however saying it because it needs to be heard. If our goal is to communicate the good news and have others join us in our relationship with the Creator, we are focusing on all the wrong things. We need to stop focusing on trying to get something out of the gospel message for us and start explaining why it is good news to others. We have built structured self-ology for far too long and need to get back to our theology that God is the reason we are here. We need to stop trying to build castles and monuments to him and start building his kingdom.
The message being heard today is one of control. We need to make it one of sacrifice. It is one of self. We need to make it one of others. It is one of piety, we need to make it one of righteousness. It is one of security, we need to make it one of justice. Simply put, we need to make it one of hope.
He felt alone, misunderstood, and rejected by his parents because they would not accept his choice to be a girl. They felt confused, upset, and morally justified in denying his will. He could not see a way out and could not accept their view so he felt a better answer was to not exist. He wrote a note, planned it out, and stepped from this world to the next. Leelah Alcorn was a troubled and confused person whose choices I cannot agree with, but if we are unwilling to look at the problem honestly we are condoning it. I cant do that either. Camps are starting and the internet is full of people’s opinions. They start with or center on a pronoun. Should he have been or be called a she. The specifics and legal ramifications will be debated for a long time to come but the ethical response has no reason to wait.
Is Gender a characteristic that can be defined by human will or is it set in stone? Is it malleable or do we have the right and need to discover it? Science has an answer, conservatives have an answer, liberals have an answer, but are we asking the right questions? Human DNA coding on a base level promotes the pairing of chromosomes that either match in type or do not. If they match in type science determines the person female and if they differ in type it determines male. This seems simple enough as the DNA code writes the person and their growth patterns throughout their life. This however also creates a problem. If the will of the person does not agree with the genetic coding, is the coding wrong?
Gender dysphoria is understood as a person who strongly feels they are not the gender they physically appear to be. The DNA coding somehow misfired and their consciousness went one direction while their body went another. The medical response is to surgically and chemically alter the body to realign these two diverse views or recreate what has been created. God is removed from the picture and man takes over to right the wrong that has been done. Does that just address the symptom though? If the DNA code does not change, is the person truly changing? This may seem like a minor point but I think the entire argument rests on it. If the surgical and medical solution does nothing to change the causal factors of the dilemma, have we truly addressed the problem that the person has or have we merely changed outfits? I am not trying to make light of it, I think this is the core. If we are not able to fix the root issue then are we helping the situation by focusing on the pronoun and attacking those who do not agree?
Richard Dawkins stated that “Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous—indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.” If nature (DNA) is truly purposeless, then it cannot be wrong as wrong would indicate it went against its own or a superior designer’s directive or desire. In other words DNA can’t be wrong, only God can. The very nature of this problem philosophically begs the question, “Can God make a mistake”?
In short, many on both sides of the fence, feel he can and does. I think the challenge is two fold. One, if we claim he made the mistake, we are claiming to have superior knowledge to him and thereby become better than him. If that is the case, why is the world still in trouble? The second part is that our answer doesn’t help the person in trouble. In the case of Leelah Alcorn, we all failed. The church, society, his school, his friends, his loved ones, we failed at helping him address the problem of accepting who he was. That lead him down a path to make a very dark choice. All we are left with is asking how we will help the next person?
The church should be a haven for people like Leelah but in his own words, it was not for him. Maybe that had to do with some misguided and frankly aberrant social science behavioral modification garbage his counselors were using, or maybe it had to do with just not communicating well enough that God loved him for who he was. Either way, we missed our goal of loving the world.
Gender is not truly malleable but a person has the freedom to be who they want to be. His parents felt that he was headed down a wrong path and wanted better for him. Society taught him rebellion against them was fine as long as it lead him to who he wanted to be. That frankly is as irresponsible as the behavioral modification. Like many social issues today, there is a lot of red paint. We will never solve the problems if all we do is blame the person who is covered the most. The issue of gender is symptomatic to the acceptance of who we are. Christianity teaches that who we are is less important than whose we are. Maybe we need to do a better job explaining that before our voice stops being heard completely.
When I was much younger I knew it all, or at least I thought I did. I took all the classes and read all the books I needed to form the most infamous weapon ever to be used against mankind, the opinion. It was like a logic puzzle, all I had to do was find the right ways to shape the right scriptures and support the right views to make myself feel right (read superior). There wasn’t a subject I wouldn’t tackle because I had all the information I needed in the bible. It was simply a matter of how I used it. I cant claim I was alone in doing this or even that I was the best. I was taught well by many before me but I was quite good at it. If an argument against God came my way it had to go through both barrels of my baseball bat theology (I know I mixed my metaphors but it made about as much sense and some of the arguments I would use). It is almost as if the book itself was a cacophony of magic spells that I just needed to decipher to defeat evil (read anyone who disagreed with me). The world was my battleground and all who disagreed with my God were my target, and frankly my soul has been paying the toll ever since.
This was how “witnessing” was taught and this is why it has become malodorous in today’s world. I am not owning that responsibility but I certainly played my role. So many years later and many miles wiser (hopefully) I am sickened when I see my younger self in people today. How can we ever believe we are honoring the Creator of the universe by dishonoring his creations so entirely? A persons voice or view is an extension of who they are. It may be right at times and wrong at times and somewhere in between at times but it is always part of who they are. Dishonoring that dishonors God.
This happened within the church as well as without and still happens unfortunately. It seems like the epitome of Christian growth is the ability to understand (read control) the text. That then leads to instructing (read control) others within the church body and directing (read control) the church body and where it focuses its attention. All of this happens under the umbrella of being lead by the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately I have heard far too many things that he would he not take credit for and he shouldn’t be blamed for either.
The real problem is not so much that this makes us look like arrogant fools (which many times we deserve) but also effectively removes the ability to speak cogently on issues that are truly facing the world. Here is a perfect case in point. Ellen Page recently came out of the closet and announced to the world that she is gay. This brought almost immediate support from many celebrities and thankfully Christian groups have not said anything stupid yet. Here however is the concern. I watched her speech and was genuinely moved by her view and experience when dealing with gender and role expectations and the hypocrisy and atrocities associated with that. Of which the church has historically been part of and I feel the issues she raised are large value points we should address. She said “If we could take just 5 minutes to recognize each others beauty instead of attacking each other for our difference…..ultimately it would save lives”. I think that is brilliant and something the church should spearhead instead of attack. At the same time I couldn’t care less what gender Ellen Page wants to have sex with or couple with. I was never on the short list for that role so my opinion on the fact is irrelevant. (Ellen, if I was and I missed your calls, I have really screwed the pooch on this and am sorry) As a matter of fact, I don’t think anyones opinion on that is relevant beyond her and her partner. I think that this personal choice of hers should be private and not something that should be seen as a badge of courage for proclaiming. Why does sexual choice have anything to do with human rights. The two things are not linked unless we make them so.
Christians however have almost lost the ability to speak on this because we have been the major voice in linking these things. We have abused human rights because of our opinions and now we are seen as the villains instead of the voice of reason. People are far less willing to listen to a view if they don’t understand we respect them for listening and see the beauty in them that God created. Why do we think so negatively about people when God spent so much effort building them for positive things?
If we do not change out tactics, our message is going to be heard less and less and eventually maybe not at all. I am not a pessimist who believes the church will cease to exist, but I do think we are in danger of ceasing to be relevant on the most important topic ever. God loves us and wants us in relationship with him. How can we ever believe that any other message could be more important than that?
I sat and watched her fidget and do menial tasks when she was clearly upset about something. She was a fellow student in seminary who had dreams of pastoral leadership and quite frankly was far more gifted than I in several disciplines. But something had clearly rattled her. When I asked she told me about a man in one of her classes who made broad statements to her about how she would be unable to perform certain duties within the church because she was a woman. I told her that was interesting; I didn’t know we had had a clairvoyant in our school but realistically the only thing that would make him correct is if she believed he was.
I think she understood my point but the truth is that the problem here was far larger than my angled quip could solve. There is so much history and tradition infused in the interpretation of the actual text that sifting through it just to reach consensus seems arduous at best. It confuses and angers both genders and at times has even split churches. What I can’t figure out is why.
I guess that is not quite true. I understand the history and see how the pieces to the puzzle have built the labyrinth we now have, I just don’t understand why we don’t tear a few walls down to let the people trapped inside out. Should we blame the old boys club or the male dominated denominational structures? How about blaming women directly for accepting the roles? How about blaming society for adopting a model that the church echoed so easily? How about we blame the Apostle Paul for his misogyny and self centered directions? For that matter, why don’t we just blame God himself, after all it is his book we got it from? Or better yet, how about we take the blame off the table, we re-evaluate, re-vision, re-think, and somehow build a model that not only gives the people hope, but helps heal the evils of the past.
The first step is to understand what the scripture really says. I am not going to attempt a full commentary on Paul or even list out the parts in Ephesians, Galatians, or Corinthians that address this. I don’t think that is needed because there is a larger hermeneutical issue here. The biblical text was never intended to be used in the support of a categorical syllogism to limit the ability of a gender to fulfill their desire for service to God. We cannot take Paul’s statements in one book, add them to statements in another, and conclude that he was misogynistic and that the church should not allow women to lead. This process creates a philosophical and hermeneutical error before we even begin. There is no code in the text and it is not a puzzle to be solved. As clearly as I can put it, if you have to stand on an old chair facing north east while thinking of something angelic to get the meaning out of the text, you are doing it wrong. Instructions given to the church on how to administer the church were aimed at specific churches with specific problems. Whereas that may give information that should be used in modern churches to help administer them, it cannot be taken as a singular contextual statement aimed at the church model 2000 years later without understanding the individual churches in a holistic manner.
Paul’s work was aimed at the unification of believers around the gospel of Christ. He was not setting up a universal church structure. He traveled from town to town and delivered the gospel. That was his focus. He wrote to the churches he had been to with corrective action and support for the furthering of that gospel. He was almost annoyed with administrative items. His statements about those types of items were curt and simplistic. It was almost that he was trying to get past the arguments with the first idea that came into his head. If we take those as direct mandates from God as how women are to be viewed, then not only are we contradicting other scripture that clearly shows equality, but we are placing our own selfish desires in front of God’s and denying his overall requirement to seek justice and love mercy.
We have done such a disservice to God in this arena. I have heard so much heretical garbage proclaimed in the name of tradition that has caused people to accept the inexcusable as the norm. And when we do try to push against it we end up with solutions that are almost as offensive as the problem. I have heard pastors proclaim that Paul was actually elevating the status of women from their even lower place to where we claim he said they should be. That kind of reminds me of a support for slavery from the 1800’s. Sometimes I feel more passion against the church than for it.
We have got to stop defending our traditions and understand that God cares more about our actions. The person who should be leading the church is the best qualified person, regardless of gender. If a man says he cannot learn from a woman, then the problem is with him, not them. Don’t get me wrong, there are clearly different roles intended for men than women. I will never be a mother nor have the nurturing skills that mothers have. But that in no way says that a woman should be silent in church. Simply put, those that feel women should be silent in church should do so themselves before they ever consider speaking.
Changing the world starts with changing ourselves. If we are unable to see through our own walls we build, the image of God we want to show cannot be seen by those on the other side. Sometimes we need to tear down the walls to find truth.