From A Distance

It would be hard to find someone more predisposed to the Christian religion than I am. I grew up going to church every Sunday, and I didn’t hate it. In fact, by the time I was in my late teens, I was certain God had “called” me to devote my life to the service of the church and the gospel. That is what I have done. I have been ordained in three different denominations, and I have friends in virtually every major tradition of the church from the fundamentalist right to the progressive left.

I have looked at the church from almost every imaginable perspective. I’ve seen the best and the worst, things that make me proud and things that make me ashamed, things that make me smile broadly and things that make me weep uncontrollably. I’ve seen the church be a place where people experience joy and delight, and I’ve seen it cause intense pain and do grievous harm. Continue reading

Incarnational Christianity

You say your church is doctrinally orthodox, and you recite the Nicene Creed every week? I don’t care.

You say that, in your church, people speak in tongues, make prophetic pronouncements, and experience other manifestations of supernatural power? I don’t care.

IchthusYou say your pastor is a brilliant orator, an exciting motivator, and a wonderful teacher? I don’t care.

I don’t care how many members are on your roll or how much your congregation has grown in the past year. I don’t care how many were “saved,” sanctified, filled with the Spirit, baptized, confirmed, commissioned, or ordained in your services last week. Continue reading

Why New Churches Will Always Be Needed

As I noted in my last post, Christianity took first century Europe, Asia Minor, and Palestine by storm. That is not the way I would describe the impact of Christianity on twenty-first century America. The Christian community has now been around for two thousand years, and its testimony hasn’t always been upright and noble. It has failed to emulate the character of its Lord, and familiarity with the history of the church has bred contempt for its message in many quarters.

The teachings of Jesus are still true and life-transforming, however, even if those who purport to follow Him have not always been faithful and consistent. The message of hope and forgiveness and a new kind of life made possible by the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is still the best news the world could hear, even if the messengers have not always borne it with grace and dignity. And yet the fact remains that, as long as Christians need to relate redemptively to a culture that may be apathetic or even hostile, there will be a need for churches where they can be equipped and encouraged, find healing and strength, share burdens, regain perspective, and renew their hope. Continue reading

Why Would Anybody Want to Plant a Church?

A lot of the rhetoric coming from proponents of church planting these days is ill-conceived and theologically inaccurate. For example, nobody is going to die and go out into a godless eternity just because a new church wasn’t planted in a particular neighborhood. Churches should not be planted out of the fear that, if we don’t raise up an institution of this sort, the work of God will not get done and the plan of God will somehow be thwarted.

Furthermore, it is inaccurate to compare the political, social, and religious culture of twenty-first century America to that of Asia Minor and Europe in the first century. The Roman Empire in the first century was characterized by a hodgepodge of belief systems ranging from mythological polytheism to philosophical agnosticism. While monotheistic Judaism existed, it was not an aggressively evangelistic movement. The number of Jews outside of Palestine was small, relative to the population at large, and the influence of Jewish faith and culture was limited. Continue reading

Someday I Hope To Love Sundays Again

I hate Sundays. Wait, I should be a bit more temperate and not so indiscriminate with a term I tell my grandson not to use. So I’ll re-phrase. I really, really dislike Sundays with a visceral aversion akin to hatred. I approach this day with a combination of dread and loathing so intense I know it will generate a bile in my inward parts that I can almost taste. Several times today I will wonder why I am gritting my teeth so hard that my head hurts. Then I will remember. Oh yeah, it’s Sunday.

If it were possible to go to sleep on Saturday night and not wake up until Monday morning, I would happily take that option. Sundays are just too disheartening, frustrating, and painful. Continue reading

Today Is The Day

I have known for some time that “this day” would come, but even when I woke up this morning, I still didn’t know that this would be that day. Then I read a note by one of my Facebook friends, and I knew what I had to do. And so, today is the day that I officially come out.

In the same way that I recently publicized my change of heart regarding the role of women in church leadership, I am today making public a similar change of heart and mind with regard to those who identify as LGBTQ. I now believe that LGBTQs who follow Jesus Christ as Lord should be welcomed into the fellowship of the church with full acceptance and without restriction upon their ministry and leadership in the church if they are qualified for ministry in all other ways. Further, in the same way that I encourage celibacy before marriage and faithfulness in marriage for heterosexuals, I offer the same counsel and encouragement to those of same-sex orientation. Continue reading

Advent and the Church’s Mission

If the story of Jesus teaches us anything it is that God is on a mission. The gospel record of Jesus’ coming is simply a continuation of the Old Testament story of God at work, through his chosen instruments—Abraham and the nation that arose out of his descendants—to bring adventskranzredemption to the world and to set right the creation which has been damaged and corrupted by human sin.

After his baptism and temptation, which took place in the southern part of the Jewish homeland, the area known as Judea, Jesus chose to begin his formal and public ministry in the north, where he had grown up, in the region known as Galilee.

Here is the way Mark describes it in chapter one of his Gospel.

Now… Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ (Mark 1:14)

It’s interesting that Mark, who records very little of the teaching of Jesus, preferring to concentrate on his actions—his miracles and works of power—nevertheless begins his account of Jesus’ ministry, after briefly mentioning the baptism and temptation, with a reference to something Jesus said. Continue reading