living beyond the church answer (part 1)…

What is the point of everything? What is the point of the Church? Why do we do what we do?  Why do we show up on Sunday morning and listen to someone talk about the Bible, God, Jesus, and the Christian?  Is it informational or is it transformational…or is it both?  And then…once we hear these messages…do we even know what we are supposed to do about it?  If Jesus is our model and example (the author and perfecter of our faith) who shows us how we are to be and what we are to do…then what exactly is he telling us and showing us?  And then… if we finally figure out what it is we are to do…then how in the world do we do it?  How do we experience it, live it out, and then take it out to others?

The weight of just one of those questions is impressive…but the weight of all the questions together is overwhelming.  And in order to beginning working through and sorting out these questions in order to get to some actual, practical answers…it will take some time.  That is why I am spending most of 2010 answering those questions.  My hope and prayer is that God will work through all of this in order for us to become the kind of people God always intended…and that we may become even more united and alive in our faith…leading people in our community and in the world to a greater relationship with Christ…and closer to an abundant life here and now.

Growing up within the confines and context of church from the time I was born…I can confidently say that the answers to the questions above were easily answered with what I now call “church answers.”  Church answers are surface level answers given to any question without any real thought or regard to a more substantive and robust answer.  For instance, in response to the question, “What is the point of everything?” the “church answer” would be, “to save people so that they can be in heaven when they die.”  To many, that is a satisfactory answer.  And while that answer is indeed accurate, it doesn’t really give us much substance.  It leaves many of us (of a younger generation)…just asking more questions in order to get a more substantive answer.  Trite answers and simple cliche’s just don’t cut it.

But this is what we have seen in churches in our communities throughout the land.  Our churches have operated and organized for the longest time around the idea that the central purpose of Jesus was to “get people to heaven.”  And as a result…the primary function and purpose of the Church has become to save people in order to escape the flames of hell and get to heaven.  And it is to that end that churches put enormous amounts of time…energy…effort and resources.

But let me be perfectly clear here…I am in no way diminishing the hope that we have in our future glory with Christ.  The apocalyptic of John in Revelation 21 is a picture of the greatest hope that we have through our faith.  That once and for all…God will make all things new and his dwelling place will one day be among man.  Therefore…the great hope in which we long for and anticipate is heaven and earth becoming one.  We anticipate a time when he will wipe away every tear from every eye and  there will no longer be death, mourning, crying, or pain.  The kingdoms of the world will one day become the Kingdom of God through and through.  God will dwell among us, and we will be His people, and he will our God.  Then justice and peace will prevail with sin and death being defeated and no longer having a sting.

That is the great hope of the Christian…and I do not want to diminish it at all.

But there is a present concern that we must address.  There has to be more to our faith in Jesus Christ than just “becoming a Christian in order to get to heaven” in the future.  There must be a purpose for which we are called presently…that shapes who we are and what we are to do.  Simple answers will not work.  I want to know the why’s and the how’s.  I want to know what that means for me and the life I live RIGHT NOW…TODAY.

I am not content sitting around watching the world go to hell-in-a-hand-basket…or living a life enslaved and oppressed by other people, relationships, situations, addictions, or my own heart and mind…without doing something about it today.  The truth is that we live real lives that are strained by the weight of an unforgiving world.  We have bills to pay.  We have relationships that are not perfect.  And some of us have kids we are trying to raise.  All of this…and we are told that the best we can do as Christians is to “live a Christian life” and wait for heaven.  So yes…the church answer seems too narrowly-focused, under-developed, and not too concerned about our lives in the present. There has to be more to our hope and faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus that means something for us here and now.

continue on to living beyond the church answer (part 2)…

5 thoughts on “living beyond the church answer (part 1)…

  1. I like what you write. I want to offer some thoughts to chew on. I agree that the message of reducing salvation to “getting people saved so they could go to heaven” is incomplete. If you look long enough at a painted picture that is incomplete, missing a few strokes, the picture will lose its appeal. One would want to get rid of the picture, rather hold on to it for dear life. If the picture of salvation that is painted on the minds of Christians every Sunday is “Do more evangelism. Be more committed. Read your Bible more. Pray more. Witness more. Give more. Share the Gospel with every one you meet. Feel uncomfortable hanging out with unbelievers until you witness to them”, then such a picture will be hard to bear for long. It is like walking out of a church every Sunday and seeing you have a huge hill to climb. Such religious moralism is strength-draining.
    But if such is the bane of fundamentalist preaching, the liberal preaching has its own form of moralism. When faced with the commands-happy (imperatives-heavy) moralism of “Transform the Earth and society for Jesus and bring Heaven on Earth“, the believer again faces a steep hill, this time of running never-ending projects for Jesus. Rather than walking from mountain of infinite riches of mercy and grace in Christ Jesus ready to share the depths of the all-encompassing glory of the triune God, the believer again lives in the daily failures that his ordinary life is not like Shane Claiborne’s or Mother Teresa‘s. The challenge is how to avoid being strictly reactionary away from fundamentalism. I believe Christians are assailed with demands of moralism either to evangelize to everyone(fundame.) or get involved in this cause or that movement to save the world (liberalism). None of these are bad in themselves, but none of them by themselves present a full picture of salvation. I would encourage you to think how to shift the Christian away from the world of commands/demands/expectations/threats/imperatives and to the world of what Jesus has done and is doing. I believe the Christian need to live more in the world of indicatives of what God has done and is doing in Christ Jesus. Only when our affections fall fully on Christ Jesus, will we be motivated to obey and follows demands/commands (Have you noticed how Apostle Paul singled out the “mind” in Romans 12 as the location for constant renewal from which transformation flows?”. Recently, I have been catching a glimpse of what Apostle Paul says in Philippians of the most important and wonderful thing is the “surpassing knowledge of Christ Jesus.” What is so “surpassing” that Paul can say he counts everything as loss accept knowing Christ Jesus and later that he learned to be “content” in all circumstances? What is so wonderful about texts like Romans 7 and 8 where we are told there is no “condemnation” for those who are in Christ Jesus? Why should it be so comforting for us to read that the regenerate and mature Christian, Paul, in Romans 7 and 8 says he is “of the flesh” but “in the Spirit”? That the struggle of the Christian life is evidence of the work of the holy spirit? What is so great about the new covenant as opposed to the old covenant? Why should we marvel that we get to live as “living sacrifices” rather than the dead sacrifices of old testament? What is so wonderful about Ephesians and it’s mention of “in Christ” over 17 times? What is so wonderful about phrases in the book of Colossians that speak of our lives as having “died and … hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3) and that when the end of days come “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4)? In a world overrun with more to-do lists, instruction manuals, commands and demands, would it not be wonderful to go deeper into Christ Jesus to learn of all the benefits we have through Him who accomplished salvation? Somebody said if we have hope, we can stand everything. I would say if we get Christ and His work more deeply, this will surpass everything. This begins in the mind (Romans 12).

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    1. much of what you wrote follows your last blog post. in many ways…I agree with what you are saying…and I would go so far as to say that we are saying a lot of the same things…just in different ways. we both are quoting from Paul quite heavily…and my guess is that Paul does not contradict himself…he just says certain things in different ways. for instance…when you speak of the “knowledge” of Christ or the “renewing” of our minds…isn’t that just a different way of saying that the Holy Spirit is opening our hearts and minds to Christ and making us into the likeness of Christ. and then…isn’t that exactly what being hidden in Christ inherently is?

      I believe that your assessment of the fundamental/liberal extremes are right on…but i think you go a little too far in your analysis. most people I know live out their faith in small ways everyday and I have never seen a person throw up his/her arms in frustration because he/she can’t be like Shane Claiborne. I see people coming to know Christ whose eyes are opened and whose hearts are changed and then begin to take that small part out into their relationships through grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I see people talking to and walking beside people who have been tossed to the curb by everone else in this world. I just don’t see the extreme case that you mention. I am not saying it doesn’t exist…I just haven’t seen it.

      but….when you speak of the “mind” knowing Christ…what exactly does that mean? again…is it not through the renewing and ministerial teaching of the Holy Spirit that our minds are transformed? isn’t it true that through the renewing of our minds that Christ is known and experienced more fully by a person? and as our minds are transformed…do the seeds not begin to blossom and grow in our hearts and
      out of our bodies into the fruit of action? for how can love be expressed if not actively? I may not understand you fully…but the way I read your position gives me the impression that you are compartmentalizing the mental (mind) faith that knows Christ…from the physical (body) faith that lives Christ out each moment. if I have missed you on this I apologize. I prefer to view them as inseparable…holistically bound. there is not one and then the other. it is just faith…fully known and demonstrated inseparably.

      but to that end…is your position that “to know Christ” negates spiritual discipline on the part of the follower of Christ? or do we know Christ more fully when we are out of the way (through a disciplined life) and the Spirit is able to come closer to make Christ known through us? I personally believe that there is more to it than just sitting around thinking about it. we do have a role and responsibility and we must “count the cost” of following Christ as we pick up our crosses daily. yes…you are right…we are living sacrifices…but we have to pick up our cross in order to be a sacrifice. it can not all be just considering in the mind…even though that is an integral part.

      once again…I believe many fronts we are saying the same things. I would only guard against sounding too “mental” in our faith. as our minds are transformed…how our faith is expressed changes all the more. but…we do have a role and responsibility in that.

      let me know if I missed your main point.

      peace brother….

      Brandon

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  2. I have been pondering these quotes by Dennis E. Johnson who wrote in his book ‘Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures’.

    “Despite one author’s insistence that the gospel is foundational because spiritual growth cannot begin until one has trusted in Christ alone for salvation, does not his emphasis on concrete steps for pursuing behavioral change have the potential of drifting over into a moralism that draws attention so overwhelmingly to believers’ duties that Christ’s grace is obscured, at least in the impression left on his listeners? If the preachier attributes “stalling” in one’s sanctification to faulty methods rather than to feeble faith and failing motivation, might he not emphasize self-discipline at the expense of grace, and make duty displace grateful love as the engine that drives the pursuit of holiness?”

    “Preaching is God’s instrument to elicit faith, thereby uniting us to Christ and to his community, the body that is growing together toward perfection and the bride who is being beautified for the presentation to her groom.

    Does the comprehensiveness of Paul’s ultimate objective mean that the apostolic preaching moves beyond the gospel, outside the Pauline preoccupation with Christ, in order to address other, “practical” topics concerning the nitty-gritty of the Christian life, struggle against sinful habits, resolving interpersonal conflict, financial management, responsible citizenship, social justice, and the other themes that fill modern pulpits? No, the logic of Paul’s interlinking clauses implies that preaching prods us toward the goal of perfection not by moving our gaze away from Jesus to other issues but by driving our exploration deeper into Christ, who is the manifold wisdom of God. ” (p 67-68)

    “The same preached word that turns sinners away from themselves and their sin toward Christ also sanctifies and strengthens them to offer thankful obedience pleasing to God through the grace of is Son.” (p 69)

    More quotes can be accessed at my blog http://theotryst.wordpress.com/

    I think yours posts here are concerned about going “beyond the church” answer and seek real transformation in the Christians life toward holiness(sanctification) and bringing shalom(wholeness,ultimate human flourishing) to earth. I sympathize with your task especially given how messed up our “minds” (Rom. 12) have been through faulty doctrines of dispensationalism and, when combined with pietistic moralism that if we don’t do enough evangelism, a great many of us will be “left behind.”

    You write, “most people I know live out their faith in small ways everyday.” The concern over “stalling” in sanctification, the normal Christian life, you believe can be relieved through a renewed concern for spiritual disciplines (namely, fasting, confession). I believe it is wise to consider Dennis Johnson’s remark that the source of the problem are not having “faulty methods”/or lack of them, and replacing them with “spiritual discipline methods” like fasting. The real problem is that people have “feeble faith and failing motivation.” Christians need to feed on Christ, through the “ordinary means of grace” namely, preaching of the Word(which includes reading theology, a type of hearing through which faith comes(Romans 10)-and listening to pod casts), and of course public worship), and the sacrament of Lord’s Supper. Only when we get Christ, the Gospel, grace, and justification will be change “feeble faith and failing motivations.” Only when we get the “foolishness” of the Gospel, and the “offense” of the Cross, as Apostle Paul writes, will we be moved to obey. Have you notice Paul spent 12 chapters in Romans talking about the doctrine of justification before he utters the first words of obedience and offering up our lives as “living sacrifices”?

    I believe even spiritual disciplines can be the New Legalism (old moralism) that if we just get certain steps right, more of God’s favor will be on us or as you write, “know Christ more fully when we are out of the way (through a disciplined life) and the Spirit is able to come closer to make Christ known through us.” Plus, Apostle Paul cautions us about spiritual disciplines or at least the principles we follow to stop “the indulgence of the flesh” when he writes in Colossians 2:20-23 “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

    God has chosen to bless us with his special presence when we gather “in His name” through fellowship, preaching and hearing of the Word, feeding on Him through the sacrament. Where the Word of God is, there is God. The Holy Spirit is present in all of these “ordinary means of grace” as the Heidelberg Catechism teaches, and we need to repent from the assumption that the extraordinary is more pious and spiritual than the ordinary.

    We will do well also when we repent of false worship that plagues much of American Christianity with it’s emphasis on “feelings” and “religious experiences” as the measure of the ordinary Christian life or the thing to be sought above all other things or the organizing principle of the Christian life. We draw deeper into Christ, when we understand God serves us in public worship in Word and Sacrament, and we respond in songs of praise, prayer, confession, and attention. You have mentioned preaching as “information vs. transformational” and “that I personally believe that there is more to it than just sitting around thinking about it”. Preaching when in accord with the truth of the Scriptures is always transformational and our attention and listening is the work of worship/work of the priests. There is no just “just sitting around thinking about it.” These acts are SUPERNATURAL because God ordained them to be that way. Paul says preachers need to preach and be “ready in and out of season” because false doctrine will come. Faith flows out of that(Romans 10). Which means shalom flows out of that.

    I will end with this quote by R. Scott Clark “The goal (in worship) is not (religious) experience. Making the goal experience is one of the problems of American Christianity since the 18th century and particularly since the 19th century. This is why many (most?) evangelical (and many Reformed) congregations since choruses for 35-40 followed by a sermon, because Charles Finney discovered that it was the most effective way to have the most affective worship “experience.” It’s why when people say, “We really worshipped today” they mean, “we had the most exquisite religious experience today.” They don’t usually mean, in colloquial speech, “We heard the law which convicted me of the greatness of my sin and misery and the gospel which God the Spirit used to assure me that, despite my sins, God accepts me for the sake of Christ’s righteousness and renewed within me a desire to die to sin and live to Christ.”

    Peace in Christ Jesus to you. I always look forward to your sharp wisdom and exploration of the deep riches of grace of our Lord Jesus. Please forgive me if I sounded offensive. A lot of these observation are new to me, but I believe they are taking me further into Christ Jesus. I hope they will serve you well too.

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    1. t-bone…thanks for response. I may write more later on other points but wanted to comment directly to the Dennis Johnson quote that you noted.

      to me it is unwise for one to go to such an extreme in one direction and worry or be fearful that if any spiritual discipline is entered into that it necessarily negates grace. I do happen to agree that by entering into any discipline or ritual that it might improperly become the focus rather than the grace afforded the Christian by God through the atoning blood of Christ…however one can absolutely make the same claim for preaching, the Lords Supper, and worship. we hardly avoid those practices for fear that one may forget or negate God’s grace by entering into these practices. to the contrary…we enter into all of these things so that we may feast on Christ wholly…in all ways.

      to take such a position as to the avoidance of certain spiritual disciplines or practices on the part of the Christian…but only entering into certain others (which could and has created the problems of which you and Johnson note) seems quite limiting and too extreme. saying that we should avoid these things for fear that it may distract us from Christ and grace…bothers me. I just don’t believe it. more to come later. peace brother… brandon

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  3. ok t-bone…back to the matter at hand.

    i do happen to agree with Johnson on one specific point (and you may have misunderstand me in the overall context of my writings)…i do believe that the issue is indeed primarily “feeble faith and failing motivation,” as i believe i spoke about quite a bit in my book manuscript that you previewed. to me…the central issue is our dependence on our own individual pursuits, wants, needs, and desires over and above our dependence on Christ through a variety of means…but most importantly…the Holy Spirit. i will be the first to say (and i always believe that i have)..the spiritual discplines are not the solution or the end…they are simply a means. if the primary issue is that “we have been becoming more and Christ has been becoming less” then how does the Christian necessarily begin a life of sacrificial living in which “we become less, and Christ becomes more.” to me…the spiritual disciplines have nothing to do with salvation, or becoming the end to which we focus and strive…as much as it becomes the means that aids us in becoming less…so the Spirit may work and fill us unimepeded.

    i will add a caveat to your statement on the first 12 chapters of Romans primarily being about justification (of which i agree)…however you must also note that tucked within the larger context of justification is Romans 7 and 8…which highlights the tension and struggle that we face daily between the sinful flesh/mind and the mind set on the things of righteousness through the Spirit. Paul declares that, “if you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are Sons of God.” the entire point of my writings is that we have entered into a discipleship in which sacrifice is expected. yes…we primarily have a faith problem…but we have not sacrificed our own will or our own ways…we do not even know what it looks like to put to death the misdeeds of the body and live by the Spirit. the disciplines are simply entered into so as to put our body into subjection to the Spirit that liberates us and gives us life. this is not in place of preaching or hearing the word…this does not circumvent the Lord’s Supper…and it certainly does not displace worship. the disciplines allow us to learn how better to feast on Christ alone…rather than our own conventions.

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