Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mad About Haiti; a Respite and Repose in Proverbium

For over six months now I've been working my way through Proverbs on a daily basis reading the chapter corresponding to the day of the month. An unexpected consequence was the sorrow that inevitably accompanied such an endeavor to which I was naively indifferent. The man who sits in the life raft in the midst of the ocean crying “water! water! everywhere! and not a drop to drink!” knows the peril of learning a proverb. For in the revelation of wisdom there is the stark contrast between what ought to be, and what is in my heart. Shock sets in, inevitably followed by despair unless one of two things is accomplished first.

There are those who will invariably have not a little success through the efforts of their own will. These self assured souls might persist steadfastly for years and years, if not a lifetime, in the work of becoming a more wise person. And then there are those who will see something different in the proverb which escapes the natural man. The heart of the man is revealed in proverbs; that is, the heart of a humble man looking into the mind of God. I have looked into the mind of God and it is a fearful thing. And I have been humbled.

For this reason I revisit my frustration with Haiti and those who love sinners more than brothers and sisters. While my frustration has not subsided, rather it is more hot than ever, I see the rashness of my words and understand now that fools will not hear wisdom; lovers of the world will not recognize correction. My words are wasted if I intend to change the heart of one who loves the world more than they love God within their brother. Yet, sadder than this is that I have left myself open to criticism by unnecessarily including harsh language. My speech has not been seasoned with grace and love and patience. I regret this.

And so, after respite I see that energy spent in frustration at fools is energy wasted. After repose I understand that regardless of the rightness or wrongness of an invocation or exhortation – including harsh words risks undermining the efficacy of the encouragement by allowing smaller minds to be diverted into criticism instead of listening. Proverbs has humbled me yet again. I have seen wisdom and played the fool. Shame on me.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Purpose of the Church Part 2

I am a member of one of those churches that believes its mission is to save everyone. They have adopted the mentality that the purpose of the Church is to seek and save the lost – every one of them. They have taken one command of our Lord, a very important command at that, and determined that the last commandment is the most important. More remarkably, they have determined that the last commandment is the only one that shows us our purpose. As if our Lord hid the purpose of the Church from the disciples and apostles until the very last minute. For no where else can I find anything that even approaches limiting the purpose or the primary purpose of the Church to evangelism.

Scripture tells us many things. We are told true religion is to minister to the poor, to the widows and to the orphans. We are told to give to the saints. We are told to love our brothers and sisters. Consequently, we are never told to love the world – in fact, we are told that to love the world is to NOT love God. We are told that if we do not love our brother, we do not love God.

This past sabbath, I heard a good partial message on giving and generosity. The teacher gave a four point message on generosity, pointing out that generosity reflects God, glorifies God, tests our spirits, and blesses each of us. The teacher took as inspiration II Corinthians 8 and 9. It was a good session of teaching but it was incomplete. For in II Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul is specifically speaking of giving to the saints. This is brought out multiple times in each chapter. But the conclusion of this teacher was that our generosity is to be towards unbelievers. Remarkably, the whole point of the object of our giving is missed – rather more than missed in that it is noted incorrectly. An omission would have been better than an incorrect conclusion.

And herein is the point of all our love. If we do not love our brothers and sisters FIRST; if we do not love the saints MORE; if we do not love the Church BETTER; we do not love God. Jesus came to give his life for his Church. Jesus, in his most earnest hour of need refused to pray for ANYONE other than the church. It is not that Jesus did not have compassion for others – rather, it is that he loves the Church FIRST, MORE and BEST. Should we love differently?

We have taken one command of our Lord and replaced all the commands to love one another with this other command. Our cautionary statement should be found in Jesus’ warning words. To those who were being judged – to those who were to imminently face hell’s fire and God’s rage he says: “To the extent that you did not do it to the least of these my brethren, you did not do it to me.” Let us stop. Let us please stop. Please stop. Consider what is it to visit the ones in prison, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked. Jesus wasn't talking about the reprobate sinners in Haiti – he was talking about our brothers and sisters in Haiti. Jesus wasn't talking about unwed mothers in Seattle – he was talking about unwed mothers who are our sisters in Christ in Seattle.

We live in a country of excess. I believe that no other people in all of human history has had more excess than the United States of America in 2010. If one were to argue to me that our excess allows us to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters AND the unsaved – I would say “amen.” And if I saw my brothers and sisters doing just that I would have no reason to be alarmed. But be honest. This is NOT what is happening. This is NOT what is being taught. And this is NOT what our brothers and sisters experience generally. Generally speaking, Christians are second class citizens when it comes to church giving – it is the world they stand behind hoping to gather crumbs from the table. How far we have moved from Jesus’ teachings. How far we have removed the love of Christ from his children. How sad it is to see our churches refuse to love Jesus instead loving those who are at war with God.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Purpose of the Church Part 1

Today I am pressed down. On all sides there are those who believe, who teach, who forcefully declare that the singular purpose of the Church is to pronounce the Gospel and save souls. Broad evocations of parables and allusions to the so-called “Great Commission” are all used to support what is seen as an inescapable and universal conclusion. In fact, if one questions this teaching one is considered suspect from the very start. The question is not open to debate.

However, I am a child of the evangelical generation. My generation is unique in that a larger percentage of my generation was involved in para-church evangelism during our formative years than any other generation before us or after us. No other generation of Christians has been so separated from the local body while simultaneously growing in doctrine, in understanding, in worship and in fellowship with our fellow believers. No other generation has spent more time outside the local church body than inside the local church body.

Some will be quick to defend the para-church organizations by pointing out that where two or more are gathered, there Christ is with them. They will infer that a para-church organization is a type of church. And if we do not look deeper we may be tempted to agree.

While I do not mean to criticize any particular para-church organization, I do want to distinguish between a para-church organization and the local church as established by the apostles and church fathers. I do not mean to refer to the universal Church as established by Christ, but I do mean to speak to the quality of the universal Church as expressed in the form of the local body of believers as taught by the apostles, by the church fathers and by Christ. This local body was not homogeneous in any way other than location. There is no indication that believers were separated by doctrine, by age, by race, by socio-economic status, by gender, by education or by any other factor other than distance.

Contrast that with the para-church organization which exists solely for the purpose of focusing on something less than the total needs/purpose of the local church body. Whether it be a para-church organization for building homes, ministering to college students, promoting a social agenda or simply providing a unique outlet for worship – they are by their very charter and existence and purpose a means of dividing the local body of believers one from another.

Many para-church organizations will defend this division by encouraging their members to attend a local church in addition to their activities. They will refrain from any type of activity on the sabbath. They will promote attendance by example and persistent encouragement. But in the end, they will divide the attention, the energy and the love of their members from that attention, energy and love they should be giving to the local church.

Other para-church organizations will defend the isolation as necessary due to some deficiency within the local body or some inability for the local body to meet a certain need. However, there is usually a complete lack of evidence of attempts to obtain to their goals within the local body.

However, again my intention is not to deride the para-church in general, but point out that my generation grew up more in the para-church than in the local body. Is it any wonder then that they have adopted the mentality of the para-church when addressing the purpose of the local body? Most all para-church organizations are focused on evangelism. Whether the evangelism is promoted through face to face meetings, through indirect ministries of love, or through worship – the intention is to evangelize. And how, my generation has adopted that mentality wholly into their hearts and minds and having outgrown their para-church organizations have now brought this evangelical focus into the local body.

But is this right? Is this Godly? Am I crazy to question this assumption?