The Prophetic Vision of the New Testament

Many of us can become quickly discouraged and even frustrated when we take an honest assessment of the church, the behavior of some Christians, and even our own lives.  Whether its people like Westboro Baptist playing out their unspeakable misunderstanding of the Christian Faith or just taking assessment of our own lives, perplexed by the yet un-sanctified brokenness with which we still wrestle; we see clearly that Christians, churches and Christianity can disappoint.

My discouragement is the same as yours and at times I’m almost overwhelmed byNew_Testament what I see.  But Good news is as much for the church as it is for the world.  There is yet hope to be had in the midst of what is often legitimate concern for western Christianity.  For me, this hope remains as the prophetic vision that the New Testament offers for how life can be radically and significantly different.

We believe that communities can be real and life giving, that individuals can experience real freedom and that grace can be known in a way that literally transforms everything.  There is a wildness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that stands against the disappointment we experience in this life.

Spearheaded by Jesus himself, the New Testament offers us this vision without hesitation and we must hold fast to this in every facet of our lives.  If our observations of Christianity promote discouragement, then we have even more reason to proclaim what we believe to be the true potential of God’s people.  We must lean into the grace and truth of Jesus with our whole life and seek to experience whatever he has proclaimed for us.  We need to remember, proclaim and seek God’s vision for who and what we can become.

It is probable that our lives, communities, ministries, churches and families will never reach perfection in this regard. Most likely, some of this is left for eternity.  Yet a lack of perfection must not lead us to a lack of progress.  Part of faith is believing that God wants for us what he has already proclaimed and that our submission to his grace will lead us deeper into it.

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Towards a theology of calendar

2011-calendarOne of the underlying stories of Christianity is the debate about when to celebrate Easter.  During each major time period of the Church’s history, this topic has somehow managed to resurface.  Gregory the Great helped settle the matter for a minute during the 6th century.  Roughly 1000 years later in the 16th century Gregory the VIII  suggested replacing the Julian calendar with his own.  This, the Gregorian Calendar, was soon adopted by all Western Christians and is the calendar which you and I currently use.  Different branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church have continued to use the Julian calendar for both civil and religious purposes even to this day.  The date of Easter has been both an impetus and an implication in all of these circumstances.

I think quite often about the problems of calendaring that exist in our world.  My calendar is a total mess at times.  Not because I can’t keep it up, but because I can’t seem to keep stuff from getting added to it.  I’m connected to way too much stuff.  Committees, teams, networks,  missions, ministries, small groups, family, schools etc… Each of these groups has a different calendar that I’m somehow supposed to amalgamate into my own.  Either I try and fail (often the case) or I simply start pruning and find myself unable to participate fully in any of these smaller communities.

This isn’t just my story though, it’s your story too.  And it’s the story of every person I know with the exception of babies and some retired people.  We’re just way too busy and we get connected to way too many things.  This becomes impossible to manage and either overwhelms people to the point of complete withdrawal or slowly leads them to burnout.  If anything, it just leaves us in a fragmented mess; everyone doing different things at different times and wondering what happened to our sense of “togetherness”.

The calendar has a strange and often overlooked theological dimension to it which will literally help or hinder the application of our faith.  Think about Israel for a second.  I’ll leave the Bible study to you, but when you read the law in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, we see very clearly that God offered his community a rhythm of life, or what some refer to as a “calendar”, to live by.  From the simplicity of the Sabbath to the more complex days like the Year of Jubilee, this idea was integrally a part of their theology.

I’m starting to see the calendar as a profound and even prophetic theological symbol which adds both ethos and intentionality to its use as a practical tool.  On a personal level, it can help or hinder our practice of Sabbath rest.  On a corporate level, it affects our practice of true community.  I suspect that it may also affect many more things, even if indirectly through a lack of rest and/or community.  At this point however, we are not living as though the calendar is a theological symbol.  Nor are we using it with the intentionality of a legitimate tool.  Rather, most of us relate to our calendars merely as victims.  We accept appointments and those appointments dictate our life.  We live in chaos because we have let the calendar become our master rather than making it our servant.  Ultimately, I think the majority of people, let alone our Christian communities, would benefit greatly from reevaluating both their perspective on and use of the calendar.

PS-It wouldn’t be right to post on the Calendar without addressing the end of the Mayan calendar this Friday.  I’d like to dedicate this post to them, having given up their entire civilization in an attempt to warn us 21st century westerners about the end of the world.

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Taken from Coffee with Jesus, one of my favorites.  http://radiofreebabylon.com/Comics/CoffeeWithJesus.php

Taken from Coffee with Jesus, one of my favorites. http://radiofreebabylon.com/Comics/CoffeeWithJesus.php


CYA Ministry and the Western Church Part 2

In an earlier post I started by sharing a question:  Are we doing college ministry in a way that reinforces the structures of western Christianity?  Whether or not these structures are “bad” was addressed in part one.  However, another assumption of my question is that these structures may be changing.  This post will focus more on doing college/young adult ministry in this possibly changing context.

For me, this question is essentially about one thing: What God might be doing.  If God is changing the church in terms of structure, authority and culture then I’d liketo be a part of what he’s doing.  If he’s not, well then it’s business as usual.  Maybe.

The Baby-Boomers did a great job of resurfacing the western church in their own image.  Gen X has been able to take part in that process as well.  Will the Mosaic or millennial generation be given the freedom to do this in a way that is radical as some predict?  Again-What is God doing?  It seems that the change brought about by Boomers was merely resurfacing.  It was a face lift of Western Structures.  Worship wasn’t radically different, they just introduced things like worship bands and music other than the Hymnal (which Gen X & millennials have ironically reclaimed in some ways).

I’m still reading through Kinnaman’s new book, You Lost Me.  In it he states that this generation of people are “discontinuously different” from the previous generations.  In other words, as previous generations developed after one another, they had certain things in common in spite of growing differences.  As a social scientist and commentator, Kinnaman is suggesting that this generation is so different that it no longer has commonality with the previous generations.

Thus, if millennials are willing to take on the responsibility of changing the western church, it seems that a simple resurfacing will not suffice.  Rather it appears that there may in fact be a complete restructure simply based on the fact that this generation, unlike others before it, is not attempting to maintain continuity with those who’ve gone before.

In all honesty, this does scare me a little bit.  But here’s what I think are realistic expectations of our ministry to them if this change is really going to take place.

Discipleship is key.  If we truly disciple people, they will respond to the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures appropriately.  Context always determines form and the glorious  truth of God’s church is that it can literally be applied in any context humanity can muster up.

Trust them to lead.  If they are discipled they can lead.  I don’t think anybody would argue with that.  The only way for them to have opportunity to change the church is for us to let them lead.  Then any change in the church becomes about what God is doing in and through them.

Live in real relationships with them.  If they are changing the game, they’ll end up doing it with or without us.  They could bail on our churches all together and start other communities, which may happen anyway, or they can do what they’re going to do in relationship with the existing structures.  The only thing that will give us the chance to participate in this process is to stay connected.

On the flip side, maybe we do all these things and there is no radical change for the church.  We’ll still be better for having done them.

CYA Ministry and the Western Church Part 1

Last week I had a great conversation with another college pastor whom I highly respect.  We talked about some really deep stuff and I was both challenged and encouraged by his perspective.  One of the things which we talked about, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, is whether or not we are doing college ministry in a way that reinforces the structures of western Christianity.

Some might ask: Is that even a problem?  My only answer is that I wish it was a simple as yes or no.  My friend and I recognized that we are in the western church.  We came to Christ in it, we live in it, we even work in it.  In many ways it is a part of who we are.  So we are not crashing down on the current forms of western Christianity  in a typical deconstructionalist manner.  Yet this did lead us to a critical distinction: we are committed to the Church, though not intrinsically the western church.  This means that if the church really is going to change shape in the hands of the next generation then I must be willing to submit both my paradigms and methods to whatever God is doing through them.

Then, Monday morning I read this in the introduction to David Kinnaman’s new book, You Lost Me:

“We are at a critical point in the life of the North American church; the Christian community must rethink our efforts to make disciples.  Many of the assumptions on which we have built our work with young people are rooted in modern, mechanistic, and mass production paradigms.  Some (though not all) ministries have taken cues from the assembly line, doing everything possible to streamline the manufacture of shiny new Jesus-followers, fresh from the factory floor.  But disciples cannot be mass-produced.  Disciples are handmade, one relationship at a time.”

Admittedly, this is a very difficult problem to address and I’m not claiming to have any good answers.  However we will eventually have to disentangle the forms, methodologies and traditions from the actual Biblical requirements of what the church should be.  This is not an outright condemnation of our current forms , methodologies and traditions (though it is not an outright endorsement of them either) as much as it is only acknowledging that they may not be completely necessary and that new generations of faithful, Biblically literate, Spirit-filled believers may be called to create new ones.

Going back to the distinction that my friend and I drew: if we really are committed to the Church, then we cannot be unswervingly committed to any particular form of it.  In many ways, this is what the church has had to deal with time and time again throughout history as it has been forced to recalibrate itself to the Biblical witness in the ever-changing contexts of time and culture.