Thursday, November 30, 2006

Congratulations to New Life Church!

Leaving behind my grinchy curmudgeonliness (spell-check that) on the subject of evangelicalism in America, I genuinely applaud New Life Church in Colorado Springs for this new development.

Quoting from the pdf entitled Selection Committee Results under Latest Information on the Senior Pastoral Transition:

Dear New Life family and friends,
This Monday night, November 20, New Life Church held its first-ever membership meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to elect the senior pastoral selection committee...

First-ever membership! After the tragedy/embarrassment/misery associated with the Haggard scandal, it sounds like a fresh new breeze is blowing through their church and the body of Christ will begin to function in new freedom.

It seems to me this church and even the deposed pastor have been handling things pretty much the way they should. God bless them, better days are ahead.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thinking More About Church: Part II
The Great Marriage

Two biblical concepts and texts have lately been much on my mind. One is more common but perhaps under-appreciated for it’s stunning cosmic implications. The other is rarely quoted—at least in discussions of church formation—but strikes me as nothing short of revolutionary if it were to be truly embraced—but more about that on a later post.

The first, alluded to in Part I on this blog, is the familiar image of the church as the Bride of Christ: “And of course, finally she is Jesus' own bride. Our primary motive and holy fear should be to do no harm, to be terrified lest we insert ourselves between the Groom and his Bride. There is a wedding underway and this is a dance where no sane man dares ‘cut in.’"

The essential picture of God’s people as his bride appears throughout scripture but is probably the most focused and clear in Ephesians 5.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:25-32 ESV

This is a familiar text used in almost every wedding homily and applied to marriage, the parallels are usually rightly drawn. On further reflection this amazing passage deserves so much more attention as it applies to the church. It takes me to a place where almost immediately words begin to fail, to the utter uniqueness and sacredness of marriage and what marriage pictures. There is sobriety and humility called for when thinking about the church and particularly the leadership of it.There is serious danger in presuming too much while attempting to shape and manage what Jesus calls his own Bride, His own flesh. We had better walk carefully.

It is in that last phrase, “I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” where the metaphor is most stunning. When we speak of the marriage of a man and a woman, we’re quite literally dealing with something of cosmic significance, a great mystery going to the very heart of God’s relationship with redeemed humanity. His quotation of Genesis and appeal to creation supports the implied claim of a universal truth.

Like so much of God’s word, Paul’s metaphor cuts with more than one edge. Marriage is significant and love is what it ought to be when modeled after Christ and his church. But well beyond this, marriage is significant because it is our most available picture of the Great Marriage, the coming together of the eternal Bridegroom and his chosen bride, the church. This elevates marriage to a place of so much greater importance than that of any natural or sociological explanation. Far beyond providing social stability, remedying loneliness and producing children, marriage is preaching the Gospel, for all time and for all to see.

This is why marital fidelity and sexual purity are treated with such careful and strict guidelines in scripture. Much is at stake here, even more than the possibility of harm to partners, children or society. To compromise or damage marriage is to cloud and distort an eternal picture, and so the word of God cuts to the heart of my marriage. I am to love my wife as Christ loves the church—for her sake and for the sake of God’s glory before a watching world .

The Bible cuts another direction with equal precision. If the relationship between a man and his wife is a picture of Christ and His church, and if the church is His bride, what does that tell us about the Church universal and about church local—the gathering of those who are individually members of Christ’s body, together someplace in his name?

The church is His bride, and no man should dare to tamper with that exclusivity: Not in the name of apostleship “I planted this church, she is mine,” or in the name of pastoring, teaching or leadership. The bride communes intimately with the groom and needs no human interloper, no go-between, no intercessor. “...there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” I Timothy 2:5 ESV This is indeed a dance where no wise man would want to cut in.

What then about human leadership? Order? Discipline? What about the authoritative and shepherding and teaching roles in the church described in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and other places? They are vital and necessary to God’s plan for the growth and equipping of His church. But it is leadership walking very softly and humbly, using gifts for the benefit of others in ways always tempered and limited and sobered by the reminder of the bride’s identity. She belongs to Jesus.

So leading is by example. Not daring to call any of the bride’s attention to himself or direct any of her loyalty and love to himself or to his organization and away from Christ, the teacher employs great humility and care. The possibility of such an impertinence, however unintentional, strikes fear in him. Discipline, maintaining the purity of the church (who’s in and who’s not) is finally left in the hands of the whole church in Matthew 18, not invested in any individual, subgroup, leadership or otherwise. All this speaks of an understanding of the headship of Christ alone over his church, and her protection from presumptuous human authority.

John the Baptist, who Jesus called “a burning and shining lamp”(John 5:35) and a prophet like no other, understood his leadership role perfectly. “The one [Jesus] who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:29,30

So mature church leadership steps back, terrified lest it insert itself into the precious, intimate relationship between the bridegroom and his bride, recognizing that they themselves and every person in Christ are equally a part of that bride.

What does this mean for church leadership? It means that every ministry, every discipling and mentoring strategy, every counseling relationship, every leadership model, every governing system, every constitutional clause and bylaw must be measured in the light of this mystery, and therefore this question: Does anything we do interfere with, distract from, demean, diminish, or lessen the gathered members’ unique and elevated position in Christ? Have leaders presumed to speak for Christ? Has any condescension crept in? Any usurping of the role of the Holy Spirit who through the Word speaks directly to the believer? Even a little?

More about the authority of the Word later, but on that topic recently our pastor did an interesting thing. In the middle of an exposition of I Thessalonians 2. He paused, asked us to open our Bibles and raise them up in front of us, between our eyes and the platform, so that we could no longer see him. This, he said, was the goal and the point, the power and the role of the scripture. He was right.

In one sense, we should worry when the church demands too little of itself and of its audience—too little repentance, too little faith, too little faithfulness to the word of God. That may well be the larger problem in American Christianity. But we also should worry when the church demands too much—too much conformity, too much loyalty, too much attention for itself and its leaders, and too much authority for itself. That too is a kind of idolatry.

It could be added that in opposition to what some in their motivational zeal suggest, a Christian’s loyalty, love for and obedience and lifelong commitment to Christ cannot, indeed dare not, be measured by his loyalty, love for and obedience or lifetime commitment to any person or human organization.This is reserved for Christ alone, and historically, post-Reformation Christians have all understood this.

So when we think about marriage we should be thinking about how Christ relates to his church. And when we think about how Christ relates to the church, we ought to be thinking about a marriage. And we ought to esteem both highly.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why It’s Difficult to be an Orthodox/Biblical Christian and a Political Liberal

In and around the political seasons, this question comes up on blogs and elsewhere all the time, so I thought I would weigh in. Beginning as one must with certain caveats.

What Biblically conservative Christians should clarify:

1. Political conservatism and Biblical orthodoxy are not the same thing. That suggestion at the very least elevates politics too much in importance, and there’s plenty of evidence that parts of political conservatism are at odds with biblical teaching. Some conservatives are guilty of confusing the two.

2. Not everything in political liberalism is at odds with traditional Christianity. There are points where we agree.

3. It is quite possible for politically conservative religious groups to be in error in significant ways, particularly in doctrine or in legalistic, authoritarian practice. A general conservatism is no guarantee of ideological safety.

What Biblically conservative Christians must keep in mind when approaching politics and everything else:

1. That a biblically informed world view affects all of life, including politics. Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch Christian politician 100+ years ago said it this way:

“No political scheme has ever become dominant which was not founded in a specific religious or anti-religious conception.” Quoting in Tabletalk magazine 10/02, the writer added “Politics are not neutral but always wedded to ultimate issues. Thus, political ideas should be judged by their religious roots as well as their practical effects.”

2. The question for a Christian to ask of both (all) political camps is “what sort of view of the world does this approach flow from?” and not stop at the Christian-sounding use of rhetoric regarding compassion, grace, tolerance and other ostensible Christian virtues coming from politicians.

3. A world view is usually defined by at least these categories:

a) Epistemology--Is there such a thing as absolute truth or is all truth relative and sociologically defined with no fixed point of reference? Can what is true be understood rationally?

b) Theology--Is there a God? What sort of God is He? Does He intervene in the world of humans? How does He reveal Himself?

c) Anthropology--Who are we? Are we essentially good or bad? Are we “fallen?” What is our purpose and role in the world?

d) Morality/Ethics--What is the fundamental standard for human behavior? Where do we find a basis for what is good and what is evil? Are definitions of right and wrong behavior fixed or flexible and situational?

4. Which (if any) political camp tends to build it’s ideals and therefore it’s policies on the world view presented to me in scripture? None perfectly, but some are closer than others.

Modern American liberalism in my view flows from a) a relativistic, flexible view of truth, b) a minimizing of God in the public square, c) a counter-biblical overly optimistic view of human nature, and d) a weak, drifting, compromised ethical system where the only remaining standards are vague notions of “tolerance” and “diversity.” It’s ethic has permitted unthinkable contempt for human life. It’s only answer to the human dilemma and the reality of evil seems to be more government. I could go on and on.

On the surface, the goals of the left seem more biblical than mine: compassion, concern for the poor, peace, equality and so on. But embracing a political philosophy without examining it’s roots, and only it’s stated ends can put you in some dubious company. The end does not justify the means. In the last century it was God-less, human-centered, utopia-promising, morally ambiguous social experimentation that gave us the bloodiest, most brutal century in human history. Fascism and communism were built on a consciously anti-Judeo/Christian view of the world. The end result of these efforts was to produce the opposite of what was promised. This is always the case when God is subtracted from the justice equation.

The thoughtful Christian attracted to the humanitarian language of the left does not believe he’s aligning himself with all that. But if he examines both the roots and historical results of god-less political thought, the evangelical Christian will keep his distance from the Left even as he keeps a careful eye on the Right.

This is a rather broad-brushed summary that demands some chapter and verse debate, I realize, but it’s a start.

When elections come along, sometimes it’s far from a perfectly clear-cut choice. But based upon the above analysis, and sometimes holding my nose a little, I have to support the candidate whose root ideas are closest to, or least offensive to, my world view.

In any case, I do think Kuyper is right and that if we Christians with a high view of the Bible were to analyze our politics this way we would speak more clearly and prophetically to the politics of either party. We would be less intimidated by those who tell us to keep our religious views out of the public square.

Everybody’s religious views are in the public square whether they like it or not. While it’s true that religious conservatives sometimes put too much hope in politics, for many liberals politics has replaced religion, and that’s probably where I differ with them the most.

Friday, November 17, 2006

I've Always Suspected This

Here's a taste of a new book that will annoy my dear liberal friends...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why Ramstad Will Not Get My Vote...Again

Because I am a single issue voter. Provided that single issue matters enough. Read this for a cogent, brief defense of single-issue voting.

I don't vote for Rammer's MN 3rd District opponents either. They're always worse.

If and when the Congressman can be shown to have mended his views, he will get my vote.