Friday, December 29, 2006

Old Guy Former Wannabe Musician Hog Heaven

I found this in my stocking on Christmas morning, thank you S.C. and Mrs. D. It's the Eagles Live in Melbourne DVD. My son Chris brought his big screen video projector over to our house this week and connected up to the surround sound. So a couple of nights ago I collapse on the couch in the middle of everything, a front row seat and a "peaceful, easy feeling." I have the second half of the concert yet to look forward to.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Approaching Christmas

Christmas is half a week away and here in my office I've just lunched on the leftovers from a Lund's Christmas Breads platter. A salad would have been preferable. This morning we had our annual TDDesign Wednesday Morning Christmas Muffin open house for the people in our building. Lots of folks showed up and we had a great time.

This afternoon, I'm reflecting on several real-life stories from there and elsewhere that have converged in the last couple of days.

One of the guys down the hall, a doctor, held back tears as he told me about his approaching Christmas. Tomorrow he will bring his wife home for the first time since hospitalization and institutional care began last June. She's finally just able to try making it at home. I had picked up from casual "how's business?" conversations earlier that there were some unique stresses in his life, but I had no idea what he's been going through.

From another office party guest came the story of a recent trip to a Liberian orphanage. Letters now arrive from little survivors of that country's chaos. "Dear Daddy Tim, Please pray that somebody will adopt me...."

Yesterday an email entitled "Sad News" arrived from a client of ours in Louisiana. The funeral would be this morning for the 27 year old son of one of the people we work with regularly. Suicide. Can you imagine what Christmas will be like for them this year and in the years to come?

Gosh, my issues don't look like any big deal do they? Should I not approach Christmas with a lot more thankfulness and a lot more compassion than I usually do?

But if you really want to be touched and then be uplifted, read this blogger's December 18th post.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Lewis on Chronological Snobbery...

The tendency to assume that an idea or practice represents progress just because it's more recent, and a reading person's remedy:
It’s a good rule after reading a new book never to
allow yourself another new one till you have read an
old one in between. If that is too much for you, you
should at least read one old one to three new ones....
Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good
at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make
certain mistakes. We all therefore need the books that
will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own
period.... None of us can fully escape this blindness,
but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our
guard against it, if we read only modern books....The
only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the
centuries blowing through our minds and this can
only be done by reading old books."

Check out the C.S. Lewis Institute, a new addition to Really Smart Guys, for lots of good stuff.

Friday, December 08, 2006

From the Sacred Sandwich

January 2006 --- Hot on the heels of leading a wildly successful, culturally relevant youth group at Keystone Community Church, Youth Pastor Tad Grunholtz has recently created a similar ministry for the elderly in hopes of luring disaffected old people back into church. He calls the group Xtreme Seniors. “A lot of churches today just focus on the younger generation and ignore the elder members of the church,” explained Grunholtz. “But at Keystone, we came to the sudden realization during our last building campaign that old people have all the money. Sure, the youth are the future of the church, but we need a new gymnasium now.”

Using his thriving youth program as a template, Grunholtz has done away with the boring “Golden-Agers” Bible study group that was such a turn-off to many seniors...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Thinking More About Church: Part III
You Are Brothers

This leads me naturally to the second text (see Part II) and metaphor that I am drawn to. Seldom quoted, at least in my hearing, a text that answers with real authority the most basic church question. If bridegroom and bride picture the great mystery of what our relationship to Christ is, what is to characterize our relationship to one another?

The New Paradigm
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.” –Matthew 23:8-10 ESV
This is the Lord’s clear and utterly revolutionary statement. In context it represents a defining moment. The veil of the temple will remain intact for only a little while longer, and the priesthood of the old covenant will be no more. There will be one priest and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (I Timothy 2:5). This is a shocking new thought for a sacerdotal, priesthood-based religion, and for those sitting “on Moses’s seat” (23:2).

The implications are clear for authority structures as well as for personal salvation. At the very moment when through Christ the relationship between God and man enters a new era, so also changes the role of man to man within the household of God. The change-over will begin at the cross, be completed at the resurrection and experienced fully at the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit on the church at Pentecost.

Practically speaking, Jesus prescribes what it means for human interaction. He begins by showing what that human interaction is not to be like, and the scribes and Pharisees are his exhibit A. They put burdens on others, they do their good deeds to be seen by others, they love the place of honor, the insider greetings in the marketplace, and being called rabbi by others. They are preoccupied with position, with authority, and they lord it over their followers.

“But you are not to be called have one instructor, the Christ.” The Logos of God, expressed in the word of God, the Bible, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit speaks straight to the heart of the believer.

The Mis-Use of Authority

Many in the church down through the centuries never lost this precious truth. The story of the “Pilgrim Church” in E.H. Broadbent’s classic by that name is a wonderful chronicle of the genuine church’s quiet, humble and faithful history.

But in Europe things had sadly deteriorated by the close of the middle ages. So from this and other texts the Reformers thundered. They called the western church back from what Luther described as its “Babylonian Captivity,” it’s regression into Pharisaical usurpation of spiritual authority. The church, its pope, its bishops and its councils had arrogated to themselves the authority of Holy Spirit and scripture. Their abuses were evident. They had driven a wedge between Christ and his people and the harm to the people of God was serious.

But it’s important to remember what the pretext was for Rome’s exercise of that false authority. The pretext was “purity.” It was their task to protect the church and the gospel from the corruption and the twisting of the faith certain to result if the ignorant masses were permitted to read and interpret the scripture for themselves. In the process they came to see themselves as the exclusive master and teacher of the people and the institution as the "vicar of Christ."

The church’s pastors and leaders had become tyrannical masters, even of the dissemination and interpretation of God’s word. Loyalty to the church became synonymous with loyalty to God. In some of the darkest days in church history that followed, men and women paid with their own blood for suggesting that it should be otherwise.

The Protestant Reformation

A friend of mine said the other day, "We're Protestants? What was it we were protesting? Nothing less than abuse of authority...." I think he's right. Reformers protested vigorously and in the Westminster Confession we have a concise summary of the heart of their message, what came to be known as Sola Scriptura, the doctrine of the final authority of scripture in the life of the believer:

“The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” —Chapter 1, Article 10

Consistent with Jesus’ teaching, this approach to spiritual authority stands in bold contrast to any interpretation that brings a man or a group of men into the position of rabbi, master, master teacher or guru in a local or national or worldwide context.

So What Is the Role of Church Leadership?

Again as in the discussion of the church as bride, questions arise: What about texts that speak of offices of authority within the church? Teachers, shepherds, overseers? What about Paul’s references to being like a father and mother to the Thessalonians, and to Timothy his “son” in the faith? How do these square with Matthew 23? There are hermeneutical starting points that bring things into balance. One is included in the Westminster Confession (1.9) and reminds us to “interpret scripture with scripture.” Read each in the light of the others. Another principle is the interpretation of narrative (story, personal expression, account) in the light of the didactic (clear statement of truth, general instruction, command).

On that basis we might draw the following conclusions. Every relational role or gifted office must be measured by and in the light of Jesus’ clear command. Every administrative function also. Consider Jesus’ categories and the questions to ask of ourselves and our churches:

A gifted teacher is never a rabbi. The term rabbi, sometimes translated “my master,” is pretty close to our idea of “guru” or “spiritual guide” in new age parlance. Though he preaches the Word with “all authority,” his authority for directing the spiritual life of his students goes only as far as scripture speaks and no farther. In their celebrity status or claimed “anointing,” do our teachers assume the posture of something more than a conveyor of what God says in scripture?

Making disciples is a good thing and is our calling, but a discipler is never a master. If a relationship between disciple and mentor is more like servant to master, it is in violation of the New Testament relationship standard. Does the mentoring relationship I’m in require submission and conformity that goes beyond scripture into matters of personal preference and freedom? Even a little bit?

Leadership is necessary for order and ministry to continue, but leaders are not parents. Paul speaks affectionately of Timothy as his son in the faith, but measured against Mt. 23, the Bible never allows for a condescending, patronizing relationship between leaders and congregation, individually or collectively. Any church setting where leadership effectively gives its members a glass of water and sends them off to bed while they (the leaders) have the really important conversations and make the important decisions needs to be re-evaluated.

Of course leaders will meet together and work together uniquely to accomplish their tasks, but they do so with the authority of and in the service of the whole body. There are highly practical implications. Any scenario where the money and property of a church is managed exclusively by the leaders and those they deputize should be watched carefully. All of this flows from a Matthew 23-violating condescension, a parent/child, master/servant assumption unacceptable in the spirit of the new covenant. In my church is there a practice or any tone of parental condescension?

“You are brothers” is the key phrase. Matthew 23 does not deny leadership, eldership, order and discipline within the church. It does, however, establish inviolable boundaries and limits on human authority and reminds us that there are finally to be no real divisions in Christ. The newest believer and the oldest saint are brothers. That’s the starting point of biblical fellowship.

Why Belabor the Obvious?

I’d like to think most of this is pretty clearly understood around Protestantism, but I’m not sure. In the evangelical world we’re clear on the idea of singular papal authority (we don’t accept it), but we do seem inclined to enshrine a thousand little popes and councils and lords and feifdoms instead and allow them similar excesses–again driving an unnecessary wedge between Christ and his bride and between brothers.

No offense intended to faithful men and their ministries, but in some corners the children and step-children of the Pharisees are alive and well. The division between clergy and laity is sometimes too great. The power and anointing assumed borders on presumption. The structure is too Old Testament. Some in the name of reaching the world become cults of celebrity, some in the name of aggressive disciple making become controlling and even cultic. In the spirit of Ephesians 4 and Matthew 23, the church can and will do better. There are fresh and encouraging winds blowing that some have referred to as a “new reformation,” a new discovery of what God can do “through all” the church, the people of God.
“There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
–Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New from Another Old Book

Just got my used copy of "Christianity and Liberalism" by J. Gresham Machen (1923) in the mail today. This is a man who drew a line in the sand with his generation's version of Emergent doctrinal ambiquity and outright abandonment of the Gospel in the mainline churches. Have to work so can't read 'til later, but cheated and read the last paragraph first:

"Is there no refuge from strife? Is there no place of refreshing where a man can prepare for the battle of life? Is there no place where two or three can gather in Jesus' name, to forget for the moment all those things that divide nation from nation and race from race, to forget human pride, to forget the passions of war, to forget the puzzling problems of industrial strife, and to unite in overflowing gratitude at the foot of the Cross? If there be such a place, then that is the house of God and that the gate of heaven. And from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive the weary world."