Monday, August 31, 2009

On the Road Again

I'm in the airport at Nashville on a layover as I head to Philadelphia. Still amazed at the decision the ELCA made and watching as the rest of Lutheranism in America strives to distance themselves even further from the ELCA.

Sometimes my travels provide the opportunity for thoughtful reflection on all things church. If such inspiration hits, I'll be sure to share it. For now I'm just enjoying another afternoon in an airport!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Voting on the Truth

I mentioned in my post on the disastrous decision of the ELCA last week that I'd say more about putting God's Word and his truth to a vote. Hey, we're a democratic nation and that's what we do, right? Voting gives us a sense of empowerment as we participate in our own governance. It's a great privilege to have a say in who represents us and the ballot box should, ultimately, hold them accountable to those they represent. But here's the problem when it comes to the church...God isn't our representative.

God is the sovereign Lord, Creator and Owner of the universe. All of heaven and earth are His. That includes all that we possess, even our very bodies. How, then, can we subject the maker and owner of our bodies and all of heaven and earth to a democratic vote? Is it just me, or is that concept ludicrous on the face of it. Yet, in denomination after denomination we see votes being taken to validate or invalidate the core truths of Scripture.

Don't get me wrong. I think there are most certainly things that an assembled body of believers can vote on. Church budgets, building renovations, hiring and firing staff, missions contributions, and the list goes on. The same kind of accountability we ostensibly have with our elected officials can be exercised over volunteer leadership in the church. It's when the democratic vote runs amok that the whole system starts to tumble down. It's when we begin to use our vote for the purpose of giving ourselves favors that the inevitable slide into anarchy has begun.

A dear friend of mine, Harry Wendt, has worked passionately against Biblical illiteracy around the world for most of his 79 years. He's still working tirelessly through his Crossways! ministry to see a true understanding of scripture continue to spread. Recently he sent me some wonderful papers he's written. In one he offers this quote from Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor written in 1787:

"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the worlds greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

1. From bondage to spiritual faith;
2. From spiritual faith to great courage;
3. From courage to liberty;
4. From liberty to abundance;
5. From abundance to complacency;
6. From complacency to apathy;
7. From apathy to dependence;
8. From dependence back into bondage "

I would propose a paraphrase of this very insightful quote that applies to the church going back to the first century church described in the book of Acts. It goes something like this:

A church body is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of organization. A church will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves a different sort of truth than that found in Scripture. From that moment on, the majority always votes for a god who makes them comfortable, never confronts their sinful nature, never challenges them to put their resources to the service of the poor, naked, imprisoned, hungry or homeless and never asks them to endure hardship or peril in his name. The result is that every organized church will finally collapse due to loose morals, a weak grasp of Biblical truth and a surrender to the loudest voices of public opinion. This is always followed by dissolution and division.

The average span of an effective church organization is about 500 years. The last such great disruption in church history was the Reformation most notably triggered by Martin Luther. I believe we are in another such upheaval now. It goes something like this:

1. From zeal to explosive growth;
2. From explosive growth to great opposition;
3. From great opposition to social acceptance;
4. From social acceptance to comfort;
5. From comfort to complacency;
6. From complacency to cultural integration;
7. From cultural integration to scriptural relativism;
8. From scriptural relativism to collapse
9. From collapse to reformation

When we reach the point of putting God's truth to a vote according to what makes us comfortable or even makes sense to us we are very near the end of the cycle. I pray the new day of Reformation comes quickly.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wit's End

Stories like this one make me so angry I can't see straight. My only consolation is that God is holding these people accountable for what they're doing in his name.

Self Destruction

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America took a page from the Episcopal playbook over the weekend voting to allow gay and lesbian clergy to serve in their churches. This triggers the heart-wrenching process for hundreds of churches across the U.S. of having to decide whether or not to leave the denomination. No matter what decision churches make there will be a traumatic process of losing members, hurt feelings, and, most tragic of all, those who'll leave church all together connecting this stupidity to Christian faith.

Yes, I said stupidity. For decades now several protestant denominations have pretty much abandoned the teaching of the Bible. They've opted instead for the pursuit of a social justice, feel good, self-help, mushy "God is your friend who would never confront your rebellious sinful lifestyle" kind of approach to faith. This has led to all sorts of behavior being overlooked...or worse, church leadership.

Loving, serving and caring about others comes straight out of an intimate knowledge of God's Word and being surrendered to His Holy Spirit. Trying to manufacture that outside of Biblical understanding and being anchored on a bedrock foundation of truth leads to the kind of foolishness the Lutherans fell into last week (foolishness toward which they've been sliding for years). There's nothing unloving about holding people accountable to a standard. There's nothing unloving about saying that God sets the standard for human behavior to which all of us should strive.

I have a sister who has consistently made extremely poor relationship choices since she was a teenager. I'm convinced she has a history of having been abused as a child. She's the most loving, caring, considerate person you could ever meet. However, for whatever reason, she has no standards when it comes to relationships and over and over and over and over for the past 30+ years she's repeated the same painful mistakes. Never, at any time have I given her the impression that she's making good choices. Never have I considered applauding her choices. On the contrary, I have chastised her, spoken harshly to her, been critical of her choices and given her advice on other options she could pursue that would result in her achieving health and becoming able to make healthy choices ultimately getting her what she really wants, a truly healthy relationship. I've never once stopped loving her or caring about her so deeply that it makes my heart ache.

If, instead, I chose to demonstrate my love for her by telling her all her bad, hurtful choices are now okay by me and she should pursue them with gusto, it wouldn't make my heart hurt any less. In fact it would make it worse because I would now be complicit in her self-destructive behavior.

She called me yesterday and opened the door, yet again, for me to speak directly and honestly about my opinions regarding her choices. Toward the end I apologized if I took a harsh tone. She said that's what she needed to hear and knew that I loved her and was speaking truth to her. She wasn't looking for license to keep going on the same path. She was looking for someone to confirm that she had a hand in her current situation and that there was hope for a better life if she'd pursue a healthier path built on a foundation of truth.

Telling someone that their wrong behavior is okay doesn't make it okay. The homosexual community has, for years, been screaming at the church that accepting their lifestyle is the only thing that will demonstrate that we truly love them. Yet another denomination has buckled under the onslaught. Purporting to demonstrate love for people by changing the fundamental definition of right and wrong is actually among the most destructive things we can do. And putting God's Word to a vote...well, that's a topic for another time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

For There Is Now, Therefore...

For all of my life, and well before, the church in America has often defined itself by listing what Christians can't do or shouldn't do. I grew up and served most of my adult life in a denomination that had an impressive set of written and unwritten rules by which to live. All the while they proclaimed that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. But that wasn't how it worked day to day.

What was really communicated was that you had to have a right understanding of baptism or your salvation wasn't certain. You had to properly understand communion or you were taking it to your own damnation. It was a denomination steeped in education, which is great, unless people start to believe that you have to understand the Bible properly in order to be saved...which many people came to believe. Throughout the church we have somehow communicated that there is a personal performance component to salvation.

"Don't drink, don't dance, don't go to movies, don't play cards, don't, don't, don't and if you do, God will not be happy with you."

Translation - God is a stern parent constantly looking to catch you with your hand in the cookie jar and making sure you eat your broccoli. As I began to really read the Bible and ask lots of questions the book of Romans became more and more precious to me. Ultimately Romans 8:1 rose up as my most favorite verse. "For there is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

How often is that message communicated in church? No condemnation. Or as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you."

What do you think might happen to a church that loves people into a relationship with Jesus proclaiming forgiveness of sins, freedom from oppression, sight for the blind, release for the captives, the abundance of the Lord's favor and the assurance that when you are in a relationship with Jesus THERE IS NOW NO CONDEMNATION? I think it would shock people who grew up in churches proclaiming "There is now 'NO'"!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The End of Denominational Christianity

It's a dream, I know, but one that seems to be getting closer to being reality. I promised to post last night on what I heard at the Celebrate Recovery Leadership Summit at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. Sorry for the delay. Yesterday Pastor John Pollard made the whole conference for me.

He spoke most pointedly to the nearly 400 senior pastors among the 3600 participants in the conference. He told them that it was time to take off the masks, start getting real with the people in the seats and become the church Jesus intended. A church that is real, loving, accepting and serving all those broken, hurting, lost and desperate people out there. In short, a church that is anchored in recovery because everyone is broken and suffering under the burden of their hurts, hang-ups and habits. If church isn't a place where you can bring these things to find healing in the arms of Christ, what hope is there?

It was so great to hear a pastor who gets it. I've been getting messages from multiple sources over the past week that tells me the Body of Christ is reforming itself outside the traditional denominational constraints. Not only that, but this reforming is happening around the concept that we're to be serving and loving the outcasts, rejects and invisible. Imagine that...a church that actually serves as the hands and feet of Jesus operating from a place humility and grace.

I'm afraid to hope...but here I go again getting optimistic about the future of the church in America.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

No Surprises...Unfortunately

Last week we wrapped up another summer season of our domestic mission trips. As is always the case, most of the problems at camp were generated by adults. These are Christian adults who have intentionally agreed to participate in an event targeted to impact teens and serve other people.

Yet there are always those who complain about being uncomfortable, complain about the food, complain that the work is too hard or not hard enough or below their skill level or doesn't require all the tools they brought along or...

Don't get me wrong. I'm not that upset with the adults who don't get it. I'm more upset with churches that have somehow given people the impression that they're entitled to comfort. How can you go on a mission trip serving those in desperate need and not expect to be uncomfortable unless you've embraced a version of Christian faith that is, for the most part, about you and your needs? It seems to me that far too many people have heard a message that God exists to take care of them. Often in high style.

If you want to be challenged to change this I highly recommend the book "Your God is Too Safe" by Mark Buchanan. He does a great job of helping us understand the malaise that's pervasive in the western church.