Tag Archives: Emergent Christianity

Why Church?……

Everywhere we turn these days we hear the words:   “I’m very spiritual, but not religious.”   this is a polite way of saying:   “I don’t go to church because it does nothing for me, for me, for me, FOR ME!”

This shows a fallacy that Americans have about what “church” is and should be.   To most of us in the U.S. we think of church as a place to go to be entertained.   We “church shop” just like we “entertainment shop.”    Which church has the best preacher—-one that we really like?   Which church has the best music?   Which church has a service that “speaks to me”?   which church offers the best programs for both adults and youth and children?   which church is the friendliest?    Which church has the most comfortable seats?    Which church offers the best hospitality—coffee and donuts, etc.?

Looks pretty shallow when we put it that way, doesn’t it?   Also, it looks very true if we are to be honest enough to admit it!

As long as we are ruled by “FOR ME” then those are the bases for our choice of church or no church.

How many of us look for churches that will help us spiritually transform ourselves?

Paul wrote to the Roman churches:   “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good, and acceptable, and perfect.”   Rom. 12:2

TRANSFORMATION!   That is the reason for going to church.   It just doesn’t take place outside a body of believers who are striving to make God the center and driving force of their lives.    To be spiritually transformed  is to place God at the center and make God the driving force of your life, rather than yourself being that center.

A family of believers who are striving to make God the center and driving force of their church rather than the needs of their institution is the church we should be seeking.   A transformed church is a transforming church.

All the shallow questions asked at the beginning of this post contribute nothing to what we really need to search for in a church!  What we need to search for are fellow-travelers along the Way of Jesus that will help us deepen our relationship to God.    That will lead us to true worship of the God who created us and who loves us and has called us to be his children.    Amen.


Sell the Building, Keep the Church

There are many churches struggling today “to keep their doors open”.    Perhaps they are struggling for the wrong reason.   Perhaps in this post-modern, emergent church environment that we are in today the best thing that could happen  to those churches is to close the doors of their church building so that the Church of Jesus Christ  can survive.

Recently, in Wichita, the Fairview Christian Church (Dsciples of Christ) sold its building.   They are now meeting in a “house church” environment and no longer have the expense  of an old building that needed extensive repairs  that took  their time and money to maintain.   The building is gone, but the Church—-the body of Christ—survives!   They made a painful but Christ-like decision to solve their problem.   Sell the building, keep the Church.  They chose what was important—their relationship to God and to each other over property.

As we read about the “early church” in Acts there is no mention of a “church building“.   Paul doesn’t mention a “church building” either, and  we know that at least one of the churches Paul founded (the church at Philippi)    met in the house of Lydia.   Paul, the earliest writer in the New Testament,  described the churches he founded as” the body of Christ”, with Christ as its head and all the rest of the members being the eyes, toes, legs, arms, feet, etc.—not a building, but a living organism!!

The Gospel of  Luke tells the story of Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler who came to Jesus  and asked “what can I do to inherit eternal life?”    Jesus replied that he should follow all the commandments.   The young man said he had done that from his youth.  “then Jesus looked at him and said “There is still one thing lacking.  Sell all you have and give the money to the poor….and come, follow me.”   (Luke 18:18-25)  Luke tells us that the man went away sorrowful because he had great possessions.   He was unable to do what Jesus asked.

In Wichita I live around the corner from  a huge, beautiful church building.    This megachurch offers  everything from a coffee shop to a book store, to a full sized gymnasium.  The building  features  the most expensive and best sound and projection equipment in order to  entertain those who attend.  It hires professional musicians to provide the music on that sound and projection system.  Expensive electronic signs advertise what is being offered—-all kinds of workshops, support groups, youth clubs, etc.    I wonder what Jesus would think if he saw his name connected to this megachurch? Let me give my answer to that question by re-telling the story of the rich young man in modern terms.

The story might go like this:     The Senior Pastor and the staff of eight from First Megachurch came to Jesus one day and asked him how best they might be His Church.    Jesus looked at them  and said to them: “One thing you lack.  Go, sell your beautiful church building and all its furnishings and give all the money to the poor and come and follow me and help me care for the “least of these, your brothers and sisters –-the homeless, the outcasts, the poor, the sick, the mentally challenged.  Use some of the money to work for fair wages for the poor, and for economic and political and social justice for all.”       And the Senior Pastor and staff went away sorrowfully because they couldn’t give up their beautiful building and its furnishings.  And Jesus shook his head and shed a tear as he watched them leave him!

Sell the building—-Keep the Church!   Is this the way of discipleship?   what do YOU think??

Disciple “Lone Rangers”?

It has become popular today in increasingly large numbers for people to say “I want a personal relationship with God through Jesus,  but I’m not a member of any church.   Can you be a disciple of Jesus, a Christian, and not be a church member?   On the other hand, can you be a church member and not be a disciple of Jesus, a Christian?  Good questions begging for answers in our current times!   Can you be a “Lone Ranger” Disciple of Jesus?

I begin to seek answers in pointing out that, according to the Gospels, Jesus never founded a church called “The First Church of Jesus the Christ”.   The Gospels do seem to assume the existence of the church and we know the church existed from the earliest writings in the New Testament, those of the Apostle Paul, who wrote many years before the Gospels were written and his letters were to “the church” at different locations.    But what Jesus  did was to call people to discipleship many different times and in many different ways in order to carry out the ministry that he felt called by God to do.     It has become popular today in increasingly large numbers for people to say “I want a personal relationship with God through Jesus,  but I’m not a member of any church.   A personal relationships with God through Jesus is good—but is that what Jesus calls his disciples to do—just be God’s individual friend through Jesus?   Perhaps we need to examine what that “discipleship” is that Jesus calls us to.   Jesus view of what he was called by God to do in his ministry is found in his first sermon after his temptations in the wilderness,  given at the synagogue in Nazareth.     Luke records it this wayHe stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring goood news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”   And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  The eyes of the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Luke4:16b-21)    This scripture is Jesus’ statement of his ministry and  mission.  If we are his disciples it is our ministry and  mission also.

To carry out this mission and ministry Jesus called a special group of 12 disciples to follow him and help him.   He realized, even with his relationship with God, that he could not accomplish his ministry and mission alone.  Neither can we as  inidividuals alone do so today!

Throughout the New Testament—there is an underlying assumption that if you are a follower of Jesus you are a member of a group, whether it is called a “church” or not.   The earliest writings of the New Testament, the Pauline Epistles (written long before the Gospels were written) are to the church.  And Paul describes that church unequivocably  as the “Body of Christ” with  all believers and followers of Christ being members of that body, working together to bring about the Kingdom of God and carry out the mission Jesus was given as captured by Luke in the synagogue at Nazareth.   Paul writes:  For just as the body is one and has many members and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  for in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—-and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  Indeed the body does not consist of one member but of many.  ….If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” 

There is not a great deal of support in the Bible for the popular saying now—I want a personal relationship with God through Jesus, but I’m not a church member.

Perhaps the problem is how we define “church“.    The Greek word eklesia has the  literal meaning of “those called out”.   Note that there is no mention in the New Testament  of denominations that we ordinarily refer to as “church” today.    There are no Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Disciples of Christ (Christian Churrch), Presybyterian, etc.  named.   The church, in the writings of Paul, is “The Body of Christ” —one body with many members   When we confess Jesus as Lord we become a member of that body according to Paul—-certainly not just a member of a denomination or megachurch—-we become part of, (a member of)  the earthly body of Christ.   We individually answer the call to follow Jesus as Lord, but that following what we are called by Jesus to do  is carried out as a member of the body of Christ.    In doing so we inidivdually answer to call to follow Jesus as his disciple, but we carry out that call as one of many members of the body of Christ.   As Paul writes to the churches in Ephesus:  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s grow in building itself up in love.  (Ephesians 4:15-16).

It appears to me that the followers of Jesus have failed to grasp the full meaning of this concept of the church.  When they do so, they will follow Jesus’ calling to his disciples more fully and will seek not just a personal relationship but a call to do ministry and carry out his mission as the Body of Christ.   It’s the mission he outlined in the synagogue in Nazareth many years ago—to “bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”   In  Matthew 24:34-40 Jesus puts his mission in these words and says to his disciples who carry it out these words:  “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you visited me.”  Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?   And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?   And the king will answer them,  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

It appears to me that when the followers of Jesus finally grasp the full meaning of this concept then  “the church” will follow its calling as Jesus disciples more fully.   Right now we have much to do that we are doing in carrying out his mission and ministry.

I don’t think there are any “Lone Rangers” in the ranks of Jesus’ effective disciples. 

What do you think?

“Fake It Til You Make It!”

“The deepest and most important spiritual lessons I ever learned came from a circle of drunks, fighting desperately not to drink today, whom I initially viewed as “low-life losers”, and who ultimately came to be for me the “oracles of God”.

This is a statement from a graduate of an evangelical college and seminary, who feels he never really understood the Christian faith until he went through the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.   He writes:

“I experienced the gospel of Jesus Christ in dramatic ways.   I learned that God is wildly at work in healing, redemptive, saving ways that were way outside the confines of the evangelical church.”

He continued:   “The 12 Steps in no way diminished my appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ—quite the contrary—I am more convinced than ever of the reality of the gospel story.

The AA practices of self-awareness, honesty, forgiveness, and reconciliation led this person to find a new life in Christ.   In other words, practices transformed him.

Diana Butler Bass, who recounts the above story of a college classmate of hers in her book A People’s History of Christianity, remarks:   “Alcoholics Anonymous  teaches addicts to “fake it until you make it.”   “Translating this insight,” Bass says, “into Christian spirituality,  if you act like a Christian you might just become one.”    (p. 297, A People’s History of Christianity)

Long ago, in the 16th century, a man by the name of Menno-Simons, the founder of the Mennonite and Amish forms of Christianity, wrote:

True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.

It clothes the naked.

It feeds the hungry.

It comforts the sorrowful.

It shelters the destitute.

It serves those that harm it.

It binds up that which is wounded.

It has become all things to all people.

“Doing church or Being church?”

All of us who have been or are connected with mainline churches have heard the lament many times:   “He/She always went to Sunday School and church.  I can’t understand why they did the bad things they did.”   Or:   “Their children always were in church and Sunday School, but now we never see them.   Why?”

I know there are many answers to these questions, but I would like to suggest one that appears broad enough to cover many of the children who have “gone wrong” or the children “who never darken a church’s door now.”

It is my experience that these children were taken to church and Sunday School and were taught how to “do church”, but the church failed to teach them how to “be church.”

Diana Butleri Bass , in her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us recounts the story of her life growing up in a Methodist church and remarks that she learned how to “do church”,  how to take communion, how to fix casseroles for fellowship dinners,  how to be obedient, how to do the rituals of the church—-but never did she have any instruction in how to “be church“.

All of us know that there is a difference between “doing church” and “being church“, but what is it exactly?   In my opinion “doing church” is a matter of being busy, busy busy,  with committee meetings, church attendance,  decorating for fellowship dinners, planning  programs and carrying them out, fixing the Lord’s Supper,  and doing all the jobs we are asked to do to keep the institution smoothly  running as a business might run.   I am in no way saying these do not need to be done, but they are not the most important  part of being Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ.   The above are all involved in “doing church“.

The important part, on  the other hand,  is “being church”    It is being a  functioning part of the body of Christ in this world— loving God and living in His Presence, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.   “Being church” is practicing our faith in daily life.  It is walking the walk that the people of the bible and  that Jesus and this disciples walked.  “Being Church” is being Christ’s body here right now in the present.   It is practicing radical hospitality as he practiced it.   it is taking up our cross daily, though that might lead to suffering and self-denial.  It is practicing passionate and Radical Christianity  in our communities, both spiritual and secular. 

Somehow we neglected to show our young people in all of the busy-ness of “doing church” what “being church” was all  about and its importance in living as a disciples of Jesus the Christ.  .   And one of the characteristics of the generation now in young adulthood  is that they are still searching for the meaning of “being church” but are put off by just being asked to “do church.”

Do you agree or disagree?   And if you agree with me, how can we change our practices and teaching in our declining mainline churches so that we do not produce another generation like the one who has rejected the church?

Rather than lament the past, let’s concentrate on changing the future!

Church Buildings or Museums? Pilgrims or Tourists?

Our church buildings are becoming museums of Christianity containing the relics of the Christian religion as it was once was but is no more!  By the end of the present century, if present trends revealed to us by writers such as Diana Butler Bass and Phyllis Tickle concerning “emergent-Christianity” are valid, most of our church buildings may have only historical value.

I remember in 1994, not too long after the fall of the Soviet Union, standing in the Cathedral of St. Isaac in St. Petersburg, Russia.   I was not there to worship and seek God as a pilgrim.   I was there as a tourist to “see the sights”.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest of many cathedrals in the city of St. Petersburg  built by Tsar Peter the Great, was built by order of Tsar Alexander I in the years 1818-1858.   It took 40 years to construct this magnificent building.   It’s massive dome is covered with pure gold.  Inside it is all marble with beautiful columns covered in lapis lazule so perfectly it looks like the columns are solid lapis lazuli.   Outside, the building is constructed of stone with 112 red granite columns with Corinthian capitals— each column hewn and erected as a single block.

St. Isaac’s is a beautiful museum for an earlier Christian Orthodox religion.  But today it is a museum.    Services are held only in one small part of this awesome building—a small chapel.   The rest of the visitors, who come each year by the thousands, are tourists who come to see this magnificent structure.   As tourists, they come and see and admire the building—-they do not come as pilgrims seeking God.    Then they leave—never to return in most cases because they have seen the building.

As a pastor, I have experienced this same phenomenon in many churches I have served who lovingly construct and care for their beautiful building, and then do not have the money to spend for ministry and outreach. Many of these church buildings that once housed many are rapidly becoming   huge well-cared-for museum of the Christian religion with a small enough number of members that a small chapel would suffice for their worship services.

Those who come to these churches come to admire their beauty ((as Idid St. Isaac’s) but they are not seeking to find God in the building.   They come as “tourists” to see the beautiful stained glass windows, to sit in soft, cushioned seats in the beautiful sanctuary and  listen to the organ (an instrument they feel is already a relic of the past), to sing hymns (many that were written in the words of and for an era long past their experience).    These “tourists” (we sometimes call them “Visitors”) come and admire and enjoy it all and then they are gone.   Few return.  They’ve seen it!   They’ve heard it!  But these folks are still pilgrims in search of a God to be revealed to them who can make a difference in their lives and the lives of others—-a God whom they can serve; a God that cares about humankind.

They look at these beautiful church buildings and often wonder if the money spent on them and organs and sound equipment, etc. might better be spent in helping the needy and the poor.

Richard Rohr, in his book “A Lever and a Place to Stand” writes:  “when our windows have too much self–conscious dressing hanging on them, you often never see beyond the window itself.   Much of “high church” is still back in the days of the book of Leviticus, written by the priests in love with ‘smells and bells’, and too preoccupied with the sanctuary instead of the world and the people God is suffering with.”  (p. 51)

You see, most Christians who claim to follow Jesus, have not learned that to be His disciple is not about beautiful  buildings, its not about rituals in those buildings—-its about loving relationships with fellow humans and with God out in the world where the pain and the suffering and the brokeness is.   It is about serving the people as Rohr puts it that “God is suffering with.”

A recent church I served as interim pastor developed a wonderful program to feed the needy a full meal every Friday.   They developed a food pantry for times in between and a clothing closet where items of used clothing were made available.    They were following in the steps of Jesus.    Then, just months after I left, they ended this program for the homeless and needy because a few feared for their safety and the safety of their beautiful church building.   The church board in an emergency meeting voted to close the program immediately before the next Friday, with no warning and no imput from many of the volunteers who worked in the program.

Now all this church needs to do is join with far too many other churchs in hanging out a new sign.   The sign should read:   CHURCH MUSEUM—NOW OPEN!