Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Reformers fearing "Reform"

It was brought to my attention one day listening to sports talk radio (who doesn't need a break from this treadmill life we run on?) that when we speak of a "sports fan", the word "fan" is actually short for the word "fanatic". Personally, I have the privilege (or not) to know fanatics from every walk of life. In many cases, I have the opportunity to share life with them as I talk to friends who love the same sports teams I do or when I show up at a local "church" on Sunday. If you don't believe that fanatics are all around you then check your local news in which you'll have the opportunity to see the disastrous outcome of somebody strapping a bomb to himself and walking into a crowded area of innocent people so that they can receive "X" number of virgins in paradise. If you want to see a fanatic this weekend, turn on an NFL game this Sunday and watch some guy support his winless team by dressing up like a pirate or taking his shirt off in the freezing cold and barking like a dog. In the last day I've got to see fanatics by reading Facebook status updates and tweets supporting Barack Obama's most recent award as the recipient of the Nobel Peace prize even though he was only nominated nine days into office and has yet to accomplish any of his goals. (if you argue with this last one, I'd suggest you read the definition of "fanatic" in the next paragraph. Mind you, this is not a political site and it is only serving as an example).

The word fanatic defined is, "a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal". In my own life, I refuse to call myself a fanatic of anything because of the word "uncritical" in the definition. This refusal includes how I envision my identity as a follower of Christ, and as I sit here tonight pondering bigger, more important things than the win-loss records of my favorite teams (all of which lost today in College Football giving this thinking session a bit more perspective) I have started digging into my own beliefs. Why do I believe them? Where did these beliefs come from? Am I following a belief because I've actually studied and prayed about it, or do I follow it because that is the cultural "norm" within American Christianity, and it's the way I've grown up? I have even begun to wonder if I read books because they make me cool or is it because I'm searching for truth? I've noticed over the past few months as I talk to close friends and family about their faith, even the ones who consider themselves to be part of the "reformers" in the church, I've noticed this "uncritical" attitude in their relationship with Jesus. The fact that we don't even know where are beliefs are coming from, and we in most cases refuse to dissect them help me to recognize that this attitude is due to one thing...FEAR!

We are a culture that loves comfort, security, and instant gratification. When it comes to our faith, which on paper is the most important thing in our lives as it develops our world view and should be transforming us from the inside out; we refuse to be uncritical because it interrupts those three aims mentioned above. Whether we realize it or not, we are a culture of Christ followers that is fearful that we may actually be wrong in the way we've been "doing Christianity". We are fearful that we may have to change our attitude, our friends, and our goals and aspirations. As you all know I typically write about dying to our self so that we may find life as we follow Christ, and tonight is no different. Below is an article I came across tonight by a man named Frank Viola who has been chasing after the truth of our faith. Through extensive research, prayer and sharpening by fellow lovers of Christ who believe that if "God said it, then that settles it", Frank has written two very important books called "Pagan Christianity?" and "Reimagining Church" (along with many others) that challenge our fear of reforming what we believe we have already reformed.

This article was taken from, It was written by Frank as a response to a well known article circulating about the "coming evangelical collapse". I'd urge you to read it in its entirety, but below is an excerpt from that article. Frank is quoting a friend of his named Hal Miller. To give Hal's quote some context, Frank states right before it that current evangelicalism has, "rooted itself in modernity, it failed to fully grasp and teach God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:11), and it retained the Western individualistic bent that marks historic Protestantism."

To which Hal states,

"Christianity is culturally relevant when it offers a qualitatively different society. Jesus called it “the kingdom of God.” Paul saw its first outlines in the gathered disciples of Jesus, and so he called them ekklesia - we translate it “church”- a Greek word denoting citizens assembled to attend to their common project, their city.

The evangelicals missed this. Evangelicalism sought to transform people and so transform the world. They did not see that something might be missing from this vision, something their assumption of American individualism would hide from them. The true Christian vision is to transform people, transforming them into a people, and so transform the world. The evangelicals missed that middle term. They could not see the church as a foretaste of the new society; it was a club for the new individuals. The evangelicals simply dressed American individualism in Christian clothing. They ended up with new isolated individuals, but in the old society. Since their expression of Christianity did not take form as a new society, it quickly became culturally irrelevant, even though it was admirably culturally open.

To be culturally relevant, Christianity must offer an alternative. God has indeed chosen to deal with persons as individuals- in this the evangelicals were right. Yet they are not simply individuals; they become members of a social reality called ekklesia, which is the entering wedge of the new society of God’s making.

Too often, for example, we assume that evangelism involves the simple aggregation of more and more new individuals. If enough people are “born again,” the world’s problems will diminish. But the experience of the last twenty years- in which we had more and more people “born again” as well as more and more marital tragedies, more and more international tension, and more and more bondage to the demons of our age- seems a perfectly contrived counter-example to this theory.

The Christian calling requires being reconciled with God, to be sure. But it also requires being a new, reconciling society characterized by forgiveness, acceptance, and responsibility in a common task- a society qualitatively different from its culture, yet engaged with it. Little gatherings of Christians for worship and mutual help in being disciples become the seeds of God’s coming new society.

Such a new society will be culturally relevant because it springs from God’s movement among God’s people. The persons who make up this new society live their faith in the face of day-to-day problems that they share with the world around them. They face the same questions as unbelievers: finding joy and meaning in work, living at peace both personally and globally, raising responsible and compassionate children. And in facing those questions, Christian faith becomes relevant even for unbelievers.

Imagine a group of people gathering to help each other in the common task of seeing God’s kingdom incarnated in their work, in their families, in their towns, in their world, in their midst, and (rather than only) in their individual lives. This gathering is ekklesia. It will be relevant to its world because it lives the life of the kingdom in the world, not apart from it."

I couldn't have said it better which is why I shared this article with you tonight. As followers of Christ, me included, we must recognize that we have the ability to take on God's eternal perspective as we live today. The economy, the political outlook, the social injustice and the lack of peace are not things we can fix individually, but they can be affected collectively as the "ekklesia". We can't fully fix them this side of heaven, but we can improve them if the sum of the individual disciples of Christ acting as a body is greater than the individual parts. This means that your individual relationship with Christ is meant to be multiplied through true community and love for your fellow members.

Do not be scared to ask the important questions when it comes to your faith in Christ and how we are to follow him, experience him, love him and share him. Nobody has ever gotten in better shape by staring at the mirror every day hoping that they will see a difference without getting on the treadmill and lifting some weights (unfortunately I've learned this one first hand). Therefore, don't talk about wanting to "going deeper", challenge yourself, don't "start on Monday", ask God for His truth, study the words of Christ and our fellow brothers and sisters who followed Him in the flesh by reading God's word. Pray that the Spirit may transform you into an evangelistic tool that God will transform individually in order to grow and glorify God's "ekklesia". You are not a "member" of a building, but instead a part of God's living Kingdom and a team of fellow lovers of perfection if you have made Jesus Lord. Don't be scared, but study God's word for yourself, you may find out that you've been "doing the Christian thing" while you could have been following Christ.

To my fellow reforming friends, I am still with you in theology but the way I see it is that as much as I love Luther and Calvin, I love Jesus more and therefore, anywhere that those two disagree with Jesus, then I disagree with them. To my "emergent" friends, you got a lot of reading to do. Yes, Jesus saves, but we don't get to define him differently than the clarity in which he defined himself. You are right in assuming that we are "doing church" wrong in comparison to the early followers, but you're wrong in your Unitarian/Universalist approach to the grace of Christ. To all of you, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and the only way to the Father is through Him. (John 14:6) Following Christ is not easy and grace is not cheap but the message is simple; like the story in which Paul and Silas said to the jailer after he heard them praising Jesus in jail and wanted to know how to share in their life by becoming saved, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household." (Acts 16:30-31)

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