Wandering the savage garden…

April 2012Monthly Archives

Born

We are born with a shotgun to our heads
Born to die,
Live to kill,
Heal to harm,
Constrained to will
We think that hatred's only fair.

We die to self to be forgot
Remember woe
Forget all peace
See the ills
Blind to sin
We remember only things of little worth.

Power

One of many distressing things about the church and its internals is the use and abuse of power.

It’s be easy to look at priests’ abuse of children, and see those as mere aberrations – or things isolated from “our church,” which is surely an excellent place with no such abuses.

But this view, an example of an external locus of control, is not always accurate.

Mankind’s story in the context of God (or is it “God’s story in the context of Man?”) has always involved power. The book of Genesis is filled with examples of the struggle for power and security: Adam, Joseph’s brothers, Esau, Noah.. even Abraham. Over and over again, you have Man claiming power that is rightfully God’s, in the attempt to control his own destiny and fate.

It isn’t limited to Genesis, either. The Perushim and Zadokim (“Pharisees” and “Sadducees,” respectively) struggled for power among themselves; their struggle for power caused them to miss the Messiah, to cause Him to be put to death. (This was in accordance with prophecy, so it’s not like they had a whole lot of choice, I suppose, in the end… they’re to be pitied rather than hated.) Herod slew the innocents out of a lust for the preservation of power.

The examples are numerous – going through them would include most of the Bible, I think. Ahab, Jonah, Job, Paul, Peter, Hezekiah, Absolom, Josiah, Ezra, David, Solomon… it goes on and on, covering the saints and sinners alike.

However, as I started with, the use and abuse of power goes far beyond stories, or even those unfortunate events we see in the press.

Power rules Christian life, as well. Paul’s writings, for example, are often used to control the structure of modern churches, by reading his edicts concerning the proper qualifications for deaconship, or about marriage, celibacy, gender roles, personal finery, riches, all kinds of things.

The key to reading these, for me, is to keep in mind that power isn’t necessarily absolute, nor is it permission to rule. Power, in the Christian life, is about responsibility, not control.

For example, my wife is to submit to me, as stated by Paul. But that doesn’t mean that I’m “over” her (and, if you’ll pardon the pun, I’ll never ever be “over” my wife, nor do I have any desire to be.) My wife serves me as I serve her, as the Bride of Christ serves Him and as He died for us.

However, while Christ serves as a perfect example for us and our relationships, we are not perfect. It’s here that absolutes turn into weapons.

For example, can a woman teach a class of men? Or serve as a deacon? Or perhaps serve as a pastor?

I’d have to say it depends. I have no issue, personally, with a woman of God teaching me; I’d welcome teaching no matter from whom it was. I have no issue being led by women in worship or in any other endeavor; those whom God has appointed are those whom I accept.

And that’s the crux of the issue. If a woman happens to be the most suitable candidate for the position of deacon, and God leads a church in such a way that a woman is selected… rock on. I don’t say this to say that every female deacon (deaconess?) is “right” or “approved by God” – only that I don’t see God as being limited in who He chooses to place in a given role.

Therefore, would I accept a female pastor, as well? Again, I don’t know – I suppose it’d be an oddity to me, but then again, that’s natural conservatism at work. I’d have to evaluate the specific situation. God has certainly chosen women to lead in the Bible (D’vorah, Hadasseh), so why would He be unable to do so today?

Again, that doesn’t mean a blanket acceptance of every woman in a given role – or of every man in that same role.

The key is to be mindful of the role of God in our lives, and to recognize that His power is greater than anything else; that which He chooses to be is not ours to fight.

And our natural bent and desire for power does exactly that.

Shalom.

Originally posted on January 5, 2012.

What does it mean to be focused on Christ?

One of the things that I like about the church that I currently attend is that it maintains a very tight focus on Jesus – but what does that mean?

Well, the church has two primary focuses, two goals.

One is to make the body larger, to bring people to Christ. The other is to strengthen the body, to make it stronger, to make the body more knowledgeable or more spiritual – to educate.

Making the body larger is a matter of communicating that Jesus died for your sins and mine, that man is sinful and in a fallen state, and needs Christ to enter into the presence of God. This is what people traditionally think of as the purpose of the church, to make the body larger. It fulfills the commandment to go speak to people around the world, found in Matthew 28:19, and really is the primary mission of the church.

This is a good thing.

However, the church that focuses only on making the body larger is, while a good thing, a seeker church. My family and I have attended seeker-oriented churches and greatly enjoyed them; there’s nothing wrong with them. However they tend to have a basic focus, a tendency to refer to very basic things; man is sinful and needs Christ, over and over again.

For one who isn’t a seeker, it can get a little… tiresome, even while the energy and excitement can be infectious.

For one who wants to become a mature believer, seeker churches tend not to be the ideal place to spend the rest of your Christian life. Because the focus is on bringing new Christians in, the learning tends to be very basic, very introductory.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Some churches go the other way and don’t focus on seekers at all; they focus solely on maturity. They tend to be fairly conservative, and take a lot of things for granted that new believers might have a hard time understanding at first. That isn’t to say that new seekers can come to Christ in such environments but it’s a little bit harder because the energy is different. The knowledge that leads one to Christ is assumed, rather than continually illustrated.

There’s nothing wrong with this, either.

However, there is a medium.

You can focus on Jesus Christ without being solely maturity-focused; you can also focus on Christ without being purely seeker-oriented.

You can actually serve both audiences – the ones who need to grow stronger as well as the ones who need to join the body of Christ – without losing either one and it’s actually one thing that our church does very well.

That’s what being Jesus-focused is really about, being focused on what’s important – pointing everything to Him.

That can present difficulties for people like me.

As a writer, it’s very easy to present my point of view, just like in this paragraph, and therefore, it’s very easy to allow the focus to stray away from Jesus and perhaps on to what Jesus has done in me, without properly focusing on Jesus in a way that illustrates Him to others. It’s a very fine line to cross. I find that many of the things that I do artistically focus on effect rather than cause and that is not really what I want to have happen in a Christian expression.

Consider this expression: “I feel wonderful because Christ is in my life.” Is that a Christ-focused expression? It could be. However the primary focus of the expression is not Christ – that’s the cause. The effect (“I feel wonderful”) is the main things in the expression.

Perhaps it would be more Jesus-focused if it were to be expressed as: “Christ is in my life, this makes me feel wonderful.”

However, I find this wanting as well. It still focuses on me, more than it should. It would be better if I were left out of it and perhaps it focused on us: “Christ has come to us. This is wonderful.”

Now it’s an expression that leaves me, as the believer and author, out of it; it now focuses on the beginning and end of what’s important: Christ.

Shalom.

Originally posted on January 4, 2012.

Orthodoxy

One of the hardest things for me in writing this blog is the fear of orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy is the state or quality of being orthodox; orthodox means “adhering to the accepted or traditional and established faith,” as thefreedictionary.com defines it.

So why am I afraid of orthodoxy?

Because it’s a division. Orthodoxy in itself is fine, I suppose; the quality of adherence to what is proper to believe is hard to dislike.

But orthodoxy is used as a club, and I don’t like it.

The problem with orthodoxy is that it’s basically a way of saying “What I say is right, and what YOU say is wrong,” no matter what the people in question actually say.

Even if one person says what the other does, the question of orthodoxy focuses on differences – so person #2 might be just saying what person #1 does, but they’re really not telling the truth, and they’re actually unorthodox.

It leads to sectarianism, witch hunts, proselytization inside the Body of Christ, and endless divisions.

To me, what’s important is what’s related to salvation. Period. All the rest is dressing. If the Eastern Orthodox Church believes in salvation through Christ, then… okay. All the rest is dressing. (And yes, I’m simplifying; there’re axioms I’m not summarizing, and I know it, and you know it.) If the Roman Catholic Church believes it, then… okay. The same goes for anything: protestant, catholic, whatever.

The core issue is and is ONLY Christ. All the rest is irrelevant, and yammering constantly about the protestants, catholics, or whoever the current target is, is counterproductive. It doesn’t help the target of ire, nor does it create an environment such that a target wants to be nearer to the attacker.

It’s natural for people for whom strict orthodoxy is important to question those for whom it is not, too. After all, if you aren’t orthodox, you’re not right.

Well… fine. I can live with that. The problem is that not only does orthodoxy lead to sectarianism and division, but it’s undefined.

It’s not undefined in the “I can’t find a definition” sense, because obviously a definition can be found – I quoted it above, remember? Scroll up if you don’t.

It’s undefined in terms of the “accepted,” “traditional”, and “established” faith parts. If you accept your faith, then it’s accepted, no? Except I suppose it means “generally” accepted. Even there, you’re talking about a nebulous definition, a moving and unclear target.

Same for tradition; our traditions change over time. Is this change wrong? It could be, I suppose, but many people don’t even realize changes have occurred; are they, then, wrong?

I say no. Traditions change because times change. The core issues of salvation and faith do not change, but the expression of praise and worship does change, and should change. We do not sing the way the early church does (and if you’re saying “My church does!” I’d bet you that you’re wrong.)

The early church wasn’t formal. It couldn’t be; it was an agent of change in and of itself. I do not think that the agents of change, largely uneducated and feeling their way along, would even begin to presume they knew enough to codify a standard for the rest of time.

So what is to be done? Should beliefs be tolerated because they’re believed? Doesn’t this open the way to true heresy?

I suppose so. First, though, let’s not use the word “heresy,” since it’s a lightning rod that’s not necessary; most incorrect beliefs are nowhere near as insidious as the term implies.

In my opinion, what one should do, when confronted with someone who believes something the Bible doesn’t support, is…

  1. Check the Bible. Maybe they’re right and you’re not. Be humble in Christ; just because it’s something you think doesn’t mean it’s something the Bible supports; after all, that’s what you’re thinking about their beliefs… maybe God thinks the same of your beliefs.
  2. Consider whether the incorrect belief is actually all that important. It’s easy to split hairs about transubstantiation, baptism through immersion, infant baptism, etc.
  3. Educate in love. This is the most important thing: if you instruct someone about how stupid they are for thinking something, then you’re not going to reach them, period. You’re going to turn them away.
  4. Accept the one you’re talking to. If they’re saved, then they’re your brother or sister in Christ anyway. If they’re not, then you’re a witness to and for them. Act like it, so that they can see Christ through your actions. Christ loved us, even while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8) and we should follow his example.

Orthodoxy is not bad, in and of itself; I suppose it can be considered a worthy goal. The issues around it, though, are that it’s easy to use it as a dividing line between the wheat and chaff, even among the Body of Christ (where all are “wheat,” as it were), and that orthodoxy is either very simple or very complex.

So, focus on the core issues and emphasize them, and if one instructs another, remember that of a teacher more is expected (James 3:1). Love one another, as James 2:8 says: and be mindful that if you are doing right by loving another as yourself, they are doing so as well.

Shalom.