Sunday, January 25, 2009

East of Eden

“I just want to
Yes, I want to be inside
When Zion Gate close

Yeah, I don't want to be outside”

Zion Gate - Horace Andy

Last month, I started reading Bio Bible .

History is biography after all. And what better narratives are there of God’s interaction with humankind than the biographies in the Bible?

“Day Three” is the story of Cain and Abel, the first two children of the first two humans God created.

We know that Abel killed his brother Cain because of his anger. Something about offerings. But what is interesting is that God’s punishment was not the death penalty. It was not “An eye for en eye.” It was separation…from God, and from those Abel was close to in Eden. Abel was told he would become a “restless wanderer,” in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

I have a feeling that we are actually more afraid of separation than we are of death. In the Christian faith, death doesn’t mean we cease to exist. It means either ultimate union, with God and His family, or ultimate separation. The latter is scary. I think we sense that deeply inside.

When God pronounced His sentence on Abel for his murderous act, Abel said,

“My punishment is more than I can bear.”

“I will be hidden from your presence.”

“I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

However, God puts a mark on Abel so that no one would kill him. But Abel is separated.

Paul tells us that, “…the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (“Sin” is a loaded word that has too often come to mean a lot of man-made “don’ts” that God never intended. That was the case in Jesus’ day, and it is now. On the other hand, there is such a thing as sin. It is putting self over others. My favorite “operational” definition of sin is anything we do that ultimately causes harm to ourselves, or others.)

But before and after death, there is separation.

Sin rips us apart, and from community with God and others. It corrodes, and finally breaks the bonds we have with a loving God and with those close to us.

In His infinite grace, God provides a way back. Atonement is the way back. It comes through the death, and resurrection of Jesus. My favorite book of 2008 was Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement.

Atonement is God’s mission to reconcile not only each of us to Himself, but to each other, to restore our brokenness and to reconcile us to His world. As McKnight puts it, “Atonement creates the Kingdom of God.”

Atonement is the answer to our sin, and separation, and death. Atonement is reconciliation, and oneness, and wholeness, and life, now and forever. In the end, it allows us back into Eden.

(By the way, did you ever wonder who all those people were living outside of Eden who Cain was afraid of?)



Monday, January 19, 2009

“Do”-ing Church?

I was with a group of fellow Christian men last night, gathering for our weekly dose of spiritual banter, coffee and treats, and many times musical exploration (some are way better than others). This is always an eclectic group of people and we generally disagree on most about everything. Last night it was creation, evolutionary theory (even as a possibility), and young vs. old earth. I will save you from the details…

However, while meeting there was a wonderful question that resonated with me concerning what it means to “do” church. Now for a small background…some of that group are very “emerging” as it pertains to theology and church practice…some are very “traditional” in their theology and church practice…with many who would claim aspects of both.

In a slight shot at the emerging movement and its various forms on nontraditional church expressions and gatherings, a friend asked about their preoccupation concerning “do”-ing church. Particularly because the movement argues that traditional church models have got it wrong. He asks, “Why do we continue to talk about how to “do” something that is understood, theologically speaking, as a reality simply because we are a part of this cosmic powerful all encompassing Body of Christ? “ (I paraphrased and embellished a bit).

I would like to propose that “Christians” (in the sense that someone places their faith in Christ and seeks to follow Him) should think of “do”-ing church, not as a function or special gathering, but rather as a growing awareness of those times in which church is a reality because Christians are spending time with each other.

Church (ecclesia), or a gathering of a called apart people, is nothing more than those people being together for the purpose of which they are called. If together, and that gathering is marked by the purpose of which it is formed (namely to Love God and each other), then it should be called “church.”

Now, one must consider that the word has a certain level of implication that there is more than one for instance….It isn’t really a “gathering” if it is just you, even if you tend to have leanings similar to Me, Myself & Irene. I have thought during times of musing that if God is always present, the Spirit of Christ dwells within us, and Jesus is listening and advocating on our behalf…oh, and I can’t forget the Devil who is ever present to trip us up and seduce us with sin…then even as I sit here typing this I am in community. Not to mention the hordes of angels that surround us, singing praises to God and being the servants of His children.

…I paused for lunch….a gathering with four Christians around a wonderful Indian buffet…talked Christian

I have to admit…that the lunch was a beautiful expression of Christ’s Church…we didn’t incorporate, have an agenda, or even play music…but we worshiped God in our discussion and loved each other through the community. The four of us may never be together again in one setting, but the marks of lasting change will be evident in our lives…may you all grow in awareness of the church that happens all around us.
(All references made in this blog can be found in the Bible, please enjoy the process of finding them)

Grace and Peace,
Robin Martin, M. Div

Sunday, January 11, 2009

January 09 Meeting

“Church is the only organization ever created for the benefit of its non-members.” *
Matt N. (Broward Emerging Christians - BEC Meetup member)

At right, Constantine I, Emperor of the Roman Empire Head of Constantine's colossal statue at the Capitoline Museums - image by Jean-Christophe Benoist
here for link to the article Constantine I and Christianity)

Fourteen of us met at Laura’s Cuban Restaurant on El Día de los Reyes to continue our conversation about new/old ways of doing church and Alan Hirsch’s book The Forgotten Ways. In the excerpt of his table below, Hirsch compares two modes of church like this:

Organic Missional Movement vs. Institutional Religion
Seeks to embody the way of life of the Founder - vs. - Represents a more codified belief system
Has a cause - vs. - Is the cause
The mission is to change the future - vs. - The mission shifts to preserving the past
Tends to be mobile and dynamic - vs. - Tends to be more static and fixed
Decentralized network built on relationships - vs. - Centralized organization built on loyalty
People of the Way - vs. - People of the Book

Hirsh also compares what he calls, “Apostolic and Post Apostolic Mode” (AD 32 to 313) and "Emerging Missional Mode" (past 10 years) to “Christendom Mode” (313 to present). He generally demarcates at 313 because that is the year that Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. While that act ended Christian persecution in the Empire and largely set the stage for the spread of Christianity throughout Europe and abroad, it also, in Hirsh’s view had a series of unintended consequences that have shaped the church to this day. Here is an abbreviated list that Hirsch includes as taken from Stuart Murray’s book, Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World:

The movement of the church from the margins of society to its center

Infant baptism as the symbol of obligatory incorporation into this Christian society

The definition of “orthodoxy” as the common belief shared by all, which was determined by powerful church leaders supported by the state

A hierarchical ecclesiastical system, based on a diocesan and parish arrangement, which was analogous to the state hierarchy and buttressed by state support

The construction of massive and ornate church buildings and the formation of huge congregations

The increased wealth of the church and the imposition of obligatory tithes to fund the system

A generic distinction between clergy and laity, and the relegation of the laity to a largely passive role

The defense of Christianity by legal sanctions to restrain heresy, immorality and schism

The use of political and military force to impose the Christian faith

Hirsh concludes that this shift to Christendom was “…absolutely disastrous for the Jesus movement that was…transforming the Roman world from the bottom up.”

Jim R. started our discussion by sharing what brought him to the emerging conversation. He was born in the 1940s and came from what he described as a strict fundamentalist / Methodist background having only seen his first movie at the age of fifteen. It was also at fifteen that he became “certified” in his denomination and began to preach. Preaching however, he later decided was more his mother’s idea than God’s and he stopped. He attended Asbury College and worked in the field of accounting for many years. He also teaches adults in the church he attends. His gift for teaching benefited by his earlier studies of Greek.

Jim said that he “became emergent before the word was coined.” By this he means that he is typically zealous in “challenging everything.” (Such an attitude might be considered by Hirsch as part of the fivefold ministry in Ephesians 4. As Hirsh puts it, “…disturbing the system is a critical function of [missional] leadership. It is about creating conditions in which change, adaptation, and innovation will take place.”) Two scriptures Jim says influenced him were, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) and “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16). And two books that inspired him were, Reign of the Servant Kings by Joseph Dillow which seeks a third way by challenging the systematic theologies of both Arminianism and Calvinism, and A Life God Rewards: Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever by Bruce Wilkinson. Jim summarizes what he learned in a hand-out he gave us that says, “Our eternal DESTINATION is the consequence of what we BELIEVE on earth. Our eternal COMPENSATION is the consequence of how we BEHAVE on earth.”

One of the things Jim challenges is the ordination of professional clergy claiming it is not found in scripture, and in practice does not appear until the time of Constantine.

Robin commented that there are examples of the laying on of hands to anoint those who spread the Gospel. Jim responded that even Paul the Apostle was “bi-vocational” and worked as hard as he could to avoid being financially dependent. We also discussed the origin of the “pulpit to pew” preaching style. Did Jesus and Paul give us examples of it or did it start in the way we know it today with Martin Luther as some claim?

In our ensuing discussion comparing the modes of “attractional” or “institutional church” with “organic missional movements” and “incarnational-sending church,” Kelly commented that in institutional church mode the “primary reason is eternal destination” whereas in missional mode the emphasis is more on “transforming our lives and the world.” We talked about how institutional church sometimes “boils down” the Gospel message in order to make it accessible to the point where it often loses its relevance to our lives, whereas when Jesus spoke in parables he spoke of a full gospel in the context of the real life situations of his hearers. In discussing the comparison of, “People of the Way” vs. “People of the Book,” Megan felt that non-Christians (and many Christians) might view the Bible as a legal text versus reading it to come to understand a new way of life. Robin said the approach to reading the Bible should be to know and follow God versus focusing on “sin management.”

We asked how we are and can be missional both as individuals and within community. Matt who is part of incarnating Jesus among the homeless with a group called “Love Bags” (see Aug. 13, 2008 post) told us about how one of the homeless people they have “church” with out in the street regularly, decided on his own not to wait for the weekly “Love Bags” event and held a “church service” on his own with his friends and put up a Christmas Tree they lit with some (eh hmm) “borrowed” electricity. Matt also told about regular dinners he’s been part of where friends and neighbors, both Christians and people who are not, have become very close. Kelly brought up an idea to reserve a table for twelve where three Christians might invite nine strangers to dinner just to eat and chat. Megan and Robin reminded us that conversations can naturally go to spiritual topics without having to “lead” the discussion. From people we meet at parties to bartenders, we are finding that there is such a thirst right now for deeper meaning and community that such conversations often happen spontaneously.

Due to the size of the Meetup this week, we formed two smaller discussion groups for part of our time. Wendy summarized her group’s discussion about institutional churches as their being, “too big and top heavy, locked into budgets and programs” and suggested that church could be smaller and more sensitive to the Spirit (“God in us directing what we do”) and more about caring for one another. They said, “Don’t put the job on the ‘leader’ that we’re supposed to have.” And that we should recognize that Christ is not only “in” us but needs to spread “out” of us, and that “worship is your life.”

We decided to meet again on Tuesday night, February 3rd and if anyone wanted to bring together any kind of gathering in the meantime, we’d announce that through Meetup.

Peace and blessings,


*This paraphrase is from an original quote by Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple who said, "The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members." (Thank you to an alert blog reader :^)