Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Frank Viola Interviews Scot McKnight and N. T. Wright

Two of my top three favorite books that I read last year were: The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight and Simply Jesus by N. T. Wright. Frank Viola has some great interviews with both of these Bible scholars on his blog. Check them out when you get a chance:

Scot McKnight Interview: “The King Jesus Gospel” & McKnight Responds to Critics

N.T. Wright Interview: “Simply Jesus” & Wright Responds to Critics

Related Posts:
The Bible Made Impossible, A Review
How Did the First Christians Read the Bible

Theology Needs Pastors

On Observing Lent

So Lent season is in full swing. I didn't really used to celebrate Lent at all since most of my Christian experience was in non-denominational, charismatic, evangelical churches that really never emphasized such seasons. For most of my Christian journey I saw Lent as just something that those real traditional types of Christians got into, something that was just a dead religious ritual. It is true that celebrating Lent seems rather interesting in this part of the country where the Lenten season is preceded by weeks of parades and partying and festivals culminating in Fat Tuesday. For many down here carnival season and lent are an engrained part of culture that seems to have a life of its own apart from spirituality. Just this morning I heard an advertisement on the radio from a local restaurant advertising overstuffed, fried seafood poboy sandwiches for the Lent season. It made me laugh because for many people down here Lent is an excuse to eat lots of fried seafood under the name of sacrifice. That's the kind of sacrifice I can get into.

However, in spite of all the silliness that can accompany Lent, I have found the Lent season to be a special time in connecting with God, others and my own heart. For me Lent is a time about getting more intentional about connecting with God and others in my journey. Sure, I usually give up something, or a few things during Lent but most of all I just try to make more space in my life for the things that matter.

I read a great piece on giving things up for Lent over at the Jesus Creed Blog that I would suggest folks take a look at Lenten Challenge The piece ended with this:

I don’t want to knock those who give stuff up. Not at all. Go for it. More power to you.
Or in other words, I wonder if God might have these words for me (and for you if I may be so audacious):

“Umm, I didn’t ask you to give up coffee. I asked you to give up your life to me.

Do you observe Lent?
If, so how?
What is the most meaningful aspect of the Lent season concerning your faith?

One more thing, there is a great piece that John Acuff wrote last year about fasting from technology called DIGITAL FASTS Go check it out.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Can Worship and Hospitality Coexist?

I read something pretty cool in Spirituality According to Paul by Rodney Reeves today. Here’s an excerpt:

The earliest reputation of the church, the first things Christians were known for were hospitality and their strange way of worship. Eighty years after the death of Christ, Pliny the Younger (the Roman governor of Bithynia) complained to Caesar about a growing menace: Christians who assembled on Sunday in order to sing together a hymn to Christ as if they were singing to a god. Even back then the practice seemed off. Of course in those days singing praise to human rulers was a common occurrence; Caesar was more than willing to receive such accolades. And songs of praise were offered in temples to gods all over the empire. But to gather in a room (not a temple!) without an idol (where is the god?) and sing to one another as offering praise to God was considered bizarre. And especially to Pliny, what these Christians were singing was even more peculiar… Imagine Pliny’s confusion when he hears that some Gentiles in his province are gathering on a certain day to worship a Jewish messiah who was crucified—just one man among thousands who were put to death by Rome. No wonder Pliny was suspicious of these people; it must have seemed to him like they had lost their minds (P 112-113.)”

It seems that there are two extremes that modern churches can slip into: those that get crazy with worship and spiritual gifts and are not hospitable to outsiders and those which try so hard to be hospitable and seeker sensitive that they dumb down worship to make it seem not so strange. I love how Reeves points out that initially worship and hospitality actually seemed quite at home together in the church. Worship, by its very nature, can seem to be very restrictive and closed to outsiders but does it have to be so?

How do you think a church can be both hospitable and worshipful at the same time without falling into the ditch on both sides of the road?

Related Post: The Gifts of the Spirit and Centered Set Faith

Review - The Lost World of Genesis One

I have been reading a fascinating book called The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. The main argument that Walton makes in this book is that most interpretations of the first chapter of Genesis are based on flawed exegesis. Exegesis is the first and most important task when studying the Bible. One must approach the text asking what the author originally intended to say and how the audience would have heard or read the words. This task comes before we try to apply the meaning of the text to our modern context.

Walton makes a compelling case that we have brought questions to the text of Genesis One that it was never intended to answer (modern scientific questions). And because starting point is wrong then everything that follows will be flawed as well. The major flaw exists in the way we view the act of creation as primarily material. One need only look at how the whole “Origins” debate is framed to see that this is true. Young Earth Creationists see Genesis One as an account of how the material world was created. The same is true for Old Earth Creationists. But Walton sees this as a failure to understand the type of thinking of the Ancient Near East.

After studying much of the creation myths of the cultures of the Ancient Near East it is clear that “creation” meant something much different to the people of that day. For cultures of the ANE something was created when it had a function. While they would have no doubt seen God or gods as the creators of the raw materials they never thought of things existing materially but rather functionally. Walton uses the example here of the creation of a new university. The buildings are built, the landscape put in, the professors are hired, the teaching materials secured etc. The University doesn’t truly begin until it is fully functional with students and teachers and schedules. To speak of the beginning of the university as the day when the foundation was poured would be true in one sense (materially) but would hardly be the way that most people would refer to the beginning of the university which would be when the classes started.

The beginning state of Genesis one isn’t nonexistence but rather nonfunctional (formless and void). God begins to bring functionality to a formless world or put another way – order out of chaos. Walton writes, “In the ancient world function was not the result of material properties, but the result of purpose (P.49).” The ancient world saw gods and goddesses behind every functioning thing such as the sun, the moon, the seasons, the oceans, the plants etc. From that vantage point everything was infused with purpose. Something without purpose would not have been thought to truly exist (even though it might be made of materials). With this understanding Genesis 1:1-3 are all about establishing functions such as light for days, darkness for nights, the sun and the moon to mark time. Furthermore days 4-6 are about establishing functionaries (animals, plants, and humans).

One other main point that is brought up in this book has to do with the idea of Genesis 1 being about God making a temple for himself. “Deity rests in a temple, and only in a temple. This is what temples were built for. We might say that this is what a temple is—a place for divine rest. Perhaps even more significant, in some texts the construction of a cosmic temple is associated with cosmic creation (P71).”

But “rest” in the ancient world didn’t mean taking an afternoon nap. “In the ancient world rest is what results when a crisis had been resolved or when stability has been achieved, when things have “settled down.” Consequently normal routines can be established and enjoyed. For deity this means that the normal operations of the cosmos can be undertaken. This is more a matter of engagement without obstacles rather than disengagement without responsibilities.” Walton sees the creation narrative of Genesis one being about God who brought function and order to an order-less world with the main purpose being to create a dwelling place for himself, a temple so to speak. Adam and Eve were to serve a priestly role stewarding creation and gathering up the praises of creation and presenting them to God.

This understanding doesn’t impose modern scientific reductionism on the text or try to make the verses fit into some kind of scientific framework but rather sees the whole point of Genesis One in an area that has nothing to do with science. As Walton sees it the biggest champions of a “literal” understanding of Genesis have come away with an understanding of the text that isn’t really literal but built on modern ideas. The above view is actually built on much more solid exegesis of both the culture and the scripture. This also leaves plenty of room for science to keep making discoveries without the pressure to try and conform them to the opening verses of Genesis.

Related Post: Wrestling With Genesis

Monday, February 20, 2012

When God Shows Up in a Storm

My son Ezra has had a fear for years now concerning tornadoes. He’s not a big fan of thunderstorms or hurricanes but tornadoes have captured his imagination as particularly terrifying. I’m not exactly sure how this started but I recall he had a really vivid bad dream that involved a tornado five or six years ago and ever since has been really scared of a tornado destroying our home and family.

I have heard preachers talk about having the faith of a child and I am sure that I have preached the same thing on more than a few occasions but that doesn’t always seem to be the case. Both of my kids have really struggled with faith in the last few years. Maybe all kids do but my kids have actually voiced their doubts with Dina and I in many a bed time conversations. Ezra has told me several times how he has had trouble believing in God. Sometimes I feel like a lousy parent and even a more lousy pastor because I tell him that I struggle with those feelings as well some times. I want him to know God and to experience a vibrant faith but I don’t want to just give him pat religious answers that either ignore his questions or just shut him down. But sometimes that is a very scary path to take with a kid because you have to trust that God will reach them in time in their own way.

A few weeks ago we were getting ready to do a baptism service. Ezra wanted to be baptized but was really struggling with doubts about God. It wasn’t that he was hostile to God because he really wanted to believe but he was struggling with doubts. He even went up for prayer at church on a couple of occasions in the last month desiring to know God. Well he did get baptized a few weeks back because he wanted to know God better but still he struggled with some lingering doubts… that is until a couple of days ago.

Yesterday there was quite a storm that hit our area. The rain was pouring down as hard as I’d ever seen it and the thunder was rumbling all around. I was trying to cook something in the kitchen when the power began flickering on and off. Ezra was beginning to get anxious because he was wondering how bad this storm was going to get and if there might just be a tornado coming. He stood looking out our back window when I heard him scream something about a tornado hitting our house. A split second later I heard a big crash and looked out the window to see that the gazebo on our back porch had been lifted off the deck, slammed into the house and dropped on our roof. The gazebo hung off the corner of our roof as a twisted pile of iron bars and canvas. I don’t think it was a tornado but it was pretty scary. Ezra saw the whole thing happen with the gazebo flying in the air right before his eyes. After a few minutes the worst of the storm had passed and we went outside to assess the damage to our house, which was thankfully pretty minor, just some siding ripped off here and there. Later that afternoon Ezra remarked that God protected us from that storm. I agreed with him but didn’t realize the depth of what was going on inside him.

Tonight Ezra was laying down in bed next to me (he gets to sleep in my bed when Dina is out of town). I was reading a book and he decided he wanted to read something as well. He looked through several of the books on Dina’s bed stand before grabbing her Bible. He picked the Bible up and began reading the book of Ezra (of course). After about ten minutes he told me, “Dad, God makes reading the Bible fun!” I replied, “Yes He does!” Ezra then began telling me how until yesterday he just thought the Bible was a bunch of words, stuff about wisdom (which in his eight year old mind means boredom). But tonight the words were coming alive to him. He then told me that he really likes reading it and wants to read it more. It is very evident that his prayers to encounter God have been answered and that it has made a real difference in his faith.

As I ponder his words of wisdom and his encounter with God I am so grateful for the way that God shows himself to each of us in our own ways and sometimes right in the middle of our biggest fears. Reading the Bible without God is a drag and so is pretty much everything else. I love to have the opportunity to get to watch his experience of God as it takes shape. It is truly a gift and an answer to many prayers.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Schroeder Family Valentines Day Tradition

Many years ago, shortly after my daughter was born, we started a tradition for Valentines Day. I can't remember how it all started that well but I think we had just moved into a new place (well it was new for us but a really run down old rent house). Everything was in boxes and we weren't prepared to cook so I picked up a couple of orders of spaghetti and meatballs from a local restaurant and we had a picnic on the living room floor. So, for years since then our Valentine's Day doesn't involve chocolate or roses but always includes a family picnic on the floor with spaghetti. Well... gotta go get to work on dinner!

Where's the Love?

Since it’s Valentine’s Day I thought I’d write a bit about love.

As a pastor I have had the opportunity to officiate a few marriage ceremonies in the past few years. In every ceremony I have officiated I have found myself encouraging the couples from the famous “Love Chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13. And while this is a great passage to use in weddings or any time that we want to reflect on love it is easy to let Paul’s words become simply inspirational with no real bearing on actual situations in the real world. Yet, when we look at the book of 1 Corinthians as a whole we can see that the Love chapter isn’t delivered as some sort of abstract inspirational text but is in reality the climax of Paul’s argument in trying to address very real situations in the church of Corinth. Understanding the situations leading up to chapter 13 gives us profound insight into what living this kind of love looks like.

The first issue that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians is divisions around teachers. On this Paul writes:
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

Paul then develops his argument by contrasting the wisdom of this world with the wisdom of Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). The wisdom of the world, according to Paul, is prideful, divisive, cliquish, it’s all about titles and who’s the best. Yet the wisdom of God seems like utter foolishness. The greatest example of this is Christ crucified. To the world the ministry of Jesus seemed like a failure. It was short lived and ended in a brutal death at the hands of the Romans. To the world Jesus looked like someone to be pitied, like someone who was weak, and yet this was the very wisdom of God.

Paul goes on to speak of God’s wisdom as coming from the Holy Spirit to whom all believers have access:
12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1Corinthians 2:12-14)

Then Paul puts real teeth to his argument by saying:
1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere human beings? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4)

The important thing to realize here is that this is all one argument though it is covering many chapters. The church in Corinth is becoming more characterized by the wisdom and ways of the world rather than the wisdom and ways of Christ. They are not being disciples of Jesus but rather trying to put a Christian veneer on the ways of the world. Then Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:18 “Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.”

From this point on Paul addresses pride, arrogance, sexual sin, law suites by believers against one another, food sacrificed to idols, abuses in communion, and abuses of spiritual gifts. The interesting thing is that Paul sees all of these issues as manifestations of the same core issue. They are not living by the wisdom and Spirit of God but rather by the wisdom of this world. And then he closes chapter 12 with, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way…”

This brings us to the Love Chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.
1 If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

When we read these words in context of the whole book we find that they aren’t abstract at all. In fact they are tied to real life struggles face by even modern Christians.

Have you ever found yourself getting arrogant because of the teachers you follow?
Have you ever defined yourself and your group by a pet doctrine or the one who teaches it over and against those who don’t follow your doctrine or spiritual guru?
Have you ever demanded your rights even when it hurt the conscience of other Christians?
Have you ever taken communion and failed to recognize the importance of your connection to fellow believers (seeing them as the body of Christ)?
Have you ever become puffed up because of your own spiritual gifts or felt like less than others because you may not have such spectacular gifts?
Have you ever failed to realize that you and the gathering of other Christians around Jesus are the very temple of God, the very place where God dwells?
Have you ever thought that your relationship with God was just a solo endeavor?

I can answer “yes” to all of the above questions. But Paul, encourages us to consider a better way, the way of love.

When I am being led by love I don’t have to get caught up in defining myself by my favorite teachers, authors, or doctrines. In fact I can hear truth even when it comes from folks with whom I might have theological or philosophical differences.

When I am motivated by God’s love I don’t demand my right to do this or that thing that I want but rather consider others.

When I am living around the reality of Christ’s love I take the Lord’s Supper realizing that I am part of a community of people that make up the body of Christ and that I need others in my journey as much as they need me. I can’t let unforgiveness or selfishness rule for I am under the rule of Jesus.

When I am aware of God’s love for me then I can treat spiritual gifts as just that: gifts, not badges or trophies. I can also receive from those who might be more gifted without feeling jealous because I see the same love giving to and through them.

I think the modern church has a lot more in common with the church of Corinth than we realize. My prayer for the church, myself, and whoever reads this blog is that we can be motivated, led, and more aware of God’s love, for it truly is the wisdom that transcends and overthrows the kingdoms of this world.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Pastoral Authority

In light of the last few posts (read them if you haven’t already) how might we begin working to a more redemptive understanding of what pastoral authority might look like. I have been around plenty Pastors over the years that demand submission, respect and obedience. This may seem to have the appearance of Godly wisdom but is not. As James 3:13-18 says:
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
In many ways what James wrote is a development of what Jesus had said to his own disciples in Matthew 20:25-28
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

New Testament authority is power under not power over. Power under is demonstrated in humility and love. This did not mean that Jesus was just a pushover who let anything go but rather when he had to address sin in his own disciples it came from a place of love and it was received.

The people that I have consistently looked to as spiritual authorities in my life over the years have been a great example of Jesus kind of authority. They could address sin in my life and call me to account because I knew that they loved me and truly cared for me. The truth is that if you get any joy from confronting someone about sin in his or her life then you probably aren’t coming from a place of love and humility. If you are truly loving and serving the people you pastor then confrontation isn’t going to be tied to your personal success or the success of your organization but rather to the health of that believer as well as the surrounding church community.

The Goal and Role of Leadership in the Church

I think one of the ways in which leadership can get twisty is when there is not a fundamental understanding of why that leadership is there to begin with. Leadership in the church should not be seen as an end unto itself but rather as part of the process of the life of God being cultivated in people.

Here are a few ways that the role of pastor is seen in many churches today:
The Pastor as Priest: Some leaders see themselves as priests, mediators between the people of the congregation and God.
The Pastor as Policemen: Some leaders see themselves as policemen sent to enforce the rules
The Pastor as CEO: Many pastors have so bought into the models of business in the surrounding world that they see themselves primarily as CEOs running a business.
The Pastor as King: I actually heard a quote from a local pastor who got up in front of his church and told them, “This church is the kingdom and I am the king.” Though his statement seems frightening I think there are many pastors that think themselves above the people and actually see the church as their dominion.

If one starts out with any of the above understandings of pastoral ministry then it is no surprise when churches get run like businesses, mini-kingdoms, courtrooms, or gatherings where the only guy who is qualified or gets to do ministry is up there on stage.

I think we need to start with how church leadership is defined in the Bible. For example let’s look at Ephesians 4:11-16

Ephesians 4:11-16
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

He Must Increase
John the Baptist once had his own followers questioning the ministry of Jesus because Jesus was now beginning to gather more disciples while John’s group seemed to be dwindling. John’s response? “He must increase, I must decrease.” This mentality has to be the foundation of pastoral ministry. Our ministry is not to cause people to be dependent on us but rather to be dependent on God. I love what Paul writes as the goal of the 5-fold ministry: to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

So from this vantage-point leadership is not an end in and of itself but rather working towards equipping others and helping them grow in the knowledge of Jesus and the love of God. It is interesting that the Apostle Paul, for all of the churches he planted, did not stay very long at any of them. The longest he stayed at any one church was in Ephesus where he lived for around 3 years. This itself is a testament to what Paul was doing. He was trying to teach them to live around the reality of Jesus as King.

In the church I pastor I try to keep mindful of Paul’s approach. I would hope that if I died or suddenly got called to relocate somewhere else that the church I pastor wouldn’t shrivel up and die.

Starting in the right place is a start but that still doesn’t answer the question of how pastoral authority should be expressed within church. But I think that we are doomed to end up in the wrong place if we don’t at least start in the right place.

Related Audio:
The Kingdom and the Empire

Mars Hill, Mark Driscoll, and Spiritual Abuse in the Church

Mars Hill, lead by Mark Driscoll, has become one of the fastest growing churches of the last decade. Not only have they been extremely successful in Seattle but in franchising Mars Hill to other cities and states around the country through multi-site campuses. Mark Driscoll has led the way for a new generation of Calvinists who are edgy in their style and dogmatic in their doctrine. Throughout his career he has become as well known for his inappropriate comments as he has for his beliefs (he has frequently had to make public apologies for his remarks about women, homosexuals, and worship leaders).

I first ran across an article on Mars Hill Church about 12 years ago when the church was just a few years old. I was struck by their unique approach to ministry, their emphasis on theology, and their intentionality about reaching out to young men (something for which the church at large has not done so great). I remember being really inspired by what I was reading about them back then. Since then I have also read books by Driscoll and listened to several of his online messages, which I have found very helpful in my journey as well. However, in the last few years I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the tone and direction of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill. The brash off-the-cuff comments that seemed cute 10 years ago have come to seem immature and sometimes even destructive to others. When I add to that his increasingly dogmatic embrace of Calvinism, I find it very hard to get much from his ministry these days.

However, what concerns me more about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill than their theology and style is the increasing number of reports of abusive and controlling leadership. I read an article yesterday entitled Church of Cult?: The Control-Freaky Ways of Mars Hill Church. The piece looked at how Mars Hill has enforced “accountability” and discipline through a very authoritarian and hierarchical leadership structures. It’s really the same old story of abusive leadership in the church that seeks to control every aspect of people’s lives under the guise of discipleship. But the end result has nothing to do with freedom or learning to live by the Spirit but rather a legalism and abuse that choke the very life out of the believer.

My Experience With Abusive Authority in the Church
One of the hardest experiences of my life came as a new Christian when I got heavily involved with a church that, in many ways, reminds me of Mars Hill: an incredibly gifted preacher, a well-communicated vision, passionately held convictions, as well as controlling, authoritarian leadership structures. I was a part of that church for about 4 years but it has taken many more years than that to get over the damage caused. In that church discipleship was a huge emphasis, but along with discipleship there was a huge emphasis on submission to authority. When I read about how leadership at Mars Hill was trying to tell people who they could and could not marry I am reminded of similar comments made to Dina when we were dating that we were somehow missing God and they knew better for us (I’m really glad that we didn’t listen to them).

Had I not had some relationships with pastors outside of that church who could speak the truth to me I think I would have ended up either becoming a legalistic controlling leader myself or would have just quit Christianity all together. I came very close to completely quitting church because I saw all the damage that had been done to myself as well as others in such a short amount of time. Every time I would approach the pastor about something that I might disagree with or have a question about I was just told to submit to authority. My faith became increasingly performance driven. I only thought God loved me if I was praying enough, reading my Bible enough, serving the vision of the church enough. I was becoming insecure in my walk with God because I was so afraid I wasn’t following the rules enough.

Things came to a head for me towards the end of a crazy week of “revival” at that church. What had started earlier that week with an extended prayer meeting had turned into 24-hour prayer meetings at the church. But this was no ordinary prayer meeting. The pastor’s office quickly became the “holy of holies” in which only the most spiritual people could enter. Those who did enter were given titles such as “guard dog of the revival” or “gatekeeper”. All of the decorations and pictures in the church were taken off of the walls so they wouldn’t compete with God’s glory. In fact, they wouldn’t even let people set foot in the church without taking off their shoes saying that the church was “holy ground”. I could go on because there was much crazier stuff than this that took place but this will do for now.

About four days into this revival I came home and told Dina something which became a true epiphany for me, “I don’t feel the love of God in this.” In spite of all of the craziness, legalism, and abusive leadership I was hearing the voice of God. I knew something wasn’t right. I knew I couldn’t stay any longer. Within another month I had quit my job (I was full-time staff with that church) and we ended up leaving that church. This of course meant that I ended up on the churches black list because I was in rebellion. People who had previously been friends wouldn’t speak to me for years. I would hear rumors from other pastors as to why I had left the church. One rumor was that I had moral failure in my marriage. Another rumor was that my band was into voodoo (I am not making this stuff up). But in the last 5 years I have had many people apologize for shunning me as they have eventually come to an awareness of the destruction wrought by the same abusive authority in their own lives.

I have come to realize that those who have to demand submission are usually very insecure in their leadership. Those who have to control, manipulate, and guilt people into action are not helping people submit to God but to fear man.

There was a movement that popped up in that church towards the end of my time there called G-12. G-12 ended up creating a very hierarchical system of accountability, which expanded the spiritual abuse that I had experienced. The basic premise of G-12 was that the Jesus pattern of ministry was to disciple twelve disciples and that his model should be our model in the church. Under the G-12 (government of 12) model, the pastor would have twelve disciples (the pastoral staff) and, in turn, each of those twelve would gather twelve more, and so on. The G-12 emphasis really began to make the church look and feel like a cult. I remember bumping into people years after I left that church. I would ask them how they were doing and they would get a glazed look in their eyes and mumble the G-12 vision to me as if some kind of automated response and move on.

The G-12 model ignores the fact that Jesus did not choose twelve disciples for a church growth strategy and He didn’t lord authority over the disciples either. He led his disciples by serving, by loving, by relationship. Jesus was not a control freak and he wasn’t insecure in his authority. In fact, after 3 years of ministry he could trust his entire ministry to his disciples.

I know that Mars Hill is different than the church that I was a part of but I am very concerned by the warning signs. Back in the late seventies there was a movement called the Shepherding Movement that gathered quite a following and yet wounded many a believer with authoritarian leadership, strict accountability, control and manipulation. I pray that Mars Hill doesn’t become the next shepherding movement of our day.

Related Posts:
Jesus is not a Control Freak

Related Audio:
The Kingdom and the Empire

Monday, February 06, 2012

Wrestling With the Issue of Slavery in the New Testament

It was not too long ago in our nation’s history that the institution of slavery was both accepted and approved of by many Christians. What’s even more distressing is that they supported slavery while finding ample scriptural backing in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. I have never met a Christian in my life, or even heard of one for that matter, that supports slavery. Why? Because in spite of the scriptures that seem to be either indifferent to slavery or to endorse slavery most people have seen that the greater narrative of scripture is a movement from slavery to freedom. It is quite interesting that for all of the Christians in South that held slaves the abolitionist movement that worked to free slaves was also heavily inspired by the scriptures. I am certainly glad that the abolitionists won out and I am also encouraged by recent movements to combat human trafficking and slavery around the world. As with the abolitionists much of this movement is carried on today by Christians.

So I want to turn attention to some verses on the topic of slavery from the New Testament and then put forth a way of understanding these scriptures that doesn’t help slavery flourish.

Jesus’ words on Slaves:
Matthew 10:24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master.” (NAS)

Matthew 24:45-46
45 “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.” (NAS)

Paul's words on slaves
1 Timothy 6:1-2
1 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves. (NIV)

Ephesians 6:5-9
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. (NIV)

9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

Titus 2:9-10
9 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.
Peter on Slaves
1Pet. 2:18-21
18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (NIV)

I want to say that I don’t believe that any of these verses are a flat out endorsement of slavery but they certainly are not a condemnation of it either. It seems that both Paul and Peter see that the main issue is that if you are a slave you can still live to the glory of God and God can even use your life to effect those who are your masters. That said, it is awful hard to read such verses which never condemn the institution of slavery at all.

However, as with the women in ministry issue, I think it is necessary to look a bit at some other things Paul wrote as well as his actions. The truth is that while the Apostles didn’t condemn slavery outright there is no evidence that any of them had slaves themselves. One of the best places to see how Paul actually dealt with slavery in person can be found in the letter he wrote to Philemon.

The primary issue in Philemon concerns a slave named Onesimus who ran away from his master Philemon and was helping Paul in his ministry. Paul refers to Philemon in the first verse of the letter as a dear friend and fellow worker. We also find in verse 2 that the church meets in his home. So Philemon was a church leader and a fellow worker in the ministry with Paul and he had slaves (or at least one slave Onesimus).

Here’s what Paul writes concerning the slave:
12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. (Philemon 1:12-21 NIV)
When it came to a situation involving a slave with a Christian master Paul encourages that the master free the slave and welcome him as a brother. Why would Paul take this stance after everything he said? Because he saw the trajectory of what Jesus accomplished as breaking down every wall that separates us from God and one another. This is no where clearer than when he writes in Galatians 3:28-29
28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The kingdoms of this world major on divisions: slaves and free, men and women, Jews and gentiles but Paul sees the only identifier that matters as being Jesus. While Paul doesn’t attack the institution of slavery that was rampant in the world he does try to remove it when he has the authority to do so. Paul sees that in Christ slaves become brothers with their masters. That was revolutionary then and the implications are still every bit as revolutionary today!

We should expect to see that the community gathered around Christ should not major on the things that separate us in the kingdoms of this world but rather on the One who has torn down the walls that separate us both from God and from others. In my opinion this too has implications on the issue of women in ministry as well. Though Paul said some things which seemed to be very harsh towards women in certain situations he certainly had no issue with women like Priscilla, Junia, and Lydia serving in very prominent leadership roles within the church. This leads me to believe that what he was writing about in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 and in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 were not for all Christians at all time but rather had to do with specific situations going on within specific churches at that time.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Gandalf World Tour

So on a lighter note... Folks that know me know that I am really into Lord of the Rings. Years ago I watched the complete trilogy in extended versions in a movie theater in Baton Rouge leading up to the world premier of Return of the King (something like 13 hours of Lord of the Rings in one sitting). For Christmas this year I got not one but two Lord of the Rings Pez sets (with Pez dispensers for all of the main characters). But perhaps my nerdiest action related to Lord of the Rings has been my recent participation in The Gandalf World Tour.

A few months ago I was looking for info on the upcoming theatrical version of The Hobbit when I read about the Gandalf World Tour. The tour consists of people who sign up to take a foot tall figure of Gandalf around and take pictures at whatever local attractions one's area might boast. It sounded kind of interesting so I signed up. I had forgotten about signing up until I got an email a few weeks ago that my shift was coming up. Gandalf had made his way from San Antonio to Houston and I was next on the list. So I got Gandalf about a week later and took him around for some pics. I will include a few here but most of the pics were chosen for the Gandalf World Tour site (that gives me some real nerd cred!).

Click on a pictures below to see larger versions of the photos.

Theology Needs Pastors

I love having this blog as a place to process and dialogue on matters of faith. I find that on this blog I am consistently being challenged by the comments of others and learning as we wrestle through theology together. But I have to say that wrestling with theology on a blog is completely different from the dynamic of wrestling through theology as a pastor.

Blogs tend to work well for opinionated outward processors like myself. Anytime I have an idea or an insight I can throw a few paragraphs up on the web in a matter of minutes. But I am learning that connecting theology with real people in the church is a lot more difficult. This week I have had two very eye-opening conversations with people from my church. In these conversations questions of theology were brought up but in the context of many other rather heartbreaking issues. What was needed in these conversations wasn't some pat theological stance but rather someone who would listen, and enter in to their struggles. I realized that a good dose of humility is needed in any conversation about theology, truth, or scriptures particularly when it is tied to very hard situations in life. At the end of the day I want these people to connect with the One who is the Truth more than siding with whatever understanding I may have on smaller truths.

While pastors no doubt need to have good theology, I am convinced that theology needs more input from pastors and practitioners as well. One of my favorite authors is N. T. Wright. Wright is not just a brilliant bible scholar and theologian but he has also been very active in the church throughout his career. He truly loves the church and this comes through in his writings. While some Bible scholars are content to hide away in the world of academia, Wright makes sure that even the most lofty ideas of which he writes can connect with everyday people in the church.

Pastoring is teaching me to put relationship over beliefs and to love and walk through theology with people rather than just trying to give people the right answers. I am still a work in progress on this but I am thankful for the opportunity to grow in this area that pastoring affords.

Friday, February 03, 2012

What About Women in Ministry?

For the last few weeks I have been teaching a class on How to Read the Bible For All It's Worth (partly inspired by the book of the same name written by renown Bible scholar Gordon Fee). For this coming weeks teaching I wanted to look at how we might wrestle with some of the passages from the Bible that are a little more difficult. So for this week's lesson I have been doing a lot of reading on the subject of women in ministry.

I have to say that I never really thought much about women in ministry at all (for or against) until about 5 years ago when the greater Vineyard movement began to really wrestle with this idea on a national level. The church of which I was a part at that time held to a soft complimentarian view on this subject meaning that women could serve in most aspects of the church except for being the senior pastor and perhaps even on teaching the whole church (I am not sure if that was the actual view or just how it worked out). I would say though that after years of wrestling with this issue from both sides that I have come down to more of an Egalitarian position on this subject which sees that both men and women can serve in any capacity in church even as a senior pastor or teacher for the whole congregation.

The bulk of the controversy on this issue arises from two passages written by the Apostle Paul. These passages are: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14

At first glance these scriptures seem very harsh. Forget about women ministering in church these seem to say that they must keep their mouths shut the whole time. I don't know of any churches that seem to take Paul literally enough as to make women completely silent in church (this would go for churches that are hard complimentarians as well). So most churches soften Paul's meaning while trying to keep some semblance of what he is getting at.

I realized this morning that the controversy of women in ministry is making its way into the national conversation due to some comments by John Piper on why the church needs to be more masculine. I read a little on this at Scot McKnight's blog: John Piper, What He Said

One of the best papers that I have read on the subject of women in ministry is by Frank Viola. Go check out his paper Reimagining a Woman's Role in the Church

Have you ever looked into this issue?
How have you wrestled with it?
Where have you landed on the subject?

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Meat is in the Streets

John 4:27-38
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

I have been working on a message on the above passage for this coming weekend and I got to tell you that I am getting pretty stoked!

I love the story that unfolds here (it actually starts at in John 4:1). A Samaritan woman who is both estranged from God as well as her own people encounters the love of Jesus at a well in the middle of the day. The disciples show up at the end of Jesus’ conversation with her and express their concern that he hasn’t eaten anything. He then tells them that his food is to do the will of God and to finish his work.

How many times have I heard Christians talk about how they want to learn the deep hidden meanings of scriptures, the meat of God’s word. Well as John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement once said, “the meat is in the streets!” That’s what we see here in this scene. Jesus is so excited about what the Father is up to that he has forgotten about food altogether.

This is the first time in the Gospel of John that we see the Spirit of God working among those who weren’t Jews. Jesus, in this moment, is seeing the very promises made to Abraham being fulfilled right in front of him as those outside of the Old Covenant begin to get in on the blessings. Jesus then tells the disciples the gloriously good news that the fields are ripe for the harvest even though it’s not even harvest time. In fact he tells them they are going to reap fruit where they haven’t sown. How cool is that?

I love what this all communicates. You see Jesus wasn’t trying to talk this woman into believing. He didn’t giver her 4 spiritual laws or even lead her in the sinner’s prayer. He just came alongside what the Father was doing and joined in. God gave him insight into her situation which unlocked her heart and she believed.

I wonder if perhaps this is closer to how evangelism should be done. What if instead of trying to reason or argue people into accepting Christ we just listened for what God might be saying in our conversations with folks? What if instead of getting hung up on all of the barriers that seem to be separating people from God we just paid attention to what God might be doing and joined along in that? This is the confidence we are left with in this passage. God has already been working on people’s hearts before we even came on the scene.

What’s interesting in this passage is how the disciples totally miss out on what God is doing. They are focused on food and are probably distracted by their own prejudices. They probably don’t see God moving because that was the last place they would have expected to see him moving. But Jesus sees... and by the end of his conversation the Samaritan women sees as well.

I'll close with a prayer...
I pray that God would open up our eyes to see what he is doing in all of the random and mundane acts of life. I pray that we would not get so preoccupied with our own appetites and prejudices that we are oblivious to what God is up to. I pray for grace to be still and listen wherever we might find ourselves. I pray that we might reap where we haven’t sown. Help us Lord.