Sunday, November 21, 2004
I think I have mentioned before that sometimes church feels surreal. I feel like I am in a corporation sometimes... we are "selling" the gospel and the church benefits in increased attendance. Sometimes it seems that the only thing that matters in the Christian life is proselytizing, and doing whatever it takes to keep new people in attendance.
Now I have been through some situations where I have been burned/turned-off/whatever by independent fundamental Baptist churches. I have chalked up some of my feeling to this. I have asked myself, why am I so detached? Why do the church pushes to get people in seem so dry? Why?
Well first, evangelism is not my gift. Now, the gospel is committed to us and we are to "do the work of an evangelist," but it seems this gift is the only really important gift in some churches. There is a lack of depth in many ministries because people with different gifts have not been identified and employed. Oftentimes in IFB churches, for example, the "teaching" gift is sometimes downplayed through the ridicule of "expository teaching," "dry theology," & etc.
There is also an organizational barrier to full employment of the gifts within the church body. This barrier is, quite frankly, the centralized, top-down, hierarchial, single head pastor led church. As with any such organization, those who serve must commit themselves almost unreservedly to the leadership of the head pastor (or else keep quiet). Also, the "mass-feeding" approach results in a few teachers and a great crowd of passive receivers. Think "buffet-line".
The remedy to this begins in decentralizing church structure into what existed in the NT. Whether you call it house churches or small groups, this concept is the only concept that makes room for everyone and their gifts.
However, even were this model to be implemented, there remains a problem with our outreach. While we are told to carry the gospel into the world, we are told that:
Joh 13:35 ESV By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
1Th 3:11-12 ESV Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, (12) and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,
Gal 6:10 ESV So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Mat 10:8 ESV Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.
It should be clear at this point that our outreach is not just the preaching of the gospel, but ministering to the materials needs of others:
Jam 2:15-16 ESV If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
Perhaps the reason all the church evangelism and attendance pushes seem so detached and corporate is because we are not reaching out to the poor. We are OK with getting people in the door and spending money on literature to convince people to come but helping the poor, well we have a small closet with some food we call a "pantry". If anybody comes we'll give them something after a thorough proselytization attempt. I mean, if they were really saved or had any character they wouldn't be going without.
Unfortunately, this is the extent of most IFB churches' outreach to the poor.
This is all stuff I began to think about during the morning service. Mostly my concerns would probably be met with the suggestion that I find a rescue mission to help out. Well that's not good enough. NIMBYism isn't acceptable here. If the church is too small to do anything together for the poor they should encourage giving money and time to volunteer to help. I intend to find a place to help. You know what? When I volunteered back in Virginia I ended up at Catholic and Presbyterian churches. Not Baptist. I suspect the same will be true here in San Diego.
I searched the net a little and found the weblog of a homeless person. I read the following entry with interest:
"Finally, a break from having to stay at the rescue mission - which is a break from being treated as less than a child of God. Oh, the folks at the rescue mission pat themselves on their collective backs, telling each other what a good job they do. No one will tell better how good the rescue mission staff is than than rescue mission staff. Of course, humility is not their strong suit, as they are quick to take credit for what the mission supplies the homeless. Lest they forget, they are only caretakers of other people's generosity. The staff of the mission does not provide anything, they only serve it, - the staff of the mission did not provide the food, or the building, or the beds, or the chapel, the air conditioning, etc etc. And if it were not enough that the mission staff prides themselves on the work they do, they also greatly mislead both the homeless and the people who donate to the mission. They miss lead the homeless by proclaiming a very distorted view of the gospel. The ways in which they distort the gospel are too numerous to mention. (I'll give one example: the president of the free will baptist bible college gave the sermon just a few nights ago and gave a "salvation gospel" message using the book of Ecclesiastes. Of course the book of Ecclesiastes has nothing to do with salvation, so he ended up slaughtering the real intention of that very important old testament book, changing its meaning to fit his own purposes. And, by the way, no other message is allowed at the mission chapel services but salvation gospel. For this, the homeless are not exposed to any other aspect of Christian life, but to be saved. No wonder most of them quickly fall from grace. Another way the mission staff misleads people is by saying the mission provides everything for free. That is not true. When you require anything of a person, in exchange for a service, that service is not free. As long as the mission has been in operation, it has required the homeless people to sit through one of their chapel services in exchange for a bed and a meal. There is no way to get that bed and that meal without attending their services."
Guess what? The best program, according to the homeless people in his area, was a Catholic program. Now I don't have anything against Catholics. However, these types of things make me angry when I think about all the Baptist Catholic-bashing I've heard. I'll leave you with a few more important verses:
Mat 25:32-40 ESV Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (33) And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. (34) Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (35) For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, (36) I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' (37) Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? (38) And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? (39) And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' (40) And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'
Monday, November 15, 2004
Riding back from work one day the person I carpool with mentioned some financial misfortune that he believed was the chastisement of God. Well, being the skeptic that I am, I immediately said that you couldn't know whether it was God, or whether it was just a coincidence. I mean, bad stuff happens all the time. For starters, wasn't it Job's friends who were guilty of inaccurately pinning Job's misfortune as punishment for sin?
This calls into question whether God chastises at all, due to the simple reason that if we don't know whether it is just misfortune or chastisement then it is not chastisement. We could just continue on writing off every bad happening as mere coincidence while God seemingly gets nowhere. Now, certainly there are people who do just that, but that does not prevent God from ultimately revealing Himself.
In any case the question must still be asked, "how do we know?" How do we know whether a negative situation in our life is divine chastisement or just bad luck, maybe even bad karma.
It helps to think of the opposite side of things- God's blessings. Now the same Christian who might write off chastisement would be eager perhaps, to take a blessing at face value. When we think about blessings, we realize that they are answers to specific needs and desires in our lives. Is it coincidence or is it divine blessing? So you see the same question could be asked here.
Logically we've gotten nowhere. It could be said that both "blessings" and "chastisements" are mere coincidences. However, looking at the fact that "blessings" are quite similar to "chastisements" in how they seem coincidences to us, prepares us to answer the question by looking at who God is:
1Co 13:12 ESV For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
We do not see God now; but we shall see Him "then":
1Co 13:9-10 ESV For we know in part and we prophesy in part, (10) but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
The perfect comes when we shall see Him face to face, as we see each other here and now- the resurrection. If we as Christians have God for our Father, then we have an unseen Father. Now imagine this: what if your parents could not be seen? You might say, "I am hungry," and a plate of food would appear in front of you, as if by magic. You might hit your sister, and then suddenly you feel the sting of a swat or a force moving you into the corner for some time alone. Coincidence? No, because you know who is there.
So it is with God. Because He cannot be seen at this time so much of His direct action in our lives could and can be written off as coincidence. For those who don't believe in a personal God who cares about individuals, this is a totally proper conclusion. However for the Christian, as we see God's hand IN MEASURE to our own life circumstances we know Who is there. He is an unseen Parent. This helps us to distinguish between mere circumstance and God working, that we see a fair and balanced God (sorry Fox!) bless us in direct proportion to our needs and desires, and chasten us in direct proportion to our unrepentant sin.
Sometimes it is more evident than others, because we can't see Him. It leaves us guessing sometimes. More often than not the witness of the Spirit will step in and confirm the truth of the matter. One day we will see Him face to face and we will know.
Saturday, November 06, 2004
(5) And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven."
My church is having a fall push and, being my normal self, questioned the appropriateness of all the promotional events being put on, and all the effort. What does Jesus have to do with gimmicks? Wasn't it Jesus who rebuked the crowd for following him because of the food?
A missionary from Germany came in and preached from the above text and it stood out to me the effort that these men put into getting their friend to Jesus. In verse 5 Jesus takes note of their faith. When we work to bring people under the sound of the gospel it is an act of faith on our part, because we believe that Jesus can work in their lives.
The question to ask about promotions is, what is the heart of the people behind it? Do they have a heart for getting people under the gospel or is there another motive such as building a crowd? Also, does the promotion take away from the message of the gospel?
If our motive is to see people helped by Jesus Christ and we are not putting on an event that will unduly divert attention from the gospel message, then our efforts are an act of faith in which God is pleased.