Archives For Church of Christ

On August 15, 2013

Tradition: Breaking Tradition

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A few years ago, the Denver Zoo had a Polar Bear donated to them, under the condition that they would build it a state-of the art place for it to live.  They agreed, and accepted the bear. During the construction of his new home, they made a small cage for Mr. Polar Bear to live in. The problem was that the space was so small that the bear could only take three steps, turn around, and then take three steps.

The construction took three years. But it was worth it. The new home for the polar bear was very impressive.  It had waterfalls, and caves, and wind. The only thing it was missing was the Klondike bar.

And when the moment of truth arrived, when the bear was released into its new home, it stepped in, took three steps, turned around, took three steps, and turned around.

I’m a big fan of Christian History. I love studying it, and learning from the way saints in the past have tried to be God’s face to the world. In studying Christian tradition, one of the things that I’ve learned is that there really aren’t very many new problems. We’re dealing with the same stuff we’ve always dealt with. Including the problem of tradition.

Learning Division

When Martin Luther walked up to the Wittenburg Chapel door and nailed his 95 thesis on the wall, it was a watershed moment for Christianity. Luther really wasn’t trying to stir up the whole world, as much as just point out some things that he thought the church could do better. But a ball started rolling that would change tradition forever.

When Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone got together they decided to form a unity movement in a world divided by Christian nuances and sectarian ideas. Luther’s protest had created the unintended consequence of making ever little disagreement Christians had, something to separate over. And Campbell and Stone disagreed on a lot.

Matter of fact, the things they disagreed on would split most movements, but for them it was the foundation of one.

They were, we were, a unity movement.

Until we weren’t.Luther-posting-95-theses-560x366

Because eventually, the world of Protest caught up with the Restoration Movement with a vengeance. And we learned to protest about every little detail. In the particular tribe that I belong to “Churches of Christ” I’ve seen us have church splits on every little detail. From how we would serve communion, to if we would pay the preacher. (Maybe that’s a more valid argument to have).

And to our shame, we exported these traditions.

The Mission of Tradition

Last week I was in South East Asia talking to Church of Christ missionaries about some of the struggles that they have with serving in their context. Many of their problems came from someone, years before them, who went and taught them the same divisions that we as a tribe had started off trying to avoid.

I met people in places like Cambodia, who said they couldn’t get the other Church of Christ in the nation to talk with them or work with them, because their church clapped.

As in clapping their hands, while they were singing and worshipping…in Cambodia. Which is a much more celebratory culture, than the Scandanavian Caucasian world that this particular church was sending missionaries from.

That’s what it looks like when you export a tradition without thinking about it.

That’s what it looks like, not when you have a tradition of mission, but when your tradition is your mission. 

A few months ago, I read a letter written to a worship minister. The person who wrote it was upset about the new songs that were being introduced to the church. Specifically, one song really rubbed the guy the wrong way. Here’s what he actually said to the worship minister:

“I am no music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it.  Last Sunday’s new hymn – if you can call it that – sounded like a sentimental love ballad one would expect to hear crooned in a saloon.  If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this – in God’s house! – don’t be surpassed if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship.  The hymns we grew up with are all we need.

The Song?

Just As I Am. 

We church people don’t change well. And this, In fact,  can be one of our strengths. I get that we don’t need to marry ourselves to the spirit of the day, but I do think we need to pay deeper attention to our tradition. And we must learn how to bring it to bear on the culture and time that we are living in.

Because every tradition, at one point, was a break with the status quo. Every tradition started off with trying to do something new and fresh and compelling. And over time, what was once revolutionary becomes static and codified.

We stop paying attention to what the tradition was trying to do, and only focus on what it did.

We started off as a unity movement, and now we don’t talk to the other churches in town.

Every tradition starts off as a break in something else. That’s part of the tradition.

So maybe the best way to keep tradition, is to learn how to break it better.

In other words, it’s time to step out of the cage.

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So every July the Shepherds at Highland give me a month to get away and study and plan and pray for the coming year. It’s always a great gift, but it makes me miss Highland and the regular routine. So while I won’t be blogging as regularly for this month, I want to try and stay connected with what is going on at Highland.

This past Sunday, Jerry Taylor preached for our Summer Series Sacred. Jerry talked about how the communion table is the open table of the Lord. One of my favorite lines was “Jesus will not preside over any table that anyone is left out of.” This is extremely important for we religious folk to hear, because we have a real tendency to make our tribe an idol, and make God “Our God”

If you get a chance to listen to Jerry’s sermon, I highly recommend it. He’s one of my favorite preachers, and this was an incredible sermon, you can find it here.

The Margins are the Center

A few years ago, I read an author who was serving in a Christian ministry for sex workers in America. It’s a ministry that was trying to help people get out of an industry that is very hard to leave. At one point, the author was sitting in a circle of former and current sex-workers, and he asked them, “Why do you think that Jesus was so intentional about reaching out to prostitutes?”

And then there was an awkward silence…until one of the working girls said, “Because that meant Everyone…. if He would love and care for people doing what we do, than that means anyone can belong to what He is doing.”

And she is exactly right.

In most societies, we focus on the majority, or how to cast the widest net for the most people. We try to hold the center, even though that inevitably leaves people out….It leaves some on the margins.

But for Jesus, the people on the margins were the center of his ministry.

Acceptance Speech original

So maybe you heard about the bulletin at Our Lady Catholic Church. It’s just a normal parish in Denver, but it got all over the news last year for what it put in it’s bulletin. Here’s how they decided to welcome people to their Jesus commmunity:

“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, and no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, those who are skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you here if you just woke up or just got out of jail. We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!

This may seem over the top, but this is exactly the kind of invitation Jesus wants his churches to offer. Jesus isn’t saying everyone and everything is okay…He is saying everyone is welcome.

Did you know that the only visible man-made item from space is the Great Wall of China? Because that’s what we are good at doing. We build up walls, We like to know who’s in and who’s out. And then we love to pretend that God agrees with us. But that’s not the way the Gospel works.

One theologian, a guy named Miroslav Volf, points out that while most religions call exclusion a virtue, the Jesus movement calls it what it is.

A sin.

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On July 24, 2013

Sacred: Only the Saved

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“Receive what you already are.”-St. Augustine presiding over Communion

So every July the Shepherds at Highland give me a month to get away and study and plan and pray for the coming year. It’s always a great gift, but it makes me miss Highland and the regular routine. So while I won’t be blogging as regularly for this month, I want to try and stay connected with what is going on at Highland.

This past Sunday, Jeff Childers preached during our Summer Series Sacred, by talking about Communion. He did a great job, and you can hear it here, but you should know, this is not a message for the faint of heart. But then again, neither is communion.

Did you know that back in the 4th century, after Constantine had converted the Roman Empire, the church had a very difficult time figuring out who they should let convert to Christianity? They had a legitimate problem. Now people wanted to belong to the church because it was the socially acceptable thing to do, Jesus was cool, and cross jewelry was just around the corner.

So now the church had a problem…how could they make sure that someone would take following Jesus seriously?

The Road to Communion

So the church developed a plan, that began with something called catechumenate, which was basically three years of hearing the “word of the Lord” and then the candidates who had done well with that, were taken on to the next round where they had their lifestyles examined and went through “daily exorcisms.”

Because let’s be honest, once a week just isn’t enough.

And then, if you went through that round successfully, then they would let you get baptized and take communion. Meaning that in the 4th century it was slightly easier to become the next American Idol than it was to convert.

Now chances are, we hear that and we think how primitive, and exclusive.

But then we get upset when we hear about that pastor having the affair, or the minister stealing or embezelling money. It’s all so cliche, which is a fancy word that means it happens so much we are tired of hearing about it.

But the sad truth is that Christians in America are very accepting and inclusive, but we aren’t that different.

A Different Kind of Discipleship

I read last year that in China, when someone becomes a Jesus follower, they are asked 7 questions:

  1. Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?
  2. Are you willing to lose your job?
  3. Are you willing to go to your village, to those who persecute you, forgive them and share the love of Christ with them?
  4. Are you willing to give an offering to the LORD?
  5. Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny Jesus?
  6. Are you willing to go to prison?
  7. Are you willing to die for Jesus?

Now that’s a welcoming packet.

The churches that I’ve worked at, make following Jesus as easy and non-threatening as possible. And rightfully so, but never forget that the questions that Chinese Christians are asking now, are the kinds of questions that Christians have been asking for thousands of years. It’s not enough to just have a dynamic student ministry and great programming and the right facilities. When the Church gathers it is to make us into different kinds of people.

The ancient view of communion, was that through this moment God gives Himself to His people.

And in order to do that, for thousands of years, Christians have excluded those who weren’t ready to make that kind of sacrifice.

There’s lots of ways to be ugly about excluding people, in fact, I think most of us have experienced both sides of this. But the question isn’t whether or not your group excludes, every group does!

And if you doubt that, just find out how your group responds to someone who is exclusive.

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On January 11, 2013

Well Done Dr. Neller

Dr. Ken Neller

The most influential people in my life have been more humble than they should have been.

Last night, one of the people who has shaped me the most passed away of a sudden heart attack. Ken Neller was a Bible professor at Harding University. He was one of the most academically accomplished people I’d met. Everyone knew he was brilliant, but not because he let you know that.

I remember how I was preaching in Chapel on Galatians, and I took him to lunch to talk about it. I remember him talking about the Grace of God in that book, and feeling like I was hearing something that was true in the deepest sense of the word. I remember taking my Greek final and him telling me that my translation reminded him an awful lot of the NIV. I remember him talking about never cheating your family to serve the church. I remember taking his preparations for ministry class (what he called the Marry and Bury class) and him telling us that the Kingdom of God was alive and well today, and we could serve it by these practical ways of serving the local church.

He taught me how to do ministerial finances, how to do weddings and funerals and how to read the Bible. He taught me how to use redaction criticism to write a sermon, but to never say redaction criticism in one. But the greatest lesson he taught me was one that only really makes sense now.

He was teaching us about how each of us have a canon within a canon. That is, everyone who reads the Bible, privileges certain verses over others, and it’s important to acknowledge which passages we lean into. Because, he said, this will affect the way you do ministry and the way you view God.

And that’s when he told us something that has blessed me every since.

He told our class that his hermeneutical center, the verse that meant the most to him was Matthew 25:21. When Jesus tells his people Well done, my good and faithful servant.

And then Dr. Neller teared up.

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