Saturday, March 01, 2014

Values of the Church 5: Scripture

Obligatory "it's been awhile" noted - for those involved in the series, my apologies. Life, etc. We'll see what I can come up with as far as more time is concerned. I really don't like having a year plus go between posts :)
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So last time we gained ground toward the end of this series on the church, specifically the mega-church phenomenon. We've covered a number of values & ideas that I think are pertinent in answering the question of "are mega-churches okay?" Going back a few years, at the start of this, I was interested in looking at (what was then) significant criticism of the mega-chuches of the U.S. This has morphed a bit into a series which can also apply to other churches & church models. That's one of the advantages of letting things stew for a long time between posts :) The values we've looked at to date: love, unity, freedom, selflessness. Now I'd like to list the final value I think most pertinent: scripture. This is the first value outside ourselves. Love, freedom, selflessness, unity - these all come from within us. We choose to love, we pick unity, we seek freedom, we practice selflessness. Scripture comes from outside us. But it is crucial to evaluating a church or church model. Why? Because scripture is where we find the origin of the church. It is where Jesus tells Peter that Peter would be the one on whom He'd build His church. It is where the early church is described in Acts, where leadership instruction is provided via the Pastoral Epistles. It is where we find Jesus' words to seven churches. Scripture is the word of God by which we get our ideas about what church ought to be. It is therefore the standard by which churches should be evaluated. And it is the lens through which we view the first four filters too. So the five values I'm using to evaluate the "mega-church" model are in place. Next up? The review. Then hopefully on to new material :) God bless, Ron

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. - What It Means To Me

I picked up Galya from school today for an appointment. This is not unusual; with her adoption history (read the afore-linked blog for history) and medical issues, she's pulled from school for short appointments more than your average student. Between this and my wife's involvement in the local PTO, we know the office staff of the school well enough. They are great people. We're blessed to have our girls in this school.

Which is probably why, for the first time at this particular school, I felt a momentary temptation to discipline another parent's child. It fled, primarily as the word "liability" followed the temptation.

There was a student there who had been sent to the office. I don't know (or, frankly care) why. I suspect I wouldn't have to stray far into my imagination to figure it out though. For one thing, in front of me, this student told the wonderful (and abundantly patient) secretary to, "shut up!" He wandered the office & halls, making the secretary get up and follow. Later, when I signed Galya back into school, I heard more of the story. Apparently the "shut up" was followed later by an, "I hate you!"

My parents are not violent people in the least, but I suspect had I said this to any adult whatsoever when I was growing up, those would have been the last words spoken by me until the wires came out of my broken jaw.

I am not advocating violence as a discipline. Not at all.

I am observing, though, that we live in much different times from the ones in which I grew up. We were taught to address adults through honorifics & last names (e.g., "Mrs. Smith") instead of by their first names. We were told, no, we were fully expected to respect adults before we knew anything about them. Authority wasn't necessarily to be feared, but it was to be respected. The phrase, "you will act better around them than you even do at home" rings familiar to my ears.

This is not so nearly as much today. I don't know when it happened, and I'm not a social scientist with studies to back up my opinions on the matter.

But I miss respect being more ubiquitous in our culture. It's not just with kids who lack respect for teachers (a problem I blame squarely on the child's parents). I have to fight it with friends who want my children to call them by their first names. We see it in the Tea Party and Occupy movement and their lack of respect & trust in the culture's elites. There is evidence of it aplenty in the dishonest bickering & (nearly) slanderous discourse of politics. Athletes equate their earnings with respect, and we hear "respect is something that is earned, not just given."

Hogwash. Respect is something that should be given as a matter of civility, as a matter of common decency. Adults have "earned" the respect of children by living a life that has gained them experience and (hopefully) wisdom. Children should respect that. What is the appeal of raising kids who think respect is money & fear instead of, well, just being treated honorably? What is the appeal of lowering one's status of adulthood to be on equal footing to children yet to learn to drive let alone live on their own? Why must we assume that those with whom we disagree are evil, stupid, corrupt or hateful?

Respect should be given, honorable treatment extended, automatically. It should take an nearly abhorrent act to pull it. I may lose respect for your accomplishments were I to find out you lied on your resume, but I ought still treat you with respect as a person.

The less we respect, the more we fight, the more we divide. The less we use common courtesy & the more we dimish honor, the faster we decline as people.

And teach your kids proper respect. I can't teach your kids, or the kid who used foul language to address our awesome school secretary. Respect, all due of it to our education system, is not, can not, and will not be learned at school if the parents decline to instruct in its importance. It shouldn't take a wallop upside the head, but parents please - PLEASE - respect your kids enough to teach them what respect truly, rightly is.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Letters to Hitchens & Friends

I liked Christopher Hitchens. As something of a logophile, I enjoyed his use of language. He could turn phrases like few others. He was passionate, widely read and politically interesting.

I was first introduced to Hitchens a number of years back when I caught a dialogue between Hitchens, Dr. Mark D. Roberts, and Hugh Hewitt on the radio*. I started paying attention a bit more when he released his book, "God is not Great." He asked questions and made statements that made me think more about my faith. This, to me, is a good thing. A faith unexamined is a faith easy to have ripped from one's grasp.

Yet fundamentally I have some very serious disagreements with what Hitchens believed and argued when it comes to many (most?) aspects of religion and faith. He was a devout atheist, even "evangelistic" in his zeal to convert the, um, converted. Hitchens' debates and lectures on YouTube are popular, as are his books. His eloquence being what it was, I understand why.

Hitchens was persuasive too. In this, I think, he was most dangerous. Frankly I wish he had marshalled his talents in favor of the faith rather than against it. When he resorted to polemics, he diminished. When he argued, he changed minds. Because of this, I took care when reading his work, or listening to his voice. In many cases, his eloquence covered up some significant flaws in his arguments - but the eloquence alone was sufficient to influence those who didn't pay close attention to the arguments.

As much as I respected Hitchens, I always wished I could have talked with him. Going back through some of his writings of late, I would like to start a new feature here, inspired in part by some of the challenges he gave me in my thinking. It's not the same as debating him live, but he asks some questions which deserve answers - and makes some arguments which deserve refutation.

I'll call this 'Letters to Hitchens & Friends' and address, primarily, arguments of his that seem to be cropping up most frequently amongst those of a non-theistic bent. I think, though, that he would also say others argue against faith, so while titled for Hitchens, it will really be aimed at skeptics in general. It won't be a series in the sense that I'm going to rip out a string of these posts and be done; they will be here and there as I feel most compelled to address a given argument and as I have time to do so.

Will I change minds? Possibly, but just as possibly not. Hitchens himself would not even know who I am. In humility I would absolutely say I may not be correct myself. Yet when more theists are becoming atheists, I would like to outline why it is that I am not following in their stead.

For my non-theist friends: if there is a question you'd like to have answered, you can always post it to the comments. Just realize I will address one question at a time, and while I will try to get to every question, my schedule (as you'd see from looking at my archives) and my own sense of priorities may not permit fast replies.

For my theist friends: if you are struggling with your own answers, you can ask questions too. I do not claim to know all the answers; what I'll be posting are my thoughts & reasons for holding a particular belief, and why I find a specific argument unpersuasive. It is almost certain that others can answer better than I. Just take it as my own thinking out loud in response to questions that challenge my beliefs.

I hope you find this idea interesting. I certainly do, and since it's my blog I'll give it a shot; please join the conversation and add your voice.

God bless -
Ron

*Confession: I generally dislike political talk radio, finding it increasingly unsatisfying in terms of completeness, fairness and kindness. Hewitt is one of the few exceptions, and I listened to his show more for the guests he seemed to attract - like Hitchens, Mark Steyn and James Lileks, all master communicators who bring wit, intelligence and passion through words. Even when I disagreed with them, they were (nay, are) interesting. I highly recommend finding the archives of Hewitt's interviews with Hitchens, such as this one between Hitchens & David Allen White. I am neither atheist nor Catholic, yet found the interchange fascinating.

Values of the Church 4: Selflessness

Selflessness is hard. Everything in our society screams at us to take care of #1, to procure what we "deserve." Take care of yourself first, it is said, buy this product to make yourself happy. Spout off your opinions, and if others disagree label them intolerant and attack them rather than contend with ideas (the Interwebs may have something to do with this).

Our environment pushes us to selfishness. That's the easy path.

That's not what we're called to in the church. As we get to the evaluation phase of this series, we need to also remember that selflessness is a necessary value of the church.

Paul would describe selflessness of the type required as "submission." (Note: there could be an entire series - taking 8 years if I write it, hardee-har-har - talking about submission vis a vis the role of women in marriage. My concern with the term is more limited - yet general - in scope for the purposes of this series.) It is placing the needs & desires above your own.

Ephesians 5 talks about this. In verse 21:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Or as he states it in Philippians:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves 

Submission is a dirty word (in large part, but not solely, because of the aforementioned debate related to the role of women) in our culture. Yet if we are to call ourselves Christians, "little Christs" we ought to strive to be like Him most of all. He was selfless, not just giving His life (not that I'm diminishing that!) but also in his daily life on Earth.
There are more episodes of submitting to others - in healing, in acknowledging the place of leaders, in dining with the outcasts.

We ought to be like this. It is hard, but in church especially we should be looking to benefit & bless others, even before ourselves.

Next up: scripture, then the evaluation.

God bless,
Ron


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Values of the Church: Freedom Redux

Back to the topic of the church, at least of the mega variety. As I continue in this series, I'm going to touch on another aspect of freedom, not quite the same as the one I shared last time.

As I'm laying a foundation for the evaluation portion of the series, namely the values we should bring to the discussion, freedom is third in line behind love and unity. In the first post about freedom, I noted that our freedom in Christ is freedom from sin, and should be exercised humbly, for the good of others - especially the church. In this post, I'm going a bit of a different direction with freedom (exercising some freedom in doing so!) and talking about freedom in our relationship with God.

God created us each uniquely. I am wired to like certain things, to be passionate about certain things, and to connect to certain things. You are wired differently, even if you are wired similarly. That is to say, even if you also like Third Day you may not like The Princess Bride or softball, and so on. Eventually, our interests will diverge. Or, were we to like exactly the same things, to be moved by exactly the same things, the extent to which we are moved, or the importance we put on each thing will be different.

This is not a bad thing. As my wife says, if we're all the same life gets real boring, real quick. We are unique. This should be celebrated. How creative is God to create over 7 billion unique people? Pretty creative. Part of this creativity extends to our own expressions of worship, and our own preferences.

So how does this apply to the discussion? We need to value that insofar as we have freedom to worship God through our own unique tastes, preferences or styles, so do others. If I see a choir, for instance, as being a performance-oriented group and a worship band as being more interactive, I need to understand that others will flip those two perceptions around. If I think having a pastor who wears a suit shows respect for God, I need to also realize that a pastor who wears jeans whilst preaching can be expressing the important truth that, while we look at externals, God cares about who we are behind the apparel. In short, our freedom to worship is not to be kept only to ourselves; we all have the same freedom.

These values all interact with each other, and there are two more to come before we get to the evaluation/critique of the megachurch (and churches in general): selflessness and scripture. So if you are already reading ahead, you may want to hold your fire until we get through those values. But as I'm not one to limit conversation, have at it as you feel led:)

God bless,
Ron

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Values of the Church 3: Freedom!

Over the past couple of years, in bits and drabs, I've been looking at some topics related to the church, building toward what was originally intended to be a response to the too-common blanket critiques of megachurches. While my end game has changed a bit, I think the values discussion retains merit. Christians can be a little too good at intra-faith bickering, so I want to continue laying the groundwork for the evaluation part of my argument. To that end, having already looked at love and unity we're going to turn our attention to the value of freedom.

What's that? Freedom? Isn't that too "American" a value? Aren't we still slaves to righteousness? (An odd phrasing to say the least, the unspoken implication of the question being that Christians are not "free" because they are bound by all our moral rules.) Doesn't freedom become license, which then becomes grace abuse?

Good questions, glad I asked them for you. Don't let anyone say this blog is not proactively and imaginatively interactive. I would answer all these questions as "yes." Freedom is an American value - but differs from what I'm addressing in that our culture's view of freedom is not of the same type as what I'm going to talk about. And yes, we're to choose to serve righteousness - but the option is to choose to serve sin, meaning that one way or the other we're bound to something. And yes, yes, a million times yes freedom taken too far can easily become license. So let's tread carefully here.

The type of freedom I'm speaking of is deeper than mere social liberty. Freedom as offered by Christ is based on truth. Deceit holds people in bondage; truth sets free. In essence, Christian freedom is the freedom from sin, which permits us to be who and what God intended for us to be. We have the ability, now, to choose to pursue holiness rather than sin.

So how do we use our freedom in a way that applies to this discussion? Looking to scripture as our guide, we note that Peter instructs us to use our freedom as servants of God. That is, with the heart of a servant: humble, seeking to do what gives God glory instead of looking after our own desires. We shouldn't use our freedom as a "cover-up for evil."

So our freedom, in the context of the church, is to be exercised humbly and for good. And quite frankly, for the good of others above ourselves. Ephesians 5 (among other places) has some things to say about that - use your freedom to submit to one another, to think of others more highly than you do yourself. If the church is a community, we should value the freedom we have within that community to do what is good, to do what is beneficial, to do what is selfless.

Next up, another twist on freedom.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere - 1/24/2011 Edition

More fun and frivolity. Or, at least, more links.
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For fans of "Dead Parrot" and geeks, I refer you to this (warning: some comments have some less than uplifting words)

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Ever want an interactive tool that shows you how large, and how small, stuff is? Well now your wish has come true.
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Okay, I love Poe, but I'm not sure if that's the feel I was going for in my last post.

I write like
Edgar Allan Poe

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!


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Is your life average too?
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And finally, my first recipe recommendation: Yum.

God bless,
Ron