Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What is This Church Thing?

Having been properly chastised (thanks Rachel!) for creating this series sans flow, I humbly move forward with my thoughts on church. This is the start of my view of ecclesiology. There are others, and if you have differing views please chime in with a comment.

Having taken on the task of going through the question of megachurches, I find myself needing to start back a bit before getting to the specifics of all things mega. Before getting into the size of a church, I need to cover my view of what the Church is, what it is tasked to do and how we should "do church." This should lead to an inevitably clear view of how I see megachurches before I even get to the question, but that's fine. Really, the mega-question as I posed it is about how we should "do church" and what a Christian church really should be and do.

So let's start at the very beginning. (A very good place to start!) (Or so I've heard.) The beginnings of the Church, in my mind, are found in Matthew where Jesus tells Simon that he (Simon) will be called Peter, and will be the one on whom His (Jesus') Church is built. The Church is the movement that began when Jesus gave Peter a mission.

(Sidebar: Interestingly, the mission wasn't given to Peter until later on. When Jesus first tells Peter that Peter's going to be the one on whom the Church would be built, He didn't start laying out the tasks and vision. In fact, the first thing Jesus says after breaking the news is "not to tell anyone that he was the Christ." This is counter to what the mission of the church would end up being, but the time for the mission wasn't right. There's a lesson in leadership here: give people a vision for what they'll do, and then prepare them for it. Jesus laid out a vision for His Church, then spent the last days of His life instructing the Apostles for how to fulfill that vision. After the preparation time, before He was to return to Heaven, Jesus finally gave them their mission statement. I think those of us in leadership roles, whatever they may be, can learn from this example: vision, preparation, mission. Mix up the order you can end up with confusion.)

Zoom ahead a while, and we see the beginning of the movement that Jesus said was coming. In Acts 2 we see the first church sermon, as it were, on the day of Pentecost. And the first church started with Peter and the Apostles seeing "about three thousand ... added to their number that day." The Church was, and is, those who respond to the Gospel, accepting "in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of [their] sins." (Acts 2:38.)

Paul, in many places but notably in I Corinthians 12 identifies the Church as the "body of Christ" of which all those who were baptized by one spirit into relationship with each other. The Church is also described as the bride of Christ, and a priesthood. There are other biblical (and some extra-biblical, or non-biblical) metaphors used to describe the church as well.

What it boils down to, to me, is that the Church is made up of anyone who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior regardless of culture, gender, race, age or social status. This definition is probably too broad for many fundamentalists (or my fellow evangelicals) as I do not lay forth a specific set of criteria on which to judge whether someone fully accepts "the minimum" standards required to be called Christian. It's probably too limiting to others who may think that Jesus need not be Lord and/or Savior to be relevant to one's life. I realize this. I could try to define the core beliefs necessary to call oneself a Christian and remain true to the name, but that is out of the scope of this topic. Suffice it to say, I would draw the line to the right of center, so to speak, in light of passages like Acts 4:12 and Matthew 7:14-23. But I'm not getting into soteriology here.

So if the Church is, in essence, all believers, why so many churches? I'll end this post on the distinction between the (big-C) Church and a (little-c) church, and will flesh this out in following posts regarding how we "do church." There is the Church, the universal "body of Christ" made up of all those who believe in and follow Jesus. A church, on the other hand, is a localized or regional sub-set of the overall Church. We can't gather all Christians worldwide into one place, so naturally we meet in smaller groups based on some set of criteria: geography, doctrine, methods, modes, styles, personalities, denominational affiliations, relationships, preferences, etc. And these criteria, unfortunately, do more to divide us than they should. Hence the series. So these differences that break up the Church into many churches will be paid much attention in coming posts. And note, not all differences are bad or divisive. Some are good and appropriate. We just need to act better when handling the differences.

This post, as usual, is long enough. Next time up? What is the Church's mission. After that comes the discussion how that mission should be handled when so many of us have different ideas of how to do church, culminating in the mega-part of this topic.

God bless,

Monday, January 26, 2009

Back to it?

Okay, so my off-again, off-again series on the mega-church question is back on. At least for the near future, though part of me wants to do this so I can get back to posting infrequently about other things!

I introduced the question back in '07* as I was getting irritated (yes, level-headed me gets irritated at times) by the way some Christians were piling on churches. Forget unity and the wisdom of handling disagreements private, we Christians are seemingly better at attacking each other than we are at loving each other. Which considering how we should be known is kinda sad.

So that was the motivation. Since that time, I've done more thinking and talking about what makes up a church, and the purposes of the local church. Much of that was driven by some things heard as an elder at my church. It's been revealing hearing from some their views on church. We don't talk much about our ecclesiology, and that is to our detriment I think. When we're not reminded of our purpose, we tend to drift. And little is more important than unity when things like vision and purpose are involved. (Please note: I will NOT talk about specifics from my church as I'm not abusing my position there for blog fodder; the things I'll talk about may be of interest to other attenders, but my point is to the American Evangelical church writ large, not my church specifically. The place to work through our own particular brand of issues - and all churches have them - is within our church.)

I guess that means some of what I'll go into over the next few posts may not be exactly what I'd planned when I first floated the idea of talking through church. It also means I'm open to comments or questions about church in general, not so much just about mega churches.

As a refresher, here are the first few posts from last spring's launch of the series. I'll be back soon with the first actual question and (my shot at an) answer to get us started.

The Mega-Why?
A Megachurch Question - Part New
The Mega Question

God bless,

*Four posts in over a year, and little actual discussion of the question. I'm thinking this might be the longest running, yet least fruitful blog series ever. Oops!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blogging for Choices

Interesting. Today is something called "Blog for Choice" day. Last year's was so "successful" that even a 'net savvy person and multiple-blog reader like me didn't hear of it until this year. Being a giving guy, I'd like to help them out and add one more post to this year's flurry, one that will raise the profile of this "cause" by the at least 3-4 people who visit the Northern 'Burbs Blog.

The question posed by Blog for Choice:
What is your top pro-choice hope for President-elect Obama (he'll be President Obama by the time Blog for Choice Day rolls around!) and/or the new Congress.

My top pro-choice hope is that this nation's leadership will provide for millions of unborn children the opportunity to make choices by letting them live instead of snuffing out their lives before they get to make any choices at all.

That is, I'd like them to call the "pro-choice" movement on its rhetorical bluff and point to the fact that this "choice" to abort is about stealing the right to make choices from the unborn. An aborted baby can never choose anything.

No society permits all choices. You can't legally choose to steal or sell meth in this country to cite two examples. Choice is only a virtue when the thing chosen is virtuous. Abortion isn't virtuous. We need to stop the canard that only pro-abortion folks care about choice.

I care about choice too, but I care about good choices and providing the environment for people to make their own choices (up until those choices are immoral, or when the choices impact others negatively - like abortion does.) When we take someone's life before that person even has a chance to make his or her first choice...well that is about as anti-choice as you can get.

On this anniversary of one of the worst decisions ever made, let's remember that we should be standing against oppression of which abortion is the worst sort. In taking away the life of the unborn, we're also taking away choice.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Trippin' 'Round the Sphere: 1/15/09 Edition

Yes, I'm bringing back the most sought-after and heavily requested feature of this blog!

But before I do that, I'll post this.

Not to cross-promote too heavily, I have a new post up at Galya's Tale.

Also in the "cross-promotion" business, the church has done a site redesign. Let me know what you think.

My wife is applying for a new job. If you are, please withdraw your applications forthwith as this is really her dream job. Seriously.

What is wrong with people? Oh yeah...this.

On the other hand...yeay.

Other families who did the Ukrainian adoption thing: the Jones-Kressins, some other 'Sotans with a great blog name, the Lambeths and a story about Katya. We don't know any of these families, but their stories were fun to read while we were doing the adoption thing. Oh, and I can't forget Bob and Gail - it was their daughter that put us in touch with Angelina through a shared visit to Donetsk Christian University two years ago.