Friday, 13 March 2009

Changes in "the church" in my own lifetime...

November 8-9, 2008

Well, I just wanted to say, Lord God, that I am truly sorry for gossiping about my poor old boss. He isn't perfect, but no one is - and he is kind to those who are kind to him and who work hard. Respect! (Please forgive me, Lord). (And please help his business go well)....

Last night in the discussion group I attended, ___ was saying that when they were studying before about the spiritual gifts, it was pointed out that we have often been "programmed to serve" and when a ministry/ type of service that uses our particular gift is not immediately apparent, we allow ourselves to be pushed into an area of "serving" that is someone elses gifting... and thus (I assume) we can miss out (being already busy serving) on a service within our gifting that does come up (and also block someone else from serving in their gifting because we're already doing what should be their service). This is part of good stewardship, I think! And an important principle of "giving" as well (remembering, too, that giving encompasses time, talents, and treasure).

I keep wondering if "writing" is a "gift"... at least it is an important form of communication... one used very importantly and effectively by Paul, Luke, Peter, James, etc.... and which, I believe, can definitely fall into the category of teaching! (Also related to apostles - eye-witnesses of Jesus, prophets - forth-telling and fore-telling... even useful in communicating in the areas of helps, administrations, word of wisdom and knowledge, even distinguishing of spirits ...).

And, while preaching may not be a "gift" in the sense of these others - it covers exhorting and proclaiming, and like writing, is a form of communicating the messages of the other giftings... it is a commission to all believers. Of course, some people are particularly "gifted" in certain forms of communications... including writing or preaching...

November 26, 2008

Thinking more about yesterday's posting... this time relative to changes we are seeing in "the church." Recently there seems to be a lot of movement toward emphasis on relationship with God, and also on relationships with other believers (often with attendant changes in structure, such as the growth of house-churches, changing worship styles, and so on). Some folks seem really disturbed by these changes, seeing them as a departure from stability and tradition and custom, indeed as departure from "truth" and from what "church" is really about.

And yet, in reality, in many ways these are simply a return to much older traditions of the church - and to the basic beliefs of what "the church" really is, and its foundation which rests on God reaching out to man, through the sacrificial gift of His Son, as God longed to restore the relationship basis for which he created humankind in the beginning, but which man in his desire for independence, destroyed.
It seems to me that so many of the "church traditions" which appear to be threatened are really "traditions of man" that have been absorbed from the world around the church, and that "church" as we have known it in the past really has borne little similarity to the church of Jesus Christ as we see its beliefs and practices described in the New Testament.

No doubt this is a continuing problem; it was certainly already happening in New Testament times. In my own lifetime, in the past half-century, I myself have witnessed the building of "traditions" which really have been drawn from the surrounding society.

I think, for example, of simple things like the switch from hymns to choruses to "Contemporary Christian Music" and so on. Of course this has happened over and over through the centuries, and in some, perhaps many, cases has enriched the church. Still, such a change often seems to be something that ends up causing great anguish within the body. The "new music," for example, is most often defended as a way to "attract the youth" - and yet, more often that not, at the same time it ends up alienating the elders, especially if the new is embraced almost completely in favor against the old, even though the music itself is often very beautiful, worshipful and strong in theology.

I think, though, that the issue really isn't the "style" of music itself. It seems to me that it goes much deeper, into the "heart" of the matter. Music and other aspects of worship behavior affect us so deeply, because at root, they are so closely tied to our personal experience of, and walk with, God. I suppose that this also applies to changes in architecture, acceptable clothing, and yes, even the color of carpets. The environment in which any one of us came to belief, and grew therein, very easily becomes "holy" in itself, often taking precedence over the belief itself - even taking precedence over the object of our belief and worship, God Himself, until we begin to lose sight of what it is we truly believe, of what is most fundamental and foundational.

Another aspect of change in my lifetime that comes to mind is various "movements," such as the "seeker-sensitive movement." The very moniker given to this movement illustrates it's preoccupation: the church seems to be more interested in attracting (dare I say, entertaining and pleasing?) the "seeker," than in worshiping and being in relationship with God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Indeed, while evangelism is important, it is always meant to point people to relationship with God and other believers, and to worship of God, rather than to build up numbers of people who will support and further the organization that has come to consider itself the "church."

The "church" in the New Testament was the gathering of believers, with their relationship to "one another" and their relationship to the "head of the body," Christ. It is interesting to note that when the New Testament Church gathered, it was for the purposes of worship, of teaching those who were already believers, of fellowship and caring for those in the body. Evangelism took place in the marketplaces and other gathering places of the world, for the most part, as well as individual to individual (relationship-based, in family, work, etc.) in response to the commission to "go into all the world and preach the gospel."

But our society is so me-centered, and we as the church have, in the recent past, fallen into the same posture. No longer is the message the message of the cross, nor is the call one to repentance and turning from the kingdom of the world to sacrificial servant-hood in the Kingdom of God. Rather it has become a rosy-tinted-glasses message of personal success and entertainment and enjoyment which drives our society - so that appeals such as the "health, wealth, and prosperity" gospel can receive such wide acceptance in the North American "church" scene, even though it not only runs counter to the principles and example of the New Testament Church, but even makes no sense (and in fact is obscene) in terms of the reality of the pain and suffering in the greater part of today's world.

Of course, none of this is new information; and many others have explained it far more succinctly and clearly than I am now doing. Still, I believe it really is important to take a serious look at our treasured "traditions," examining them to see where they really came from, and how they line up with the Bible message. I also think that there is great value in the "new" ways of thinking about the church, so long as they are truly rooted in the basic, fundamental foundations of the Christian faith.

Finally, I also think that we need to be very cautious as we seek for "ways" to return to real, truly "traditional" Christian belief. In fact, it is far more important to go back and carefully re-examine what it is we truly believe, or rather Who we believe in, and what that means in our lives as followers and believers of Christ, and then seek, by the mercy of God and the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, to grow up into Him. If we instead start by trying to change methods of worship, structures of organization, and so forth, are we not in great danger of missing the real point?

I do not mean to say that our "experience" and "structure" as the church, the body of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God in this place and time must be a carbon copy of the New Testament experience. I also do not mean to say that there is no value in the various "traditions" which have had great influence in the spiritual journey of each of us in the different places and times and cultures of ourselves and of our forebearers. God is a Being of immense creativity, and I am sure He delights in the multiplicity of ways in which his children worship Him. But let us not get so wrapped up in the "how" that we lose sight of the "Who." If we lose sight of what being a "Christian" - a "Christ-follower" - is really about, then all the "hows," no matter how attached we are to them, cease to have the eternal meaning, value, and purpose God has intended for his children, individually and as His Kingdom and family, the church of His Son, Jesus Christ.

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