Archives For November 2012

TRUST

November 20, 2012 — 2 Comments

Surely no one can fail to recognize the importance of “red and blue” states in the recent presidential campaign. There seems to be an increasing cultural polarization in this country. While there are those, such as Morris Fiorina, who argue otherwise, most agree that there is a culture war going on in America. While I’m not sure politics is any dirtier today than the character assassination that took place during the campaign  between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1800, no one can deny that the current campaign is a political war reflecting an underpinning culture war. I’m personally saddened by the actions of Christian friends who have gotten so caught up in the name calling, lies, and extremely uncivil behavior.

While the election of 1800 was a dirty, discordant affair, the subject of my last two posts makes our current divisiveness more troubling. In 1800 our country was more rural, less secular, with significantly greater social capital. Significant social cohesion is necessary for both a successful, free democratic society and a flourishing capitalistic economic system. Both depend a great deal upon mutual trust. Francis Fukuyama, in his seminal work, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity,  points out that despite the pride Americans take in being rugged individualists, the United States, like Germany and Japan, “has historically been a high-trust, group-oriented society.”[i]  A free economy requires individuals, and businesses operated by individuals, to enter into agreements with each other. These agreements can be viewed simply as a matter of contractual arrangements. However, these social and economic contracts require a certain amount of trust in order for the participating parties to be willing to risk entering into the contract. Fukuyama compared the high trust, group-oriented societies of the United States, Germany, and Japan, with low-trust, family oriented societies such as Italy, France, Spain, certain Catholic Latin American countries, and other Asian cultures like the Republic of China. He concluded that these latter groups have experienced difficulty in creating large private economic organizations. In these cultures the family is the basic economic unit, and there are logical limits to the size of most organizations when run by single families. This means that either the economic growth is limited, or the state has to step in and help create the large corporate organizations for a country to be globally competitive.[ii]

This tendency toward state involvement is seen even in our country. As we have increasingly lost social capital as a result of the processes of urbanization, secularization, and other modern forces, we have witnessed an increasing involvement of the state. This is a cause for concern.Fukuyamasees the continuing loss of social capital as a grave danger for our nation. In order to compete in an increasingly global economy, we must continue to build the kind of social cohesion and trust we have historically enjoyed in this country. However, we are presently living on “borrowed” social capital.

Our nation became great because of our civil associations and strong communities. It is these civil associations and strong community connections that build the kind of trust needed for a vibrant democracy.  The church is called by God to be a covenant community that builds trust among neighbors. Nothing builds trust faster than people loving their neighbor as they love themselves. On the other hand, if we continue to amplify our emphasis upon individual rights, with the concurrent loss of social capital,  while at the same time retreating into our religious enclaves, we run the risk, at the very least, of endangering our economic prosperity and doing great damage to this noble experiment in American democracy. We endanger our very way of life. We set at risk our freedom and liberties.

What role can the church play in building trust in our society?                             

[i]Francis Fukuyama, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, (New York: The Free Press, 1995) p. 10.                                                                                             [ii]Ibid. p. 12.

A HUNGER FOR CONNECTION

November 20, 2012 — Leave a comment

Robert Wuthnow, well-known sociologist at Princeton University, indicates that his research reveals  a hungering for a sense of social connection in our country, but that current trends do not seem to satisfy. One indication of this hunger, Wuthnow insists, is the tremendous growth of the small group movement. These small groups take many forms including AA, growth groups, and therapeutic groups led by trained professionals.[i]  The church has joined this endeavor as well, with Bible study and fellowship groups.

In fact, one of the fastest growing concepts in congregational life is that of the “cell church.” This is a congregation where the primary way of “doing” church is small groups meeting in homes during the week. On Sunday the members of the various groups come together for a mass celebrative worship service. Another growing configuration is the “Simple” or “Organic” church movement. There are many indications that these may become the dominant form of the Christian church during the new millennium.

While small groups often do an excellent job helping fill the spiritual, social, and psychological needs of many people, all indications are that they do not serve the same function and do not adequately replace the more civic-based community life. In addition, most churches do not fully recognize this hunger for community, and even when we do, many create a type of community that does not necessarily contribute to the common good of all people. Notwithstanding the fact that small groups provide many positive benefits , including increasing bonding social capital as discussed in the previous post, it should be recognized that small groups can draw people away from community and civic involvement rather than increasing that kind of engagement. It is therefore imperative that the church be intentional about creating bridging social capital as well as bonding social capital.

Do you have small groups in your church that bridge the gap between racial, social, and economic barriers? Does you church support ministries to the least, the last, and the lost, or do you build genuine connections with the least, the last, and the lost?

What kind of community are you creating? Are you only producing an enclave of  “bonding” social capital or are you also producing the kind of inclusive “bridging” social capital that reflects the demands of the gospel?

[i]Robert Wuthnow, Sharing the Journey: Support Groups and the Quest for a New Community (New York: Free Press, 1994).

(Does Church Make a Difference? was first published on 2/1/2012)

A recent study by The Barna Group called “What People Experience in Churches” is quite troubling. “Practicing Christians” who attended church services at least once a month and indicated that religious faith is very important in their life were polled. Less than 50% of these indicated that “Attending church affected my life greatly.” Less than 30% indicated that church attendance made a real difference. Amazingly, 46% of regular participants indicated that church attendance had no affect on their lives either positively or negatively. Willow Creek’s extensive Reveal Study told us essentially the same thing: Their web site reports, “After five years of studying 280,000 in-depth responses from congregants in 1,200 churches across a wide variety of denominations, we have learned “Church activity IS NOT a blueprint for spiritual growth.”

My personal experience in two denominations over a period of 60 plus years affirms what these studies claim. Even churches that are good at helping people make a profession of faith are not very good at helping people grow into mature, committed disciples of Jesus Christ. We seem to been better at getting people “justified” than getting them “sanctified.”

I’m afraid this may be true because we have largely forgotten how to help individuals grow to maturity. This is especially unfortunate for us Methodist since John Wesley put so much emphasis on this very issue. Maturity (Wesley called it perfection) was at the very heart of Wesley’s movement. He took cold, spiritually sick church members, recruited them into small accountability groups, and helped them grow in Christ. He took those who were actually unwanted in the churches of his day because of their social status and transformed their lives through the same process. In addition, he reached many who had simply come to believe that the church was no longer relevant to their lives. Sound familiar?

The good news is that there are churches making mature disciples. It does happen in traditional churches. Perhaps it happens more often in places like twelve step groups, Walk to Emmaus, Cursillo, covenant groups, and some organic/simple churches. These latter churches are sometimes called simple because they focus on the core process of making disciples and are not involved in a lot of the other things that most churches do.

There is a great deal of discussion going on in the  United Methodist Church today about the Call To Action. Some believe the recommended actions will reform the United Methodist Church. Others believe it will turn out to be another occasion for “shuffling the chairs on the Titanic.” Ralph Franklin, my college band director used to tell us when we face a problem, “Do something, even if its wrong. If it is wrong you’ll have plenty of people to let you know.” Perhaps the Call To Action will be something even if its wrong. And no doubt there will be plenty of people to point out its faults.

 

At least among many of the leaders in the Christian church in this country there is a sense that something is not quite right, or perhaps even terribly wrong. At a time when millions of Americans are seeking spiritual renewal the church is being abandoned. The church seems increasingly irrelevant to the lives of many. Surely, few would argue that the church has lost much of its influence in society. Over the years my own denomination has shuffled the chairs on the deck numerous times trying to revitalize our churches. There is currently a great deal of debate about proposed changes at the upcoming General Conference. Unfortunately, none of the changes over the years has stopped the bleeding and I see no current proposals that will do so.

What is really needed is actually quite easy to explicate. The problem is,  it is extremely difficult to implement. The idea is simple but to deploy the idea requires a major paradigm shift. And it’s not that we don’t know the answer. We talk about it all the time. We give it relentless lip service.

What we need to revitalize our churches is a constant focus on our mission. Unlike the early years of my ministry, most churches today have a mission statement. If not their own, they claim their denomination’s. The United Methodist Church, for example, has a great mission statement: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The problem is that we write these statements but our members do not “own” these statements. Most members of most churches couldn’t quote their mission statement if their lives depended upon it. But even familiarity with the statement doesn’t mean the members really accept it as their mission. Unless church members, especially its leaders, “own” the statement and are guided by it when making decisions, a mission statement isn’t worth the ink used to record it.

The church’s mission is given to us by God. Each church can decide exactly how they will state the mission, but our mission is made clear in Matthew 28:19-20a. We call it the Great Commission. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you” (CEB). While the mission is given to us by God we must constantly keep this before our congregation, frequently proclaiming and teaching its centrality.

Use the mission statement to guide decision-making. This cannot be emphasized too much. A mission statement filed in a drawer or even hanging on a wall and printed on the front of your Sunday’s bulletin, is useless unless it is utilized in planning and decision-making. This is where the rubber hits the road. It’s also where most churches end up taking the familiar road rather than the less traveled road that leads to the accomplished mission given to us by God.

Most churches are engaged in a lot of wonderful activities. The question that should be asked of each is, “How much does this activity contribute to our mission?” and “Could we use our invested time, talent, and treasure more effectively in some other way?” A mission statement, when actually used is the best tool we have to set proper priorities. Churches who use this tool make more disciples and do more to transform the world.

(Christian Accountability Part IV was first published on 9/13/2011)

In the past three blogs I have written about the importance of accountability as an essential element in the process of making disciples. I believe the church could be revolutionized if most active participants would enter into a mutually accountable relationship with one or more other believers. This process was demonstrated by Jesus and was the method he used to train and equip the twelve.

There is an additional important attribute of accountability that should not be overlooked. Every Christian is called to be  personally accountable for the work of the kingdom. Every parent is called to be personally accountable for their role as parent. Every citizen is called to be accountable for their citizenship.

How many times do we hear church members complain that somebody should do something about some problem in the church? Somebody should start a new Sunday School class. Somebody should volunteer to work with the youth. How often do we hear people complain that somebody should do something to repair our community’s roads or make our neighborhood safe or improve the education our children are getting.

People often ask who, why, and when questions. “When is someone (else) going to do something to solve that problem?” And when someone does step up and things don’t go perfectly, we hear folks ask, “Who messed up?” “Why did they do THAT.” Our human tendency is to complain and blame.

We should be asking what questions.  And the most important question is “What can I do?” What can I do to make a difference? What can I do to solve that problem or at least help others solve that problem.

I spoke on the subject of accountability recently at a Rotary Club. A physician came up to me after the meeting and told me about a patient of his who worked for the post office. He complained to her about the inefficiency of the postal service and particularly about how they sometimes lost mail. She responded by indicating that she understood how he felt. She then proceeded to describe a personal experience.

She told about seeing a letter on the floor at the postal distribution center where she worked. She explained that the letter stayed on the floor for several days. When the doctor asked the lady why she didn’t pick the letter up, she responded, “Oh, well, it was not in my department.”

I wonder how different our nation would be if all of us held ourselves personally accountable for doing what we could to make a difference. I wonder how different our churches would be if every member stopped asking the  who, why, and when questions and began asking the important what question. What would happen if, rather than blaming and complaining, we responded to every issue by asking what we can do? That is the kind of accountability that can transform our churches and truly make disciples that transform the world.

(Christian Accountability–Part III was first published on 9/6/2011)

My first seminary degree was a Master of Religious Education. I learned that most adults retain about 5% of what they hear in a lecture, perhaps 10% of what we read, and possibly 20% of what we see and hear in an audio-visual presentation. Retention increases to around 30% when we see something actually demonstrated. When we participate in a lively discussion we retain even more of the material. If we actually put new information into practice studies show that average retention increases to around 75%. However, if we really want to increase learning we will make teachers out of everyone. Research consistently reveals that we remember approximately 90% of what we teach to others.

If our mission in the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, perhaps we should use his teaching and training  methods. Of course, he occasionally sat down to teach the multitudes in a lecture fashion. But he spent most of his time demonstrating, discussing, and using what educators call “praxis.”  Praxis is the process by which a lesson or skill is actually put into practice. Jesus didn’t send his disciples to seminary for several years before he sent them out to minister to others. He encouraged them to “get their feet wet” as soon as possible. He used OJT (on the job training). He hung out with his disciples 24/7. They all lived together in an accountable relationship where Jesus served as their coach and mentor.

Is it any wonder that the church today is so ineffective at making disciples? Our primary methods are preaching (lecture), reading, and some discussion. However, even the discussion is often what I call “pooling our ignorance.” It’s more about expressing our opinions about various issues than about how we can become better disciples of Jesus Christ. There is little or no accountability in our current disciple-making methods.

Disciples are made by a process of praxis within accountable relationships. How would this work within the context of our churches? There are actually several ways this is being done by many Christians today. The best example is probably among the growing movement of churches that are known by various names: Simple Church, House Church, Organic Church. But it can also happen within our more traditional churches. Among United Methodists it  is done under the name of “Accountable” or “Covenant Discipleship.” There are various methodologies in addition to the Covenant Discipleship  method promoted by the UMC Board of Discipleship. Neil Cole describes a very successful process in his book Organic Church. Frank Viola has written extensively on the subject. In his book House Church Manual William Tenny-Brittian explains  what he calls “Journey Groups.” These are small groups who gather not to impart knowledge, but rather for the purpose of “self-discovery and accountability.”

There is no one way to make disciples. But surely most of us in the church can agree that our current methods are ineffectual. Perhaps its time to test some new wineskins. To mix our metaphors a bit, we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, but perhaps we can find better ways to nurture the baby to maturity. There are a lot of wonderful things going on in churches throughout our country and around the world. But, there is so much potential to do so much more to make a difference by making disciples

( Christian Accountability-Part II) was first published on 8/31/11 

Jesus gave his followers their mission statement in Matthew 28:18-20. “Jesus came near and spoke to them, “ I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (CEB). We even call this “the Great Commission.” Therefore, the church’s mission is to “make disciples.” My own denomination, The United Methodist Church, has recognized this for a long time and first reflected it in a mission statement in 2000. This statement simply said, “The mission of the church is to make disciples.” In 2008 General Conference added the words “for the transformation of the world.”

Of course this raises the profound question of how disciples are made, which is really what this blog is all about. After years of seminary training and a lifetime of attempts as a lay Christian and a clergyperson, I have to confess that I have not been very effective. I’m still asking this question, “How do I  make[i] disciples?

Having confessed my ineffectiveness over the years I will also share that I have seen more positive results in the last year and a half. So much so that I retired from the full-time pastorate in order to spend more time “making disciples,” or at least “helping” others become disciples. The key to greater success for me  has been a renewed emphasis on biblical accountability.

Years ago when I began to seriously question how disciples are made I began to look around me for those who were successful. I discovered that while some were more effective than others, I could find no ” exemplar ” that really reflected what I saw in the New Testament. The closest thing I observed was the cell model. These churches usually hold a weekly celebratory worship service that encourages the entire congregation to attend. It also encourages the members to meet weekly in small groups, usually in someone’s home.

For many years I tried to transition the churches I served to this kind of model, or at least to create as many small “spiritual growth groups” as possible. I experienced some modest success with this. And I saw some spiritual growth take place in the lives of the people with whom I served. However, I had only limited success getting people to participate in the small groups since most church members saw these as an additional “add on” activity to already busy lives. And even with those who actively participated I did not see the spiritual growth that I anticipated.

Frustrated with my limited success I began to look again into the past history of the church. Coming from the Methodist tradition I examined closely the ministry of John Wesley. I had learned in seminary about his class meetings. These were small groups of Christians who gathered for mutual accountability. In 1983 David Lowes Watson published a book entitled Accountable Discipleship: Handbook for Covenant Discipleship Groups in the Congregation. In this book David explained how to contextualize  Wesley style class meetings in our modern American setting. In 1991 he  updated this book, renaming it Covenant Discipleship: Christian Formation Through Mutual Accountability.  I met David in the mid 80’s; I tried to introduce his procedures into my church but found little interest. I think the objection was that it simply appeared too demanding for those in my congregation.

For several years I limped along trying to get people into small groups, all the while attempting to keep people motivated to attend worship, Sunday School, and a whole host of other church activities expected of “good” church members.”

God has always given me a deep sensitivity for those a friend of mine calls the least, the last, the lost, and the lowly. Increasingly, God seemed to be sending people to me with addiction problems. Over the years I had encouraged many people to get involved in a 12 step problem, having studied the steps enough to realize they come right out of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, specifically the Beatitudes. I had long ago realized that Alcoholics Anonymous was a life-transforming organization. While it receives criticism from some people the fact is I know of no other group that has helped so many survive addictions and radically improve their lives.

About a year and a half ago I began a Celebrate Recovery program. Having developed a relationship with several people in recovery I asked these friends to help organize this new Christian 12 step program. Through this process I came to a new appreciation for AA. I had always known about their process of personal, one on one sponsorship. I have come to believe that this is the most powerful part of the AA program. The AA meetings are important.  Having a personal sponsor is crucial for those with a serious addiction problem.

Over the last couple of years as I have come to know more and more people in successful recovery and whose lives have been radically altered in an amazing way, I have realized the importance of a mutual accountability partner in spiritual growth. I have become totally convinced that this is the missing ingredient in our disciple making process.

I’m not suggesting that a Christian cannot grow without this. Some alcoholics stop drinking without a sponsor. But making this the foundational component of our core process and building in this expectation among church members would, I believe, make a powerful contribution to the revolution we all seek in the church. In Christian Accountability-Part III I will suggest some ways this can be done.

[i] I’m a little uncomfortable with the translation “make disciples.” In reality I can’t “make” a disciple. I can only “help” an individual become a disciple. I can encourage, offer training, create a conducive environment, etc.

(Christian Accountability-Part I was first posted on 8/22/2011) 

I read a blog recently on the Internet in which the writer made his case against the concept of Christian accountability. He made several good points. Biblical accountability can erode into hurtful judgmentalism. It can become more about law than grace, more about rules than love and mercy. Many years ago while in seminary I wrote a paper for my church history class using primary sources from a local church association. A hundred years ago people were commonly kicked out of these churches for some transgression. I, for one, would not like to see us return to this kind of condemnatory environment.

As I read the blog writer’s arguments against accountability in the church I was preparing my response in my head. But when I finished the article I saw the huge number of responses already posted. Almost all of them questioned the writer’s experience with accountability and suggested that the problem was not with the idea of accountability but rather with the misuse of accountability. Should we do away altogether with churches because some churches abuse its members?

I was amazed at the number of people who responded to this blog with personal testimony of how their lives had been changed because they had participated in an accountable relationship with another person. Many of these had experienced these through Alcoholics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery programs.

Mutual accountability is clearly called for in the New Testament. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let’s also think about how to motivate each other to show love and to do good works. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near. James 5:16a tells us, “For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Galatians 6: 1-2 reads, “Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too.  Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Notice that this correction is not done in a judgmental manner. It is done with “gentleness.” It is done with a keen awareness that we ourselves are not without sin and could easily fall into similar temptation. We are to engage in this kind of restoration with those whom we are willing to help carry any burdens they may have. In fact, our work of restoration is likely to be much more effective when we have already helped the individual carry some burden. In other words, our restorative role grows out of our mutually supportive role. The individual must know they are being corrected because they are deeply loved in Christ.

It was almost forty years ago that I wrote that church history paper. While I still don’t want us to revert to an environment of judgmentalism I am more convinced than ever that the major reason the church has become so ineffective at making disciples is that we abandoned an unchristian form of accountability but have never replaced it with a biblical style of accountability. George Barna insists his research reveals that less than 3% of all Christians in America are involved in any kind of accountable relationship with one or more other Christians. He suggests that Christians in America seem to be confused about the difference between judmentalism and spiritual discernment.

This country was founded by a group of people who cherished their individual freedom. “Individualism” is a core American value, more so than perhaps anywhere else in the world. We treasure our privacy and take pride in our ability to solve our own problems. We keep our troubles and tribulations to ourselves and are uncomfortable  sharing them with others. To a great extent because we are afraid that others will see our problems as a moral weakness.

So, we can see that the scripture clearly calls us be accountable to each other. The church, as we know it in America, is NOT holding each other accountable. So how do we do this without degrading into an unhealthy, unholy form of judgementalism? We will discuss that in “Christian Accountability-Part II.”

Christendom Vs. Christianity

November 19, 2012 — 2 Comments

Christendom Vs. Christianity was first published on 8/13/2011) 

In his book House Church Manual William Tenny-Brittian insists “the institutional church is in trouble in the United  States. According to Tom Clegg, the Western culture is the only culture in which Christianity is an endangered species.” He goes on to point out that, according to Clegg, the church is “losing more than three million people each year”  with three times more churches closing than opening. He reports that Thom Rainer’s research indicates that “it takes the combined efforts of eighty-five Christians over the period of one year to produce one convert to the faith. And get this. “Worse yet, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia, the institutional church spends $1,551,466 for each new convert” (William Tenny-Brittian, House Church Manual,St. Louis,Missouri, 2004 p. 2).

There are many great things going on in churches throughout the United States. But when we do an honest checkup the modern American church has to admit many failures. There is, of course, nothing new with this. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) blasted the established church of his day with his Attack On Christendom. He recognized that the church had become politicized, institutionalized, and spiritually impotent. Famed Christian writer and speaker Malcolm Muggeridge insisted in his book The End of Christendom that Christendom is something very different from Christianity. He described the former as an administrative or power structure created by humankind. He admitted it might be argued that it is viewed by many as an institutional form of Christianity, but he said this is like confusing laws with justice or ;moral codes with moral behavior.

Even the famous Catholic theologian Karl Rahner argued that Christendom would not survive as an institutional religion forever. He wrote in his book Mission and Grace: Essays in Pastoral Theology (vol. 1, trans. Cecily Hastings, London: Sheed and Ward, 1963, page 25) “On the contrary, the Christendom of the Middle Ages and after, peasant and individualistic petty-bourgeois Christendom, is going to disappear with ever increasing speed. For the causes which have brought about this process in the West are still at work and have not yet had their full effect.” Loren Mead, in his seminal work called The Once and Future Church (1991), made essentially the same arguments.

Of course, there are parts of theUnited States, like the area in which I live, where institutional forms of Christendom are still relatively strong. But any student of history realizes that the cultural changes we see in Europe eventually make it to America. Cultural changes we often first observe in California, eventually make their way across the continent.

But now comes the question. Is the death of the “established, institutionalized church” we’ve been calling Christendom, really a bad thing? I’m one of those who think it just may not be. Could it be that the death of “cultural Christianity leads us to a more vibrant, life-transforming faith? I pray that it does. As we have already seen in an earlier blog, the overwhelming evidence suggests that Christendom in America is not producing disciples of Jesus Christ who live different lifestyles from the rest of society. Most Christians in the United States engage in the same behavior as their neighbors and ratify the same consumerist values. Most Christians live without ever discovering the exciting, life-transforming existence, with the meaning, purpose, and peace that God had planned for them.

All the way back to 1961 Sociologist Peter Berger published his book The Noise of Solemn Assemblies: Christian Commitment and the Religious Establishment in America (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co.)  in which he argued that the disestablishment of the American church would not be a bad thing. American society possesses a cultural religion that is vaguely derived from the Judae-Christian tradition and that contains values generally held by most Americans. The cultural religion gives solemn ratification to these values. The cultural religion is politically established on all levels of government, receiving from the state both moral and economic support. . . Affiliation with a religious denomination thus becomes ipso facto an act of allegiance to the common political creed. Disaffiliation, in turn, renders an individual not only religiously but also politically suspect” (page 63). 

Berger published this in 1961. We can already see from what he wrote here that much disestablishment has already taken place since then. But is this bad or good? He goes on to write “Our churches can then be accepted as an essentially harmless ingredient of a social reality that we are willing to live with. There is one crucial assumption, however, that we must be willing to abandon–namely, the assumption that these churches have anything to do with the message of the New Testament and the historic experience of the Hebrew people” (page 112).

These are only a few of those who have predicted the fall of Christendom’s institutional form of the Christian religion and the disestablishment of its influence in our culture. There are many today who even predict a coming time of persecution. There have also been many in the past who believed that the disestablishment of the church will be a positive thing for the living, organic faith of Jesus Christ.

 

I Have a Dream

November 19, 2012 — Leave a comment

I Have a Dream was first published on 8/5/11) 

In the Introduction to his 2008 book Reimagining Church Frank Viola writes on page 27:

   I have a dream that one day the church of Jesus Christ will rise up to her God-given calling and begin to live out the true meaning of her identity–which is, the very heartthrob of God Almighty–the fiancée of the King of all Kings.

   I have a dream that Jesus Christ will one day be Head of His Church again. Not in pious rhetoric, but in reality.

   I have a dream that groups of Christians everywhere will begin to flesh out the New Testament reality that the church is a living organism and not an institutional organization.

   I have a dream that the clergy/laity divide will someday be an antique of church history, and the Lord Jesus Himself will replace the moss-laden system of human hierarchy that has usurped his authority among His people.

   I have a dream that multitudes of God’s people will no longer tolerate those man-made systems that have put them in religious bondage and under a pile of guilt, duty, condemnation, making them slaves to authoritarian systems and leaders.

   I have a dream that the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ will be the focus, the mainstay, and the pursuit of every Christian and every church. And that God’s dear people will no longer be obsessed with spiritual and religious things to the point of division. But that their obsession and pursuit would be a person–the Lord Jesus Christ.

   I have a dream that countless churches will be transformed from high-powered business organizations into spiritual families–authentic Christ-centered communities–where the members know one another intimately, love one another unconditionally, bleed for one another deeply, and rejoice with one another unfailingly.

   I have a dream today. . .    

Of course, Frank is adapting here Martin Luther King’s famous speech delivered in Washington, D. C. in 1963. Hearing King’s speech has always moved me deeply. I get watery eyes every time I hear even a small portion of it. I’m also deeply moved by Frank Viola’s version.

I’ve given a huge chunk of my life to see this dream come true. But most of my experiences in the church have been far from the dream. Oh, I feel like I have been to the mountaintop a few times. I’ve had glimpses of what it might be. Just enough to still believe that it could become a reality.

Can the church, you and me, become the soul-giving, life-transforming, covenant community God calls us to be? Can we really learn to practice the priesthood of the believer and unleash the laity as the Bible clearly teaches? Can we all learn to walk the walk  as well as some of us can talk the talk?

I still think we can. I’m not giving up because. . . well, because I have a dream today. . .