Chuck, the committee, and your church

I’ve enjoyed many of the Chuck Knows Church videos.

This new web series on church revitalization called “The Committee” looks like a good one and a possible resource for churches looking to have a discussion about their own future.

When the church waits to die

Preacher Rich answers the question: What do you do with a church that wants to die?

A good post.

If they ask for bread

This post by Ellen Martin at Seedbed has some links to other good resources regarding healthy sexuality and talking about it in the church.

The post also includes some of Martin’s experiences when she was seeking guidance, correction, and support from the church during a time of bondage to sexual sin.

Six years later when I came to the church to be a part of the body of Christ, I lived in sexual bondage.  I sought guidance and understanding about my sexual temptations and sins.  I wanted to know the voice of Christ.  I asked a young adult ministry leader.  I was told it wasn’t one of the top 10 sins and to not be so hard on myself.  I never went back. I did find a wonderful congregation, but I wandered for weeks and months alone in bondage and shame as I worshipped with no help from the church.  I quit asking because it seemed clear that this was not a conversation the church wanted to have.  It seemed I would have to go at this part of discipleship alone with Jesus.  The world celebrated and offered every opportunity for me to embrace my sexual desires.  The church either condemned my sin, abstained their voice, or belittled my bondage.

 

And you think we are a mess

I’ve been reading a short history of the Byzantine Empire this week.

It has reminded me how deeply the church has been divided for a very long time. For a couple hundred years the doctrine of the two natures of Christ caused turmoil in the Eastern Roman Empire. Riots erupted and emperors were rocked by theological controversies about Jesus Christ. If not for the Muslim conquests, the churches opposed to the Council of Chalcedon would have remained much larger and stronger.

I have also read about numerous divisions between East and West, including the time the Byzantine Empire arrested the sitting Roman pope and dragged him off to prison before he died in exile. Long before the final schism that divided East and West, there were centuries of conflict, excommunication, and strife.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of it all.

Is it a lesson to us that the whole Constantinian project was a mistake? Is it a reminder that the church militant has always been and will always be by schism rent asunder and by heresy distressed? Is it a call to a radical return to apostolic simplicity? Is it a sign of hope that even through all that strife and bloodshed the church endured and Jesus was proclaimed?

When I ponder these questions, it leaves me all feeling a bit like Ecclesiastes.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Eccl. 12: 12b-14)

Obama and the church

I’ve been reflecting upon the nature of the African-American church as reflected in President Obama’s eulogy for the Rev. Clem Pinckney.

I’ve had the privilege at seminary of having classes with pastors from black churches. Their attitudes and experiences reflect what Obama said in the video. The black church has been not just a place to gather for an hour of peace on Sunday morning, but as the central institution in the life of the community. It is the theological, social, political, and economic heart of its people.

I can’t help but feel that in white church we have lost track of this, reducing the church to a fast-food dispenser of spiritual services. And I feel convicted that it is people like me who have let that happen by not stepping up to the work and call of pastoral leadership. It has slipped so far, of course, that most white Christians cannot even imagine what a community of people formed around Jesus Christ even looks like, not white mainline Protestants, at any rate.

I was also struck near the end of the eulogy when the president talked about grace saying we don’t deserve, we get it anyway, but we have to choose how to receive it. Speaking at an AME church, that sounds like good Arminian theology to me.

Politics in the church

In my Annual Conference — Indiana — there is some post-conference grief being expressed because members of an evangelical caucus communicated with members who wanted information about general conference candidates who would share similar theology. I’ve also heard that others engaged in similar activity, but the complaints I’m hearing are aimed at the evangelicals.

On the day of the elections and since, people have expressed anger and disappointment. Some have accused their brothers and sisters in Christ of ugly motives and anti-Christian conduct.

I’m a local pastor without a vote, and I am not a member of any caucus group in my conference, so my thoughts about all this are more as an observer than anything else.

I find it odd for people to say that there is something wrong with people doing political things in the midst of a process that centers on voting for candidates. If we want to take politics out of such things, maybe we should cast lots like in Acts 1. If that is not the way we want to go, it is naive and silly of us to expect politics to play no role in the decisions of the church. I can think of at least two reasons why this is the case.

First, our United Methodist polity is hugely influenced by American republican principles. From the Christmas conference on, we have been doing politics, which is simply unavoidable when you have lots of people trying to organize themselves for common action. Organizing a global denomination involves politics. All you have to do is look at the system our conference adopted in 2014 for the endorsement of candidates to see that this was a political process long before we gathered to vote.

Second, wider church history is full of politics. Last week, a lot of preachers spent time contemplating the mystery of the Trinity and wrestled with how to preach about it. It does not take a great deal of knowledge about church history to know that the ecumenical councils that settled on the final formula of the creed and the Chalcedonian definition were political affairs. So was the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.

Any one who has ever been part of a local church knows that politics is alive and well in the local church, too: bad politics and good politics.

Politics is a human activity, so it is prone to corruption and sin. But it is also an unavoidable part of human life. All the great movements of history that we praise — Civil Rights, abolition, the Methodist movement — were political. Politics is just the name for something that humans do. As a church, we should do our best to prevent sin from corroding our politics, but we should not pretend that politics itself is antithetical to the nature of the church.