It was almost 20 years ago now. We sat around a stack of pizza boxes, yellow legal pads and number number two pencils in hand, and we agonized over language that would clarify our purpose and our values as a Worship Ministry team at a church in Bloomington, MN. It was painful.
But it was fruitful. This was the brotherhood. My team of Levites. Worship leaders and lead worshipers and partners and my best friends. We wrangled and argued and refined and prayed and read the Bible and fought to find the words that would guide us in worship ministry over the next decade and a half. Further, it would come to be the guiding document for the worship ministry in a new church plant that I would join a few years later. We have co-opted these words and leaned on them as a guiding path for ministry in several capacities since, including the worship and arts ministry of the church I am serving as Pastor as of this year, St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Though I am a lead Pastor now, the first 20 years of my ministry life were spent leading worship ministry teams.
When I speak to churches about worship ministry, I strongly advocate entering into the process of developing and clarifying a team-wide biblical ministry purpose, and values that reflect the overall mission and values of your congregation. Clarifying words give the ministry team a TARGET. It’s hard to measure whether or not your ministry is accomplishing it’s goal if the ministry has no clear idea what that goal is. But the process of writing our purposes, mission statements, values… ouch. You sweat blood. So I’m not talking about banging this out in a couple hours over some delicious Papa John’s on a Friday night. Nope. It will probably take you months. And lots of frustration. And a few blessed light-bulb moments. And prayer.
But then, when you get to the end of the process, and the whole Team is on board and committed… the synergy and the unity and the depth of fellowship in that ministry is hard to put into words.
For more than 15 years I haven’t changed a word from what we started with in those pizza box sessions in Bloomington. Not a single word. Because I BELIEVED in them, and I believed God had granted us clarity, blessing, and direction. I still believe that.
However, purpose statements are only valuable to the degree that they point you to a biblical target that reflects the heart of God and is rooted in the truth. Purpose statements ought to be developed CAREFULLY, and PRAYERFULLY, so that they coalesce a ministry Team around a clear and truly God-honoring rallying cry. To the degree they reflect scripture, they will be helpful. To the degree that they misdirect away from scripture, they will be harmful.
So here we are. More than 15 years later. And we needed to make a change.
I guess this was born out of a season of looking at our theological positions under a microscope. Having just launched a new website for St. Olaf Lutheran Church, our deacons and I have been dissecting and finessing the wording on our site in the “who we are” and “what we believe” sections. As I went to post our Worship and Arts Ministry Purpose and Values, I realized something that flew under the radar for all these years.
Our original purpose for worship ministry looked like this:
“We exist to model and facilitate deeply significant worship expressions that result in transformed lives.”
My focal points in this statement have always been on (1) both modeling AND facilitating worship, and (2) transformed lives. In other words, we don’t just lead worship, we model it. And secondly, we expect God the transformer to change people into His image if His Spirit is moving as we worship.
But we need clarity when we express theological positions. And here’s the rub… I realized that in these words we had actually taken on responsibility here as a Team that we were never intended to carry. Because worship is always RESPONSE to God the initiator, “worship expressions” don’t RESULT in transformed lives at all. That is assigning power to the act of worship that it does not and can not hold.
So, lo these 15+ years hence, I have made a change. Our purpose statement now reads, “We exist to model and facilitate deeply significant worship expressions that REFLECT transformed lives.”
BOOM. The power of the GOSPEL changes people. Worship is the response.
When I think of parsing the world into categories, I remember the words of Bob Wiley: “There are two types of people in this world: those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t.”
Here I nod my head in affirmation. Hard to be on the fence about Neil Diamond.
But there is a deeper division yet to be found among us – a starkly contrasted gulf separating one side from the other. Beyond politics. Beyond our opinions of Country Western music or our positions on relative morality vs. absolute truth…
A friend of mine wears a P.E.T.A. hat with a camouflage background, and in small print, the words “People Eating Tasty Animals.” Thus the world is divided.
Meat-eaters and non-meat-eaters.
To all of you vegans and tofurky lovers… You edamame snackers and soy milk chuggers… All of you sprout eating animal huggers… the culinary gap between you and me is so vast that I will probably need to consider this post cross-cultural missions. Even so, welcome.
To all of you bacon eating, brat grilling, pulled pork dipping, BBQ savoring, turkey roasting, elk hunting, jerkey gnawing, steak chewing meat eaters out there… welcome. We view the world through a similar lens, you and me. A lens through which Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is like a Mecca to which an annual pilgrimage seems the least we can do. We are kindred spirits.
My goal in this post is to be a peacemaker. To build bridges of understanding and unity between the “Good Earth” crowd and the “Famous Dave’s” Afficianodos. Like Jews and Gentiles, Republicans and Democrats, Red Vines chewers and the Twizzlers-Only crowd, I believe there is common ground to be found in Romans 14.
Often in ministry life, leaders run into situations where there is tension between divided camps. And often these tensions arise over issues of Christian freedom. This is nothing new. Paul experienced this from the very start of the church.
Romans 14 lays it out. Here we see two camps, clearly divided. The meat-eaters and the non-meat-eaters. But this divide wasn’t so much a lifestyle choice or a philosophical hang-up about the ethical treatment of animals. This divide was about religious freedom.
The pagan Roman culture surrounding the congregation in Rome was marked by excesses. Food and wine were habitual indulgences in the worship of Greek gods, and there were those in the church who thought Christ-followers should safeguard themselves from such sensual self-indulgence and maintain a more marked distinction from the culture around them. These were the non-meat-eaters and teetotalers. Paul refers to them as “the weaker brothers,” but not as a condemnation or repudiation. Rather, it was a statement of clarification – that some within the church felt it was dangerous to reflect the culture in any way, and therefore choose to self-sensor their culinary palate.
P.E.T.A. + religious conviction.
There were others, of course, who stood by the grill, aprons donned, ready for the next church BBQ. They claimed the freedom of 1 Timothy 4:4 (which hadn’t been written yet, but the principle was established…)
“Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.”
And this is why I say “Thank you, Lord, for this tasty meat“ every time I sit down to partake in some succulent grilled beast.
But I’m off point. The basic gist of the situation here was this: There were some in the church in Rome who felt it was perfectly acceptable to eat meat and drink wine (not to excess, of course), and there were others who did not feel that church people should eat meat and drink wine. Paul calls the meat-eaters more free, and the non-meat-eaters less free. And then he speaks to both camps…
Now, I don’t know about you, but it has been a long long time since I remember a bruhaha erupting over the lack of tofurky at our church BBQs. So vegans and grillmasters alike, we can breathe a sigh of relief here, to this degree… I’m not making a case for the ingestion of meat or for the merits of upping your salad intake. Since the meat we carnivores pick up from the butcher in Cub Foods hasn’t been sacrificed to idols – as far as we know – this post and Paul’s metaphor will be equally valid to the carnivores and herbivores alike!
Common ground! A small victory.
So if “to meat or not to meat” isn’t the question, what’s the point of Paul’s story here? What’s it got to do with church now? Here? Today?
I’ll give you a real life example. I’m a Lutheran drummer. (There are only five or six of us, but we are mighty. Parum-pa-pum-pum.) When I took my first ministry job as a worship leader, I served a church with multiple service styles, and a diverse congregation. Equal parts wee children and white hair. This was the early nineties, and our conservative Association of congregations was not particularly quick to embrace contemporary worship styles. There was a concern that the popular sound and instrumentation would become more a reflection of the popular culture than a tool in the hands of the Spirit. There was a strong feeling among some that drums should have no place in church. These were the non-meat eaters. The weaker brothers – not in the validity of their faith, mind you. This is no accusation and no condemnation. Simply put, they did not feel the freedom to incorporate “rock and roll music” into a worship setting.
Then there were those in the congregation who were eager to worship in freedom – not just freedom of the heart, but in style as well. The contemporary sound was to many a “new song,” a fresh expression, new life. These were the meat eaters. The stronger brothers. Not better than, not more spiritual. Simply comfortable with a higher degree of freedom.
So what does Paul say here? God wrote this, of course, so it is alive and brilliant and wise… worthy of much study and a long exposition. But for this forum, I’ll pull out six key thoughts in the “meat-eater vs. vegetarian” debates we find ourselves in with the church.
When there is a conflict in the church regarding Christian freedom:
(1) Don’t judge each other. Verse 3 of Romans 14 says, “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats…” There is room for God-honoring differences of opinion in the Church. Respect each other, keep the Gospel central, and allow for some of those differences in your church family. We sharpen each other.
(2) It’s OK to have conviction. Paul reminds us in verse 5, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” When we are dealing with the things of God, fence sitting is a cop out, and it dishonors the Lord. Search the scriptures. Pray. Make a decision that you belive is God honoring. And then hold to it HUMBLY. Christian unity does not mean a lack of disagreement or differences in our convictions.
(3) It’s not about you, it’s about US. We die to self. We live to serve. Strong convictions do not override our call to love one another. Verse 7 says, “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.” For me, a carnivorous drummer in a church with a lot of white-haired saints, that meant truly caring for those friends of mine who felt the drums were abrasive – and sometimes painful in their hearing aids. That meant limiting my volume, and bringing percussion and contemporary praise only with great sensitivity into the traditional service.
(4) Love trumps our preferences. If at any point our preferences or personal convictions cause spiritual distress or turmoil in the congregation… to the degree that spiritual harm is being done, it’s time to put down the steak knife and A1. Verse 15: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.” Meat eaters – those who feel the greater degree of freedom – the responsibility for unity in the Body rests with you. Are you willing to forgo the fillet mignon wrapped in bacon for a torfurky burger, if only for a season, for the sake of love?
(5) Words matter. Spiritualizing our preferences is sin. And so is allowing people in the church family to cast strong moral judgment in areas that are clearly matters of Christian freedom and personal conviction without humble but firm pressback. Verse 16 says this: “Do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.” There shall be no vegetarian bashing here! Nor shall there be any finger pointing at the wiener roasters! In my early days, when I led worship in a contemporary form, I had absolutely NO PROBLEM with people expressing their opinions about the style, or the volume, of their preference for the great hymns of the faith over what they saw as the repetitive and shallow praise choruses we were using. I had many great discussions about worship – and about the difference between form and essence. But I drew the line when people spoke of the drums and contemporary worship forms as “worldly” or “carnal” or even “evil.” No sir. What about the loud clashing cymbals God asks us to praise Him with?? There is a stronger Biblical case to be made for playing drums unto God than for the necessity of Euro-centric muscial forms to be accompanied only by an organ or piano (strings and brass are allowed for special occasions or when played by Middle School students). Convictions are welcome. But pronouncements of one camp being the “God Team” and the other being “of the devil” are strictly verboten.
(6) I have no chapter and verse to back this up, but for the love of everything holy, Tofurky is gross. If I hadn’t just written #5 above I might even say it was of the devil. I just might. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. (See #2…)
“I do not ask for these [disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may believe in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)
You cannot control other people. Repeat after me… “I cannot control other people.” Good. At the going rate for professional therapy, you all owe me $175.
This may or may not seem elementary, but I’ll tell you why I’m writing about it today… We don’t really believe this.
I want to help you with something that I wrestle with myself. When we are confronted with a conflict of some kind, the kind of conflict that requires a face-to-face let’s-talk-this-out meeting, our job is to do everything possible to steer the ship toward peace with everyone. It’s not about proving your case, or demanding justice, or sticking it to the other guy because you are just so right this time… It’s supposed to be about relational repair. Peace.
That’s what the Bible says, right? Romans 12:18 says straight up: “Live at peace with everyone.”
At least, some of us think that’s what the Biblical standard is. Peace with everyone. At all times. No matter what. Turn the other cheek. Seventy times seven. Logs and specks. You, know… be a doormat for the Lord. This is the path of least resistance. For us to be at peace with everyone, we can’t take a firm position or stand up for ourselves or confront someone if they’ve wronged us, then, right? Because for us to be at peace with everyone, we need everyone to be at peace with us… right?
Repeat after me, “I cannot control other people.” Perfect. That’ll be $350.
Of course Romans 12:18 has more to say than “Live at peace with everyone.” And while I’m certainly not discounting Jesus’ commands to radical forgiveness, cheek-turning, and humility, let’s be clear on what we are and what we are NOT called to do in cases of relational tension.
Roman’s 12:18 in it’s ENTIRETY reads like this: “IF it is possible, and AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU, live at peace with everyone.
In other words, it might not always be possible. Paul understands. God understands. Why is this the case? “You cannot control other people.” Plain and simple. God doesn’t hold you accountable for the other person’s behavior OR for their REACTION to your attempts at relational reconcilliation. That’s why this verse is more of a comfort to me than a command. The phrase that liberates me from religious striving for the impossible standard is this: “…as far as it depends on you…”
Some of you need to take that good news to heart. Some of you are locked right now in a relational conflict that you cannot control. Some of you are experiencing deep pain, or are feeling that your inner sense of justice has been violated again and again, because there is someone in your life who refuses to treat you with respect. Some of you are shouldering a heavy weight of guilt because you feel like you can’t fix it. And you’re not at peace. And you’re supposed to be at peace with people.
Once again, and I won’t even bill you for it… “I cannot control other people.”
Jesus wants you to lay that guilt down. And I don’t mean to put words in His mouth… that’s dangerous ground. But I can be confident in this case, because we are not called to shoulder the responsibility for other people’s sinful behavior. If you are weighed down by a broken relationship, I have good news.
First Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) You are not called to take responsibility for other people’s relational baggage. Lay it down.
Second, Paul says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you…” You re not called to take responsibility for other people’s relational baggage. Lay it down.
Our part is hard enough. In fact, our part is impossible. Seventy times seven is an idiom meaning “forever, without end.” How often should we go on forgiving people according to Matthew 18:22? Forever. And if you’re in a broken relationship with another person who is continuing to wound you or treat you with disrespect or disregard, neverending forgiveness might sound impossible all on it’s own, to say nothing of restoring that relationship to peace. But that is where Jesus strength is made perfect in you – when you are weak. And that is where, abiding in Christ, we are being transformed into His likeness with ever increasing glory. Neverending forgiveness may seem impossible. But it’s not intended to be something that you give and give and give to the OTHER person… It is something that you RELEASE from yourself again and again.
Release the need to control the situation. Release the need to see justice come down on the offending other party. Release the feeling that your reputation – or more significant, your identity – is dictated by this other person. Forgiveness is a command of God because He wants to protect your heart. From bitterness and self-centeredness and self-pity and from sin.
So, with God’s help, let go of the need to hold the other guy accountable. Your mom may never change. That coworker or classmate may continue to treat you badly. Your spouse may not be the person you dreamed they would become if only you loved them enough. Forgive them – and let God be their judge. Over and over. Forever. As far as it depends on you.
But that is as far as you can go. As far as it depends on you. Because you cannot control other people.
This does NOT mean you forget. This does NOT mean you continue to put yourself in a position to be wounded. This does NOT mean you don’t stand up for yourself when necessary. This does NOT mean you have to be a doormat for the Lord.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
If peace is not possible, it is NOT your fault. If you have forgiven and extended kindness and it is rejected or met with contempt, it is NOT your fault. As far as it depends on you.
“I know I’m right. And no, this isn’t an issue of excess pride. Scripture is clear. And yet, here you are, expressing what you think is a valid opinion to the contrary. No. Having a favorite ice cream flavor… THAT is an opinion. But this is in the Bible. This is indisputable. I’m right about this right here.”
Pick your favorite hot button theological issue. Or your strongest opinnion on church methodology. You know you’ve got one. Everybody’s got one. Now, stir up some of that internal tension… just picture your most vocal adversary on this issue and instert yourself into a conversation wherein you use the paragraph above. Got it?
Good. Now I’m sure you can rustle up your favorite verses that back up your point of view. Go ahead… access the memory banks. Take your sword from its scabbord. Good. Now are you ready to defend your ground? Steel yourself for conflict. Jude 1:3 tells us to contend for the faith. This is that moment. Are you up to the task?
You are now in the right frame of mind to read this post. I’m talking to you right now.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)
“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one–as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (John 17:21)
“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” (2 Timothy 2:14)
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, butkind to everyone,able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponentswith gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…” (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
A few months ago now, I saw a contentious theological discussion on Facebook in which someone made the comment, “Truth at all costs.” Really? At all costs? Like the eternal soul of your opponent? All costs? I immediately thought back to something a mentor of mine once said at a worship leadership conference…
“Sometimes I can just be SO RIGHT that I roll right over people… with the authority of the Lord. That crushes love. LOVE is the first commandment, not ‘thou shalt be right for my name’s sake.'”
I had this clever blog post all planned out. But I think it would better if you just read those verses above one more time. That’s really all I want to say. Yes, I belive in absolute truth, and I believe in living with strong convictions, and I know there is a time to confront and a time to contend. But without love, we’re just a clanging gong.
This is a poem and a sermon and a reminder and a painting and a song and a promise…
Love means dying, and being reborn. Before her, I stayed out of the minefields and I ran from the storms. But this new life with Amy is something else. Don’t give up on me, Amy. When the shadowlands come, I’ll remind you whose you are, and I’ll ask for God’s help to be who I am.
I’m in love with my girl, and I thank God. Everyday.
There are three ways the church can respond to culture. And by “culture,” I mean normal walking-around life, surrounded by the contemporary marketplace of ideas, ideologies, philosophies, marketing, goods and services, media and entertainment. It’s “the world” in big huge air quotes (picture me talking more slowly and wiggling two fingers on either side of my face when I say that…) that we’re supposed to be “IN” but not “OF.” Culture.
Is it evil? Is it just our present reality – kind of a blank slate we’ve been handed to paint our redemption story on? Is it a war zone? Is it a playground? The church has to decide, because millions of souls are walking around in it. Many are curious and hungry – wanting there to be some peace of mind and freedom and meaning in our churches. Some are hostile. Enemy combatants. Many, many more are disinterested. I believe those souls all need Jesus, and if you believe that, too, you have to think through the options when it comes to culture. We’re surrounded. How are we going to engage or stave off or reach out to the souls we encounter in this space we call CULTURE?
Again, I believe the Church has three options:
(1) RECEIVE :: Blue jeans, iPhones, microwave ovens, Facebook, John Mayer (A true artist), “Finding Nemo,” LifeTime Fitness, Cold Stone ice cream, email… there are many blessings of modernity that can be enjoyed without compromising Biblical values or threatening to undermine our moral standards. These are things the church can RECEIVE, grateful to God for the enjoyment and blessing they bring to our lives.
(2) REJECT :: Illicit drugs, pornography, vulgar language, John Mayer (not ALL of his songs are innocuous), alcohol abuse, racism, rampant consumerism, Burger King breakfast food… there are many parts of modern culture that have no place in the life of a believer. Either they ascribe and proclaim anti-Biblical messages, or promote sin as acceptable or normative, or they taste like bacos and Velveeta rolled in salt with a side of salt and extra salt. All of these parts of culture must be rejected.
(3) REDEEM :: And now, the rubber meets the road. We reflect God’s nature when we take what has been stolen or broken by sin and the devil and redeem it to glorify the Lord. Much of the technology, communication tools, trends, artistic efforts, etc., of modernity can be creatively and effectively REDEEMED by the church if we are willing to pray, use our imaginations, and have the courage to be IN but not OF. Social media, contemporary music, marketing tools, John Mayer (in the right setting… absolutely), film and multi-media, theater and dance, Braveheart… The church can harness much of the culture around us and “re-brand it” for Kingdom purposes as a reflection of the Redeemer God who is pursing us – to remake us again in His image.
The church must decide.
To throw out all of culture (sure, that’s hyperbole, but you know the churches I’m talking about) is to be “OUT OF and NOT OF.” Easy. Safe, maybe. But not impacting the culture. Or saving souls.
To embrace all of culture (sure, that’s hyperbole… but you know the churches I’m talking about) is to be “IN AND OF.” Also easy. Not safe though. And in like manner as its opposite extreme… not impacting culture. Or, many times, truly saving souls.
To parse all of culture on an ongoing basis is NOT easy. Nor is it always safe. But prayerful, carefully discerned cultural REDEMPTION actually DOES have the potential to change culture. And souls who would otherwise write off church as irrelevant might be willing to come in and take a look. And if they come in the door, they have the potential of hearing the life-changing Word of God which convicts of sin and rescues to hopeless and broken-hearted.
Where local churches fall on these issues becomes a matter of conviction, often dividing believers from one another along cultural boundaries instead of theological ones. To borrow a metaphor from my brother Mark Driscoll, we need to be clear on the theological difference between our “State” and “National” boundaries.
Mark says that “state” boundaries are those stylistic and secondary theological issues that often divide evangelical denominations one from another. Baptists might not like social dancing, but that’s not such a big deal to Lutherans… as long as Toby Mac and Casting Crowns are in the DJ’s play list. Some sprinkle their new babies, and some only dunk the professing believers. Some think we’ll be snatched up “Jerry Jenkins style” at the Rapture when Jesus comes back, and others think we all have to endure the fury of the end times first. Some like Southern Gospel. I know. Hard to believe. But it’s true.
These are the “State” boundaries, theologically speaking. We’re not pulling out the heavy artillery to launch a full scale assault on North Dakota. Don’t get me wrong… we’re glad to be Minnesotans. But we embrace our wind-swept brothers as perhaps lesser fortunate, yet fully embraced Midwesterners. Like us.
But if you press us on the core stuff – Christ’s divinity, the Bible’s inerrancy and authority on all matters of faith, the universality of sin, the exclusivity of the cross as the only path to God – these are “National” boundary lines, and they are worth contending for. If Canada ever sends a sortie of heavily armed mounties across the line at Biwabik or International Falls, those hosers are going down, eh?
Contending for the faith, after all, is a Biblical idea (Jude 1:3). But it stands in balance with passages like John 17, where Jesus prays to His Father, asking God that we (all believers) would be ONE, just as He and the Father are ONE. And contending for the faith also stands in tension with Romans 12:8, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” We can’t abide assaults on the primary biblical tenets that make the Gospel unique among all the religions of the world. But we can agree to disagree on those state-to-state issues that don’t threaten the clear teaching of the one way to reunion with God – faith in the grace of Jesus alone for the forgiveness of our sins.
So here we are. In Minnesota. We keep an open border with our North Dakotan brothers. They do produce some tasty spuds in the Red River Valley, after all. And we keep a wary eye on those Canadian insurgents who would press across our border, threatening our very American-ness with their alternative rock bands, rugged natural beauty, and generally friendly disposition. Oh yeah… and with their summertime combination of plaid shorts and long black socks. We can’t stand for it!
The point is, local church, you must decide. When it comes to culture, what must we reject, what can we receive, and what can we REDEEM for God’s glory? I hope to be crystal clear on those first two, and to relish the third whenever possible. And in the process, forgive me if I ever fire on a North Dakotan brother.
Lately I’ve been pondering the nature of several “babies and bathwater” scenarios with regards to Christian faith and leadership. I think this is a natural outgrowth of my commingled passions for sound doctrine and unity in the Church. Walking this line requires nuance, careful thought, prayer, grace, and honesty.
Knee-jerk reactionism and mud-flinging are perhaps more gratifying to our carnal side. But the “immediate gratification” option is rarely the BEST option.
In any case, today I want to begin a series of poststhat deal with nuanced topics in the Church. Maybe this will be my first and last post in the series. 🙂 Time will tell.
The Emerging Church
Sure. Maybe this is cheating. I’m literally posting an assignment from my Basic Principles of Theology class with Dr. Fran Monseth at the Association Free Lutheran Theological Seminary, where I am currently enrolled full time.
The bottom line is that I want to provide thought-provoking, biblically sound, and helpful information to those who are interested. I think many people who read my blog regularly have questions about the Emerging Church – both what it is, exactly, and why we should care. Therefore, I’ve provided a link for you to be able to download my brief examination of the Emerging Church, it’s philosophy and theological trajectory, and a biblical response (PDF). Because this is a complicated and nuanced issue, there is really no short form way to cover the topic as a blog post. The context of my studies here are conservative and apologetically Lutheran, so you can use that filter to understand my vantage point as we talk about the influence of the “emerging” or “emergent” church conversation.
I don’t claim this to be anything spectacular. It’s just a paper. But it may be helpful. So, for those who are curious, here you go…
Thankfully, the majority of the five boys under my roof still think, at least to some degree, that girls have cooties. I’m all for it.
The day will soon be upon me when their vision will be transformed. Girls will no longer be mystifying, unexplainable… weirdos. They will soon become equally mystifying and unexplainable… yet irresistibly appealing. Such is the way of the world, I suppose.
Achhh! The world! Culture and the flesh… partnering up again to infect the innocent. My boys’ upcoming hormonal hurricane is just another stroke in the case against this world and all of its carnality and rottenness. Wouldn’t it just be EASIER if my boys thought girls had cooties… right up until they say “I Do”?
There is a growing movement in the Christian community… a sub-culture within the sub-culture. It is family focused, protectionist, and isolationist. And it tends to view the world around us as if it has cooties. Only these cooties have real spiritual power, and once they take root in a believer, they spread like a cancer. Sucking the spiritual life out of a person with small temptations that lead to moderate indiscretions and overlooked compromises, which easily turn into large scale sin problems, which will eventually grow into full blown apostasy. Beware the power of this cultural leaven, which is sure to tarnish the whole loaf. Beware the corruption of culture. The world has cooties, and these bad boys are Ebola to the soul.
So, for protection of the family, Christians don a HAZMAT suit of their own construction, finding support in the Bible for keeping the culture at arm’s length.
What does this cultural HAZMAT suit look like? Kids are home schooled. Kids are often not allowed to attend a church Sunday School or Youth Group because of the influence of the unregenerate hooligans who attend. Besides, the spiritual instruction of the children is a PARENT’S responsibility, anyway… not to be left in the hands of another believer who may or may not share the same scriptural convictions. In fact, many families are actually deciding against participation in an organized congregation with traditional pastoral leadership, opting instead for home church, led by dad… or maybe shared leadership with a few other like-minded families. TV, movies, music, etc. are closely monitored for signs of cultural cootie-ness. And life centers on and revolves around the godly home – the family. Children are “trained up in the way they should go,” and a healthy concern for cultural contamination is modeled and reinforced.
Here’s an honest moment for you… that sounds AWESOME. We actually DO home-school our kids (for a number of reasons), and I LOVE my family. So I would love to hunker down with them and make my boys and my bride our primary platform for Christian fellowship. I hate the effect of sin on our culture, and it breaks my heart to see my boys’ innocence lost as we have to help them understand murder, lust, greed, perversion… My kids light my world – and so does Amy. If I could pull it off somehow, I recognize the draw of the HAZMAT suit. I wish… often… that I could more adequately shield my family from the cooties of the world.
Can you understand, from a Christian point of view, why this isolationism has appeal and is gaining steam? Doesn’t it make sense in this perverse culture not to “conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2) and to “go out from their midst and be separate from them?” (2 Corinthians 6:17)
In other words… to beOUT OF the world, and NOT OF it.
BUT... (and this is a BIG “but…”)
Honest question: is the culture our enemy?
Should we circle the wagons and don the HAZMAT suit and protect our kids from a case of the cancerous culture cooties at the cost of cultural engagement?
I can’t answer that question for you. I have good friends who have gone the isolationist way. I know families – good families – who love the Lord and are doing their best to honor him by reflecting a DIFFERENT way of life – a separate and distinct, transformed life with their family. BUT…
I have some significant concern as I see this trend growing – gaining strength – a movement away from not only culture, but even from organized church fellowship in many cases. I see intentional disengagement from the world we live in, with all of its hurt and need. And lost people. Dying people. Damned people.
With humility, I submit we take our cue from Jesus Himself on this issue. He did not come to condemn the world (John 3:17) – and his harshest words were not for the culture around him. Christ came as a transformer of culture. He came as a Redeemer – literally to “buy back” from the tyranny of slavery the souls of dying men and women in His culture and in ours. Jesus didn’t endorse or participate in a separatist lifestyle. Instead he used positive illustrations from culture as parables. He participated in His culture, engaging it, and shining a light into its dark corners. In His last hour of freedom before being captured and taken to his death, Jesus prayed in John 17 for ALL believers… both then and now. And what was that prayer?
“Not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.”
Like I said before, it is not my place to choose for you how to live out your faith. But I submit this for consideration… CULTURE is not our enemy. Sin is. Satan is. I see culture as a theater in which God’s glory can be displayed – to both the redeemed and the resistant. Instead of being OUT OF and NOT OF the world, maybe we are called to be IN, but NOT OF… Maybe in order to be salt and light, we need to rub shoulders with the needy people in dark places. If not us, who will go? Culture is a minefield. It is dangerous, without question.
I submit that we need to embrace the danger inherent in engaging our culture, for the sake of the Gospel. And instead of relying on the safety of a subculture to protect us or our children, let’s echo and trust Jesus’ prayer on our behalf. No more HAZMAT suit. No more cooties. Our family will be a redemptive force in the lives of those we rub shoulders with on purpose.
Love him or hate him, most likely you’ve got an opinion. He doesn’t produce fence-sitters. That fence is POINTY, baby. You’re going to fall on one side or the other pretty quickly if you spend any time listening to his show or watching him on the telivizzle.
And believe it or not, the rest of this post will have nothing to do with politics. So you can exhale.
At the end of August I posted “glenn beck: the new voice of evangelical christianity” as a follow-up to his non-political/spiritual revival pro-America rally on the national mall on August 28, 2010. My main point was to say that I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with Glenn’s religious rhetoric, because he’s a Mormon, and therefore means something very different when he claims to be “listening to the voice of God” or leading us to “do the will of God.” We believe in and follow different Gods, me and Mr. Beck. Therefore, I urged my fellow evangelicals to listen if you must, but exercise discernment… it’s dangerous ground.
The post generated some good discussion at the time, but I just received a new comment today, and it was a good challenge.
The gist was this: “I’m confused. You seem to often call for unity between churches. Mormons believe Jesus is the Son of God, too, right? How come we shouldn’t listen to Glenn Beck, then? Should we not listen just because he’s a Mormon?”
Fair question. Here was my response:
I understand your confusion. Let me clarify a few things…
First, I’m not saying no one should listen to Glenn Beck simply because he is a Mormon. I love to listen to Dennis Prager, for example, and he’s Jewish. There is wisdom to be found in all kinds of people, and truth is truth… meaning, if I say the sky looks blue, and The Pope says the sky looks blue, and Christopher Hitchens says the sky looks blue… we are all saying something true. Our philosophy or religious affiliation doesn’t make it any LESS true when Chris the atheist says it. Right? So, Glenn Beck’s Mormonism, per se, doesn’t necessarily disqualify him from my listening list.
What I am uncomfortable with – and that’s putting it mildly – is Glenn Beck’s increasingly bold “spiritual leader” talk. He throws around phrases that indicate he believes he is doing the “will of the Lord,” and that he speaks for God and is encouraging people to do His will. He SAYS the name Jesus, but his belief is very different than mine. My caution is to listen critically, and be very careful not to confuse his Mormon “word from the Lord” with the authority of the ACTUAL Word of God, given to us in the Bible.
Now, to briefly clarify the difference between my calls to the church for unity around the core doctrines of the Christian faith, and my stiff-arming of Mormonism, it is important for you to understand that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a cult. It is NOT in any way a branch of the Christian church, like Baptists or Lutherans or Methodists. Nope. Mormons are often wonderful people, productive citizens, kind to their neighbors, and raising good kids in strong families. I’m not saying they are “bad” people – any more than you and I are sinful people – in the way that EVERY soul on the planet is born corrupted by sin. But they tend to be “good people” all the same. Even so, Mormonism is a false religion that diverges from Christianity in several KEY ways.
Christian core doctrine has remained grounded in the Word of God and been basically unchanging for 2000+ years. Cults change their core doctrine often – when it becomes necessary to do so. There have been about 4,000 changes to the Book of Mormon since it was first published in 1830, and some BIG ones to boot. They have changed their stance on Polygamy, for one. And they now support the religious equality of African Americans, which required a huge change in their doctrinal positions.
Mormonism is poly-theistic (many gods) and Christianity is monotheistic (ONE God). They believe God the Father was once a man who *progressed* to God-hood. We believe God is the unchanging “I AM.” They believe the Trinity is actually three separate gods… we believe in the three-in-ONE. They also believe that we, as humans, can progress to God-hood status. This is the FIRST LIE from the Garden of Eden, when the serpent told Eve, “You can be like God…” All of the sin of the world followed that lie and it’s line of reasoning. It is the CORE poison of the human soul.
Mormons believe Jesus is the child of God the Father and a heavenly Mother, and that he was born incomplete and had to *progress* to God-hood status in the spiritual realm. They deny the incarnation of Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ unchanging nature as God and His condescension and virgin birth are foundation truths Christianity is built upon. While Mormons DO believe that Jesus is God’s only Son, their understanding of what that means and the very nature of God and Jesus as our Savior is a mess – and dangerous, theologically.
Mormon’s see Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden as a noble act, enabling man to become mortal – a key step forward in the process of attaining deity status. They believe that Jesus atonement basically grants everyone salvation and immortality, whether we believe in Him or not. There are many, many other important differences, as well.
This stuff is important. Mormons market themselves as another Christian option. But it is not at all Christian. We have no reason, of course, to treat Mormons with disrespect, OR to disregard everything they say simply because of the religion. However, I WILL disregard anything they say with “the authority of the Lord” behind it. Glenn Beck’s Jesus is NOT my Jesus. Therefore, when He speaks about the “will of God,” I know he’s not listening to the same voice of God that I am. Therefore… I turn him off.
Mark Driscoll knows the Emergent Church… or Village… or Emerging… um, Conversation? …better than almost anyone. He was there at the start. Watched it unfold and grow from the inside. And he left it as it left Christianity to pursue new ideas – a higher evolution of thinking about spirituality and how Jesus might have a role therein.
As I’ve been preparing to write a Seminary paper about the short history and current theology of the Emerging Church, I listened again to Mark Driscoll’s address to the 2007 Convergent Conference, hosted by the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. If you’ve got an hour and a half, it is an OUTSTANDING picture from the inside of the start of the Emerging Church movement and its theological dangers. I’ve posted it here if you’re interested.
As I listened and learned and thought about the implications for ministry today, Mark focused his attention on an issue that has me by the throat right now… CONTEXTUALIZATION. This post is a summary of his thoughts, blended with my own, in the hopes that we would be passionate preachers of the truth RIGHT NOW in this culture – neither bowing our doctrine to the whims of culture, nor stiff-arming culture as if to protect ourselves from it.
In the world… but not of it. But still in it. Right? And not of it.
Basically this: the local church exists (according to the Great Commission in Matt. 28 and the Greatest Commandments in Matt. 22) to make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God and love people. We (believers) have been born into this time and this place. In this cultural context. For THESE people. Therefore, we must find a way to take the timeless truth of the Gospel (and the hard truth that we are all depraved sinners who need rescue and resuscitation) and CONTEXTUALIZE it for the culture we have been placed in by God in His perfect wisdom. We’re here, right now, on purpose.
I see much energy being spent by by church people in the pursuit of conflict rather than converts. I see the liberal left wing of the Christian community, as personified by the open theism and narrative “trajectory” theology of the Emerging Church conversation, and the fundamentalist far right wing characterized by zealous dogma and self-righteous condemnation of cultural contamination in the church, as two hostile camps, each with their sights focused on the other.
In the middle ground are contextual cultural missionaries (like me), trying to find ways to communicate in today’s culture the timeless truth that we all need Jesus, and that his gospel message of hope is for us. Right now. These pastors, teachers, evangelists, writers, and church folk with a burning heart for God and a passion for the lost souls that surround us are getting shot in the crossfire, and the Church (capital “C”) is suffering for it.
We must be people of the middle ground. As Jesus prayed for us in John 17, not that we would be removed from the world, but that we would be protected from the evil one and united with other believers as we take the gospel to the time and place we have been sent to serve. Contextualization of the Word of God.
This stands in contrast to the left and right wings engaged in a theological cage match…
In the far left corner we have those emerging theologians who believe that theology, and God Himself, is evolving with culture. They are the syncretists, blending Christianity with paganism. They hold a low view of scripture, and they are asking the same basic question that the serpent asked Eve in the garden… “Did God really say…?” They have two hands. In one they hold DOCTRINE and in the other they hold church PRACTICE. In the far left corner, BOTH hands are open. Doctrine and practice are both open to change.
In the far right corner we have the cultural separatists and doctrinal purists who are more concerned with being contaminated by the culture than they are in changing it. They are the sectarians, who see New Testament references to the “world” as synonymous with “culture.” Ergo, “cultural relevance” = “worldliness.” They hold a high view of scripture, but practice “sanctification by separation” from sinners and their interests. They have two hands. In one they hold DOCTRINE and in the other they hold church PRACTICE. In the far right corner, BOTH hands are closed. Neither doctrine nor practice are open to change.
I’m with Mark Driscoll on this one. I don’t want to be a syncretist. I don’t want to be a sectarian. I want to be a SUBVERSIVE, infiltrating culture and speaking their language, with every intention of infusing that culture with the life-giving message of Jesus Christ. We hold a high view of scripture, and we embrace the culture to the degree that we can identify WITH it and not be identified BY it. While there are certainly elements of culture that are worldly, there are things we can receive, things we must reject, and things we can REDEEM in culture through the power of the Word of God.
We, the people of the middle ground, have two hands. In one we hold DOCTRINE and in the other we hold church PRACTICE. The cultural contextualizers (like me) hold doctrine tightly, like a treasure, with a CLOSED hand… but our other hand, the one gripping our church practices and the way we’ve always done things, that hand must always be OPEN.
We present timeless truth using timely methods. We seek to be Biblically faithful and culturally fruitful. We CONTEND for the faith (Jude vs. 3 — “Defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to His holy people…”) against creeping liberal theology, and at the same time we CONTEXTUALIZE our message for the culture we live in (per 1 Corinthians 9, verse 19 — I have become all things to all people in order that some may be saved.”)
That’s where I plant my flag. Next to Pastor Mark’s. And I stand with the greatest subversive, cultural contextualizer of all time, Jesus Christ, who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself in human likeness and humbled himself to save us from our sin.
If you have the time and want to consider all of this more carefully, please scroll up and listen to Pastor Mark Driscoll’s address to the 2007 Convergent Conference, hosted by the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary…