Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments

Preach it!

black female preacherPreachers today get a bad rap.

“Don’t preach at me” figures on the list of most popular comebacks, along with “Stop judging me.” In modern usage, to preach at someone is to set oneself up as superior, to condescendingly render a verdict on another’s behavior. It is the pop star Madonna pleading with her father: “Papa, don’t preach.”

Yet preaching wasn’t always devalued. There was a time when “preacher” was a term of endearment, a little less formal than “Reverend” but respectful nonetheless. As recently as 1996 in the film “The Preacher’s Wife,” Courtney Vance portrayed Reverend Henry Biggs, an African-American pastor who – while insensitive to his wife’s needs – was nevertheless committed to his work, selflessly serving the members of his inner-city flock. Being a preacher was cool.

So if the term “preacher” has lately fallen on hard times, why do the people of God continue to use it? To answer this question, let’s briefly look at what the New Testament has to say about preaching and its importance to the life of the Body of Christ, the church.

John and Jesus: the preaching cousins

A good place to begin is with the second cousins, John and Jesus. John went into the wilderness and took up a simple lifestyle, wearing clothes made of camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). People streamed to John and he baptized them with water as a sign of their abandoning their sinful ways. Yet the baptizing followed preaching. We don’t have a lot of detail about what John preached, but it wasn’t for the faint of heart. He urged people to produce good fruit, proof of their changed ways. He called religious leaders “snakes” (Matthew 3:7), demanded that tax collectors not collect more than they were required, and warned soldiers not to accuse people falsely or to extort money. Instead, he told them to be content with their salary (see Luke 3:7-14). John’s boldness in preaching knew no social boundaries, and he paid for his boldness with his head (Matthew 14:1-12).

Yet John was always a warm-up act for the main attraction. About Jesus of Nazareth, John testified: “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30, NLT). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus passed his test in the wilderness, resisting the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). After this testing, what did Jesus do? He immediately began to preach: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (4:17). In fact, the kingdom of heaven and the parables Jesus drew from everyday life became the staple of his magnetic preaching. Just before returning to heaven, Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel (literally, “good news”) to all creation (Mark 16:15). We preach because it is the command of our Lord to do so.

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Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments

The Eucharist: God’s loving invitation to grace

eucharistPeople were asking questions. Their pastor was new and – so far – had celebrated communion every Sunday, something they’d never done before, so they decided to ask him about it. “Don’t you think it will become routine if we do this together every week?” The pastor was quiet for a minute, then posed a question of his own. “Do you think God is in heaven looking down at us and saying, ‘Stop it, people! Don’t do that so much!’ ” His listeners laughed; they took his point. The next Sunday, they gladly went forward during communion time.

Sacraments are dramatic rites/ceremonies – or to use Augustine’s term, “visible words” – modeled by Jesus and instituted by him that he intended the people of God to practice as well. In the last chapter, we spoke about one such sacrament, baptism. Baptism is the initiation that marks off individuals as belonging to the people of God, the church. Another sacrament regularly observed by the church is the Eucharist, sometimes called “Holy Communion,” “communion,” or “the Lord’s Supper.”

The term “Eucharist” comes from the Greek verb, eucharisto, meaning to “give thanks.”  The night before his crucifixion, Jesus took bread and wine and gave thanks for them before giving them to his disciples (Matt. 26:27, Luke 22:19; see also 1 Cor 11:24). Luke 22:14-23 picks up the story:

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!”  They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. 

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Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments

Baptism: initiation into the people of God

water-baptism2-300x204West Africa has many people groups. Different tribes “mark off” their babies with distinctive scars. One of my adult students, Francis, had an inch-long scar on his right cheek, just under his eye. During a break in class, I asked him about it. “This mark shows that I belong to my people,” he explained.

This practice may seem strange to those born in a Western setting, though with the rise of tattoos, perhaps less strange than in days gone by. Yet for any student of the Bible, African scarification immediately evokes how God marked off the ancient male Israelites as God’s own. Genesis 17:23-27 explains:

On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.

For both Africans and ancient Jews, personal identity evokes “we” more than”me.” The people to whom I belong is of first and overriding importance. My story is important only as it is caught up in the larger story of my people.

The Old Testament people of God

The Old Testament takes this concept of group solidarity and goes one step further. Not only is the individual enfolded into the story of his or her people – the priority of “we” over “me” – but the people’s story in-turn is caught up in a much bigger story, the Story of God. In a land infested with idols to false gods, the prophet Jeremiah warned of a coming exile, but gave the hope of a people reconstituted one day:

They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them (Jeremiah 32:38-39).

“They will be my people, and I will be their God.” This is the language of covenant, a solemn agreement between Yahweh and the people of God. Isaiah 49:6 is just one of a constellation of Old Testament passages that speak of Israel as a “light for the Gentiles.” They were to be a holy people, an example to the nations. Isaiah 56:6 speaks of “foreigners” who would come to Jerusalem, the “holy mountain,” to pray and make sacrifices to God. God’s people were to be a righteous, winsome, counter-cultural presence in the world, attracting even foreigners like a magnet to worship the one true God in the beauty of holiness.

The New Testament people of God

Old Testament passages like those in Isaiah are a bridge to the New Testament. In the New Testament, the people of God is no longer defined as blood descendants of Abraham. Rather, the people of God is comprised of anyone – Jew or Gentile – who are persons of the new covenant, the “new and living way” to God opened up through the sacrificial death of Christ (Hebrews 10:20). These individuals of the new covenant – this people of God – is the church.

Just as the ancient Jews “marked off” their male children through the rite of circumcision, so the new people of God, the church, marks off its young through a rite, that of water baptism. This replacement of circumcision by baptism is most explicit in the words of Paul to the Colossians:

 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,  and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ,  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead (Colossians 2:9-12).

When the church evangelizes in communities largely untouched by the Gospel, many adults who come to Christ will not have had the blessing of growing up in a Christian home. In the United States, this is becoming more common. In some states, church attendance on a Sunday morning involves less than 10% of the population. Converts in such a context are unlikely to have a Christian heritage and – therefore – unlikely to have been baptized younger in life.  So, though older, they have never been initiated into the people of God. They, too, will pass through the door of water baptism into the household of faith, like the Ethiopian eunuch Philip baptized in the desert (Acts 8:26-40). As for the child baptized as an infant, they should receive later at a time when they can understand (traditionally around age 12) instruction in the meaning of their baptism and what it signifies to belong to the people of God. It is then – at the time some call “confirmation” – that they can affirm Christian faith as their own. By doing so, they  acknowledge what their parents by proxy accomplished when they presented them as babies for baptism. Confirmation means saying: “From the start, my parents always intended me to follow Christ, to be part of God’s people. Now, I openly acknowledge that these are my people, that Jesus is my Savior, and that I am His follower.” Like in many African cultures, so in the Christian family, the “we” precedes the “me.” This vital progression from “the faith of my family” to “my faith, too” is found in Paul’s words to Timothy:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also (2 Timothy 1:5).

Across Africa, there is an influx of converts to Christian faith. In a context where most are exiting African traditional religions, it is normal that most who are baptized are older. Yet as time goes by, the practice of baptism of those who are infants or young children is likely to increase, as portrayed in the book of Acts when entire families were baptized together (Acts 2:37-41, 16:33). Likewise, as believers in the West shift from the “Jesus and me” perspective to that of “Jesus and we,” the frequency of baptizing the young will surely grow. In any case, there is one baptism, not two (Ephesians 4:5). Baptism remains the once-in-a-lifetime sacrament (literally, “visible word”) of initiation into the people of God, though it may be performed very early or later in life, depending upon the circumstances.

Whether the sacrament of baptism is administered to an infant who later is confirmed or (alternatively) to an adult candidate, the people of God are the people of the covenant established by the blood of Christ (Luke 22:20). The “marking off” of baptism is an initiation into that holy people, at whatever age it occurs. It is an acknowledgment of the priority of who we are together, that the people of God predated me and they will continue when I am gone. I am a chapter in a book, an important chapter, to be sure, but  the book is a story of “we” with many chapters. Through baptism, I have been caught up in this bigger, divine/corporate story, the story of God and God’s people. What a story!

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Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments

The church and “we”: God’s holy people

Benin_2007_9L’unité fait la force – Unity is our strength. This national motto of the West African country of Benin is a window into the larger sub-Saharan African worldview. Individuals are not unimportant, yet they find their deepest identity not alone but as part of a people.

This collective cultural value shows up in pagne, the colorful cotton material locally woven and sold in many places across Africa. One popular pattern shows cracked fingers, separated one from another, dry,  lifeless, and empty. Next to them are hands, healthy and strong. All five fingers are connected, grasping pieces of gold that could only be gathered as they worked together. The Ivorian proverb reinforces a similar message: “You can’t pick up a grain of rice with just one finger.”

Modern individualism notwithstanding, historically, the United States has shared such a collective vision. Our tragic Civil War was fought from 1861-65 in part over the issue of whether we would be a single people. Prior to that conflict, it was common in writing to say: “The United States are.” Now we say “The United States is.” The Latin phrase, E plurbus unum – one from many – appears on the seal of the nation.

This longing to be part of a people is no stranger to the pages of Scripture. Peter wrote to the diaspora, believers scattered over five provinces of the Roman Empire:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

It is with the community of Christian faith – the holy people of God – that any study of how we can positively impact the world for Christ must begin. The church was here before any of us were born, and it will continue when we are gone. The words of the well-known African saying – “I am because we are” – are no less fitting when it comes to matters of belief. So while we will later look at our individual response to Christ’s call to follow him, we purposely begin with a more important concept than “me.” Let us begin with “we.”

Continue reading “The church and “we”: God’s holy people”

Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments

Introduction: Christlike Disciples, Christlike World

Christ-3It was 1972, and the Presidential race was on.

The 20 minute bus ride home from school was a raucous affair. Toward the front of the bus were the Nixon supporters; at the back congregated those who preferred McGovern. Like opposing sides in a volleyball game, we’d chant back and forth:

“Nixon, Nixon, he’s our man.  McGovern belongs in the garbage can!”

Of course, the erstwhile supporters of the Senator from South Dakota substituted the President’s name and rocketed the ball back to their 5th grade enemies at the front of the bus.

And so it went.

I soon learned that while the bus was an O.K. place for politics, the sacred halls of the church most definitely were not. If someone brought up the election at church, it was in hushed tones in the foyer, never publicly. On the few occasions where a brave soul ventured further, they were beaten back with an all-purpose proverbial stick, an elder gravely intoning:

“Religion and politics don’t mix.”

So when it came to deciding what our country would look like, venue was important. This 5th grader learned his lesson well. Bus? Good. Church? Bad.

Continue reading “Introduction: Christlike Disciples, Christlike World”

Posted in autobiographical, ecclesiology & sacraments

5 things my boyhood church did right

Rochester (NY) Zone Junior Quizzing team, circa 1971
Siblings, unite! Rochester (NY) Zone Junior Quizzing team, circa 1971. L to R: Mark Crofford, Val Clemens, Phil Clemens, Greg Crofford

There’s a lot of second-guessing happening on the internet these days, popular bloggers lamenting how the church is failing “this generation.” So to balance out all the hand-wringing, indulge me a retrospective on my own growing up years. Here are 5 things my boyhood church did right:

1. Simple preaching – Reverend Morris Wilson never had more than an 8th grade education, but he had a call to preach. His sermons were not complicated, but they connected. He knew how to laugh and how to make us cry. Reverend Wilson (no one dared call him “Morris” – that would be disrespectful) was a master at holding things up to sanctified ridicule: “Some people say this. I say that’s applesauce.” Or to motivate us, he would chide: “It’s time to get off our blessed assurance and get busy.” It was direct, loving and anointed. It’s hard to beat that combination.

2. Adults included kids – My parents went to choir practice at 5 p.m. and the evening service didn’t start until an hour later. At 5:30 p.m. some of the old saints would gather for prayer in the “upper room” over the gymnasium. Tired of running around in the hallways with my brothers, around 12 years old, I climbed the stairs to the upper room one Sunday evening and asked if I could pray with them. They welcomed a boy when they could have chased me away. I remember the prayers of those saints, as they prayed for the pastor, cried for lost loved ones, and asked God to send a revival to our church. Those prayers from Mr and Mrs Whitman, Mr and Mrs Laird and others impacted my young life. They taught me to trust God for things small and large.

3. Bible quizzing – My mother, Marilyn Crofford, was our indefatigable Jr. Quizzing coach, and from the age of 7 I remember studying books of the Bible. We had cardboard boxes with cards numbered 1 to 4, shipped from the Nazarene Publishing House in Kansas City, and we’d pull the card that corresponded to the right answer to the question (see b & w photo above). Later this became teen quizzing as I did my best to follow in the footsteps of my older brothers. By the time I graduated high school, I had memorized large swaths of the New Testament. Quizzing taught me the importance of team work, and much of the Scripture I quote to this day first lodged itself deep within me during those long hours of study. Back then, I was working for a trophy to put up on the mantle next to my brothers’. Those trophies are long gone, but the benefits of digging into Scripture linger.

past_47
World Bible Quiz, 1981 – Our Upstate NY District team took first place!

4. Visiting people at home or in nursing homes –  My dad wasn’t a pastor, but he took his job as Sunday School teacher seriously. Some Saturday mornings, he’d go calling on absentees, and he’d take me along. By doing so, he taught me something about shepherding. Or at Christmas time, the children’s church leaders would load us kids up in the bus and we’d go visit old folks in nursing homes. One Christmas, I got to sing a solo on “Away in a Manger.” Those nursing home visits taught us to remember the marginalized, people who otherwise might be “out of sight, out of mind.”

45 rpm record, with one song on each side
45 rpm record, with one song on each side

5. Right and wrong – When I was just 8 or 9, I remember one morning in Sunday School when Nada Rogers, my teacher, played a 45 record for us. (Alright, I’m dating myself with this story.) Something came over me that day, and I just had to have that record! Reaching in my pocket, I pulled out the 35 cents my dad had given me for the Sunday School offering. “Mrs Rogers,” I said, “I want to buy that record from you.” “It’s not mine, she said, so I can’t sell it to you.” But I wasn’t so easily dissuaded. I kept nagging her until finally she said: “Greg, for me to sell something to you that doesn’t belong to me would be wrong. Do you understand?” That day, she taught me an important lesson. There is such a thing in this world as right and wrong. There are boundaries that God has laid down, and they are there for a reason.

Does this mean my boyhood church was flawless? Far from it! Academic Dean emeritus Donald Young of Eastern Nazarene College once quipped: “I’m glad the church isn’t perfect. If it was, they wouldn’t let me in.” But for all it did wrong, my church did a lot of things right. What’s more, I suspect what was true in the 1970s is no less true in 2014. What good things is God up to in your church? Tell the world!

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Posted in book reviews, ecclesiology & sacraments

Belonging and believing: Baptism and the People of God

978-1-426-71137-4Helen came 15 minutes early to Sunday night service. “Pastor,” she said, “I have to get saved!”

What was up with Helen?

This seventy-something Missourian certainly hadn’t stopped by my office on the spur of the moment. Her coming to Christ was like a pot on slow boil, and the “flame” had been two years of friendship from others in the women’s ministry group. In short, women in our church loved Helen to Jesus.

I thought about Helen when reading George Hunter III’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West Again (Kindle edition; Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 2000, 2010). Hunter reports on John Finney’s 1992 study, examining how people come to faith in Christ. Finney discovered that most people today come to faith gradually, as they are folded into the life of the Christian community. Hunter calls this the “ongoing contagious life of the congregation” (location 795) in contrast to “special event preaching.” Summing up this philosophy, Finney uses just four words:

Belonging comes before believing.

Yet Finney’s and Hunter’s insight has implications not just for adult conversion but for how we bring up our children in Christian faith. The Anabaptist view dominates in North America, reversing the “belonging/believing” order to “believing/belonging.”  It reserves the waters of baptism (the sign of belonging) for children old enough to make a conscious decision about their faith. Practically, this means most children aren’t baptized until at least ten or older. It is an essentially individualistic view, where the person is seen as prior and superior to the group. (Contrast this with the dominant African ethos, which says: “I am because we are.”) Whether intentionally or not, does this give the message to our children: “You don’t really belong to the church until you believe”?

Surprisingly, many Nazarenes coming from a Baptist background do not realize that our DNA includes a strong strand of the Finney/Hunter “belonging before believing” idea. This is passed down to us from our Methodist heritage and the covenant theology espoused by John Wesley. A newborn child (as symbolized by infant baptism) is early folded into the loving community of faith. Later in childhood, he or she through careful Christian education, including catechism, comes to a personal understanding of saving faith. Just like circumcision “marked off ” the Jewish male as part of the faith community, so baptism “marks off” the male and female infant of Christian parents as belonging to the covenant New Testament People of God (Colossians 2:11-12). It announces to one and all:  “This child, through prevenient grace, belongs to the church, even before he or she believes.”

Hunter and Finney (location 797) contend that the postmodern mindset is much more receptive to the belonging/believing pattern than the dominant evangelical opposite. As Wesleyan people, are we not well-positioned to appropriate the best from both Evangelical and covenant traditions? We must continue to invite unbelieving adults to a place of personal conversion followed by baptism. Likewise, we encourage those bringing up their children in the Nazarene community of faith to present their infants for baptism. Baptism (like circumcision) is a one-time sign of initiation. Whether later as an adult or earlier as a little child, it’s an amazing thing to belong to the People of God. Let’s joyfully celebrate it!

UPDATE: There has been some excellent feedback to this piece over on Naznet.com. The “nub” of the debate is this: Does a Baptist -like ecclesiology really reverse the order from belonging/believing to believing/belonging? Not everyone accepts this premise.  Is it simplistic for me to call this ecclesiology “individualistic” and that represented by baptizing young children “corporate”? What do you think?

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Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments, reflections

Idols in the Church, Part 2: The cult of the beautiful body

Narcissus sees his reflection
Narcissus sees his reflection

The story of the handsome young Narcissus is cautionary. One day he came upon a pool and bent down to get a drink. There, he saw an image in the water, but did not recognize it as his own reflection. Enamored by the vision and instantly in love, he repeatedly reached into the water to touch the alluring face, only to have it dissolve each time in ripples. Narcissus stayed transfixed for the rest of his life, kneeling by the pool, withering away to nothing, frustrated by desire unfulfilled.

From the story of  Narcissus derives the word “narcissism,” whose first definition in Merrian-Webster’s Online Dictionary is “egotism” or “egocentrism.” The second definition is “love or sexual desire for one’s own body.”

In his influential 1979 The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, cultural historian Christopher Lasch observed (p. 5):

“To live for the moment is the prevailing passion — to live for yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity.”

While there are many manifestations of narcissism that infect American culture, let’s look at just one, the cult of the beautiful body. We should ask: How as the People of God can we smash this idol that has been set-up among us?

The everyday media message that shapes how we perceive ourselves is insidious. While we admire the talent of the sculptor, it is dangerous and unrealistic to take the statuesque proportions of a Venus de Milo or Michelangelo’s David and expect everyone to conform.

Venus_de_Milo_Louvre_Ma399_n4
Venus de Milo, at the Louvre (Paris, France) See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A 50-ish mother past child bearing years was on nursery duty at church. One of the toddlers came up to her, put her hand on the woman’s tummy and said: “Are you going to have a baby?” Laughing, the woman replied: “No, dear, some of us are just shaped this way.”

The proverb reminds us that “beauty is only skin deep.” Yet every time we check out at the store, the magazines shout: “You should look like this!” There we behold the twenty-something belles and beaus who are the cultural icons of physical perfection. Those who are older are more resistant to the physical beauty drumbeat, but not so the young. While many think of anorexia nervosa as confined to females, one in ten males in the United States suffer from this disease of self-perception. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders attributes this to “social norms for males, which emphasize strength and athleticism.”

Does our careless use of language contribute to our society’s fixation with physical beauty? In the ’70s, we complimented each other for being “cool.” Now, among the most overused word in the English language is “hot.” “Wow, she’s HOT!” Or, “He’s a hottie!” Seriously? Do we really want to reduce people to a one-word description carrying sexual overtones? Surely that’s beneath the dignity of a follower of Christ.

Continue reading “Idols in the Church, Part 2: The cult of the beautiful body”

Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments, sermons & addresses

Paul’s 3 secrets for church unity and growth

These rice harvesters outside Antananarivo model good teamwork.
These rice harvesters outside Antananarivo (Madagascar) model good teamwork.

In two weeks, members of the Maraisburg Church of the Nazarene will vote on a new pastor. Here is the sermon I was honored to preach there this morning, in slightly modified form.
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SCRIPTURE READING: Ephesians 4:1-16 (Common English Bible)

I.  INTRODUCTION

There’s something about the word “secret” that draws attention. Marketers know this. Take KFC for example. They draw us in with talk of the Colonel’s “secret recipe” made from 11 tasty herbs and spices. Or what about the website, WebMD? A recent article spoke about “10 Diet secrets for lasting weight loss success.”

If a marketer had been assigned to the Apostle Paul, what might she have labelled Ephesians 4:1-16? Perhaps she would have spoken of “Paul’s 3 secrets for church unity and growth.” And here they are:

1) Keep the focus on Christ.

2) Find your niche and fill it.

3) Above all, let us love one another.

II. KEEP THE FOCUS ON CHRIST

When you read Ephesians 4:1-16, there’s no question about who the star of the show is. It’s Christ!

v. 1 – Paul was a prisoner for whom? The Lord Jesus Christ

v. 7 – our gifting is from Christ

vv. 9-10 – It is Christ who descended to earth and who ascended to Heaven

v. 12 – We are the body of Christ.

v. 13 – As his body, we are striving for the standard of the fullness of Christ.

v. 15 – We are to “grow in every way into Christ.”

Theologians like fancy words. They would say that our faith must be Christocentric. In other words, Jesus must be at the center.

By no means do I agree with all that the Roman Catholic Church teaches. However, one of things that I really like is the sanctuary. When I go into a Catholic church, very often there is a cross at the front, in the center, a cross depicting the crucified Christ. The old hymn says it well:

Since my eyes were fixed on Jesus

I’ve lost sight of all besides.

So enchained my spirit’s vision

Looking at the crucified.

It is far too easy for us as the church to be distracted by minor things and turn our gaze from Christ. We are tempted to put our eyes on minor things:

Why did our pastor not do that? Isn’t that her job?

Why would sister so-and-so say such a thing?

Why was the music too loud this morning? Why was it too soft?

And when we start down that negative path, our eyes are diverted from the One who brings us together and the One in whom we find our unity! I’m glad that I’m part of a denomination that has chosen to put Jesus in our name. We are the Church of the Nazarene. Who is the Nazarene? The Nazarene is Jesus Christ.

Yet what kind of a Christ do we preach? We preach a Christ who reaches out to the marginalized, the forgotten of our society. Because Jesus loves people, he is never content to leave us where we are. Rather, Jesus is all about setting us on a new path. We serve Christus Victor, the Christ who is victorious over the unholy Trinity of sin, death, and the devil. Because Jesus loves us so much, he can never be satisfied to leave us mired in our sin.

As the Church of the Nazarene, we’ve understood that historically. For example, in Kansas City, Missouri, in the early decades of the 20th century, we started a rescue mission for alcoholics, and to this day the churches of the Kansas City area support that rescue mission, loving the poor and homeless, many of whom are caught in the trap of substance abuse.

But who are the other marginalized people of our day, right here in South Africa? If someone stood up among us and admitted that he’s addicted to drugs, asking for God’s help and ours, would we not help him? Yet I wonder what our reaction would be if someone stood up in church and admitted being attracted to the same sex, then asked for God’s help and ours? Would we distance ourselves and reply: “No, there’s nothing to be done for that one”? Would we not welcome them with outstretched arms?

And so we keep Christ the Saviour, the one victorious over sin, death, and the devil, at the center of all we do. It is this Jesus that will draw people to himself and to his church.

Continue reading “Paul’s 3 secrets for church unity and growth”

Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments

Using social media responsibly following terrorist attacks

coexistAs the tragic events unfold in Nairobi, here are a few thoughts about how we can use social media responsibly:

 

1. Throw away your broad brush. “Well, those dirty, rotten ________. That religion is just rotten to the core.” How often does this appear on threads following articles at news sites? Sometimes, we can even vent our anger on FaceBook. Ask yourself: Will this comment I’m about to post makes things better or worse, particularly for those who live and work among those who profess “religion x?” Our words have consequences. Challenge Christian websites whose manner of reporting favors a “clash of civilizations” or “this must be the end times” storyline.

2. Offer condolences to the mourning and prayers for peace. These are always welcome and help us brainstorm in constructive ways for solutions. “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone, and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord”(Hebrews 12:14, NIV).

3. Seek common ground. Go out of your way to befriend someone of another religion. Find common interests, and build on those. Put a human face to your Christian faith that will challenge stereotypes that they might be hearing from their religious leaders. In the same way, by discovering the humanity of someone from another religion, you will be in a place to challenge stereotypes that some Christian leaders present as truth but that create ill-will and stir up hostility.

Let’s remember that what we say online is available for all to read. Are we part of the solution, or part of the problem?

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Image credit: Disjointed Thinking