Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What is a church?

This is not a detailed exegetical conclusion as much as it is an expression of my hopes.

Like a diamond, there are many facets to the church, but three stand out - at least to me - to make the church unique in what it is.

First, a church is a place of ancient enchantment, like an old library where "Scholars take from their treasury things both old and new." Without a sense of antiquity, religion dies at the hands of modernity. The true church knows this and so it always demands that its faith be anchored in the past, knowing that what is old, simply is. We cannot change it, nor can those folks who think that religion should "change with the times." As a glorious anachronism, the church is a place of rest from a weary world of immediate pleasures and desparate lives.

Second, a church is a boat, tossed and pummeled in a tempest. There is no good reason why it has not disappeared into the deep...except one, the solitary presence which is "asleep in the stern."

Third, a church is like a garden, always needing tending. The Catholics seem to get this and reinforce it by the construction of real gardens on the church grounds. Like Gesemane, you can find the hearts true home.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Whence comes our leaders? Part IV


I would like to take a quick look at two verses found in the books mentioned in the heading - for our topic, the verses are decisive ones that dwell on parallel themes. These verses are Acts 4:13 and John 7:15.

Acts 4:13 "And observing the
boldness of Peter and John,
and perceiving that they were
unscholarly men even laymen,
they marvelled and recognized
them as having been with Jesus."

John 7:15 "Therefore, the Jews

marvelled saying, "How has this
man become scholarly, not
having studied?"

[My Translations]

There can be no more decisive claim than these verses to demonstrate the time honored wisdom in the saying 'like-teacher-like-student'. What Jesus had promised had come to pass. The disciples had "become like their master." As with Jesus at his baptism, so also with them at Pentecost. The Spirit had fallen and that was decisive. What they had become no longer had its nexus on earth. They had been recreated from above.

The term 'boldness' as used in Acts is Luke's signature term for the Spirit's work. When disciples are filled with this newly poured out Spirit, they obtain a power and wisdom that explodes in boldness. This type of Spirit-induced preaching and activity would be repeated many times throughout Luke's history of early Christianity.

Observing the manner in which these men preached, the Jewish leaders were drawn to make the connection between them and the supposedly deceased Jesus. From the text, the only literary connection we are told of is this 'boldness'. Here is the nexus from which both Jesus and the Apostles are born. It is sufficient to become learned, it is sufficient to become wise - beyond one's detractors.

That Luke here is trying to emphasis the unsurpassable work of the Spirit in the disciples cannot be disputed. His entire book has the hegemony of the Spirit as its running theme.

More important for us are the lessons to be learned:

First, what had happened in Jesus' life was not something that was to remain peculiar to Him. His disciples had now also crossed over to a new realm of existence, a world in which all things had become new, a world independant of the earthly realm for its power and wisdom. They had moved from being participants in the world to being its judges.

Second, that this new mode of existence was just what God had intended to make the world stand up and take notice. Something had happened to these men that could not be explained by the presence of any earthly institution. As such it judged all the vaporous endeavors of men.

Third, a paradigm had been established. A paradigm that was intended to move through history recreating all in its path. From this point on, anyone who called on the name of the Lord was to be afforded this divine life. They need only trust and obey.

For those who would argue that if we left the church up to ordinary unschooled churchmen we would have a congregation of yokels, Luke and John would say, "Oh, ye of little faith!" Our biblical writers assume that the Spirit is fully capable of forming Christ's Church. Perhaps this could be the problem. Maybe it is not Christ's church that men want.

I would submit that the tendancy to have yokels fill the pulpit in so many of our "country" churches is because of the fraudulent model that has been handed down to them by the so-called great churches. The country
preacher is often just a countrified interpretation of the vacuous dullards littered throughout their big city models. These country innocents know nothing of the power of the Spirit and of how the Church is to work in the new age thanks in particular to the unbiblical example around them. They are simply matching their spiritless understanding of the Word with the stifling world-conforming format of a withered Christendom.

If we are honest, we would have to say that the lack of wisdom has more to do with the general neglect of the Wisdom/Spirit culture originally bequeathed to us by Jesus.

But the real question is: How has this come about? The answer is a hard one. But by this I do not mean intellectually hard. It is humiliatingly hard, for our problem stems from desiring the respect of the world. I challenge any reader to go through the gospels and see if this is not the reason that Jesus gives for the failure of people to follow Him, in particular, the 'churchmen' of His day. As followers of Christ, we cannot seek both Christ's and the world's praise . If we want all to "think well of us" than we must forget the plan of God. Its that simple.

The idea of the gifted body growing in wisdom has eluded the poor country church as well as the rich city cathedral. Although to be fair to the country churches - judging from the viewpoint of spiritual health - I would say that they are doing far better than their city counterparts who are drowning in their modern secular agendas and cultural compromises. The country Christian, on the other hand, still focuses on simple things like being a good neighbor. Christ is sure to honor them for this. I would suggest that their better health is largely due to their distance from the seminary.



Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Whore

In John's Revelation, the Whore - then symbolic of Israel, now symbolic of the church - rides upon the back of the Beast - symbolic of the state in any age - only to be rejected and ravished. Today, the Church, walking in apparent lockstep with all that has proceeded it, most certainly lives in fulfillment of this prophecy. If we were honest at looking at our own history, it would appear obvious that the Church has long sought after a position of dignity in association with the State and the ruling intelligentsia, whether with Constantine's Rome, the Holy Roman Empire, the various European State-Churches, or the many American protestant and catholic sects with their ruling oligarchs. We pine after the respectability we assume comes with the approval of the reigning political and academic elites.

From the time of Constantine until today, the Church has ridden upon the back of the State like the Whore of Revelation. The temptation to seek respectability has proven too strong to resist. Almost overnight, the Church took upon itself the form of the State and its methodologies for action. As the State made its professionals, so the Church made its priests/preachers. In total disregard for the way of God detailed in Scripture, the Church pursued life as a mirror image of the Beast. Striving well as Theological Dogmatists, yet implementing the truth as Practical Atheists.

At the foundation of this collapse lies the Church's inability to apply its core belief to the most critical area of Christian society - the selection of its ministers. Whereas the Cross tells us that we cannot claim God's calling and blessing by what we have accomplished or purchased, the Church, on the other hand, has for centuries enthroned simony as the way of life for Christian service. In a more ancient day, it meant buying the priesthood. Today, the monetary cost of ministerial education has made it all but certain that ministers are now "called" only from the wealthy or from those with wealthy benefactors. Anyone who has the money can be a priest or pastor in today's profligate church. The idea of divine gifting, while given lip-service in the application process, is effectually neutered by the modern seminary's assurance that our ministers are "fully prepared" by their humanly designed curricula and "anointed" in their various denominational rites of passage. The folly and corruption of the so-called 'ordination' process is notorious. Just ask the victims of a paedophile priest or bisexual evangelical leader.

Underlying the cost is the presumption that this method of ministerial preparation is somehow divinely approved, the cost working as sort of a sieve to remove the "chaff" i.e., those who falsely presume they are called. For those who cannot afford the cost have their calling often challenged or dismissed outright with pious statements such as, "If God calls you to ministry, He will supply the money." It follows that if the money is not there, you are not called, the reverse also being true. That the logic begs the question about the divine approval upon the process is never honestly dealt with. The list of instances where the pride of life masqueraded as piety is legion.

But here is the most tragic result: Gone with the Way of the Cross is God's presence in the Spirit. The Church can no longer say "silver or gold have we none" as it rejoices in its worldly gains, but neither can it say "rise up and walk." The consequence of this loss of power before the world is the world's inability to recognize the value of the Church. As the Church has rejected its source of power, the world can no longer find any compelling need for the Church. It is now worse than archaic, it is irrelevant. Gone are the days when a small group of inspirited disciples could turn around an entire empire. It is now just one competing religion among many. As a source of power, the voting booth is esteemed more than the Spirit.

So, what must we conclude? If we somehow find it within ourselves to scrap this secular-based system, what do we replace it with? First, with humility and honesty. Second, with obedience. Both the Old and New Testaments and early Christian history give us an easily understandable set of examples on this topic. In not one of them does the teaching on ministerial selection and education have anything to do with the way the world molds its professionals. The process is simple and supernatural: Gifting and apprenticeship - the Power of God working in communion with the Body.

Let us be honest with ourselves by asking this question: If we fail to obey, will God continue to approve? And what if the lack of approval is made manifest by the withholding of His Spirit? How would we know, as men of flesh, that the Spirit is missing? What if we only think we have the Spirit today? What if Spirit-reception through mere faith-perception is as heretical as an indulgence? Samson "...knew not that the Spirit had left him." By all honest observation, the Church is in the same serious state of disobedience and just as spiritless. Just a husk.

"When I return, will I find faith in the land?"