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What happened to community?

I have been in pretty much two kinds of churches. I grew up in many small town churches, but since I was about 17 I have been in what you might call niche churches. Either the whole church was a niche, such as upper-middle class educated white people, or a church that was structured around smaller market niches such as college and career or single parents.

Looking back, I can see that the small-town churches, though theologically less sophisticated or correct, more accurately manifested biblical community. It was organized according to one principle, geography. Though there were ministries specific to the women or children, they were integrated with the rest of church life. It was a lively church life in which most participated. Some of my favorite memories of that time in my life are at church during services, Royal Rangers, church suppers, weddings, or just playing with the other children young and old while parents talked.

Unlike the church of my youth, both types of niche churches isolate me so that it is very easy to remain only around people like me. In my position at least, as a father of young children, leaves me seeing the world such that I have relatively little to offer and gain by community. The people with which I associate are have many of the same problems and capabilities that I have. This impedes the feeling of interdependence that fosters real community. When I depend on you and you depend on me, there is a real bond.

The mere fact that I would think in terms of what I have to gain and offer shows how much I have been influenced by the world. People in another time might have thought about their relationship with the church in terms of obligation and responsibility. Here to the church has given way to the world. Many churches tout their programs as ways to obtain fulfillment either through socializing, learning, or serving. Instead, scripture considers these things a spiritual act of worship. It is a worship that on one had God demands, and on the other hand, his subjects offer freely. It is not for us to decided what is best for us, it is only for us to repent and obey.

One way the multi-market niche church philosophy fails is that most of us are not purely one niche. I am a man (men's ministry), a father (children's ministry), a husband (young married class), and a learner-type (deep bible studies). It seems that many times people get involved with too many groups. One can only maintain a certain number of relationships so community is shallow. Conflicting schedules also contribute to inconsistency in attendance which also deteriorates community. Still some, overwhelmed or confused by the choices never get involved at all. People are so busy with all their existing relationships that they forget that one of the purposes of our being here is to gather more worshipers into God's growing kingdom.

The final impediment to real community has nothing to do with church structure. It is the lack of strong preaching of the Gospel. Without any structural help at all, the message of our redemption through the alien righteousness of Christ breaks down our selfishness, our pretensions, our shame, and our pride. It is then easy for us to love those around us in such a provocative way that we realize not only our interdependence but our mutual dependence on Christ. We are equal brothers and sisters. Our identity is no long in what differentiates us from others so that we can judge them, but our identity comes from our union with Christ and with each other.

Primary Locus of Identity

For a long, long time, I have been moved by the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10. Jesus tells Martha that Mary has found the one thing that is necessary and it is the one thing that will last. I have ruminated over what it means to live for one thing.

There are examples of people that live such lives. Soldiers and athletes come immediately to mind. Since I have been watching 24, I also think of Jack Bauer. These people do not only do one thing. In fact, they do many things, but everything they do relates very clearly even if indirectly to their goal. Some athletes even cross train in other sports in order to improve their performance at their main sport. Soldiers must study, exercise, practice, prepare to fight the enemy.

I wonder how my life looks from above. I wonder if it just looks like a hodgepodge of activities with no real unifying theme. Or, is it unified by some idolatrous principle or just my own pleasure. Unfortunately, I am quite sure that it does not look like a deliberate efficient seeking first of the Kingdom of God.

One reason I believe that I am off track is because I have, along with the church, been sucked into a cultural trend. It is the trend of moving one's primary locus of identity to the individual and away from the community. Much of my angst regarding living for the kingdom alone is due to my own fear and idolatry, but some of my angst over living for one thing is due to the modern American church missing the idea that Christ meant for the Church to be the primary locus of identity for the Christian and moving with the world in addressing man as an individual instead of a member of a community.

My next few posts will explore this idea.

Developing Worship

It is no secret that the music and worship form of my church does not match my own. I would tend toward either a higher liturgical form that is almost anglican. My thoughts were formed in, St. Paul's Church, PCA, a conservative presbyterian church that sought to reach out to people that had grown up in mainline churches. However, they also believed that the form was good aside from the cultural appeal.

I am currently attending a fairly normal broadly evangelical bible church. In some sense, they are the antithesis of what I came to love at St. Paul's. Informal, contemporary, unstructured. I could go on, but I would begin to sin. In fact, I have many times. I sat in church pointing out in my head every trite phrase and the lack of good poetry. I would list every difference with my own model and revel in every irony. I feel very confident that I was right on most points, but I know that my heart was not right on most.

Finally, after beginning to read With One Voice by Reggie Kidd, on of my professors at RTS, I have changed my approach. In fact, God has changed my heart. I came to the realization that I was missing my one chance every week to worship with Christ and his body. While I still believe the form of the worship is sub-par, the object of the worship is beyond compare.

I am so thankful because I am not just doing it because I know it is right, but because I actually want to. As opposed to my many attempts to be less critical, this approach actually works.

Jesus is alive. Let's worship him.

Big Rock Candy Mountain

Recently I was listening to the soundtrack of O, Brother, Where art Thou? and heard a very interesting song. The song is entitled The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Basically, it is a hobo ballad about a hobo paradise originally recorded in the 1930's.

It mentions a lake of whisky, streams of alcohol, cigarette trees, jails of tin, policemen with wooden legs, and various other questionable attributes of paradise. It really shocked me to find out that it was written in the '30s.

Even though I reject the typical conservative idea that things have been getting worse since the founding fathers, I am still surprised to find a song like this. About the only vice it doesn't mention is illicit sex. And, supposedly the original version was about luring boys to become hobos only to be abused. It reminds me of Pinocchio, another surprisingly dark piece.

I think we are deceived about the decay of the world because we forget two things. We forget that sin entered the world in Adam and that it has been bad for a very, very long time. This basic sinfulness is always present in every culture no matter how nice it appears on the outside. Secondly, we get wrapped up in our own time and place and forget that God is doing something much bigger than our country and our lifetime.

These confusions are further complicated by the prevalence dispensational premillenialism which teaches that the world will get worse and worse until Armageddon. I believe that it is a misunderstanding of scripture and has been detrimental to the spiritual life of the church. Its rise at the same time as the fundamentalist-modernist controversy served to turn the church inward. This exacerbated the average church-gowers myopic vision of the world.

Only in the past couple of decades is the church emerging. Even still, there are decades of ingrowth to overcome and a lot of bad attitudes toward the church from without. It would do us good to concentrate on the ingrowth first. Unfortunately, many of those that are ingrown are leaders. Only God's spirit to turning the church back to the Gospel and away from its various forms of legalism will save true Christianity in America.

Psuedo-christian legalism is as bad if not worse than pagan hedonism. At a worldly level pseudo-christian religion, it is better, but spiritually, it is worse. It is the religion of the Pharisees, which Christ rejected 2 millennia ago.

Redeemer Community Church

I just thought I would point anyone looking for a good church in the East St.Louis area to Redeemer Community Church.

My good friend Rusty Mosley is the pastor there, and I am sure that the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ will be both preached and lived.

They are starting services on Feb. 27th, and I am excitedly waiting to see what God will do in the comming months.

Was Athanasius a Good Guy?

A friend of Courtney's asked a very good question about our son's middle name. Having read the Wikipedia article I liked to, she asked, "Was Athanasius really a good guy?" This was my resons:

The Wikipedia article is largely from a 20th century perspective. It doesn't really judge as sympathetically as I would. But then again, I think it is really important that he played a major role in shaping Christian doctrine during his life time. Judged in his context, I think he would come out more admirable.

Maybe I should have picked a different source to link to. It is just a generally recognized reference, and gives a brief overview of his life. I probably should have given this disclaimer for all of the articles. I pretty much read everything with a healthy dose of skepticism. This is especilly true of secular judgments of church history. Modern historians for the most part have a progressive view of history that everything gets better and better. While WWII changed some of that, there is still a strong influence. Many evangelicals (conservative Christians) think things are just getting worse and worse. I see things going up and down with no particular pattern with respect to time.

For a better view of how I view Athanasius, you could read the introduction to his On Incarnation by C.S. Lewis.

Finishing Blue Like Jazz

Well, I finished Blue Like Jazz (BLJ) tonight. I think Dave mentioned it to me a couple of years ago. I wish I had read it then. Most of the ideas are things I have heard through other sources. I think I particularly liked his thoughts about living with the hippies and the confession booth where they confessed to their classmates.

I think I would really like to go to his church. In large part, I am very much like him. One way that I am not is that I am married and I am not a writer. It seems to me that the church really needs some regular Joes like me to live the Gospel. In some ways it will look similar to the thoughts in BLJ. It is one thing to be a missionary, pastor, writer/speaker and forge a path of discipleship. It is another to live in a mid-sized town in Texas, work 40-50 hours a week and have a family to support and find a way to live a righteous and holy life to God. Should I serve more? Should I give more? Should I work less? Should I buy less? Should I...Should I...Should I. It is almost enough to make one want to give up.

Incidentally, my good friend, Rusty accused me of worshiping an idol with my desire to live such a life. It is so hard to ferret out the line between really fighting against fear and wanting to live a life of radical discipleship and making such a life an idol and worshiping it apart from the living God.

I am not sure about his conclusion. It is hard to live a free life. Even when I think about my children, they get jealous and end up being suspicious of us playing favorites. I am particularly thinking of my two-year-old. It starts young. I can see this in myself. I hate it, but I often begin to compare myself to my peers when I see their stuff or find out how old they are. Why can't I be free?

Miller in BLJ talks about learning to accept love. This is the struggle of the Christian life. It is hard to believe the kind of love that God has for us. We almost refuse to believe it. I can see that I have often rejected it. I feel like I need to do something to repay God. This is just not true. Why can't I get that through my head!?

Am I Emergent and other quandries?

I thought this was pretty funny. I fit some categories and not others. I seem to be a square peg in a round hole pretty much everywhere I go. I felt like that at church today.

Drifting Toward Libertarianism

Living in a pluralistic society can be tough.  We are constantly beset with competing claims to truth.  Groups making these claims may or may not play fair with respect to the society’s agreement.  One example might be militant Muslims.  I'd claim that the secular humanist left is also one such group.  I'd also claim that the most extreme of the "religious right" is another.

As of late I have gradually been drifting toward the Libertarian position.  I think that in a place where pluralism is standard, we need the government to do as little as possible.  The less we have to agree on

Flowers from Jesus

Maybe it is a little corny, but what if we sent flowers to women with no husband on special occasions that were from Jesus? Could this be a concrete way to be the body of Christ in his being a husband to the widow?