The Christian Label

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way “Christian” became an overused adjective. I’m sure the creation of a Christian sub-culture in America helped in this respect with a wide variety of Christian products to serve up. We have Christian variations of television, radio, music, movies, singles websites, social media and on and on. It seems with the advent of any new type of trendy cultural contrivance the sub-culture seems to need to devise a Christian version of said device. This need to subvert culture in such an impetuous way seems a betrayal of the way of Jesus.

This reactionary recklessness is evident in the recent destruction of Serrano’s controversial artwork. Keith Giles offers an insightful response in Christians Unclear on the Concept. The need for a Christian sub-culture will only produce artistic works that are sub-par. This encourages the retreat to a Christian ghetto mentality. The need for clean, safe and holy artwork neglects a great deal of our human situation. The challenge for Christians in any sort of culture creation is the need to move beyond safe sub-culture to fully engage culture. The perpetuation of a Christian sub-culture is nothing short of cowardice. We are called to go into the world so why create things that are labeled “Christian?”

The people are Christian not the stuff. Going to the book of Acts, the followers of Jesus were commonly called followers of the Way or disciples. They are first called Christians in Antioch. Also, take into account how Paul spoke of the believers in the churches he raised up. He called them, saints. Also, brothers and sisters. Off the top of my head, I don’t believe he ever called them, “Christians.” So as disciples and followers of Christ, let’s drop “Christian” as an unnecessary adjective to describe what we do. Instead, let Christian be what we are.

grace and peace,

JWR

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Authority and the Bible

The Orthodox (Roman and Eastern) Church takes both apostolic tradition and the Bible as sources of authority in the church. With the different view of apostolic tradition laid out in my last blog post, we now turn to the biblical record as a source of authority in the church.

In some evangelical circles, the place of the Bible is supreme. Coming from a Southern Baptist background, a certain pride was being a people of the book. In some more conservative (some might say fringe) groups, the Bible must be 1611 King James only. The point being this is the true word of God and other translations are in error or, more generously, a mix of truth and error. Such a view of scripture finds a certain similarity to Muslim and Mormon views.

While such views are often the reaction to textual criticism, New Testament studies and other things like the Jesus Seminar. Theologically, the work of NT scholars should be acknowledged and considered. However, this can be taken with a grain of salt since the emphases change roughly every twenty to thirty years. The greater task may be that of interpretation. Ultimately, I see the hermeneutic lens as that of the life and teachings of Jesus. He is the final Word and the living Word that the Bible testifies to through the power of the Spirit.

The narrative of the Bible is the story of God and humanity; God’s purpose for humanity and the plan of redemption revealed in Christ. Granted this is greatly simplified, the story of the God revealed in the Bible is rich in the text. Likewise, the story we find ourselves in is part of and a continuation of the biblical narrative. The canon of scripture is closed but we continue to testify of the living God revealed through Christ Jesus.

Let us consider our view of the Bible: Do we look to the Bible for ammo to cut down the one we disagree with? Do we interpret scripture to justify our economics, politics and culture? Or do we see the written testimony of people of faith that testify to a redeeming God? Do we see the living Word via the written Word? Does our view of the Bible end at the book or point us to the One the book is about?

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Authority and Apostolic Traditions

The end of Matthew’s gospel has Jesus proclaiming that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. This seems to be a proper starting point and the source of the church’s authority. Some will argue that the authority is in the apostles (especially Peter) and the traditions they hand down. Yet if we look at the biblical record, the traditions are very simple. Gospel. Baptism. Eucharist.

The gospel proclaimed by the apostles was not overblown theological fluff, nor elaborate dogmatics, nor propositional arguments for God’s existence. The gospel story evinced in apostolic preaching is that of a Jewish rabbi that was crucified and was raised from the dead. The call to respond to the gospel wasn’t and isn’t responding to things about him but rather responding to him. This living Christ is the one in whom to find salvation, healing, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. Things are made right between God and humanity and between fellow human beings in Christ.

Baptism is the symbol of the reception of that person the gospel proclaims. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is symbolized in the immersion (death) and raising up (resurrection) of the believer. The picture painted in baptism is powerful yet simple. This powerful simplicity likewise can open the possibility to presenting the gospel again to those who witness it. Baptism also symbolizes our entry into the new covenant and the community if that covenant.

The final tradition handed down is the Eucharist. This is the celebration of the broken body of Jesus Christ and of the blood he shed for the new covenant. The Eucharist was taken within the context of a meal. The later reduction of the celebration to a wafer and a sip of wine seems to overlook the sense of community found in a communal meal. Likewise, the service of the Eucharist limited to one person takes away from the priesthood of all believers and the serving of one another in the church. The Eucharist is a celebration that all should have the privilege and opportunity to serve to one’s brothers and sisters in Christ.

The apostolic traditions are not elaborate but simple. This simplicity however does not mean that a wealth of meaning and spiritual insight is not available in these traditions. A minimalist view of apostolic tradition provides a simple expression of Christian faith in practice, which one can easily pass on. Granted simple need not provide an outright rejection of sophisticated expressions either. Simplicity allows for a starting point that is accessible to all.

Just as the person of Christ is the source of the apostolic traditions, so too is he the source of any authority in the church. Only one man has all the authority for the church, that man is Jesus Christ. So do we look to the Sent One or someone else?  Do we embrace the simplicity (and depths) found in Christ or someone or something else?  Should what we pass down to new believers become a who instead?

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Authority in the Church

Authority in the church is a touchy subject. I won’t even begin to touch the issue of papal authority but rather look to common views of authority within the wider world of evangelicalism. Those more Orthodox will take some issue with this since we owe biblical canon, a good deal of theology and certain liturgical practices to them. That being said, apostolic authority, biblical authority and pastoral authority will be under review.

‘Authority’ is often used by those in leadership to retain control, elicit fear and unwittingly usurp the authority of Christ as the head of the church. Such use of authority can lead to abuse of power. [See my previous post on Authority and abuse] Again, I will not touch the scandals in Roman Catholicism. The issue it seems is that earthly authority is being mistaken for Kingdom authority. Kingdom authority rests in the rule of God as seen in the life of Christ. If the authority in the church (as being within the Kingdom) does not reflect the life and ministry of Jesus, something is askew. I would say it is often our view of authority that is out of line.

With this issue of  authority causing confusion, what is the proper way of addressing the issue of authority and leadership within the Body of Christ? Likewise, how do we deal with apostolic, biblical and pastoral authority? What other areas of authority in the church do we need to address? Share your thoughts.

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Sheep, Goats and Osama bin Laden

Over this past week, I have had time to reflect on the various responses to the death of Osama bin Laden. From the joyous chanting to the somber expression, his death has evoked a wide-ranging spectrum. Two posts really got me thinking about radical Christian responses. The first from Tripp Fuller at Homebrewed Christianity. The second from Kurt Willem at The Pangea Blog. If you have a few minutes check them out. Both of these posts really shook me out of a nice tidy reading of the life of Christ (and what it means to follow him) that many Americans want to embrace.

As a Christian, whether you rejoiced or mourned Osama’s death, did you pray for him? If for some weird reason, he showed up at your church service, how would you respond? Would you love him? If he was hungry would you feed him? Thirsty? In need of shelter? Naked? In Prison? Sick? I think you can see where this is going. If you or I had the opportunity to do it, would we? Are we sheep or goats? Read Matthew 25:31-46 again.

I’ll admit, this might be stretching the limits of that parable then again maybe not. It seems that is what parables are meant to do. To stretch us beyond our comfort zone and show us the possibility for the Kingdom of God in our life. Are we willing to embrace this radical grace that has been extended to us to embody this divine reality? I am sure there will be protests to this, but before you do, recognize that you too, at one point in your life, were an enemy of God…

Grace and peace,

JWR

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Some Further Thoughts on Osama bin Laden’s Death

For the sake of clarity, one should never condone violence, especially from a Christian perspective. The actions of Osama bin Laden were and will continue to be atrocious. The damage inflicted on American soil left a gaping wound that still needs healing. Yet for the sake of consistency, the actions of the American President cannot be condoned either. When violence begets violence, the world continues to suffer. The cycle never ends. The death of bin Laden has not solved that problem. Violent responses are short term solutions that provide a temporary ‘peace’ and ‘security’ that later gives way to further violence.

The cross of Jesus Christ provides a way beyond the downward spiral of violence. Good Friday was celebrated a few weeks ago remembering that cross. Many may wonder of the good brought about by the death of a Jewish peasant. Violence was inflicted on Jesus by Roman authorities with the approval of the religious establishment. His death was the result of the greatest injustice but by the power of God is transformed into the greatest justice. Only after resurrection was it seen as good. The powers of satan, sin and the world system found an end in the death of Jesus Christ. In the resurrection we see the possibility of new life.

In the Pauline letter to the Colossians 2:15 it states:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (NIV)

Some view the ‘powers and authorities’ as the beings in the angelic realm, others as the reality of satan and his minions or as other’s see it, the worldly system of power. Whatever these powers may truly be, the cross is the place of their defeat and exposure.

So what does that mean for Christians today and the response to violence? The eternal moment of the cross of Christ is where the powers eventually lose. The cross of Christ exposed the true nature of those powers, that in Revelation are portrayed as beastly. Ultimately, it should provide Christians with the strength and courage to face the monstrous powers of violence and dominance and speak the truth in love.

The difficulty of walking in such a way is the violent nature of our own hearts. The natural desire to strike back is deeply ingrained in us. The good news is that that nature died on the cross too. The way of Jesus is now a possibility. It is only by the grace of God one can go this way. May we always keep the cross before us even in the midst of a violent world.

Peace,

JWR