Appealing to the Artistic in the Apostolic

My last post dealt with apostles and the apostolic and the extremes and misunderstood notions prevalent within the church. Freedom and grace, not fear and control are the necessities needed in apostolic work. The great misunderstanding is that the apostolic work will yield similar results regardless of place or culture. That’s the fear and control talking. When a gospel of radical grace and freedom takes root in a community, the results will look differently depending on the context. Granted the expression of that discipleship community will be (hopefully) an expression of Christ, how that church expresses Christ will be manifold.

The apostolic writers in the New Testament used a variety of metaphors to express the church in her growth. The notions of a temple being built, a family coming together, the functioning of the Body of Christ, among others provides a plethora of ways the church is expressed in the world. Variety and uniqueness should be in the very DNA of every local church. This is why I would appeal to those with apostolic callings to be artistic in the work they do.

In Eph. 2.10, it states we are God’s workmanship, the handiwork of the eternal craftsman. The church is a work of that Jesus builds through the Spirit. This is the poema of God. The lyrical poetry crafted before creation that finds expression in the earth through the church. The context and culture a church finds herself in will offer different canvases and different media to express the reality of Jesus Christ. Some canvases may be small, others large. The media may be oils, acrylics, watercolor or collage. Some may very well be sculptures or even a dramatic work or poetry incarnate. Whatever creative raw materials are found in a given area, Jesus Christ will build His church through the Spirit, the finger of God.

The out working of such expressions of Christ in the world should challenge, stretch and transform us. If we find ourselves only agreeing with the art, the artistic expression is not doing the work of unveiling truth and beauty but merely becoming something petty but pretty. Something ‘pretty/petty’ is nothing more than a sanitized version of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Sugar coated works of art belie the unrestrained passion the God of creation has for His Bride. Why should we as followers of Christ settle for something less? Why should we stifle or even kill the arts and artists?

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The Prophetic – Speaking Truth to Power

This one aspect of the prophetic ministry to the church takes a turn from the upbuilding of the church. One could see this as the prophetic witness of the church to speak to those in places of power. Speaking truth to power has it roots in the OT prophets in the varied calls to embrace justice and care for the poor and marginalized. This is the simultaneous call for the people of God to reflect the alternative community of theKingdomofGodand to address those institutions in the world system that would hinder the cause of justice and compassion.

We can’t expect the world system to reflect the justice of God. However, we can call the powers that be into account when justice is not worked out and the people on the margins are neglected. This is often viewed as meddlesome by some Christians who think our only task as the church is to save lost souls. Saving lost souls is only the beginning of God’s purposes in the earth. Salvations is not only about individuals but also communities and the transformation of God’s creation. The church is an expression of the new creation which is (or least should be) a glaring contrast to the system of the world.

One way to speak of this new reality is through the arts. Keith Giles wrote a blog post regarding the role of the prophetic in the arts.  This may provide a way for those creative types in the Body of Christ to speak prophetically and speak truth to power. In addition, this can provide a way of envisioning the alternative community that the world needs to see. Creativity in the church should not be limited to the sugar coating of some pop culture expression but express that deep and burning longing found in the very heart of God for humanity that bears His image. So what would such art look like?  Ultimately, such artwork will challenge and inspire the church and the world. For the church, it would be a reminder to rise to her calling. For the world, a reminder that all is not okay and transformation is needed. For those in power, a reminder that the power they have is fleeting and is subject to the power of God in the cross of Christ.

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The Gift of the Evangelist

The evangel is the announcement of good news.  For the Christian, the evangel is Jesus Christ. Some will say the gospel is justification by faith through grace. Others will say it is certain verses from the book of Romans. Another will say it is the 4 spiritual laws. More will say it is repentance, belief and saying  a certain prayer. These things are good but the reality of the person of Jesus Christ eclipses them all. The problem is these things make the gospel a something and not the person of Jesus Christ.

Mass evangelism – Many an evangelical is familiar with this. Fill a stadium, theater or church building, bring in a great preacher and have a time of decision. The problem is getting people to the event.

Salesman evangelism – This is the method for sharing the things of the gospel in a manner much like a (used car) salesman. The trick is to make the sale by getting the decision. Atheists, agnostics and other religious practitioners are the hard sale, i.e. brush up on your apologetics. The problem is the reduction of Jesus to a commodity.

Rude evangelism – This is similar to above but ignores the qualities of love expressed in 1 Cor. 13, e.g. patient, kind, not boasting, not rude and so on. This is similar to the cold call and we know how we love telemarketers. Why anyone thought this as an effective way to share Christ is beyond me even though I was guilty of this in my younger days. The greater problem is you ignore the love of God. The lesser problem is you look like a jerk. That often causes problems for the rest of us.

Alternatives:

Bar/coffee shop evangelism – Show up regularly to a bar or coffee shop, develop relationships, share your life (which is rooted in God’s life) with others. This takes the love of God into account by showing up and loving others. You don’t force the door open for the gospel but present the gospel in the midst of your life.

Relational/friendship evangelism – Develop friendships with those outside of the flock and provide a safe place to discuss the problems of life. We can express the love of God in friendship by being there and saying, ‘I enjoy the time we spend together and you are important to me.’ Making time for others gets the focus off ourselves, which is something all us Christians need.

Servant evangelism – Serving the poor or those in need with no other motivation than to love the least of these. You come along side of them in their time of need and share in their suffering. This reflects the quote, ‘Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words.’

The future of evangelism will take seriously the notion of going into the world. This reflects Bonhoeffer’s view for the future of Christianity: Pray and help those with the problems of this age and enter into their suffering. Can you think of other examples that reflect such an approach to sharing the gospel? How can we share the good news of Christ in the midst of a postmodern culture?

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Teachers in Church Life

Next up is the role of teacher in the church; how this works out traditionally and possibilities in an emerging/organic context. Teaching is oft associated with transmitting knowledge, from teacher to student via facts, figures and later evaluation (read here, testing). The teaching that occurs from kindergarten to high school and on is of this sort. Granted the higher one goes in education, the more one has to show and defend independent thought and research. Yet teaching in the church is more than just passing along knowledge but also the passing on of wisdom. Wisdom is that richness of life experience that has put the knowledge to work by discerning the why and how. I like to think of it as knowledge tried by fire.

The church passes along her wisdom in a variety of ways. Need we look further than Sunday School? Growing up in a Southern Baptist Church, Sunday School was the morning preface to the worship service. Bible stories were taught to the children, (often sanitized for safety reasons) while teens and adults ventured deeper into the text. Application and theology come together though not at an academic level.

The teaching for those called to ministry takes a different turn. The place of Bible schools, Christian colleges and seminaries is a ministerial rite of passage for many churches and denominations. Considering the disciples in the 1st Century, not all were as educated as Paul. Yet most denominations require an M.Div for ordination. Is this necessary for those called to ministry? What of the many called in developing countries who neither have the education nor the finances to pursue such education? This may be an oversight that Western churches need to rethink. Above all else if the academic work has no traction in the real world of practice why continue on such a path? Must we preserve the ivory towers?

Teaching in an emerging/organic context might look a bit different. First, the teaching will be practical, modeled and illustrated in the life of the one teaching. Next, the teaching may not even look like ‘traditional’ teaching but more like a conversation. Openness and participation are common requisites in such a faith community. Third, teaching can be more inviting for those on the fringes of the flock. Having an open time of discussion regarding scripture, doctrine or theology over coffee, beer or cigars could reach people who would never darken the door of a church house. The leadership expressed in the work of a teacher is that of influence and friendship along with the shaping of the concepts, ideas and language of the faith community.

Whether academic or fiercely practical, the teaching of the church should reflect the head of the church, Jesus Christ. Teachers likewise should reflect the character and style of the Rabbi Jesus. Above all else is the need for utter dependence on the Holy Spirit in teaching. That Spirit leads us to all truth, the fullness of Christ.

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Freedom

Braveheart is one of my favorite movies and the story of William Wallace and the fight for a freeScotland garnered awards and praise. (A good deal of why it is a favorite is that I can easily recognize my inner barbarian and the violence in my heart.) Granted the violence inherent to many revolutionary and freedom fighting movements is at odds with what it means to follow Jesus, the ideas presented regarding freedom are what stand out to me.  The notion that, leading the people to freedom from tyranny is important, rings true even to this day.

Of course, how you do it is just as important. The violence of spiritual warfare does not entail the need for physical violence.  If anything, the spiritual warfare we engage in is a reminding of the powers that be of their defeat through the cross of Christ. It is also a reminder to the church; the cross is our example in how to engage the powers. That being said, the following quotes from the movie are not an endorsement of violent revolution but examples of how important freedom is, especially in light of the cross of Christ.

Early in the movie, we see William’s father brought home as a slain warrior in the fight againstEngland. After his burial, Williams’s father appears to him in a dream, telling him, “Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it.” These words shape the remainder of his life.

Later, after engaging the English and declaring the freedom ofScotland, he meets with the future king ofScotland, Robert the Bruce.  In the context of rallying the nobles and the people to the cause of freedom, William tells Robert the Bruce, “And if you would just lead them to freedom, they’d follow you. And so would I…” He seeks to instill courage into this future royal.

Both of these quotes from the movie show the importance of courage in light of freedom. Granted the path of taking up the sword is distant from the way of Jesus, we need courage nonetheless to embrace the freedom we have in following Jesus. The heart is set free in pursuit of Christ. However, fear and forgetfulness will seek to stifle that wonderful freedom in Christ. We must remember, we are free in Christ and we must encourage one another in that freedom.

Often, those in leadership in the church take to feeling entitled to the position they have. If anything, the leaders should seek the example of Christ and point the way to Christ. If a leader does this, embrace and encourage freedom in Christ, the transformation of believers and the church will be nothing short of a resurrection that empowers the Body of Christ for service in the world. Will those in leadership in the church give up control for freedom in Christ? Isn’t this what the world needs?

 

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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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