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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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 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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Why?

Why ‘Church Blogmatics?’

The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is facing some interesting times ahead. Between the charismatic renewal, organic churches and the emerging church the church in Western culture is in transition. ultimately, I believe the church is God’s eternal purpose in the earth. The church is that beautiful bride comprised of brothers and sisters in Christ as a community reflecting the divine holy love of the Trinity. I believe in one holy catholic apostolic church but not as traditionally understood. This shift in understanding leads to the blogmatics aspect.

In light of these changes facing the church, how do we as brothers and sisters in Christ, respond to the ever changing landscape of culture, technology and life in general? How do live by a life not our own? What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ in today’s world? How does one seek the Kingdom of God in the present tense? What is the relation of the church to the world and God’s Kingdom? How should the church relate to the world? These questions, among many others, will frame this dialog. Hopefully a space can be opened to address the Christian faith, in belief and practice, that can hold to dogma without being inflexible. I consider myself somewhat emergent but also somewhat dogmatic. Certain fundamentals of Christian faith I cannot shake, yet I do want to communicate the message of the cross of Christ in terms of today’s culture. So this is the tension I find myself in and I continue to wonder, ‘why?’

Grace and peace,

JWR

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