Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

The Church Christ Envisioned

“This church (the local church that each Christian should join) must look like the one that Jesus envisioned when he built the church.” (Howard Norton, longtime missionary in Brazil, in The Christian Chronicle, August 2011, available here) This quote led me to think of the following:

That is our plan. To build, be, develop, grow and belong to the church Jesus envisioned. That is one of the reasons we choose the name Church of Christ. That is why we base every decision on what Jesus and his apostles said and wrote.

And, since we base our practices completely on what is written in scripture, we have some practices that differ with the majority of churches. The conviction to follow the Bible only, completely, and absolutely has led us to teach adult baptism as opposed to baptizing infants, a capella music for worship as opposed to any mechanical instruments, and congregational autonomy as opposed to organization in synods, dioceses, etc.

We look strange to some, but the church looked strange to those who saw her first built, too. The breakaway from Old Covenant ritual and the avoidance of societal habits estranged the early Christians from other religious folks. Note that Peter called them strangers, foreigners, aliens (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11).

Not that we are different just for the sake of being different. But because we do not allow the world around us to change our allegiance to what the Bible dictates, we will continue to look strange. Let’s just make every effort to have that look mirror the vision Christ had when he built his church.

Church Advertising

In an Associated Press article by Blake Nicholson, we were told today of gasoline give-aways by churches in North Dakota and New Jersey. “Experts” were quoted that decried the hypocritical use of worldly “gimmicks” to attempt to bring in the worldly lost. But others stated that it was simply a way of advertising, which they claim as a necessity for churches attempting to reach the masses today.

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? Is it necessary for churches to market the gospel the same way discount stores market beauty products and the latest electronic toys? With freebies and special events? Is it proper for churches to advertise at all?

I guess that last question is easy to answer. Even listing our phone number in the phone book is a small advertisement. But how far should we go? Is there a scriptural answer to this question? Or are we left to our own wisdom?

Advertising was certainly not a consideration for the churches that existed while the Bible was being written. So we have nothing about advertising in the New Testament letters written to those churches. But we have a lot about ethics. So something must apply.

Ethical violations occur when someone misuses their authority or opportunity with another person. Keeping a dollar that you see someone drop on the sidewalk may not be criminal, but it is certainly unethical. You have the opportunity to use your knowledge of who dropped the dollar. If you ignore that opportunity and don’t restore the person’s dollar to them, you are acting unethically.

Likewise, an employer that asks his employees for contributions to his favorite charity at the time when he is doing the annual reviews is being unethical. Yes, the employees have the right to decline, but the pressure is implied and many will give because of the employer’s misuse of his position even though they had originally not wanted to give. That’s unethical.

So what about churches and marketing? Certainly it is not illegal. Certainly it doesn’t violate any direct command of scripture. But is it ethical? Is it right to desire a spiritual response from the public by using secular attractions? I truly wonder about contests that draw people to attend. How can we appeal to a person’s earthly nature with “door prizes,” “cash awards” and “gifts” then try to teach them to abandon their earthly nature?

We have the opportunity to present something different to the world. That is our God-given mandate:

“For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do…they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they  malign you;” (1st Peter 4:3-4).

“(My disciples) are not of the world, just as I (Jesus) am not of the world” (John 17:16).

“…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Phil 2:15-16).

How can we teach “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:19-20) and at the same time be enticing people with treasures of the earth?

Let’s be sure our outreach does not belie our message.

Hot News

One of the hot news items in California is literally hot: wildfires. I had been jealous of those who had homes in beautiful wilderness areas. But seeing TV pictures of homes that have been reduced to ashes, I’m glad I live in a city. The same is true of the floods that have hit the Midwest. Beautiful river views have been replaced by raging torrents of destruction right through some houses and businesses and I find myself thankful that I don’t live on a river.

I’m not insensitive to the plight of folks who live there. Even though I do wonder in the back of my mind if some of these problems should have been realized and avoided. My dad chose my childhood home’s placement carefully, because he grew up on a hillside above a river and saw the families washed out below. He would mention this when the creek on the other side of town overflowed its banks every five years or so. I don’t know if the likelihood of wildfires in the mountains where they now are raging was well known before so many people started building there; but if it was, then they took quite a chance by going ahead with building plans.

Our daily lives have the same need for care. We should be careful to check out “the lay of the land” so we can avoid the spiritual flood waters. Our Lord illustrated this through the story of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. His life was nearly destroyed by moving to the region of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19; compare 2nd Peter 2:7).

More than the geographic choice, though, one’s moral/political choice influences the way life develops. If I choose to live alongside the banks of immorality, I open myself to the possibility of being overwhelmed by it. if I build my house among the stands of political correctness that have grown up in this society, I run the risk of being consumed by the conflagration. While we do have to live in this world physically, we need to be sure we are not choosing to live within its mindset.

It is likely that all Christians would give verbal assent to the preceding paragraph. But we often don’t look closely at what we are doing to see if our practices fit with our stated beliefs. Do you have friends who live in immoral ways? Do they know you disapprove or do they think you go along with it? Do your business partners use unethical practices or act without concern for who will be hurt by their choices? Do you speak up for doing what is right?

Jesus called for us to be a changing influence on society (salt and light, Matthew 5:13-16). Peter noted that true Christians are different from the society surrounding them, so much so that they think us strange (1st Peter 4:4). We cannot follow these teachings and at the same time be a friend to the world (1st John 2:15-16).

These principles must affect one’s decisions on what and how much to buy, what to say and how to say it, how to vote, how to perform one’s job, who to “hang out” with, how much of one’s life to devote to “playtime,” what we do with our playtime, etc.

Let’s be careful where we choose to live. Will it be in the Spirit or in the flesh?

Jesus and Slavery

I was reminded this morning that many have criticized Jesus because he did not confront the institution of slavery during his lifetime or through the leaders of the early church. Undoubtedly Jesus knew that a myriad of evils were associated with slavery, yet he found himself focused on another subject. So he never said anything about slavery.

In view of Jesus’ silence on slavery, it is interesting how the inspired writers of the New Testament treated the subject. Mostly I find it interesting because modern religion has chosen to treat it much differently. Modern religion has decided to be the driving force of social change and slavery is one of the issues they feel must be addressed.

Jesus and the writers of the New Testament did not see the church as the catalyst of social change. They instead saw the church as a separate and vastly different society where people could relate to one another in God defined ways no matter how society defined their role. The church is designed as a place where the slave knows freedom and the master learns servitude. The church is a place where the weak find strength and the strong confess weakness. The church is the place where all are equal in hope, in need, in love, and in requirement, no matter what the world says about them.

It would be grand indeed if all the world accepted every person with equal rights and privileges. There would be no ownership of human beings. There would be no discrimination in hiring or housing. There would be no deceptive business practices.

Some of these problems have lessened and it is greatly due to the example given by the church. But we are not going to completely eradicate these diseases by campaigning in the social arena. As long as there are people that won’t join God’s family and strive for perfect living, these blights will remain.

We must continue to provide a place where none of those things exist. Jesus did not die to create a perfect earth. He died to create sinless people. The gathering of those sinless people is the church.* It is there that we can show the world what is the proper way to live. It is there that pure love can be practiced. People will think we are strange; so much so that the apostle Peter declared us aliens in the world!**

Jesus taught people how to be a part of that new society, how to find peace of mind, joy of living, and freedom of heart. They could have all of those blessings even while they were slaves. We can have all of these blessings even while we suffer from illness, deal with poverty, or whatever other of the evil human conditions you find yourself in. If Jesus had attacked evil social institutions, we would feel that they were the cause of our unrest. It’s not what others do to us. It’s not our physical or social circumstances that cause our emotional turmoil. It’s the absence of God due to our own sins.

That can be changed. We can be so high that nothing in this world can bring us down (Romans 8:35-39; 2nd Corinthians 4:6-10). I do pray for evil to be stopped. But so much more I pray we can know God’s joy in spite of this evil world.

Footnotes:_____________________________________

*Sinless only because Jesus’ blood washes us clean.
Those washed clean (saved) are added to the church by God (Acts 2:47) and are expected to continue in fellowship with each other (1st Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 2:14, 19, 4:2-3; Hebrews 10:24).

**1st Peter 2:11, NIV; King James says “strangers and pilgrims”

Struggle

We struggle with zippers.
We struggle with explanations of the world’s complexities.
We struggle to make ends meet.
We struggle to find the right word.

We struggle with a lot of things, some important, some trivial. Daily, we struggle with things that are just always tough, like opening a new jar of pickles or choosing the right checkout line. Sometimes we choose a struggle because we are looking for a challenge like a word puzzle or a chess match. We all struggle with relationships, because people are always changing (hopefully growing) and we have to learn to adapt to the new person they are.

Sometimes these struggles are seen as everyday events rather than struggles because we are adept at handling them. Some people are so capable that they seem to breeze through life never struggling with anything. Others only appear to breeze through life as they hide their struggles.

But my thoughts today are about those who choose to never struggle, those who flit through life facing no challenges, mounting no obstacles. These are the lives that are never examined, never purposed. These are the people that mindlessly fill their hours with entertainment yet are constantly bored. They have never considered the possibility of a greater life or a satisfying joy.

Jesus calls us to greater life and satisfying joy. In his first recorded speech, he described the blessed life (Matthew 5:3-12). He spoke on other occasions of “finding life” (Matthew 10:39, 16:25) and having come to earth to give “abundant life” (John 10:10). But, in each of the statements just cited, Jesus also indicated that taking the easy way out will not lead to a rewarding experience. He stressed that the way to find this fulfilling life is to face the challenges of it.

Now, Jesus was giving us more than an observation that life is tough. He was not just talking about the school of hard knocks. We have all learned that dealing with adversity builds character, but Jesus was not considering the adversity that might fall into one’s life. He actually expects his disciples to make choices that are contrary to ease and comfort. Choices like peacemaking, meekness, purity. These choices in themselves give the abundant life to the follower of Jesus.

One of the Matthew 5 statements is that blessed people are in a constant state of hunger, a hunger for righteousness. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Notice: we find a state of contentment by being dissatisfied! That may seem impossible, but it is due to the fact that a person who is truly hungry is always going to be looking for what he needs. So the person hungering for righteousness is always looking for God and the person who is earnestly seeking for God will always find him (Matthew 7:7, “Seek and you will find”).

So the question is are you striving to find righteousness? Do you know a constant need to grow closer to God? Are you accepting this challenge of life and making the choices that are a part of it? The apostle Paul wrote about the war that constantly wages, saying: “we take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2nd Corinthians 10:5). That is quite a struggle. But it is a struggle we won’t be part of if we don’t make the choice to do so.

Many people that think everything is great in their spiritual lives only think so because they have not opened their eyes: True joy only comes after the struggle. Will you wrestle your thoughts back from worldly control, seek righteousness and find God? That constant search for true life will keep one constantly full of life.

The Outside World

The headline reads, “Polygamist sect told its children that the outside world is hostile and immoral.” It’s a follow-up story to the child abuse culture discovered at a splinter Mormon group’s compound in Texas. But there’s a surprising side to their belief about the outside world: It’s entirely Biblical! Compare Ephesians 4:17-20–

You must no longer walk as the nations walk, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to the hardness of their heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!

BUT, while the Apostle Paul wrote such things about “the outside world,” he never suggested that we should isolate ourselves from it. When they made the choice to isolate themselves, the leaders of this sect were NOT following scriptural principles. We should avoid participation in the world’s evils, but we should be close enough to “expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). Indeed, this same apostle called himself an ambassador to the ignorant world (Ephesians 6:18-20). How can you be an ambassador if you are not present with the people to whom you are an ambassador? Jesus spoke of his followers as lights for the world (Matthew 5:14-16). Many other scriptures point to this part of God’s plan; e.g., 1st Peter 2:12.

There is another reason not to isolate ourselves from the world. When all we know is our own practice, we tend to think that anything we are doing is right. Admittedly, this sect chose their isolation, in part, because they wanted to practice something that the world would condemn. But if they had not isolated themselves, their children would have seen how abnormal this practice is and been motivated to examine the practice long before now.

Those of us who hold fast to our Christianity even while the world assaults it are forced to evaluate the worthiness of that choice every day. There are some things about it that the world doesn’t understand, as was predicted (1st Peter 4:4). The Apostle Peter also wrote, “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1st Peter 3:15).

Let’s use this occasion to encourage ourselves to be lights to the world and always examine that light to keep it pure.

Creating the News

I know from experience that many people get their news by just scanning the headlines. Well, what would you think if you read this headline:

Losing Virginity Later Linked to Sexual Problems:
     Those Who Have Sex Later, Particularly Men,
     Seem to Experience More Sexual Dysfunction

Is this ABC News article really saying what it seems to be saying? That people, especially men, should become sexually active as teens or else expect sexual dysfunction during their adult lives?

The study’s authors–identified only as associated with Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute–are quoted several times as saying that there is nocausal link between the age one becomes sexually active and the possibility of sexual dysfunction later. One of the hypotheses being examined states precisely the opposite: that sexual dysfunction itself leads some to a later beginning of sexual activity.

Note this from early in the article: “The increase in sexual problems was also seen in those who had a comparably earlier sexual debut.” (emphasis added)

The article author, Dan Childs, brings in the suggestion of a causal relationship by quoting “sexuality experts not affiliated with the study.” Childs notes that these experts “agree that it is too early to draw a direct causal link about those who have sex later in life.” One of them, Eli Coleman, academic chair in sexual health at the University of Minnesota Medical School Program in Human Sexuality, even noted that “dynamics other than the desire to be abstinent until marriage” were involved in the clinical dysfunctions reported.

Yet Coleman suggests that the study shows supposed “detrimental effects of abstinence-only education.”

If “abstinence-only” means that the teacher is only telling students that sex is bad for them, then he may be correct. But abstinence-only sex education curricula I am aware of include the complementary messages of sex as a wonderful blessing from God that enriches the experience of marriage and making a family. If abstinence-only is being used by some parents or teachers as a way to shame their students into obedience, as adults those children will likely have sexual dysfunctions and other problems even more severe. Shame is not the way good parents teach their children self-discipline.

God’s instructions (such as no sexual activity outside of marriage) can all be followed without fear of damaged psyches. The fact that some have taught legalistic rules rather than God’s principles does not negate the usefulness of those principles. Every “thou shalt not” or “thou must” found in his word is attached to wonderful blessings.

We need to be careful what we read. People with an agenda can take preliminary findings and make outrageous suggestions that won’t hold up after full scrutiny. But the attention grabbing headlines will already have had their effect. I don’t know if it was Dan Childs or the “sexuality experts” that pressed the agenda this time. But the study was taken far past warranted conclusions by someone who mishandled the truth.