Centuries of social, political, cultural, and religious diversity weigh heavily on expressions of Christianity. Party politics, greed, personality driven ministries, ministry as business, and denominational and non-denominational church struggles over members seem to be the order of the day. These influences have moved Christians further and further away from divine principles to which Christians are called to live out before a world that is far from God. The Church is called to be holy; so Christians must pursue holiness amidst an unholy world. The world does not know God so the world cannot lead in holiness. The best way to win the world to faith in Christ is by bearing witness to Christ through the Christian’s lifestyle of holiness – a life that is indifferent of the world—and expressed love towards those who are not living that life. Miller argues that a careful revisit of historical developments that have altered Christianity from its biblical form of indifference might be a meaningful way for the Church to regain its fervor in representing Christ in the world—a world that God expects for Christians to be in but not of. Read the rest of this entry »
Posts Tagged ‘Christians’
Yesterday, Wednesday April 28th, my colleague Dale Coulter spoke at Regent University Chapel. His message addressed the value of the body and/or community. In part, his concern was that while Christians share the liberty of individual creativity and giftings, there is a fine line between unity in diversity and corruption of community. It is true that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. There is freedom of expression, gifts, creativity, etc. Yet, (as Coulter explained) when the Jazz Ensemble frees the improvisationist to embellish the beauty of a piece with her own creativity, she must be careful that the liberty granted does not destroy the harmony of the whole.
In Galatians 5:13, Paul states, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” The message seems clear that while we have freedom to explore the wonders of God’s truth– all truth is God’s truth, our wondering must neither destroy the whole nor the power and harmony of the whole.
Individuals are increasingly unilateral or isolated in their religious pursuits, but so are churches. Recently, I learned that in Hampton Roads alone, there are approximately 3,000 churches. Each one attracts particular people for different reasons. There is certainly less and less separation by theological stance now than in the last century. Yet, the proliferation of churches continue for several reasons– some seem to be good reasons and others are questionable. These churches offer gifts to the community of Hampton Roads– gifts of various sorts.
I have noticed in my two year residence here and in my travels around the country that by in large the churches are increasingly divided. It is hard to get them together for any common cause. In Hampton Roads, I observed the seemingly impossible task to pull churches together for the purpose raising funds and soliciting relief help for Haiti after the recent earthquake.
Wyclef Jean did a better job pulling Hollywood together and pooling resources to assist Haiti in relief than the churches in this community. I call this a tragedy of disunity! With all of our freedom of worship and ecclesiological structures, there must be practical ways to unify or come together for common existential causes. Yet, I have not witnessed this as a reality. There is no wonder there is so much existential mayhem and decadence!
I have, furthermore, noticed that many of these same churches cling to tragedies and existential challenges as opportunities to score ministry points for their own ministries. They raise funds for national and international tragedies, feed the hungry, pass out turkeys during Thanksgiving and gift baskets during Christmas. At their annual meetings, on their television shows, in their radio broadcasts and newsletters, they announce to their adherents how much they have done for the year. Their followers are excited to hear how many people their offerings fed last Thanksgiving and how many thousands of baskets they gave away at Christmas and how much money they raised for Haiti, Chili or China for relief.
Let’s reason together. How many people eat once a year? How many people need gifts once a year? And if one church can raise this amount of money for an international disaster, how much can we raise as a community of churches?
These are results of individualism that has crept into the churches. Both individual Christians and churches have left the foundation of Christ– Christ is one Body! Our creative giftings as individuals and separate communities interfere with the power of coming together and standing as one!
If we stand as one, our mark in the world for Christ would be more defined! If we stand as one, we can help rebuild local, national and international communities for Christ! If we come together as one, we can make demands in Congress pertaining our fractured world, existential depravity, gang violence, domestic abuse, economic stress, fatherlessness, poverty, communal pangs, and endless distress.
In conclusion, someone sent me an article from Fanhouse,. Sunday evening, April 18th, National Columnist for Fanhouse, David Whitley reports that the field was empty. Just a day earlier (Saturday), the BYU women’s rugby players had happily posed for a team photo under the stadium’s scoreboard. The lights said the Cougars had just beaten Wisconsin-Milwaukee 46-7. Whitley quotes Coach Tom Waqa saying, “We won today. But the girls’ biggest opponent is tomorrow. That is adversity.” However, with a national championship in sight, the girls insisted to decline the opportunity. They refused to play Sunday because they acknowledge Sunday as the Sabbath. As part of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Later Day Saints, they believe that Sunday is the Sabbath holy and must be kept holy.
Having been raised as a Sabbath-keeping Pentecostal, I am aware that Sunday is not the biblical Sabbath. Saturday is more correctly the biblical Sabbath. However, I am attracted to the story above on two fronts: 1. The Cougars played together and defeated Milwaukee. One of these girls could not have won alone 2.) The Courgars made a stand together and insisted to keep the Sabbath holy. If only one of the girls stood, I would congratulate her but she might not have made the headlines. So, I might not know about it. However, the power of unity won against Milwaukee. And the power of unity is the force behind the headlines. A Whole team of uniquely gifted young ladies stood together and tied themselves to principles and standards pertaining Sabbath observance. What a witness!
I am applying a self-evaluation– Where do I fit in these statistics? Am I caught up in my own ideas and intellectual gifts that I have lost hold of the power of a unified stand? What about you?
Standing together, we can change communities and the world!
Such negative references to being religious strike me as strange. Why would Christians (who are also called ”People of the Book”), distance themselves from being called religious?
Perhaps, we need to revisit the meaning of the term “religion.” The term comes from Latin and means “to bind one’s self.” Religion, moreover, means to bind or discipline one’s self to moral principles and practices and, furthermore, to express those commitments publicly and unashamedly.
Perhaps, in our increasingly secularized world people are less and less interested in discipline– even Christians. However, at the inception of Christianity, before the followers of Jesus were called Christians, they were called “disciples of Jesus.”
I submit that everyone who claims “relationship with Jesus” or who emphasize “Christian spirituality” must by definition of what it means to be emissaries of Christ also be religious. By this, I mean that it is impossible to have a relationship with Jesus without binding one’s self to Christ’s teachings and moral principles.
Christian spirituality is vibrant as the transcendent Spirit of Christ that dwells in humans who receive Christ. This Spirit of Christ disciplines us to walk and be as Christ in the world. It is, therefore, impossible for Christians to be Spiritual but not religious.
It seems that when people distance themselves from being called “religious,” they really mean something else. The first possibility is that we do not want Christianity to stand alongside other Religions of the world. So, to disassociate Christianity from the language of “religion” is an effort to articulate the unique character of Christianity– we can have a vibrant relationship with a living God through Jesus Christ rather than idols, etc.
The second possibility is that certain brands of Christianity with which we are familiar are distasteful. For example, if one has had interactions with a group of Christians or a particular brand of churches that subscribe to very strict rules about dress, food, worship, behavior and days of worship with which one disagrees, it could leave “a bad taste in my mouth” about God and church. So, when I find a brand of Christianity with which one agrees, that person might say that this is “relationship and not religion”– referring to the past experience as “religion and not relationship.”
The third possibility is that some churches are dry in worship expressions and do little for the vitality of the community. So, when one finds a community that is softer on teachings of “holiness” with little accountability, one feels free. But that freedom is individualistic and disconnected from communal subscription to holistic teachings of holiness. In other words, one is free to live and act at will rather than free to live and act according to teachings and principles that impact Christian wholeness.
It is a poor interpretation of “freedom to do as I feel” to name it “freedom in the Spirit.” Freedom in the Spirit should not be confused with “having my way.” What one really means is “freedom to live as I feel and still be in good standing with my church.” Churches, today, do not emphasize total discipleship (but that is a blog for another day). The question for today is, What does Jesus expect of me– relationship or religion? I submit that Jesus expects us to discipline ourselves to His teachings and the teachings of the New Testament. These teachings address all of life– even the parts of life that we rather not. There is no way to separate holistic discipline from a vibrant relationship with Jesus
In summary, to separate “Christian Spirituality and religion” or “relationship and religion” is a false bifurcation. While some churches might have it wrong pertaining to specific rules of conduct, dress, food, etc, true Christian Spirituality and authentic relationship with God through Jesus Christ has something to say about total human experience including how we behave, how we dress, how we eat, how we live, how we relate to others, etc.
Let’s seek true discipleship with Christ. That involves a relationship that is religious, by the true definition of the term– religious.