Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why Church?

There are plenty of articles about things like why people are leaving churches, or how to get people to come to church, or what attracts people to church, or what repels people about church. Funny, I thought the church was God's people coming together as God's people to be God's people together? Maybe one kind of church is more worth going to than another, but if the church is shrinking overall in an area, that ought to mean that Christianity is shrinking in the area.

So there are articles about what offends people about various churches.

Hmm... I wonder if the problem might be that the Church isn't very present in our churches?

I'm not saying that the church being offensive is necessarily bad. I'd be much quicker to say that the fact that our churches aren't ridiculed might be a problem. We should be offensive, but in a particular kind of way. Not so much the offense of "Hey, I found the truth! Listen! Listen! Hey, why aren't you listening, we told you this is true!" as the offense of "Um... guys..." looking around at the abysmal nature of our situation, "...maybe we should call God for help?" This is the difference between the attitude of the guy who thinks he can handle a street gang coming at him, and the attitude of the guy who calls the cops--it may hurt our pride, someone may calls us all wusses, but it tends to work a lot better.

We can jabber on about morals, but so can anyone with a tongue. We can jabber on about how Christ has redeemed us, but, um, from what and to what again? We jabber on about how sinful we are, but... where's the hope there? We can jabber on about how we should be holy as God is holy, but, excuse me, maybe I'm just really bad at this whole christian thing, but that feels really futile a lot of the time. We can jabber about the love of God, but that tends to sound sort of vague... or the glory of God (what's glory again?)... or about our love for God, but why?

Maybe the reason people don't want to come to church is because they don't meet God there. I mean, who is God? Is that at all clear in our churches? Is it clear that Christ came to save us from our sins? Is it clear that he frees us from bondage to sin? Is it clear why sin matters? Is it clear that when Christ ascended he did not leave us alone? Is it clear how fully we have been reconciled to the Father?

Is anything clear? Or are we just singing our vague little songs to some "you" which might at some point be called "lord," but is rarely identified by what he has done? I mean, all well and good to call him savior, but it doesn't mean a whole lot apart from what we have been saved from and to. Give me Jesus! Not just the name, but show me who this person is! Let the worship, the greeting, the songs, the sermon, the whole experience of coming into fellowship with each other, be Godward. Let it all reorient me to God, let us reorient one another to God. We are quite distractable. I walk into some times of worship having all but forgotten who God is and why I should worship him. I have gone into such places thinking "God, here I am, even though I'd rather not be--go ahead and change me, please," (if even that). So maybe our worship services should be structured with that kind of thing in mind. Maybe we should set ourselves up as a counter culture by setting our churches up to be oases from the culture of the world where the culture of Christ can shape us.

Church is not merely a place for a bunch of people to share being Christian with each other. It is a place for us to exist as a body. It is a place where a culture becomes visible, and that culture is evidence of God--love one another. That culture is different from the one the world has. We are those who love all. Interacting with each other, we love one another. That culture is the culture of the Holy Spirit manifesting in us. Where two or more are gathered, there you see Christ. So, why church? Well, because church is where we gather, so: to see Christ.

Friday, September 20, 2013

For the Children

I'm writing this from roughly the standpoint I occupied at several points as a child. By "child" I mean from the age of 6 up through whenever. I do not have a very good standpoint from which to talk about parenting from the parents' perspective.

I wonder, if we noticed better that the child has a spiritual heart, might that lead to a more relaxed view of the parenting rules? Scheduling a child's life away and making it impossible for them to mess up with their diets and such seems, to me, rather inconsiderate to the child. Aren't they people who can make decisions too? If they are, then I would think it natural to assume that parenting cannot create the child, though it may mold the child. Same deal as discipleship.

When I was in a first grade Sunday school class, I asked me teacher how we knew the Bible was right (She'd asked how we know Jesus loves us, everyone else answered "because the Bible tells me so"). She was totally unprepared for the question, I hope: she answered with something like "because the Bible says so," which it was quite obvious to me was not at all a useful answer. I voiced my dissatisfaction with various things my parents signed me up for (some were good, others were, to me, intolerably chaotic). I have good parents--they listened.

If I had been signed up for things willy-nilly, and my parents had not listened to me when I told them I wanted out, I don't know how I would have ended up, but I do know that if that had been my life, it would not have been a life I could call my own in the way I can call the childhood I had mine.

Kids are people. Signing them up for everything under the sun without consulting them disregards their autonomy as persons. Disregarding them as unable to understand things, if you aren't even willing to try, will end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Kids live lives like yours, theirs just haven't been going for as long. They may doubt things, they may be passionate about things, they have joys and sorrows and frustrations. They need the Gospel the same as any of us. I know because I remember. I remember being afraid that God would miss something. I remember being afraid that God had not accepted me. I didn't really voice those worries, because I thought they were appropriate worries, but they were there. Why didn't I learn about what it means that God came to live and die for us? Why didn't I learn how Christ is Immanuel for us even today, when I was a little child? You can't believe for a child. Just because you are sure of your salvation doesn't mean your kid is. Just because a kid doesn't appear distressed, doesn't mean their theology is fine. How many grown-ups have flawed theology and don't even realize it? So also with children.

If you want a kid to make their faith their own, why wait until they're teenagers? Why wait for them to reach a certain age to start telling them how great God is and what he has done so that we can live without fear? They can understand a whole lot more than you think. Don't talk down to them, come down to them. It is not that hard. Have you forgotten who you were when you were a child? Do you think they aren't similar? Did you ever think you were merely a body to be exercised and fed, and a mind to be filled with facts? Didn't you consider yourself deeper than that all your life? I know I did. I had a love of learning, not just a duty to learn. I had subjects in school I did not like--I had writers I did not like. I remember being very irritated by my learning to read books (which seemed to think all kids were disobedient idiots) to the point where I practically refused to continue reading them.

Kids are smarter and more spiritual than people seem to think. They are people after all!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

To Reform the Church

If one were to give a set of steps for reforming the church, the first couple would have to go something like this:
  1. Realize it's not your job.
  2. Pray and read Scripture.
The second is second because it must be seen in light of the first. If you're praying because you think that praying will get the church reformed, or a revival to happen, then you're still thinking of it like it's your job. Prayer and Bible reading exist primarily for getting to know God. Getting to know God, we will become like him. In this way, our own lives will be reformed, revived. Then we will be salt and light, and others will see that something is different, and then the church will be different, since we all are members of the Church. Those who are in the church will see the others in the church and be sharpened by each other, and learn from one another how great it is to know God, and thus we will all come to hunger for him. Why do we not now hunger for him as we ought? Have forgotten how precious he was when we first encountered him? Or have some of us never encountered him? Do not read Scripture for the sake of reading Scripture. Do not pray for the sake of prayer. Rather, pray and read the Scriptures for the sake of knowing God. Do good for the sake of knowing God, or because, knowing God, you can do nothing else. The Gospel is that we can know God. Do we cast that aside so lightly, like Esau sold his birthright?

Regarding those around us who we feel need revival, Christ says to us, as to Peter, "what is that to you? You follow me!" If you think others need to be fixed more than you, you are not looking at what is worth looking at. You cannot fix them! Pray for them, yes, as brothers and sisters. But look at yourself first: you are sinful, too. You cannot even fix yourself, why do you bother even trying to fix others? If you could fix someone, it would be yourself. You cannot even tame your own tongue, which you are in control of, how then can you hope to tame another's tongue, which you have no control over? If your will is what is the problem, and you can hardly guess at what another's will is like, how futile is it to try to fix them? Pray for them, not because that will fix them, but because you cannot fix them.

You cannot bring revival. You can be revived, though. As I watch others, I see God drawing people out of their graves. People hear God say "Lazarus, come out," and simply come out. Yet as I see myself, I look at God and ask him to call me. Yet if I am revived, I know that it is because he did. Can I will myself alive? No. Yet I must do as the Lord commands me. Can I will that? No, yet to me it will feel as though I am willing. When God calls, it is irresistible. When I am called, it is as though I have a choice, but I can do no other. I see the other way as the way a fool would go, or I see the right way as the one that any who saw it would desire.

When I reach the end of myself, and see that I need God, and when I see that he is worth knowing in and of himself, then I am at the point where, called or not (though I am called) I will do what the one who is called is called to do. I would barge into his throne room without fear that he would then curse me, not necessarily because I am sure he won't, but because if I do not enter now I will live as one cursed--I will interrupt God if that is necessary for eternal life! This is humility before God, just as a child who calls for his mother to help him, nagging, interrupting, is being humble in that he knows he cannot do it himself.

When the church sees the worth of God, then it will have been reformed by God. We can only be reformed. We cannot reform. Luther did not reform the church, he was caught up in God reforming the church. He was merely among the first to be reformed. There is no leader in a revival or a reformation other than Christ, there are only those who go before us. And we follow their lead in following Christ, as a younger brother learns how to obey (or disobey) his parents from watching and listening to his older brother. In the same way, we are all leading those who will go after us, and those who are around us. That is how prayer and Scripture reading leads to revival: if we come to know God well, others will follow us in seeking God, and they, too, will come to know him, and knowing God transforms people.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Problem of Autonomy

If one surrenders oneself to Christ, how does one then gain oneself?
How is it that when one surrenders one's intellect to Christ, one does not cease to experience the thinking as our own? How is it that to be controlled by the love of God does not make one as a robot? (or if it does, then what, exactly, will be the supreme motivating force for us in heaven?).

These questions may be offered as problematic to the Determinist first, but they are no less problematic to a non-determinist Christian, so far as I can see. Even if it is by character formation that our wills become constrained, why bother continued existence once one no longer has a real choice? If there is any case where an actor can say to himself "well, then, I'll just wait and see what I do," then the question may be applied. If one says that we will always have a choice of how to act well, then this is still unsatisfactory: I don't care about such miniscule decisions! (as regards my recognizing myself as a separable being, not lost in some mass of unified consciousness or something--the length of time I take to order at restaurants notwithstanding.)

To be Christian is to affirm an answer to these questions. We are one body. The question these questions are getting at is, how are we yet many members? How does union with Christ not entail becoming lost in a kind of God-consciousness, such that there is no longer really a "me" to speak of? We believe there is an answer to these things. What is it? If the analogy of the Trinity is offered, this is no help, for it tries to explain that which we do not understand, yet believe as Christians to be the case with something else we... do not understand, yet believe as Christians to be the case.