Saturday, 29 September 2012

Spiritual Civil War

I was thinking about some of the recent civil wars that have plagued much of the Middle East lately. Sometimes it’s easy to point fingers and say it is this person’s fault, or that system’s fault. Other times it’s less clear as to who or what is to blame.

History reminds us that America too has had its own civil war. Sometimes when I look at all that trash talking in the current political race, I wonder how much more it would take to push her into yet another civil war. Let’s hope not.

Any kind of war is a horrible thing, regardless of the cause. War never has a winner; they all only have losers. Sure, you may be on the side that the history books ultimately record as the winning side, but does that really make you a winner? When man’s inhumanity to fellow man is involved, when emotions begin to boil over, can anybody really be a winner? When humans believe that it is their right to take the life of another for the sake of a particular ideal, can there really be a winner? I fail to see how.

Now suppose that a war never had an end. Suppose that children are born and grow up and live their whole lives in time of war. Suppose that is also true of their children and their children’s children after them. Wars such as the 100 Years' War (1337-1453) between England and France must have been like this. Imagine living your whole life and never knowing a time of peace? You might even grow up thinking that war was normal.

Now let me change gears a little.

There’s another war that’s still being fought that has gone on for so long now, for generation after generation, many think it is also normal. It’s a war not fought with guns and bullets, or in political arenas, but rather one fought with tongues and words and religious doctrines. It’s a spiritual civil war that we could perhaps even call the 1000 Years’ War (or more).

What is this great spiritual civil war that I am referring to? It is none other than “Denominationalism.” I’ve discussed this many times before, such as in The Things the Lord Hates, Part 7, but I find it so evil, so vile, that the message bears repeating. Denominationalism has become the great spiritual civil war of the church, and like all wars, it knows no winner.

Why do I say it’s a “civil” war? I do so because, just as a physical war within a country is called “civil” (though ironically it’s anything but “civil”), it seems logical to call a spiritual war within the same body of Christ a “civil” war. Just as a nation is divided amongst itself in times of civil war, so too the body of Christ is divided amongst itself in times of spiritual civil war. The sad thing is that this has gone on for so long now (even Paul dealt with it in 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13) that many think it is actually normal.

I know of situations where neighborhood institutional church groups actually refused to work together, even in a little matter of loaning the other an overhead projector. Why? The unofficial answer was because they were of a different denomination, and where therefore different than us. While that illustration might shock many of us, if we were really and truly honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we’ve also focused on the differences a time or two (or twenty) before as well. After all, it’s normal, right? Hmm.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8)
Despite the fact that the Gospel message is one of peace and love and joy and brotherhood in the Holy Spirit, the church has grown up with an ugly and festering sore on its rear end called denominationalism. While we piously get together with those of like doctrine, the evil sinful nature in us called “dissentions and factions” (Galatians 5:20) continues to ooze its venom throughout the body. And again, this has been going on for so long, that we think it normal and maybe even justified.

The fact that Jesus himself prayed that there might be unity in the church (John 17: 20-23) seems to go strangely unnoticed by us. If we did notice that prayer of his, and truly cared, wouldn’t it be logical to assume that the church would have long since done something about its denominational dissentions and factions? Wouldn’t it be logical to assume that we would long since have labeled any form of denominationalism a heresy? (Ouch). No wonder the world calls the church hypocrites; they see the truth of this even though the church itself appears not to.

The interesting thing is, we can still be guilty of the same sin even without officially identifying with any specific denomination. So lest we think we’re all that simply because we do not use denominational handles in our place of worship, the denominational spirit may dwell in us just the same. We could still be fighting the same spiritual civil war as the denominationalists. Our lack of love towards our fellow man, and especially towards those who call on the same Lord that we do, is often just as divisive.

So where do we go from here?

Well first of all we need to unbury our heads from the sand and recognize the problem before us. Do we see this as an issue? Or have generations and generations of spiritual civil war so blinded us that we still cannot see the truth of this evil in the church? None of us really believes that we will be segregated in heaven across denominational lines, do we? Of course not! Then why do we do so here? If we can see that dividing the body of Christ across denominational titles is truly divisive, then we must stop using such titles, and we must do so now. If we continue in this spirit, what does that say about what we really believe concerning Christian unity and brotherhood and love?

Secondly, I would suggest making a real and genuine effort to learn how to fellowship with believers from different backgrounds and traditions. As an ex-Baptist, one of the best things I ever did was to go to work for a Catholic institution, not because I now embrace Catholic doctrines (I don’t), but because doing so helped to break down some of those denominational divisions that I too strangely once thought were normal. In truth, they were anything but normal.

Augustine once said, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” I would suggest that there are far fewer essentials to the Christian faith than we have come to think there are. For me, the essentials are neatly summed up in the old Apostles' Creed (Note: Do not be confused by the lower case “catholic.” It does not mean the same as the upper case “Catholic.”). This ancient creed should be the common denominator that unites all true Christians. In my way of thinking, anything beyond that would become the non-essentials that Augustine spoke of.

Thirdly, I would argue, when the body of Christ is dividing and factioning itself over non-essentials, when it continues to identify itself with denominational titles, then it is not acting in love. Call a spade a spade; that is the bottom line. Mask it any way you want to, but failing to fellowship with other Christians over non-essentials is the same as saying to them, “I do NOT love you!” It’s funny, in a sad kind of way, that though Jesus calls us to love even enemies, we cannot seem to love those in the same body of Christ. We truly do need to learn to love all over again.

John Lennon once said, “War is over (if you want it).” Do we want it to be over? Do we yearn for real unity and brotherhood in the church of Christ? If so, we must stop focusing on all those petty things that make us different. If so, we must stop focusing on those evil denominational titles that only prove that what we are really saying is that we are different than those believers over there. If so, we must stop with all the negative attitudes and belittling of the non-essentials that other Christians maybe do hold dear and begin practicing some good old fashioned charity toward them instead.

Until then, I suspect that the spiritual civil war will continue pretty much unchanged.
Postscript: I have a couple big questions left, but I’m going to leave them for you to fill in. So, in the words of Mission: Impossible, "Your mission, should you choose to accept it," is to give me your thoughts on the following questions: 
  • What do we do when we do not agree with each other on those little things, even though we may agree on the bigger essentials of the faith? 
  • What do you suppose God would have us to do in such circumstances? 
  • How will we answer God when one day, as we stand before His throne, He asks us about this very thing?

Peace & Blessings.

Photo Credit: Yoko Ono exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Flickr Creative Commons.

Friday, 14 September 2012

You Smell, Buddy!

I think something curled up and died in my garage. It’s probably a mouse, and maybe more than one. Talk about a stink!

That’s the problem with rodent poisons as opposed to traps. With traps the mice are caught and killed in place, which makes it easier to dispose of the carcass afterwards. With poisons they don’t die instantly, but remain alive long enough for them to scamper off and die in some hard to get at place. It’s almost as if poisons give them the last laugh because the stink of their perishing continues long after they’re dead and gone. Note to self: Forget the poisons; invest in the traps.

As I was reading this morning, I came upon some verses that caused me to sit up and say, “Hmm, sort of like the mouse in my garage.” We too have an aroma to us, whether we realize it or not, that is discernable to others. The only question is, do we have a living and fresh fragrance to us, or a fatal odor much like my dead and decomposing mouse? What was I reading? It was this:
"But thanks be to God, Who in Christ always leads us in triumph [as trophies of Christ’s victory] and through us spreads and makes evident the fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere. For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ [which exhales] unto God, [discernable alike] among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing: To the latter it is an aroma [wafted] from death to death [a fatal odor, the smell of doom]; to the former it is an aroma from life to life [a vital fragrance, living and fresh]. And who is qualified (fit and sufficient) for these things? [Who is able for such a ministry? We?] For we are not, like so many, [like hucksters making a trade of] peddling God’s Word [shortchanging and adulterating the divine message]; but like [men] of sincerity and the purest motive, as [commissioned and sent] by God, we speak [His message] in Christ (the Messiah), in the [very] sight and presence of God." (2 Corinthians 2: 14-17; Amplified).
Now maybe this is a little unorthodox, but I could not help but wonder, what do you smell like? What do I smell like? Do we carry in and on us the fragrance of Christ, or do we maybe smell more like a dead and rotting garage mouse? Having said that, do some Christians stink? And if so, does (or can) their stink infest and contaminate other members of the Body of Christ? Hmm, I wonder.

There are a lot of things that can cause Christians to stink, such as the hucksters who notoriously peddle God’s word for profit that Paul speaks of. Do you know anyone who fits that description? I can think of a few people that I would place into that group, but that’s another story for another day. Sometimes it’s the perceptions of others that exposes the stink in us, as I wrote about in Jesus Loves You, But Everyone Else Thinks You're An *#@%*&#^#!. There I asked, do the perceptions of others matter? I believe they do. Their negative perceptions are often even justified.

I remember a book I read years ago called "I Hate Witnessing." In it author Dick Innes told about a time he sat on an airplane and, feeling the need to share his faith with the person next to him, prayed, "God, I hate witnessing for you." He immediately sensed God saying back to him, "Good, Dick, I hate the way you witness for me too." Could that be our story as well? Hmm, given the amount of negative PR Christianity often receives, and given the far too regular accusation of hypocrisy by the world, one has to at least wonder.

I certainly don’t want to be legalistic or religious about this, regardless of what ultimately causes the stink. However, I am starting to be a little more conscious about the kind of witness I am in the world around me. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Maybe if we all focussed on that a little more, then perhaps together we could get rid of some of that stink that has somehow crept into the church. Maybe then there there would be fewer Christians who carry on their person the BO of "[a fatal odor, the smell of doom]" of rotting mouse flesh (if I can be that crude), and more who truly carry on them "the sweet fragrance of Christ [which exhales] unto God ... an aroma from life to life [a vital fragrance, living and fresh]."
"For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17; NIV).
That's the way I see it anyway. Peace.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Thursday, 13 September 2012

of Politics and Double-Speaking

I was scrolling through the newsfeed on Facebook this morning, trying to catch up on some of the latest posts when something struck me as both strangely amusing and sad at the same time.

Here on the eve of another US election, it’s amazing how many on both sides of the political spectrum are attacking the other camp with the very same jargon; they are both accusing each other of the very same faults! That’s the amusing part.

The sad part in this is that I see very little, if any, love being manifested in all of this. Sadder still is that these loveless attacks are often coming from professing Christians who usually preach a “love one another” message. It’s no wonder this world is so screwed up; there’s too much “double-speak” going on.

This begs a couple big questions for me.

  • How involved should (or shouldn't) Christians allow themselves to become entangled in the modern political circuses? 
  • Sometimes politics seems almost religious in nature, and if so, does that then imply that a Christian involvement in it can become idolatrous? 
  • Furthermore, does (or can) politics cloud the true Christian message?

Hmm, I wonder.

Photo Credit: Flicker Creative Commons

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Confession

Though I've long since forgotten the context of our discussion, I remember something a friend once said. He said, "it's in our denominational rule book." He confessed that the thing in question was not biblical, per se, but was denominational.

I have long since struggled with doctrinal and denominational confessions, and especially so if they come across as favouring one group of Christians over another. In my way of thinking, far too many confessions are simply promoting further dissensions and factions in the Body of Christ which is already far too divided. Sometimes I think that we seem to have forgotten that such things are, according to Galatians 5: 19-21, "acts of the sinful nature." I also confess that sometimes I too have been guilty of this very thing myself. God forgive me.

Having said that, recently I came across a confession that I do whole-heartily embrace. It is penned by an author that I have come to greatly respect in recent years, Frank Viola. Though I have not yet had the privilege of meeting Frank in person, I do count him as a friend and a brother in the Lord, and for that I am grateful. If you're not familiar with Frank Viola or his many fine books, I encourage you to visit him at Beyond Evangelical.

And now, here is A Collective Confession of Those Who Are Moving Beyond Evangelical.

*We have grown tired of the media routinely characterizing “evangelicals” as if we were all part of “the religious right.”  
*We are turned off by the left vs. right posturing and the left vs. right political/theological debates.  
*We’ve looked to the right and do not wish to venture there. We’ve looked to the left and do not wish to venture there either. The direction we feel pulling our hearts is above and forward.  
*We believe that both the religious right and the Christian left have vital truths to contribute. We also believe that they are both missing vital truths. We believe their focus is mainly “issues” rather than Jesus Christ.  
*We want to see the Christian right and the Christian left learn from one another as well as learn from those of us who are not part of either stream. We feel that all Christians should be open to learn from one another, for we are all parts of the Body of Christ. None of us has the lock on all truth. Each member of the Body has a portion of the riches of Christ.  
*We are sickened that so many evangelical Christians are either legalists or libertines. We want Christ’s lordship and we want His liberty as well. We wish to follow Jesus without being legalistic or libertine.  
*We hold to the orthodox teachings of Scripture regarding the Person of Christ, His work on the cross, the inspiration and truth of the Bible, the Triune nature of God (the Godhead), but we are weary of Christians dividing over peripheral doctrines and their own private interpretations of Scripture on non-essentials. We passionately agree with Augustine’s sentiment: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.  
*We’ve grown weary of the way that Christians routinely mistreat their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, being quick to judge their motives, thinking the worst of them, condemning them, slandering them, gossiping about them, etc. We believe that being a Christian means treating others the same way you want to be treated (Matt. 7:12)—the “forgotten words of Jesus.” With deep remorse, we empathize with the words of Ghandi: “If it weren’t for the Christians, I’d be a Christian.”  
*We’ve grown tired of the shallowness that marks so much of evangelical Christianity today. The same sermons, the same principles, the same teachings, etc. We are looking for depth in the Christian life. We know there’s more to Jesus Christ, more to His church, and more to the spiritual life than what’s been promoted in establishment Christianity. There is a cry in our hearts that says, “There’s got to be more than this.”  
*We are saddened that the doers, feelers, and thinkers of the body of Christ have separated and isolated themselves from one another instead of learning from each other.  
*We’ve grown sick of the entertainment-driven, duty-driven, guilt-driven message that’s laced in most Christian sermons and books today. Human-induced guilt and the conviction of the Holy Spirit are two very different things.  
*We are tired of the tendency of some Christians to elevate certain sins that others commit while minimizing or justifying their own sins.  
*We’ve grown tired of Christian leaders attacking and competing with one another, instead of networking together and supporting one another.  
*We’re weary of the “good ole’ boy system” that’s present in much of establishment Christian today because it ends up elevating and protecting the status quo and silencing the voices of the prophets.  
*We’ve grown sick of Christians saying nasty things about their fellow brethren whom they don’t know personally on social media networks. And then justifying it in the name of God.  
*We are saddened that so many Christians will believe what they hear about other believers second or third-hand, instead of going to those believers themselves and simply asking them questions in good faith.  
*We’ve grown weary of some Christians falsely branding their fellow sisters and brothers in Christ with the words “heretic” and “apostate” when those same believers actually uphold the orthodox creeds of the faith.  
*We’ve grown tired of Christians trying to rope us into the liberal vs. conservative battles of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  
*We abhor elitism and sectarianism. We are open to all Christians of all stripes, receiving all whom Christ has received (Rom. 15:7).  
*We stand for the unity of the Body of Christ. At the same time, we fiercely and passionately stand firm on our convictions regarding the absolute and unvarnished supremacy of Jesus, His indwelling life, God’s timeless purpose, and the church as a Christ-centered community.
Thank you, Frank Viola, for a timely and important word. A big thank you also goes to Kurt Willems over at The Pangea Blog where I first saw "A Collective Confession of Those Who Are Moving Beyond Evangelical." I will be back to your blog as well. May we all prayerfully take it to heart and may God be glorified in it. Peace and blessings, my friends.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons