Sunday, August 27, 2006

Are you in a slump?

I’m going to try something new. I want to use Sundays to post some material from a series of Bible lessons that I have been presenting in a Sunday morning adult class.

For context I offer the following for consideration.

My desire in life is to know God and have an ever deepening and richer relationship with him – in other words to be a Christian because “Jesus is the way the truth and the life – and he shows us the way to find God. (John 14:6)

I offer these thoughts about my continuing quest to know Jesus and receive the “full” (abundant) life (John 10:10) in the hopes that it encourage others share in the rewards (Hebrews 11:6) of living as a child of the King .

The “Back to the basics” series” is based on the following observations

1. Christians are expected to grow continually in spiritual qualities and works of service (cf. “2 Corinthians 3:18 ...being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, 2 Thessalonians 1:3 … your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing; 2 Peter 1:8 For if you possess these qualities* in increasing measure,

2. However, our experience suggests that Christians will, at times, encounter “plateaus” or “slumps” in their spiritual development (Typical of all human endeavor)

3. To achieve a “breakthrough” when we are at a “plateau” “in a slump” a good approach is to go back and reexamine the basics and make any needed corrections or renewed focus in areas where we may have “drifted off track” (or not have gotten it right in the first place)

One of the more basic things that influences our growth as Christians is our view of “church”—Do we see it as a place we go or as something we are? It seems to me that we so often talk of “going to church” rather than emphasizing that God wants us to “be the church” wherever we are and what ever we are doing.

Webster’s English Dictionary gives the following definitions
1: a building for public esp. Christian worship
2: the clergy or officialdom of a religious body
3: a body or organization of religious believers as
3a: the whole body of Christians
4: public divine worship

In researching this lesson, I came across this description of the origins of the word church and how it relates to Biblical usage. It is from a group called Theophile International (I haven’t read all of their material so I can’t comment on their overall teaching but based on my other research I fully support this description of God’s view of the church)

What does church mean?

Etymology of the word "church": Middle English "chirche", from Old English "cirice", ultimately from Late Greek "kyriakon", from Greek, neuter of "kyriakos": of the lord, from kyrios lord, master.

This is very interesting. According to the dictionary the English word "church", originated from a Greek word meaning "of the Lord".

The Greek word "ekklesia", which is translated church, is a combination of the Greek word kaleo (which means to call) and ek, a preposition meaning out or out of. Therefore, ekklesia is properly translated as "called out ones".

So, while the common contemporary understanding of the word "church" is focusing upon a gathering, the actual meaning of the word is on our status as followers of Jesus. Within the context of His teachings that we are to be "in the world", but not "of the world", and that we are to hate our life "in this world", the application of being "the called out ones" is appropriate. The common usage which empowers the system of “churchianity” is not an appropriate interpretation of "ekklesia". For, the focus is not on the group, nor on the gathering of the group, but upon our status as belonging to the Lord and being called out of worldliness and self life.

One change in my basic thinking is that I now believe it is a mistake when we engage in discussions about what “our” church believes. I say this because I think this leads quickly to one of 2 “extremes” both of which I believe distorts God’s intention.

The first extreme is that we concede (by engaging in the discussion) that it is legitimate for us as human beings to identify a relatively short list of “belief & practice’ (doctrine & liturgy ) that “identify” us as a distinct “church’. To engage in this type of “denominating” of churches seems to be divisive and sectarian in nature rather than seeking to “be one as Jesus & the Father are one”(John 17:21-22) or to be seeking the unity described in Ephesians 4 .

The second extreme is to make the claim that we are Christ’s church and then use our list of beliefs and practices to define what people have to “believe & practice” for us to consider them to be a part of the church.
This logically leads to the position that ”only we” understand what God intended – but the “infighting” within various groups shows that even those who claim to have a corner on truth can’t agree on everything—and who is to decide which things we have to be “right” about and which one’s don’t matter.

There is another reason I believe we should steer away from discussions about ”what church do you belong to?” or “Why you should be a part of this church?”. I think that it is “ socially acceptable” to talk about “church” because it allows us to seem ”inclusive” and ”non confrontational”. It is less acceptable to talk about having a relationship with God & Jesus and surrendering ourselves to their will. (I don't know if this is true of other but I know it is true in my experience)

Soif I don’t want to talk about “church” what do I say if asked about “my”church?”

It seems to me that the answer is found in the original restoration plea of Campbell and Stone that we should be “Christians only” I think the best answer about a specific group of people who see themselves as a ”church” family” is to say “We are a group of Christians who are connected by a common love for and faith in Jesus”

Of course this begs the question of what do we mean by a Christian (that's another "basic" andI'llget to it eventually) but at least this takes us into the correct discussion of “relationship” rather than “rules”

In summary, we need to believe that we are the “eklesia” and that being "called" is God's work and God's judgement. We don't decide (define) the church we simply are (or are not) part of it dependent on our relationship with Jesus.

To me this is one of the “basics” that we need to ‘relearn” – Allowing ourselves to get sucked into a discussion about “which church is best” or “Why this church?” isn’t relevant –we need to get away from ”phamplets” describing “beliefs and practices” that differentiate (separate) us from others and get on with seeking how we can experience the “ones” (unity) of Ephesians .

(Note: This is NOT to say that I believe those things emphasized in the pamphlet aren’t true or important – it is just that reducing these Godly things to "phamplets" undermines the claim to that we are “just Christians” because most people will see it as a “creed” that “divides” us from others rather than a plea for unity by seeking Jesus through the word.)

If we believe (and I do) that there is only “one church”, then we simply need to encourage people to be disciples (Christians) and leave the “church” to God as a necessary consequence. And we certainly have to get away from using the beliefs of the group that we assemble with as the “litmus” test of who is a Christian and who isn’t.

As a closing note - (and I may well have missed something here because I’m still struggling with “What is post-modernism and what does it mean to Christians?) I’m beginning to think that the “post modernists” may have done what 150 years of restoration has failed to do – they have put the “kiss of death” onto denominations – they may be different in their thinking and they may have less of a passion for “a single truth” but it is clear that -- when they are “turned on” to “church” -- it is because they have been attracted by people who have a relationship with Jesus. They are not interested in joining a “church”.

Hope there was something here that makes sense to someone other than myself

Next week – I will revisit another “basic” that may remove obstacles to our growth.

God Bless

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