Monday, August 28, 2006

Doctrine is the road, not the Destination

It's risky to talk about doctrine as not being the core of Christianity. It is held in the highest esteem and seen as the foundation of salvation. So when i say that relationship is more important than doctrine, well established Christians grab the oars and start paddling away from the terrible waterfall of heresy they see ahead. Fear becomes noise in the ear canal, and nothing further is heard.

The average Christian would consent to the statement that "It is by what we believe that we are saved." Yet this is the greater heresy. It is this emphasis on correct belief that has neutered the Church and made it impotent in society. The affirmation of correct belief has caused great division within the Church. As Christ said, "A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand."

It is by faith that we are saved. And that faith is in a person, not a proposition. It is not by believing that Christ is divine that we are saved. It is not by believing in the Trinity that we are saved. It is not by understanding propitiary atonement, or understanding the complexity of the incarnation and confessing that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. We are saved by acknowledging our lack of and need for a relationship.

Doctrine is the road which leads us to a relationship with God. Therefore, doctrine is essential, but it is not the final destination. Doctrine helps us to understand our plight, and how we can reconnect with our source of life. It helps us to understand the God with whom we desire to enter into relationship. Yet all this understanding, if it does not lead us to relationship, is useless.

There are countless examples of people in the Scriptures who had doctrine, but lacked relationship. These were despised by God and Christ. There are also examples of people who lacked doctrine, but had relationship. Some of these would be Melchizedeck, Abraham, Moses, Enoch, the thief on the Cross, and others who walked and talked with God; many before any formal doctrines or Scriptures were established. This is not to say that doctrine is dispensable. Why would we disregard something handed to us by God in order to better understand who he is in relation to us? It is only to say that doctrine is a tool and a help, and not the prize.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Wisdom is a Lady?


The debate of whether a woman ought to teach in the Church is still alive and well. America is utterly baffled by this. Due to the wars raging against Muslim nations, Americans have become aware of this seemingly backward phenomena continuing today in the most fundamentalist of places. Yet here on American soil, it seems absurdly out of place.

Male leadership in the Church is limited. Might i be so bold as to suggest that women have become the backbone of the Church today? For male pastors and leaders in the church, this is bothersome. They are often tempted to put a willing male in a place of leadership before a more competent female. Is this a form of Affirmative Action? Certainly some would be disturbed that i even made that connection. But to deny it is about as sensible as frisking Dutch old ladies in the airport while allowing a group of Arabs to pass unsearched, because our "values" dictate against racial profiling. Yet every non-Arab waiting in line at air terminal is eye-balling that guy with the turban on his head, hoping he's not flying with them. Uh-oh, is that too blatant? i ought to be censored. When being "politically correct" becomes synonymous with "ignorance", we must discard it.

i don't have the answer as to whether it is biblical or non-biblical for women to take positions as teachers and pastors in the Church. What i do believe is that there are some really good cultural reasons for why Americans today find it to be ludicrous to keep women from doing so. It is not simply that women have proven to be equally proficient in the labor field. It is also because the ability of men to lead is being called into question, and for good reason.

Many American kids have not had a father in the home for either all or a good portion of their childhood. Often times they do not know their fathers, or their fathers simply don't visit them much. Dad's are often dead-beats, neglecting to pay child support and not physically or emotionally available for their children. Kids then live in homes where moms go to work, provide food and shelter, and take care of their kids needs to the best of their ability. These are the "super-moms" of America. They seem to carry unweighable burdens, as the sweat drips off their brow. They come home and wash the dirt off their hands and scrape it out from under their fingernails, and then apply a fresh coat of nail polish as they adapt to their p.m. role of being "mom". They drive the kids to their events and pack lunches for the next school day. All this while dad is managing another short-term relationship with a woman you'll never meet, and consistently practicing his trade of warming a barstool.

If a kid knows their dad, they will likely love him unconditionally. They will be ecstatic when he at last picks them up for a visit. Often times, especially for boys, it will be as though dad can do no wrong. While the love and hope of a relationship with one's paternal may remain vibrant, something else is lost. It is respect for all other men. Men come to be viewed as incompetent, unreliable, self-centered, lazy, and negligible. At the same time, women in general become viewed as strong, dependable, capable, and reliable.

This of course is a very brief and restricted explanation, but you can likely make other associations and connections from here. While the question of women's authority and position in the Church may continue to be debated for some time, we ought not think it strange that American culture blatantly rejects any interpretation requiring women to have a limited role. It is now the experience of many that when women aren't setting the course of the ship, that ship will likely end up wrecked, at the hands of a drunken (male) captain.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Well-Being


How do you measure your relationship with God? There are times in our lives when we feel very distant from God. Often times we don't know why. We assume that we need to pray more, or read more, or do something more...

Lately i've been wondering how much of our relationship with God is connected to our relationship with others. Or how much does our sense of well-being effect how we feel our "status" is with God?

First, i wonder if when we are out of relationship with others, and begin to feel that distancing which isolation brings, how that feeling begins to translate over to our relationship with God. Often times when we cut ourselves off from those whom we are close to, we begin to sense a distancing from God as well. Or what about those who don't have significant relationships in their lives to begin with, who also often feel very distant from God. Yet when we are interacting in a meaningful way, and on a regular basis, with those we know and love, we feel a sense of wellness and peace with our Maker.

Also, i have noticed that when we become goal centered, and the accomplishing of those goals is somehow in question or doubt, we begin to feel distanced from God. This lack of hopefullness robs us of our security, purpose, and contentment. Though it is almost a paradox to say that we have a sense of contentment as we strive to achieve some loftier goal.

i am beginning to believe that when we enter into consistent, growing, and authentic relationships, we find a sense of peace within our relationship with God as well. When we begin to find our purpose in the advancement of the Kingdom, rather than our own personal advancement, we begin to obtain a sense of well-being.

You see, in relationships we find meaning. And when we become concerned with the advancement of the Kingdom of God before our own personal advancement, we never lose hope. We have a promise that the Kingdom of God will advance on Earth. We do not have a promise that our own personal goals will find fulfillment. So when we seem to falter or fail, we can still look toward the greater goal, and find great relief in the fact that nothing can stop the advancment of the Kingdom.

Monday, August 07, 2006

On Hearing God


"The difference between you and God,
is that God never thinks he's you"

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ruth part III

Ruth and her mother-in-law were both widows. Naomi’s sons had died, and the narrative makes it appear as though Ruth was childless as well. You can get more background by reading Ruth parts I & II in the archive.

I am contemplating Ruth 2:14, and reflecting on an earlier conversation I mentioned in the previous Ruth post. Ruth had come to Boaz’s field to glean behind the reapers. This was a provision established by God, though not always willingly observed by landowners. Yet Boaz not only encourages Ruth to glean in his fields, but tells her not to bother going anywhere else, because she is welcome to all she can carry. This was a huge relief to a widowed woman, who was also attempting to provide for another widow.

Boaz does not stop here, but in 2:14 we see that Ruth is invited to eat alongside the harvesters. The Hebrew says that Boaz held out grain for her to take and eat of, and that after she finished eating her fill, there was some left over. The Greek is slightly more colorful here, saying that Boaz heaped up grain in front of Ruth, also noting that she ate and that her portion was so filled that there was some left.

This heaping up of grain before Ruth is here to show us how her needs were completely met, with excess. Yet it is not only Ruth’s primary needs (according to Maslow’s pyramid) that are met, but her secondary needs for companionship as well. We noticed it earlier when Boaz invited Ruth to stand among his servant girls. Now she is invited to sit alongside the harvesters and eat with them.

Beth rightfully pointed out that we do have those among us whose primary needs are not being achieved. Yet they do not necessarily sit outside our doorstep, and so we must search them out. Yet for the even greater majority, that we do come in contact with throughout the course of our average day, whose primary needs are met, there are still the secondary needs that starve.

I believe that if we are to live Christ within our communities, most of us ought to be focusing on the secondary needs of those surrounding us. The effects of broken or even the lack of healthy relationships are as plain to see as the effects of starvation and homelessness. Some of the signs are depression, mood disorders, shame, low self-esteem, chemical addiction, hopelessness, physical and verbal abuse, abandonment, attachment disorder, narcissism, behavior disorders, sexual deviance such as child molestation, defiance, self mutilation and affliction, eating disorders, personality disorders, and any other five-hundred things you might rightfully add to the list.

I find it enlightening that Jesus says, “Man does not live on bread alone…” In another place Christ says, “Those who ate of the manna in the wilderness, which Moses gave to them, died; but those who eat of the bread which I give, will live forever”. We need bread to live, but we overhear Christ in a prayer to the Father saying, “For this is eternal life, that they may know you, the one true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” What enables us to live eternally is nothing-other-than relationship. In this way, it is “by every Word which proceeds from the mouth of God” that we live. It is God’s interaction and relationship with us that gives life to our being. God’s first ministry to humanity is to restore us to proper relationship with himself, then one-another, and then creation. So perhaps we could also say, that what enables us to live fully, for today, also has to do with relationships.

And so we begin to answer the question, “Who are the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner among us today?” It is every person with a basic need left unfulfilled. It is all who are in need of open, genuine, and healthy relationships. Who aren’t the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner among us?

The Widow, The Orphan, and The Sojourner

Another part of the conversation we had the other night contrasts right knowledge vs. right action. For a long time the Church has focused on correct belief, thereby effectively shattering itself into a Million Little Pieces. Much like the book that was endorsed by Oprah, many had difficulty determining what the Scriptures actually revealed, and what was perhaps read into them.

What the majority seemed to agree upon was that correct belief was of utmost importance, even in the most minuet details. So while the Catholics sought to burn Calvin at the stake, Calvin’s protégées (the Reformers) tied up the Anabaptists hand and foot, strung a large stone around them, and allotted them their baptism by emersion. The Puritans in America would later do the same to those accused of witchcraft. If a woman was bound and thrown into the water, and she floated, then she was a witch and was burned at the stake or on occasion, less harshly, imprisoned for an excessive amount of time. If the woman sunk to the bottom, then she was not a witch. She was dead, but she wasn’t a witch. Don’t feel too badly for these though, because if it wasn’t for such a great display of ignorance, my wife and I couldn’t have enjoyed the reenactment of a witch trial in the quaint town of Salem, M.A. while we were vacationing a short spell back. What a delightful time. Oh, but the witch was released in this reenactment because the live audience got to cast their own vote. I was sorely disappointed and called for a retrial, but my voice must have gotten muffled in the crowd, because no one seconded the motion.

Anyway, we talked about how right belief was essential, otherwise we believed in nothing, and therefore held our faith in vain. What consisted of right belief was another issue. I suggested there is already common ground among the greater majority of Christians. This is why a person can be Baptist, and while not agreeing with the Methodist, still consider them true followers. One common factor seems to be that most of us hold the earliest creeds in common. It is when we start making amendments to these that cracks emerge in our boat, and we all find ourselves clinging to broken slabs of wood, with our legs dangling in the water, hoping it will keep us adrift.

Beth, my friend who is the walking personification of “nice”, declared as ever so brazenly as one with such a small voice could, that we are not called to define the Trinity, but to love others. She said that the Scriptures teach us to care for the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner among us. The rest of us, reflecting on how we not only don’t do this, but also don’t really know of any widows, orphans, and foreigners who need our help, started pondering what this would look like in our community. It was determined that just sending money to the Samaritans Purse really wasn’t enough.

I noted that in ancient times widows, orphans, and resident foreigners abounded, and had great difficulty providing for themselves. It was the native men of the land who owned property and worked, while women took care of the home and did not earn pay. A woman or child without a father found themselves in a very hard pressed situation. The foreigner as well depended upon the native man’s good graces. Food, shelter, and clothing were common needs in those times.

While there are many places in the world today that have these same needs, the people we brush shoulders with everyday often have these needs met. What then are the common needs of those around us?

And so the story of Ruth will soon continue…