Posts Tagged Church

The Historical Development of Lent

Will you practice Lent in 2018? I have practiced in the past; however, it’s admittedly been a few years.

To be honest, Lent (and a strict Christian calendar in general) is something that I struggle to reconcile with apostolic teaching from Paul, who wrote,

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 2:16-3:4).

Paul seems to be instructing that asceticism and calendars are overrated compared to Christ and underwhelming in the battle against the sinful nature. Then, he compels readers to set their minds on their union with Christ in the experience of the gospel; that is, think on heavenly accomplishments rather than earthly shadows for power in the spiritual life.

Before my theological education, I found this liberating. During my education, knowledge of church history, extra-biblical Christian texts, and exposure to a variety of Christians in various traditions caused me to wonder if I was missing out on my historical heritage – I didn’t want to act as if my Christianity was the only Christianity that there ever has been. Having been removed from the academic environment for about 7 years now, I’ve felt pulled in two directions – one existing in my knowledge of the historical expression of the Christian, spiritual life and one existing in my simple, post-conversion liberty found only in Christ and his gospel.

I imagine that some may respond in saying the historical liturgy aims to image the gospel and to orient all of life around it. I can see that, but I can also see how it possibly focuses the mind on shadows of the gospel rather than on the reality itself.

When I turn to the Scriptures for clarity, the only “icons” we’re given are the Eucharist and Baptism. We weren’t given any specific fasts or specific festivals or holy days. In fact, this 2013 article by Nicholas V. Russo casts all kinds of doubt on any solid proto-Nicene Lent tradition. At the most, one can say that the early church employed fasts and certain days as tools to prepare catechumens for Baptism. These lesser things served the people and the true apostolic ordinances.

Today marks the beginning of Lent for many of my brothers and sisters. My hope for them is that they aren’t only living in the shadow but also in the reality of the union we share in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have died. Our life is hidden in Christ with God. I want to know more of this death and life with which I have been united. I’m just not certain that Lent is the way. I’ll remember my Baptism; I’ll sit at the Lord’s table, I’ll hear the word of redemption in Christ; I’ll gaze upon the Head of the church, and try to yield to his Spirit, whose aim it is to conform me to Christ.

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Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—5. Community

5. Community

This may be perhaps THE reason that Marc brings up that gives me the most pause. I think he is right to warn about the false security that community can bring. It is very easy to feel a part of anything when you are a part of the crowd. It feels good to be a part of something – this is especially so among young people, but also true among the other generations too. Sometimes it feels good to be a part of a small community, and sometimes it feels good to be a part of a larger community.

However, I do push back a little bit on Marc’s criticism of community, because community is obviously something that is going to happen in a local church context. Is he suggesting that we avoid community altogether? If not, what limits should we put on community so that people do not mistake the good feeling that accompanies community with sincere faith and discipleship in the gospel of Jesus Christ? He doesn’t say enough here. Community is GOING to happen.

We are relational beings – all of us – to some degree or another. In fact, I would argue biblically that we are hard-wired by God to worship him in community. How much time does the Scripture labor over the establishment, life, theology, and future of the BODY of Christ? Or even the NATION of Israel? There are endless places in Scripture to which I could turn to make my point. I’ll choose three.

  1. The Ten Commandments (Ex. 20; Deut. 5) were given to Moses by God to teach the PEOPLE of Israel how to be a community of individuals who worship YHWH in purity and holiness as well as how to live with one another in purity and holiness.
  2. Ephesians 2:11-22 is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture (btw, who was this letter written to . . . oh yeah, a COMMUNITY of Christians). The whole context of the passage is community focused, particularly how Jesus Christ through his death has become the peace between diverse – and sometimes even hostile – members of a single community. The passage even goes on to say that the apostles, prophets, the Lord Jesus as the Cornerstone, and the rest of the Body of Christ is being built up into one temple in which the Lord makes his dwelling.
  3. Lastly, turn to end of the Story to Revelation 5:9-10, where a community is singing about the community that the Lamb has ransomed for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a KINGDOM and PRIESTS to our God and THEY shall reign on the earth.” Again, I could share more, but I think that it is clear that throughout the biblical narrative, God has engaged himself in a great deal to make a PEOPLE for himself.

I have not yet even mentioned the notion of community that flows from the Godhead itself as the Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy perfect communion with one another as the one God.

Now that I have thrown Marc under the bus a bit, I’ll stop and embrace his warning because his warning – though not well-rounded per se – is still legitimate. I often wonder, “How many of our students come to weekly meetings because their friends are there?” “If so and so stopped coming or left the faith, would he or she leave too?” “Are they here because they know that the Lord Jesus has called them into the Body of Christ, to a commitment to this local church, and because the Holy Spirit is yearning in them to serve, work, and worship with the community of saints at Scofield?” These are fair questions, because a person can find a “feeling” of community anywhere – in your college dorm, as you sharpen your focus and truly become part of a degree program with other students, in a frat or sorority, on a sports team, through fitness, at a bar or restaurant, at a workplace, or through any number of common interests that you may end up sharing with others as you leave the student ministry of Scofield. Students – don’t mistake the common, human need for community with other humans for the unique, sanctified, reborn community in the Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying that the former is evil; I’m just saying that it is NOT the latter. Word.

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Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—5. Community

5. Community

This may be perhaps THE reason that Marc brings up that gives me the most pause. I think he is right to warn about the false security that community can bring. It is very easy to feel a part of anything when you are a part of the crowd. It feels good to be a part of something – this is especially so among young people, but also true among the other generations too. Sometimes it feels good to be a part of a small community, and sometimes it feels good to be a part of a larger community.

However, I do push back a little bit on Marc’s criticism of community, because community is obviously something that is going to happen in a local church context. Is he suggesting that we avoid community altogether? If not, what limits should we put on community so that people do not mistake the good feeling that accompanies community with sincere faith and discipleship in the gospel of Jesus Christ? He doesn’t say enough here. Community is GOING to happen.

We are relational beings – all of us – to some degree or another. In fact, I would argue biblically that we are hard-wired by God to worship him in community. How much time does the Scripture labor over the establishment, life, theology, and future of the BODY of Christ? Or even the NATION of Israel? There are endless places in Scripture to which I could turn to make my point. I’ll choose three.

  1. The Ten Commandments (Ex. 20; Deut. 5) were given to Moses by God to teach the PEOPLE of Israel how to be a community of individuals who worship YHWH in purity and holiness as well as how to live with one another in purity and holiness.
  2. Ephesians 2:11-22 is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture (btw, who was this letter written to . . . oh yeah, a COMMUNITY of Christians). The whole context of the passage is community focused, particularly how Jesus Christ through his death has become the peace between diverse – and sometimes even hostile – members of a single community. The passage even goes on to say that the apostles, prophets, the Lord Jesus as the Cornerstone, and the rest of the Body of Christ is being built up into one temple in which the Lord makes his dwelling.
  3. Lastly, turn to end of the Story to Revelation 5:9-10, where a community is singing about the community that the Lamb has ransomed for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a KINGDOM and PRIESTS to our God and THEY shall reign on the earth.” Again, I could share more, but I think that it is clear that throughout the biblical narrative, God has engaged himself in a great deal to make a PEOPLE for himself.

I have not yet even mentioned the notion of community that flows from the Godhead itself as the Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy perfect communion with one another as the one God.

Now that I have thrown Marc under the bus a bit, I’ll stop and embrace his warning because his warning – though not well-rounded per se – is still legitimate. I often wonder, “How many of our students come to weekly meetings because their friends are there?” “If so and so stopped coming or left the faith, would he or she leave too?” “Are they here because they know that the Lord Jesus has called them into the Body of Christ, to a commitment to this local church, and because the Holy Spirit is yearning in them to serve, work, and worship with the community of saints at Scofield?” These are fair questions, because a person can find a “feeling” of community anywhere – in your college dorm, as you sharpen your focus and truly become part of a degree program with other students, in a frat or sorority, on a sports team, through fitness, at a bar or restaurant, at a workplace, or through any number of common interests that you may end up sharing with others as you leave the student ministry of Scofield. Students – don’t mistake the common, human need for community with other humans for the unique, sanctified, reborn community in the Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying that the former is evil; I’m just saying that it is NOT the latter. Word.

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Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—7. You Sent Them Out Unarmed

7. You Sent Them Out Unarmed

As mentioned in my response to number 8, I think we do a fairly good job with regard to imparting quality doctrinal teaching and biblical literacy to our students. They study the Bible in our student ministry. They study doctrine in our student ministry. However, I think that Marc (the author) errs a bit too much if he indeed thinks that catechesis is THE solution. Catechesis or some sort of intentional discipleship is necessary to any ministry for growing believers; however, I am discovering more and more that a young person also needs to experience God in the spiritual life. I am not speaking of the Schleiermachian feeling based liberal theology that has birthed this hip nuance youth workers now call Moral Therapeutic Deism. What I am saying is that our young people need both to know the Triune God and to meet with the Triune God. He or she needs both instruction about God and his doings as well as to fellowship with him through spiritual disciplines and the life of the church. Personally, I sense that our student ministry is at the beginning of entering into a kind of discipleship that seeks to direct students to know God well and to experience his presence too. Here, there is an embrace of both catechesis and the spiritual life.

Now, I sense that our student ministry has some weaknesses too that we need to strengthen. First, while we dive deeply into the biblical text and doctrine every semester, I feel that the way in which I go about selecting biblical books to teach, theological themes to explore, or doctrines to learn is a bit aimless. This is what I am saying, I have six years with a student, 7th grade through 12th grade. Instead of a somewhat spontaneous selection of teaching content, I would like to see a discipleship plan or map for the whole six years . . . maybe even a couple of maps. The book Sustainable Youth Ministry speaks about the importance of developing a long-term teaching plan. This has been something that I have not yet implemented in our student ministry, but which I need to implement. I don’t want to totally remove spontaneity from the teaching curriculum of the youth ministry – come on, it IS youth ministry – but a plan or a map would give general direction for the six years of discipleship that we have with any given student. What do you think? We have six years with a student. What should be THE things that we cover, knowing that we will have Communities of Bible Study on Sunday mornings, Sunday Night Connect (our evening meeting), and Summer Small Groups, as well as at least 6 weekend retreats? This would be wonderful for our leadership team to help me think through. Second, we must continue to couple the knowledge of God and the experience of God hand-in-hand as a student ministry. I want our students experiencing God by answered prayer. I want them to fast and deepen their hunger for God. I want them to practice silence so that they listen to God in his word and to listen, as well as test, their own hearts and minds. I want them to practice personal bible study. I want them to be faithful in the sacraments of the church. I want them to participate in evangelism, real evangelism, where you actually share the gospel of Jesus Christ. So at Scofield, we are arming our students, but we can still do better. It isn’t simply a matter of them not being ignorant or biblical illiterate – which are not okay either – but it is also experiencing what we know about God to be true in our lives.

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Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—My Intro

The next series of posts here at LevelPaths will consist of responses to Marc5Solas recent blog post entitled “Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church, which you can read here: http://marc5solas.com/2013/02/08/top-10-reasons-our-kids-leave-church/. A fellow youth worker directed me to Marc’s blog in March. I sat on it for a little while before I began responding to its introduction and its 10 points in our Scofield Student Ministry Facebook group page. I thought it would be helpful to myself, and potentially to other youth leaders and parents, if I responded on my blog too. Let me offer a few qualifications. I have not read all of the nearly 1,000 comments in response to Marc’s blog post, but kudos to him for getting us talking. Secondly, I am speaking largely out of my personal experience as a pastor engaged in youth ministry at Scofield Memorial Church. At times, I’ll speak outside of my context, but I am largely speaking out of my own context and then making applications on a broader scale to youth ministries in conservative, evangelical local churches.

With that said, here is my introduction to the topic. The next post will examine Marc’s intro to his article.

Part 1

I would say that these 10 things have definitely been weaknesses in the evangelical church’s ministry to young people. The other accompanying (and perhaps more severe) problem is the appetite of young people (and old people) themselves. There is very little hunger for God within. TBH, and this will be painful, if you were to ask me how many of our youth group members hunger for God, the list would be fearfully short. Now, there are many coming to our youth group meetings regularly and many coming on trips or to events, but how many hunger for God?

So what do we do? Well, our job as church leaders has to be to pray and to do the things that create a hunger for God—no matter the ministry changes required. This is painful in the group because it effects the appetites that our students have been used to satisfying. In other words, we have to change the menu of their consumption in the student ministry. It must seek to nurture hunger for God.

Students need to fast and pray. They need to occasionally give up the things that typically satisfy their appetites (food, socializing, media, phones, video games, etc.) and pray for their slavery to these things to be broken and replaced by a hunger for God.

These are my initial thoughts. I write this with a heavy heart as I think of some of my own students, some of them “stars of the youth group,” who are no longer walking with God. I could provide you with a list, a list that makes me weep. Young person, is your hunger for God going to carry you into faithfulness and endurance after high school? Maybe you need to test yourself by such passages as 2 Corinthians 13:5; Hebrews 12:15-17; Deuteronomy 29:18-19. At Scofield, the whole church is being called to a commitment to fasting with the hope of a hunger for God to be ignited. O how we need to hunger for God.

Part 2

I reflected a lot on this last night and this morning. As I look at our last four senior classes, most of them are still walking with God. If I go back five years, that class is struggling. While many of these former students and many of our current students are “striving” to walk with God, my question in the previous post is who among you has a hunger for God? This is a different question. Obviously this is true for a non-Christian, but even the Christian can find himself or herself in a period of dryness in which his/her inner appetites are being satisfied by things – and very good things mind you – other than God. I’ll post more in this later.

Part 3

I am using strong language to you students because this article and my comments are mostly of the nature of a warning. A warning comes from an observation of things that could be symptomatic of a deep pattern that could eventually lead to devastating spiritual consequences. The book of Hebrews is filled with warnings to Christians. It is the job of a pastor to warn the sheep of the dangers ahead. This is what I am doing. I hope you catch the spirit of my warnings.

So with that said, how may one assess whether or not he or she has a hunger for God? Let me back up even further, from where does a hunger for God come? This hunger is not something humanly manufactured, but rather it is divinely imparted. The Spirit of God in us creates a hunger for God. Now, there are many things that may nurture a hunger for God – local church life, fellowship with Christians, Bible reading, prayer, etc. However, those things that may nurture a hunger for God are NOT the things that CREATE a hunger for God. The Spirit of God alone is able to CREATE a hunger for God. For example, yesterday, I got in my car, put on my sunglasses, put in a Lecrae CD, and drove to my youth ministry office at Scofield. Not too far along my way, the Spirit of God said to me, “Rex you are not a Christian because you listen to Lecrae.” Then, he said, “Rex you are not a Christian because you are a youth pastor at Scofield, or because you have a degree from DTS.” Finally, he said, “Rex you are a Christian because I have set apart Christ in your heart as your Lord and Savior. Rex, you are a Christian because I made you one in Christ.” I promptly turned my music off, and turned my heart to the Lord Jesus and worshiped for awhile.

It is the Spirit of God who regenerates us and awakens us to eternal life in Jesus Christ. Further, we may assess our hunger for God by testing our alignment with the aims of the Spirit of God. If he is the source of a hunger for God – and I believe the Bible points us to him – then we may compare his hungers/aims/appetites with our own hungers/aims/appetites, and at least gain some idea of the work of the Spirit in our lives, which is the mark of a true Christian. There is much that could be said here about the aims of the Spirit, but I’ll limit it to three under which I think we may fit everything else we might say. Here they are: (1) The Spirit aims to teach the Christian the truth about Jesus Christ, his faithful life, his death that brings pardon and liberty, and the power of his resurrection (John 16:12-15; 1 Cor. 12:3). (2) The Spirit of God aims to conform the Christian to the image of the Son of God (Romans 8:9-11, 26-29). (3) The Spirit aims to build the Body of Christ into a holy place where God dwells and where God is present and where God is worshiped (Eph. 2:11-22; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:11-16).

So, how do we know if we are hungry for God? One way to test our hunger may be to test our alignment with the hungers/aims of the Spirit of God. Because if he is indeed in us, then we should expect to find his hungers in us. What if we don’t have an appetite for the aims of the Spirit? Well then, it would seem that one of two things are true: (1) Maybe you never had the Spirit of God, which means that you are not a Christian. There is no such thing as a Spirit-less Christian. It is the Spirit that awakens you to Christ. So maybe you have been a part of the life of the church for years, but you never received the Holy Spirit who truly leads us to Christ. What do you do? Seek God for the Spirit of God and for the Spirit to reveal Christ to you and to create the above hungers in you. Just ask. God is good. He isn’t stingy. He’s not somehow dangling a bait our in front of you that you cannot reach. Listen to the word of God here: “The Lord is not slow concerning his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Ask God for the Spirit and receive Jesus. (2) Maybe you have the Spirit of God, but at some point you turned away from the Lord, and you have replaced the Spirit’s aims with aims/hungers of your own. This is called grieving the Spirit (Eph. 4:30) or quenching the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). The danger of this is what we read about in Deuteronomy 29:18-19. One who was once a worshiper with a hunger for God, turns from God, and becomes an idolater. When we go down this road, we grieve the Spirit who’s aims are so very different for us. We put out the fire for Jesus that he is seeking to ignite in us. You are numbered among the people of God; you are a Christian, but you have subjected the Spirit of God to your flesh instead of subjecting your flesh to the Spirit of God. This ends my warning to students. Next post will critically examine our student ministry in light of Marc5Solas’ article. Feel free to comment, converse, question, etc. Love you all dearly.

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Quoting Bonhoeffer #12

On September 23 the parents heard their son preach on a theme central to him throughout his life, supporting the accurately earthly, incarnational aspect of the Christian faith against the Gnostic or dualistic idea that the body is inferior to the soul or spirit. “God wants to see human beings,” he said, “not ghosts who shun the world.” He said that in “the whole of world history there is always only one really significant hour – the present. . . . [I]f you want to find eternity, you must serve the times.” His words presaged what he would write to his fiancée from his prison cell years later: “Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our result to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one legged too.” In another letter to her he wrote that “human beings were taken from the earth and don’t just consist of thin air and thoughts” [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 80-81].

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Quoting Bonhoeffer #11

Anyone who has gone through graduate school can feel the truth of this statement:

It is quite a remarkable experience for one to see work and life really come together – a synthesis which we all looked for in our student days, but hardly managed to find. . . . It gives the work value and the worker an objectivity, a recognition of his own limitations, such as can only be gained in real life [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 80].

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Quoting Bonhoeffer #10

Through such experiences, Bonhoeffer’s heart for the first time awoke to the plight of the poor and the outcast, which soon became an important theme in his life and theology. In the letter to Rossler, he touched upon this too:
Every day I am getting to know people, at any rate their circumstances, and sometimes one is able to see through their stories into themselves – and at the same time one thing continues to impress me: Here I meet people as they are, far from the masquerade of “the Christian world”; people with passions, criminal types, small people with small aims, small wages and small sins – all in all they are people who feel homeless in both senses, and to begin to thaw when one speaks to them with kindness – real people; I can only say that I have gained the impression that it is just these people who are much more under grace than under wrath, and that it is the Christian world which is more under wrath than grace [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 79].

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Heavenly Dwelling Places in John 14:2, 23?

Hhmm . . . I find it interesting that we interpret μονή in John 14:2 as “heavenly dwelling places” but certainly cannot do so in John 14:23 . . . maybe “the Father’s house” is the Church (cp. John 2:13–22 for a possible shift of the Father’s house away from the Temple to Christ’s Body) and the “many dwelling places” are Christians in the Church [I’m not the originator of this idea BTW, but I had not noticed the use of μονή before today]. In our eager anticipation of heaven, it is true that we devalue what God has given to us in the Church.

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Quoting Bonhoeffer #8

As ever, Bonhoeffer cagily maintained a certain distance. He wished to learn from the old master, but would preserve his intellectual independence. In the end he would not choose church history. He respected that field, as he demonstrated by mastering it, to Harnack’s delight, but he disagreed with Harneck that one must stop there. He believed that picking over the texts as they did, and going no further, left behind “rubble and fragments.” It was the God beyond the texts, the God who was their author and who spoke to mankind through them, that fired his interest [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 62].

By September he made his decision: he would write his doctoral dissertation under Seeberg after all, but it would be on a subject dogmatic and historical. He would write about the subject he had begun puzzling over in Rome, namely, What is the church? It was eventually titled Sanctorum Communio: A Dogmatic Inquiry into the Sociology of the Church. Bonhoeffer would identify the church as neither a historical entity nor an institution, but as “Christ existing as church-community.” It was a stunning debut [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 63]

I myself find the way such a decision comes about to be problematic. One thing is clear to me, however, that one personally – that is, consciously – has very little control over the ultimate yes or no, but rather that time decides everything. Maybe not with everybody, but in any event with me. Recently I have noticed again and again that all the decisions I had to make were not really my own decisions. Whenever there was a dilemma, I just left it in abeyance and – without really consciously dealing with it intensively – let it grow toward the clarity of a decision. But this clarity is not so much intellectual as it is instinctive. The decision is made; whether one can adequately justify it retrospectively is another question. “Thus” it happened that I went [to Barcelona] [brackets mine] [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 70].

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