Category Archives: Churches of Christ

Holy Lovers

Last Sunday I preached from First Peter about living into the hope we have. The issue is really about the holiness of the church. The apostle Peter instructs us saying, “but, like the Holy One who call you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:15-16).*

Holy Is?

Like many common religious terms, the word holy has just enough familiarity that we think we understand it. Consequently, it’s tempting to never inquire any further about what becoming holy means.

That opens the door for a lot of misunderstanding. In the biblical narrative holiness is not merely an abstract concept. Holiness, or the lack of, is displayed through concrete actions. Due likely to Puritan influence, the first thing that usually comes to mind for us when it pertains to holiness is avoiding the “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19-21). That’s certainly a part of living holy lives but this is much more involved in becoming holy.

Becoming Holy Lovers

Peter’s instruction to become holy includes the quote “You shall be holy, because I am holy” which comes from Leviticus 19:2. In that context God is calling Israel to regard themselves as separate from the rest of the nations and giving them instructions for how they are to live as the distinguished (consecrated) people of God who are separate from the nations. The first thing we need to realize is that our identity is the church. We are the body and bride of Christ… who happen to live in America, not Americans who happen to go to church.

Once we understand our identity as the church, we must live like it. Becoming holy is to become like God, who is holy. Again, this is not an abstract concept. The holiness of God is displayed through his actions. Chief among these actions is God’s redemptive pursuit of his creation, motivated by his love for creation and his desire to see justice and righteousness done among creation. This is why God gives Israel the Law after redeeming them from Egypt.

Therefore, as Peter insists that we are called to obedience he points us back to God’s redemptive act in Christ. Peter wants us to understand that holy living involves reflecting the redemptive character of God. So Peter insists that we, who are called to become holy, must embrace a “mutual love” as we “love one another” (1 Pet 1:22).

The Contrast

The instruction to become holy is an expansive call but we should not forget that it involves loving one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Just as the love of God is displayed in the self-giving act of sacrificing his Son for our sake, so we must love one another through self-giving acts. Such actions include the ability to remain patient with each other, forgive each other, serve one another as needs arise, and so forth. This is why I titled this article Holy Lovers.

This may not seem like a big deal but it is. I think of all the stories I’ve heard and even encountered at times that involve stressful work-place drama. I’m talking about sordid accounts of gossip, slander, gamesmanship, politics, and other deeds that make for misery. Now imagine a society where instead of stepping over others, people lower themselves to lift each other up with grace and mercy. It’s a holy society and that’s what we’re called to become. The contrast is huge!

——————–

* This article was originally published in Connecting 29 (November 12, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

Agents of Grace

One of the books I’m reading through is Captive to the Word of God by Miroslav Volf. The author offers reflects on how scripture forms the theological mind so that belief and practice remain conjoined and interwoven. The idea is that what we believe is evident in our practices and therefore our practices declare what we believe.*

On Belief and Practice

The relationship between belief and practice has everything to do with our understanding of the grace of God. Volf picks up on this when he says, “Inscribed in the very heart of God’s grace is the rule that we can be its recipients only if we do not resist being made into its agents. In a precisely defined way that guards the distinction between God and human beings, human beings themselves are made participants in the divine activity and therefore are inspired, empowered, and obligated to imitate it.” (p. 51-52). So when we reflect upon the grace of God and how we become agents of this grace, we must ask two important questions: 1) What sort of life has God redeemed us from? 2) What sort of life has God redeemed us for?

By asking these two questions we are saying that the grace of God is both a salvation from and salvation to something. Therefore, in surrendering our will so that God may make us into an agent of his grace, we are letting go of an old way of life while simultaneously embracing a new way of life. The old life is the myriad of ways that have pulled us away from our created intent, while the new way of life is the remaking of our created intent which we receive from and learn how to live in Jesus Christ. In Colossians Paul says, “Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above… …since you have put off the old man with its practice and have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in the knowledge according to the image of the one who created it” (3:1, 9-10, NET).

Beliefs and practices belong together. Our believing commits us to practicing and our particular beliefs commit us to particular practices which we cannot neglect if we truly believe. This isn’t to say that we will perfectly practice our beliefs or never find ourselves neglecting certain aspects of our practices but to say that if we believe, it will become evident in the way we live. For those who have trouble reconciling the teaching of Paul with the teaching of James (cf. Js. 2:17-19), it should be evident that they both are really on the same page.

Participants of the Story

By learning to practice our beliefs, putting away our old self and putting on the new self, we allow God to remake us as agents of grace. That is to say, as we have received the grace of God, so we become conduits of that grace in the way we live. This is our way of life and it includes the ways in which we cease living as and the ways in which we embrace, learning to live as Christ. It’s the way of Christ.

As I reflect on this, I have one final thought. Throughout scripture we read the stories of people like Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Hannah, David, Daniel, Mary, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, etc… In these stories we see how God worked, accomplishing the seemingly impossible because of their enormous faith. Such stories challenge and inspire us as they should. We read these stories as part of the biblical narrative, joining the story. Yet we must realize that our participation in the story may involve the seemingly impossible tasks of our ancestors, our participation will always involve letting go of the old and putting on the new.

Our call is one that emanates from the grace of God and therefore is one that embraces the grace of God, turning from and turning to, becoming agents of that grace!

——————-

* This article was originally published in Connecting 29 (October 29, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

Because Jesus Says “Come!”

I don’t know what it would be like to walk on water as Peter did but according to the story, doing so led Peter to Jesus. Well, that was until he became afraid and took his eyes off of Jesus. That’s when he stopped walking on the water and began sinking. You can read the entire story of Peter in Matthew 14:22-36.*

Stepping Into The Chaos

Most people who remember the story do so thinking of Jesus. But we shouldn’t forget about Peter because in many ways we are Peter. We here Jesus say “Come!” and that means we must step out of the boat and walk. But stepping out of the boat is scary business because to do so means stepping out and on to the sea, the great symbol of chaos throughout the Bible.

Chaos is difficult and frankly, nobody wants it or needs it. Not I. Not you. The boat is a much safer place. Though it may be surrounded by chaos as it sails on the sea, staying in the boat gives us the illusion that everything is ok and will be ok. Whatever danger staying in the boat may pose, it seems manageable. Faith is unnecessary, we just need to keep sailing until we reach the shore. The only problem is that Jesus isn’t standing on the shore . . . he’s walking on the water, telling us to get out of the boat and come to him.

Peter did the right thing when Jesus called. He got out of the boat and with his eyes fixed on Jesus, he began walking on the water towards Jesus. What got Peter into trouble was taking his eyes off Jesus. That’s when he began sinking. Yet even in sinking, he still did the right thing. That is, he still reached out to Jesus.

Perhaps we would do the same when we feel ourselves sinking in the chaos. But I also know that the boat remains a few yards away. So we might just try swimming back to the boat, thinking that if we can just get back to the boat and get control of the situation ourselves − or at least get things back to manageable situation − then everything will be okay.

It won’t! Jesus isn’t there. Jesus is out on the water bidding us to come join him. Peter did. Even cowering in faith, he reached out to Jesus. And Jesus saved him and sent on to become a founding apostolic witness for this kingdom of God movement that has now gone global.

But Peter never got back into that boat!

Eyes Upon Jesus!

Of course, I’m not really talking about a boat! I’m talking about the church. Your church. My church. Our church.

Jesus is calling but to step on the water and go to him, we have to step out of the boat and that is full of risk. Yet the boat, as we know it, appears safe. It’s surely more convenient. It appears more manageable, as we know how to row this boat because we’ve done it for some time. And if we step out on to the water and find ourselves sinking in the chaos, which seems normal, the temptation is to swim back to the boat, grabbing for a life-preserver, a boat oar, or anything else to feel safe again. But doing so loses focus on Jesus because he isn’t sitting in the boat . . . he’s out walking on the water.

So keep our eyes focused on Jesus and we’ll walk on water, joining Jesus and following him in this Kingdom journey. Just like Peter did . . . who never got back in that boat!

——————–

* This article was originally published in Connecting 29 (October 15, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.

Blessing The Children

Yesterday the Columbia Church of Christ had our blessing of the children. Besides singing songs and reading scripture about the abundant blessings of God, the message was about the role parents and the church plays in raising children as faithful followers of Jesus. At the end of the message, the parents brought their children and committed to raising them as followers of Jesus, with the church lifting each child up in a prayer of blessing. After blessing our children, we shared in the Lord’s Supper together.

The following was part of the prayer of blessing offered for our children:

As the family of God, a congregation of whom Jesus is the head…We ask for you God, our Father in heaven to bless these children…

Lord, we praise you for the life of these children and ask you to surround everyone of them with your blessing, that they each may know your love and may be protected from all evil, knowing your goodness all the days of their lives.

Lord, we ask that you bless the parents of these children, giving them the grace to love and care for their children with patience and faith. As they stand before us as a profession of their commitment to teach their children to be followers of your Son, Jesus, may your Spirit grant them wisdom and guidance to live as Jesus, setting an example of what it means to be a Christian!

And Lord, as we give these Bibles to the newest born children among us, we pray that as they grow up, they will receive the scriptures as your word, shaping them and becoming their story… our story…your story, Lord! Amen!*

——————–

* Adapted from an Anglican prayer of blessing for children.

My Top 10 Books

After receiving a nomination to do so, I listed on Facebook the top 10 favorite books sitting on my bookshelves. All of these books have been read within the last fifteen years of my life and I selected each because of their impact when I read each book. I’m listing them here with a brief comment for each book as to why it makes my top 10 list. Regardless of what edition I read, I am providing links (click on the titles) to each of the latest book editions. Also, this should go without saying but for the sake of clarity, this list pertains to non-biblical books. The Bible is obviously my favorite and most read book.

So here are my top ten books… for now:

  1. Vincent J. Donavan, “Christianity Rediscovered.” This is the story of how one Catholic missionary begins anew with one desire, to teach the Masai people about Jesus, and rediscovers what it means to live by faith as a follower of Jesus. The book is full of fascinating insights for the missionary, pastor, or parishioner.
  2. N.T. Wright, “Surprised By Hope.” This book is about what the future life to come will be like because of what God has redemptively accomplished in Christ. It gave a succinct voice to a lot of thoughts I was already developing as I read scripture.
  3. Jürgen Moltmann, “Theology of Hope.” This book is fairly dense reading on the subject of Christian eschatology rooted in christology. The idea of our future being present to us in the resurrection of Christ was a theological paradigm shift for me and remains very provocative idea in a good sense.
  4. Alan Hirsch & Micheal Frost, “The Shaping of Things to Come.” This is the book that opened me to the missional church conversation that had started emerging. I read the book just after having moved from Memphis, TN to Ithaca, NY and I needed to think more like a missionary and help lead churches towards a missional (as opposed to pastoral) stance.
  5. John Howard Yoder, “The Politics of Jesus.” Um… Although this is a pretty dense book, I managed to read it during my last year as an undergraduate student at Harding University. Major paradigm shift! Prior to that, living as a Christian in America was easy because both my understanding of the life Jesus calls us to follow him in living and the American life were pretty much flowing in the same direction. After reading this book, everything changed.
  6. Christopher J.H. Wright, “The Mission of God.” This book offers a comprehensive theology of the Bible showing how the entire Bible is the story of God’s mission and how this shapes the way we read scripture. The author’s treatment of sub-topics such as faith, idolatry, covenant, and so forth are also more than worth the time you’ll take to read through this tome.
  7. N.T. Wright, “The New Testament and the People of God.” This book really helped unlock the culture and mindset of the world of Second-Temple Judaism which the gospel unfolds within, giving rise to the New Testament. Wright’s treatment of how this shapes the way we understand the New Testament and his “five-act play” treatment of how we read and practice scripture as participants of the story is essential reading, in my opinion, for any minister of the gospel.
  8. Michael Goheen & Craig Bartholomew, “The Drama of Scripture.” A friend and fellow Christian gave me a copy of this book and since reading it, I have been recommending it to other people (I’ve even given a few copies away myself). The book is an easy read, written for undergraduate students with little to no understanding of the Bible. Therefore the book is sort of a “cliff notes” version of the Bible, presenting the coherent account of the Bible as a single narrative projecting it’s own worldview which Christians are called to live out of. 
  9. Rubel Shelly, “I Just Want To Be a Christian. At a time when my understanding of Christianity was very sectarian, this book helped me see a vision for nonsectarian Christianity by showing me what the formative leaders of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement were seeking in attempting to restore New Testament Christianity. I believe this book and the author, more importantly, is the most important piece of literature to be written among the Churches of Christ in the last fifty years because of the impact this book had (for the better too).
  10. Walter Brueggemann, “The Prophetic Imagination.” This book is a short treatment of the prophetic voice in the Old Testament and the author is challenging and thought provoking as he seeks to have the reader take seriously the alternative vision of the prophetic vision. I can assure you that the next time I preach through one of the prophetic books in the Old Testament, I’ll be reading this book again.

Neither Male Nor Female (Part 4)

Galatians 3.28After reading the Bible and realizing that God had a lot more to say about women in the church than just what I thought two said, I realized that many of the restrictions placed upon women by churches were wrong. I was convinced of this even more after realizing that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 were often lifted out of their context and used as proof-texts to say much more than what these two text actually say. Thus, I became what is commonly referred to as a soft-complimentarian and you can read of this journey in the three previous posts (see links below). But now I have come to hold an egalitarian view, which is another shift. Here is how that happened and why…

Reading the Bible

[Let’s talk about the way we should read the Bible. Every Christian reads the Bible but how we read the Bible is as important as reading the Bible.]

A lesson I learned from listening to Randy Harris, who teaches Bible at Abilene Christian University, is that we all tend to understand various issues through certain biblical texts. Traditionally, the issue of women in the church has been  read and understood through the two texts of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. However, the more I came to understand the Bible, the more I  realized that how we read the Bible matters. As a result, I have become very interested in the way the Bible is read (hermeneutics) and whether or not the way we read the Bible is faithful to the aim of the Bible.

What I’ve learned along the way is that the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is a narrative or story. Scripture tells the story of how God is redeeming creation in Jesus Christ and how the Spirit empowers the church, as participants in this story, to live as a portrayal of what this redemptive life looks like and will be for the world when Jesus returns. In other words, the story is centered in Christ and portrays the future redemption breaking into the present. This means that instead of scripture (esp. the New Testament) being read as a law book, it is read as a Christological story with an eschatological aim. So I came to the realization that reading the issue of women in the church through the two passages in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2:12 was wrong.

New Scripture Within the Story

I realized that there were two other passages that anticipated this redemptive goal in Christ as it pertains to women in the church. These two passages are found in Acts 2 and Galatians 3. We read in Acts 2:17-18, “And in the last days it will be, God says, that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.”And then in Galatians 3:27-28, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female − for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

What I came to realize is that the gospel vision is one of reconciliation where all people are equal, where things like ethnicity, social-status, and gender are of no consequence. The passages of scripture in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, which deal with specific prohibitions regarding women, are sort of like the different passages that give specific instructions about slaves. That is, they are temporal instructions given into a culture that is still awaiting to see the full embodiment of the gospel vision where all people are regarded as equal and therefore as equal participants in the mission of God. And that is how I came to embrace egalitarianism. That is, if the gospel vision is one of equality where differences no longer matter, then there are not any roles or ministries in the body of Christ that are restricted to men only except in temporary occasions where the gospel might be impeded by not restricting women. However, that’s not the case throughout much of our Western culture in North America. In fact, we might reasonably conclude that churches who continue to practice positions of male-hierarchy are actually impeding the gospel vision.

A Reflection

Well, there you have it. That’s the story of how God has led me from a naive position of male-hierarchy into soft-complimentarian view and now into an egalitarian view. This is why I don’t have any problems with women leading us in prayer, reading scripture, sharing a word as they lead us in the Lord’s Supper, or serving in the many other ways that God has gifted them with the power of his Spirit. It is why I didn’t have any problem with women entering seminary so that they might serve the Lord as a minister among his church (let’s pray for more churches to embrace God’s call upon their lives). And it’s why I won’t have any problems when Sarah Barton, who is a gifted preacher, speaks at this year’s upcoming Pepperdine Bible Lectures.

My aim with this series has first been to affirm the courageous steps that churches like the Columbia Church of Christ and other Churches of Christ have taken regarding the participation of women in the church. But I also want to challenge more consideration of the egalitarian vision regarding men and women in the church which I believe the Gospel points us toward. Where more conversation is necessary is the process by which churches discern this issue and implement change, and what Philippians 2:5-11 has to say about the way churches proceed on an issue where there is a lot of emotion and disagreement.

May God, by the power of his Spirit, give us the courage to live into the gospel vision that Jesus has brought about through his death and resurrection!

——————–

See also “Neither Male Nor Female” (Part 1), (Part 2), & (Part 3)

Neither Male Nor Female (Part 3)

Galatians 3.28Based on two passages of scripture, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12, I once believed that women were to remain silent in the church (period). This meant that women, no matter how gifted they appeared, were never to lead or teach in the assembly nor to lead any ministry of the church. But then I began to read the Bible from cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation, and as I said in yesterday’s post, I found out that the Bible had a lot more to say on this subject than just what the two above passages said. That’s when I realized that God had much more of a use for women in the church than many churches did.

Consequently, I knew something was amiss about the way many churches regarded the issue of women in the church. It dawned on me that whatever the passages of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 were saying, they weren’t saying as much or exactly what so many churches believed they were saying. In fact, what I began to realize is that some would proof-text these two passages to say that the Bible teaches a principle of male leadership as a way of defending their view of male hierarchy. Yet here is the first problem: when we extract an alleged principle from scripture and begin following that principle, we elevate the principle above scripture. That’s a problem! So I knew there was more to learn and this sent me back to the texts of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2.

Two Passages of Scripture Reexamined

[In what follows, I offer a mini-synopis of what I have discovered about 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 based on the exegetical studies I have done. So that you can read each passage in context, I will provide links to each chapter that will open on another page.]

1 Corinthians 14:34-35. In this Paul is addressing a problem where some women are asking questions in the church gathering (ekklēsia) which they could instead ask at home. These questions are actually part of a chaotic problem that’s disrupting the gathering. This problem includes Christians who are speaking in tongues without an interpreter and Christians who are trying to prophesy out of turn, causing disorder and confusion in the gathering. So in all three cases, Paul insists there must be silence and used the verb sigaō to issue this instruction. In v. 28, those who speak in tongues but do not have an interpreter must be silent (sigaō); in v. 30, when someone else receives a revelation then the one sharing his or her prophesy must be silent (sigaō); and then in v. 34, the women − wives is more precise − who are asking questions during the assembly that they could be asking their husbands at home must also be silent (sigaō).

Further more, since Paul likely was only instructing temporary silence when it came to tongues and prophesy, he likely is only instructing the same for these married women too. In other words, Paul wasn’t saying that the people with the gift of tongues and prophesy could never speak again and he wasn’t saying that these women in Corinth could never speak in the assembly again.

The most we can conclude is that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is only saying women should be silent in regards to these questions.

1 Timothy 2:11-12. This is the passage where Paul instructs Timothy that a women is not allowed “to teach [didaskō] or exercise authority [authenteō] over a man. she must remain quiet [hēsuchia].” What Paul says here has to do with women teaching… not sharing a word of meditation or exhortation around the Lord’s Table, not leading a prayer in the assembly, not leading a ministry, just teaching! The women, or at least some of the women, in this church have been teaching and in doing so, have been exercising authority over the men of the church.

Yet as I wanted to learn more, I also learned that the Bible is not a flat text but is a collection of different writings, including letters like 1 Timothy, written for specific reasons which may not always be as applicable to our own circumstances. The problem in Ephesus where Timothy is ministering is a very immature church suffering from false teaching that has to do with speculative myths (cf. 1 Tim 1:4) rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, in some way this false teaching is threatening the embodiment of the gospel among this church. So in an immature church like this the best thing to do is establish some law and order and in a culture that is very much male-hierarchy, insisting that women remain in submission to the men as they remain silent (= discontinue teaching) makes good pastoral sense. It silences the women who are likely involved in promoting the false teaching going on.

Nevertheless, the only prohibition Paul is placing on women in this passage has to do with teaching which exercises authority over the men.

A Reflection

Where is the passage that prohibits women from leading the church in prayer? From reading scripture during worship? From sharing a thought at the Lord’s table as the church partakes of bread and wine? From leading a youth ministry, an education ministry, and any other ministry of the church for which God has gifted them for? Nota! These passages say nothing about such questions except for what churches have added to the scripture.

So at this point in my journey I became what scholars refer to as a soft-complimentarian. I concluded that the only prohibition scripture placed on women in the church was asking questions in a disruptive manner and teaching (which included preaching and serving as an elder since that is a ministry that requires teaching too). But alas… There was still more to learn, so stay tuned!

——————–

See also “Neither Male Nor Female” (Part 1) & (Part 2).