Category Archives: Newark Church of Christ

Promoting Peace: Churches Living in a Post-Christendom Society

This past Sunday I began a new three-week message series with the Newark Church of Christ called Neighbors: The Church Among Society. The idea of the series focuses on the question of how does the church, as followers of Jesus, live among society as neighbors. At face value, that might seem like a simple task and in some sense it is. However, now that many churches in North America, including the church I serve, find themselves living in a post-Christendom culture, the task becomes more challenging.

Neighbors - The Church Among Society

The challenge of a post-Christendom culture is that Christianity exists more and more on the margins of society. No longer is Christianity at the center of society and no longer is Christianity attached to the state so that the policies of society favor a Christian view. I happen to believe that is a good thing because there are beliefs and values intrinsic to the gospel that were lost, or at least diminished, when Christianity moved from existing as a mission-movement into a Christendom culture. However, with the post-Christendom shift, it requires churches to rethink what it means to live as followers of Jesus in a society the beliefs and values of the church differ from society.

So as followers of Jesus, how do we live as neighbors among society? Well, the prophet Jeremiah has a word that can help us reimagine our role as God’s people in a post-Christendom society:

The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims to all the exiles I have carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away. Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.

This text is important because it’s a word for how Israel should live in a society not of their choosing. In a nutshell, Jeremiah tells Israel that they should get used to living in Babylon and make the most of it because they’re going to be there for a while. That’s also an important word for churches living in the post-Christendom culture of North America today. Get used to it and make the most of the opportunity because it’s going to be this way for awhile.

Of great importance to the prophet is that Israel should “Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray for to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.” The idea of promoting the welfare of the city is to “seek the peace” (NIV) of the community and doing so requires a particular posture.

To begin with, there isn’t a word in the text about retreating or resisting the changes taking place in society. Withdrawing from engaging in society is out of the question but unless a church is careful, that’s what happens. I know because I once remembered eating in a restaurant owned by a Muslim family that catered to the small population of Somalian refugees. The restaurant had been open for about four to five years. So I was astonished when the owner told me that I was the first Christian to ever come in and eat at his place. Such avoidance of engagement with non-Christians is the sort of retreating that churches must avoid. Just the same, churches must avoid resisting the changes. Promoting the welfare of the community doesn’t happen by boycotting Starbuck or protesting the local PRIDE parade. Doing so only helps erect obstacles that places Christianity in an unnecessary adversarial relationship with society at large.

Promoting the welfare or seeking the peace of society requires learning how to exercise good table manners. We enter and engage our neighbors as neighbors who listen to understand before we attempt to contribute to the good. We do so by extending to others the courtesy and respect we hope they would extend to us (and do so even if they won’t). In doing so, we avoid offering banal answers to difficult questions and challenging issues. Instead, we are able to contribute by becoming what Tomâś Halík describes as “competent partners respecting the rules of dialogue” (Night of the Confessor, pp 134-135).

Taking such a posture doesn’t mean or require churches to abandon any convictions. Instead, the local church is able to discover where God is already at work in society and participate in that work for the sake of the kingdom — the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven. This approach is possible in a variety of different avenues, from partnering with local agencies that serve people in need to planting new churches that also seek to serve their neighbors as they lead people to follow Jesus.

Whatever form promoting the welfare of the city takes, it will involve prayer. So I’ll end this post with the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
Amen

Hello Again!

Hello again!

This blog has been dormant for awhile while I have been working hard to finish my dissertation and complete my Doctor of Ministry degree. I’m happy to report that I am finished and this coming Saturday, June 8, 2019, I will graduate with a D.Min in in Contextual Theology with Northern Seminary in Lisle, IL.

im-back

I am very thankful for all of the support and encouragement I have received along the way, beginning with my wife and children. When I began work on my D.Min, I was serving with a church in Maryland that I eventually helped close. From there, my family and I moved to Missouri where I began serving with a church but that did not last long, as I was asked to leave (not for any illegal, immoral, or unethical conduct). At this point, I wasn’t sure if I was done serving vocationally as a minister of the gospel and wasn’t even sure if I would finish my D.Min. As you might imagine, this was a difficult season not just for me but also my wife and children too. By the grace of God, many people offered support and encouragement in various ways. They know who they are but let me just say how thankful I am for there outpouring of love.

Last year my family and I also moved back to the east coast, to Newark, Delaware where I began serving as a minister/pastor with the Newark Church of Christ. This first year has been one outstanding year. I serve alongside of some wonderful shepherds and some wonderful campus missionaries who are leading students from the University of Delaware to follow Jesus through Blue Hens For Christ campus missions outpost. The church is made up of many followers of Jesus who are using their spiritual gifts to serve so that we can truly exist as a church that is inviting others to experience Jesus together. So over the last year I have witnessed enough people give their life to Jesus in baptism that I must pause to think so that I can recall the number… 18, I think. Anyhow, the year has been wonderful. Praise the Lord!

Now some people have asked me what my plans are now that I am finished with my doctoral work. The answer to that, or at least a major portion of that answer, is easy. Lord willing, I will continue serving with the Newark Church of Christ. Whatever other opportunities to serve open up, I am committed to this church. Not only do I believe the local church is the way that God is continuing to fulfill his mission but I believe that God is at work in this local church. So I want to keep serving, helping lead the Newark Church of Christ to continue participating in the mission of God.

As for this blog, I do plan on posting again on a regular basis. The post will focus on the intersection between theology and ministry, and how the conversation between scripture, tradition, and culture shapes the church for participation in the mission of God. That’s broad enough to have some variation in particular topics, issues, etc… but focused enough to know where the lines are and avoid straying into foul territory.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I hope you’ll come back and read some more.

Grace and Peace,

K. Rex Butts