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An Affirmation of a denomination April 29, 2005

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A group of 23 leaders from the Church of Christ denomination have made a Christian affirmation. Although they do not consider themselves a denomination, they act like one in making a statement of this kind. They say that they do not speak for the denomination, but in making a statement of this kind, they express their creed and terms under which someone is or is not in the church – in the denomination.

I know a few of these 23 signers and have heard of several more. Of those that I know, I have a resepct for them that is real and true. So, please understand the tone of this response to be one of respect.

In sum, their non-negotiables are as follows:

1. Baptism
2. The Lord’s Supper
3. Acappella Worship

First of all, I guess you could do worse than this list. Lots and lots of the obligations have been peeled away from the list of the past, so I do commend these people for their slimming down of the list. So, there’s your kudos.

Second, there is a fundamental flaw in their position. It still smacks of pursuing being right as the highest Christian ethic. It’s not that I want to be wrong or that anyone should aspire to being wrong, but being right is not the pinnacle of the Christian faith. Goodness trumps rightness everytime. Read about good and right here. The Pharisees tried to be right while Jesus was good. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

Third, although I highly value baptism and the Lord’s Supper as among the most important Christian exercises, rich in meaning, tradition, and function, the way they are approached in this Christian affirmation is in ways overstated. “In the ancient church there were no unbaptized Christians,” is one statement that stands out to me. No room is left for God’s grace to cover anyone not baptized through ignorance, having been taught falsely, never having heard, or anything. Nope, no baptism; no salvation. I just can’t get there from here. And as for the Lord’s Supper, it’s awesome and importnat, but using “necessary” as a place setting for the supper is inappropriate.

I think that people in the Church of Christ have to make something essential in order to shout loud enough for people to hear them.

Fourth, the acappella music thing is the place wher I make a dramatic departure from these signers. Yes, people need to worship from their hearts. Yes, people need to particpate in expressing their appreciation, their laments and so forth to God, but to make mandatory a specific kind of worship is blatant and obvious denomination protecting. Nothing makes the Church of Christ distinct from most of the Christian religion than their practice of acappella music. So, protecting that tradition is one of the most important things for these guys. Although they have no legitimate theological argument for mandating this practice, they include among the top three articles of the Christian faith. There may be some room for a conversation on this topic, but as a sub-sub-sub topic in worship discussions as it relates the corporate body. They elevate a very minor conversation topic to a way to divide people. For a people so bent upon unity, they have chosen a terrible thing by which to measure it. If there were ever an example of shallow ecclesiology, it is this topic.

This Christian affirmation has many blindspots, inconsistencies, and problems. It is a throwback to the old school Church of Christ, but with a sweeter flavor to it. However, I am not tricked. The deep ecclesiology it hopes to pursue is foiled badly by its own construction. Its goal (unity of all Christians) and approach (modernistic throwback collection of rules) are oil and water.

Finally, I do hope that the conversation following the issuance of this Christian Affirmation will be honest, open, and healthy. This is my first post in response to it. I may make other later.

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Becoming Unchurched #7: Hopeful Deconstruction April 28, 2005

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I love the church. Did I say that yet?

The church is in need of an abundance of hopeful decontrutction. If you’re scrathcing your head by the words, “hopeful” and “deconstruction” set next to each other, then you are not alone. Often times the term deconstruction is just an excuse to rail against something. People think deconstruction means demolition. Please follow me here, they are not the same. A person uses demolition when he or she wants to destroy something. A person uses deconstruction when he or she wants to change things for the better. Also, deconstruction must be followed by reconstruction.

I guess one way to ponder a hopeful deconstruction is to think about a marriage that has lost its zing. It doesn’t need a divorce, it needs some life. In the hurting marriage there are some habits, patterned interactions, and negative expectations that have become, well, normal in the marriage. If it continues this way, then it will be headed for a divoce. However, it does not have to be that way.

For most people in any Christian tradtition, they do not need a divorce, they simply need a change in the way things are. However, if the dysfunctional pattern keeps up, it will result in a divorce. We need people within traditions to make great leaps into the culture, even if it means hurting the tradition for God’s sake. Literally for the sake of God.

Wade Hodges is doing some hopeful deconstruction with his series of posts beginning here. Brian McLaren does some great hopeful deconstruction in his book, A Generous Orthodoxy.

So, becoming unchurched, so to speak, is one way to save the church from becoming completely something other than the body of Christ. Becoming unchurched is to lose everything not of God whether your tradition declares it to be or not. Yet, it is not necessary to ditch the community of faith who carries the tradition.

OK, sometimes it is necessary, but usually it is not. I am hopeful in my deconstruction because I think my tradition can take it, at least some of them can.

Next – Optimistic Reconstruction

Becoming Unchurched #6: Losing Weight Is Making Me Grumpy April 27, 2005

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Warning: Blogs merge ahead.

My favorite post-er boy, Keith Brenton, thinks I’m getting grumpy as I lose weight. If you want to know about my weight los for charity like Keith does, goto 40 Days of Fat here. By the way, Keith is right.

I think it’s a terrific metaphor. What it takes to make me healthy requires that which makes me grumpy. I jog. I do situps. I do pushups. I eat less (and I LOVE food). However, despite the fact that it is not gratifying, it is satisfying to have run, to have done situps and have done pushups.

This series of posts is meant to prompt some self-examination of the individual’s relationship to church, to God, and to self.

It is my belief that the church needs to do what it takes to lose some weight. (Now, if you just interpreted that to mean “how to get rid of church members you don’t like,” then just log off now. It’s not what I mean).

What I do mean is that we Christians have habits that are “normal” for our particular church culture, but are actually perpetuating a sickness, much like a couple candy bars a day will lead to heart disease, but not right away.

I live in the Bible Belt. Many people here are very proud of their belt. They feel safer, morally superior to people in other places, think the North is a “mission field” (While their own communities are just about as unchurched), pity “those poor people” who are not…well..not just like them.

Now understand, this is a certain merger of church culture, Southern culture and a certain strain of patriotism. However, it is not unique to the south. This kind of social bias cuts across all lines. So, without some penetrating self-examination, these biases will be invisible and therefore continue. I guess what makes me blog about this is that I am personally in the process of finding these blindspots and it is most disturbing.

So, my job is to find the habits (heart, sould, mind, & body habits) that make me churchy, but not Jesusy and find another way to live. I need better habits, and I’m not just talking about reading the Bible more or praying more. What I mean is to reconstruct what it means that I am the church. I am urging you to do the same.

When I started losing weight, White Chocolate Kit Kats had to go. It was not just a choice, it was a feat. It was ending a relationship. It was the end of a mindset. It was the end of an emotional expectation that came with the White Chocolate Kit Kat. And you know what, it bothers me. I get a little grumpy in the convenience store when I see what I cannot have, but want so much.

This is the same process we Christians needs to go through in order to get healthy in our souls and our minds and our hearts.

We must lose our spiritual fat that has come from too much churchiness and not enough Jesusness.

Becoming Unchurched #5: In the Church but not of The Church April 25, 2005

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Jesus prayed not that his disciples would be taken out of the world, but that they would be protected from it. Jesus wanted his followers to be in the world, but not be corrupted by it. So the church , it would seem, was a mechanism for his followers to be safe from the evils of the world.

However, the world is insidious in its ways. Evil does not merely look at the church in fear and say, “Blast! Foiled again!” No, Evil got tricky. Rather than a frontal assault, Evil courted the church, romanced the church and seduced the church so effectively that the church never knew the difference. The kisses of Evil felt good in the shadow of the cross.

The church became not a Jesus desired, but as Evil had corrupted. The most effective evils are the kind that seem to do things in Jesus name, but damage people in reality.

-Materialism in Jesus name (look in your church parking lot).
-Exclusion in Jesus name (think race).
-Hatred in Jesus name (Yeah, think gays).
-Intimidation in Jesus name (Every use of Hell I’ve ever heard).
-Nationalism in Jesus name (God bless America, but no one else).

And on and on the list goes.

The church has done some terrible things in Jesus name. Mark that, the church does some terrible things in Jesus name. Evil has so corrupted the church in such invisible ways that we often think we got it all right. We trust the church to have it all together such that if we join the church, then we have it all together. Too many Christians practice righteousness by association rather than righteousness by becoming like Jesus, receiving grace and loving God and people. We’re too interested in the short cut than we are the path that really goes somewhere.

Now, before you start thinking I hate the church, which I would not fault you for thinking, it is still the body of Christ. It is the tool of God. It is doing wonder good in the world as well. This world is a far better place than it would have been without the church. I am grateful for the church. I love the Church.

However, when I say church, I mean the people actually following Jesus, not the people who collect in this place or that on Sunday. God knows His church. Jesus is aware of his own body.

My point in this post is that we must be in God’s church, which may appear to be in the form of a congregation here or there. However, what we must not do is swallow whole the way of any one congregation and think it some spiritual vitamin whereby we become something we are not. We must not neglect the personal relationship with Jesus because of our association with a “church.”

To do otherwise is to be a Pharisee who followed the rules of their insiders club, but called it God’s club – a club they could be in and you couldn’t.

111694841435594405 April 24, 2005

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Becoming Unchurched #4: Terminal? April 22, 2005

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I am on vacation right now, so blogging will be seldom and short.

During my morning jog, I though about Tom Hanks in the movie Terminal and realized that coming from a church tradition where there are significant flaws can be like this guy stuck in the terminal.

Stuck in limbo between “home” and some place else. Can’t go home because of the fighting and dysfunction, but no place else is home.

Termainl is a great title because it is the place he is in and a potential prophecy. Is churchianity terminal?

Homefront Bookstore April 20, 2005

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Brian McLaren Books

Emerging Church Books

Becoming Unchurched #3: Shallow ecclesiology and counseling April 19, 2005

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Becoming Unchurched Intro
Becoming Unchurched #1
Becoming Unchurched #2

In my last post I mentioned what many are calling a deep ecclesiology. I guess I ought to give my idea of what that means. That’s what this post is all about.

I am a marriage and family therapist by trade. In my masters program I learned various ways to do therapy. Cognitive, behavioral, solution-focused, intergenerational, emotionally-focused, internal family systems, structural and on and on. Each model of therapy promised something. Each had its claims to being the most correct, effective, respectful, etc.

Each model also had its own “celebrities.” For the most part, some charasmatic leader would promote or develop a model of therapy and gain a following. The model of therapy gained credibility as it gained a following. And, with the research held up when the inventor of the model or the immediate disciples of the model used it. They were the true believers.

However, after the frenzy of the new model wore off and more sophisticatred research could be done on the model, what ended up happening was amazing. No model was superior to any other model. All that could be said was therapy was usually effective, but it did not matter what model of therapy was used.

This news was a humiliating kick to the groin for the true believers. Their model was only as good as any other model. Ouch!!!

So the question then had to be raised, if the model of therapy does not matter, then what does?

Researchers found that there are 4 things that effect the most change in therapy. These things are called “Common Factors.” They are:

1. The client’s pre-existing resrouces. This was far and away the most important piece to the puzzle. This was not exciting news to the true believers. What it means is that the model of therapy and even the therapist is not nearly as important as they once believed.

2. The therapeutic relationship. This is second most important factor. If the relationship between the client and therapist is full of trust, confidence, and respect, there is a much higher chance of therapy working. This was a little bit of a relief for the true believers. The therapist was actually involved in this factor. However, it again had nothing to do with the model of therapy they were true believers in.

3. Hope. The next common factor again had only to do with the client. Did they believe therapy would help them? The more they believe it will help, the more it helps. Again, this has nothing to do with the model of therapy or the therapist per se.

4. Model of therapy. Finally, the model of therapy comes into play. But after a quick sigh of relief for the true believers in a certain model of therapy, it must be stated that even still, it does not matter which model is used. It’s a complete wash.

So, what the true believers belive in, their model of therapy, only accounts for less than 15% of change in therapy. And that 15% does not indicate that any single model is better thanany other.

The point of this is that there was something else happening in therapy than the model used by the therapist. Although on the surface it appeared that counselors were divided because of their schools of therapy, they were actually united in the common factors and didn’t even know it.

Now, replace models of therapy with denominations. Replace theory of therapy with theology. Now replace common factors with deep ecclessiology. If you can make these connections in your brain, then you get deepe ecclesiology.

What divides Christians is almost always shallow ecclesiology that we treat as deep, just like the therapists treated their beloved models of therapy that made no difference whatsoever.

Christians are united in a deep ecclesiology and don’t even know it.

More to come.

Becoming Unchurched #2: Running Bare Naked Through The Ecclesial Jungle April 18, 2005

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If this series of posts interests you, then you really need to be reading Wade Hodges recent series as well.

Becoming Unchurched Intro
Becoming Unchurched #1

I’ve been a memebr of a certain Christian denomination for my whole life. For the latter half of my life my theology has drifted farther and farther from the mainstream of my tribe.

In fact, if my theology were to be thrown out on the table for everyone to examine I would likely be asked not to teach classes, serve communion, lead ministries, pray publicly, lead a small group, provide spiritual counseling, serve as a deacon or elder, or preach. In some churches in my tribe, I would be denied memerbship of any kind. I would never be asked to lead worship, but that has nothing to do with my theology 🙂

However, I do not make my theology known to very many people. And they make it easy on me because they do not ask. They assume. I have been in this denomination my whole life, so I must have acceptable beliefs. The assumption is that the longer you are in my denomination the more you adhere to its precepts. So, as long as I keep quiet and attend a church with a certain name on the building, I’m good to go.

However, if I changed 1 single thing, everything changes. If I were to begin attending another church which did not have my denomination’s name on it, I would face consequences. Even though not one single molecule of my theology changed, the mere change in location of my Sunday morning worship would send ripples throuh many of my relationships.

1. Questions: I would face questions about my faith, what’s “really” happening, and on and on. Most people would have sincere hearts abnout it. However, what this would expose is that our only connection is Sunday morning, which means we’re not exactly being church, we’re just worshipping in the same location. A few people would have more imposing questions. I’ll get to that later.

2. Exclusion: I would not be allowed to teach at any of the denomination’s colleges or universities. Again, my theology is not the issue, but rather where I show up Sunday. There is a camp I love dearly that would not allow me to teach for the same reason. Many of this denomination’s institutions would not allow me to minister in them because of the name on the builder wher I would worship if it were different from theirs.

3. Eternal Concern: This goes beyond questions. There are some who would think I’d lost my soul to the Devil if I were to worshp anywhre but their place. Sure they are sincere, but because this concern is revealed only when I “leave the church,” it only means that they never really knew me in the first place.

What this talk reveals is the extent to which denominational allegiance supercedes theological underpinnings.

Now, I do understand that theology drives denominational structure, but the truth is that, at least in my denomination, the goal is for the theology to be invisible, just believed as the truth, no, THE TRUTH.

Keep with me, I’m almost done.

So, what makes me a member of my denomination?
A) My theology?
B) The building where I show up on Sundays?
C) The assumptions I allow people to believe about me?
D) What I say I am no matter what I believe.

The fact that this question can even be asked indicates an ecclesialogical problem inherent within the splintered, frayed, and combative denominational mess we find ourselves in.

I am all for deep ecclesiology as Brian McLaren and other emergent church types suggest. I want that. However, if there is not wide acceptance of deep ecclesiology, then what good is it?

More to come.

Becoming Unchurched #1: Coming Out of the Dark April 15, 2005

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If you are a Christian, the title of this series should be at least uncomfortable, but is more likely, alarming. It should be a problem for you in at least three ways.

1. If you apply this title to “the world” or “America,” then Becoming Unchurched is an expression of your despair as the culture erodes further and further into darkness.

2. If you apply this title to your own church or denomination, the it becomes an expression of how “the world” or “culture” has infiltrated your congregation or denomination and stained it in some way. Your family of faith will have been contaminated.

3. If you apply this title to yourself, then it feels like and expression that you might be losing your faith.

Well, if any of the above three ideas causes you some trepidation about the title, “Becoming Unchurched,” then it will come as a relief to you that this article is not taking that direction. So, take a sigh of relief and wipe your brow.

OK, now the bad news. what I am going to addressin this post is something that I think is an ever greater risk to the work of God on Earth than the above three. Ready for this? If so, keep reading.

The problem with so many of our most dedicated, motivated, and energized Christians is that they are overchurched. Church culture has gotten hold of them and shaped them into its image. I wish I could say that means that these Christians shaped like the church are also shaped liek Christ, but I can’t.

Wait a minute there buster, the church is the body of Christ, so going to church is being Christ. Yes, I see your point, but you do not see mine. The church is supposed to be the body of Christ, but that does not mean what or who calls itself church is the body of Christ. It just means it calls itself the church and does religious things. The body of Christ is a mystery. Who can know for sure who is the body and who is not?

The problem is that many of us are overchurched. Overchurched? How can someone be overchurched? I thought that the whole point was to get people churched. Well, actually, it isn’t. The problem comes when people just equate churchness and Christ-likeness. Christlikeness requires humility, compassion, hope, peace, justice, sacrifice, and whole lot of other ideals. Chruchness requires memerbship, attendacne and adeherence to a moral code. In short, churchness is a shortcut to the benefits of Christlikeness. And sadly, a really bad, misdirected, and gonna-get-lost-in-the-woods short cut.

Here are just a few more of the differences between Jesus and churchiness:

1. Jesus promotes love first while churchiness promotes brand names (Cathloic, Baptist, Church of Christ etc) first.

2. Jesus makes social justice prominent while churchiness makes select moral correctness prominent.

3. Jesus makes love the mark of the true believer, while churchiness makes knowledge the mark of the true believer.

4. Jesus seeks to befriend non-believers while churchness seeks to convert non-believers.

5. Jesus seeks to convert the overly churched while churchiness seeks to become overly churched.

6. Jesus says, “I became one of you.” Churchiness says, “you could be one of us.”

7. Jesus releases authority while churchiness accumulates authority.

8. Jesus is impressed that Bono has compassion for AIDS orphans while churchiness is offended that he used the F word.

There are many more differences, but I think you are beginning to perhaps see the difference. When people become Christians or are raised Christian, one of the greatest temptation is to progress as fast as possible in the faith. Great. However, church provides so many apparent short cuts, rewards these short cuts and affirms them that actual growth in faith is hampered. They get churched, but do they love more?

Coming out of the dark means becoming aware of all of the faith shortcuts provided to us and utilized by us, letting them go and getting back to a Jesus like way of life – or getting to that life for the very first time.