the opportunity the church has at the present moment

The too rough and tumble of US politics, departing from the ideal of friendly opposition in working through differences has indeed taken a nasty turn in recent years, beginning in recent decades. And the sad fact of the matter is that many of us Christians have joined in on both sides. I’ve also noticed those who have a certain clear cut view, yet remain relatively silent, not entering into the war of words.

A good number of us have seen the nation as on the edge of violence. Fortunately there are no clear boundaries for this, even with the red and blue states. But unfortunately that means the stark divisions are everywhere.

It is hard to know what to do. Clearly enough, part of Satan’s tactic right now is to set the bait for Christians to react, period. And it doesn’t even matter so much how we react, but just the fact that we’re doing so. Maybe with strong words in opposition to something, or defending what is questionable at best, and from whatever side.

Somehow the church must remain nonpartisan when it comes to the politics of this world. And let’s start at the most basic level: the church is never national in terms of any nation on earth, but it is of the kingdom of God in Christ. Now even this part is tricky because it’s not as if the church shouldn’t care about the nation in which it resides. But in the words of Stanley Hauerwas, Christians are indeed “resident aliens.”

Yes, we must somehow be above the fray, even if a few of us speak out against evils of this time: bigotry, violence beginning with words, blatant disrespect of others, little to no regard for truth telling, etc. We as Christians must come out from all of this, and be separate. We are indeed in the world, but not of it. Regardless of how we vote, whether we choose to or not, or whatever, we must be present to all in God’s love in Christ, each of us playing our small part. Committed completely only to Christ and the gospel, everything else in its place, but being secondary and subservient to that. In and through Jesus.

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in prayer for the Roman Catholic Church

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:4-6

In a recent post, I was thinking of the early music of the Protestant Reformation, and celebrating the renewal of spiritual life God seemed to clearly give at that time. In no way was I desirous of putting down other Christian traditions, such as the Roman Catholic Church, or the Eastern Orthodox Church, or any other Christian tradition. All are rooted in a tradition which believes the church was built in a sense on the apostles, beginning with Peter, and on the apostolic teaching of the gospel. In no way do I want to exalt one tradition over another.

I was raised in an evangelical Anabaptist church. Now I’m evangelical with some Anabaptist remaining, but above all, wanting to find the common ground that is ours together as the entire church in Christ and the gospel. I have to admit that for me, while I think I mostly understand it, it seems a direct affront to Christ’s desire that we in Christ would be one before the world, that so many churches have closed communion. That is not true of just one tradition, but a number, even within the Protestant tradition. But by the Spirit through the gospel we are one in Christ anyhow, regardless our practices. Tradition by the Spirit and the word has essentially gotten the gospel right. Christ is the gospel, the good news of God. Christ in his person, life, ministry, and work of salvation through his death and resurrection, followed by his ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit, with the promise of his return.

This is an especially difficult time for the Roman Catholic Church, and for our sisters and brothers in Christ in that great tradition. The rest of us need to be holding them up in prayer: the pope, the leadership in that church, the priests and nuns and laypeople, all who serve Christ there. Christ is faithful, and the church will stand because Christ will cause it to stand. Repentance, reformation and renewal, that is a need for us all. We need to be open to understand where we are wrong now, confess that, and make the necessary changes to be confirmed over time. The evangelical church is not without its faults, sins and scandals.

So we stand with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. In prayer for them, and for all of the church, as we seek to follow our Lord and be faithful witnesses of the good news in him.

Christ is present in the church

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Ephesians 1:22-23

It’s common nowadays for young people to love Jesus, but not care for the church. In Christian terms, that actually makes no sense. Christian terms do have to do with tradition, which can be good or not so good. But the best of the tradition is derived from what the Spirit is saying to the church at large through the word, through written scripture.

And in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in which the church is a major theme (see letter from start to finish), we find that Christ is the head, and is present in the church. In fact this passage might suggest that Christ is present to the world as well, in and through the church.

It seems like nowadays that it’s common especially for younger folks, but sometimes for older as well, to simply dispense themselves of church, thinking it’s God’s kingdom that matters, Jesus being at the center of that. What they miss is the fact that kingdom today is centered in the church, that King Jesus and God’s rule in him is in and extends out from the church. A patient careful reading of the New/Last Testament in comparison with the rest of scripture will bear that out.

Christ is especially present in the church through which he’s present in ways we can understand, and in other ways we probably can’t track with. At the heart of God’s work of reconciliation today in and through Jesus.

Christ speaks; the church listens

I love this post entitled “The Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal” from a Roman Catholic sister in Christ, actually giving me hope for the Roman Catholic Church. Well worth your time to read it, not really that long, and tells a bit of her own story. You can skip this post and read that to save time.

Revelation 2 and 3 contain the seven letters of Christ to the seven churches. It is so vital for the health of any church to listen to Christ. Christ speaks to each church through scripture within the context of the gospel, by the Spirit, and through church leaders, but also through so-called laity. The church together is given discernment by the Spirit, not minimizing the important role leaders play. But leaders too are always subject to Christ’s words, and the others can be involved in discernment, and holding them accountable. But it’s always together, certainly including the gifts of all.

I would like to say, and I strongly believe it, that in the end I don’t care at all what the church says; I care what Christ says, period, the end. But Christ does choose to speak through his body. And that’s where it’s so necessary for the church to listen well to Christ, so that it can both be corrected, as well as encouraged, and speak in word and deed, God’s good news in Jesus to the world. In and through Jesus.

leaders must lead by being examples

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

1 Peter 5:1-4

Yesterday I suggested that given certain guidelines, it’s possible for a fallen pastor to be restored. This scripture from Peter is another basic essential passage for pastors and leaders in the church. Here money and power are both alluded to. The passage is rich, and every part important, but what stands out to me is the necessity that the pastor and leaders of the church must be examples in how they live. Of course their calling involves oversight and service, even as a shepherd takes care of their flock.

Paul said that others should follow him as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Being an example is key, along with the service in God’s gifting of the leadership for the church. A great and wonderful calling. To help others realize the “high calling” that is also their’s (Philippians 3), in and through Jesus.

can a fallen pastor be restored?

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders,so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 3:1-13

On questions like this we need to go back to both scripture and the church. It’s not like there’s one uniform answer to this, but the general answer is yes, but only after submitting to a program for restoration. And contingent on the leadership of the church deciding, the decision not automatic or to be taken lightly. And this should take some time, how much, depending. Maybe at least a couple of years, but only with loving, regular ongoing oversight.

The picture I read here is not suggesting a pastor has to be perfect, since there’s no sinless perfection in this life. But there should not be even a whiff of impropriety in matters of morality or money or power, for that matter. And just because a man (or woman) is genuinely sorry not only over the consequences, but necessarily over the sin itself both against God and man, doesn’t mean all is now okay. It takes time to consider the underlying issue which led to the decline and fall, and more time to see the change of that pattern in character which led to the actual misstep and sin. It is one thing to step out of the sin, but quite another to get the sin out of one’s life. And the needed help for those who have been hurt, such as the pastor’s spouse and family, must be given.

When it comes to morality, both adultery and pornography would have to be considered in this category. Power is more subtle, but there should be a mutual submission going on in leadership with much prayer under Christ. Any church should beware of depending on one person to guide them, no matter how much wisdom they have. And money is also a difficult one. Often pastors haven’t been paid enough. They must be willing to be sacrificial in their lives, but the church also must look out for them, and honor them with giving them at least enough, and preferably more than enough. But that’s the ideal. Sometimes in smaller works, like Paul, pastors must work on the side as “tent makers.”

In the end, pastors must be show the way, as well as tell, not giving in to any thing that is wrong, “little” things included. Temptation is one thing, giving in is another. But confession of sin and change is also important along the way. The point is that there should be a pattern of behavior which brings no reproach to Christ or to the church, and is an example for the church. And I believe that this surely can include restored pastors as well. In and through Jesus.

 

James’s ending note: community life

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James 5

James certainly talks about relationships in the community of faith in his letter. But community life is saved for last, perhaps because that’s where James’s heart is as a pastor.

It’s not like the community of believers are to take the place of God. As James notes, anyone in trouble should pray and those who are happy should sing songs of praise to God. All of this is dependent on God. There’s a dependence on God and from that, an interdependence on each other. God made us for him, and for each other. We can help each other as we receive help from God, or with the help we receive from God.

When someone in the community is sick, they’re to call on the leaders of the church to pray over them, anointing them with olive oil as a symbol of healing. And the leaders are to pray over them, and the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well, and their sins will be forgiven. This implies any needed confession of sin by the one sick. But includes those not aware of any such need for confession, except for acknowledgment of the everyday sins and weaknesses we all carry, which might be affecting us more than we realize. I think of James’s warning against judging each other, and how the Lord judges such. And all his words against loose, careless speech, particularly as described in James 3, straight from the pit of hell. The healing in the context seems to be more or less connected with confession of sin, though not necessarily so.

And then there’s the word of encouragement concerning our prayers, probably especially encouraging the elders who pray, but also anyone else in the community of faith. Elijah is seen as extraordinary, including his prayers and God’s answers, but as James notes, he was just an ordinary human being with the same passions and struggles as the rest of us. If God answered his prayers, God will answer ours. Being righteous in James is more the character of righteousness we receive and mature in, than the standing which especially Paul talks about along with its character. We are always in need of God’s forgiving, cleansing grace, but we are not to excuse ourselves and our sins, and then expect to be heard by God in prayer. But when we are confessing, and doing our best to be obedient people, growing in grace, then our prayers will matter much.

And then the closing word on rescuing the one who is wandering from the truth in the error of their own way. Nothing less than saving their souls from death is at stake here. The community is not to let them go, but to try to bring them back in. And what’s implied here is that we as individuals our involved. One of us from within the community can make the difference as we step in and reach out to help the sinner in need repent. This takes much grace, but we are called to this for each other.

Deb and I are part of an evangelical mega church in which is emphasized the row (weekend worship service), the circle (small group), and the chair (personal devotions). We plugged into a small group early on, and it’s been as great a blessing as all the rest. People can receive some of what James refers to in the weekend gathering, and especially so in smaller churches. But a small group of say eight to twelve people, committed to each other in love and prayer, can make the needed world of difference.

What James calls us to at the close of his letter. What we need, and what the world needs to see from us together. In and through Jesus.