it take a church

Nowadays there seems to have been a backlash against what was used by a political candidate here in the US some years back: “It takes a village.” Actually that has plenty of truth in it, just as does the idea that we can’t depend on others to do for us what only we can do. They can’t live our lives for us. Nor should we expect others to do for us what we can do ourselves. True. But the prevailing emphasis on individual rights and freedom nowadays perhaps is the idea that we can get along just fine on our own, that we need no one else.

God’s word and its fulfillment in Jesus tells us something entirely different. Humans are made for community. Yes, some of us like our space, and need more separation than others. But none of us were made for isolation, for solitary confinement. As God says in Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make one corresponding him,  as complements to each other” (Genesis 2; my paraphrase).

Sin divides us from God and each other. At its core sin is a violation of love for God, and for neighbor, which really ends up being all humanity, especially in the world in which we live today, a shrinking globe due to our ability to traverse so well. God’s saving work in Christ is at heart a reconciliation to God and to each other. That reconciliation is front and center in the church. Through the gospel: baptism and the Lord’s table being central in enacting and displaying it.

“It takes a church” we might say. Yes, made up of imperfect, broken, yet being put together people like you and I. Just ordinary people, and often struggling to one degree or another. But our lives are meant to be lived not in isolation, but with others. If we’re “in Christ” by faith, then we’re in Christ’s body, the church. Our identity then, is not only in Christ, but in his body, the church.

That seems often minimized in evangelical Christian circles, with an emphasis on people’s individual response to the gospel and God’s word. But it is not minimized in the very Scripture we evangelicals hold as central to our faith. We need to acclimate ourselves to something different. The life of God we find in Jesus is especially made known in the church. And imbibed and then lived out yes even in the church through what we might call the sacraments, and our lives lived together in communion with each other. And from that sent out on mission. In and through Jesus.

Modernist Enlightenment priorities

At the heart of the American experiment, the United States of America, is the influence of the great Modernist Enlightenment which was sweeping the world just prior to the nation’s founding. It was a break from established authority such as the church into the new world of great human achievement. In a sense, it wasn’t new, having come on the shoulders of the Renaissance and not without some impulse from the Protestant Reformation. Although the Reformation itself may have had some, at least backing, from this wave. One can’t include the Reformation as part of Modernism or the Enlightenment, though the world can influence the church for ill, as has been seen beginning in the 19th century with Mainline Protestantism.

The goal of this post is not to talk about the Modernist Enlightenment of which my own knowledge is limited, but to mention some of the basic tenants of it, which I think have infiltrated our thinking and priorities even as Bible believing Christians, quite apart from the people and churches in Mainline Protestantism who practically deny the truth of the Bible itself, and thus the truth of the gospel.

Autonomy is at the heart of a value we’ve imbibed from the world. It is rooted in certain human/humanistic ideals, to be sure, often more or less universally accepted like the rule of some kind of law based on an accepted form of morality, not far afield from the obligations to humanity in the Ten Commandments, which through general revelation can be more or less found in other moral codes of the ancient world.

Autonomy here means an emphasis on the individual, and on freedom, on individual liberty. Every person theoretically is taken seriously within the accepted framework, and has certain rights grounded in what is called natural law. The idea of individual rights is so pervasive in our society, that it has impacted our worldview as Christians, and affects even how we understand and fail to understand the faith.

Jesus’s ethic, and thus the ethic for Christ followers and Christians is grounded in the call to love God with one’s entire being and doing: the call to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. No longer is one operating from merely individual freedom and rights. Instead one’s considerations our shaped by the necessity, indeed imperative to love one’s neighbor as themselves. It is a community consideration, rather than a mere individual one. It’s not about what I want, what I like, or what I choose to do. It’s grounded in God’s will, what God wants, God’s calling- all in Jesus.

So we do well to step back, stop and think about what drives our thinking and corresponding actions. Are we conformed to this world, the spirit of the age, or are we being transformed by the renewing of our minds into the image of God in Jesus? Whatever that difference might look like in civic life is secondary to what it is to be steeped in: the life of the church in making disciples through the gospel. Something we both become and are becoming, as well as being a light in the world to help others into this same life. A life that is about loving God and one’s neighbor, and laying down all of our rights in the way of Jesus.

think biblically

In the firestorm of today’s news, some of which is exceedingly sad, and perhaps all the more in the political climate of today, and any day, for that matter, we need to aspire to learning to think biblically.

Just to look at the Bible alone, as if we could do so, as it were, in a vaccum, which is impossible, but again, just to consider the Bible alone is challenging. I resort to what has been called a redemptive hermeneutic (hermeneutic essentially means interpretation), so that the Bible is a story which points to an ultimate conclusion, which is a fitting end to the beginning, but takes seriously everything in between. So that, while there’s harmony in the sense that the story follows a certain path, we find unexpected twists and turns along the way, even in the First Testament alone, but especially so in the Second, Final Testament, when Jesus fulfills all of scripture in ways which were not anticipated by those who lived during that time, or prior. But the seeds of which one can arguably clearly enough find in the First Testament.

From there, we have to consider present day thinking, where that came from, how it is entrenched in society, and in our own thinking. If we’re beginning to get the first goal of arriving to good Biblical thinking, true to that text and its fulfillment in Jesus, then we are ready to consider how we really think in everyday life, what our thinking actually is, which likely will be a reflection of the thinking of the world in which we live. And we have to critique that in the light of biblical thinking.

Where I live, the United States, our language and thinking is derived from the Modernist Enlightenment. Even how we think biblically is in large part impacted by that, so that we actually end up imposing the understanding of the age upon the text of scripture. Rather, we need to remain in the text of scripture, so that we can more and more think truly biblically, and be able to critique our present day thought.

Does that mean we expect the world to conform to biblical thinking? Certainly not. But we in Jesus are not to be conformed to this world, but rather, transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we might come to understand what is the good and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2). That is not something we’ll arrive to overnight, indeed it involves a lifelong process together with other believers.

I believe this is critical, mainly because I think we think in ways that are not so much informed and thus formed by the Bible, but more by society, with especially profound, and too often, I think, egregious/tragic results, especially seen in the political realm. Like everything else in life, this is surely a mixed bag. We do get some things more or less right even on this track, but are amiss in other things, I’m afraid. A big problem from our inheritance of the Modernist Enlightenment on which the United States was largely built, is the emphasis and insistence on individual rights. So that the rights of the individual, however that is manifested politically takes priority over everything else. While “rights” and the individual surely arguably have their place, we have to ask ourselves if that has the same place in scripture that it has in our world. And if not, then what informs it, or what context in scripture might we say it exists, its place.

This is not a proposal to imagine that biblical thinking can be imposed on the world, but to seek to be true to it ourselves, so that we can better live in it, through learning to think and therefore live according to what scripture teaches, and its fulfillment in Jesus, rather than what any political party of this world insists on. The new way of thinking and living in the grace and kingdom that is ours in Jesus.

the importance of the church

There is no doubt that the individual and individuals are important to God. In fact we can say that every individual human being matters to God. God created each of us in his image, and treats every human being with respect as such. Even though so many evils in a world of hurt we have to leave with God, since life often seems unfair, quite broken, our own difficulties that way not even close to the plight others experience. So what is said here is not at all to disparage the importance of the individual before God and in the world.

But while the individual in scripture is far from ignored, in fact, just the opposite, there is a clear emphasis on the importance of community, or individals together in communion in knowing each other, living with each other’s interests in view, and not just their own individual interests. On the most basic level this happen in families in which the spouses inevitably should put their partner’s interest at least on the same level as their own, and surely higher, in the way of Christ. And of course good parents inevitably sacrifice their own wants and desires for the good of their children.

In scripture God called an individual, Abraham, to call a people to himself. Yes, a people. Human beings are meant to live in community. To be human in significant part is to be in relationship to another human; it is not good for the human to be alone. God is creating a people in Jesus who not only enter into communion with God, which by the way is a Trinitarian communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but into communion with other humans in reflecting something of that Triune communion in God himself.

We find the formation of the nation of Israel meant to be a light to the world, in showing God’s light of truth and love to the nations. Blessed to be a blessing, that calling realized in its fullness in Christ’s fulfillment of it. And now the church in Jesus together is to proclaim and be a witness to that fulfillment to the world, by gathering together for the word, the sacraments, and the common life. Everyone who is a member of Christ through faith and baptism, is also a member of his body, the church. We in Jesus not only belong to him, but to each other.

This isn’t easy, given our culture in the United States, the first nation built on the Modernist Enlightenment in which at least one of its pillars is indiviual rights. It becomes all about my rights. And we’re already broken because of sin, not only a personal brokenness, but along with that a brokenness in relationships, even if by common grace much good still goes on. We want to be left alone, but that urge mirrors our bent to want God to leave us alone, or meet us on our own terms. But that is not the way in Jesus, as we see over and over again in scripture. It isn’t easy, but there is no other option in really following the Lord, in truly being Christian.


what America needs

This link telling a wonderful story of how a community crowd hummed sang the rest of “The Star-Spangled Banner” after a young girl of 15 could no longer be heard (due to technological problems) is telling for us, and for what I believe this nation needs.

We are heirs of the Enlightenment, and the Founding fathers were steeped in its thinking, along with their desire to make this a Christian nation within the framework of what they understood as Christian. By and large the populace was probably more Bible-oriented, more attune to conversion in precept and experience than our founding fathers as a whole. And what comes to the fore and informed the founder’s view of freedom is individual rights.

The debate in this nation of both left and right comes with the premise that we are to enjoy freedom: yes, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It is true insofar as it goes. God has created us with rights for each person. We are made in God’s image, and we’re to honor each other accordingly. When that honor is broken there are consequences.

Jesus’ ethic is different than an ethic based on individual rights and opportunity. We’re told that all the commands, indeed all the law and the prophets hang on this: The commands to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And the entire Bible is oriented in community. The goal of the kingdom is creation into new creation which includes with it, a city. In and through Jesus, we will live together.

Rights are seen in scripture within community. We are to develop the ethic of no less than love.* And love reaches out beyond ourselves. In fact to the point that if we’re to be like our Father in heaven, we’re to love even our enemies. So rights need to be reframed to include everyone together. Not as individuals, but as a society.

What does that say for America? In the debates today there is plenty of libertarian thought: “Don’t let government tell me what to do.” And yet what underlies that? Is it really the Christian ethic? Of course we can’t expect an unregenerate society to live in the way of Jesus. But if America is supposed to be a Christian nation, and in some significant part that was a factor in this nation’s founding, what does that mean? What does it involve?

I believe America needs an ethic of love which says, “We’re all in this together.” So that when something fails, we pitch in and do our part for the good of all. Of course others must work at doing their part. There will always be those who want to live off the system. While I don’t think basic health care should be withheld from them, I do believe there should be necessary consequences. No one should think they can continue to live a certain lifestyle when they are not willing to do their part. But everyone who is willing to work, no matter what else, should be able to afford a decent roof over their heads, along with affordable health care. I would say universal health care, but let that debate go on. How we do it is secondary to the point that it must be done.

But I’m living in a dream world I suppose. Yet I believe good can happen in significant ways in this nation. Should Jesus tarry, I would hope that when I’m gone it will be different. Good health care will be available to all, abortions will have been replaced with policies which help the woman carry the baby to full term. Wars will largely if not completely be a thing of the past.

Oh yes, I know only God through Jesus can make everything right and new. Only then can lasting good come. In this world we’ll always have trouble.

I also know that what is needed is no less than a heart transplant. “You can’t legislate morality,” is true up to a point. Though we all know that most any law is based on a moral code. Love of neighbor as one’s self fulfills all, according to scripture. That love is to be practiced within and without our borders.**

In the meantime, we in Jesus continue to pray for this now, as well as for its completion in and through Jesus:

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

Matthew 6:9-13

*Of course love is grounded in the God who is love, and is realized in Jesus. And we in Jesus are to be the light on a hill for this nation and for the world.

**This could be taken especially political today. Good Christians and people will disagree on how this should be implemented, what this love will look like. But that it must be love, no less, is really the point.

reflect the whole will of God

I am saddened over what little conviction we evangelicals seem to have in regard to social justice. I know much of the justice the world speaks of, including here in the United States, is set in Modernist, Enlightenment terms. It is all about individual rights- although arguably there is some justification for such language from scripture. But by and large at least, scripture speaks of justice in terms of all creation. It is not just a matter of individuals getting their rights, but all creation being made right through Jesus so that all the individual parts are taken up into a harmonious whole. Which means we should never think in terms of simply “my rights,” but what is right, period.

From that I want to say that our reading of scripture, God’s word, must have the goal of taking in everything so that our goal will be no less than to reflect the whole will of God. To do that we need to keep working at it. We need to critique everything in light of it, in light of the revelation of God in Jesus we find from scripture.

From that we find that the true reality which ends up trumping all others is “in Jesus.” All others may be closer or farther from it, though only in Jesus is it found. In the true reality on the human level there is the outworking of faith, hope and love- and behind that the love of God in Jesus, indeed the love of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We know that only God can bring the true shalom to this world when Jesus returns. And yet something of this is present in and through our visible communities in Jesus in the here and now. And we’re to not only critique all in the light of God’s revelation, but we’re to live in that light, that the light might shine out from us into the world’s darkness. And help changes occur, yes, in this old world.


community in Jesus

There are times when we may have to stand alone as we find over and over in scripture, but by and large community is to be the rule and norm among God’s people in Jesus. Humans were made for community, and when we feel isolated and lonely, we rarely do well. Of course there is that need for ongoing solitude, which is another subject. But never is one intended to live apart from communion with God and with others in Jesus.

Rugged American individualism which has roots in Aristotle’s promotion of the highest ideal reached in the hero achieving great fetes and greatness on his own, along with liberal modernism’s exaltation of individual rights makes us prone to forget the importance of community, or to downgrade it. But humans are created to the end of reflecting the Unity of God by their relationships. “In Christ” humans are indeed taken into a reality in which they are not only united to Jesus by faith, but to others in Jesus.

In the Christmas story, Mary and Joseph, along with Elizabeth and Zechariah have a community of sorts, helpful especially for Mary and Joseph during a most difficult, trying time. God confirms his working through others, as well as his faithfulness to his promises. God works in that way; he brings others alongside of us, or brings us alongside others. And we find Christian community, Jesus being the center. From that we find our place in God’s mission in Jesus for the world.

This video “inspired” this post, which I trust reflects the story found in scripture.