what does Christian mean?

…for an entire year [Barnabas and Saul] met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Acts 11:26b

We can ask over time what anything comes to mean. There’s always inevitably the baggage of history, and some of that behind the name Christian is not pretty, including right up to the present day. I’ve heard that it may have been derogatory when first coined in Antioch. True Christianity for sure would upset the status quo.

Christian has basically meant those who adhere to and practice Christianity. And so much can get lost in that, as well as there being different emphases in different traditions of Christianity. In our time, in my lifetime, it seems to mean those who follow certain traditions such as Sunday gathering and whatever else might follow from that. There’s usually a profession of faith in Jesus and often an emphasis on the impact the faith has on the life to come, at least in the minds of many. Yes, teaching might bring focus into the present life, and often does, but it seems to me based on observation and on what much more knowledgeable and wiser people have said that there’s a missing piece, arguably the most important piece of all in one aspect.

Yes, it’s all dependent on God and on God’s grace. But what I’m referring to here is the simple goal of following Christ, becoming like Christ. From my nearly five decades of being a Christian, that doesn’t seem to me to have been much of an emphasis, not much in our minds at least from what we were taught or at least in what really hit home to us. What should people think of ideally when they hear the word Christian? And what do they think of? And that includes not only those who are not Christian, but those who are.

I’m afraid being a follower of Christ not unlike the Sermon on the Mount has at best been put on the back burner, if not taken off the stove entirely, as something just not for us today. This is a grievous error because what follows the gospel accounts Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in our Bibles comes from and is based on what Christ taught, the Spirit directing the churches through leadership on how this worked out after Christ’s ascension and Pentecost.

All of our prayer, reading of Scripture, gathering together as God’s people should be to the end of helping us become true and better followers of Christ, growing together into maturity in Christ, yes into Christ likeness. Anything less than that is missing the mark and what it truly means to be Christian.

pray for yourself

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.

Psalm 6:1-4

In the morning and evening offices in our new hymnal, Voices Together (985, 987), there is the part toward the end when we’re offering prayers.

We pray for ourselves and those dear to us…

At first, when I was beginning to do this every morning and night, I gently resisted the idea of praying for myself, especially first. But I dutifully did it, knowing that I’m not as wise as the collective wisdom of others. And I began to more and more see the wisdom of doing so. If God doesn’t help me or I receive little of that, I certainly can be of little or no help to others. James tells us that we don’t have because we don’t ask God. And I’m reminded of the African-American spiritual,

It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

This really has been a tremendous help to me. We pray for “those dear to us,” “our community and…our neighbors,” “for the church,” “for the world,” “for other concerns we carry in our hearts.” But it begins with us. We can see that in Jesus’s high priestly prayer on the eve of his crucifixion. He first prayed that the Father would glorify him so that he could glorify the Father (John 17). I can’t help but think that when Jesus used to break away early mornings to pray to the Father that he lifted himself up for the help he needed, as well as praying for his disciples and others, whatever else he might have prayed. Certainly enjoying his fellowship as God. Yes, he is God, but fully human, too. And in this life in which he lived, he did so in full dependence on the Father.

But again, this practice is helping me immensely. I have not done this on a regular basis, as far as I know, ever. Just here and there, when I felt in need, which was a lot. But to do so regularly helps me find the help from God I need. In and through Jesus.

Note: In the morning and evening offices mentioned above, toward the end we also “Pray together the Prayer Jesus Taught: “Our Father…”

through the shock and storm

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish[e] woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job 2:9-10

Job is an amazing book, chalk full of wisdom, but in a way, not one of my favorite stories in Scripture, not that that really matters. But for God to take up a wager with Satan over one of God’s servants, just seems to me to be strange at best, and then to let Satan do what he did, just a mystery. Well, if it’s truly a story which actually happened, then yes, I’ll just let it remain in mystery, a category that is becoming increasingly meaningful to me over time. But actually I hold it to be a wisdom story, telling a tale which actually did not happen. Where is the land of Uz? A story well worth going over again and again for the wisdom one can glean. Indeed part of the wisdom literature in Scripture.

What Job went through as indeed shock and awe, more like awful, one might say the shock and storm which followed. Although Job maintained his integrity and held on to faith in God, it was not without severely questioning God to the max. His three friends did well initially, just being with him in silence for seven days. But when they opened their mouths, their help became a hindrance. Or one can say, something Job had to work through as well, not just his own protests, maybe one might say doubts and surely wonderment before God, but also what surely sounded like pious platitudes in his ears, eloquently expressed by his three friends, with a young man adding some on at the end, although the latter might have been getting a little warmer to the truth in what he said.

Job is a case in point of what we need to do when we face hard times, hardship in whatever way it might come, difficulty, and even rejection from our friends and yes, companions in the faith. Job’s friends were each men of faith from different perspectives, maybe different traditions of practice of it. Well meaning to be sure, and sincere to the nth degree. In the end Job had to pray for them, which in itself is instructive to us, but God somehow required that for their forgiveness, which again is a word to us to try to avoid their error.

Through the shock and the storm we must hang in their and remain in faith, in the faith. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to go through it, though faith surely will lessen if not the difficulty, at least the harm done to us, and should hopefully mitigate or diminish, indeed negate any harm to our souls.

Surely Job was never the same afterwards. He had known of God he said, but through the experience he had come to see God. And he lost his first seven sons and three daughters forever in this life. But God brought him through. A lot of this a mystery to me, but maybe part of the brutal necessity of this life, living in this broken world. God will see us through to the other side as long as we hold on in faith, come what may. In and through Jesus.

the Lord over all, including Scripture, tradition, reason and experience

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

According to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is simply gathered from John Wesley’s writings, something he did not explicitly teach himself, we have Scripture, tradition, reason and experience in the mix, to go by. The experience part has been critiqued surely with some truth in that criticism. We can easily be misled by our experience. But actually our reception of any of it is far from foolproof. Hardly a case has to be made to realize that.

Yes, all four have their place I think, and you can show that right from Scripture. But what we need undergirding that is what’s pointed out to us in the above passage from Proverbs. We need God’s hand over and on us, God’s guiding hand. And we need to have the attitude of trust, dependence and submission to the Lord, no less.

Yes, we need to remain in Scripture. Tradition has it’s place, too. How has God guided the church? What has the church gotten right, and what has the church been mistaken in? And perhaps the key point on tradition is that we’re in this together. And God appeals to our reason right in Scripture. The fact that Scripture is a revelation from God given to us in words says a lot in itself. Certainly that revelation has all kinds of ways of communicating: prose, telling of story, poetry, apocalyptic. But the picture given to us is in words. That certainly involves reason.

This is especially difficult when we’re working through issues in which not all of God’s people agree. We need to hold on to humility, and realize we might have somehow gotten something important wrong. But the bottom line is that we need to hold on to trust in God. And look to the Lord to lead us, yes as individuals, but above all, together, as his sheep. We need to look for that as we remain in Scripture, in the light of Jesus’s teaching and what followed. In and through him.

intercepting oneself

I think most anyone would like a do-over in something in their lives. It’s not like God can’t redeem what can’t be undone, but that is no reason to be glad about what was done in the first place. And in the mess called “life,” it all ends up being complicated.

What’s not complicated is out of the wish to undo what was done, the desire to help others avoid the problem and “intercept themselves” from that, knocking down or intercepting the errant pass. Stopping one’s life in their tracks for repentance and help over time in moving in a new direction.

Unfortunately the Protestant or at least Evangelical church seems to be in a free-for-all. For whatever problems the Roman Catholic Church (and I suspect the Eastern Orthodox Church would fit into this as well) has with their traditions, some of them were set in place to help those who had sinned. And we need preventative measures to help those who are struggling, or even in the throes of sin. But alas. Instead we rely on Bible teaching and worship in song, largely, with hopefully people plugging into small groups, etc. But I’m afraid people are left largely on their own. Leadership and I’m referring mainly to pastors are simply and tragically not trained in this. So it ends up being hit and miss.

We at least need to use those who have repented and changed over time to be a help to younger people who may be in danger themselves. It’s not enough to have the Bible. We have to have people who have received wisdom from God either through their own failures or the hard knocks of life, or through witnessing and understanding something of what others have gone through. But none of this seems to me to be taken all that seriously. It is probably more a case of discomfort in not being able to handle that. But if the church had something set in place gathered from the wisdom of the past, how much better off would we all be. And probably some of us would not need to have the wish to intercept themselves.

the quiet openness God wants

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1:19-20

If there’s a time Christians need to listen, and I’m especially thinking of myself, as a white who has lived in the evangelical tradition more than less, all of my life, it’s now. We have so much to learn.

Of course our minds will gravitate to politics, and we might think, yes, we all do, but the other side has much more to learn. I think of the rest of the passage quoted above, and how we might like to move on to the next part (click above link) to confirm our own bias. But if we read what follows correctly, no such confirmation would be coming for any one of us.

We can be in a learning mode, from God, and yes, from others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that if we don’t listen well to others, we’re not listening well to God either. I think he’s right. We need God’s discernment for sure. And our take should be primarily with reference to what God may be saying to us. That requires being in the word, and seeking to discern what the Spirit has said (yes, tradition) and is saying to the churches. Not just to us individually, but to all of us together.

Our anger will short circuit all of this. So we need to avoid that, insofar as possible. Yes, anger has its place, but it needs to be short lived if we’re to live the life God has for us,  a life of listening to what God might be telling us through others, as well as through his word, yes, even during these difficult times. In and through Jesus.

 

 

stay in the lines

When I do a post, sometimes I want to make a particular point on an opinion, maybe even close to a conviction of mine. But then I remember what this blog and what Christian ministry is all about. It’s not about what we think, but about God’s word. Yes, God’s word interpreted, and in consideration of how the Spirit has guided the church in that interpretation, maybe we can say, loosely speaking. And then I draw back, going to what the word, Scripture specifically says.

Opinions are fine for talking, conversational points, but not good for Christian teaching.

There are issues of interpretation, called biblical hermeneutics. And that can open up controversy, no doubt. Maybe there’s a place for that in considering different ways a text might be understood, with perhaps more than one point being made in a text. That’s part of the genius and depth of Scripture. At the same time, we do well to seek to stay in the lines of what Scripture is saying, noting possible differences in understanding that, but nevertheless seeking to stay true to what Scripture calls itself: God’s (written) word.

I think sometimes Scripture is a bit fuzzy on purpose, and that we’re not meant to unravel it all. At the same time we ought to pay attention to both sound interpretation along with how the church has generally interpreted a passage, trusting that the Spirit keeps the church true to the main intent of Scripture, the gospel, and in doing so, helps the church on the details. There is a need for reformation in understanding at times, because humans and institutions within the church can get off track.

The main point here is to seek to adhere to what Scripture says, what God might be saying through it, along with what God indeed is saying. And remain in dialog with that, with the goal of remaining true in both faith and practice. In and through Jesus.

evangelicals and Scripture

Richard Foster in his book, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith celebrates the evangelical tradition for its emphasis on Scripture. Of course we can and should celebrate what all the great traditions of the Christian faith contribute to the whole.

It is common nowadays for evangelicals to be criticized left and right, for this and that, and almost everything else. I almost feel like I have to duck anymore when I get on social media and note the criticisms leveled by other Christians. A lot of it concerns how white evangelicals voted in the past election. We need to think long and hard on things like that, all of us. I agree with something John Dickson said in reference to his nation, Australia, that we best be careful on that score, or else it’s likely we’re not thinking hard enough, whichever way Christians might vote.

Another common criticism is how evangelicals fail when it comes both in not appreciating the tradition of the church, or the importance and place of philosophy. Again, evangelicals return to Scripture, but I do think we try to do so with more of an appreciation for church tradition and philosophy than in the past.

I for one both accept the label “evangelical” which essentially means gospel-oriented, and the emphasis on Scripture which comes with it, all things tested by Scripture, including the tradition of the church, and philosophy. But my manner and own concern is far less ambitious. I want to simply plod along, hopefully faithful to the high view of Scripture I hold, which I believe is taught in Scripture itself: that the Bible is indeed the word of God written. Of course we have to read it as a whole, and consider all the parts with reference to the whole. When we do that, most any criticism against our view of Scripture I think rings hollow.  Something ongoing for me and many others. In and through Jesus.

Scripture readings on Sundays

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Acts 8:26-40

I’ve been sharing Scripture readings on Sundays, going through the book of 2 Corinthians according to the headings of the NIV Bible from which I quote. Before that for years I had shared the prayer for Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer. I still highly value that book and the tradition that goes with it. I love church tradition, and probably prefer something of it at least in every church service or gathering. Along with the Lord’s Table. But the Lord led us away from the Anglican church plant to find a church for our grandchildren, which now the family attends. And my wife and I are happy to be a part of it.

I have always been a Bible person, raised evangelical in the Mennonite tradition. And I work for an evangelical ministry, Our Daily Bread Ministries. So Scripture is in my bones. I recently switched to sharing Scripture on Sundays. The Book of Common Prayer includes Scripture readings, but within the wisdom of that tradition drawing as well from the Great Tradition which has been at it for centuries. I have a profound respect for all of that. For a person to have Scripture, as we see in the above passage is indeed good, a good start. But by itself it’s not enough. With Scripture is the Spirit and the church, those sent to proclaim as well as witness to the good news of Christ.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Revelation 22:16-17

So tomorrow I plan to continue with Scripture readings beginning the gospel according to Mark. Hopefully anyone not understanding will benefit with posts during the week, and from other sources. I’m just one voice, a witness. We need to look to Scripture and the Spirit along with the church for God’s help in understanding, so that by faith we may enter into the salvation and kingdom of God in and through Jesus.

scripture, application and experience

I think the genius of the teaching at the church we initially found to take our grandchildren, and now are a part of ourselves is its combination of scripture, emphasis on application, and getting right down to the nitty-gritty of life, where we live, our experience. And that certainly comes from the teaching gift of the senior pastor, who ably, I’m sure has mentored others, who have their own unique gifting from God in the teaching ministry of this church. And a great teaching ministry, by the way, to the children and young folks.

We really don’t need anything fancy nowadays, just a straight shot of God’s word. But when we receive that, we find not only an appeal to doctrine, but also to application and experience. The so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral, gathered from John Wesley’s writings, but which Wesley himself would not have approved of, as has recently been brought to light by Methodist theologians: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, kind of correlate to this thought. But scripture not only has primacy of place, but a place all by itself. Whatever role tradition, reason, and experience have is all under scripture. Which is why I believe in what our church is seeking to do in helping us grow as disciples of Christ to become more and more like him.

When we go to scripture, we don’t have to worry about drawing this out, if we take scripture itself seriously. Scripture will ably do that for us, if we pay serious attention to it. We just take it for what it is, going through it, letting it, really God’s word do it’s work. Nothing more, nothing less. All of this in and through Jesus.