Archive for the ‘Covenant theology’ Category

ancient-faith

A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future

PROLOGUE

In every age the Holy Spirit calls the Church to examine its faithfulness to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, authoritatively recorded in Scripture and handed down through the Church. Thus, while we affirm the global strength and vitality of worldwide Evangelicalism in our day, we believe the North American expression of Evangelicalism needs to be especially sensitive to the new external and internal challenges facing God’s people.

These external challenges include the current cultural milieu and the resurgence of religious and political ideologies. The internal challenges include Evangelical accommodation to civil religion, rationalism, privatism and pragmatism. In light of these challenges, we call Evangelicals to strengthen their witness through a recovery of the faith articulated by the consensus of the ancient Church and its guardians in the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation and the Evangelical awakenings. Ancient Christians faced a world of paganism, Gnosticism and political domination. In the face of heresy and persecution, they understood history through Israel’s story, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of God’s Kingdom.

Today, as in the ancient era, the Church is confronted by a host of master narratives that contradict and compete with the gospel. The pressing question is: who gets to narrate the world? The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future challenges Evangelical Christians to restore the priority of the divinely inspired biblical story of God’s acts in history. The narrative of God’s Kingdom holds eternal implications for the mission of the Church, its theological reflection, its public ministries of worship and spirituality and its life in the world. By engaging these themes, we believe the Church will be strengthened to address the issues of our day.

1. ON THE PRIMACY OF THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVE

We call for a return to the priority of the divinely authorized canonical story of the Triune God. This story-Creation, Incarnation, and Re-creation-was effected by Christ’s recapitulation of human history and summarized by the early Church in its Rules of Faith. The gospel-formed content of these Rules served as the key to the interpretation of Scripture and its critique of contemporary culture, and thus shaped the church’s pastoral ministry. Today, we call Evangelicals to turn away from modern theological methods that reduce the gospel to mere propositions, and from contemporary pastoral ministries so compatible with culture that they camouflage God’s story or empty it of its cosmic and redemptive meaning. In a world of competing stories, we call Evangelicals to recover the truth of God’s word as the story of the world, and to make it the centerpiece of Evangelical life.

2. ON THE CHURCH, THE CONTINUATION OF GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call Evangelicals to take seriously the visible character of the Church. We call for a commitment to its mission in the world in fidelity to God’s mission (Missio Dei), and for an exploration of the ecumenical implications this has for the unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of the Church. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from an individualism that makes the Church a mere addendum to God’s redemptive plan. Individualistic evangelicalism has contributed to the current problems of churchless Christianity, redefinitions of the Church according to business models, separatist ecclesiologies and judgmental attitudes toward the Church. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to recover their place in the community of the Church catholic.

3. ON THE CHURCH’S THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION ON GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call for the Church’s reflection to remain anchored in the Scriptures in continuity with the theological interpretation learned from the early Fathers. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from methods that separate theological reflection from the common traditions of the Church. These modern methods compartmentalize God’s story by analyzing its separate parts, while ignoring God’s entire redemptive work as recapitulated in Christ. Anti-historical attitudes also disregard the common biblical and theological legacy of the ancient Church. Such disregard ignores the hermeneutical value of the Church’s ecumenical creeds. This reduces God’s story of the world to one of many competing theologies and impairs the unified witness of the Church to God’s plan for the history of the world. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to unity in “the tradition that has been believed everywhere, always and by all,” as well as to humility and charity in their various Protestant traditions.

4. ON THE CHURCH’S WORSHIP AS TELLING AND ENACTING GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call for public worship that sings, preaches and enacts God’s story. We call for a renewed consideration of how God ministers to us in baptism, Eucharist, confession, the laying on of hands, marriage, healing and through the charisma of the Spirit, for these actions shape our lives and signify the meaning of the world. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from forms of worship that focus on God as a mere object of the intellect or that assert the self as the source of worship. Such worship has resulted in lecture-oriented, music-driven, performance-centered and program-controlled models that do not adequately proclaim God’s cosmic redemption. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to recover the historic substance of worship of Word and Table and to attend to the Christian year, which marks time according to God’s saving acts.

5. ON SPIRITUAL FORMATION IN THE CHURCH AS EMBODIMENT OF GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call for a catechetical spiritual formation of the people of God that is based firmly on a Trinitarian biblical narrative. We are concerned when spirituality is separated from the story of God and baptism into the life of Christ and his Body. Spirituality, made independent from God’s story, is often characterized by legalism, mere intellectual knowledge, an overly therapeutic culture, New Age Gnosticism, a dualistic rejection of this world and a narcissistic preoccupation with one’s own experience. These false spiritualities are inadequate for the challenges we face in today’s world. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to return to a historic spirituality like that taught and practiced in the ancient catechumenate.

6. ON THE CHURCH’S EMBODIED LIFE IN THE WORLD

We call for a cruciform holiness and commitment to God’s mission in the world. This embodied holiness affirms life, biblical morality and appropriate self-denial. It calls us to be faithful stewards of the created order and bold prophets to our contemporary culture. Thus, we call Evangelicals to intensify their prophetic voice against forms of indifference to God’s gift of life, economic and political injustice, ecological insensitivity and the failure to champion the poor and marginalized. Too often we have failed to stand prophetically against the culture’s captivity to racism, consumerism, political correctness, civil religion, sexism, ethical relativism, violence and the culture of death. These failures have muted the voice of Christ to the world through his Church and detract from God’s story of the world, which the Church is collectively to embody. Therefore, we call the Church to recover its counter-cultural mission to the world.

EPILOGUE

In sum, we call Evangelicals to recover the conviction that God’s story shapes the mission of the Church to bear witness to God’s Kingdom and to inform the spiritual foundations of civilization. We set forth this Call as an ongoing, open-ended conversation. We are aware that we have our blind spots and weaknesses. Therefore, we encourage Evangelicals to engage this Call within educational centers, denominations and local churches through publications and conferences.

We pray that we can move with intention to proclaim a loving, transcendent, triune God who has become involved in our history. In line with Scripture, creed and tradition, it is our deepest desire to embody God’s purposes in the mission of the Church through our theological reflection, our worship, our spirituality and our life in the world, all the while proclaiming that Jesus is Lord over all creation.

This Call is issued in the spirit of sic et non; therefore those who affix their names to this Call need not agree with all its content. Rather, its consensus is that these are issues to be discussed in the tradition of semper reformanda as the church faces the new challenges of our time. Over a period of seven months, more than 300 persons have participated via e-mail to write the Call. These men and women represent a broad diversity of ethnicity and denominational affiliation. The four theologians who most consistently interacted with the development of the Call have been named as Theological Editors. The Board of Reference was given the special assignment of overall approval.

Just before his death in 2007, Robert E. Webber (inset picture) spent a good portion of his time working collaboratively with over 300 theologians and other leaders to craft A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future. The Call continues some themes and expands upon the Chicago Call” of 1977, and sets forth a vision for an Ancient-Future faith in a postmodern world. That Webber helped to craft such a call is not unusual, for he spent the whole of his professional life calling the church to continual reform and, most especially, encouraging leaders and laity alike to drink from the refreshing well of ancient truth. That the Call came, as it did, at a time of great change in the world and in the church, and that it also came just before his passing, gives it a kind of weight that makes it especially compelling to examine.

Washstain

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. ~ Revelation 22:14 (ESV)

Remember the stain…

I remember the stain
at times it doesn’t seem right
to recall what marred my walk in the light
it cannot be removed
so much of life reviewed
in my minds eye

I remember the stain
i cannot clean it
even the rushing tide
sweeping away foot prints over and again
cannot remove it

I remember the stain
of idolatry, rebellion, and caustic choices
trying to reign over me
why do I remember?

I remember the stain
even though i can still see it
has been washed in blood deep red
where my Father sees me white as snow
where no stain is left to judge me rightly
where no bondage there to bind me tightly
where freedom rings so very brightly
at the dawn of His appearing
He remembers no stain at me leering

I remember the stain
maybe at my minds random recollection
to remind once more my souls misdirection
at one time I knew not
the Deliverer from before
to grasp again His winsome words
Nor do I condemn you, go and sin no more…

Narcissism, Social Media, and the Church

A definition of narcissism: The inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.

“The true destination for most of our online endeavors really are the new media equivalent of the biblical statues that were presented as deities. These digital shrines {idols} that we create to ourselves.” ~ from Confessions of a Narcissist, by Mitch Joel

Social-Media-Make-Us-Narcissistic

 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” Matthew 23:25 (NIV)

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” Romans 2:6-8 (ESV)

“You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” James 5:5 (ESV)

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (NIV)

“What kind of impact could Christians have if we were more interested in helping a world in pain than in how good we look  to our digital friends? How can we {the church} redeem our online presence without becoming weird, obnoxious or confrontational?” (Shraeder & Hendricks, pp. 170-171)

References:

Schrader, T., Hendricks, K. (Eds.). (2011). Outspoken: conversations on church communication. Los Angeles, CA.   Center for Church Communication.

Does Social Media Make Us Narcissistic? Retrieved from: http://brandongaille.com/does-social-media-make-us-     narcissistic/

 

pastoralcare

“And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.”
Jeremiah 3:15 (KJV)

From this it is evident that there are five main tasks required in the pastoral office and true care of souls:

First: to lead to Christ our Lord and into His communion those who are still estranged from Him, whether through carnal excess or false worship.

Secondly: to restore those who had once been brought to Christ and into His church but have been drawn away again through the affairs of the flesh or false doctrine.

Thirdly: to assist in the true reformation of those who while remaining in the church of Christ have grievously fallen and sinned.

Fourthly: to re-establish in true Christian strength and health those who, while persevering in the fellowship of Christ and not doing anything particularly or grossly wrong, have become somewhat feeble and sick in the Christian life.

Fifthly: to protect from all offense and falling away and continually encourage in all good things those who stay within the flock and in Christ’s sheep-pen without grievously sinning or becoming weak and sick in their Christian walk.

~ from Concerning the True Care of Souls by Martin Bucer (1538) (p. 70)

{May this ever be my prayer, oh Lord my God}

*Note: Caring elders/pastors must seek the lost, bring back the wandering, restore the fallen, strengthen the weak, and encourage the strong. The Gospel brings salvation, healing, and deliverance.

media-press

Evaluating Media Forms in Ministry

I subscribe to a magazine called “Salvo.” It is a publication of The Fellowship of St. James (http://www.fsj.org), Salvo is dedicated to debunking the cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed the notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded our appetite for transcendence. It also seeks to promote the Christian worldview. (http://www.salvomag.com)

That being said, I came to the “Book Blip” page, where a book review entitled “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator” was given by Ryan Holiday. This is the review he wrote:

Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator is a fast-moving, straight-talking mea culpa (which means “through my fault” and is an acknowledgement of having done wrong) from a marketer, media strategist, and apparent “first defector” from the “unreality” of the blogosphere — a nebulous entity whose very business model “rests on exploiting the difference between perception and reality.” Simultaneously fascinating and disturbing, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator exposes the modus operandi of the internet news “racket” and educates readers in how to be more media-savvy.” (Salvo Magazine, Issue 32, Spring 2015, p. 6)

I share this with you all to establish a thought. The thought is, is the Church, which uses a variety of media forms in ministry actually telling the truth about their ministry? Is what is being marketed, or expressed the exact true representation of what the inquirer will actually find upon visiting the church? What is the intent and purpose of the church’s use of that media form? What is the desired goal from the use of a specific media form?

Here is another thought. I remember one year, receiving in the mail an invitation to go to a local resort hotel, have fun at its water park, and then come Sunday, enjoy the various zoo animals on display after the church service was over. What was the goal of this mailer? I think it was an attraction attention getter for those people with families, who, if so moved, would come to this local evangelical church. Did this church say anything that was untrue? No. They did exactly what they said they would. All you had to do was show the card you got in the mail, and you could play at the water park until you passed out. Then, the pièce de résistance was the various zoo animals on display after the church service. There was free hot dogs, popcorn, and soda for all. What was the intent of all of this engaging marketing? To get people to come to their church. I am sure hundreds went to the resort for a free water park fling, and yet out of the hundreds maybe 1-2% actually visited the church. More than likely those 1-2% were just there for the zoo animals. Instead of sending a card with the Gospel message on it, or a teaser with the answer for all the world’s problems, they spent thousands of dollars on a marketing campaign. Was it the right or wrong way to get people to church?

In our text book OutSpoken, we are told that we should be good stewards regarding how we use the various media forms at the church’s disposal. The goal or intent of using varying media forms, from my understanding, is obedience to the command to GO, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them everything Jesus had commanded the apostles.

When it is our turn to take advantage of the various media forms, which method or means are we going to use, and for what purpose, really?

mtdThere is talk in some church circles about “moralistic therapeutic deism.” We may abbreviate this ungainly phrase as “MTD,” in allusion to the popular cable channel showing music videos. Many teenagers and young adults are familiar with MTV; however, few would recognize “moralistic therapeutic deism” as playing any role in their lives.

Yet the contention we hear is that MTD, rather than classic Christianity, is the predominant religion among today’s teenagers and young adults. They may not recognize the phrase, but it describes the belief system that they actually profess and practice. And what’s more: We, the parents and other adults around them, are the ones who taught them MTD. This is a serious charge and deserves serious consideration.

An Inarticulate Faith

The phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism,” you will not be surprised to learn, was coined by an academic: Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. It has been disseminated more widely by Smith’s associates, including Princeton Seminary professor Kenda Creasy Dean. Based on her research with Smith, Dean published a book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. Dean has become a popular speaker at church events. She delivered a challenging presentation at my local church on a snowy Saturday in February, and I was among the large crowd that came out to hear her.

Smith, Dean, and their colleagues did surveys and in-depth interviews in which they queried thousands of young people about their religious beliefs and practices. Very few, they found, were atheists or hostile toward religion. On the other hand, relatively few were able to articulate and consistently practice a faith that resembled classic Christianity.

The vast majority of the respondents found it difficult to articulate any kind of belief system. They mentioned God, but it was a vague and distant God. They didn’t have much to say about Jesus.

What the respondents did seem to believe, as Smith summarized it, was: God functions as an authority who gives us rules to guide our behavior (this is the “moralistic” part). The main point of these rules is to be a nice person who gets along with other people. If we obey the rules, God makes us feel good about ourselves (this is the “therapeutic” part). But God isn’t involved in a personal or direct way in our daily lives (this is the “deism” part). He may show up in a crisis, to make us feel better about ourselves.

Almost Christian

This set of half-conscious assumptions is what Smith, Dean, and associates call “moralistic therapeutic deism.” It’s not necessarily false. We should seek good relations with the people around us. If we obey God’s commands, we will usually end up happier. God is a refuge in times of trouble.

Yet the Good News of Jesus Christ is so much greater than any of this. Dean, in her talk, showed a side-by-side comparison of MTD and the Apostles’ Creed. The differences were stark. MTD is all about myself and my happiness. The Apostles’ Creed is about the Truine God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–and God’s amazing works from the Creation to the Incarnation to the hope of life eternal.

So how did these teenagers and young adults come to settle for so much less than the Gospel? It wasn’t by rebelling against their parents’ religion. On the contrary, survey respondents by and large felt positively toward their parents and shared common values. Many of them reported that their parents had taken them regularly to church and youth group, and they had few complaints about the experience. It’s just that they didn’t emerge with a distinct Christian faith that they could articulate and practice.

Is This What We Teach Our Children?

Dean suggests a disturbing explanation: Perhaps these teenagers and young adults adopted MTD because that’s what they were taught. That’s basically the philosophy of life they have received from and observed in their parents. It’s what they learned in Sunday school and youth group: Be nice to other people and you’ll have a happy life, and God will be there when you need him. All that stuff about Jesus dying for our sins never really made an impression.

Dean’s presentation provoked some self-examination in me and others at my church: Is MTD what we are teaching our kids? When my wife and I lead Children’s Church, is the message the children are hearing the Gospel of God’s great mercy in Jesus Christ? Or is it something less? Are we preparing them to be nice people or disciples of Jesus Christ?

I must admit that some of the Sunday school curriculum we have used has been very moralistic and therapeutic. We read Bible stories, but the takeaway at the end of the lesson often seems to be that everyone is special to God and kids should be kind to their classmates. There isn’t much said about our being sinners to whom God sent a Savior. I have seen this failing not only in old line Protestant curricula, but also in curricula from publishers that have an evangelical reputation.

How would your congregation fare under this kind of self-examination? Maybe you intend to communicate the Gospel–as my wife and I do–but are you sure that’s what the children are hearing? It’s a question worth asking. The consequences go far into the future–indeed, into eternity.

Taken from “Theology Matters” http://www.theologymatters.com/

Written by: Alan F.H. Wisdom