Follow by Email

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Are We Trying to "Out-God" God?

"So why are you now trying to out-god God, loading these new believers down with rules that crushed our ancestors and crushed us, too? Don't we believe that we are saved because the Master Jesus amazingly and out of sheer generosity moved to save us just as he did those beyond our nations? So what are we arguing about?" (Acts 15:10-11, MSG)

What does it mean to try to "out-god" God?

Out-godding God may be one of the biggest obstacles to our own ability to reach new people with the gospel. We're familiar with the consistent reports that young people think that the church people are hypocritical, judgmental and boring...maybe it was too political rather than boring. But too political, according to the reports, means that one side of things is proposed as the only way to believe if you want to be a Christian, on the right side, with the insiders. I think that's out-godding God.

How easy it is to fall into the trap of out-godding God! Recently a pastor in my home town told his congregation of farmers that unless they farm organically, they're not really Christian. (He's not long for that world...) Not to get engaged in how nearly impossible it is to make a living farming organically in eastern Washington state and how complicated the whole American agricultural system has become, given the US Farm Bill, etc., what was he thinking?

Abraham Joshua Heschel, my favorite prophetic voice of the Hebrew scriptures, warns his readers in The Prophets, that prophets can go beyond God's judgment, destroying instead of disciplining. Heschel calls it a hypertrophy of sympathy for God, or out-godding God in judgment. Jeremiah had a tendency to out-god God in his condemnation, reprimanding without reminding people of God's love; judgment instead of grace, forgetting God's love for the victims caught in the mire of complicated issues. A hypertrophy of sympathy for God is to outweigh love of God for love of neighbor; they're meant to be in balance (a trick if you can do it).

Obviously out-godding God isn't an exclusively early church phenom!

But equating any political, social, religious or economic agenda--or anything for that matter--as the only way to be Christian is to out-god God! It's simplistic and only adds burdens to those who are often the most vulnerable, even the victims, of the injustices that we decry.

Acts 15 demonstrates that the complicated issues of our religious, economic, political, and cultural lives aren't easily discerned, lived out, and finalized. In our present economic struggles, given the federal deficit, states' need to balance budgets, and the pinch on congregations to be in ministry (and federal and state leaders calling on the faith communities to pick up the slack), how do we find our way forward to make wise and faithful decisions based on our biblical and Wesleyan traditions of economic justice? And avoid out-godding God when we do? How do we find a gracious prophetic voice?


Monday, February 14, 2011

There Are Two Kinds of Christians...

In reading Acts 13:1-5, it becomes clear that there are two kinds of Christians: those who are sent and those who commission and support those who are sent. The Holy Spirit chose Barnabas and Saul to be sent (literally called apostles) and that the rest, including Simon, Lucius, and Manaen who were leaders, were to stay behind to build up the body of believers there. They were the supporters of the sent. The sent and the supporters of the sent; two kinds of Christians.

Over the years we've considered missionaries and evangelists to be people who travel to other places to people that we or they don't know in order to share the good news. But what does it mean in our world today where we don't have to go to another country or people in order to be sent to someone else with the gospel? Today to be sent means to go talk to a neighbor, co-worker or someone in our own family.

Aren't we all called to be two different kinds of Christians at the same time or at least at different times in our lives? Sometimes we are the sender and sometimes we're the sent. Unfortunately many of our churches are filled with those who don't believe they are sent to their neighbor or friend or family member or co-worker. Their faith is too "private" for all that.

The most dynamic, growing congregations in my experience are those where there are people who are constantly sharing their faith and their church with others that they know or meet in their daily lives. And then there is the need for those who are providing the support--not just for the senders but the whole congregation to keep growing senders and the sent.

We're all the sent--telling others about Jesus or at least where they can find Jesus (hopefully in our churches!). We're all the supporters of the sent--doing our part in the life of the Christian community so that all experience opportunities for Christian formation--no matter how old or young, Christian community that is open to new people and changed by them, and opportunities to grow toward God and others.

But then, you have to consider the end of this chapter that finds Paul and Barnabas forced out of town because some were afraid that "their precious way of life was about to be destroyed" by this message of Jesus.

What is your "precious way of life" that might be destroyed if you truly shared your faith and your church with others? Might we lose control over what happens there--the style of music/worship, the decisions made about what it means to be church, who comes to church and who gets attention that might be lavished on ourselves?