counsel to the church II

In the last few days of discussion over the words of counsel to the church, I’ve heard several views against the counsel that I believe are mistaken. There are many people seeking the floor at conference, so it is difficult to respond to individual statements or offer alternative perspectives. The restraint on debate to two minutes per person and slow speech required for translations within those two minutes also make it difficult to express or explain ideas. I understand why these constraints are in place and would not want to endure meetings in which these time limits were lifted or non-English speakers were excluded. So, perhaps blogging is a more removed but alternative way to speak on some of the issues expressed in quorum meetings and on the conference floor. Perhaps my thoughts can offer a broader or alternative understanding for church members to choose from or prayerfully consider with their own.

One thing I’d like to respond to is the way scripture is being used against the current counsel, particularly around the issue of baptism.

Some voices have expressed how previous scriptures on baptism, either D&C 20’s treatment of the question of rebaptism or general lack of scriptural support for any other authoritative form of baptism other than immersion, are reason to vote down or doubt the document’s divine counsel. In both cases, prescriptive scriptures about the practice of baptism are being used as if they are the proper or only scriptures to use for comparison or to test continuity. Some have also said that the current question being asked about rebaptism is the same one answered by D&C 20, as if the context is no different. While I think these are tenable comparisons to make and important for consideration, D&C 20 and other scriptural prescriptions for the mode or proper form of baptism are not the most important scriptures in which to look for precedents or comparative references. These kind of references are important only for a literalistic or legalistic view of scripture. Such an approach forgets or relegates other forms of scripture as less important or irrelevant for consideration. It is easy to forget scripture is much more than theologically prescriptive or ritual instruction (like Leviticus). Scripture also expresses divine revelation in the form of proverb, poem, narrative (like the Gospels), parable, and analogy – which are arguably more indirect forms of revelation that require nuanced and more responsible interpretation. The change in the practice of baptism prescribed by the inspired counsel provides just the opportunity to explore how there are previous precedents for just the kind of change in baptismal practice we are facing today.

A more appropriate comparison for the kind of change in the practice of baptism proposed in the inspired counsel is in the New Testament, specifically Paul’s struggle over circumcision with Jerusalem in Acts 15. Consider context. D&C 20 was given in a context in which there was not yet a people developed in a unique tradition. The church was new. There was no multi-national context cutting across the distance of difference in culture as Paul faced similarly in Acts 15 and we face today.

Like baptism in the early Restoration church, circumcision was a peculiar sign of select membership for Israel. It was a sign that conferred Israel’s special place with God. It signed Israel’s election. The sign of circumcision marked Jews as a peculiar people shaped in an exclusive covenant between God and them in the same way baptism in the early Restoration church marked a special and unique relationship between God and the Restoration. It was a sign of the return of the full Gospel and its authority in the world. When Paul crossed cultural boundaries and went forth among the Gentiles making disciples of Christ, he did not requiring this sign. This created a fundamental tension with the Jerusalem church, which was shaped by centuries of practicing circumcision. In the end, the Jerusalem church reasoned that it “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose no further burden” (Acts 15:28). The exclusive sign of election gave way to a more relevant prescription for what it meant to be a disciple of Christ in other cultures. Viewing the inspired counsel this way, it does not come out of the blue but follows one of the most important and decisive scriptural precedents in the New Testament. It follows a period in the life of the earliest Christian church, which the Restoration looks to for its example and modern-day expression.

I lift this up simply to provide another foundational scriptural reference that supports rather than dissents from the inspired counsel given today. Of course, Acts 15 should not be considered an exact parallel to the situation of the current church. Rather, I offer what I believe to be a responsible interpretation and application of scripture that demonstrates the same kind of shift in tradition or former understanding of “Law” that Christ required as God’s people encountered the Gospel across cultures.

This reading of Acts and its application to our current situation also informs how latter parts of the inspired counsel also reflect the kind of shift from Law to Gospel and the meaning of the Gospel across cultures that Paul faced in his day. But, that’s another post.

Advertisements

President Veazey, thank you.

Dear President Veazey,

I just finished listening to your sermon this evening at the 2010 World Conference.  I’m grateful, again, for your message and leadership.  Thank you for reminding me of who I am and reminding us, the church, of who we are.

As the baptized, we are first a new creation in Christ.  Before we are even male or female, Greek or Jew, any nationality or ethnicity, slave or free, we are one in Christ.  (Galatians 3:28)   Our oneness in Christ is first, prior to any other aspect of our identity.  Amidst every question about our identity, your prophetic leadership reminds us that the very meaning of our lives in in Christ.  The meaning of the Restoration is in Christ.

When you shared your leadings and meditation on Galatians 3:28 January 17th, I was spiritually moved.  My heart radiated with gratitude.  I, too, have been led to this scripture amidst Paul’s writings in my own study in consideration of the ethical and theological issues taking shape in the church.  I, again, received a personal testimony of the Holy Spirit at work in the church through your leadership.  After years of frustration with church and my own spiritual formation in ecumenical study, I feel affirmation for the church and personally deeply affirmed.  You are leading the church with a witness of Christ – a prophetic witness to Christ and call to discipleship in community that I share and know to be true.

President Veazey, thank you for prophetically leading the church and defining your prophetic leadership by your witness of Jesus .  Thank you for choosing not to lead by personal agenda about the church’s identity.  Thank you for not leading with your views on this or that issue.  Thank you for leading with a prophetic vision that transcends individual perspectives or generational bias.  Thank you for prophetically leading by the light and witness of your testimony of God’s work and purpose in Jesus Christ.  Thank you for reminding us of our call to discipleship, Christ’s call to mission and relationship, and our call to be God’s community in witness of him.  Thank you for prophetically leading by calling us to Christ in order to be the church.

Thank you, and Fred Craddock, for reminding us how to read scripture and what scripture is for.  Thank you for reminding us not to simply read scripture to answer our questions, but to utilize it in light of the grace and character of the God it witnesses to.  Thank you for prophetically pointing our spiritual attention to the church’s moral issues and theological questions, not as big problems, but as an invitation to go deeper with God.  Thank you for calling us and our witness forward to embrace these challenges.   Thank you for putting our lives amidst a Restoration journey that is still unfolding.  Thank you for reminding us that we walk with God amidst scriptural times.

Thank you for reminding us that people suffer and die unnecessarily of disease, hunger, and injustice while we haggle over ecclesial issues and concern over identity.  Thank you for reminding us that the work of Zion is with Christ amidst world– our world and its communities.

Thank you for calling the North Atlantic church to greater global awareness.  Thank you for calling us to become an international community of signal communities.  Thank you for calling us to become a Community of Christ.

counsel to the church

I was at the Temple yesterday for President Steve Veazey’s presentation of inspired counsel to the Community of Christ.   My soul was moved unexpectedly several times during the service.  I was first struck by the Spirit in our singing and words from the Gospel of John.  More than once, I was moved to tears.  But, I also felt a deep conviction of the Holy Spirit  in President Veazey’s words of counsel to us.  I want to share a portion of that testimony.

First, thinking about President Veazey’s counsel, I’m aware again about something unique about our tradition as a Christian people.  I’m not interested in drudging up old adages about Restoration distinctives.  Other movements, too, hear and respond to God’s call to prophetic witness.  But, I honor the faith and responsibility being called forth by our “theocratic democracy.”   Considering President Veazey’s inspired counsel in the light of the issues before us, we are amidst the profound moments of our theocratic democracy.  We’re being asked to discern and respond to President Veazey’s inspired counsel to us.  We are not being expected in some sectarian or cultish fashion to blindly accept or mindlessly follow our spiritual leaders.  Instead, the difficulty of the issues and call to witness before us in these words form a responsibility to faith that takes form in our personal response.  To believe the inspired counsel given yesterday, we are called closer to God, to act in faith in accordance to God’s will.  We are not only asked to consider President’s Veazey’s preparation, faith and discernment in some vote to agree or disagree.  We are also being asked to take responsibility for our common faith in the Holy Spirit’s direction.  Ultimately, the words offered ask us as a community to respond to our call to be disciples in response to his mission.  To accept President Veazey’s words of counsel, we must take greater responsibility for our sacraments and relationships with others.  But more, we are also asked to accept the stewardship of our common faith and its witness to Christ’s Gospel among the nations and cultures in which God’s prophetic Spirit flows and seeks expression.

After my experience yesterday, I reaffirm my testimony that God guides and moves among us as a movement.  The confirmation of my testimony will not be in the church’s consensus about the rightness or wrongness of President Veazey’s words, but in whether or not we respond as a people.  More than a church, the Community of Christ is called to be a movement.  We are being called in a way different than before to trust in God’s direction and pursue our faith in God’s mission to the World.

I also share my personal testimony of God’s Holy Spirit revealed in President Veazey’s words to us.  It is not the language or individual terms, themselves, that are divine or inspired.  It is the challenge and responsibility they offer to us…if we respond and believe.

In my personal study and discernment about the future church – particularly, the role of scripture in our life together and the disparate voices on issues before us –  I, too, have been called back to my personal witness and certain scriptures that President Veazey referred to.  In particular, I, too, have been drawn to listen to Paul’s witness in Galatians 3:28 and his testimony about God’s ongoing revelation and new creation in Christ.  Against the voices of division, the questions about identity and sexuality, as well as about just relationships, the role of our sacraments, and pursuit of peace in our neighborhoods and culture are not alien to the Gospel.  They are not “of man” or politically motivated, but matters central to our faith.   In other words, they are not questions of divine knowledge, but divine trust in God’s ongoing reign and movement.  As matters pertaining to life together today, they are a matter of our prophetic witness of Christ amidst the world.  To be called to discipleship, stewardship, and shared responsibility for that witness could be nothing other than prophetic.  For that, President Veazey, I offer God praise and you thanks.

it’s not about tithing, but it is about the money…

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been tackling problems that don’t revolve around ethereal stuff like “new ideas,” “vision” and other theological talk that can lack consequence.  In fact, I’ve been so sucked into these challenges that I’ve begun to wonder whether discussing the church’s problems or their solutions really matters if the people in the discussion aren’t somehow personally and materially invested.  They, somehow, need to be givers or prepared to become givers to what we share.  A giver gives so much more than money.   But, they give money, too.  They give to something beyond themselves.

It’s not that discussing our feelings and perspectives on church isn’t  important.  But, if the people talking about the church are thousands of dollars in consumer debt or unable to substantively invest in community with their time or energy, I’m afraid airing our views – no matter how thought out and accurate – may hold only therapeutic value.   Don’t get me wrong!  Therapy is important.  But, like any other therapeutic or academic exercise, it revolves around perspectives on “the self.”  Therefore, it suffers, at some point, from the vacuum created when the self replaces shared discipleship or Christ’s call to prophetic community.  This is the vacuum slowly sucking the life out of denominationalism:  loss of a sense of shared community, shared discipline, shared practices, and shared convictions with substantial consequence.

I realize I may sound like I’m going either institutional or conservative.   But, I meant what I said in my previous post about following Jesus or saving the church.   I’m not talking about returning to some institutional position on tithing.   I’m not talking about a pay-to-play system in the church or instituting stringent requirements for Christian membership.   But, I am talking about the problem of “cheap church” and a loss of a basic sense of discipleship in community.  If our sense of faith and Christ’s community has become so separated from our relationship with our stuff, our time, our money, and energies, that we think belonging to Christ’s community is an entitlement or a service that should be provided by denominations or religious institutions, the Spirit of our movement is lost.

So, let’s talk about the money.  Why not?

We struggle on both sides.  In the church, we have many congregations that are deeply attached to their houses of worship.  75-90% of the time, those churches are paid for.   These buildings are the ebenesers, the alters, of a previous generation.  They are the hallmark of our denominationalism.   We are no longer a frontier movement.  We now have our church on the corner.  This was the success of previous generations.   Because of them, I would bet 75-90% of our congregations have no mortgage, only maintenance and monthly bills.   Five to fifty gather in them once a week.

Often, these same congregations have difficulty raising funds for missional ministries, hiring ministers, or community projects.   Also, paying for their area campgrounds are a drain.   Often these congregations have faithful givers.   Some have less money to offer and more time and skills.  Sometimes these loyal members get in the way of new life and spiritual direction.   But, sometimes these members are more than willing to see change.   The hurdle is that, after a lifetime of denominational loyalty, they do not know how to reach out, innovate, and add to the fold.   So, they maintain.  The history of decline takes its toll.   An increasing sense of need might pull downward on the congregation’s self-esteem.  In the worst case scenario, members become entrenched.  They start guarding against outsiders, usually “liberals,” denominational leaders who talk about “change,” or those “generic Christians” who might take away what’s left of our identity.  (I still don’t know what a generic Christian is, but I’ve heard church members be worried about them more than once.)  All awhile, money and time is where their mouth is – pouring into the things we think “we” need, for “us” – both on the congregational, mission center, and personal levels.

Outside the church, we also live in a day when the relationship between spirituality and economics is wholly out of whack.  Unbriddled greed and a world sold out to the god of wealth and wealth-production, has horribly contorted the relationship of our economic and spiritual needs.   All around, I see its effects in “liberal” and conservative forms.    Many Christians have literally sold out the doctrine of economic wealth and prosperity:  we can spend ourselves out of crises, whether spiritual or economic.  This not only makes absolutely no sense, wealth and prosperity – no matter how American – are false gods.   They are not the good news, but a completely alien form of religion and spirituality.   Christian faith and the call to prophetic community operates on a different kind of sense.    Christ’s community is not based on getting what you pay for.  Nor, is its growth based on profits or consuming more.  The salvation of the church, on earth as it is in heaven, is based on what is given and what is shared:  the shared grace, disciplines, practices, vision, and shared convictions.  The church is a witness to community.

We don’t need a moralistic return to a 10% tithing to fix this.  In fact, everyone can tithe and still sell out to the economic gods.   We don’t need a denominational membership system to hold people accountable.   This would be the same old legalism.  We also don’t have to start giving guilt-ridden presentations about how much money it takes to heat the sanctuary or pay for copy toner.  That would be guilt-based politics.  However, if we’re going to get together and talk about who we are, who we follow, and what our shared salvation really means, we have to agree that Christ’s community costs us something.   And, we have consistently lift up what it promises.

Discipleship costs.  And, to some extent, it is about the money.  But, it’s not about the money so the church can have alot, or any.  It’s about the money because money is the god of the world we must face. We no longer live in a biblical world where land dictates wealth and the majority are subsistence farmers.  For many of us, our economic well-being is no longer tied directly to the earth’s fertility or patterns of rain or drought.  Instead, for the first time in human history, we suffer the “weather” of an almost wholly (not holy) (hu)man-made economy.   Our global economy is designed on the idea that human beings have insatiable appetites for things.  Selfhood, selfishness and self-interest can be paths to earthly salvation and human improvement.  This religion measures health on the flow of goods and happiness on levels of consumption.   It has its own doctrines and spirituality.   It requires that we spend and spend often in order for the god’s elect to reap their fruit: profit.  They hire us to help them do that, and we are glad that it also benefits us.

Praying for the “rain to come” and for the harvest to be plenty in our world means paying homage to this religion and god of profit.  There is little getting around it.   We have to charge, buy, mortgage, refinance, and spend.   The problem is that this god will also bankrupt us if it is the God we live by.   This god has many many victims.  If we do not put something sustainable and communal at the center of our work, life, and play, this god, alone, will have its way and its reign.  The best insurance against this kind of idolatry is Christian community, a community that shares and gives.   To find it, we must give a portion of what we have away.

That is why the church is such an important vessel for Good News, sanity, and sanctuary in our world.   Christ’s call to give was never about denominational tithing or supporting a clergy class.  But, it was about where our faith could be.  The discipline of giving, even just a little, puts us in a stronger position in a world that believes profits puts us in a stronger safer position.   It puts us in a stronger position against religious economic doctrines that tell us we can spend our way to spiritual happiness or economic wholeness.  This is not the faith or the doctrine of Christ’s church.  Discipleship is not concerned with how much we earn or measuring our profit.  Nor, is it about salvation through gaining what can be had by spending.    But, it is about the money.

Christ owned no land, which meant he was broke.  He was an artisen, a blue collar carpeter, who never mortgaged a home.  He had no inheritance, but the inheritance of God’s kingdom.  Christ gave so that others could have and give.  Christ gave so that others would have something to take and share.  This was the miracle of his healings, his feeding of the 5000 and 4000, and the last supper.  It’s about the power and mystery of giving.

This the the open secret: the power and mystery of Christ’s giving.  Christ’s community is about this kind of sharing.  Giving and sharing makes community.  You don’t do one to make the other.  They happen simultaneously and it strengthens every time you repeat it.

In our world, a prophetic community must give and share.  And, it will always have more than a community that does not, that instead proclaims the good news of profit and blasts us with pictures of happy consumers who say “follow me.”    We cannot spend our way to financial health any more than we can borrow our way to a full life or spiritual wholeness.   The answer isn’t about denominational tithing or shopping for personal spirituality, but it is about the money.

Money will always be more than just credit, consumption, and profits.   Money always already has spiritual value, too.   It’s about the costs.  Expecting something from nothing makes no more sense economically than it does spiritually.   This is not faith.  Christ’s community is a divine gift, but it does not come from nothing.  Rather, it is a result of our stewardship and what we will share.   The church is a divine gift that can never be spiritually taken away.  However, it will always be what we make of it.   We are the church.   That is what takes faith.  Unlike the world, Christ’s economy is not based on getting what we pay for, wanting more, or making profits.  These things aren’t evil in and of themselves.   We just realize that after feeding of the 5000 (Matthew 14:16-26), Jesus “leftovers” were not his profit.  They were the abundance left over when the least of these, a boy with five loaves and two fishes, shared a little.

For Katy, On Your Baptism

IMG_0342Dear Katy,

You are being baptized this Sunday.  Wow.  I come to this event with so many feelings.  Mom and I are so proud of you, but not just because you are being baptized.  We’re  grateful because we couldn’t have asked or planned a better journey to your decision.  You made this decision on your own – in your 8 year old way.

Mom and I feel we were baptized when we were 8 years old for not the best of reasons.  Other people were doing it.  We wanted to take the bread and grape juice at church.  We knew it would make others proud.  Because of this, we didn’t want to put any pressure on you.

With the reunions and camps we go to each summer, however, we knew you’d see others be baptized.  So, we began teaching you the things we wanted you to know if you asked about it.  We wanted you to know who Jesus was and what following him meant.  We talked to you about sitting in church more, and not going to the play room.  We told you, following Jesus meant being friends with some of the kids you didn’t like at school, or with those other kids picked on and didn’t have many friends.  Mom remembers one conversation with you when you began to cry, “But I can’t do that!  I don’t want to be _____’s friend!  He’s mean!”   In that moment, you realized following Jesus wasn’t easy to do.  It was too much for you.  Mom and I let it go.  Then, something happened at reunion this summer that changed things for you.

Mom and I will not forget that night in our little pop-up camper.  It brought tears to our eyes.  You and Kenzlee had been actively attending Kevin’s campfires at family camp all week.  You guys loved campfire.  One particular night, you came back from campfire and after brushing teeth came to bed.  Campfire was always the last thing you did at camp before bed.  That night, because I hadn’t seen you guys much that day, I asked what your favorite part of camp was that day.  You and Kenzlee answered right away, almost in unison.  “Campfire!”  Kevin Henrickson was doing a wonderful job with campfire that week.

Then, you began to tell us your simple testimony.

IMG_0467During campfire that night, you said felt something touch your heart.  You were singing songs, looking into the campfire, and you said, “I felt Jesus in my heart.”  You then blurted, “I just want to get baptized right now!”  Mom and I listened.  The feeling we felt with you in the silence after was hard to describe.  You just said, “I just felt Jesus in my heart.”  We knew it was special because when we taught you about Jesus, we didn’t talk about your relationship with Jesus in those terms.   We taught you the stories.  We shared our love for Jesus.   But, tonight, you felt something in a way that lit your face and changed your heart.  Mom and I were touched so deeply and in ways we didn’t expect.  We began to remember the first time we felt the Spirit, when we felt something bigger than ourselves in and around us.  We remembered what it was like to feel Jesus for the first time…to feel Jesus and his love in us.

After you were born, I remembered the nights I often prayed for you in college.  For some reason, I was worried about the future at that time in my life.  I prayed for you, the companion I had yet to meet, and the children I might have some day.  I prayed with such earnestness and would do so from time to time.  I remember, I prayed one thing more than anything else for my children – that they would have a relationship with God, the God I knew and changed my life.

I think you are on that road.  I can only praise the God of life and proclaim my belief that something, somewhere, profound, wonderful, real, and beyond all knowledge is present and real.  I call that God.  When that God is with us, it is Jesus.

Announcing New Blog

I want to alert you to a new blog being started.  You can check it out at http://saintsherald.com/.

The SaintsHerald.com is not an official site of the Community of Christ.  Rather, it was started less than a month ago by a group of young (~20-30’s) members, scholars, and activists interested in engaging the emerging issues facing the Community of Christ, with an eye to its connection to the greater Restration movement.

You are invited to the discussion.  Please check it out, read a post, and make a comment.  Today, the future is emerging.

Peace.

Today We Remember the Fallen God

Christmas.

Today, my day will be filled with fatherhood, celebrating with my two daughters, and cherishing life.    My mind will drift back to my own childhood Christmas memories – memories of snow, Christmas carols, and being shuttled between different families.  But, there’s something more profound going on which goes back centuries.

Christmas has been so romanticized, commercialized, and filled with warm sentimentality.  I’m not saying it’s all bad.  But, I don’t believe most of it does justice to what Christmas is about.  Christmas is about making memories, but there’s a paradox below it all for me.   Christmas is about remembering something we can never really remember.  It’s about God doing something miraculously new, unheard of, and unimaginable.  We’ve become so accustom to Christianity, its formulas, and stories.  But, do we really understand?  Can we really grasp God becoming God-with-us?   This is Creator God, the God who told Moses that no one can see his face and live.  (Exodus 33:20)

How do we fathom Elohim, the Lord of Hosts, crying, burping, and coming into the world through a womb…in a barn?  What could this mean?

I think the only way to imagine it is to come to grips with something we cannot come to grips with.  We celebrate Christmas to remember something we cannot know or fully understand.  We celebrate Christmas to remember faith.

3073682330_c88cc225bf_mTo me, Christianity is forever new.  We can never comprehend or know God.  The bible attests to how God, once and then again, moves beyond our assumptions for the sake of demanding more of us…and coming near to us.  Often, these two aspects of God’s revelation to us come at the same time.

I’m influenced here by a familiar passage, Phillipians 2:7: Christ emptied himself.  The notion in the Greek is kenosis, which means to empty.  God emptied himself in becoming Jesus.  This is the heart of the incarnation.

In the fallen God, is the rebirth of what it means to be human.  In coming near to us, God becomes human.  In becoming human, God shows us humanity.

There he is, born of a woman and lying in a barn.

Something wonderful has happened.  It is more unimaginable that humans being human – loving, acting, living, free.   No, it’s God in God’s ultimate freedom.  God become human.  God, now God-with-us.

What gift will we bring?

Amazing.