Friday, March 31, 2006

Is Christianity under attack?

In recent years there seems to be a mantra raised among evangelicals that Christianity is under attack. I recently saw a debate on this between the the Reverend Al Sharpton and Tony Perkins on this matter.

At a recent gathering of evangelicals, Tom DeLay, former majority leader of the House of Representatives, indicated that he thought that Christianity was under attack. He pointed to the fact that his own legal troubles may be part of that attack, because he supports school prayer and stands against abortion. Many of the evangelical community suggested that DeLay's comments were true.

In recent days, Ron Luce sponsored an event brining together 25,000 teens and younger adults for an evangelical rally in San Francisco, my friend Phil blogged on this. The board of supervisors in San Francisco officially condemned the gathering citing that intolerance and divisiveness were part of the groups' agenda. This is the first time that I can remember this type of gathering being officially condemned.

Christians also have cited that rulings against placing nativity scenes or having the Ten Commandments displayed in public places as signs of this attack. Many believe it all started with the ruling of prayer being taken out of school.

Yet, at the same time, organizations like ours are receiving large amounts of funding from governmental agencies. Jim Wallis is given opportunity to speak in high powered Washington gatherings. Bono preached a sermon recently at the National Prayer Breakfast that was very strong in Christian values and he quoted scripture. Billy Graham is still one of the most revered men in America. John Perkins continues to find favor with world and national leaders.

So I wonder is Christianity being attacked or did we pick fights on issues that we are now feeling the pressure being returned? Did we take the wrong track, as evangelicals, when we began to embrace one party over another instead of looking at each individual and what they stand for on a broad base and not just a couple of key issues? I am not sure.

Many would say that we are a Christian nation in our founding. Our founders were for the most part not so much Christians as deists. We were influenced by Judeo-Christian values not a state religion. In fact, our constitutional constructs guard against theocracies and state religions.

I am wondering whether or not we, as Christians are under attack. Is it religion in general that is under attack? In fact, is it just really hard line, argumentative Christians and others that have caused these attacks or is there really a cultural shift? It is funny though, if it is true that most people see themselves as spiritual and believing in God as statistics indicate, that religion would be under attack. So is it Christianity or Christendom that is causing the problem?

I am wondering how this all will impact missional Christians. Are we as Salvationists really evangelicals?

What do you think?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Where would Jesus go?

I had an opportunity to tour the museum at West Point. As I toured the museum, a sense of sadness came over me. While i have great respect for those are in the military and their brave service, I had this sense of grief come over me because I came to realization that this museum was not only a tribute to people, but to the science of taking human life. There were weapons of every kind, stemming from the early days of warfare until now. It was if killing was being glorified.

If you have visited my blog over the past few months, you will know that Jay Bee has commented a few times on the issue of war. I love him. He is related. He served in Viet Nam. For many, the conflict there was begun under false pretenses. Veterans of the Viet Nam conflict did not receive the welcome that others who had served in other conflicts received. In fact, many were spit on when they returned. Was it their fault they were sent to Viet Nam?

Many would also say that the Iraq conflict started under false pretenses as well. Many will ask, "Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Where are the terrorist links?" I don't want to debate any of that. I think the story of destruction and lives lost speaks for itself.

The anabaptist tradition (Mennonites and Amish sects are among them) holds that Christians must never engage in acts of violence. In fact, I had a conversation with a Mennonite brother recently who asked me, "Is the Salvation Army a 'Peace' Church?" I really could not answer him. I fumbled around for answers. Catholic dogma does suggest that there is cause for a "just war."

Our oldest son was recruited to attend West Point. If he had enrolled in West Point, he probably would have been in the middle of the conflict in Iraq or Afghanistan. Frankly, I am releaved that he did not attend West Point. I would, like many other parents my age, be on pins and needles now.

What ever view you hold on war, politically or theologically, grief must overcome you as you see pictures from the front.

As we look at this question of war, especially as we wonder whether or not the reasons behind the Viet Nam and Iraq conflicts are true, even as our president is out now stumping on a promoting the war in Iraq, I have some questions about all of this. I want a debate on a theological basis, not political. I don't want proof texts, I do want contextual conversation on this issue. Please no pat answers will do here. I don't want to trivialize this issue.

This question has haunted my friend Jay Bee for years. He has never, to his liking had an answer to this question, from many Christians.

Here are the questions he has asked and i want us to consider:

Where would Jesus go? Would Jesus have gone to Viet Nam? For that matter would Jesus have gone to Iraq? We know he was and is there. I think Jay Bee wants to know if Jesus would serve as a soldier.

I know this is a hypothetical question at best. We may not agree on this. I want us to be respectful with each other. I want you to know that I stand with great respect for our military.

I will try to refrain from commenting on your comments. Jay Bee, you need to hold back too. I told you I would ask this for you.

So where would Jesus go?

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Military Metaphor - Warrior or gardener?

Janet and I recently did a presentation to the TEC on the emerging church. Thanks to all of you for putting in your "two cents (in some cases two dollars, others two hundred dollars) worth." We posed a couple of questions to them to wrestle with. I am wrestling with this as well.

In particular, I am struggling with the military metaphor. This is not just a uniform thing. That is grist for another set of questions.

Spencer Burke in "Making Sense of Church" talks in terms about evangelism and compares the metaphor of the warrior and the gardener. We are quasi-military in our structure. In earlier days, I wanted to "Storm the forts of Darkness" and I have tried to "Gird on the Armor." These were all strong images for me as I "fought" spiritual warfare and was further influenced by the writings of Peter Wagner.

I must be honest and tell you that the images of war now are such a negative to me. I hate seeing the destruction being rained down upon Iraq. I have seen the mangled bodies of soldiers coming back from the front. As an evangelistic metaphor, I have trouble seeing the casualties of the cross-fire. I have seen, the militant signs ("God hates Fags" was the sign that killed my soul in an anti-gay rights protest by Christians (?).) and even a military mindset where we "claim territory" for Jesus. These seem so antithetical to the Gospel. After all, hasn't Jesus already claimed the territory through His death and resurrection?

I have seen evangelism turned into score keeping. I did it. I can remember the pride I had reporting the "first time seekers" on my stats as a corps officer. I had another notch in my ammo belt in this war. Now I see that my attitude was sinful. My celebration should not have been the numbers but, the fact that someone returned to the Savior.

I think I am beginning in evangelism to prefer the idea of the gardener. Jesus did call for "laborers in the field." I see these as people who will do the painstaking work of tilling the ground of relationship and watering it with the Word and love. In other words, people who will reap the harvest of souls. Isn't it interesting that in Jesus's first appearance after His resurrection, he looked like a gardener.

I think there is a place for the warrior metaphor. It is as people who will fight against repressive systems, attitudes (i.e. racism, sexism, etc.)and the powers that put them in place. I believe these things to be sinful and it will take some strong people to bring these systems down with the help of the Spirit.

I often wonder about the military metaphor in our movement. Does it cause some problems in leadership as people are given orders by their leaders? I have heard of one corps where the CO has just decided to put people "on discipline" for things like an unkind word toward him. I am not really into the ordering around of people. Leaders inspire, don't they?

I am really mulling the whole metaphor thing over.

Should we see ourselves more as gardeners or warriors? Does the warrior mentality work in evangelism? Does the military metaphor really work with postmodern society, which is really sick of war? Do we need to revisit some of our terminology? What is spiritual warfare, really? Is that valid theology?

I am sorting through this one today as we get ready for a mission trip with the gang here at 117.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

To preach or not to preach?

I stole this title from an article by Gary Goodell. In the article, he discusses the issue of pastor dominated worship and teaching. He, like me asserts the need for teaching Scripture and Kerygma (preaching). I in no way want to down play the need for Bible-based preaching or teaching.

I think the issue I am beginning to struggle with is "movie style" church. This is where the pastor schedules, leads and really dominates the worship gathering in the church. The people tend to sit and watch, sort of engaging.

Dan Kimball asserts a truth and then asks a question, "Preaching is only one, small part of being a pastor. Could we subtly be teaching church attendees not how to feed themselves from the Word of God, but to become dependent on the 'greatest' preachers?"

This struggle has been working in me for years. I think it started when I heard that a Salvation Army officer had won a preaching contest. Huh? Is that really godly? I don't know. I am glad that the officer was such a skilled orator and devoted servant of the Lord. I don't mean to knock her skill. I am just having a hard time getting my head around a preaching contest. Does that trivialize preaching somehow?

This prompted me to state to some of my fellow officers in a meeting, "I think preaching is over-rated." I think I am still patching holes that were stared through me that day.

One of my fellow officers (I respect this person and the knowledge they bring more than you would know.) stated, "Our people have not been fed for years by preaching in our corps. So we need to teach the cadets more preaching. I think we teach too much theology." I disagreed.

Shouldn't we have more time to wrestle with theological issues? I have met too many people who have embedded faith and who have never really embraced their faith. Many of my friends can spit out the latest, Joel Osteen (name your preacher here _________) theology, which tends to not be scriptural. Why is this?

I contend the church in general has been let off the hook. You can sit through the three points and a poem and escape without really having to interact with the Word, no matter how carefully and prayerfully the preacher has prepared.

One of my friends said to me recently, "I hate going to my cell group. They never let me give the pat answer. They make me think."

I contend people want to be involved. They want to wrestle, debate and really engage the Word. Your experience may be that many will keep quiet in cell ministry. I think that is because most grew up in pastor dominated churches. Once the quiet ones open up, watch out!

I think you know I see pastors, officers and priests as shepherds, leading from behind. I don't believe that we are the repositories of all knowledge. For us to think that we have a lock on truth and that we are responsible to feed our people, instead of guiding them to the feeding ground and then eating with them (how's that for metaphor?) may well be extra-biblical. After all, don't we believe in the priesthood of all believers?

I think the current model may reinforce some bad habits. Yes, I think preaching is important. I really respect preachers. I am one!!!!! Maybe though we need to look to a new model that still keeps the Word central to all we do.

Here are the questions:

Is preaching over-rated? Are there better ways to engage the Word? Would we be better to be more communal to our approach to learning? Should we have more theology or preaching taught in our seminaries and training schools? Are pastors/officers specially gifted, because they are called to teach and preach? Last question. Should there have been a preaching contest?

I am struggling with this. Honestly, I am really struggling.

What do you think?