Relevant Ministry

by

It almost didn’t happen.

Andrew Young said Dr. King was feeling under the weather that evening in Memphis and had decided not to go to the church service, but after his entourage saw the overflow crowd, they asked him to come and at least make an appearance. Ralph Abernathy would bring the message, and Dr. King would simply add a few remarks.

Those remarks, given without notes, came to be known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. They were words that, though given before, proved prophetic the next day when he was gunned down in cold blood.

Smack in the middle of the speech Dr. King said these words:

We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me, is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and say, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow, the preacher must say with Jesus, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.”

And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he’s been to jail for struggling; but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Rev. Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit. But I want to thank them all. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.

It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preachers must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

These thoughts expressed by Dr. King, thoughts of a relevant ministry meeting tangible needs, hit close to my heart. And as one of the few preachers represented in this ornery group of houseflies, I wonder how the words come across to you.

To me, it seems that Dr. King is saying that it is hard to preach very long without addressing the issue of injustice, and that a ministry is irrelevant unless it gets its hands dirty about it.

Is this the way you take it? If so, do you agree? And (on a limb here), if so, how do we go about it nearly four decades removed from the sanitation strike in Memphis?

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68 Responses to “Relevant Ministry”

  1. juvenal_urbino Says:

    To me, it seems that Dr. King is saying that it is hard to preach very long without addressing the issue of injustice

    I thought he was saying it’s all too easy to spend one’s entire life preaching without addressing issues of injustice — or much of anything but “when the roll is called up yonder.”

  2. Al Sturgeon Says:

    You’re right.

    I should have said, it seems that he’s saying it is hard to preach “truthfully” very long w/o addressing issues of injustice.

  3. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Al,
    It sounds like Dr. King was commending those preachers in attendance for addressing the issue of social injustice when so many had avoided it for so many years. I wonder, though, why he misquoted Luke 4:18-19 (which was, in turn, quoting Isaiah 61:1ff).

    “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.” as opposed to “preach good news to the poor.”

    Maybe it was just a honest mistake, given the impromptu nature of the remarks, or maybe he thought his version better fit the occasion. Who knows?

    Probably the two most famous preachers in history – Jesus, in the Jewish society, and later Paul in the Roman society – both encountered social injustice every bit as much as Dr. King and his followers did in 20th century America. How did they address it in their preaching compared to Dr. King in his? Just a question for discussion.

    BTW, when Dr. King was killed, I was living in Selma Alabama, going through pilot training and flying over the Edmond G. Pettus Bridge almost every day (for those of you too young to remember, Google it). There was no trouble or march or riot by the local people, however. The focus of the Civil Rights movement had gone north by that time. The summer of ‘68 was more about the riots in Washington D.C. and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, and the Democratic Convention in Chicago. If you look it up in history books, it sounds like one of those watershed times in history, but for me, it was just about getting married and learning to survive in an airplane. All the rest of it seemed pretty far away.

  4. juvenal_urbino Says:

    “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.” as opposed to “preach good news to the poor.”

    I don’t know what Dr. King intended; I don’t even know if it’s been documented anywhere. If I were guessing, though, I would guess he was giving his understanding of what Jesus/Luke/Isaiah meant by “preach good news.” It’s a reading of that passage that has a long history, IIRC, though it’s been rather lost sight of in recent times in some segments of Christianity.

    How did [Jesus and Paul] address it in their preaching compared to Dr. King in his?

    An interesting question. I’ll be interested in seeing what people think. I have some thoughts on it, but don’t have time to collect them just now.

  5. DeJon Redd Says:

    I could drivel on for a long time on this topic. Mostly because I’ve had quite a change of heart re: “the church” over the last three years.

    Briefly, I’ve grown more and more uncomfortable with the present state of Christianity both locally and on a larger scale. My burgeoning disgust mixed with my propensity for cynicism usually makes it a bad idea for me to engage “church-folk” with my opinions.The reason? I’m quickly reaching the conclusion that the American brand of Christianity is impotent. The basis for my opinion is mostly anecdotal given thirty years of my own impotent faith, but I’m hearing opinions from those far wiser such as …

    William Sloane Coffin
    Micheal Frost and Alan Hirsch
    Brian McLaren
    Jim Wallis
    Marcus Borg

    I hear these writers calling out the culture of Christianity. I hear statements such as, “social justice the heart of Christianity.” Yet I see social justice as one small part of most churches (if help to the marginalized gets any lip service at all.)

    I also am starting to see a distinct disparity in modern U.S. Christianity, perhaps two divergent views. [Thoughts from Borg’s book] One view seems to cleave to “earlier” Christianity, while some refer to another segment as an “emerging” Christianity. It would be easy but inaccurate to label them “conservative” vs. “liberal” or “traditional” vs. “progressive.”

    Like I said I could ramble on further, but I’ll just take another step further on my own proverbial limb and say that the current condition of fundamental Christian churches is wholly irrelevant to member’s of today’s society and too self-absorbed to realize it. If the church culture ever has an inclination to change, it will require a serious shifts in the paradigm. I for one am less than hopeful that the current condition is alterable.

  6. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Sounds like you’re finding yourself about where I am, DeJon. Thanks for the company.

    On the labelling issue, I haven’t kept up with exactly what people mean when they talk about the “emergent[ing] church,” but churches where social justice is a central part of ministry used to be what was known as “mainline” churches. That terminology has gone a bit out of fashion, though you still hear it sometimes. They were the larger, more established, socially integrated Protestant denominations, basically: Lutherans, Presbyterians, various other flavors of Reformed churches, Episcopalians, United Churches of Christ, and to a slightly lesser degree, United Methodists and Disciples of Christ.

    And, of course, the Catholic church has long been committed to social justice as part of the church’s mission in this world. I don’t always agree with their definition of what’s just, but I always admire their commitment to both having serious social ethics, and carrying those ethics out in a serious way.

    For a variety of theological and non-theological reasons (which I used to be able to describe much better than I could now), Churches of Christ have never had much social ethics. There was a line from Stone to Lipscomb where you saw some of it, but not a lot, and basically nothing since Lipscomb. Leonard Allen and Richard Hughes, among others, have tried reviving that Stone-Lipscomb line of thinking, but I’m not sure how much success they’re having.

  7. DeJon Redd Says:

    Juvenal, I feel dumb for my tardy arrival at this cognitive location.

    Sounding like a broken record, I could go on about this stuff. Here’s a quick laundry list.

    1) What’s up with “the saved” vs. “the unsaved” mentality?
    2) The Bible wasn’t written to me. I’m a voyeur of the words written by inspired men to long-dead Christians. Patternism is for the lazy.
    3) I believe the truth of the matter is that our culture molds church infinitely more than the Bible does.
    4) Typical church folk love to play both sides of a coin:
    a) We want to declare ownership of God’s truth with out ever being the “church leaders” Jesus was known to castigate so harshly.
    b) We want to think for hours about this easy yoke and light burden, but reject this death-to-self idea or hatred of my mother or father.
    5) My insulated faith is evident when I pray for hours about a loved one with cancer but wouldn’t dare mention a family member struggling with an actual spiritual condition – especially if that family member be “saved.”

    The kids I grew up in the church with saw the same irrelevance I now do. They just chose to call the bluff sooner than I did. I feel worse when I realize my own culpability to the problem

    Though my words drip with piss and vinegar, I haven’t forgotten some of the spiritual giants I’ve been privileged to know. I’m just tired of their examples being subversive to versus exemplary of the church institution.

    As for the phenomena known as “The Emergent Church,” I’ve found it difficult to nail down as well. Duane is more informed on this thing (whatever it should be called.) I don’t think Borg uses the term “emerging” synonymously with the movement (for lack of a better term) fronted by Tony Jones, Rob Bell, McLaren, et. al. At initial glance, I do appreciate their take on spirituality. Their actions/words seem to echo the relevance Dr. King mentions more than most.

  8. Whitney Says:

    DeJon,

    Why disgust? Shouldn’t you feel sadder about this situation than anything else?

    I see very well most of your points, and you’re very right that we have a history of paying lip service, and lip service only, to real problems. To things that we as Christian were called to do. Addressing social injustices being one of those things.

    But what do you do? Do we sit around and talk about it or get up and do something about it?

    I do have one question. What do you mean by this: 1) What’s up with “the saved” vs. “the unsaved” mentality?

    Is this in reference to the church of Christ’s rumoured stance or to the very non-Biblical idea that simply saying you believe makes you saved? That comment just worried me a tad bit. Most of you know by now that I don’t for a second believe that only people who attend a church of Christ are “saved” but I do believe that Jesus through the Bible lays out a very discrete plan for us. To teach otherwise might just be hurting people.

    Even the scripture tells us that not everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. This is hard for us to understand. It should also scare us to an extent that makes us better.

    I’m a little worried about you, personally, with the bitterness I sense in your words. I hope you can step outside that to see some hope. Because you aren’t the only person in the Church who sees the inconsistencies. You’d probably be surprised to hear/see how many people actually agree with you when it comes right down to it. What is saddest is that we’ve been, in a sense, raised with doing nothing but talking, and are having a hard time getting out of our rut, and of our butts, to do anything about it. We’re pathetic mostly in the sense that (1) we don’t know how, (2) we’re scared to try, and (3) we’re too selfish to REALLY want to.

  9. DeJon Redd Says:

    Whit, thanks for engaging me. I hope you expose the gaps in my thinking. Here’s where I’m coming from…

    First, I agree with you. I, too, believe the creator planned out (in the church vernacular) a “plan for salvation.” I’m familiar with the theology of fallen man, sin’s divisive nature and the need for propitiation. I was convicted of this, “the greatest story ever told,” just this past week from Palm Sunday to Good Friday – Not so much on Easter as I was stuck doing church busy work and too consumed to really take account the power of the memorial that day.

    Yet I sense … no, I’m convinced that for the most part, American Christians have traded the power of Jesus Christ for some thing much more cheap … something much more tidy and therefore powerless and irrelevant.

    I don’t believe there is any power in the act of getting dunked in water. Yet I believe that baptism can be a unique and powerful experience.

    I believe there is a serious problem with the way we approach “salvation.” (I now begin to rephrase words of a guy I read recently who is smarter and more articulate than I) Salvation is a process. If you think you’ve reached it, you’re almost certainly wrong. I’m no more saved in the finished sense than any criminal on death row or any hooker making a dollar or any materialistic, gossiping church-goer on any pew on any Sunday.

    Therefore, I take issue with the “saved” versus the “unsaved” mentality. I prefer the labels “unsaved” versus “savior.” When it comes to person-to-person or communal relationships I prefer the following perspective: if/when I do something in the name of Jesus like help an unchurched person in some way, I am not a “saved” person trying to “convert” an “unsaved.” I hope that my attitude would be more like I am one beggar breaking bread with another.

    The institutional church’s paradigm of the “unchurched” leads to insulation, isolation and a group of people that is out-of-touch and irrelevant to the rest of the world one hour on Sunday morning and completely indistinguishable from the rest of the world every other hour of the week.

    Your point about action is a good one. And you are also correct about sadness vs. disgust. Sadness is not the least of my feelings toward the church. I also feel swindled. I feel duped that I thought for so long the institutional church model was the best way to join the good fight. Now I think it is a good way to feel like you’re fighting the good fight with out facing the uncomfortable realities of life for 99% of the world.

    But for what its worth, I really don’t think you should worry for me. I just need to take your advice and stop talking and start acting.

  10. Whitney Says:

    Dej,
    So, how do you approach the “unchurched” and extend them God’s promise and say, but I’m not saved, I’m just working on it?

    And to say that you don’t believe you’re really saved implies a lack of trust in God. I’m probably just misreading you; I think you’re really saying that we have to continually work (really, really WORK in all sorts of ways) and have faith in the goodness of what we do and believe in order to actually maintain salvation. But don’t forget grace. (Of course, we’ve taken the idea of grace to mean that we don’t have to try to be perfect, instead of the idea that we don’t have to actually be perfect. Does that make sense?)

    I definitely agree that salvation is an ongoing process; we aren’t dunked and “poof” we’re done. That equates to “once saved, always saved” doesn’t it?

    I have a feeling that if we sit down and talk, we’ll agree more than we disagree. And I didn’t mean worried in a “Oh, NO, DeJ, what will I do with you!?” sense, but a worried just about what I sensed was a worked-up version of the guy I know and love.

    We should all challenge each other to get off our duffs! That would make for interesting blog talk. I hope I didn’t offend you with the “worried” comment. You and Annie are some of our best friends, and I would never try to incense you; just to talk and clarify and throw ideas back and forth. And I applaud you for bringing up a very, very uncomfortable topic.

  11. Whitney Says:

    You said:
    Yet I sense … no, I’m convinced that for the most part, American Christians have traded the power of Jesus Christ for some thing much more cheap … something much more tidy and therefore powerless and irrelevant.

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Our society has, against what I believe to be God’s wishes, politicized Jesus Christ. It’s why the likes of Pat Robertson make me sick.

  12. DeJon Redd Says:

    I write with sincere apologies to Al for hijacking his thought-provoking post for my own selfish purposes.

    And I agree with you, Whitney. I know we agree on almost the entirety. With this in mind, I hope you don’t mind me picking at what I suspect to be the margins of our homogeny.

    I believe that if I approach the “unchurched” with the same snake oil most churches are pedaling, that person will soon enough find me to be the huckster that I am. The “churched” population in America is plummeting. And its certainly not because America has no sense of spirituality. It is IMO because the church is pushing smoke and mirrors. When times get tough, the theology they’ve brandished is as useful as (in my Granpa’s words) “teets on a boar hog.”

    I think our convoluted gospel leaves out the critical elements of “relationship” and “community” because these ideas force us in to icky situations.

    So far I’ve balked at practical application since that could lead to what my Jewish friend calls a “Rabbi trail” too deep to see through. But I’ll give it a go.

    HR 4437 is proposed legislation re: immigration. You and I live in cities where migrant Mexicans are every where. Hundreds die in the desert annually. The border issue is as convoluted and murky as any issue can be. But ask the typical “churched” person about it, and don’t be surprised if pure disgust erupts when they describe these “illegals.” And don’t be surprised when they speak of the poor as lazy leeches that do all they can to live off of the hard working Americans (like themselves of course.) And the stark contrast between the “churched” and Jesus becomes apparent.

    It seems impossible to keep the politics of these issues from spilling in to the spiritual nature of the problem, and those that are addressing these spiritual issues with a compassionate response are too often not the “churched.”

    They are usually the people the church rejected because they aren’t like us. They are gay or lesbian, or they question the fundamentals or they just don’t buy what we’re selling (as if Jesus were like a vacuum that needs a good salesman) I have come face-to-face with the “unchurched” and too often they have proven to be more Christ-like than the churched and the labels don’t fit.

    That makes me feel disillusioned, judgmental and wrong. And that is when your question about “approaching the ‘unchurched’” just seems so irrelevant to the situation. I don’t feel like I need to give them anything. I feel I need to sit down and learn from them because they are often more Godly than I am.

    Some of these people I’ve met haven’t “confessed Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.” But I defy anyone to tell me they don’t know anything about salvation. Judge them at your own risk.

    I know there are “church-folks” that are sure these compassionate “unchurched” types aren’t going to heaven. They don’t care and neither do I. Frankly, in some cases, I’m more concerened about the so-called “churched” than I am about the “unchurched.”

  13. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I have come face-to-face with the “unchurched” and too often they have proven to be more Christ-like than the churched

    Amen. In fact, amen to pretty much your whole comment.

    Perhaps it only seems this way because he was such a giant, and casts such an outsize shadow, but the church community hasn’t produced a genuinely Christlike movement since Martin Luther King. What regard I have left for churches, I have largely because he was a product of them.

  14. Terry Austin Says:

    Dejon,

    You’re doing a great job articulating a lot of what I’m feeling, too. Keep going.

    I wonder if, at some level, we’re about to experience a vast turnover within the churches of Christ, where many smaller groups of believers begin to move in the areas of social justice. They will be less a “congregation” and more a church, in that they won’t be tied to buildings or signs or ministry staff, but will instead act and move and think in ways that connect and engage a culture that, as you said, may not be churchgoing but is most certainly spiritual.

    This kind of structure, to me, looks a lot more like the first century church than does the congregation I presently attend.

  15. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Absolutely no apologies accepted, DeJon. I’d rather thank you and the rest instead for some very good stuff…

    First… my brief and uneducated address to the Captain’s question: I believe social justice was very important in Jesus’s teaching (parables of a benevolent Samaritan and an apathetic rich man come to mind first – both teaching disciples the importance of caring through actions for life’s downtrodden). Paul, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to emphasize it as much, but my reading of Paul is that this particular concept was a given (e.g. “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”). I see Dr. King’s emphasis on “justice” (and his frequent references to the 8th Century BC prophets) as just what Jesus taught (with Jesus’s identification with the prophets falling right in line). That King was killed for this is just downright spooky.

    The major difference I see with Dr. King and Jesus/Paul was that King sought to hold governments accountable. He said “Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love,” and the movement he spearheaded sought to correct governmental institutions that claimed as its basis “all men are created equal.” In the Roman Empire no such claim was made, and as a result both Jesus and Paul didn’t seem so interested in politics.

    Second… DeJon states the argument well that church in general is indeed, irrelevant, today. I do not disagree in the least. My question, however, does sidle up next to Whitney and ask with her how we might go about restoring some relevance. As I tried to express in a recent post, I (no longer) harbor grand illusions of revitalizing the Mohave Desert of organized religion. I would, however, like to stand my ground and face the wind long enough to allow some flowers to grow behind.

    I had an important email discussion (for me) a few years ago with Juvenal. I had read a book by Richard Hughes where the light dawned on me that CofCs were not really interested in Restoration, but were more attracted to a mutant version of Evangelical-Fundamentalism, something I don’t have the stomach for in the least. Without a very viable historical option, Juvenal reminded me that there might be other options out there than these two. Since then, I’ve been searching for that new option.

    So here’s my question if you would all indulge me… I’m still goofy enough to say that I’m not “Church of Christ” in the denominational sense, but that where I preach is an autonomous place that has the freedom to go about following Jesus however Jesus leads us. I am literally in a place of leadership here, so I don’t say all this rhetorically… So here she goes: If MLK was alive today – and if Juvenal is justified in his admiration – then which direction would he pursue for relevance?

    That’s what I really want to know….

  16. Joe Longhorn Says:

    It all depends on scale.

    Al… I guarantee that the sermons you preach and the work you do are relevant to the couple hundred folks that attend a certain congregation on Washington Ave in Ocean Springs, MS. Don’t try and tell me that the Church wasn’t relevant in that part of the country over the last 7 months.

    It’s admirable that so many folks on this board want to be more relevant on a much larger scale, but don’t ignore the relevance you have on the smaller scale.

    What direction would MLK pursue for relevance? I don’t think he’d pick a single direction for us to focus our efforts. I think he’d tell us to focus in every direction, but only to a range of about ten feet.

  17. DeJon Redd Says:

    Here’s my meager offering, Al.

    First, I say you must establish your position before finding relevance. If I am a life long church member, I’ve got to detox from church. I stand by my previously stated pessimism about the current condition of the church being inalterable. Reason: church folks are all too often addicted to their “issues” and their church model. I won’t elaborate too much on church issues, but I will say a few that have absolutely got to take a back seat to more important things are:
    – women’s roles in the church institution
    – condemnation of homosexuality
    – church exclusivism

    I don’t hate the church model. I hate that we are slaves to it. … A group meets at a designated building, supports a staff and budget through donations. It too easily becomes a self-licking ice cream cone – inwardly focused with no time for matters of spirituality.

    I believe before we, the church, can have a relevant impact need to gain emotional health. There are too many pew occupiers that simply are not ready to delve in to the relevant matters facing most people in our nation. We must deal with our own baggage first.

    I would hope that our new found emotional health would improve out ability to communicate. All too often my words spoken in the name of Christianity are defensive, indignant and embarrassing. We don’t seem comfortable with our own truth, and the truth is exposed as inauthentic.

    It is my hope that with authentic communication spawns authentic relationships outside of our current comfort zone. If the Gospel is really as powerful as I believe it to be, it should be applicable to more than just middle-classed white folks like me.

    I don’t dare aspire to change the world. I’m not that great at changing myself, but I believe by striving for these types of basic things, I could find greater relevance to my small corner of the world.

    Where do I fall short?

  18. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks, guys.

    I’d have to agree, Joe, that we’ve swallowed a good dose of relevance here over the past several months, but that’s sort of what leads me to pose this question. There’s still this sort of mentality of, okay are we done with this “disaster” yet? Okay, good, now let’s get back to the true work of the church: irrelevance.

    That may sound overly dramatic, but that’s the feeling. To use DeJon’s description, it sure appears to be an addiction to the church model we’ve developed over the years. We’ve tasted relevance, but we’re addicted to it’s antithesis.

    But then again, DeJon’s call to emotional health makes me tired to think about it. Funny, but for a long time here, I felt as if that’s what we’ve needed to address most – focusing on becoming healthy more than “growth” or whatever else… And I feel that we have become “more” healthy, but how much more is there to go before seeking practical relevance in our community?

    I’m sticking to the MLK analogy here, but I have to ask if the troops that rallied to the Civil Rights Movement were already emotionally healthy beforehand? I really don’t know – honest question… Or was it just (to recall Leonard Sweet) simply extraordinary circumstances that pulled it off?

    I’d agree wholeheartedly that most pew-sitters aren’t ready for – or interested in – relevance. Is our call to wait for them or to challenge/develop their emotional health? (I don’t think that’s your argument, sensing your belief that the current state of affairs is inalterable.)

    I’m still reaching out for a practical starting point for where I live and work…

  19. Duane McCrory Says:

    Wow! This comment thread has really gotten pretty long. I just read this Sunday.

    Al,

    The starting point has to be discipleship. What did Jesus teach about discipleship and how do we contemporize his teachings so that they speak to today’s Christians?

    DeJon (and others),

    Emotional health is absolutely important, but our task has to be at least two pronged. We need to work on our emotional health (which looks a lot like your self-licking ice cream cone), but we need to reach out to the unchurched and trust that God will empower us to spread his reign/rule/kingdom to those who need him, though we are lacking in various areas of emotional health. We need to know when we are in above our heads and need to get other, more-emotionally-healthy people involved.

    These are just some random thoughts.

  20. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Hey now, watch it! I’m asking the questions here! I want answers!!!!

    (Thanks, Duane)
    🙂

  21. Al Sturgeon Says:

    To quote one of DeJon’s boys, Jim Wallis, “Our religious congregations are not meant to be social organizations that merely reflect the wider culture’s values, but dynamic countercultural communities whose purpose is to reshape both lives and societies.”

    It’s this “how we are to be countercultural today” question that I’m asking about – and how this ironically makes church relevant.

  22. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I wonder if, at some level, we’re about to experience a vast turnover within the churches of Christ, where many smaller groups of believers begin to move in the areas of social justice.

    I frankly doubt it, Terrence. There have been spasms of small-group movements in Churches of Christ many times before. They never seem to lead anywhere. (The Boston/Crossroads/ICoC thing being an obvious exception.) I think Churches of Christ are like a train: they’ve got their rails laid down and they’re never going to go anywhere those rails don’t go. If you as an individual see a need to go somewhere the rails don’t go, you’re going to have to get off the train, not move to a smaller car.

    This is true of every denomination, of course. (And I don’t use that word to suggest that something “non-denominational” would be different.) Each has its theological emphases that determine what is possible and what is not possible to do within it. The only thing that makes the Churches of Christ different, I think, is that their rails were never very well thought out, so they lead to relatively few (and relatively barren) places. And their train won’t run on any other companies’ rails, or even recognize them as train tracks.

    I think he’d tell us to focus in every direction, but only to a range of about ten feet.

    I’m curious, Joe. What makes you say that? I ask because it seems very different from what MLK (which I’m told is Hebrew for “king,” btw) himself did. He took on huge issues on a huge scale: national racism, national poverty, and the Vietnam War.

    I stand by my previously stated pessimism about the current condition of the church being inalterable.

    I guess it’s obvious from what I said above that I agree, DeJon.

    church folks are all too often addicted to their “issues” and their church model.

    Yes. Even the way we speak reflects this. Part of churches’ distance from reality — both as cause and effect — is the HIGHLY encoded way we speak in churches or about things we consider religious topics. We don’t speak of them as if they are real things in our lives; we use this highly wrought, highly specialized, insider code language. And the converse is also true: we don’t use that highly wrought code language for things in our everyday lives. Why? Because we don’t consider those things religious.

    Our language reflects what we value. High-value religious subjects must be discussed with high-value religious language. If we don’t consider something a high-value religious subject, we don’t use our special religious language for it. Try going to church sometime and using church-speak to talk about washing your car, and see how people react to you. They’ll be all discombobulated for a second, then they’ll laugh at the joke.

    Then try using the same language to talk about the growing gap between the rich and the poor in this country, or racism. You probably won’t get the laughter, but you’ll get the same quizzical look. Why? Because you’re using high-value religious language for a subject that isn’t perceived as having any religious implications.

    Our high-value language is reserved for discussing really important things like instrumental music (or as we often say, “the instrument of music”), or dozens of other arcane and completely pointless topics. It isn’t for “secular” issues like poverty or racism. Those issues aren’t as important.

  23. juvenal_urbino Says:

    but we need to reach out to the unchurched and trust that God will empower us to spread his reign/rule/kingdom to those who need him

    And we need to understand and be committed to the fact that doing that isn’t a purely spiritual matter. “Reach[ing] out to the unchurched” doesn’t just mean trying to get them enchurched.

    (In honor of oil’s new record high, today’s word verification is: “uxoiltex”.)

  24. Duane McCrory Says:

    Warning! More thoughts that happen to be random are about to appear here. (I am not feeling so well and am taking some medicine, so what follows might not make too much sense.)

    Al,

    The question was meant to be an answer of sorts so that when we start doing this, contemporizing Jesus’ discipleship teachings, we start to learn how both to be disciples and make disciples. I just don’t think we’ve asked the question. And BTW, I don’t think the answer is only social justice. Jesus did himself take on powerful religious leaders as well as healing the sick and teaching others. He also said something to the effect of, “I did not come to bring peace, but division.” I won’t bother to try to interpret this right now, but political pacifism isn’t really the answer either. In fact, politics are not the answer, but Larry James is doing a great work.

    Juvenal (and DeJon),

    I, too, have issues with Churches of Christ, and I’ll have to get into more detail later about that, but there are some things we did right that allow us the ability to change in healthy ways, some that prevent other denominations from doing this. One of the primary strengths we have is our local autonomy and lack of a creed. This is a double-edged sword in the sense that it is an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. Change is not going to happen on a grand scale. It cannot. We don’t have someone or some group that can make change happen on a grand scale. Change has to filter through every individual, autonomous congregation. That is good and bad. A positive aspect of that is we can be more incarnational in the places where we live. Incarnational in Tucson is different than incarnational in Washington D.C., and both are vastly different than incarnational in Zambia.

    I guess a final thought would be that enchurching (to use your term) is exactly what we need, we’ve just lost sight of what true enchurching should be. I mean this in the sense that God called us to community. His idea for discipleship never involved lone-ranger Christianity. He did not intend for us to fight our battles alone in this world. He also did not intend the church-as-institution model that is now so prevalent. He intended authentic community, which is that to which we must enchurch people. (Sorry, I don’t have time to describe what that would look like right now, but vulnerability and openness are two key components of it.)

    There is also something important in having a strong, central leadership, like the elderships in Churches of Christ plus the ministers. Although institution isn’t the answer, I don’t think only small groups as a model is not the answer either. Who is going to help ensure the small group is on the right track? As we all are never completely objective, and as we all tend to get tunnel vision at times, who will keep us in check if we are only trying to do this ourselves? This has been part of our problem in CofCs. We have a bad theology that has not been challenged, in part because many of our groups are staunchly anti-intellectual. We risk buying into the bad theology of other groups by blindly trying to do what they do.

    I have to stop rambling for now, but I hope some of this makes sense. I’ll try to be more coherent later when I’m feeling better and am not on medication.

  25. Terry Austin Says:

    IMO, for most Cs of C, the “autonomy” issue is just wordplay designed to provide a buffer between us and various “thems.”

    Each congregation may indeed possess the authority to do as it pleases, but most are afraid to do so because they’re so worried about what the other church down the street might say or think. So in a sick sense, we really do govern one another.

    Juvenal: It might be “new train” stuff that I’m seeing/anticipating. I don’t see an organized movement (Boston), I see big gatherings breaking down into small groups, which then further filter into cells (scary word, I know) that move to be salt/light within their communities. Groups that meet at the hospital one Sunday and the housing project the next. Groups that collect their money and hand it over to people in need, not to pay for a new air conditioner at the church building.

    Is there a difference between what I’m seeing and what you’re talking about?

  26. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I’d agree that Larry James seems to be scratching where I’m itching. And I’d add that what I see/do with Habitat for Humanity is along these lines, too.

    But this is the point – neither of these are “churches” in the understood sense of the word. To address these issues on a significant scale, you have to go to something outside of a church to see much happening. To quote DeJon from early in this discussion, “I hear these writers calling out the culture of Christianity. I hear statements such as, ‘social justice is the heart of Christianity.’ Yet I see social justice as one small part of most churches (if help to the marginalized gets any lip service at all.)”

    It’s not that I can’t find a way to be relevant personally. What is extremely difficult (impossible?) is to cast an effective vision to a church where relevant ministry is more than just something you can do if you want to go outside the church and volunteer in the community. Where the vision of an autonomous church might be recast with relevance in the forefront.

    MLK did this at least on some sort of significant level (although arguably the SCLC was more the vehicle than “church.”).

    Once again, many in our church family have tasted from the well of relevance recently, and it was good. But w/o crisis staring us in the face, we have no other way to think than to return to our “dealer” for another hit of irrelevance. (DeJon, I like the detox metaphor!)

    Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating transformation into simply a social service agency, but I think we could use a big dose of it nonetheless.

  27. DeJon Redd Says:

    (I fear this comment may show me the end of the limb on which I’m standing.)

    I like Joe’s mentality about “range of about ten feet.” (I was actually simul-commenting something along those lines.) I can’t put my brain around much more than that sphere of influence.

    But I know people that are changing the world. I’ve resisted the temptation to mention Al’s ministry, like Larry James’, it blesses uncountable numbers of people … more than they may ever comprehend.

    And I believe this article describes another more extreme version of relevant ministry.

    For the sake of full disclosure I’ll tell you the writer discusses the subject of passivism (now there’s a rabbi trail). And I’m sure this sounds absurd coming from a guy that is proud to work every day with great American’s that have personally killed hundreds maybe thousands of enemies of our great nation. But I have a deeply held respect for Tom Fox and other CPT members.

    Controversial? Yes.
    Relevant? I believe it is more relevant than we realize.

  28. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I guess a final thought would be that enchurching (to use your term) is exactly what we need, we’ve just lost sight of what true enchurching should be.

    I understand what you’re saying about community, Duane, and agree — with reservations.

    What I was driving at in my comment, however, is that we have reduced the church’s mission in this world to pure spirituality: the church exists to save souls (by bringing them into the church, is usually the undeclared and disclaimed but actual belief). The church’s mission isn’t reducible to the “Great Commission.” It isn’t purely other-worldly. The church is to participate in God’s rightwising activity in THIS world, and that mission isn’t subordinate to the baptizing one. We can’t, therefore, set up a needy person’s willingness to be enchurched by us as a precondition to our so-called benevolence.

    Back to your comments about church as community. I agree with your basic thrust, but I’m not sure one can say, “God called us to community. His idea for discipleship never involved lone-ranger Christianity.” I’m not convinced that exclusivity — community and community only — is appropriate.

    Certainly, Paul emphasized community very heavily in his letters to the young churches, and for understandable, very practical reasons. But those socioeconomic and cultural conditions have, for the most part, long since ceased to exist. Is solitary Christianity for everyone? No, but neither is the communal variety. I don’t think it’s the case that Christianity cannot exist outside a community of Christians.

    We have a bad theology that has not been challenged, in part because many of our groups are staunchly anti-intellectual.

    We do have a bad theology, to the extent we have one at all, but it’s not because that theology hasn’t been challenged. It has been — many times and in many places by many people and from many different angles. We have a bad theology because most CofC insiders like that theology. It’s not that they haven’t been presented with something else; it’s that they don’t want something else.

    I decidedly agree about the role of anti-intellectualism, though.

  29. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Wow!
    I hardly know where to start, or even if I should start at all. Obviously some serious thought and deep emotions going on here. Intellectually, I feel like I’m bringing a water pistol to a gunfight.

    I don’t have a theology degree or a background in the current writings of the philosophers of the day to bring to the table, just 60 years experience in the C of C community (to use a less freighted term than “brotherhood”). Some of those years, however, were in the trenches of local churches doing what you might consider socially relevant things which I began to call “full contact Christianity.” In America today, and especially in the South, “Social Justice” is usually a code word for racial strife, so here’s where I come from.

    I grew up in the real segregated South that few of you really remember. I never saw a black face in my school – they got bussed 15 miles to the next town that had a “colored” school – or my church, and neither did most of my friends, no matter what church they went to. The “N” word was commonly used, even among people at church, without shame. I finally had my consciousness raised a little at age 18 by being a part of the first class at Harding College to admit blacks (1963). I’ve spent the last 43 years trying to move past my early experience growing up and to imitate the teachings of Jesus and the Christianity of the early church. Along the way, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the truly ugly in the church, from the point of view of a member in the pew as well as leadership positions as deacon and an elder. Whatever progress I’ve made on the social justice (read that as “racial”) front I credit to a few black brothers and sisters who showed me by their example how to look past their skin into their heart. It may show that God has a sense of humor as well as justice in that many of those we held down as second class citizens – and Christians – have now become our teachers.

    Having said that, I’d like to submit for comment the proposition that, no matter what we might like to think today, social justice was not the focal point of the teaching of either Jesus or his apostles and disciples that followed him. Christ’s mission was not to heal the physically sick, although he healed almost constantly, or to feed the hungry, although he did on several occasions and urged his followers who had the means to do so as well. His mission was not to right the wrongs of either the Jewish leaders or the Romans, although he regularly ripped the Jewish religious elite for their disregard for the “more important” matters like justice and mercy and faithfulness. His mission was to reconcile man to God and to teach men how to live like they were God’s people. That second part – living like we are God’s people – does, in fact, involve a lot of things that were then and remain today, very socially relevant:
    “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people”.

    Jesus and those who followed him had a lot to say about addressing the social ills around them, but always from an individual standpoint. Al is right in saying that they didn’t confront the powers of the day and demand reform. They addressed sinful people – prostitutes and tax collectors – as well as the supposedly religious leaders and told them all to repent and change their lives. Part of that change was in how they treated others, so we got stories like the Good Samaritan. I think the story of the man asking about the greatest commandment is “relevant” here too. Jesus said that the first commandment was to love God, which answered the man’s question. It was Jesus who decided to go further and say, in effect, “Now, when you get that done, go on to loving your neighbor as yourself.”

    I know I’m rambling, but I think my point would be this:
    Although what we are calling “social justice” was a vital part of the early church’s work, it was never an end in itself. It was what followed naturally when a “saved” person began to live like they belonged to God. Paul would give a long lists of the vilest sins you can imagine and then say “That’s what you folks were like, but you’ve had your sins washed away, so live differently now.” The early Christian writers also emphasized that motive was everything. Baptism not prompted by faith only produces wet sinners. Professed faith not accompanied by actions was DOA. All the benevolence and sacrifice and the faith and spiritual gifts (and striving for social justice) in the world was of no profit if not motivated by love.

    The “Good News” that Jesus said he was anointed to preach to the poor was not “I’ve come to put right the social injustices which plague you” – or “deal with the problems of the poor.” It was “I’ve come to take away the sin that plagues you so you can live in hope, whether the social injustices ever get fixed or not.” If you could boil down the teachings of Jesus and his followers on the subject of social justice, it might go something like this:
    First, fix your own sin problem, then learn to live so that you don’t contribute to the social injustice yourself and urge others to do the same. If the striving for relevance and social justice ever get disconnected from – or become more important than – fixing our individual sin problems, I think we begin to misrepresenting the teachings of Jesus.

    Dr. King’s strong suit was in urging other people to see the social injustices and work to fix them. His basis for calling the practices unjust in the first place was solidly based in scripture, as was his policy of non-violent civil protest. He was a brave man, and may have been, like Esther, sent at just the right time.

  30. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I don’t see an organized movement (Boston), I see big gatherings breaking down into small groups, which then further filter into cells (scary word, I know) that move to be salt/light within their communities.

    Well, that pretty much was the Boston/Crossroads/ICoC model. They developed big, organized churches, but the real heart of their existence was at the small group level and below. I’m not saying what you’re seeing is another ICoC nightmare. Just citing that as the only example I know of where a small-group oriented, reform-minded movement within CsofC lasted or had any impact. And even they could go only so far before having to leave.

    Is there a difference between what I’m seeing and what you’re talking about?

    Probably not. Not really. You just have hope that what you’re seeing will lead somewhere and make a difference; to me, that seems terribly unlikely.

    Returning to the train analogy, I just don’t see — have never seen — a willingness on the part of any appreciable number of CofC’ers to do the hard work of laying new theological rails (doo-dar, doo-dar). Without that, though, all you can really do is change cars. Maybe make the cars smaller and have more of them. Maybe even change trains. But they all still go to the same dead places.

    I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but here’s a question for thought: has there EVER been a successful, meaningful reform movement of any kind within the CsofC (and I mean one that stayed within) — even one whose notion of “reform” we might differ with?

    I honestly can’t think of one. I can think of several trends and fads that have swept through; some of them have stuck, but none of them have mattered. Perhaps it’s because of one of the traits Duane mentioned: our loosely coupled congregationalism. Maybe it’s not possible to have real reform WITHIN a movement like that — an “anti-movement” movement, almost. There just isn’t anything there to hold things together. Everybody’s “just Christians.” The anti-reformists can just tell the reformists not to let the door hit them in the butt (or vice versa), and everybody can go on being “just Christians” under their own separate roofs.

    We were born as a reaction against creeds, etc., because we thought they were too divisive. How many times has that original movement subdivided? Have we subdivided into as many groups as there were Protestant denominations in 1815? More? And in the decades since, how many subdivisions have those denominations split up into? Any? Well, yes, most of them divided into 2 during the Civil War. Any more than that?

    Maybe CsofC should reconsider their original premise.

  31. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Not to put too fine a point on it, Cap’n, because I both like you and respect your experience, but I think you just couldn’t be more wrong.

    What you said is a terrific summary of what CsofC have always told themselves — a more sympathetic statement of it than one normally hears — but it is fundamentally and tragically maimed.

  32. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Hey now, no fair talking behind our backs!

    Captain, I’ve been friends with Juvenal a long time. Since he doesn’t know you very well, let me say that as your mutual respect deepens, one day he will change from saying “…you just couldn’t be more wrong” to “…you just couldn’t be more wrong. Moron.” That’s when you know you’ve become real friends! 🙂

    I’m not nearly as perceptive as Juvenal, but I didn’t see any glaring problems in your comment. I would take issue with the “two great commands” of Jesus being distinct – I think they are one and the same (and turn to 1st John for a little back-up). And I would ask for a bit of clarification on what you meant by our part in “fixing our individual sin problem.” That’s all.

    Outside of that, I always enjoy your history citations. You ought to write a history book or something! 🙂

  33. Capt MidKnight Says:

    “Captain, I’ve been friends with Juvenal a long time. Since he doesn’t know you very well, let me say that as your mutual respect deepens, one day he will change from saying “…you just couldn’t be more wrong” to “…you just couldn’t be more wrong. Moron.” That’s when you know you’ve become real friends! :-)”

    Thanks for the insight, Al. I’ll look forward to that honor. :-}

    As for the “Two great commands” comment, You’re probably right. Jesus may have been making that point by expanding his answer past the man’s original question. Good catch. I’m not always at my rhetorical best at 1:00am.

    I would submit that “fixing our individual sin problems” was seen as the starting point of Jesus and all the preachers who followed him, and that was all bound up in accepting their message about who he was and what he came to do. Without that step, the individual will ultimately be a failure (lost) even though he might do many otherwise godly and socially responsible things (see Matt. 7:21ff). Paul made a similar point in 1 Cor 13 when he listed all the great things he might do that would benefit many other people, but would ultimately do himself no good if done from the wrong motives. The Pharisees, who did their good deeds in public to get the “Atta Boys” from their peers, actually did help some poor people, which was a good thing, but didn’t do themselves any good in God’s eyes – if Jesus is to be believed.

    Out the door this morning for Arkansas.

    “You ought to write a history book or something!” 🙂

    I’m actually beginning to work my Civil War manuscript towards publication. We’ll see.

  34. Duane McCrory Says:

    Juvenal,

    It’s hard to know where to start with all that has been posted since your last comment in my direction. I won’t rehash what I’ve already said, but I do not see in the entire New Testament any focus on solitary discipleship apart from community. The obvious examples are Jesus picked 12 disciples to teach (synagogue comes to mind here), had three close friends and when he sent the disciples out on the mission, sent them out in twos, not as singles. Paul always traveled with another person, probably in large groups sometimes. I was trying to think last night about examples of solitary disciples. I thought of the Samaritan woman of John 4, but then she went back to her village, told others about Jesus, and was really restored to a community from which she was an outcast. I think the same about Legion, the guy with all the demons, who could not be a part of normal society. He wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus sent him back to his town, where he could now be a part of the community there again. In fact, the healings that Jesus does are all at least in some part a way to restore people to full community with others, as in the Jewish world, disease, sickness, deformities, whatever, barred one from full participation in things such as temple worship and the like.

    We have problems being in community because people are imperfect. I’m not saying that there is no time for solitude, on the contrary, solitude is extremely important, but not an end in itself. I hope you understand what I’m saying here. We need others both to mentor us and for us to mentor them as we all seek to be more godly. There’s a good take on that very thing here.

    Another thing I probably need to explain is discipleship. You mentioned the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. We have mistakenly taken that to be purely spiritual. It is not that the text is wrong, but our interpretation of it is. We left out the “make disciples” part of it, which would include things such as taking care of the poor and reaching out to those in need, for how else can one be a disciple of Jesus if that person does not do what he did?

    One more point of clarification on the theology thing. I think in the past many things have been challenged, but these challenges have typically been about issues–women’s roles, baptism, instruments, divorce and remarriage, eating in buildings, one cup or many, bible class or not, etc. The list could go on ad infinitum. What I think has been left unchallenged is the core theology behind all of this nonsense, namely that the Bible is an instruction book on how to set up a church and how to get to heaven. If we follow the “pattern,” we’re in, if not, we’re out. That’s bad theology. It leaves us looking to get things right rather than trying to have a relationship with God. We mistake correctness with relationship and we think the only necessary thing is getting to heaven. I don’t know that I’ve seen this core theology challenged. Have you?

  35. Duane McCrory Says:

    Terry,

    You said:
    Each congregation may indeed possess the authority to do as it pleases, but most are afraid to do so because they’re so worried about what the other church down the street might say or think. So in a sick sense, we really do govern one another.

    I don’t know that I have seen this. When you talk about the church down the street, do you mean other CofCs? I might just be out of the leadership loop, but I can’t recall a decision being made in any church I’ve attended that is based on what the church down the street thinks. Help me to understand what you mean. Maybe you have experienced this. I just don’t know that it is really that common.

  36. Duane McCrory Says:

    Cap’n,

    I’m trying to understand where you are coming from, but I see some problems with some of the things you said.

    Here one thing:
    The “Good News” that Jesus said he was anointed to preach to the poor was not “I’ve come to put right the social injustices which plague you” – or “deal with the problems of the poor.” It was “I’ve come to take away the sin that plagues you so you can live in hope, whether the social injustices ever get fixed or not.”

    If you continue the quote you started, the anointed to preach to the poor, it goes like this and is from Luke 4:18-19 (quoting Isaiah 61:1-2):
    “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (NIV)

    He does not say anything about sin in quoting this passage. One can spiritualize the text to make oppression and prison mean sin, but that is certainly not how Jesus goes on to interpret it. In fact, he mentions two foreigners with physical needs, a widow in Zarephath that Elijah helps get through a famine and Naaman, a guy with leprosy, that Elisha helps cleanse.

    Going further in Luke’s gospel, we find John the Baptist wondering if Jesus is the one. The answer he gets is telling (Luke 7:21-23):
    At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (NIV)

    For John to recognize Jesus as Messiah, he was not told, “Look at the many people whose sins have been forgiven.” He was told about Jesus’ healing practices that fall right in line with the Isaiah 61 Jesus quoted at the start of his public ministry.

    Matthew 25:31-46 is extremely telling (I won’t put it here, but please look it up if you don’t know what it is.). The judgment scene indicates that those disciples who do not get involved in social justice failed to see Jesus in those who needed help and therefore fail to gain entrance into the heavenly kingdom.

    Finally, Mark 12:1-12 deals with the issue of corrupt leaders. Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard (drawn in part from Isaiah 5) whose tenants think that by killing the owner’s servants (interpreted as the prophets), and then finally the owner’s son can thereby take over the vineyard by force. Jesus says the owner will come and take the vineyard away from them (Isaiah 5 is relevant as the vineyard is Israel), and give it to someone else. The Jewish leaders who were present understood this to be told against them. Jesus was saying that at least part of his mission was to remove the corrupt leadership and replace it with a new one–the 12 apostles, which is in fact what happens in Acts 2.

    Speaking of Acts 2, the issue of social justice remains. Acts 2:42-47 describes a situation where people are in community daily (that’s for Juvenal) and providing for the needs of others. Acts 4 even describes the situation of selling property to provide for needs.

    I guess I’m done for now. Sorry for the long comment.

  37. juvenal_urbino Says:

    My time is a bit limited, and I haven’t had a chance to collect my thoughts, but I’ll toss in a few responses.

    Cap’n — Duane’s excellent response to your comment begins to describe some of what I meant by “maimed.” I meant that that traditional CofC way of understanding Jesus’ mission and activities and teaching can stand only if chunks of the Gospels are lopped off — i.e., the gospel is maimed — or spiritualized (“ecclesiologized” in some cases — I figger if I can make up “enchurched,” I can make up another one), which is basically maiming without leaving as bad a scar. It’s “tragic” because it leaves CsofC operating on half the gospel, isolates them from the world around them, and deprives lots of people of help they should be getting from churches.

    Duane — On the community thing, yes, the evidence you cite from scripture is what I would expect to see, given the conditions at the time. What I don’t see is anything inherently communitarian about Christianity such that Christianity cannot exist outside of community.

    On the church peer pressure thing that Terry mentioned, I’ve seen it. And yes, I’m pretty sure he’s talking about other CsofC down the street.

  38. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Duane, Juvenal, Al, and whoever else might be remotely interested,

    Don’t take my lack of a real answer right away as anything but the lack of a decent computer. I’m at my Mom’s and will be until early next week. Her computer is several years old – and dialup to boot, so I sometimes doze off waiting for things to happen.

    I will say, though, after reading your posts, that – don’t be shocked – we probably have more points of agreement than you might think. I can see where some of my emphasis left the wrong impression. I’ll try to un-rattle my thoughts reply in a day or so.

    Meanwhile Al, I’m still aspiring to the rank of moron

  39. juvenal_urbino Says:

    What I think has been left unchallenged is the core theology behind all of this nonsense, namely that the Bible is an instruction book on how to set up a church and how to get to heaven. . . I don’t know that I’ve seen this core theology challenged. Have you?

    It’s been challenged a number of times through the years, yes. Most often it’s been by some of your fellow ACU grads who’ve gone on to the better divinty schools. I’ve challenged it in churches I’ve been part of.

    To the best of my knowledge, the people making such fundamental challenges have all filtered out of CsofC to other traditions, or they’ve migrated to more genial parts of the country, sometimes both, or they’ve simply been worn down and learned to keep their mouths shut.

    Just in my 37 years, I’ve watched too many good people take these various routes, with varying degrees of voluntariness; some of the “best and brightest” in the CsofC. And it’s been going on for generations.

    The idea that the problem in CsofC is that their theology hasn’t been challenged or that they just haven’t been offered anything better is a generous and hopeful view of the situation, and it speaks well of you that you see things that way, just as it spoke well of those other “best and brightest” who came and went before you. I think, however, the evidence of history is pretty clearly against your view, unfortunately.

    CsofC have been offered something better, truer, and more complete, numerous times. They just don’t want it. They like what they have now. It’s easy, familiar, and gives them black-and-white certainty. That’s all most people really want, anyway.

    Cap’n — I’ve been known to level “moron” at a person now and again, but only if they really earned it, and I always meant it in the best possible sense. Al is a fibber, though. I’ve never called him a moron. The dirty moron.

  40. Terry Austin Says:

    juvenal also calls people “gashhead” from time to time. Having been on the receiving end of it many times, I wasn’t about to feel stupider (!) by asking what a gashhead was/is. He also says “Nadafingah!” on occasion, but that clearly has been lifted from “A Christmas Story.”

    Duane: Yes, other Cs of C “down the street.” And yes, I’ve seen it plenty, and from people I thought would know better. Disturbing. But this area is home to a very interwoven (sometimes gridlocked) C of C community, so maybe it’s a more frequent thing here.

    Today’s word verification reminds me of the Andy Griffith Show: opeye

  41. Terry Austin Says:

    “BUMPUSES!” is another of juvenal’s favorite exclamations, and is also lifted from “A Christmas Story.”

  42. juvenal_urbino Says:

    very interwoven (sometimes gridlocked)

    I think the word you’re looking for is “inbred.”

  43. Joe Longhorn Says:

    “BUMPUSES!” happens to be one of my favorite exclamations as well. Finally, a little common ground.

  44. Terry Austin Says:

    I think the word you’re looking for is “inbred.”

    Stop putting words in my mouth, gashhead. 🙂

    Hey, a little further reading on this, courtesy of N.T. Wright’s book “The Last Word,” coincidentally and conveniently excerpted today at http://www.wadehodges.com.

    (Hodges is the preacher man at Garnett CC in Tulsa.)

  45. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Okay, so I’m colorful. That’s what happens when you live alone in Bolivia for 40 years. You get colorful. hoodle-dang hoodee-i-o hoodle-dang hood-ee-ay

  46. Terry Austin Says:

    juvenal was also spanked by Grover Cleveland on two non-consecutive occasions.

  47. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Grover was old school.

    Finally, a little common ground.

    People will be making pilgrimages to this page centuries hence, to witness the blessed miracle.

  48. Michael Lasley Says:

    Juvenal: Re: living in Bolivia and being colorful.

    Bingo.

  49. Capt MidKnight Says:

    I’ve finally realized that I spent a great many words and a lot of blog space trying to articulate what the writer of the book of James says much better in one sentence:

    James 1:27
    27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
    (from New International Version)

    I submit that this represents the message of the New Testament preachers – the ideal: a life free from the power of sin (or the pollution of the world) and a life lived in service to others (social relevance and responsibility). Either without the other is incomplete.
    Of course, if seeing the Bible as the source of teachings from God (a guide to heaven) really is “the core theology behind all this nonsense,” I guess that idea is nonsense too (see below).

    from an earlier post
    “What I think has been left unchallenged is the core theology behind all of this nonsense, namely that the Bible is an instruction book on how to set up a church and how to get to heaven. . . I don’t know that I’ve seen this core theology challenged. Have you?”

    Now, the obvious question has to be:
    If the above “core theology” is, in fact, nonsense, then how should the Bible be viewed, and what would be considered a correct or acceptable “instruction book on how to set up a church and how to get to heaven?”

    Still carrying the water pistol and working up to “moron.”

  50. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Thank you for that, Brother Michael. Or should I say Michael the Archangel?

    Meanwhile, returning to the subject at hand, more or less, here’s a snippet from the detox link DeJon posted:

    Involvement in an organizational consumer-driven church [which is to say, most any church these days] blinds us to the real state of our lives.

    It doesn’t just blind you to the real state of your life. It blinds you to the real state of everybody’s life. It blinds you to life.

  51. Michael Lasley Says:

    Oh, feel free to call me Michael the Archangel, Juvenal. I’m here to protect you and deliver you from evil, so I’ve been told.

  52. DeJon Redd Says:

    Capt, in my humble opinion you ask the wrong question.

    If one’s desire is to set up a church and get to heaven he has completely missed the point.

    It is truly painful to see someone turn Christianity in to nothing more than fire insurance.

  53. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Cap and I simulposted again. Great minds think at the same time. . . or words to that effect.

    I’ll leave the hermeneutical question to Duane, rather than muddying up the field. He’s much better equipped to address it than I am, anyway.

    Besides, what most caught my eye was the quotation from James and the paragraph immediately following. This is going to seem like making a mountain out of a molehill or straining at gnats, etc., but I think it’s real and incredibly telling: what’s the difference between the passage Cap quoted and Cap’s recap of that passage in the very next sentence?

    The order, right? James talks about widows and orphans, then the pollution of the world. Cap, you typed that, and in the tiny time it took for you to type your next sentence, your mind had already rearranged them for you: stay pollution-free is first, taking care of the needy is second.

    The mental mechanism that, probably without your being aware of it, said to itself, “Wait. That’s not quite right. The sin part should be ahead of the other bit.” That thing — the mental filter that re-orders those 2 things for you — is the problem, and it’s learned. It’s a product of the theology in which you’ve lived and moved and had your very being all those years in CsofC, and it’s mistaken.

    I’m not saying you meant to give one priority over the other. I’m saying you’ve got a learned mental reflex that automatically assigns a higher value to sin issues than to taking care of the needy. Virtually everyone in CsofC has that same reflex.

    What I’m arguing is that we shouldn’t see or treat social ethics issues as secondary to “sin issues.” The reasons for that are more than I have time to type now, but Duane has touched on some of them, and Al touched on another in his response to you about the “greatest commandment” passage.

  54. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Since this post has dropped off the main page, I don’t know if anybody will read this or not, but here goes – of the top of my head.

    Rearranging the order in James 1:27

    The order may or may not be significant. My take is that the order is irrelevant. It seems to me that both parts or James’ formula for “pure religion” are equal. Dr. King, in Al’s original question, never said that preaching about heaven or salvation or the “great by and by” was mistaken. His point was that it was much too easy for preachers to camp out there in times of trouble and social unrest so as to not rile the powers that be. He said that he was glad that some preachers were willing to preach the second part, even when it might call out the police dogs or, in Dr. King’s case, a man with a rifle.

    The gospel as fire insurance and the bible as a guide being nonsense.

    If that is your view, then I beg to differ. My question is exactly the right one – what then is Jesus’ real gospel and what then is the bible’s place in this whole discussion?
    There are a ton of organizations who’s sole function is to address what they see as social injustice. If that is your only, or even primary concern, it would be much easier to pick one you agree with and have at it. Why anyone would want to waste their time with anything as messy and nerve racking as a church is beyond me – unless there was a benefit to be had there not available anywhere else. The church, which is only a word for a bunch of christians meeting on one place, certainly has a responsibility to work for the good of their fellow man in the here and now. I never deigned that or argued that it take a backseat to anything else, but if the church as we read about it in the New Testament has no role in “the great bye and bye” (that’s the fire insurance part) then you would be stupid to waste your time with it (see Paul in 1Cor 15:19)
    And again, if the bible as a guide is nonsense, then what is it’s proper place and use?

    Those are not C of C brainwashed questions. They are just common sense ones. Until I know your answers, we’re just talking past each other.

  55. juvenal_urbino Says:

    As I said in my comment, Cap’n, I was aware you didn’t mean to give one of James’ statements priority over the other. I also don’t think their order in James 1 is significant.

    What I do think is significant — very significant — is that your mind more-or-less instantly changed the order for you. I don’t think it was a brain fart. I think it was a learned mental reflex. That reflex and the theology that engrains it is what I find problematic.

    I’m still going to stay away from the hermeneutical question.

  56. juvenal_urbino Says:

    what then is Jesus’ real gospel

    Without diving off into hermeneutics, I will give this one a try.

    Jesus’ real gospel: all people matter to God. All of them. Not just the mighty and powerful. Not just the holy and pure. All of them. They matter more than worship. They matter more than perfect obedience. They matter more than piety. They matter more than purity. They matter more than anything. How you treat people is how you treat God. Period. There is no distinction.

    Furthermore, God is in the business of setting right what has gone wrong for people — spiritually, yes, but in this world, too, and to no lesser degree. He’s not going to go on letting the poor, blind, lame, widowed, orphaned, etc., be oppressed; he’s in the process of setting things right. If you claim to be about his business, that’s the business you have to be about. If that’s not what you’re about, you are not about his business — no matter how much your church looks like the ones described in Acts, no matter how pure you are, no matter how fervently you believe, no matter how well you worship, no matter how pious you are.

    God is setting right what has gone wrong in the world for all people. That’s Jesus’ gospel. That’s the news that’s good.

  57. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Juvenal, you put the “gospel” in my job as a gospel preacher. Why can’t I do that?

    But enough about all of you. Let’s get back to important things, like me. So how does our little merry band of God-businessfolk take off down this road of setting things straight in the world for all people. You know, be relevant?

    (Just kidding about moving past the gospel discussion – just a continued cry for practical help here where I type.)

  58. DeJon Redd Says:

    Capt, I must note that I try very hard to live subordinate to the teaching and instruction spelled out by the writers of Scripture. I would never call the Bible “nonsense.” I do take issue with those that worship the Bible as opposed to worshiping the one the Bible calls us to. I find this to be a common form of idol worship among the “churched.”

    You said, “I’d like to submit for comment the proposition that, no matter what we might like to think today, social justice was not the focal point of the teaching of either Jesus or his apostles and disciples that followed him.”

    I couldn’t disagree more, but perhaps we have a different definition of social justice.

    You said, “The church …certainly has a responsibility to work for the good of their fellow man in the here and now.”

    That is my definition of social justice, and I believe the institution of church in America fails pretty miserably in living up to this responsibility.

    I do not believe social just (using your definition) is the only element to Christ’s example. I do feel it is by far the most neglected element of Christ’s call.

    I take issue with those that call Christianity “fire insurance” because at the heart of this belief is a selfish motivation. I want to save my skin.

    These ideas I suggest are only slightly different from what I hear from most church folks, but the subtle shift in mind set (hopefully) produces far different actions and motivation.

    Yes, I Cor 15 discusses the resurrection, but the Sermon on the Mount calls us to much higher standards that I/we fail to demonstrate in the here and now. It might feel good to focus on the after life, and it might make it easier to justify the terrible image of Christ the world sees from Christians, but it does not make it any more right.

  59. Duane McCrory Says:

    Sorry for the absence, but since the last time I read this the comments had gone into a strange phase that were not relevant to the topic (pun intended), I thought we had completely left this topic.

    Juvenal,

    I don’t have time at the moment to deal with the hermeneutical question, however, I don’t think it’s just left to me. Al should be in here too as that’s his job as well. (See, Al, I can bring you in too!)

    Cap’n

    You said:
    Now, the obvious question has to be:
    If the above “core theology” is, in fact, nonsense, then how should the Bible be viewed, and what would be considered a correct or acceptable “instruction book on how to set up a church and how to get to heaven?”

    Let me clarify because I think there has been some minor misunderstanding of what I said. It probably should have been phrased “only how to get to heaven,” keeping the rest intact. The Bible is definitively NOT an instruction book on how to set up a church. That issue is not even addressed. You will not find in the entire New Testament a passage that says, “Here is how you set up a church. First, …” It simply is not there. Yes, Paul tells certain of his colleagues, Timothy and Titus, how to appoint certain leaders to certain churches, but they are different for both (a subject to deal with offline or I will take up too much space). These are churches in Ephesus and Crete. Jerusalem looked way different, as well as Rome, Alexandria, etc., etc. There is no pattern for how a church should be set up. That was our deal back when the RM (Restoration Movement) started. We wanted to clear away all the rubbish that had accrued over the centuries and become Christians only, but not the only Christians. To do this, we wanted to go back to the Bible to see what the church looked like. In trying to glean information on this (and I do mean glean, for there is not much there to work with), we fit all the churches into a certain mold where all had elders and deacons, though most likely many did not have either, where all took Lord’s Supper once a week, though that comes only from one congregation in Acts 20:7, but see Acts 2:42-47 that suggests maybe it happened daily for the Jerusalem church, and various other items, leaving out many important ones that did not seem possible or relevant for that time, i.e. the roles of prophet and tongue-speaker come to mind, preferring instead in our Scottish Rationalism to rule out any works of the Spirit as occurring only back in the NT, ironic, since we trace our RM roots to the Cane Ridge Revival of 1801, where being “slain in the spirit” was common as well as “barking” in the Spirit. We made a pattern out of something that did not have one because we needed something to go on for setting up a church.

    That was a long, round-about way of saying that the Bible does not give a pattern for setting up a church. It was not intended as a guide-book for that.

    On the second part of the quote, the Bible, if it is only a guide-book on how to make it to a blissful afterlife with God, i.e. follow this formula: 1. Hear, 2. Believe, 3. Obey, 4. Repent, 5. Be baptized and off you go, you’re set for life, where does that leave us? The Bible, if anything, is first of all a book about God and maybe secondarily something to teach us how to live in the hear and now. Look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and tell me how much of it has to do with how you go about getting to heaven. Instead, it tells you what God desires of you right now. It shows you how to live right now in a way that God wants. Salvation must not be relegated to something that only happens in the future. God is saving us now by transforming us into the image of his Son day-by-day as we submit to his will more fully.

    A lot of this is off-the-cuff material, so please don’t think these are my only or final thoughts on any of these matters. I just wanted to explain what I think was misunderstood from my previous comments.

  60. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I don’t have time at the moment to deal with the hermeneutical question, however, I don’t think it’s just left to me. Al should be in here too as that’s his job as well.

    Didn’t mean to put you on an island, Duane, or leave you out, Al.

    Duane and I seemed to be the ones talking about the subject before Cap posed his question on it. All I meant to say was that of the 2 of us who had been discussing it, Duane was the better equipped to discuss it. (Besides, I sort of talked myself out on the subject of hermeneutics a while back.)

    So how does our little merry band of God-businessfolk take off down this road of setting things straight in the world for all people. You know, be relevant?

    Well, if you’re talking about how to do it as a church (or as churches), I think it’s not going to be possible to move more than a few inches down that road until the people in that church (or those churches) are convinced of the centrality of social ethics to the gospel.

  61. Duane McCrory Says:

    I have at least one more thought here while I have just about 5 minutes or so.

    We ask the wrong question if our question is, “What is a good book for doing …” Fill in the blank, and then have your answer be “the Bible.” This assumes so much about our perception of the Bible itself. At least part of that perception with this question is that the Bible is like some big search engine, maybe Google, where we input our search terms (isn’t that what the concordances are about?), and we get certain pages (verses, etc.) that will lead us to the answer. The Bible is then just a big, dropped-from-heaven encyclopedia that gives us answers to life’s questions.

    The starting point instead should at least be, “What is the purpose of the Bible? What is its stated purpose?” Seeing that it was written by many authors over many centuries, might those authors have different purposes depending on what book they have written? Is there a different purpose to the Psalms than there is to Proverbs, and even a different one for the prophets?

    Juvenal,

    I’d be happy to deal with hermeneutics and appreciate you pulling me in. I just wanted to make Al come into the discussion, too.

  62. Al Sturgeon Says:

    C’mon Juvenal, I thought you were my friend. Tell the truth. Al should not be invited to a hermeneutical debate because he is, in fact, a moron. Occasionally, a dirty moron.
    🙂

    Seriously, I’m much too involved posting sports entries today that compare the likenesses of personalities such as Larry Brown and Mr. Roper to make such a dramatic shift in intellectuality (new word alert!!!).

    Juvenal, your response to my latest question is appreciated. I’ve been doing some thinking…

    I’ve tried about a thousand things here to promote the change in thinking where social justice shifts from being an extracurricular subject to a core subject. Even Katrina hasn’t really pulled that off yet. But instead of giving up, I’m still thinking about ways I can keep at it.

    Then at least one thing dawned on me… As a preacher, I don’t really think that too many people listen to sermons, and I’m especially convinced that fixing a problem by “preaching on it” has proven time and again to be about the least effective way of fixing a problem.

    And yet…

    Every time I offer an “invitation” I sort of address two groups. I always invite people to enroll in the school of Jesus for the first time. And then I fumble to relate something to the jumbled mess of us that have purportedly done that already. I’m suddenly wondering why I don’t hammer on this concept at every opportunity – why each “invitation/challenge” to those proclaiming to be followers of Jesus doesn’t address this area? (I’m talking about my own preaching here.)

    I don’t think that’s a solution per se (I’ve got other ideas in the works), but it at least reflects my own challenges in what it means to be a follower and what challenges we need each time we get together.

    As Gomer Pyle once did, I’m going to go put a bucket on my head and “take a think” on this one…

    (In case you’re keeping score at home, this is comment #63, and from what I recall, w/o any reference to gay marriage.)

  63. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I’m still thinking about ways I can keep at it.

    And…

    (I’ve got other ideas in the works)

    And…

    I’m going to go put a bucket on my head and “take a think” on this one

    Why is it I’m not surprised, Al?

    (Today’s word verification is “uxdiotpe”, which I believe is the Aztec for “rubber ducky.”)

  64. juvenal_urbino Says:

    A couple of unrelated notes.

    — Before this thing gets away from me, let me state for one and all that I do NOT make a habit of calling people morons or any variant thereof.

    — Al, it might be wise to use your administrator superpowers to remove Cap’s email address from his comment, above, before the spammers harvest it.

    (Today’s other word verification is “fiagpe,” which I believe is the Greek for “love of figs,” though some earlier manuscripts have it, “love of Fig Newtons.”)

  65. Al Sturgeon Says:

    The only way I know to do it is to remove the entire comment – is that okie-dokie with you El Capitan?

    (Word verification: jjxytkj. I have nothing clever for this; therefore, with no moron-wielding friends among us, I will call myself a dirty moron.)

  66. Duane McCrory Says:

    Okay, I keep having more thoughts and my schedule opened up a bit.

    Cap’n,

    Here’s one more of your quotes and I think this is where our disagreement lies:
    Of course, if seeing the Bible as the source of teachings from God (a guide to heaven) really is “the core theology behind all this nonsense,” I guess that idea is nonsense too (see below).

    I do not equate “source of teachings from God” with “guide to heaven.” Maybe something along the lines of “guide to living” or “guide to being truly human,” especially when it comes to Jesus’ teachings, but “guide to heaven” is too narrowly focused. It says that the only thing God cares about is our eternal destiny. What happens here doesn’t matter. But if we have not learned to live under his rule here, to a greater or lesser degree, why would we want to live under his rule after this life?

  67. Whitney Says:

    I am really just an observer here and do not have anything all that intelligent to add, but Juvenal, you used the term “Social Ethics” vice “Social Justice” and for some reason, “ethics” seem more what we’re striving for than “justice.” I thought your terminology was much more appropriate for this conversation, whether that was your intention or not.

    Ethics implies doing it as right as we possibly can. Justice implies making everything right. I think ethics will eventually lead to justice, but to think about justice–and pulling it off at a societal level as mere individuals–is overwhelming. Maybe so much so that we get scared and pretend we can’t see or hear. We ignore it. But, and I understand it is all wording here, the idea of “social ethics” seems somewhat more meaningful as something we can be effective in at the individual, and possibly group, level.

    Do I make any sense at all?

  68. Capt MidKnight Says:

    This seems to be turning into the post that won’t die.

    First:
    If you think you need to delete the comment that has my Email in it, go ahead. I’ve got a pretty good spam filter, but you never know. I’m new the blog world. Keep me straight.

    Duane and Juvenal,
    Thanks for taking the time to lay down your thinking in some detail. I had the feeling that we were talking past each other to a great extent as I struggled to make myself understood and understand where you were coming from in return. Duane’s long post went a long way to clearing up things for me. Believe it or not, I don’t have the time or space to list all the points on which we AGREE (emphasis mine, so I won’t be misunderestimated again) but here are a couple:

    First, neither do I believe the Bible is a guidebook on how to set up a church. It’s an account of how several different groups of believers coped with and reacted to the problems of becoming a community and some of the things the apostles taught and wrote while that process was going on. Because of cultural differences, the “New Testament Church” looked much different from place to place. Those people today who insist on recreating one generic 1st century church in the 21st century don’t know what they are asking for. For instance, I got to visit the catacombs in Rome last year, and I will assure you that attendance at my church – and most others I know – would drop off a bit if we started meeting after dark in graveyards.
    Do we today make a lot of hard and fast rules about how to “do church” that aren’t warranted by what we know about the 1st century church? Absolutely.
    Do we have a problem of hiding behind rule keeping in order to escape the painful job of changing our own lives in order to conform more closely to Jesus’ example? Certainly.
    Does any of this mean that the church, (as God intended it – not as many have distorted it) has little to do with spiritual things and everything to do with social justice/revelance? No. They are irrevocably linked – two sides of the same coin. On that, I think we agree. It’s keeping the balance that causes problems.
    I suppose that maintaining the balance between the Church as a spiritual institution and the Church as an agent of change and justice in the here and now has always been an issue. In Al’s quote from Dr. King, he seemed to be suggesting that too many preachers were hiding behind the “spiritual” side of the church’s work in order to escape their responsibility to address the social issues facing them, and the risks they would have to take in the process.

    Next:
    You make this statement and then ask this question: The Bible, if anything, is first of all a book about God and maybe secondarily something to teach us how to live in the hear and now. Look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and tell me how much of it has to do with how you go about getting to heaven.
    [The Bible, if anything, is first of all a book about God and maybe secondarily something to teach us how to live in the hear and now.] I thought that was pretty much what I was trying to say about 100 posts ago, but was told that I couldn’t be more wrong. Did I miss something?

    If I understand what you meant just a few lines later:
    Salvation must not be relegated to something that only happens in the future. God is saving us now by transforming us into the image of his Son day-by-day as we submit to his will more fully.

    Then you’ve answered your own question, and the answer is All OF IT!
    If, as you say – which I agree with and like very much, by the way – God is saving us right now by transforming us into the image of His Son, then instruction like that found in the Sermon on the Mount should have a LOT to do with that transforming process. Since it doesn’t appear that God is going to send down a great lighting bolt and change us all into perfect beings with our tickets punched for the Pearly Gates Express, then, at least in my life, there’s a lot of grunt work left for me and God to do. Without some guidelines, like the Sermon on the Mount and examples like Jesus, it would be hopeless, so, by your own definition, I think they both have a lot to do with heaven. By the way, I don’t expect the transforming process to be interrupted by that little speed bump we call death, but maybe I’ve got it all wrong.

    Again, thanks for addressing some of my questions. We seem to be butting our heads against some walls that aren’t always there.

    Also, I happy to see that the word verification system is a source of wonder to others too. It may even have a cosmic component since I was once told that only God can make a random selection.

    Trying to reload the water pistol.

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