In the Present Tense

September 3, 2010

The Challenge

Filed under: Bible study, Evangelism, Law and Legalism, Present Truth — edoutlook @ 9:40 am

I’ve been reluctant to take the next step, but to be true to my readers and my calling, I feel compelled to continue.

The Adventist Church, and virtually every other denomination or even independent congregation of which I am aware, is geared toward producing hollow III churches and leaders. That’s because evaluations are made on the basis of “success.” on numbers. Whether it ‘s the membership, attendance, or tithe, we assess and promote on the basis of success.

Numerous consequences follow. First of all, no institution is fond of “dark nights of the soul.’  Pastors and leaders who enter the dark night actually question success.This literally appears to be heretical to those above and below them in the organization. So institutional forces discourage and often punish the inward journey.

Necessarily, then, we end up with many in positions of leadership who are “hollow III’s,” individuals who have not found their personal identity and purpose.

These leaders will also discourage others from entering the dark night, and thus stunt the spiritual growth of any who listen. It also results in a church largely made up of those below level III, that is of those in the Romance and Discipleship stages.

In fact, in most congregations of which I have been a part, being in the Romance and Discipleship stages is the path to church office and leadership.  As someone has said, people generally rise no higher than their leadership. This alone insures that most of our congregations will be stuck at levels I and II.

This explains why so many have such a negative view of Christians in the advanced world. The main examples they see are “successful” preachers. And so people ask, as the song did, “Would Jesus wear a Rolex on his television show?”

More likely they encounter Discipleship members, intent on learning, and often enforcing, all the “rules” as they understand them. This “gnat straining and camel swallowing” religion turns them off.

And those in the Romance phase seem simply delusional. If we want to have spiritually growing congregations, then we are going to have to change what we look at and what we measure. As Baptist Bob Logan warned us, “We need to change the role, the function, and the compensation of our pastors.”

Right now, we’re looking at the wrong things, and rewarding the wrong behaviors, from top to bottom. The problem is not only that we need to change, but that change will threaten Success, and perplex Disciple level believers. Indeed, if our model is correct, then leaders who attempt these changes will likely have made it to level V, the Outward Journey. And again, if our model is correct, as soon as the vast majority of Level II believers become aware of the leader’s true Level V status, they will kill him.

Having said this, is it therefore impossible to make such changes? No. We’ll explore how in future posts.

August 19, 2010

The Startling Conclusion

Resuming the stages of faith and leadership.

Somewhere along this journey comes– the Dark Night of the Soul II– which I simply call “Gethsemane.” Yes, Jesus had two dark nights of the soul, and as he told us, the servant is not greater than the master. We can expect no less– unless we short-circuit the process, and choose to stay at an earlier level. But if we choose growth, we will encounter a second dark night of the soul.

The First, like Jesus temptation in the wilderness, tempts us with easy choices. Indeed, in M. Scott Peck’s “The People of the Lie,” which is an examination of evil, Peck’s conclusion is that the real evil is making easy choices. Not only do I agree with it, it frightens me. Because I’m always tempted to make the easy choice.

When we get to the dark night of the soul II, to Gethsemane, we are overwhelmed with the sense of futility. We know who we are, we know our mission in life, but it seems that we will make the sacrifice and receive nothing in return. After a whole lifetime of seeking and struggling, is this all there is?

And the answer comes back, as it did for Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Perhaps our witness seems ineffective. The darkness appears stronger than our small candle. Like the flower that blooms unseen, we may think that we have lived in vain.

But of course the darkness can nevery overwhelm the light. We can never know which life we have touched that will have great results, and which would have not happened for our witness. And no flower ever blooms unseen. For the Father of all notes the fall of a sparrow, sees the light from a smoldering flax, and traces the thousands of tiny influences that lead a soul to salvation.

We live to Him and for Him, or we live for naught. And when we claw our way through Gethsemane, when we reach the conclusion “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours–” we come to the last stage: Unconditional Love.

The wrongs we have suffered no longer matter. The sacrifices shrink into insignificance. Having come into complete accord with God’s will, we can no longer hate anyone.

Now, I don’t claim to have inhabited this exalted state. At times, I think I may have visited. I have met others who certainly appeared to have attained this state.

One would think that, when a person attains this unconditional love, peace would result. And internal, spiritual peace does (once again, I have visited, not attained). But that does not mean that the world is at peace with us. Quite the contrary. For if you love everyone, then you also love my enemies, and I find that particularly upsetting.

It’s interesting that nearly every one of the Disciples died a violent death. What we know of their deaths, they approached them with peace in their hearts. They were not killed because they had done violence, but because their existence was a reproach to those around them.

When confronted with Christ, or with a truly Christian person, there are two basic reactions. We see this in the gospel. The Pharisees saw Christ, and said, “Why does he have to be that way?” The disciples saw Christ and said, “Why can’t I be like that?”

True saintliness almost always evokes both those extremes. We either aspire to be like that person, or to be rid of his or her offensive example.

And this leads to M. Scott Peck’s final dictum on these stages of development. Once again, they are:

I. Romance

II. Discipleship

III. Success

IV. The Inward Journey

V. The Outward Journey

VI. Unconditional Love

Peck said, when you are one stage ahead of those around you, they admire you. When you are two stages ahead of those around you, they are perplexed by you. When you are three stages ahead of those around you– they will kill you.

I was startled when I first heard this. But then I realized I had seen it again and again. Many, many church members get stuck in the first two stages. Those who are in Romance are horrified and frightened by someone embarking on the inward journey, with its Dark Night. For them, everything’s wonderful, so anyone struggling must be ‘losing his faith.’

For the person in Discipleship, with its earnest seeking to internalize all the rules and norms, someone embarking on the Outward Journey appears to be breaking all those rules. Worse, his very existence brings tough questions to the Disciple’s world view that are not easily answered, situations with which the Disciples’ rules simply cannot cope.

In both cases, the main remedy appears to be to simply cast out the troubling individual.  They will kill you.

There’s more, but this is enough for now.

August 11, 2010

Drums?

A young friend asks about drums, specifically a drum set in church or for worship.  I suppose we’ve made progress. No one seems to object to the guitar anymore. The short answer is that there will never be an end to people attempting to make lists of good and bad instruments, foods, books, ideas– what have you. It saves everyone the trouble of thinking about things, about making judgment calls. Just adhere to the lists, and you will be OK.

Of course, one big problem is that the lists change over time. At one point, the organ was considered taboo, since it had been associated with gladiatorial combat. Come to think of it, I’ve known quite a few churches where “Who gets to play the organ” battles were somewhat reminiscent of gladiatorial combat. But I digress.

Of course, all this,in Adventism, is predicated on one reference–although repeated in several places– to “shouting, with drums, music, and dancing,” that took place in Indiana in the Holy Flesh movement of the early 20th century.

It’s always interesting how these passages get parsed out. For example, rather than taking what happened as a whole, critics like to single out drums and dancing. It seems to me that shouting is a staple of certain types of preaching which is deemed quite acceptable. Nor have I seen any serious attempts to ban all music.

But why should that be? If all these things, “shouting, with drums, music, and dancing” were bad, why should some be banned and others accepted? I just don’t buy it.  I’ve posted this video before, but I think it bears repeating.

Does anyone seriously contend that this Nigerian carol is inappropriate? It is not the type of music I grew up with, but I cannot listen to it without being profoundly moved.

If Christ can cast demons out of human beings who were once their willing hosts, cannot inanimate objects be employed for His glory as well? Things are just things. What we do with them is what makes them a blessing or a curse.

Shouting, drums, music, and dance can be used to deaden the moral faculties and lead us into sin; or they can be used to the glory of God.

Legalism, on the other hand, is always deadly. At the GC session this summer, Pastor Paul Frederick from India addressed gathering with these words :”One of the most serious problems facing the Christian church today is legalism. It wrenches the joy of the Lord from the Christian believer. Nothing is left but cramped, somber, dull, and listless profession. Legalism is an obsessive conformity to an artificial standard for obtaining salvation. But when we are living by grace, we realize that everything we need in our Christian experience is a gift from God.”

There followed a performance of an Indian song praising God, accompanied by hand drums.

To this ear, it sounded both uniquely Indian and uniquely Adventist in the same way that “Mas Alla del Sol” sounds both uniquely Adventist and uniquely Mexican. And the drums added to that effect.

June 8, 2010

Growing in Faith II — Discipleship

Filed under: Law and Legalism, Surviving in Church — edoutlook @ 3:23 pm

The second stage in this critical journey is Discipleship. Someone at this level often seeks a mentor, and is very conscientious about their faith. This is often a sort of ‘fundamentalist’ stage, where everything is black and white. In the first stage, Romance, everything was beautiful. In this stage, everything is right or wrong.

Some note that many young believers who do not abandon faith become very legaistic. That’s natural, as this Discipleship stage is an indicator of growth. So is abandoning faith, in an odd way.

Remember that at this stage, everything is black or white. It is only natural that some, seing a lot of tares, a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of imperfection in the church, should choose to abandon it altogether. They, too, are entering a Discipleship phase– looking for something better. Those who truly seek will surely find.

Of course, some abandon faith because it represents the easy path in today’s society, and the easy choice is seldom a good one. On the other hand, there are those who never progress beyond the Discipleship stage. They can be just as destructive as those who become opponents, because these permanent Disciples can become mentors for others, thus stunting their growth.

The most important concern is continued growth. Growth is painful, but things that cease to grow die. So when we see someone in the Discipleship phase, those of us who have progressed from that position should offer assistance and affirmation. If we simply condemn them, we fail to understand this whole growth process, and perhaps give evidence that we have not progressed past Discipleship ourselves. After all, condemning someone who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with us sounds a lot like black-and-white thinking. So instead of that, why not offer to share whatever we can?

We need to see the fundamentalism of the Discipleship stage not as good or bad, but as a necessary stage of development.

October 3, 2009

Jacob’s Ladder

Filed under: Bible study, Law and Legalism, Present Truth — edoutlook @ 3:15 am

There are many, many more lessons to be learned from the life of Jacob. But the one that strikes me most forcefully is the one that involves Jacob’s ladder.

Everyone knows the story.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway [d] resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it [e] stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

Gen 28:10-18 (NIV)

But why did this happen? Why did God favor Jacob with this vision, and this promise?

Jacob had done nothing to deserve it. Indeed, he had conspired with his mother to deceive his father, had stolen a blessing that belonged to his brother, and was running for his life. Far from being a high point, morally or in his walk with God, it was one of the lowest points in his life. Jacob did not deserve such an affirmation from God.

But that’s why it’s called ‘grace.’ Grace comes from the Greek word that means ‘gift.’ The oft-quoted theological definition of grace is ‘unmerited favor.’

If there was ever a person who did not merit favor, it was the scheming, deceiving, theiving Jacob on the run from his brother’s justifiable anger. Jacob deserved many negative things, but not this tremendous vision of God’s glory and watchcare.

And notice, there are no ‘ifs’ in God’s declaration. He doesn’t say ‘if you do this,’ or ‘if you avoid that.’ He just affirms and blesses Jacob.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the notion that we must earn God’s approval. But we cannot earn it. We can only accept or reject it. And grace comes to us, as it did to Jacob, unbidden. And it comes not at a time when we deserve it, but when, like Jacob, we desperately need it.

Let that be our prayer. Not: God, I’ve been good so give me. . . .

That’s what legalism and self-righteousness is about.

Instead, we pray: God, You are good, and my need is great.

That’s what grace is all about.

July 9, 2009

What was nailed to the cross?

Filed under: Bible study, Law and Legalism, Present Truth, Sabbath — edoutlook @ 2:54 pm

In my last post, I promised to take up the question about what was nailed to the cross in Colossians 2. Cindy said that every argument about what was nailed to the cross could also be applied to the Sabbath. I kind of agree, except that most of the arguments about what was nailed to the cross miss what the text originally meant.

Most of the time, the Greek behind the NT doesn’t matter. We have been blessed with such excellent translations of the Bible, that the vast majority of passages can be easily understood without recourse to the Greek. And we have been blessed with many resources that help with the Greek, so that the believer does not need to feel excluded when the original language is discussed.

But the word translated “handwriting of ordinances” by the KJV in Col. 2 is a case where the Greek matters quite a lot. Some have interpreted this to mean the 10 commandments, or simply the law of Moses. But the Greek word here is not nomos, which means law, nor is it entolē, commandment. Instead, it is a word used only this one time in the Bible, cheirographon, literally “handwriting.”

As mentioned, it does not occur elsewhere in the Bible, but we know quite a lot about it from contemporary culture. The best translation, as I understand it (and I am far from an expert in Greek), is the NASB’s rendering: “the certificate of debt.” The NASB renders the full text as follows:

13When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,

14having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Still, this is one of those cases where we can understand all the words, but may still have difficulty with the meaning. For me, the best rendering that gets at the meaning of the text, is from the Philips translation:

You, who were spiritually dead because of your sins and your uncircumcision (i.e. the fact that you were outside the Law), God has now made to share in the very life of Christ! He has forgiven you all your sins: Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads, and has completely annulled it by nailing it over his own head on the cross.

Now, there is nothing in the Greek about guilt which “hung over our heads.” That is a figure of speech missing from the Greek. But that is the sense of the Greek. We need no longer be haunted by guilt for all our failings.

So, in that sense, our violations of the Sabbath are included. But nothing in this verse indicates that we are suddenly free to fornicate, or murder, or violate any of the 10 commandments. In fact, in the very next chapter, Paul says:

But now, put all these things behind you. No more evil temper or furious rage: no more evil thoughts or words about others, no more evil thoughts or words about God, and no more filthy conversation. Don’t tell each other lies any more, for you have finished with the old man and all he did

Yes, our guilt was taken care of at the cross. No. we shouldn’t go around doing bad things–we’ve left all that behind.

Finally, as concerns the Sabbath vs. the feasts. The feasts were instituted to remember certain specific saving actions of God for Israel, and to point forward to a greater saving act in the life, death, and teachings of Jesus. The Sabbath, by contrast was woven into creation itself. God created the world in six days, (Yes, I affirm that, and I have no problem dealing with science), and set aside the seventh day to commune with us.

When Jesus died, the reason for all the sacrifices and feasts disappeared. In Paul’s language, the shadow had met reality, so why focus on the shadow? But Jesus reaffirmed the Sabbath in his death. How so?

God created the world in six days–creation week– and rested the seventh. The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the action that initiated the chain of events that led to his death, took place on Sunday–the first day of the week. We call the next seven days “passion week,” but I call it “redemption week.” For just at evening on the sixth day (the hour of the evening sacrifice, we are told) Jesus cried out “It is finished.” The context makes it clear this was a cry of triumph, not resignation. Jesus had accomplished the work of redemption, and he died. He rested in the tomb during the hours of the Sabbath. Thus redemption week mirrored creation week.

When we observe the Sabbath, we rest from our own efforts to save our selves, rest in Christ’s finished work of redemption. Far from engaging legalism, we celebrate creation, redemption (a new creation), and grace.

I hope that answers your question, Cindy.

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