Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Unity or Uniformity?

A friend of mine recently asked me a very good question. He inquired as to whether or not I was confusing unity with uniformity. This stems from both blog and Facebook posts of mine that call for church reform (specifically the following of the biblical model for church life).

My simple answer to my friend is "No." I'm not confusing the two. I strongly believe that all Christians should seek unity. It's not as if our Lord made this an option. His prayer in John 17 confirms this. We are one body that must strive to live out this reality. The sometimes tricky part is determining what this looks like. We need to be careful to understand that we are united in a person as opposed to united in specific practices. Jesus Christ is the heartbeat of our unity. We can and should agree because of the power he provides us. We ultimately come together in Christ.

We must believe the gospel message; in this there ought to be uniformity. However, we do not have to be uniform in everything we believe and do. Specifically related to what is modeled for us in the bible, we may choose to emulate it or not. It is the commands we must obey. I do not believe we are required to be uniform in what the bible describes.

That said, I do believe it is the wise and better course of action to simply ask what the scriptures show us about church life. When something is approved, let's do it. Why would we want to do a bunch of things that the bible says nothing about? How can we know God approves of these things?

Let's take a concrete example - church gatherings. I do not think these must be uniform in nature. However, why depart from what we've been shown in the bible? We know God approves of simple gatherings in which mutual edification is the purpose. God likes it when we come together to eat. Around the table Christ is glorified through reciprocal interaction. Each member is doing his or her part. As for the common/traditional manner of church meetings (worship services), we really have no idea what God thinks of them. Religious ceremonies, monologue preaching/lecturing, orders of worship, altar calls, etc. are foreign to the pages of the New Testament. Should Christians be satisfied in not knowing whether or not God looks approvingly at the way they gather?

To sum up, unity is no option. We must strive for unity in our head - Jesus.

Uniformity, however, is not required. We do have some amount of Christian freedom. Despite this, the scriptures provide us with enough information to know what God approves. When we follow both what is commanded and what is modeled, we will find that many of our practices are very similar.

What do you think? Where does unity end and uniformity begin? What do these concepts look like in your life and church family?

Sunday, August 25, 2013


I worked seventy hours again this week. Because of that, I'm simply too tired to blog much. Despite this, I still think about Jesus Christ and his church quite a bit. Ten simple truths come to mind right now:

1. The church belongs to Jesus Christ.

2. Jesus Christ is the one and only head of his church.

3. Christ has shown us in scripture what he demands and desires his church to be.

4. The Holy Spirit testifies to these truths revealed in scripture.

5. The church's greatest characteristic must be selfless love.

6. The church must live as the holy people we are.

7. The church must be united.

8. The church is on a mission to the ends of the earth.

9. The church needs every member.

10. Servanthood is the path that pleases Christ.

Please feel free to add to this list.  It is hardly comprehensive.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Love and Nonresistance: God's Plan for the Church

I've been thinking a lot lately about our responsibility to live peacefully in a sinful world. Thinking biblically, what should this look like?

I recently read a helpful little book entitled Love and Nonresistance: God's Plan for the Church. The author, John Coblentz, looks at Old Testament foundations and New Testament principles that must guide our decision making. Using scripture as his basis of authority, he deals with issues such as warfare in the OT, nonresistance in both the OT and NT, and the separation of church and state.

The most helpful chapter for me focuses on the difference between nonresistance and pacifism. The author writes that pacifism is actually nonviolent resistance. This is significantly different from nonresistance. I had never thought about the difference before. Coblentz suggests that the bible models and teaches a life of nonresistance on the part of the Christian.

I'm still working through these issues. This book was helpful in this path I'm walking. I recommend it highly. You can order it here or here. Enjoy.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Guns, Guns, Guns

Jesus Christ was a man of peace.

Jesus expects his followers to be people of peace.

In light of this, what are God's people to do about guns?

Like most things in life, guns can be used for both good and bad. Good examples include hunting for food and defending family. Examples of the bad include much of what we see in the news: murder, burglary, etc. Because of their very nature, guns tend to cause extreme reactions. I admit that I'm troubled by the tendency of so many Christians to fall in line with conservative (Republican) politics. The right to bear arms is not exactly critical to the mission of the church. And yet, some Christians seem to get more riled up about keeping their guns than they do about evangelizing the lost.

On the flip side, other Christians are looking to government to curb crime through gun control. Two problems exist with this line of thought. First, more government in general almost always causes more problems than solutions. Second, gun control in particular takes the guns out of the hands of the good guys, but leaves them with the bad guys (look at Chicago to see what happens).

What are Christians to do? This is not an easy answer.

A few suggestions:

1. Pray fervently about what to do.

2. When in doubt, fault on the side of peace.

3. Remember that gun rights are not a gospel issue.

4. Guns should be used in a very limited, controlled capacity.

5. Guns should be a last resort in self-defense or other-defense.

6. Let's avoid more governmental regulation on any side of the issue.

7. Let's avoid entanglement with secular lobbying groups.

As with many other topics in the Christian life, this is not a simple issue. However, there can be no doubt that Jesus Christ was a man of peace.

In Matthew 10:34 Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." In this verse he is referring to spiritual issues, in particular the gospel. This has nothing to do with peace/violence toward another person.

As Jesus' disciples we should be people of peace who fault on the side of peace. In light of this, we must be cautious and careful in how we choose to talk about and use guns. Christ's church must stand out as different from the world. We cannot afford to sound like the NRA or some anti-gun group. Instead, let's think biblically.

We must be people of peace.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Limited Pacifism Anyone?

The more I read about Jesus Christ, the more I see a God-Man of peace. Jesus came to earth to die for his church, but he also came to show us how to live. While we certainly cannot live a perfect life or walk on water, we can emulate much of what he did.

For much of my life I've seen Jesus through "Republican Party lenses." I thought of Jesus as caring for the unborn, but not caring much for the poor. I saw Jesus condemning sexual sin, but didn't see his warnings to the wealthy. I understood Jesus to be in favor of self-defense, but didn't think much of his teachings about peace.

I'm slowly learning that Jesus was and is far too complex and interesting to be claimed by any one political party. One way that Jesus is un-American (and neither Republican or Democratic) is that he cares a great deal about peace. His teachings all point toward loving service of others, whether they be his followers or not. He never suggests that we use violence to solve problems. My desire is that I become more like this.

I've reached a point of what I'll call limited pacifism. In my dealings with the world in general I plan on living peacefully. I'll not take up arms for any sort of political reason; I could never serve in the military.

The one place I'd still use limited violence is in defending others (especially family). My hope is that I'm never placed in this situation. I'll exhaust all other options before resorting to any sort of force.

I encourage you to look at this issue with me. I'm new to it. If you have thought about these issues in depth, then I cherish your input.

As we look at the life of Christ, we must understand that there are certain things he did to fulfill the OT law. For example, he kept the Sabbath and celebrated the festivals. These are not things we need to do. However, Jesus also gave us many examples to live by that meld with his teachings. One of these is his emphasis on peace.

In Matthew 5:9, toward the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."

Let us be people of peace.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Feeling Like an Unpersecuted Anabaptist

The more I study the Anabaptists the more I like them. When I look back at the time of the Reformation, it is the Anabaptists who seem to have tried to follow biblical teachings more than any other group. Several characteristics stand out:

First, the Anabaptists believed in and lived out a simple church life. They met as the church did in scripture.

Second, the Anabaptists encouraged the priesthood of all believers. No clergy existed.

Third, the Anabaptists held to a true separation of church and state. Because of this, many of them were slaughtered.

Fourth, the Anabaptists were pacifists. This was a reason they were relatively easy to kill.

I've agreed with the first three above characteristics for quite a while. It is the fourth that is beginning to both intrigue and attract me more and more. When I look at the life of Jesus Christ I see a man of peace. Jesus cared for others, took care of their needs, and proclaimed a message of love. When attacked He did not respond in kind. He prayed for those who crucified him.

I want to be like Jesus. Since he was a man of peace, I desire to be the same. I have a long way to go to get there. The Anabaptists provide us with Christians in history who exemplified peaceful living. I'm thankful for this.

One big difference, of course, is that even if I try to live like the Anabaptists (to some extent) I'll never face the persecution they did during the 1500's. I'm not complaining. Persecution is not exactly something I crave.

I'm increasingly feeling like an unpersecuted Anabaptist. I don't know where this will lead, but I'm glad it's happening.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Visiting the Dunker Church Building at Antietam National Battlefield

Our family recently visited the Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, MD. The battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day of the American Civil War. One of the primary landmarks at the battlefield is the Dunker Church building (that's me above standing in the doorway).

The Dunkers fascinate me. Their name stems from their mode of baptism: immersion. It was likely a derogatory term thrust upon them by other Christian groups. According to the Antietam website, "The Dunker movement began in Germany in the early eighteenth century. The peace treaty that ended the Thirty Years War (1618 –1648) recognized three state churches. Dissenters were persecuted and forced to meet in communities where some degree of tolerance prevailed. In 1708 the denomination was formed with the baptism of eight believers by full immersion. The name Dunker derives from this method of baptism. However they were more commonly known as the German Baptist Brethren. In 1908 the official name became Church of the Brethren."

The Dunkers intrigue me in large part because they stem from the Anabaptist heritage. I'm increasingly drawn to the simplicity and nonconformity of the churches that follow in the Anabaptist tradition. The website goes on to say of the Dunkers, "(They) practiced modesty in their dress and general lifestyle. Other Christian principles which the Dunkers stress are: pacifism, members both North and South refused military service; the brotherhood of man, including opposition to slavery; and temperance, total abstinence from alcohol. A typical Dunker church service supported their beliefs in simplicity. Hymns were sung with no musical accompaniment from organ, piano or other instruments. The congregation was divided with men seated on one side and women on the other. The churches were simple with no stained glass windows, steeple or crosses."

We can all learn a great deal from believers who came before us. The Dunkers, who happened to live in an area that suffered through one terrible day, had many positive characteristics. I'd like to live a little more like they did.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Let's Pray for a Another Reformation!

The church is in desperate need of reform. It had one in the 1500's. It needs another.

We all have a part to play in this needed reform movement, beginning with ourselves. Even though it may be unpleasant, we all have areas of our lives that cry out for change. Much of this is related to repentance for various sins that we try not to think about (such as complacency, selfishness, bitterness, pride, etc).

Let's pray for God to show us where we need reform in our own lives. Then let's do it.

Reform does not generally occur in large groups. Rather, it happens person-by-person. As we strive for reform in our own lives, we can and should help others do the same. We can most effectively accomplish this in the context of close personal relationships. As we help others reform in their own lives, they will likely do the same for us. This is mutual edification at its best.

Let's pray for God to show us others we can help.

As I discuss much on this blog, various common church structures need great reform. One of those is how church gatherings generally occur. Currently, the vast majority of church meetings do not follow the biblical model, and therefore do not bring about mutual edification of the body. This requires reform. We can help a little with this, but for large-scale reform to happen God will have to do it in the hearts of his people.

Let's pray for God to show more and more of his people the need for reform within church structures.

The way most churches are set up today, the pastors have a great deal of both power and influence. They believe certain things are very important such as worship services, church buildings, budgets, and tithes. They are especially convinced that their preaching of sermons is critical to the life of the church. I know this in part because I used to think this way. I know many pastors who think this way. I've read many pastors who think this way. Nothing we say or write is going to influence the hearts of these men. Only God will bring the change. I know it can happen because God did it to me.

Let's pray for God to show pastors the reform he wants in his church.

Finally, God has commissioned us as his church to take the gospel to all corners of the earth. No matter what it takes on our part, the task must be completed. No sacrifice is too big. Despite this, the church in this country seems somewhat inoculated against the Great Commission. We've heard so much about it that our ears are sort of dulled to it. We need reform in how we think about the Great Commission. Instead of thinking of it as optional, we need to think of it as our duty. Instead of thinking of it as something professional missionary-experts do, we need to realize that we all have a key part to play. Instead of shoving the responsibility off on someone else, we must grasp that we are a part of it.

Let's pray for God to bring about a zeal in the hearts of his church to carry the gospel to all unreached peoples.

The church is indeed in great need of reform. Let us turn first to God, crying out to him to make this reform happen. Then, when he tells us as individuals to change we need to be ready to obey.

Thursday, August 1, 2013