Ruling over Creation

Aside

A reflection on Genesis 1:26

There is a balance here that is difficult to strike. I grew up hearing little to nothing about the “cultural mandate” of Genesis 1, and the Christianity that grew out of that was one that had no understanding of the “goodness” or “value” that something like art, or hard work, or a well-crafted pie could have to God. I valued those things, but I didn’t see them as important to God. It was probably there and I only missed it, but what mattered to God was only whether or not I sinned. There was a big, fat disconnect between most of life and how I lived it because, well…it didn’t really matter to God, unless I had a lustful thought while skateboarding, or could be a witness for Christ while playing baseball.

I think an early part of my desire to be in ministry came from the fact that I thought it was the only thing that had value. I’m not sure how I missed this in a family of Christian farmers, but I did. It took me realizing that pursuing vocational ministry (defined rather narrowly) was only one of many ways to serve and please God, to eventually come to the conclusion that I actually did want to pursue a life devoted to ministry. Not because it was the only way I could really please him, but because he had given me the gifts and the desires to be of use in that way.

He has also given me the ability to make music on my guitar, which can please him even if I’m not singing worship songs. He has given me a love of nature, which I can enjoy with him even if I’m not sharing the hike with an unsaved person to whom I am evangelizing. He has given me a love of cooking and baking bread which can please him just as much in a feast shared with friends as in loaves baked to hand out to the homeless in order to share the gospel with them. Heck, he has even given me a love for the craft of making and enjoying excellent beer of all things!

In short, much that is not overtly religious is of great value to God and pleases him indeed. At the same time (and here is the balance), what in the world would all of these wonderful things mean without Jesus?! Without him there would be no hope or peace within which to live and enjoy the earth he has made. The things we do and enjoy as humans living in creation can only be redemptive and not destructive because he has redeemed the whole thing and will make it new someday.

If we pursue these good things as ends in themselves, we will surely not gain them or find fulfillment in them; they will master us. If we would give up all these pleasures for the sake of Christ, it is then that they can truly be enjoyed and known in proper perspective. We will rule over creation rather than be ruled by it.

Justice – Deuteronomy 10:16-22

These are brief meditations on passages that speak to justice in preparation for the Justice Conference.

 

 

16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

 

God shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.

Why does he call the children of Israel to do the same? God calls them to love the alien because they were aliens.
Why should we be just? Because God is just.

If we do not love aliens, is it because we do not believe that we were really aliens once? Have we forgotten what it was like to be slaves to sin and death? Have we forgotten the state we were in when Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8)? If we would be just because God is just, we must disadvantage ourselves for those who are in need. I don’t pretend to know exactly what that looks like in every situation we face in this world, but when we do, we image the kind of love that God has for us. We were beyond hope until Jesus became incarnate. Unrivaled humility and selflessness is the example that was set for us if we would pursue Jesus as our master and example in justice.

 

Pastor for Life

At the Council of Nicea, the gathered leaders of the church agreed upon a number of canon laws in addition to the Creed that they formulated. Canon number 15 is particularly interesting and reads as follows:

Canon 15
On account of the great disturbance and discords that occur, it is decreed that the custom prevailing in certain places contrary to the Canon, must wholly be done away; so that neither bishop, presbyter, nor deacon shall pass from city to city. And if any one, after this decree of the holy and great Synod, shall attempt any such thing, or continue in any such course, his proceedings shall be utterly void, and he shall be restored to the Church for which he was ordained bishop or presbyter.

 

As we discussed this in class, we weren’t sure exactly what kind of disturbance and discords were happening at the time, although we came up with a number of good ideas. However, regardless of the events that necessitated this kind of a law, we were taken aback by the vast difference between this and normal Christian practice today.

Have you ever known a pastor who stayed at the same church for the entirety of their ministry career? They certainly exist, but rarely. It seems much more common for pastors to move from one church to another after a few years, or even to take a job at a small church to get their feet wet in order to eventually move on to a larger congregation.

My professor, Marc Cortez, suggested that the church at this time took very seriously the relationship between a pastor (or bishop as they were called at the time) and their congregation. So serious, that once they accepted the call to lead a church in a particular city, they were committed there for life, for better or worse. There is something about this type of radical commitment that resonates very deeply in me. I wouldn’t want to make it a rule, and would not be entirely sure of how to practice it today, but a deep commitment to proclaiming the gospel to and shepherding one group of people in one place for a lifetime sounds like an incredibly rich situation for growing in following Jesus in community.

I wonder what this would look like in American evangelicalism today. If this kind of commitment to a particular group of people was THE choice for pastors, or for those who wanted to minister and lead in the local church, how many would take the plunge?

 

Obviously there are a great many differences between the church then and our churches today. A great many factors would stand in the way of this kind of rigidity. However, if this is one side of the spectrum, are we not far on the other, and not in a place of tension in between two extremes? At best, pastors look to the Holy Spirit for direction and discernment when the question of moving on to another church or opportunity, while at worst, a pastor might feel no commitment to a congregation whatsoever, and seek only personal advancement. However, for those pastors who are seeking to follow Jesus in all that they do and to be faithful ministers of the gospel, it doesn’t seem like staying with one congregation for their entire ministry career is seen as much of a priority.

So, at it’s best, is the current model an example of people more in tune with the Spirit moving them from one ministry context to another, or is there something more to this idea of longevity of service in one context? Has the pendulum swung too far from this sort of radical commitment so that pastors might up and take a position at a new church in a new place because of better weather, higher pay, or more skilled musicians?

Balancing Act: Responses to Jesus vs. Religion

In my attempts to discover and walk in the way of Jesus I’ve come to realize the importance of balance. I’m not suggesting that the way of Jesus is the way of compromise, a sort of middle way, or a blending of two extremes. The way of Jesus is THE WAY, and when we Christians err in a given situation, we find ourselves falling off of the slackline on one side or the other.

If you've not tried slacklining, you probably should.

When I’ve reflected on a particular issue in the life of discipleship to Jesus, I’ve often returned to this way of looking at things, and it was helpful recently as I reflected on the recent ruckus resulting from the YouTube video titled, “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” by Jefferson Bethke. I’ll not address the contents of the video here, because it has been done ad nauseam, but I did think the way that different people responded has been rather telling, and is a clear display of our tendency to lose our balance. To be clear,  I tend towards all of the imbalances I mention below at one time or another, depending on the situation, and am just trying to stay in balance myself.

I saw at least four different types of responses to this situation, with three rather unbalanced in some way, but one closer to the mark. The first troubling type of response to this video was the most common. This is the response of those that unthinkingly shared the video and passed it on without taking the time to think through the implications of the ideas in the video. This is the response that forgets to think critically about things, and supports them because they sound good, strike an emotional chord in them, or speak about Jesus a lot.

Another troubling response was that of the hyper-critical Christian, who will not only find  fault with everything and tell you about it in great detail (except for what is written, preached, or sang by their favorite whoever) but will fail to see what is true and good in what they are criticizing.

Another tendency I saw was for those who initially supported the video to become very defensive when the inadequacies and negative aspects of the video were questioned. Of course, some of those defending the video did so because they truly agree with everything said in it, but I fear that many, having once supported something, try hard to justify having done so, whether it is warranted or not.

Thankfully, throughout the entire situation, I noticed a great many people responding in thoughtful and humble ways to the video, both positively and negatively. A great deal of fruitful discussion was born out of the different opinions regarding what was said in the video. Perhaps most encouraging was to see the way that the guy in the video responded to one of the critiques leveled against his message. He humbly admitted to agreeing with the critique that had been offered, and said he would seek to learn what he could from the experience.

So what is the way of Jesus that we must follow when we hear something, watch something, read something?

First, thoughtfully reflect on what is communicated, both explicitly, and by implication. Don’t automatically accept something because it sounds good to you, no matter what terminology it is couched in. We are all susceptible to lazily adopting phrases or terms that tickle our ears, but are only partially true, being at the same time potentially harmful or flat-out false (I don’t know how many times in the past I’ve smiled and nodded when hearing or saying, “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship”).

Second, seek to learn, grow, and be challenged by what you’re interacting with, even if it is far from perfect. Avoid the temptation to pridefully and viciously tear apart someones flawed logic or poor rhymes, as if you are the sole and undisputed judge of all things. If you find yourself being critical of every sermon you hear, unable to learn anything because you know everything, please reflect on the humility of Jesus. Don’t abandon truth, but if and when you must fight for it, do so gently, especially when speaking to an earnest brother or sister in Christ.

Third, whether someone directly criticizes something you say, or indirectly criticizes you by addressing something that you agree with, try learning, growing and being challenged before you immediately start defending or criticizing in return. Consider the fact that you might be wrong or that there might be a side to the issue that you hadn’t considered. Take note of the tone in which criticism is offered. The word itself merely means to interpret or analyze and criticism need not be negative, arrogant or harsh. If someone attacks an author’s character because of a poorly constructed argument or questions a poet’s salvation because of a paltry rhyme, push back and challenge them to offer substantial and constructive arguments instead of tearing each other down. However, if someone does offer substantial and constructive arguments against something you approve, interact with them thoughtfully and humbly. Learn something from each other.

Be humble people. Be thinking people. Don’t support ideas without thinking through their implications. Don’t be so turned off by critics that you fail to address lies.  Don’t be so turned off by untruths that you attack the person unwittingly spreading it. If you see truth, name it. If you see falsehood masquerading as truth, name it, but humbly and with love. When you see a sister or brother wobbling on the path, gently steady them rather than shoving them off.

I realize that not everyone fits neatly into these categories, and I’ve been a bit hyperbolic in order to delineate the differences between them. I’m also not suggesting that these are the only options…just some interesting ones that I noticed.

Doctrinal Statement: Person of Christ

Who is Jesus Christ? Who is the second person of the Trinity? What is the nature of the relationship between the two? My third and final (for now) doctrinal statement explores the Person of Christ. These are works in progress, but this is what I have thus far.

Person of Christ

Jesus’ life began when he was miraculously conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in Mary, a virgin (Lk. 1:26-35, Matt. 1:23, Isa. 7:14). The baby she carried is the incarnation (Jn. 1:14, Col. 2:9) of the second person of the Godhead, the eternal and pre-existent Word of God (Jn. 1:1-2, 8:58, Heb 1:8). He is called Emmanuel, God with us (Isa. 7:14, Matt. 1:23), and Jesus, YHWH saves (Matt. 1:21). Jesus is one person, but is both fully God and fully man, having a divine and a human nature that are never confused, changed, divided or separated (John 1:1-14; Mark 1:3,8, 11; Col. 2:9). He chose to empty himself of the divine role, lifestyle and prerogatives so that his human nature was not overwhelmed by his divine nature, yet without giving up his divinity (Phil. 2:6-7; Mk. 13:32; Jn. 5:19, 11:15, 21). Jesus himself claimed to be God, the Bible agrees with him in its claims and it describes him as doing things that only God can do such as create and forgive sin (Col. 1:16, Mk. 2:5).

Jesus lived a normal human life experiencing physical, mental, and spiritual growth (Lk. 2:52) and a full range of human emotions. He experienced hunger and thirst (Jn. 4:7, Lk. 24:41), anger and anguish (Mk. 3:5; Matt. 26:37-38), joy and compassion (Lk. 10:21, 7:13), temptation and suffering (Heb. 2:18; Matt. 4:1-10). He lived in obedience to his parents, human traditions and human government (Lk. 2:42, 51; Matt. 17:25-27). He was tempted in every way yet remained perfectly sinless, living as a perfectly Spirit-filled human (Acts 10:38; Heb. 4:15), and as such is our example (Mk. 8:34). He continued in relationship with the Father and Spirit, whose will he followed and on whom he relied for the power of his miracles, respectively (Jn. 6:38; Acts 10:38). He became obedient to both physical (Jn. 19:30; Phil. 2:8) and spiritual death (Matt. 27:46) in obedience to the will of his Father (Matt. 26:39; Jn. 14:31). After his body lay dead in the tomb for three days, he conquered death by being raised from the grave in the same, though glorified body (1 Cor. 15:3-4). After appearing to many people, he ascended to exaltation at the right hand of the Father and will return some day as King (1 Cor. 15:5-7; Acts 1:9-11, 2:33; Phil. 2:10-11).

Your thoughts on the Person of Christ, or on what I’ve written?

Take a look at my first doctrinal statement which explores the doctrine of Revelation and my second doctrinal statement which explores the doctrine of God.

Pastor for Life

At the Council of Nicea, the gathered leaders of the church agreed upon a number of canon laws in addition to the Creed that they formulated. Canon number 15 is particularly interesting and reads as follows:

Canon 15
On account of the great disturbance and discords that occur, it is decreed that the custom prevailing in certain places contrary to the Canon, must wholly be done away; so that neither bishop, presbyter, nor deacon shall pass from city to city. And if any one, after this decree of the holy and great Synod, shall attempt any such thing, or continue in any such course, his proceedings shall be utterly void, and he shall be restored to the Church for which he was ordained bishop or presbyter.

As we discussed this in class, we weren’t sure exactly what kind of disturbance and discords were happening at the time, although we came up with a number of good ideas. However, regardless of the events that necessitated this kind of a law, we were taken aback by the vast difference between this and normal Christian practice today.

Have you ever known a pastor who stayed at the same church for the entirety of their ministry career? They certainly exist, but rarely. It seems much more common for pastors to move from one church to another after a few years, or even to take a job at a small church to get their feet wet in order to eventually move on to a larger congregation.

My professor, Marc Cortez, suggested that the church at this time took very seriously the relationship between a pastor (or bishop as they were called at the time) and their congregation. So serious, that once they accepted the call to lead a church in a particular city, they were committed there for life, for better or worse. It’s clear that there were those who did not have this conviction, or the law would not have been necessary, but the leader’s of the church did decide that staying put in one place was best. There is something about this type of radical commitment that resonates very deeply in me. I wouldn’t want to make it a rule, and would not be entirely sure of how to practice it today, but a deep commitment to proclaiming the gospel to and shepherding one group of people in one place for a lifetime sounds like an incredibly rich situation for growing in following Jesus in community.

I wonder what this would look like in American evangelicalism today. If this kind of commitment to a particular group of people was THE choice for pastors, or for those who wanted to minister and lead in the local church, how many would take the plunge?

Obviously there are a great many differences between the church then and our churches today. A great many factors would stand in the way of this kind of rigidity. However, if this is one side of the spectrum, are we not far on the other, and not in a place of tension in between two extremes? At best, pastors look to the Holy Spirit for direction and discernment when the question of moving on to another church or opportunity, while at worst, a pastor might feel no commitment to a congregation whatsoever, and seek only personal advancement. However, for those pastors who are seeking to follow Jesus in all that they do and to be faithful ministers of the gospel, it doesn’t seem like staying with one congregation for their entire ministry career is seen as much of a priority.

So, at it’s best, is the current model an example of people more in tune with the Spirit moving them from one ministry context to another, or is there something more to this idea of longevity of service in one context? Has the pendulum swung too far from this sort of radical commitment so that pastors might up and take a position at a new church in a new place because of better weather, higher pay, or more skilled musicians?

Doctrinal Statements

One of the requirements for my Theology class this semester was to put together a Doctrinal Statement for the different things we covered in class. In this course, we covered   Prolegomena, Revelation, Theology Proper, and Person of Christ.

One of the two of you who read this mentioned you’d like to see them, so I’ll be posting what I’ve done so far in the next couple of days. The final one covering the Person of Christ will have to be finished before I post it.

Please feel free to interact or criticize (constructively would be ideal).