This Is What Churches Should Do

Ok, I’ve been out most all week deer hunting in my spare time, so finally here it is:

(names are changed)

Rhoda is a single mom struggling to make ends meet. Her brother and sister in law used to worry about her involvement in New Age spirituality or Wicca. She became a Christian at our church around 5 years ago. Almost immediately she became a Super Inviter, drawing all kinds of people in.

Jimmy and Fire arrived in our town about a year ago with their 3 children, the clothes on their back and five dollars. They put their kids up at Fire’s mom’s place since they had no way to take care of them; they had no home, no jobs, no food. They had smashed their life against the rocks of addiction in Florida. Rhoda had known Fire in school, so this single mom with two kids of her own struggling to make ends meet said to Jimmy and Fire “move in with me until you can get life together.” Rhoda put out word and people at our church started gathering things this family of 5 would need.

Rhoda invited Jimmy and Fire to church. They decided this was a point in life to make a change. Within a very short time they had tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and turned their lives over to Him. Prayer and a new life of faith became the norm for them.  Their repentance (metanoia – about face) was the real deal. They both got jobs, started living responsibly and got their kids back. They got an apartment. Rhoda put out word and the people of our church outfitted the place from top to bottom with what a family of five needs to live. We’re talking furniture, kitchen gear, bedclothes, you name it. Our congregation showed them love. A family in our church gave them a minivan. (Keep in mind the people in my church are not rich! Many, if not most, of them would qualify for government assistance). All this happened without anyone asking me. The pastor was not the one who orchestrated all this.

Jimmy and Fire are at Sunday morning small group, Wednesday nights and Sunday worship.  They are engaged in learning and growing. They’ve made relationships with other couples and brought people to church. They renewed their lease recently for the first time in their married life. “That felt good,” Jimmy told me. They’ve received their one year sobriety coins. They help other people. They ask me for ways to give back to the church. They are both enrolled in college on-line. When I told Jimmy I happened to have a battery for his van, his reply was “Thanks man, but let me be a man and get my family our own battery.”

God is very clearly doing wonderful things in Jimmy and Fire’s lives. Rhoda was a gift of God to them, gave them a base to get their feet under them. As part of that, I can’t help but think that our church reaching into their lives tangibly beyond Sunday worship had something to do with their incredible turn around. I know we hesitate to prescribe things all churches should do, however I believe this is exactly the kind of thing churches should be doing. 

Advertisements

It’s the people

I’ve been away a lot lately, most recently at a missionary assessment event for my denomination in Kansas City. It was a great experience, and as I reflect on it, the high point was like many things in life: the people. There were five young couples there, in their mid twenties to early thirties – talk about smart, winsome, gifted and amazing – what an outstanding group of men and women! Even if I were of the temperament to wring my hands and worry about the future of the church (I’m not), meeting these young leaders would put my heart at ease. If this is the future of the church (in terms of humans inheriting the leadership) man, we have nothing to worry about. In a very short time I already loved them. What a blessing to be with them.

Which got me thinking about another group of people dear to my heart. I’m finishing up a Master of Arts degree in International Development at Eastern University near Philadelphia. Here again, I’m the old guy in the group. Mostly twenty-thirty somethings, these development practitioners and church leaders are a fabulous, diverse  group of young, dynamic, creative, deeply intelligent, loving, Christ-shaped, Kingdom-minded people.  If they are a snapshot photo of the future quality of the Church, we’ve got nothing to fear. I’m a richer, happier, better person for having my life intersect with theirs. USA1 and 2 Cohorts, you rock.

And then there’s my church. Once again, it’s the people. 17 years we’ve shared life together. I love them and they make it evident they love me. I’m amazed such a diverse group has laid aside their many differences and walk the path of following Jesus together, an amazing group. I’m so glad my kids grew up here. It’s, humanly-speaking, absolutely crazy for me to ever leave – I should stay and retire here. This gig is amazing. Sunday mornings I look around and think “I can’t believe I get this gig.” The kind of culture and vibe that has developed here is incredibly gratifying.  It makes me want to tell stories that a lot of churches could pick up on – in fact, next time I will.

So, all that to say, like so many of life’s most precious experiences, it’s the people.

To be fair to the fundamentalists…

In this post  https://toddrisser.com/2013/10/02/fundamentalists-among-the-nazarenes/  I wrote about the fact that Nazarenes are not fundamentalist, despite there being a group of Nazarenes who want us to be, and who want us to adopt a fundamentalist position on Scriptural inerrancy.

But to be fair, I’ve been asking myself something on the Fundamentalists’ behalf.  Some of these folk have made the argument that the Church of the Nazarene has historically been Fundamentalist and inerrantist and that Nazarene scholars in the last 60 years have cherry-picked their history so as to re-cast it to show we aren’t Fundamentalist. Indeed these Nazarenes cite examples of Fundamentalist, inerrantist statements by some Nazarene leaders in the early years.

And so I ask myself; what if a person grew up in a geographical region where most Nazarenes there were historically Fundamentalist? What if their pastors and the leaders they had known were all Fundamentalist? What if what it meant to be Nazarene to them was, in fact, largely fundamentalist? What if the nearest Nazarene educational institution to them did indeed communicate in ways that sounded consistent with a Fundamentalist worldview or perspective on the Bible? Is it the way of Jesus for me to say to them “Go be Baptist”?

I don’t think the Church of the Nazarene would be better off Fundamentalist. I do think current Nazarene scholarship has accurately shown that the official theology of the early Church of the Nazarene – and certainly after the 1950s – was intentionally NOT Fundamentalist or inerrantist, even if there were some few individual scholars or prominent leaders who did lean that way.

While I believe an inerrantist and Fundamentalist approach to the Scriptures and life creates more problems and dysfunctions than is good for human well-being, I don’t know how to solve that issue in all fairness to Nazarenes who find themselves cherishing their Nazarene experience when it was largely Fundamentalist. I understand why they would feel we are trying to steal their church out from under them or change what they have always believed.  And this leaves me wondering how to address their concerns in a way consistent with the nature of Jesus. “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”

 

Fundamentalists among the Nazarenes

The Church of the Nazarene is not fundamentalist. We have intentionally and specifically avoided a fundamentalist position on the Scriptures. Theologian Thomas Jay Oord recently discussed why Nazarenes once again rejected turning our statement on the inspiration of the Scriptures toward a fundamentalist stance. You can read it here: http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/nazarenes_reject_strict_inerrancy/#.UktuOIakpAg

However some Nazarenes want us to adopt a fundamentalist view of the Bible and Christian faith. Knowing what I know about the Bible, I can’t embrace a fundamentalist position on inerrancy. However, it’s not their stance on the nature of the Bible that I have the biggest problem with: it’s the attitude that so often accompanies that stance. A book about cross cultural ministry, written by Duane Elmer (from the conservative Trinity Divinity School), in discussing ethnocentrism, describes well the attitudes that are not only ethnocentric, but which I also encounter too often in conversation with fundamentalist brothers and sisters. This attitude is what I think is fundamentalism’s worst mistake. Here is what Elmer wrote:

“Dogmatism refers to the degree of rigidity with which we hold our beliefs, our cultural traditions, our personal preferences. The dogmatic person… tends to see difference as wrong or inferior which must be corrected. … After being around a dogmatic person very long, one can feel put down since there is no room for exploration of ideas or dialogue. Conversations usually become win or lose confrontations. Dogmatic people can easily burn relationships and sometimes are downright obnoxious. They talk as though their way of seeing things is the only way. If you don’t see it their way, you are wrong…. They claim they are (argumentative) in an attempt to find or defend truth.

….there is a subtle tendency for me to believe that all my beliefs are indisputable and all my cultural traditions best. I slide easily into judging you from my cultural, personal or theological perspective.

….Social research says that the most frequent response Americans make to a situation is to evaluate (it) as right or wrong, good or bad. Usually the standard for such judgments is how similar or dissimilar it is to me and my beliefs. … we try to remake those around us in our own image…. People end up looking more like us than like Christ.” (Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility; IVP 2006).

It’s that attitude that “we are right and everyone else is wrong; ours is the ONLY way to see it, and those who disagree don’t love God and aren’t even Christians” that repels me from fundamentalism.