Thursday, December 29, 2016

How To Do Church

A while back I wrote about the rift in the church that mirrors the political rift between liberals and conservatives. That rift is even stronger in the protestant world. Over Christmas a bunch of conversations about this with protestant family members got me thinking a bit more. It seems like there is talk of yet another split in the denomination I grew up in. The split was described in an interesting way. There are those who are concerned about doctrine and theology but basically preach to the converted. Then there are those who connect with the culture. They focus on bringing Jesus to the unchurched folk. They like to talk about themselves as having a transformational ministry. That is a reference to Christ as Transformer of Culture in terms of Niebuhr's categories. Yet it seems they are the ones getting transformed. It is easy to see how the world has made them abandon parts of their faith. It is harder to see how they have changed the world in a way that a secular person could not. Still they do connect with people in powerful ways and that is a good thing. 

I have said we should abandon the either/or thing. That Christianity must be understood as a both/and. We connect with our neighbour and we remain obedient to God. If we go to our neighbourhoods and leave out the offensive bits of the gospel then we are not really offering them much more than we would if we were not Christians. In fact, we leave ourselves worse off because we limit God. We don't let Him tell us things that the culture rejects. We always find some way to rationalise caving in to the culture. We are so immersed in worldly thinking that the world's voice is louder than God's voice. 

The other side is that we can't just preach to the converted. There is a real failure on that side as well. Many churches that do things that way are in serious decline. People today are exposed to so many idea through mass media and social media that you can't just teach your theology and expect them to accept it. You need to deal with the realities of the world. 

I am thinking that the either/or thing might be hard to avoid. Some people are just going to much better at connecting people with God who already have a faith commitment to Jesus. Others are going to be better at meeting unchurched people where they are at and proposing Jesus to them. To some extent we can ask people to work on their weak areas but there is a limit to that. What we really need is for these two groups to work together. We need them to respect each other and recognise they need each other.

Now this is quite impossible in the Protestant world because they very quickly disagree on what the gospel is. The relational people are not going to accept that the doctrinal folks have the doctrine right. So the common ground disappears quickly. They find more common ground with other relational people in other protestant traditions. That makes sense because their thinking is formed mostly by the culture and not so much by their faith tradition so differing traditions are not going to matter much.

In the Catholic world there should be substantial agreement on what the gospel is. Often there is still a problem because many Catholics have not embraced the faith fully. So people on both sides of this divide must constantly remind themselves that the Church is the Body of Christ. That liberal and conservative Catholics are supposed to see the other wing of the church as a gift from God. Often there is a danger that we look at ourselves and those like us as being good Catholics and those on the other side as being bad Catholics. 

It is hard because we have the graces required to make this work but we don't always do it. We need to cooperate. We have the faith defined but we are still tempted to ignore the hard stuff. We need to actually take it all with us when we evangelise. I am reminded of a paraphrase someone did of The Great Commission that emphasised the word ALL.  They talked about making disciples and baptising them into ALL of God. That seems like what we need here. We don't decide what parts of God a person is ready for. We give them everything and trust Him. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Three Evangelists

This week we got to encounter 3 evangelists. St Andrew on Wednesday, St Francis Xavier on Saturday and St John the Baptist on Sunday. They all show us different ways we can bring the gospel to other. St Andrew is best know for leading Peter to Jesus. Andrew met Jesus first and was impressed by Him greatly. He does not keep it to himself. He immediately goes to his brother Peter and declare we have found the Messiah. That is quite a claim. Yet Andrew makes it quite quickly and  quite boldly. How many people do that today? How many Christians share big spiritual experiences with close friends and family? Many do not. It is not considered polite in modern society. We worry about what others will think of us. We don't want to be considered a religious freak. Yet Andrew does this and ends up bringing to Jesus the man who would lead the church through its first 30 years of existence. Christmas is a time when we are to experience Jesus once again in a renewed way. When we do tell someone else about it. Let them encounter Jesus as well. You never know what might come of it. 

St Francis Xavier brought the gospel to people who had never head of Christianity before. He was in remote areas of India and Japan where many had never seen a Christian before. He started with the young. He used the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and the 10 commandments. He used a lot of music. Children would often convert their parents. He would baptise the converts very quickly.  Very simple but very complete. Just giving people the opportunity to be saved then moving on to the next village. 

This sort of evangelism is not for everyone yet St Francis complained there were so many who could do it that didn't do it and therefore many souls were being lost. Even if we are not called to present the gospel to strangers we can support those that do. We can encourage them. We can pray for them. We can give alms to their ministry. 

St John the Baptist is a different sort. He preaches repentance to those who are already believers. He calls the religious leaders a brood of vipers. We need that to. Lots of religious laxity around even among church leaders. Lots of people presuming they are saved. We need people to be convicted of their sin and make serious changes to their lives. 

It is called admonishing sinners. It is considered one of the 7 spiritual works of mercy. Often you hear people talk about not admonishing sinners as being merciful. It is not. People need the grace of repentance and forgiveness. That starts with people understanding that the way they have been living is very wrong. How will they understand that if nobody tells them? We are just too polite.