The Failure of Our Revivalisms’

Bigger is not always better, Schaff predicted the Old School Advocates of Nurture would be right, and Church History has once again vindicated that belief.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Of the Internecine controversies which made up the 19th century none was more formative to modern American Christianity, other than the debates over Ecclesiology than the debate between “New Measures” revivalism and the Old School advocates of a Nurturing, Catechizing faith. I wrote extensively on these debates and their origins in the New Light, Old Light Controversy between Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield and Charles Chauncey. Though at the time of Edwards and Chauncey’s debate catechism was still extensively used among the Churches and Pastors of the time. One could also leave a sermon having a sure knowledge of the faith because the 3-hour long sermon made sure to detail and outline every single piece of the theological puzzle. Confessionalism did not take a back seat until the 2nd Great Awakening, though there were precursors to it in the original controversy, such as in the case of James Davenport. It was difficult for itinerant preachers to catechize congregations, that was to be the job of the local ministry of the local church. Radical conversion gave way to learning about the faith they now confessed. That is why Edwards could deny Communion to those teens who were embroiled in the “Blue Bible” controversy at Northampton. They had learned the faith well under him and knew that by their unrepentant hearts they could not partake without heaping condemnation on themselves. Finney did the same thing during his revivals, but that was not done out of concern for mere Orthopraxy but because of his Abolitionism, Slave holders were not allowed to partake because slavery was a sin. In principle they are the same, but in motive they differ, the slave holder had his own theology from the Stone-Campbell Churches that did not declare slavery a sin.

It was Finney’s new measures, first published in the “New York Evangelist” and later published as a book called “On Revivals” in the 1830’s that led to the second great controversy between the Old School (the New Lights of Edwards time) and the New School, Charles Finney and others that would lay the ground work for the revivalism of D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday and finally, Billy Graham who began reversing the trend begun by Finney through his partnership with The Navigators. Finney is the first to lay out a sort of formula to conversion that would be perfected by Graham in the 20th century. The problem was, Finney’s revivalism, in fact even that of Edwards in some cases, became a practice in emotionalism, not genuine conversion. Young Converts began looking for that same initial, emotional high, something Edwards had cautioned his converts against. Finney in particular was guilty of preying on the emotions of his hearers through “The Anxious Bench” where those who were close to “Getting through” (A puritan term for those coming to grips with their sinfulness and need for God) could sit and receive “Special preaching and prayer” during the revival service. The problem was, as Edwards knew, simply deciding for Christ did not make one a Christian. There had to be evidence only wrought by the spirit of God in the producing of fruit that informed those around us that the inward reality had moved outward. Edwards had taught that the Devil can fake many conversions and mimic the results of a great evangelist. It was only when good fruit was produced that one and others knew they were a genuine convert. Finney counted converts not at this moment, when the Christian moves beyond the emotionalism of infantile Christianity to the quiet reliance on God of childlike faith, but at the moment they accepted what he was saying and said they believed in Jesus. Moody, Sunday, and Graham would translate this into the moment of conversion coming at the time one prayed a prayer.

None of this means that there were not genuine conversions at Finney, Moody, Sunday and Graham’s revival meetings. It also does not mean that there were not genuine converts among those who prayed prayers of salvation. Paul does tell us that genuine conversion comes at the moment you “Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.” But at the same time, Paul preaches a conversion that moves beyond that point, beyond mere confessing or being persuaded or praying a prayer. He tells the Romans in 2:1-11 that if they condemn the world for practicing the sins mentioned in the vice list in 1:27-28 but then keep practicing them, they are not demonstrating a saving faith, but storing up condemnation on themselves. He goes on in 6 to tell them that they should not keep sinning so that grace may abound. The Apostle John teaches us that Christians who believe should avoid sinning habitually as one sign they are saved. James is the clearest on this when he says that faith based on knowledge only, not on deeds that flow from trusting God and Christ, leads to death. Many people sat under the revivalists and got a lot of knowledge about Christ and his work and considered themselves saved but starting with Finney and taking off under Moody and Sunday, that knowledge was not backed by actions for many. Sunday was particularly problematic in this regard because he helped encourage the withdraw from the world during the Fundamentalist, Modernist controversy of the early 20th century.

The Old School Nurture teachers, on the other hand, would rather have had six converts to Christianity who really got it and were raised in the faith under biblical instruction and catechesis, rather than 6000 who made a profession of faith but had little to no evidence of an actual saving faith. Jesus started with 12, each of them had a smaller inner circle that traveled with them, sometimes it was just them, as Paul expresses at the end of 2nd Timothy. 3000 were converted in Acts 2, but even they immediately devoted themselves to the Apostles Teachings. There is a reason that Catechesis develops almost instantly in the early Church, there had to be a way to teach what Jesus taught, the Father’s understood that having Christians running around with superficial knowledge of the truth was going to reflect poorly on the, already persecuted Christianity. There is also a reason that almost nothing is said about Evangelism until after Constantine, instead there is a lot written about patience by the Church Father’s, a patience combined with the work of the Gospel, caring for the poor, the sick, the needy, the ones the Roman’s discarded. It was this patience and faith which coupled belief with action that was the reason the early Church grew and it is the only way that the church is going to grow in our modern context.

That being said, this was not necessarily on the minds of the Old School and certainly was not on the mind of the Old Light Charles Chauncey as he responded to the First Great Awakening, caught up as they were in the “Scottish Realism” of their day that fueled men like Charles Hodge and Archibald Alexander’s “Common Sense Theology” (which also influenced the revivalists). It was, however, on the minds of the Mercersburg Theologians, who, though they could not agree with Princeton on much, agreed with them on New Measures. Nevin considered it pure emotionalism and Schaff was concerned about how it centered not on Christ, but on the individual. Nevin called New Measures Revivalism “Mechanical and Shallow.” Telling the reader, it had “no affinity whatsoever with the reformation.” In that regard I agree with Nevin. What would be defined in the reformation era as like 19th century revivalism ended poorly for the Christians who partook in it (see Munster). The Augsburg Confession and Heidelberg Catechism had proven long and trusted teachers of the faith when they were put in their proper place below the Holy Scriptures. Because, as Schaff says: “The tradition answers to Love” they were a sign of grace to the Christian to encourage them in their spiritual growth and saving faith. The same would have been true of the Savoy Declaration of Faith in Congregationalism, the London Confession in Baptistic movements and the most famous in the new world, the Westminster Statement of Faith and Catechism. The abandonment of these, in favor of individual feeling, was abhorrent to the New Schoolers, as it should have been, the effect of a confession less Christianity based in historical orthodoxy was that of a sailboat in a windstorm. Instead of created grounded Christians who were not tossed about by every wind and vain of doctrine (Ep 4:1-21) they were in fact, well-tossed, clinging to one doctrine until it lost popularity before pursuing another. Nevin, Schaff, and even Hodge, who himself was guilty of a similar desacramentalizing of the Christian Faith that naturally followed Revivalism, understood the dangers of such a purely individual driven faith.

If we are honest, the same is true today. Revivalism has failed us, individualism in the church has failed us. The Church is not made up of individuals who make individual professions of faith, it is made up of groups of people who make common confessions of faith rooted in the Word of God, guided into their present form by the Holy Spirit, working in Church History. Graham understood what revivalism had created and even pushed back against it, using the Navigators to follow up. Graham’s famous quote: “Christianity in America is a mile wide and an inch deep” should concern us and give us pause. Today, one could amend this quote in much of the bible belt and Midwest to say: “Christianity in America is largely cultural and knows nothing of its biblical and historical roots.” Those who are committed Christians, especially among Millennials and Gen Z are look for a faith that nurtures through relationships, through teaching, through a lived faith, not a spoken one. Many are committed Christians in=spite of the Christianity of revivalism, not because of it. That is why they have flocked to denominations and conferences that promote confessional faith taught through Catechism such as Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism.

Revivalism has also left us expecting revivals as the only means through which God works. I have had church members say to me: “You are going to need a revival just to get young kids in the door.” This flies in the face of everything, everything, we know about Millenials and Gen Z. Actually, the opposite is true, they are searching for a faith that nurtures, and churches that help them find their voices from a Biblical Worldview. Not the flashy emotionalism that is offered through modern revivalism. As I have told my congregation, they do not want the big bands and flashy lights, they want the relationships. Evangelism is not going to be done the same way it was during the height of revivalism, the future of evangelism actually looks more like the patient, steady care for everyone around us, reaching them with the Gospel not just by caring for their spiritual need but also caring for their physical needs. Door to Door evangelism does not work, but house to house, meeting over dinner, long discussions, life on life, these things have always and will continue to reach the world with the Gospel long after Revivalism is relegated entirely to history. The challenge then is to stop looking for the big revival and start trusting that God can use you, your home, your resources, resources that he blessed you with so you could bless others, not hoard, for the sake of reaching the world with the Gospel and teaching those you reach the richness of what they are becoming a part of. A long glorious history of truth, unbroken from the time of Christ until now.

Older Christians, there is a tremendous opportunity here for you, there is no retirement in Christ, or so they tell me, until we go home to glory. There is, however, work to be done and you have a faith that is meant to be passed down. Learn it well and pass it, along with your skills and knowledge down to the next generation by forming deep relationships. I understand that it is scary, and you risk getting hurt. If you are intentional and do not presume a relationship before you form it, then you can build a deep and lasting friendship with the younger generation and pass down your faith to them. Teaching them to live as Christ in this world that needs us to teach that aspect of the faith so badly. Engage with them on the issues that are important to them, stop approaching them with an “us against them” mentality. If you look down on younger people as so many in the older generation seem to, you are not going to reach them, you are going to continue to sin against them by harboring anger towards them, slandering them and gossiping about them. Younger Christians, we must be open to these relationships, I know that research shows we are, but one of the balances we struggle to strike is learned from and being respectful to the older generation, even when we are disrespected by them.

Both groups need to remember that it is Christ and His Word, not the authority of the human, that dictates the Christian Life. There are a lot of unbiblical doctrines in the popular world (and in the scholarly) and we should avoid passing those down like the plague, lest we bring wrath among ourselves. Obey Christ, not me, love one another and love those the world has proclaimed your enemy. Maybe if we do this, if we live as Christ, the decline we have been told to fear, will lead to renewed fruit.

Bibliography

Faulkner, Jonathan. 2017. “Academic Paper .” A New & Controversial Light: The Debate between Jonathan Edwards and Charles Chauncy over the events of 1740-1742. Hamilton : Gordon-Conwell, April 6.

George Marsden. 2006. Fundamentalism and American Culture, . London: Oxford University Press .

Hodge, Charles. 2017. “Response to the Principle of Protestanitsm (1845) .” In The Mercersburg Theology Study Series VIII The Devolopment of the Churh: The Principle of Protastantism and the Historical Writings of Philip Schaff , by Lee C. Barnett, David W. Layman, David R. Bains, Theodore Louis Trost W. Bradford Littlejohn, 209-224. Eugene : Pickwick Publications .

Jerusalem, Cyril of. 2016. “Catechetical Lectures Volume 1, Chapter 1, Paragraph 1.” In Edits of the Church Fathers in one Volume, by Philip Schaff. Ebook: Public Domain .

Marsden, George. 2003. Jonathan Edwards, A Life . Yale: Yale University Press .

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “Catholic Unity.” In The Mercersburg Theology Study Series Vol VI: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Tome One: The Ecclesiological Writings of John Williamson Nevin, (1844-1850), by John Williamson Nevin, David W. Laymen, 112=133. Eugene : Pfpf & Stock .

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “The Anxious Bench .” In The Mercersburg Theology Study Series Vol VI: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Tome One: The Ecclesiological writings of John Williamson Nevin (1844-1850), by John Williamson Nevin David W. Laymen, 29-111. Eugene : Wfpf & Stock .

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “The Church .” In One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, John Nevin’s Writings on Ecclesiology (1844-1849) Tome One: The Mercersburg Theology Study Series Colum Five, by John Williamson Nevin David W. Laymen, 144-159. Eugene : WFPF and Stock .

Philip Schaff, . 1964. “The Principle of Protestantism .” In The Lancaster Theology Series on the Mercersburg Theology V: VI , by J.W. Nevin, Ed Bard Thompson Philip Schaff, 48-219. Philidelphia : United Church Press.

Philip Schaff, Cyprian of Carthage . 2016. “On the Unity of the Church .” In The Complete Works of the Church Father’s, by Cyprian of Carthage, 182205. Ebook : Public Domain .

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

SermonCast: Identify Yourself: Colossians 1:1-8 Pastor Jeff Griffith

Our Sermon from Sunday, September 27th from FCCBC, this week we had special guest, CCCC Iowa area pastor Jeff Griffith. Who challenged us to live out the three things that still remain, Faith, Hope and Love.
 
Watch the full service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byB8zJHxqaw

“Wait with Hope, Hope Now, Hope Always!”

When a People who have the greatest reason for hope, become the people of despair, something is wrong.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

I wrote a few weeks ago that many in our congregations, and most people in our world are living in a negative feedback loop. One fueled by negative news, constant blame shifting which comes from the Media and Political Leaders from both the left and the right. There appears to be, secularly, only one thing on the menu and that one thing is fear leading to despair. Much of this is driven by loneliness and anxiety about the future. I saw some of this when I shared what seems like a daunting statistic from Forbes and BARNA that 1-5 Churches have closed since the Pandemic and many pastors are planning to step down and away from Ministry germanely once this is over. But I did not leave those I was talking with in fear and despair, that would not be shepherding God’s people well, just the opposite. Because while despair is a reasonable feeling, Jesus feels it, we should always, also, remind people of the outcome. Even Jesus, in his despair in the garden, prayed a prayer of despair knowing the outcome, salvation for all mankind through the risen Christ.

I had been spending a lot of time in the Psalms of Ascent this week as I prepare to preach on Psalm 131 on September 20th and my daily psalm praying has come to them. The late Eugene Peterson wrote an entire book on these Psalms entitled: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction which may be the best non-commentary work on them one can read. I love the way Peterson translates this psalm (131) in The Message Translation, and it appears in the book in this manner as well:

“GOD, I’m not trying to rule the roost,
I don’t want to be king of the mountain.
I haven’t meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans.

I’ve kept my feet on the ground,
I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.
Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content.
Wait, Israel, for GOD. Wait with hope. Hope now; hope always!”

 PSALM 131[i]

Not only does Peterson’s translation, or paraphrase, capture best the Psalmists humility as they approach God, but it gives us a modern context for walking with God through things like a Pandemic.

One of the reasons I have heard for all the despair, and this is particularly true in places like Iowa where we have received almost no direction from state government, is that one does not know who to believe. Everyone has an angle; everyone says something different than someone else. In some ways, this is what one should expect in a society where truth is considered to be completely and totally “Relative.” This is, unfortunately the result of a society that tells one to “live their truth.” If my truth is that this thing is a “Hoax” (it is not) then why should I believe the one whose truth tells me to take it seriously. It also does not help that this is a kind of “lowest common denominator” truth and reduces and dehumanizes a person to their viewpoint or perspective which is generally only able to be articulated in the negative. “I am this, not this.” Truth in relationship to what you are not, is only a partial truth. There are times when this is okay, there are relatives in this world, but when everything is relative, and everyone operates on either a half-truth or flat out lie, both of which operate in the negative, then we have the mess before us today.

We take the opposite position of the Psalmist, instead of the humble posture presented in Psalm 131, we absolutely want to “rule the roost” and be “king of the mountain” and some even make a living of “meddling” with what they have no business meddling in and making Grandiose Plans. This can be the summation of our modern political discourse, everyone is attempting to do all of this, and as usual, what is done out of human pride, is leading to death and a deepening depression and anger. Yoda’s words in “Attack of the Clones” seems prescient: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side.” It is not biblical, but the proverb is playing out before our eyes because we are all afraid that all that we have built with our own two hands is going to come crashing down around, which in turn is speeding up the pace by which it crashes down.

This is another reason I have told my congregation to turn off the 24/7 News Cycle and open their bibles and further, spend more and more time in prayer. Because the Christian does not draw their hope from anything within this world, nor are to place our ultimate hope in anything in this world. Politicians let us down, pastors too, news media stokes our fears and bad actors mislead and misdirect us from all sides. Christians cannot even put an inferior hope in anything in our world now because it is delivering the opposite message Christianity should proclaim. The reason Jesus came was not primarily to pronounce judgment on humanity, though he did pronounce judgment in cases where his primary message was rejected. His primary message was the message of the Prophet Isaiah which Jesus tells us he fulfills in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free.” Jesus was, Luke tells us, reading the Isaiah Scroll, what in our modern bibles would be 61:1. Jesus did not come to primarily proclaim doom and gloom, but hope. Then He left His church here and commanded us to do all that He had commanded us, which included what He had said above. The message of Jesus is one that we should carry forth, a message supported by the way in which we imitate the way He lived. If you read the Gospels (particularly Luke 10-11) you will notice too that when the Disciples want to call down fire on two village’s, Jesus rebukes them and then He is the one who pronounces woe, not the Disciples. He does, of course, tell them to shake the dust off of a town that rejects Him and His message, but notice that woe has already been declared for rejecting them, it is not the Disciples declaring the woe. Pronouncing Judgment seems to be the responsibility of Jesus alone. We are to proclaim a message of hope and hen that message is rejected, we are to remember that judgment has already been proclaimed.

Unlike so many things in this world, this cannot be a “Passing hope” as in: “I hope the Packers win the Superbowl this year.” This is not a trivial message of trivial hope. This is a certain message of ultimate hope, hope with expectation, the kind we talk about at Advent, as if the hope that is certain at Advent is to be with us throughout the year. Not abandoned once we get to Lent or forgotten after Epiphany. This kind of Hope is a contented hope, it acknowledges how desperate things are at the present moment, but like the child who no longer pines for their mothers milk, but instead is contented in their mothers arms, knowing they will receive the tender love and care from their parent no matter the situation. Not an infantile crying, but childlike hope and faith that receives answers to questions and concerns from God the Father. This hope is what helps us “keep our feet on the ground” and “Cultivate(d) a quiet heart” before God, Rather than wondering about the things which are not ours to know, or demanding our own way, we can keep that quiet, confident hope.

It is this hope that the Psalmist exhorts us to, “wait for the Lord Israel, wait with Hope, hope now, hope always.” The ESV renders this as: “Oh Israel, Hope in the Lord, both now and forevermore.” The exhortation to “hope always” seems to have been lost somewhere in the annals of recent Church History. If we are not to place our hope, even trivial hope, in the people and systems of this world, then we are to place all our hope in our ultimate hope, that is, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior and we are to: “Hope now, Hope always.” There is no time when it is appropriate for the Christian to stop hoping and give themselves totally to despair, yet so many in the Church in the United States today have been doing just that, and have been for more than two centuries. One can go back to the Whig Theology of the 19th century, to the Fundamentalist, Modernist controversy of the early 20th, to all the debates and hope placed in politics and political actors who, instead of exhorting the people to Hope in God and wait with hope, have exhorted the people to fear this or that person/ideology of thing and so we, a people of hope, have allowed ourselves to become a people of fear and despair.

In allowing our hope to be stripped from us we have abandoned the very thing Jesus unleashed us to do. Because we ourselves are captives to fear and despair, we cannot set others free from their own fear and despair. We are like Peter in so many ways, holding our eyes on Jesus until the wind and the rain catch our attention until we drown. Then Jesus reaches out a hand and it seems that instead of taking it, many are refusing it as if it is not really there, preferring instead people and institutions whose ability to save us from a storm is little better than a flimsy piece of drift wood floating by just out of reach. Here is the kicker though, we think we are still in the boat, a cognitive dissonance which I am unable to explain at this present moment.

Things like the Ethnic Reconciliation many in the Church are calling for will help us do exactly what Jesus came here to do and sent us out to do. The benefits are enormous for everyone involved, I know because I have had a taste of it, a small glimpse into what it can look like and lament because it seems like a lot of that work is being undone. But whenever you bring up the topic with some Christians it is dismissed not as the Gospel issue which it is, but our culture has made it, like everything else, a political one. We need a desperate reminder that life is not a political issue, we may get one and it will likely be in a rathe unfortunate way. The pundits, who are responsible for much of the polarization, have drilled down on this issue and many others to tell us to be afraid, many of those pundits come not from the secular world, but from the pews of the churches and from the ivory towers of her institutions. Christianity has been taken over the doomsayers, at least in the public square, to the point that Christian who is not attacking their opponent with fire and brimstone is considered an oddity or accused of “playing both sides.”

But we are the people of hope, and it is about time we began to live like it. This was, of course, the very reason Christianity spread with such rapidity in the first four centuries. From Perpetua ad Felicitous to Polycarp and so on, the hope of the Christians and their refusal to give up both the reason for their hope (Jesus Christ) and their message of Hope in the face of the cruelest of torchers preserved for us by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Church History was the catalyst for the explosion of the Gospel. This hope prompted the Christians to respond to the wild beasts with the same quiet, child like peace that the psalms in 131 talks about. We are no where near that kind of persecution today, and we are failing the light persecution test in an increasingly Post-Christian, and even in some places, pre-Christian America.

I saw a “Radio Free Babylon: Coffee with Jesus” cartoon this morning. In it, Lisa, one of the regular characters, was asking Jesus for some hope during the Pandemic. Jesus reminded her of her elderly neighbors down the road and she immediately started thinking of ways she could help them in their struggle against isolation and loneliness. While I think this is a slight oversimplification, the point stands, nonetheless. We go to Jesus for some hope because we can trust Him, and He gives us that Hope and encourages us to share that hope with the person down the street. Hope is not merely for the individual, but for the corporate, we all share in this hope and we share this hope with one another. If we abandon this hope we may as well abandon the moniker of Christian altogether, because we are not, in choosing despair over hope, living as Christ. Again, there is nothing wrong with feeling despair as long as despair drives us to the ultimate hope, if that despair becomes our mode of operation then it becomes sinful because we are denying Christ and His Person and Work, of the three things that remain: “Faith, hope and Love” we are in danger of abandoning all three in favor of the world’s three remaining: “doubt, despair and hatred” and of this, we should repent. The way forward for the church in the pandemic and following is not more negativity, but true and genuine hope that is rooted and grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ and which does the things which Christ set us free to do. Oh, and let God pronounce the judgment while you pronounce the hope forevermore.

“God, help us put away the fearmongers, to silence the voices of hatred and doom and gloom, for the sake of your son, lead us to your Holy Throne as your children and may we live as a people of Ultimate Hope for the sake of our neighbors.” -Amen

[i] Peterson, Eugene H.. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (p. 141). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

SermonCast: “How to Diffuse a Time Bomb” Psalm 131

 

Our Sermon from Sunday, September 20th, 2020 on Psalm 131. In a world that is constantly burning people out, how do Christians live? the Scripture demonstrate for us a work/life balance, but also give us a glimpse into the posture with which we are to go through this pilgrim walk with God.

Watch the full service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkhMrG1yoGM

 

Congregationalism and Good Works

“These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments are the fruit and evidence of a true and lively faith….” The Savoy Declaration of Faith. (Congregational Confession of Faith)

Rev. Jonathan Faulkner

As far back as the earliest days of Protestantism we have debated over the role of works in the Christian Life. Martin Luther, at the beginning, wanted nothing to do with the book of James which made certain claims about works and true religion (more on that in a second). Calvin, on the other hand as non-salvific. From the this, the divines postulated the Five Sola’s, Solo Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Christus, Sola Deo Gloria. We translate these from Latin to English as: Grace alone (Sola Gratia), Faith Alone (Sola Fide), Christ Alone (Sola Christus) Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura) and to the Glory of God Alone (Sola Deo Gloria). The idea is that we are saved by grace and justified by faith alone. Four of these fives have been reduced to their lowest common denominator and have lost their original intent (for instance Schaff defines “Sola Scriptura” as Scripture and all that has flowed from it that is considered orthodox (Scripture, the Creeds, the Eucharist). Whereas the Fundamentalist interpretation, and the modern interpretation in general, is that Sola Scriptura means only Scripture and nothing else. Scripture is the fount from which all Christian teaching comes, but the water the fount produces is good as well, so long as it takes the full council of scripture into account (such as the Creeds). I believe, as a Historian, that God guided the early development of the Church, and it was His defense of Truth that prompted the responses to heresies that arose. But I digress. Congregationalists, at least of the Savoy Confession were instrumental in forming the thought that led to these five Sola’s in 19th century, but they also believed in good works, as we see in the quote above. The question many Christians have asked though and which confessions like Savoy attempted to answer seems to have been from the beginning, what about our works?

Since the Old Testament relied on the moral, civil and ceremonial works of the individual and the nation, we see a people striving, but always falling short and when they neglected the Moral law, God reuses to accept the Ceremonial Law requirements (See Isaiah 1:12-20 and Micah 5-6). When the people failed to keep the moral law, it did not matter how many sacrifices they offered, judgment was still coming. That is why in the list above the Moral and Civil Laws preceded the Ceremonial. God was primarily concerned with how His love for His people was shared with others. The pagan’s kept their rituals to the exclusion of outsiders, the Jews were to bless the nations (Genesis 3, 12, 15), but it is hard to bless the nations when you are not acting immorally towards them.

In the new testament, Jesus not only fulfills the ceremonial law on the cross and abolishes it in his Blood. He takes the moral law and writes in on our hearts, just as Jeremiah 31 predicted He would. Law then becomes not merely a matter of external actions, but internal posture. The irony here is that the OT law should have been written on the hearts of the hearers, and internal reality, one meditated on day and night. But in the New Covenant the Holy Spirit is the one that codified the engraving of the law on the hearts of the believer. Therefore, Paul can talk about the law being “abolished’ at some points and uphold the law at others. We are not to follow the law for laws sake, righteousness is not achieved that way, but a Christian who is truly a Christian will exhibit the Moral law of God and understands that their righteousness is a result of Christ’s work and not theirs. Therefore, out of gratitude they do what God has called them to do.

Almost right away, it seems, this idea that the law was abolished was twisted, this is why in Roman’s you have Paul in 2:1-11 telling the believers that if you condemn the vices of the world and then do them yourself you are heaping up condemnation on yourself. Jesus said that Christians will be known by the fruit of their lives, good fruit/good works, indicate a life lived in Christ that results in eternal life. Bad fruit/bad works indicates a life without Christ that results in eternal judgment. Yet Paul is confronted by the same kind of Libertinism that we see in the statement: “I can be a Christian and gossip about or slander my neighbor” or “I can be a Christian and participate in drunkenness or sexual immorality.” Paul responds to this in Romans 6:1: “What then, do we keep on sinning so that grace may abound? By no means!” The “By no means” is emphatic, Paul is making it clear that we do not sin just so we can have more and more grace. We do not come to faith by our works, but our faith is shown by our works. Jesus, the ultimate authority behind what Paul and James are saying, provides the baseline for entrance into heaven, it is not praying a prayer or simply saying you believe, at the separation of the sheep from the goats, the judgment of those who claimed to be in relationship with Him, the requirement has nothing to do with religious devotion, praying a prayer or even basic belief, but how they treated Christ when he came to them naked, hungry, thirsty, sick or in prison (Matt 25). In fact, in Matthew 7 Jesus tells his followers that those who did the religious things (cast out demons etc.) would not enter into his kingdom even though they called him Lord because their actions did not come with a deep and abiding relationship with Him. Again, Matthew 7 and 25 uphold the idea that the Moral Law is still binding, and moral works should be a natural addition to a relationship with Jesus. The Great Commission in Matthew 28 backs this as well. If we do not do what Jesus has told us, we have no part with Him, and He will judge us accordingly.

It is this attitude James is addressing in James 2:14-26. The churches James is writing to have been showing partiality to the rich and neglecting the poor. They claim to have faith in God, but it is clear in 2 James believe their faith may be counterfeit since it does not appear to match up with the definition of true religion in 1:27 which comes right in the middle of the passage we love to quote: “Be doers of the word and not just hearers only.” They have shown favoritism and partiality to the rich among them, the poor have entered the church and they are forced to sit in the back of the congregation or told to leave altogether. James wants them to “fulfill the royal law according to the scriptures: that you should love your neighbor as yourself.” (2:8). It is clear James expects mercy to be shown and he doubles down on that in 2:14 when he says: “What benefit is it, my brothers, if someone says they have faith, but does not have works? Is that faith powerful to save him?” (translation mine). Of course, James expect a negative answer, no, this faith cannot save them.

The objection of course is that we are justified by faith alone, so how can faith not save us? If James knew the Apostle Paul (we know he did) then why is he not echoing Paul. Sam Allberry helps us out tremendously in his commentary when he writes: “We need to notice that James has been using the word “Faith” in a slightly different way then Paul. For Paul, faith is trusting Christ, we are saved by faith alone, because it is the saving work of Christ alone that we trust. But James has been using “faith” more broadly, describing not just trust in Christ, but the claim to be trusting in Christ. Hence his question at the star of this section about the person who professes faith but has no deed: “Can such faith save them?” Faith here refers to their profession of trust.” pg. 83. Paul understands Faith in Christ, trusting in Him for salvation, and James understands faith to mean faith and trust in Christ and simple knowledge about a thing. Since pistos can be translated and used in both senses of the word, it is not outside the bounds for James to think this way. We see what James is saying when he writes: “You believe that God is one, you do good, even the demons believe and shudder” (19). Translating James idea into the text you can read it as: “You have knowledge that God is one, good for you, the demons have that knowledge as well, and they shudder.” This harkens back to the questions in 14-18, one of which was: “If you say to your brother or sister, “be warmed and full and have peace” but do not meet their physical needs, what good have you done to them?” What good has the knowledge that God would want them to be warm and filled and at peace, what good has the passing of the peace done if the person is sent away hungry? Again, James expects a negative answer, nothing good has come from mere knowledge. However, if we trust Christ and His work for salvation then we will exhibit that trust by the way we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ. Faith as knowledge about is counterfeit, it leads to death, faith that believes and trusts and is then acted upon, living: “The Jesus life in the Jesus way” as the Late Eugene Peterson wrote, then we have found saving faith. We do not speak what we believe, but we always act upon it, one only needs to look at politics in the modern era to know this is true.

The early Congregationalists had a place for works within the Christian Life. They did not believe they were saved by them but did believe the Christian should exhibit them in obedience to Christ. In fact, Jonathan Edwards, in his lengthy response to Charles Chauncey, Religious Affections, during the First Great Awakening argues that the only way one can tell a true Christian is when that inward reality of Christ’s indwelling came out in the bearing of good fruit, and how do we bear good fruit? Not through a modified monasticism or “pie in the sky” Christianity that keeps us out of contact with the world at all cost, but through a visible and tangible love of our neighbor. God does want the believer to be generous with their finances, giving to the Church and to those in need, but if the church then hordes those resources and refuses to use them for the sake of the Gospel by loving their neighbors well…that is, if they have knowledge of God’s call to give, but have no works that show they trust God to take care of the bottom line while they love their neighbors, they do not have saving faith, but counterfeit.

Savoy 16.2 says this plainly: “These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruit and evidence of true and lively faith. By them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brothers, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of their adversaries, and glorify God. Whose workmanship they are created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.” The message here is clear, you have been saved by grace through faith, now you can (by the Holy Spirit Savoy 16.3) do good works, to use another reformed phrase; “you were saved for good works.”

The Savoy divines believed that if you had saving faith, you would show that faith by your actions. Both Edwards point above agree with the Holy Scriptures and by the theory of historical development can be found to be sound doctrine guided by the Holy Spirit. All this brings me back to the Sola’s, specifically Sola Fide (Faith alone) which is the justification behind the libertinism inherent in Christian Circles today. In some ways, we have gone to the opposite extreme of the pre-reformation Roman Catholic Penitential system, to the point that Paul’s rebuke of the Romans and James rebuke of his churches is once again needed. The attitude has become that we can do whatever we want and go to church on Sunday, confess during the prayer of confession and then receive absolution and then go back to living as though we do not know Christ on Facebook after Sunday dinner. At the same time, like in both Paul and James readership we have condemned the world for sexual immorality, for lust, for greed, gossip, and slander and all those things we turn around and participate in them and as Paul says, heaping up condemnation for ourselves. Then we favor the rich and powerful while the naked and hungry go unnoticed or even openly rejected and spit upon. We have even gone so far as to give power to those who exploit the weak and poor for their own gain, all the while thinking we have made it into eternal life because we have knowledge of God, but no heart change producing good works. We have applied Sola Fide too broadly, and we are paying the consequences for it as the Church shrinks both from people being turned off who were first drawn to the Gospel until they saw how Christians acted towards one another and the world, and the winnowing fork of God as the chaff is being burned away as Christianity becomes less and less popular in the culture (Christian in name only falling away).

The point here is not to say that our works save us, but that evidence of genuine conversion, the sign that you have been saved by Christ, is that you do good works to everyone you see without asking questions. Human resources are finite, but God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, His resources are not. The beauty of the Christian life is that God has already taken care of the baseline. A group of fishermen, rich tax collectors and tradesmen could not feed 5,000 but Jesus could. If God can do that, then why would we think him unable to multiply our resources beyond what we think and give us the strength and resources and words to share the Gospel with our neighbors and we meet them in their pain. Is God not who He says He is? By no means, He is exactly who He says He is which is why we can do good works out of thankfulness to Him. He is still multiplying bread and fishes today, taking care of the baseline so the work can continue unhindered. Not even while Paul is in prison, chained to a guard, wondering if he was going to live or die, could be stopped because he had not just knowledge of God, but a deep trust and faith in Christ and what He had done, he knew the outcome of his trial would glorify God and spread the Gospel, whether he lived or died, and we barely trust Him to help us get through the week. How little is our faith, compared to the immensity of God the Father? In this little faith in God, we have begun to place it in political parties and politicians, turning to the empire, instead of God the father, thinking that the right man will save Christianity. Scripture calls this a death sentence, but that is a different discussion for a different day.

Christian, the bottom line is this, live what you believe, this is central to Christian Faith and historic orthodoxy in general and ingrained in the teachings of traditional congregationalism. The Christian then should deeply evaluate their faith to find if it is counterfeit (knowledge of God only) or genuine (Works based on trust and Faith in Christ, and out of thankfulness to Him). That is the only way to restore the witness of Christianity. So we should respect and turn away from this counterfeit faith, for the sake of our own eternal souls yes, but primarily for the sake of our neighbor who continues to feel the pain of this world and the brokenness of sinfulness that we, as the people of GOD, should have the means of alleviating.

References

Allberry, Sam. 2015. James For You. United States : The Good Book Company .

Divines, The Savoy. 2015. “The Savoy Declaration of Faith .” In The Historic Documents of Congregationalism: The Savoy Declaraition, The Cambridge Platform, The Heads of Agreement, by David F. Wells Robert Davis, 33-84. Minniapolis : NextStep Resources .

Philip Schaff, . 1964. “The Principle of Protestantism .” In The Lancaster Theology Series on the Mercersburg Theology V: VI , by J.W. Nevin, Ed Bard Thompson Philip Schaff, 48-219. Philidelphia : United Church Press.

Philip Schaff, John Williamson Nevin, Daniel Gans . 2014. “On the Moral Character of Christ.” In The Mercersburg Theology Study Series Vol V: The Incarnate Word: Writings on Christology, by William B. Evans Bradford W. Littlejohn, 184-210. Eugene: Pickwick Publishers.

Robert Davis, David F. Wells . 2015. The Historic Documents of Congregationalism: The Savoy Declaration of Faith, The Cambridge Platform & The Heads of Agreement. . Minniapolis : NextStep Resources .

Schaff, Philip. 2016. The Creeds of Christendom Volume 3. Delmarva Publications : USA.

Schaff, Philip. 2017. “What is Church History,.” In The Mercersburg Theology Study Series VIII: The Development of the Church: The Principle of Protestantism and the Historical Writings of Philip Schaff,, by Lee C. Barrett, David W. Laymen, David R. Bains, Theodore Louis Trost W. Bradford Littlejon, 208-308. Eugene: Pickwick Publications.

Wells, David F. 2015. “Forward to the Savoy Declaration .” In The Historic Documents of Congregationalism: The Savoy Declaraition, The Cambridge Platform, The Heads of Agreement, by David F. Wells Robert Davis, 9-14. Minniapolis : NextStep Resources .

 

 

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

Memento Mori: In Loving Memory of Margret Mae Whitson

“A Marriage of 64 years has ended, and a new one is beginning.” Margret May Whitson, May 28th 2017.

Jonathan David Faulkner

The family Matriarch has passed, after 87 years on this planet, loving and caring for so many years and though the last three have been hard, she bore them with the graciousness of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is hard to believe that the last time I saw you was on the weekend I married my blushing bride. Grandpa passed the morning of the rehearsal dinner after making the long drive to Massachusetts from Illinois. It was her words, which grace the by-line of this piece that I remember, even more so than my own wedding vows (do not worry Rachel, I remember those too).

It is hard to believe that she is gone, the last of my grandparents. We grew up going to the farm for family gatherings. Christmas memories come to the forefront, a tree in the living room, running through the snow in the winter, opening presents by the tree in the living room, breakfast cooking and singing Christmas carols at Appanoose Presbyterian Church. Sleeping on the blowup mattresses in the living room or on the floor of the farmhouse before it was torn down.

Summer visits to the farm were always to be looked forward to, going to church with her. I was reminded recently of the rope swings and the “tree house” in the tree in the yard when my daughter tried to climb onto a rope swing that was too high for her as I am sure I once did. We would get up and you would cook us breakfast and we go play or run errands or Sarge would tell us stories.

Then there was college. Sterling was far from home, but the farm become a place of peace and solitude, partly because of Grandma. It was there that I escaped after that fall in 2014, the one that completely changed me and my life. There was no hesitation, when I asked if I could come and rest and heal, her and grandpa did not hesitate to say yes. Not only during that time, I spent Easter there, thanksgiving and other holidays there. It was a home away from home for me and for so many others.

But the thing I learned from Grandma, the thing she demonstrated, was how to care for people like Christ. How many people passed through her home as she did hospice and other medical care. I even recall one family member commenting that she was still caring for people even though someone should probably be caring for her. She embodied, in that regard, Paul’s teaching in Philippians and Jesus words in Matthew. She cared for the sick and the dying with a passion and fervor, a faithfulness that mimics that of Christ’s. On my last visit there right before I moved to the North Shore for Seminary, she took me to meet one of the last women she cared for. Even though she, herself was frail, she cared for those frailer then her. There was little thought to her own needs, but a deep and fervent reliance on Christ.

Margret Mae Whitson was not perfect, no, there were many times both her and Grandpa could be infuriating to us all. But she loved us, and she loved us all well and left in us a legacy that surpasses all the great riches of the richest men in the world. The surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ her savior, and a personal relationship with Him.

She believed, and lived as though she believed, that lived as a man, lived our life, in our skin and become one us of. Then he died on a cross like he said he would, was buried, just as he said he would be and rose again on the third day, just as he said he would. He ascended into heaven and now he sits at the right hand of God mediating on our behalf. He did this not because he considered equality with God, though his to grasp, something to be grasped and instead, taking on human form he humbled himself, taking on the very form of a servant, and then dying on the cross for the sins of humanity. He did it because God loved the world and wanted you to be able to have a relationship with Him through Christ Jesus. Margret Mae believed this, and she followed this path of downward mobility to receive the upward call of Christ Jesus. Now she has received the reward of eternal life and is reunited with her husband of 64 years. You can join her there, the bible says all you have to do confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. If you do that you are free from sins, free to live out the life of Christ for others, just as Margret Mae did.

Rest in peace Grandma, we miss you, but we will see you again.

Love

Your Grandson

I Still Remember: Reflections on the 19th Anniversary of 9/11.

New York City's Annual 9/11 light Installation canceled over coronavirus | Fox News

9/11 was the formative day in my generation’s history, we cling to the last vestiges of the era before, we also remember what happened directly afterward.

Rev. Jonathan Faulkner

Author’s Note: this piece was originally written in August 2020 and scheduled for September 2021 in honor of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, however the current national situation prompts it to run a year early.

During the cleanup, I stood in what was once the subway station outside the South Tower. My high school choir was in New York for the Fiesta Val Choir Competition and we had gone through all the necessary steps to perform at the entrance to the station that overlooked what used to be one of the icons of the New York skyline, buildings I had seen only once as we traveled from Ohio to Albany New York on a family trip. Before the scheduled performance we went into the subway station lined with chalk and crayon drawings of the surviving children of the lives lost that terrible day. After this and a lot of tears, we went back up to the entrance to perform our concert but the emotional toll of the day, on both us and our director made him call the concert off. Instead we stood in formation and sang the National Anthem facing the flag while we all cried. Our director noted that this was the best we ever performed the Anthem. I am not sure if this next part of the story is true or not, but I am told that during the Anthem the sun broke through the clouds and shown through the flagpole onto the Choir. Which may have contributed to all the crying high school students.

In our minds, we could all think back to where we were that day. Something we all do, something the generation before us do with the Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinations or the Challenger Disaster. I was in my fifth-grade homeroom, Mr. Daily was my teacher and the day was normal. That is, until a girl named Kaylee entered and informed us a plane had hit the world trade center. Mr. Daily instantly went to the TV and turned on the Television and found the news, almost instantly a second plane hit the second building and the sounds of shocked students filled the classroom. Some of my classmates, if I recall, had family members who worked in the towers, and so fear became the day. I do not really remember much else from that day, we were sent home after lunch, the plane that had hit the Pentagon and the plane that crash landed in in PA had flown over our area of South East Ohio.

But I also remember the iconic picture of George W. Bush with a Bull Horn at the site of the disaster, I remember his words that Charlie Sykes reprinted in this mornings Bulwark Newsletter.

“The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger.

“These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.

“Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”

– President George W. Bush on Sept. 11, 2001.

I also remember the days, months and years after September 11th 2001, I remember that Church attendance spiked as people sought answers, that we all took time to care for our neighbors a little bit more than usual. I remember the sense of unity that underlay the whole thing, That national lament and grieving together that marked not just American Unity, but the International Unity that is reflected in Bush’s words above. We knew the whole world heard us and was grieving with us. Russia even sent us the little known “Tear Drop” statue that has been the subject of viral posts recently. Today the “Freedom Tower” stands where the Twin Towers once stood, an impressive structure, especially up close. Where the two towers once stood a park stands in memory of the 2,977 Americans who died that day, in Shanksville PA a similar monument stands and the same is true in DC. Where, at least on my last visit, you could still see where the rebuilding had taken place. We went on like this for some time, loving and caring for our neighbors and then…piece by piece…thread by thread…we began to fracture, come unwind and fall apart. Leading to Charlie Sykes other observation from this morning’s newsletter: “We vowed Never To Forget after 2,977 Americans were killed that day. But we lost more Americans just last week. And we’ve already forgotten.”

Do not ask me who is blame because no one person or one thing is to blame for this, that fact is that the principalities and powers of this present darkness have been busy, and while we got a glimpse of that national unity back in March, at the beginning of the Pandemic, that feels so long ago and we have become even more divided in the time since. The reason I say, do not ask me who is to blame, is because finger pointing is one of the reasons, we are in the mess we are in today, far from the embraces of the days post 9/11. People are just agents of the principalities and powers; we participate in the sin that they encourage and inspire. So, instead of a national unity, you get a lot of people doing their own thing and making everyone around them out to be their enemies. If any human is to blame, it is collective blame, not individual. I have been guilty of spreading vitriol as much as everyone else, it has not been until recent years that I have curbed that.

But that is the thing about Memory, were told as kids that we will never forget, and younger people have not forgotten, even as the generations above us that forged that national unity and comradery abandon the civility and sympathy that it generated among us. We remember, and we miss it. Maybe it was not as good as it seemed at the time, and obviously wishful thinking and nostalgia for a bygone era is unhelpful, but that era was 19 years ago, less than a generation, many of the leaders from that time are still alive and still active. So why are we here? When did we abandon caring for our neighbors for mistrust and even loathing for them? Where are our ideals, as a people, and as a nation? I do not know the answer to these questions, but we should consider them, they should hound and haunt us. And I believe they do haunt us; we are desperately trying to claw our way back to that time but have no idea how to get there.

I know the answer at least for the Church, a kingdom within kingdoms, how we get back to the ideals we profess, The only way is through reading and applying scripture in relationship to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, that is the only way the church gets back. America, I am not sure since we cannot force a secular society to take a morality it does not want. Faith was much more common in the public sphere 19 years ago then it is now, and it will be even less common once the Pandemic ends. Perhaps though, if those now awash in secularism see the Christians living out the ideals of scripture, many of which are enfolded into the nations founding, then we could see this nation come back. But that starts with the Church returning, not the other way around.

9/11 was a watershed day in my history and in everyone else’s. I pray we can find someway to regain what was lost so long ago.

God, heal your Church and through your Church, may you bring healing to the people of America. Amen.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

Well-Seasoned Words

How we respond to Dr. Sunquest’s words, is just as important as that we respond.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

To all the Saints and the Children of God at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, grace and peace from God the Father, in the unity of the Spirit, I, Jonathan Faulkner, greet you as your brother and fellow co-laborer for the full gospel of Jesus Christ as we all seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Let me make three things clear at the beginning.

  1. There is no “other side” in this debate, everyone involved professions Christian Faith and is a Brother and Sister in Christ.
  2. How we respond to our Brothers and Sisters when they sin against us is as important as the response itself.
  3. Gracelessness for gracelessness is not the way the Kingdom works.

Brothers and Sisters, I am angry too. For the last three years of my time at the seminary I learned to listen and then found my voice in actively engaging the situation we have on our campus. The fact that so many of our brothers and sisters have been hurt by statements made in classrooms and from the President’s Office at Gordon-Conwell is unacceptable for an institution that claims to be training church leaders. How can the pastors produced by Gordon-Conwell be expected to engage in the cultural issues around us, if the upper echelon of leadership is not demonstrating that for us, if there is not example of follow before us, then how are we going to do this in the real world. Dr. Price once told me, during a time when I was wrestling with my families own history and participation in Slavery and the opposition to the Civil Rights Movement that I now had a chance to “Redeem the family name.” Even though E.L. Faulkner (Dupont, Mississippi Prayer) never repented of his sinfulness in this area, I can, and then I go the other way. As with Paul writing to his protégé Timothy in Ephesus so long ago: “The aim of my charge is love, stemming from a clear conscious, a sincere faith and a pure heart” (1 Tim 1:5).

But one of the other things I learned from Dr. Price was that when we travel this road of reconciliation we fail when all we do is change the roles of oppressor and oppressed. Christianity should be the place where those roles are eliminated altogether. The world cannot understand this because the world does not have the Holy Spirit, I have advocated for Christian involvement in these discussions since 2014 for this very reason, but we have to be having them well within our own walls and again, that is something we as Christians have the capacity to do through the power of the indwelling, incarnating, presence of God within us. We cannot go so far the other way that we have actually reversed the harm back to us onto our brothers and sisters. If we do, we have failed to be reconciled to one another.

I do not say this to delegitimize anyone’s anger or frustration, on the contrary, we need to be angry about this, Charles Fick’s piece yesterday needed to be ran. Anger and hurt are justified because as both Charles and I wrote yesterday the language used and the lack of a cultural toolkit were unacceptable and are objects our Brothers and Sisters of Color have been asking us not to use and to build for more than a century. At the very least we can listen to this request and act on it so as not to hurt those whom we lead and teach, and that is only a starting point. However, if our anger and frustration causes us to sin, then we are no better then those who caused the hurt in the first place. There are a few encroaching sins we must avoid.

  1. The sin of divisiveness. The moment you say that you will not fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ who are on a perceived “other side” (again, there is no other side, we are all on the side of Christ and all Christianity’s) then you violating the text of Holy Scripture. Christ is not, and cannot be divided and we should be wary of cultural pressures and justifications to divide that are not biblical and are not healthy. Christian, our anger and hurt should drive us to worship and to a unified reconciliation, we should pray that the one who caused the hurt does repent and ask for forgiveness, but allowing this to divide the student body is not how God intended us to handle these situations. Many of us have already gone to Brother Sunquist privately, I have the emails to prove it, I went to him before I graduated to urge him away from actions just like this. It is okay to be angry, it is justifiable, but allowing further divisions and hurts is not.
  2. Self-Righteousness and unrighteous anger: It would be easy to say that we have the high grounds, and morally we may, but self-righteousness comes in and wipes that away, the moment we think we are better than the one who did the hurting is the moment we lose our credibility. Our anger can be righteous only if we act in such a way places the righteousness of God, ahead of ourselves. We can flip tables and run the money collectors out with a whip, but at the same time a kind word will turn away wrath. Humility is to be preferred over haughtiness; the original piece was born out of a language brewed by self-righteousness. Let us avoid using similar language when addressing Brother Sunquist.
  3. Hatred, Malice, Gossip and other vices: It can be so easy, and I have seen some, post some extremely hateful things on Social Media. Please do not do this, it undermines what we are trying to achieve here. Again, all the hurt that we are feeling is legitimate, but just like with self-righteousness and unrighteous anger, hatred causes us to lose the moral high ground and can alienate the allies you need to accomplish this. Malice is the effect of the original piece, the language used was patronizing, but we should not stoop to that level ourselves. Gossiping about one another only makes the situation worse and spreads misinformation and deceit around campus that further causes divisions that we should stay away from.

Again, all the anger and frustration we are feeling is legitimate, as a disable person on campus I experienced a lot of these same things, but no ones experience is a monolith and everyone is experiencing this situation differently. What we do now, how we respond, is as important as responding and if we cannot do this gracefully, if we respond to gracelessness with more gracelessness, we end up with a lot of toothless, blind people. Just think of where we would be if the Savior responded to our gracelessness towards him, with more gracelessness, there would be no drawing, no salvation, no eternal life. God would be justified in that, but He does not. Instead He sends Jesus, His son, to die on the cross for the sins of the world so that we would not be bound to the responses of this world but free to respond as the Holy Spirit responds, with forgiveness and grace.

I would recommend avoiding posting about this on Social Media, especially in a way that is dictated by pure emotion, and not by the word of God. It is okay to Lament, Lament is needed and good, but Social Media is hardly the place for it since it does 1 of two things, either it draws sympathizers and reinforces negative stereotypes about the one we perceive as “other.” It also becomes a place where fighting occurs and more divisions and grievances and hurts get amplified and multiplied. I am not saying we should not speak out on Social Media, but going there for things like Lament or looking for a fight in the name of “educating” our detractors does no good whatsoever.

I have intentionally left out forgiveness until this point, as Dr. Bryan Lorritts says: “You do not have a choice when it comes to forgiving someone, but with reconciliation there is a loophole.” I want you to forgive one another, forgiveness is the beginning of healing for you and opens the door for reconciliation. You cannot be reconciled with someone you have not forgiven and who has not forgiven you. And when someone comes, asking for forgiveness, do not require anything from them but the transformation of the Holy Spirit, allow them to have their journey, do not demand and instant arrival at your point of view, for that does not accomplish anything. While you are waiting for forgiveness, do not break fellowship with one another, that is the worst thing you can do and simply creates echo chambers where your negative perceptions about one another are reinforced, this hinders forgiveness and is graceless.

Finally Brothers and Siters, I appeal to love, not human love, but Christ’s Love, the Love you have for one another in Christ Jesus. This Love is poured out for you in prayers, in supplications, in acts of service, in this post. If we cannot engage one another respectfully and lovingly then the hurts and pains and struggles will only deepen and we will lose Gordon-Conwell completely. If Love does not drive our actions, then we have already lost, love for God, love for One Another. There is no Jew or Greek, Slave or Free, Scythian or Barbarian, we are all one in Christ Jesus bringing the uniqueness of the cultures God created and placed us in to the throne room where they are transformed not into a mono-culture, but their truest forms, what God intended them to be and we can all celebrate with one another, even where we are different. The love of God does this, may we be as much like the multitude in Revelation as we can. Our response must be well-seasoned and the only seasoning that matters is the Love of God, all other seasons and spices are included in that one action, the Love of God.

Peace be with you and with all the saints, the saints in North Iowa greet you.

To Christ be glory forever and ever amen.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

A Student’s Response to Dr. Sunquist.

We no longer have time for this, we never really did. 

Charles Fick

Forward by Jonathan Faulkner

You can read my piece from earlier today here: 

I want to take a moment and thank my dear brother Charles for his response below. I also want to remind the reader that what we are discussing today, on this site, is not a liberal or conservative issue, it is a Gospel issues, there is no other way to frame it. Either we see the humanity of the men and women of Color on our campus, we care for their needs and honor them we treat them as we want to be treated, or we continue to sin against them. That begins with not referring to “them” as “them” but as human beings, made in the image of the God who need the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. To continue to deny that, to continue to treat them with contempt, as has been part of our seminaries history, is to violate the Gospel and to ignore the testimony of Scripture that declares all humanity is made in the image of GOD. The time for excuses are over, the time for listening and reconciliation is now. Thank you Charles for your boldness and continued work at Gordon-Conwell.

Charles is correct, we often lack the cultural toolkit to comment on these things at all. It is up to us to work to establish one and work together to find healing and reconciliation. The hurting of one another has to stop, it just has to, especially in the Church, and if it does not, if we do not keep violating one another and hurting one another in ways we should never have developed in the first place, King Jesus will not be someone we want to stand before one day. It is not enough to “do better next tie” we need to do better now.

Charles Response

I saw the picture of one of my heroes flash on my screen.  The president of my Seminary just posted something about Frederick Douglass!  I was excited.  But this excitement soon turned to disappointment and dread.   As I started to read what he’d written, I started to sigh.  Then as I thought about how public this was, I sighed more deeply.  He’s done it again.  He’s hurt all my brothers and sisters of color, because he just does not understand how his words sound.  He tries so hard.  But alas.  He does not have the tools to do this well.

Ironically, the reconciliation class here at the seminary is where I was reminded of this difficult truth: white people do not often possess the cultural toolkit to be able to understand racial inequalities, white supremacy, white privilege, tokenism, paternalism….  They just do not have the capacity to understand that systemic injustice and oppression are real or how they function in our society.  Individualism blinds them.  I’ve seen this pattern repeated over and over in interactions, especially between older white faculty and younger students of color.  The generational and ethnic gaps are wide and difficult to traverse.  This is exacerbated by trying to communicate about these complexities with cold, hard, soundless words on a page.  How do you understand the nuance and the tone?  This was supposed to be encouraging!?!?

Then the Facebook posts start responding to the blog.  Yup, many of my Black friends are hurt.  He has hurt them again.  He started by hurting the only Black professor we had on this campus and then denying any wrongdoing.   He tried to dialog with the leaders and the students.  He tried.  Sometimes trying feels like it should count for something.  But in the messy, long, difficult work of reconciliation, trying doesn’t count for much.  We need to really repent.  We need to change.  We need to stop hurting people who are already hurting from so much racial trauma in our country.  President Sunquist, please stop hurting my friends.

 

 

 

Charles Fick is in his last year of a Master of Divinity degree at Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Education & Development with concentrations in Inequality and Education from Cornell University. He lives with his wife and two sons in South Hamilton, MA.  His reconciliation journey began in 2001 as a missionary in the Summerhill neighborhood of Atlanta, GA and continues to this day.  He enjoys biblical theology, NY Giants football, Cornell Hockey, coffee, politics, history, legos and curling.