Bikes On the Lawn

The Church Is a Family with a Mission, not a Social Club waiting to be taken Home. We Need to relearn how to do Ministry in a Post-Christian World and that change starts with us.

Jonathan Faulkner

My town has a small community wellness center that is attached to the High School a couple blocks from our parsonage here in Buffalo Center. This is similar to what we had at the High School in Sterling Kansas, a place where the community can go to work out. Since it is so close my wife and I will just walk over when her or I go. We may have to re-evaluate this once winter arrives, but for now, it’s extremely convenient to have the ability to run a block over to work our during my lunch break. To get there I always walk through my churches yard, down the block, past the Methodist Church turning to walk past North Iowa School District. A Pre-K-12 building that houses the school district for our town and five others around us. I must pass two entrances to get down to the Wellness Center Entrance. Whenever I make my way down there during the school year (which just began) there are always about twenty bicycles sitting between the two East entrances of the school (the second is the Wellness Center Entrance).

One of the things Rachel and I thought we would miss when we left the cloistered community of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary was the sound of kids playing. We were used to Cape Ann where if you are a kid who wants to ride their bike in the street you must be extremely careful and so you do not hear see kids playing out in town. The seminary was different, though not exactly kid friendly streets, one had to watch out for kids in parking lots and on sidewalks and on side streets. Even when I lived in Sterling there was less of a “Free Range’ mentality among parents, yes you could see kids riding bikes around town and playing at the town’s parks, but here in Northern Iowa it is still a regular occurrence. Everyday from my office window I see kids riding by on bikes or scooters or walking to and from school. At our community pool we often saw many kids from town and their parents and at the park my wife often runs into other moms taking their kids to the park or kids coming to the park to play by themselves.

Honestly, in a culture that is increasingly isolating and where we have less and less trust for one another and for institutions it is refreshing to know that there are still places in existence where the community bands together to watch the kids. Not that these attitudes of isolation and mistrust are not found here in our town, but they seem to so far be in lower quantities than other places. The advantage is the strength of our social institutions, the local school district, the thriving Main Street.

I want you to notice what institution I did not mention there, it was an intentional omission, that is the local church. Not because the local churches are non-existent but that they are uninvolved, even though they have their own pages in the local newspaper and host community-oriented events but the ones who come to these community events are the same people who attend the local churches. It lends itself to more of a social club mentality rather than an outreach mentality in today’s climate. Not that those things were not once effective, they actually were otherwise we would not have done them, but we are making assumptions about the culture based on what used to work and not asking what we may need to do differently to reach the world now and what is required of us now is to go where the people are and go humbly. To go to a place where their may be things that we do not like or which we have historically condemned or abandoned to darkness and be with people where they are at long before we even begin inviting them to Church. People need to know not how much you care but that you care, and they need to see that your faith is real and that you are real, long before they will even consider coming to Church with you. This is one advantage to our increasingly isolated culture, you must be genuine, you must intentional and you must be willing to stick out the relationship in the long term. Eugene Peterson describes the Christian Life as a “Long Obedience in the same direction” our relationship with Christ and with others should be the same.

Think what it would mean for a second if all those bikes on the school lawn were bikes on the Church lawn on Sunday. I know, I know, I have heard the argument too many times about how sports are scheduled on Sundays, usually during Church, but what if they were there for a contemporary service on a non-sports night of the week? Just dream with me for a second! What would a church with a yard filled with kids bikes and their parents’ cars look like?

The sad reality is, most small-town churches are not ready for that reality. They do not have the infrastructure in place, they do not have the facilities, and their congregations are aging and many of them are burnt out. They also lack access to teaching materials that will help them understand and minister to a new generation such as David Kinnemen’s book “You Lost Me” or other Barna Research. Most of those who have served on the board have served their 30 years and are ready for the next generation to take over, the generation that’s not there. Some think simply by calling a younger pastor they will experience growth, it is true that a pastor will attract those fifteen years on either side of them, it is also true though that only 2% of people who are invited by a senior pastor come to church, meanwhile 94% of people who are invited by a member of the church come. Yet, most people in churches know each other, 64% say that evangelism is a mission of the Church as stated by Jesus, 0% have actually engaged in sharing their faith in the last six months according to Pew research.

Further, we sit in our pews and balk at how bad the world has gotten while taking no action to enact change other than supporting a political candidate. We look at the empty pews and the lack of children and we start to feel anxiety about the future, we look back at the good old days and we get lost in the nostalgia while the world that God loves (John 3:16) slowly slips away into ever increasing darkness, loneliness and depression. Trust erodes and instead of seeing what Christians should be, people learn about Christianity through the news media.

Let me be clear, there is no easy fix to this solution, the fix is the preaching and living out of the Gospel as Disciples of Jesus and that is an extremely costly proposition. The truth is, most people know exactly where the Midwestern Churches are, they are just wondering what they have done lately, and the answer for many of those churches is “nothing.” A Church on Mission is one that is reaching into the community, meeting needs regardless of who has them. It is an open-ended hospitality that breaks down barriers and build relationships. Not so we can show people that the Christianity of the Media is false, but because the Gospel demands a God and others focus. As Rosaria Butterfield says: “The Gospel comes with a housekey.”

The mat outside the door to the Church Office reads: “Come as You Are.” My wife and I were intentional about what message we sent when we ordered a doormat. We also hope that it is a mantra that God will test us with, hold us accountable too. We have been blessed with a beautiful home and we want to be good stewards of what God has given us. When we tell people: “Don’t be alone” we want them to take us up on that and not be alone.

The key to seeing bicycles return to the lawns of our churches is not to create flashy programs or have modern worship with huge laser light shows. My generation is rejecting that kind of showy Christianity. Yes, we should update our facilities and if we are doing so with the intentionality of using it for the advance of God’s kingdom, God will honor that and help with that expense. We need to move away from a social club model to a family that fellowships. Most importantly we need to be men and women after God’s own heart, authentically and sacrificially serving Him with our whole being and full submission to His call on our lives that comes from the Joy of knowing how deeply loved we are by Him and how much He delights in us just for believing in Him. In all this we need to practice a radical, visible and unprecedented hospitality that shares the love of Christ with everyone regardless of their background in a manner that is authentic, organic and focused on Christ.

Everywhere in the world the Church is growing, except here in Post-Christian America, you want to change that trend church? Then go live the Gospel!

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid 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 Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center 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.

Protestant’s Own Penitential System.

 

We may not be selling indulgences…never mind, maybe we are.

 

 

Jonathan Faulkner

I am starting to think all Pastors should take more than your typical Church History survey course, perhaps a class in the historical doctrines and their developments from the Apostolic teachings to modern times would be more helpful. I know that my Alma Mater has moved towards teaching historical theology survey in place of Church History 1 & 2. That course would also have to systems of thought and their influence on Theology and biblical interpretation. For example, the fundamentalist and evangelical insistence on a “Literal” or “Plain reading” of the text comes from the Enlightment belief in foundationalism and Scottish Common-Sense religion which necessarily adopts a literalistic interpretation because well, it just makes sense. Yet, we also tend to be Neo-Gnostic in our approach to the world. As I have written before, we have tended to view the body as evil, unintentionally adopting Marcionism which viewed the created order as “Evil” because to Marcion “Yahweh” was an evil god who created against the will of Elohim. So, we focus almost completely on the heavens and become escapists, always waiting on the next life. Yet our literalistic interpretation of scripture is also a knee-jerk response to German Liberalism and the rise of the text critical method in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A justifiable reaction, though an overreaction as David Strauss’s “Deus Liebner Christus” (Life of Christ) with its rejection of Christ’s divinity had destroyed the faith of many at Tubingen in 1826. Still, a “Plain Reading” of the English text in interpretation is a new phenomenon and one that should trouble us as it has reinforced an anti-intellectualism that prompted Church Historian Mark Noll to write that: “The scandal of the Evangelical Mind is that there is no mind.”

One of the deep ironies that serious students of Church History recognize is how quickly history can repeat itself. For example, as I was finishing up my Masters in Church History I had a discussion with a fellow student about how a generation after the reformation you start to see a total abandonment of the implications of the doctrines for Christian Life put forward by the reformers. They paid lip-service to reformation ideals, but they essentially reenacted the Catholic Penitential System. Something that took 8 centuries to accomplish in the early Church tool one for the protestant church. I will return to this thought later as this is the main topic I want to address here but suffice it to say that it did not take long to abandon Justification by Faith alone.

The Church Fathers are somewhere turning over in their graves. Though they would have struggled with Justification by Faith alone as a purely legal transaction, or the Federalism, the idea that Christ did good things so that we who did bad things could be off the hook. Since they understood Christianity to be an incarnational movement where Christ dwelled in Divine Union and in which Salvation was based on the grace of God who dwelt within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. The best modern representation of this lies in the ancient doctrine of Theosis still at the center of the Eastern Orthodox Mass. The idea being that Christ’s indwelling constantly and continually changes us and makes us more and more like Christ, that we participate in divine life and even take on characteristics of the divine life. It was this realization that almost caused John Williamson Nevin to return to Rome in 1849, though he eventually recognized that Rome was purely Augustinian and out of touch with the Eastern Fathers (it was out of touch with Augustine too, but that’s another article for another time). Still the Church Father’s would take issue with us for returning to Rome in another way but reenacting the Penitential System that defined the Roman Catholic Church throughout the Middle Ages.

One of the best historical examples I can think of is the New Measures revivalism of Charles Finney which stated that a new convert had to be worked up into a frenzy over their sin and cry out in repentance for that sin before they could become a believer. Likely converts would come and sit on the anxious bench and then receive special preaching and encouragement from the revivalist until they “got through.” At the time John Williamson Nevin equated it with the Roman Catholic System, especially since some would be “effectively converted to Christianity two or three times a month.” As if sitting on the bench repeatedly and confessing repeatedly their sins with wailing. It should be said that confession is a good thing, there is a reason our liturgy has a prayer of confession for sins within, so that we can move beyond our sin to the assurance of forgiveness or pardon and live in the light of grace. However, when confession becomes emotional penitence, I must make myself feel so sad that I weep for my sin before I can be truly forgiven. You are adding an unscriptural step to earn forgiveness, as if God is going to be more gracious because you worked yourself into an emotional tizzy and then confessed. Scripture says plainly in 1 John 1:9 that “if we confess our sins, we are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleans us of all unrighteousness.” If anyone says that “God will not forgive you until you do XY&Z, my advice to you is “Run” all that is required for forgiveness is confession and repentance from sins. I once read in a Church History book that the practice of confessing to a priest began as a good thing, it was when penance was added that it became problematic.

I cannot think of a better example of this in our modern times than Purity Culture. Which by the way, my sister in Christ Elizabeth Ross has written some amazing blog posts on this, go check them out. Many who grew up in purity culture are likely familiar with the example of the rose which has been passed around a room and when it made it back to the speaker ragged and destroyed, he yelled out “Who would want this?” It reflects an attitude that says sexual sin is completely unforgivable and if you do fall into sexual sin then there is no amount of penance you can do to make up for that sin. In fact, in purity culture there was no amount of penance your children could do to be forgiven of that sexual sin. Purity Culture is an example of over-emphasizing a sin and making that sin unforgivable. I am sure that Jesus would argue with the preacher who said this, just as he argued with the Pharisee who had invited him into his home when the prostitute came and wiped his feet with her tears and hair. Matt Chandler certainly responded to this preacher by saying “Jesus wants the Rose, that’s the Gospel.”

Penance and purity culture have this in common, they both tell you that no amount of confession of sin is enough, there has to be more and if there has to be more than God’s divine revelation is wrong. In Penance it was an action that would clear your sins and appease the wrath of God. In purity culture there is no amount of good behavior that can erase your bad. I know there are popular purity culture authors who talked about grace after sin, but that grace never made it into practice. Instead of cheap grace, it was costly grace, but the cost was you and not the one who died to take that sin away and nothing you could do could you earn you that grace. That is why Purity Culture is so often described as a culture of fear, teens were so afraid to make mistakes that they would not even talk to opposite sex. That also had to do with the absurd stigma that if you talked to someone of the opposite sex you wanted to marry them.

I admit, Purity Culture is an extreme example, but what about when we look at church culture in general. Recently I have seen a lot more Christians pushing back against the notion that the Church is filled with perfect people. The problem is, we earned that stigma during the height of the pietistic movement and later Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism has an especially nasty penitential system where any step outside the bounds of a narrow orthodoxy could get your ex-communicated. Evangelicals and evangelicalism are not different, in fact, on Sunday I mentioned that we have used the dogma of a literal six day creation as a litmus test for whether or not someone is a Christian and someone could not become a Christian until they adhered to our narrowly defined orthodoxy. Whether we like it or not, we earned the stigma that one had to get their life together to come to church and be a Christian. How ironically since most of us are far from having our lives together.

Now, I am not saying that one cannot believe in a literal six day creation, I am also not saying that purity or abstinence till marriage is a bad thing or pietism or holding to fundamentals of Christian faith. I am saying that when we make adherence to those things and acceptance into the body and grace and forgiveness based on those things we have stepped beyond the bounds of scripture. When we build a whole culture around them, we have rebuilt a penitential system that says: “Do, believe these things, act this way etc. and you will live” rather than, “because you live, do this.” We look more like Old Testament Jews than New Testament Christians. Or Roman Catholics than Protestants. Therefore, we sometimes use the hashtag #ReformedtheReformed. It may be time for us to revaluate what we believe in Gospel Truth. It may be time for another 95 theses on the Whittenburg Door of the soul of Protestantism. To return to true biblical principles and a biblical Christian Life. One of the reasons I am encouraged about the renewed interest in the early Church Father’s among young Christians is that it takes us back to where it all began and how the Holy Spirit guided the Churches early development. It helps us learn from the saints who went before, who were educated by Christ himself and those who were educated by His followers. I am also encouraged by my sister in Christ Elizabeth’s work to dismantle systems that are unbiblical, and which keep the believer bound to the sin that Christ unapologetically died on the cross for.

The Church in America, many has said, is under the winnowing fork of God. So much is being thrown on the trash heap of history and now being rejected in favor of the ancient and beautiful truth that Christ died to set us free and that those who believe in Him are free as well and that mere confession leads to forgiveness for those who believe.

One more thing; I know that when protestants hear of the “Assurance of Pardon” (or forgiveness in our bulletin) in the liturgy we can get up in arms about how we are not Roman Catholic and the Pastor should not forgive sins and what not. The problem is, most people leave Churches on Sunday like Martin Luther, wondering if they will ever be forgiven for their terrible sins and if they will ever stop sinning. These just heap shame and guilt upon the believer that was taken away at the cross of Christ. So maybe we should pronounce that forgiveness from the pulpit so that one who needs to hear it can have the peace that comes from the truth of their forgiveness.

Just throwing that out there

Now go and sin no more.

Sources –

*John Willamson Nevin: The Anxious Bench
*Charles Finney: Revivals of Religion
*Mark Noll: The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
*George Marsden: Fundamentalism and American Culture

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid 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 Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center 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.

Dear Young Pastor, The Call to Rural Ministry

Jonathan Faulkner

I know Seminary is over and the whole world is before you, but I’d like you to consider something you may not have.

 

Dear Young Pastor,

So Seminary is ending, you are either out and trying to find your first call or you are entering your final year thinking about all that is to come. You are young and you have been waiting for this moment for three or four years, you are confident in your call and you have the passion to back that up. You also have confidence in the God that you believe and know, that He will place you where He wants you to be. In your mind you are the next Timothy Keller or Charles Spurgeon, or in our times, Martin Luther or John Calvin. You are going to start the next big movement, pastor the next big church, you just must pay your dues and God will move you on up. You are the future of pastoral leadership in America and maybe in the world. Yes, you are hot stuff, out to change the world with your one or two seminary degrees with all your applications in for the big city pastorate.

Young Pastor, can I ask you to consider something with me for a minute?

Will you consider taking a small pastorate in the middle of nowhere, in a town with a population only slightly larger, or smaller, than your seminary student body? Will you pray about giving up your “big City” dreams and your aspirations of moving up in five years? Will you set aside your dreams of being the next big thing in pastoral ministry for something small? If you are in a small congregation at the moment and anxiously looking forward to the day God calls you to a bigger Church, if you see your current congregation as a “Starter Congregation” will you give up that view?

I am afraid, dear sister or brother, that you have been led astray by a vision and mentality about and within the church that says the City is where Ministry is needed, that’s where the “people are” and so we must go there. Pastor, I know this mentality well, I am writing to you with a Bachelor in Christian Education with a Concentration in Urban Ministry while looking out the window of my church office in my house right next to the church building in a town of 900. I believed as you do, the ministry in the city will trickle down to the small towns, right? As people carry their churches message from the city to their families at home. That’s how it works right? Besides, didn’t Andy Stanley tell parents its “Selfish” to send your kids to a small church, and he’s a mega church pastor so we listen to him right? Well, he did say that, and I told you at the time He was wrong and the idea that ministry “trickles down” from city to small town is a myth.

The fact is, while there are unreached people groups in Cities there are also unreached people in small towns. The truth is that small town churches are dying because for too long they received the “Left-overs” or were viewed as “Starter churches” where you came if you were washed up and ready to retire or you were looking to step up into the next big thing, do your time in the rural until that mega-church called and took you away because of your dynamic preaching or your insane exegesis or creative sermon style. The Fact is these small-town churches are full of people, living and breathing people who feel abandoned and alienated both from a Political and Religious standpoint. In your small town you may be the only church that is doing anything, but it may also be that none of the churches in your town are engaging and they need your passion, your energy, and most importantly the Spirit of God and Word of God that dwells within you and which you have been trained to teach from. Chances are they have been starving for the truth of the very Gospel you have been called to preach and when they hear it they will soak it up and hopefully be changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit who dwells within them. The Truth is you can have just as effective a ministry in the rural church as you can in a city church, perhaps even more so because you have a chance to get to know people and serve them on a much deeper level. The fact is the Rural church needs you and even wants you.

This does not mean rural ministry is any easier than city ministry. Indeed, it may be harder as you get to see just how messy people can get. Your Congregation may be older at first, your facilities may need some TLC and it can be lonely, very lonely at certain times. There are always going to be the naysayers and the people who just want to “maintain the status quo.” Your friends and family may question why you are devoting your time to what they see as a “pointless” or ministry that is “below your talents.” You may have to be bi-vocational; you’ll have to figure out how to have a good work life balance so that you do not burn out. You’ll have to work to change systems of apathy and exhaustion and you’ll have to fight those off within yourself. The Truth is all your education, all the classes you took, even that class on Ethnic (Racial) Reconciliation, every class you took in seminary is relevant and applicable working in the rural church. All those things that are true about the church in the city are true in your small town calling and they all ask of you to be fully engaged in your calling wherever you are.

Because if I may brother, the “starter church” mentality that many of us adopted in College and Graduate school is really quite sinful. It suggests that some churches, specifically small or rural churches are not worthy of your full potential or the service of the church at large. It prioritizes one part of the flock of God over another part and requires you to think of your brothers and sisters as somehow unworthy or less worthy of the Gospel or of your best. We should run and hide from this mentality and put it far away from ourselves for fear that one day we will stand before God and asked if we cared for all His flock.

The fact is, God has called you, or is calling you, to this small-town ministry and you are there because of that call and God has no preference between city and small town. When Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world, He meant both the small towns and the cities. These small churches need you and your training, and the small towns which have increasingly been abandoned by the church and left to darkness. Well, they need the Gospel too, maybe even more so now than the big cities that are often over-churched and over-evangelized.

When I answered the call to come to Buffalo Center Iowa for my first post-seminary pastorate. I did not come here to spend five years and move on. I came here to preach and live-out the Gospel and to spread the Word of God and the Good News of the coming Kingdom of Heaven. I came here to engage with the people in my congregation and to love them and to encourage them and to work together with them to reach the town with the Gospel. It really does not matte to me that to some I was wasting my two masters degrees on a small church in a small town because in my mind God has called me here and if He has called me here He has a purpose to work in and through me. He could have planted me anywhere; He chose to bring me to small-town Iowa and so far we are loving it. Is it lonely at times? Yes, but God has introduced us to some amazing young families in our community including another pastor and His wife.

See young Pastor, the God who gave you this call has not called you to a small town just to abandon you there. He is still God, He is still watching over you and working within and through you. Small town ministry is not the end of the line for you, it is the beginning and not the beginning to a step-up but the beginning of a ministry in which you have to trust God for everything little thing. Again, this is nothing different from ministering in the City, but the small needs you, and not just for five years, but as long as God keeps you there.

So come and join us, the mission is at hand but the workers are few.

 

Sincerely

Your fellow worker in the Faith.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on 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 Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center 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.

Young Pastor, Visit your Shut-Ins

Most people hate Monday’s…I am starting to love them.

 

 

Jonathan Faulkner

In Graduate School my first semester I got one singular piece of advice that would stick with me or the final three years I was there. That piece of advice came from a pastor who had committed 30 years to his pulpit ministry, he said this: “When you enter full-time, you may not want to have Monday be an office day, you might want to schedule meetings or do your visitations on Monday.” His reasoning: “Monday is often the worst day of the week for a pastor because that is often the day he or she will experience the greatest depths of depression.”

Well, when I received a call to a pastorate in rural America in a Church where I am the only full-time staff and where all my Deacons and Trustees have day jobs, I could almost immediately rule out having meetings on Mondays. So I decided to set aside Monday’s as days to do my visitations to the nursing home here in and town and in another nearby town where we have a few members. I also decided to take another pastor with me so we could share lunch together for encouragement and a chance for me to learn the history of the area from someone who grew up here. It also gives me a chance to fill my day with incredible conversations that encourage and build up both Saints having the conversation, which of course, should be the goal of our Christian Discourse in ever conversation, building up.

I write this because I have so many friends my age who have the mentality of generational warriors. That is, they tend to see older members as the problem and they just think that if they can get those old pesky people out of the way they can do what they want. You can see this mentality at the forefront in Francine Rivers Novel “And the Shofar Blew” where Paul, the young pastor intent on turning a small, backwoods church into a mega church, something he accomplishes by pushing out the same older men who called him. Because I did not want to be that way, some of the women were given a copy of the book to read to hold me accountable. They were also told if they see the attitudes that exist in Paul form in me, to call me on it.

Many young pastors take Paul’s stance, they say things like: “I do not need to visit the older people in my church, they are just in the way of progress.” I would hope that I would not need to point out how unbiblical that attitude is, especially in a small church, but yet, it is a sinful one and one I have heard many in my generation espouse in one form or another. It is an attitude that devalues the image of God and the inherent worth that image carries with it to your older members.

I get it, our churches should not be family chapels intent on being married and buried and little else. Nor should they be entertainment centers where you come and get a nice light show and maybe a 20 minute talk about how to be a better person. Our churches should be missional, outward focused, but part of that mission are the people who have one of the vital parts of that mission, your older members, who may not be able to do much, but boy can they pray, but pastor, they do not know what to pray about if you do not visit them to tell them what the needs are.

Every Monday I visit with a 92-year-old lady who was a pillar of our church for her entire life. She’s in the nursing home now and does not make it to Church on Sundays, but every time we meet she tells me: “I am not done yet, God still has something for me to do.” Going to these visits is not about what I get out of them, but I do always leave her room with a smile on my face as she hollers to me: “Come back soon.” Another gentleman in that same wing of the Nursing Home called me right after we arrived here and told me how glad he was we had come and how he had been praying for us. He also asks me weekly how God has answered the prayer requests on the back of the bulletin or the things I have asked him to pray about. Again, even though I am there to encourage and minister to him, I always leave those meetings encouraged.

I could fill this article with pages of stories, just in the first three months, about visiting the older members of my church. Saints who once built that church and now pray daily for it and for you. The fact is, you need them, they have many years of wisdom and knowledge that has been given to them by God and by life. Some of them have more understanding of scripture and of God than your 3-year seminary degree can ever teach you.

So, young pastor put down Calvin’s institutes and go and visit your older members, they need you and you need them, they are vital to the mission of the Church. It also may open some doors for ministering to their families.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on 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 Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center 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.

“Voice of the Children” 8 Years Later.

When I wrote this song I was not expecting it to have the impact it did or be as popular as it became and still is.

Performing “Voice of the Children” at an acoustic show at Broadway Market of Sterling 2014.

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

I remember writing the song like it was yesterday.

It was a cold day in December and I was home from Sterling on Christmas break my senior year. I had brought my guitar home and had shut myself away in my bedroom with it to try and get some thoughts out of my head. I do not remember what specifically triggered thoughts about our attitudes towards kids in Church and our need to reach them with the Gospel, but they were there. So I sat down and wrote these words:

“You did your best, to just forget

To turn your back on all the ones that wept

And you grew numb, with a crooked tongue

As you forgot that even Jesus wept

They are waiting”

It may have had something to do with reflecting back on the pastor who emotionally abused me and that night with the grace killers just 4 years before. The pain was still fresh and I had actually started processing all the emotions and allowing God to do a healing work. This was post Denver, Post Labyrinth, post call to Pastoral Ministry. The words were just coming out, the chorus flowed naturally:

“Can you hear the voice of the children?

Rise above the noise,

We are the light, let’s shine for them

Can you hear the cries of the children?

Drowning out your choice

We are the light, let’s shine for them.

Maybe it had to do with my own experience, crying out under the weight of the intense bullying and pain I felt. A culmination of years of crying out for someone to see my pain expressed in the way I dressed, the music I listened too etc. Or maybe the Spirit was just moving.

“And now she sits, in your pew

And I wonder what you’re going to do

Will you show her love, tell her of Christ?

Or crush her innocent heart tonight

She is waiting”

When I get into a zone while writing a song sometimes it just comes.

“This world knows darkness so well

And without you there’s no heaven just hell

So let us give of ourselves

To be the light to the ones who are watching, the ones who are watching, the ones who are watching us live.

I finished writing and opened up my laptop to write the song title and number into my master list of songs written. “Voice of the Children” is number 31 on that list, it was back when I was still learning to compose but it’s the only song other than “Joy Everlasting (A Christmas Chorus)” from those first 35 that made it into John Walk & The Opened Eyes set lists and was my most popular song until “River Song” debuted in 2015. It made every set list until 2017’s Chowder Fest and was on the “Acoustic Bootleg’s EP” that we gave away after the last show in Sterling (the one I recorded in my bathroom). The song and its backstory were also featured in a “Living Room Sessions” video on my Youtube Channel. (Only Joy Everlasting (A Christmas Chorus) has received more play time because of The Service Strings Addition).

But it’s what happened after the song was written and the story that the song carries behind it that makes it so special, makes it one that I will never forget and which I will play for big sets where it fits. As I mentioned, I opened up my laptop, entered the song into the master list, typed the lyrics and chords into a separate file, saved it and checked facebook. The date was December 14th 2012 and I will always remember where I was that morning and what I was doing because the first post on my newsfeed made the song take on a whole new meaning.

“How could someone do this to little children.” My friend’s status read, no link, so that meant I had to start searching. I went to fox news (because in 2012 it had not become the propaganda machine it is today) and the “Breaking” headline caught my attention. I do not remember the headline, but I remember the contents, so do you. A gunman had entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and had killed several students and teachers. I had been writing a song: “Voice of the Children” about children crying out in desperation, as Children were crying out in desperation.

My father-in-law once described me as a man who wants to give a “Voice to the voiceless” this is certainly true, I have a passion for this, and “Voice of the Children” was intended to be just that, a voice for the voiceless. Anytime I would play the song audiences would cheer and people would cry and through my head would go the pictures forever burned in my head of the Sandy Hook kids.

In my mind these kids and I are in separable in time, as if the song was somehow prophetic, the Spirit which “Knows what we aught to pray” (Romans 8) praying within me. The song became a challenge to the church and to audiences to hear not the children in their churches but children around the world. To see suffering not as a policy or political problem but as a human problem, to see children who are suffering as an opportunity to bless those whom the world often destroys.

Which is what we are to do. In 1 Peter 3:9 it says: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless! For to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” The word “Bless” here is a participle that carries imperative meaning, that is, this is a command: “Be the one who blesses” this follows Jesus own teachings in Luke 6:27-28 and Matthew 5:16 and also follows Old Testament teachings concerning Abraham when God tells him in Genesis 15 that he and his offspring are to be a “Blessing to all nations.” We are not called to be a curse on this planet, but a blessing. That includes little children, of which Jesus also tells us that it would be better “to have a millstone tied around our neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Mat 18:6, Luke 17:6).

Yet 8 years later this song still haunts me precisely because I keep seeing the plight of children get worse, not better. And I’m not just talking about the kids who have been taken into custody along the border and put in detention centers. Life for children in general has gone down hill as they often find themselves compensating for their parents histories or they are too busy they have no time to just be kids. Or I see kids in our own country who, because of their immigration status, are being denied basic human health needs like tooth brushes and soap while adults who should know better squabble over spending money on actually meeting those basic hygiene requirements. I hear the cries of the children and see those cries go ignored.

I know, I know, right now I sound like Gal Dukat coming Deep Space Nine looking for money to run his Orphanage yelling “think of the children.” But as much as this song has been on my mind lately, the words of Jesus about not causing the least of these to suffer or stumble I cannot help but think that we have missed something here theologically. Right now, the church has an incredible chance to be a light and shine for them, no longer do we have to go to the nations, the nations have come to us. I know it’s cliché, but that’s the thing about clichés, they often turn out to be true in some way. If conditions at the border are as terrible as even James Dobson says they are, even in his own corrupt, nationalistic and nativist way, then we should actually be leaning into the situation as the church, not pushing back from it in revulsion.

Just think of what would have happened if the early Christians at Carthage had done this, pulled back, there is a good chance that you and I are not Christians because Christianity would not have spread like wildfire in a time of famine and plague when it was the Christians, not the Roman Government who were taking care of the sick and diseased. God has put before a wonderful time to respond to evil with good and to care for the sick and homeless and almost clothe less and we are debating whether or not they deserve to be cared for on the basis of their immigration status.

Now, before you label me as “some open-border (place expletive here)” I will be the first to tell you that a sovereign nation has the right to make and enforce laws to protect and sanction its borders. But those laws should be at the very least humane and be enforced humanely. How does a nation balance securing its borders and treating people humanely? Perhaps it brings the one organization in the world with a God-given definition of what a human being is that should lead to a wholistic understanding of what a human being is and care for the needs that a human being has. The Church.

Voice of the Children is one of two songs that constantly and consistently come to my mind when I think of the issues before us as the Church in the United States. It also makes me wonder if the solution to some of our smaller problems and disunity are not found in working to solve the current crisis at our border and any place where Children are killed, exploited, destroyed, terrorized or dehumanized.

Because right now we have done our best to just forget, to turn our backs on all those who have wept, to crush the hearts of the innocent while they wait for the church to come and do what the church claims it is going to do.

There is hope though and I captured that right at the end of the song, Because if there is no hope, then why are we still here?

“And now she’s free

now she believes

she’s becoming who she’s called to be

and now she shines, shines like a star

and now you know her faith will take her far”

Listen to the song here: Voice of the Children (From the Acoustic Bootlegs EP).

 

Lovingly, Pastorally, Theologically, we no longer have a choice.

 

Lyrics and Music for Voice of the Children property of Jonathan David Faulkner & 10:31 Publishing

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on 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 Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center 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. 

End the Music Wars

Fighting Over Music Style when the church needs us to address actual issues and the world becomes more and more disillusioned with Christianity is unhelpful and destructive. 

 

Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter – Image from the Music Video for Died In My Sleep

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

There was a time in my life when my siblings made fun for me for not knowing any “secular” songs. I sort of deserved it, I used to carry around this empty coffee can with two FFH albums, a Jars of Clay album and a Toby Mac CD, those were my first albums and I refused to listen to anything else in my CD player. As far as my radio station choices went I had not even discovered the wonders of Christian Rock and Metal yet so there was no Demon Hunter and though Thousand Foot Krutch had been a part of God’s drawing me to himself, I listened to CCM stations exclusively. That had changed by the end of high school, but when I started collecting CD’s back in the late 90’s early 2000’s. By the end of my senior year in High School I had actually started listening to the band Train whose song “Soul Sista” was on a Prom mix. I was known as the Christian kid who only listened to Christian Music, CCM specifically, because all secular music was evil and Christian Rock/Metal were also evil and were out to destroy my faith.

 

I remember when my dad started buying heavier albums for me as part of his yearly CD brick Christmas present he gave to each of us based on our individual musical interests. It was my first Demon Hunter album, “Storm the Gates of Hell” which contained the ballads “Carry Me Down” and “Thorns” which did not prepare me for the heavier songs that make up the majority of the albums. I mean, I had heard “Not Ready to Die” on TVU at youth group, but the songs I knew were the two mentioned above. What I found though, was that unlike the CCM bands I was listening too (This was 2002 and the beginning of the Praise Craze that CCM has never gotten out of) the heavier bands were speaking to the pain and trauma I was experiencing, like Disciples “After the World” or Thousand Foot Krutch’s “Welcome to the Masquerade” One of my earliest heavy albums was Skillet’s “Collide” (2003) with the song “Savio” which got tons of airplay and I saw them play live a few times now.

 

Disciple, Demon Hunter, Red, Skillet, Thousand Foot Krutch, Lecrea, Project 86, so many bands that were much heavier than what my parents were comfortable with (plus rap) were the companions that played in my headphones more so than the bands being played on CCM stations. Yeah, I still listened to Jars of Clay and Downhere, Steven Curtis Chapman and FFH (the band that got me into Christian Music), but the trauma of the intense bullying, the pain of the identity crisis and the reality of God meeting me in those painful places was coming from the heavier bands and rap groups or artists. These bands brought me closer to Christ than CCM ever did (Jars of Clay and FFH being an exception to this) by telling me they understood the pain I was feeling and offering me hope to keep going when my life was its darkest or, in the case of Emery, scaring the crap out of me when it came to the consequences of a life of sin.

 

Some of CCM’s veterans like Matt Bronleewe (Jars of Clay, The Hawk in Paris) and Charlie Peacock have decried this irrelevancy within CCM and written books and articles on how CCM might regain relevancy. Recently I watched a YouTube video talking about all the unsigned bands that are not getting air time because the labels control what is played on the radio. His argument that bands who showed creativity and style were cashiered out of the industry and did not receive air time. The same has been true about bands in the Christian Rock industry, though Christian Rock/Metal radio is a lot more independent friendly. It seems once bands have the freedom from the label they are free to say what they want. Thousand Foot Krutch is a prime example, instead of writing ongs that kind of hint to their subject matter like they did on Welcome to the Masquerade” their first independent album since “Set it Off” “The End is Where We Begin” just came out and said what it was thinking. Disciples music followed the same trajectory, especially after they left Fair Trade.

 

Jars of Clay, Rich Mullins, Andrew Peterson, Steven Curtis Chapman, Tenth Avenue North and For King and Country are industry anomalies. Rich wrote worship music that caught us up into the wonder of God and worship of Him for everything from the creation of the color Green to the hills in Nebraska. Jars of Clay was a band my family started listening because they had something to say, Tenth Avenue North and For King And Country have both made moves towards relevancy, especially with songs like “God Forgive Us” (For King & Country) and “Still Listening” (Tenth Avenue North).

 

I actually had a representative of the band Building 429 that one of their big hits was actually a terrible song but the people just eat it up.

 

Which brings me to my point, we have bought the idea that Christians should only listen to Christian Music hook line and sinker and then turned around demanded that everyone conform to our version of Christian Music, labeling everything else as “Evil” or “UnChristian” even when that music is drawing countless people to Christ by meeting them in their pain. It’s the Evangelical Version of the Bob Jones teaching that only certain types of music (Classical or choral/congregational) were holy because they do not have a beat. Even when there is a much better alternative out there. Imagine being told you cannot listen to The Getty’s (In Christ Alone) or Andrew Peterson (Is He Worthy) because they have a beat, something that was prevalent in the circles my wife grew up in. The same has been said to me about my interest in and embracing of Christian Rock/Metal. We have bought the idea that CCM is the best form of Christian Music and if you do not conform you must be wrong and likely unchristian.

 

The fact is, many of these bands that I’ve listed from the Metal part of my discography have done more to draw me to Christ than much of CCM though Jars of Clay, Andrew Peterson, Rend Collective and The Getty’s have been extremely formative to me. Imagine the difference it can make for a teenager to hear Disciples sing “You’re not on your own, you’re not, invisible.” Compared to a prepacked pop song about being joyful that doesn’t begin to touch the reasons you feel invisible. Or hearing Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and then turning to K-Love and hearing the MercyMe equivalent “Shake.” Even though that equivalent doesn’t begin to address the pain that is behind Swift’s decision to “Shake it off” in the first place.

 

But this is also why we should allow secular music into our collections as well. I know the way disillusionment with Christianity has affected the people in my generation because I have listened to bands like Fun and Mumford and Sons both led by men who are disillusioned with the Church and with God because of it. It gives me a chance to pray through my response to these people in my own generation who might ask me why I believe and gives me a sense as to why they are disillusioned instead of being shocked with the fact that outside our Christian Bubble are people who are disillusioned with Christianity, the Church and by way or consequence, God Himself.

 

“But we don’t want our kids to be secular” but you want your kids to be able to minister in a world that is increasingly secular right? You want your kids to be able to address the pain their peers are feeling and the topics that are relevant to the issues their friends are facing? “But they look so much like the world, and sound like it too!” Did you stop and consider that maybe that is because we have forced these people to the fringes and their audiences are made up of kids whose parents tell them that music is evil and they shouldn’t listen to it? That they are doing ministry to teens who cannot find the issues they are facing in the mainstream CCM 10 song mixer? As for sound, Christian Rock, Metal and even Rap tend to be fairly unique and creative, look at bands like RED whose strings are infinitely greater than anything Michael W. Smith or Christ Tomlin have composed. Or Thousand Foot Krutch whose lead sing Trevor McNevan can rock as hard as the rest of them, then break it down in a sophisticated Rap followed by the most beautifully arranged ballad you can hope to hear. It’s not prepackaged synth pop, its music written to be creative.Take The Ongoing Concept for instance, I do not know I have ever heard a band that uses so many different variations on Metal or variety of instruments used in a Metal song including a sixty year old piano that sounds fresh out of the Saloon.

 

We get what we consume, those who run the industry have figured out we will consume anything that we sell as Christian, even if the theology of that music is extremely questionable if not openly heretical. Meanwhile we are telling young people that the best solution to their problems is to just be happy and that worship is something we do flippantly while listening to “family friendly” radio. Then condemn them when they branch out beyond what you think the music that actually addresses the issues the are facing is “evil” though it actually has the effect of drawing them closer to God.

 

Honestly, we should expect a lot more from CCM and from the Church than we do. We have adopted a purely consumerist model for something that should be so creative and so unique that it just flows out of us, to create like the creator did, out of our life and existence for the sake of creating something we love and which is beautiful. But at the same time offers a real and deep solutions to the issues that people face by 1. Acknowledging those issues and 2. Going to scripture to offer that hope in the darkest places. We can do both and have a myriad of examples of bands who have made that part of their mission. It’s time we lay to rest the worship wars and the comments about who is making the most perfect music and let God use what God has ordained to use because if we really believe God is all powerful, that means He can use anything, even really bad CCM…but I digress.

 

 

 

 

Father’s Day Reflection for those who have lost a child to Miscarriage and Infant Loss

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

On top of a small book shelf in my living room are a few trinkets and one picture, a very small knit hat, an angel holding a small baby and a picture of an ultrasound. Above all of this is the word Shalom written in Hebrew, the name we chose for the baby we lost on an unseasonably warm January night in 2018. It’s a daily reminder that we actually have 2 children, not just Erin, our little bundle of Joy, but Shalom, a child who we only saw on an ultrasound once before they told us she had passed away. The little baby that made me a father, but who I never met but who my wife and I both loved intensely.

 

Brother, I want you to hear this, even if you have lost a child, you are a father, you were part of creating that child, that life. I know this world has told you that you are nothing more than a “donor” and that you really have no say when it comes to pregnancy, but you helped create a life and now you are hurting because that life you helped create is gone. Or, you even held that baby in your arms and loved him or her with all your being, they were still born or they passed in the night, that child made you a father and this father’s day is as much for you as it is for the dad whose kids have grown up happy and healthy.

 

I know the wound is likely fresh for some of you, that your heart is hurting and you feel like you can’t talk about it because we are men and we just suck it up and take it. But brother you are allowed to be sad, to hurt from this, though you may have to delay your grief to lift up and love your wife through her pain, you are allowed to grieve the loss of your child. You are allowed to be angry and hurt, you are allowed to feel and when the time comes you are allowed to do what you need to do to heal.

 

Scripture promises us in so many places it would be hard to pick just one that God walks with us through suffering and cares for us in the midst of our deepest pain and worst trials. Oh dear brother you are not alone on this journey, I have felt what you are feeling in the last year, experienced that pain mix with the joy of a baby that would not exist had the first one lived. I have walked through our first child’s due date and cried. I am countless other brothers have experienced this and walked through this and so hear me when I say you are not alone. Remember too that the God you serve, the God you love sent his own son into the world to die on the cross, his only child, to die and show us what will happen for all who believe when our time of resurrection comes.

 

Brother, God is with you and your brothers are with you, stand firm in that fact even as you are too weak to stand, even as the pain feels like it is too much, even when the enemy and the world try to tell you that you are alone.

 

Dear brother, you are loved and you are a father.

Beware of Meme-Ology

Meme’s are fun, but when we try to theologize through them we usually just end up trivializing or oversimplifying larger, more nuanced theological concepts, ideas and teachings.

 

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

I am not a fan of Meme-ology.

What is Meme-ology you ask? Meme-Ology is the practice of summing up large pieces of theology from any theological discipline, biblical, systematic, historical etc. Into a pithy or over simplified meme that only supports one side of a theological argument of which scriptures supports both sides of that argument and which should be taken as a whole without a resolution to the tension with discernment for when a teaching is actually applicable to a situation. Or, the use of a single scripture, ripped from its context, to support a philosophical idea or ideology that may be either obliquely related or completely unrelated to how the text is being used.

We all know what I am talking about, how many of us shared Philippians 4:15? “I can do all things through Christ who Strengthens me” to relate to being able to do anything we desire to do. The full passage, Philippians 4 deals with contentment in the worst situations, for Paul, at the time of writing, it was incarceration and pending trial either leading to his death in Rome. Yet, the passage often gets used when we want to do something. As a kid I can remember trying to learn how to ride a bike and thinking “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Our self-indulgent Americanized Christianity applies this passage to the self, rather than the situation, it becomes a verse about self-empowerment rather than Christ’s power in our suffering. Yet to understand this verse in context we would have to have a much more robust understanding and theology of suffering than we currently have.

Philippians 4:15 is for the farmer who cannot make ends meet and who is feeling the pressure of maintaining his farm, so much so that he is on the verge of burn-out and may even be suicidal. It is for the mother and father who have just lost a child, whether that be to miscarriage, infant loss, suicide, overdose or what not. It is for the Christian in Pakistan who is under house arrest for believing in Jesus or the pastor in China who is also under house arrest for preaching the gospel outside of the Chinese National Church. Christ will strengthen them, give them hope and comfort when they reach out to Him.

It is not meant to be applied to the teenage boy who wants to date the cute girl at Youth Group but cannot get up the nerve to talk to her. It is not for the man who engages in get-rich-quick schemes. For the person sitting in the pew of the health and wealth preacher who believes if he just believes and claims riches, he will receive them. It is not speaking about the student who wants a 4.0 and has to pass a huge test to get it. It is not a passage about Christ helping us achieve self-advancement.

It is about Christ walking with us and strengthening us through the greatest suffering in life. Talking to a girl is hard for a teenage boy, but he is not imprisoned for believing she is cute. The Chinese pastor, who believes Jesus, preaches His word faithfully, loves God and is arrested for all that because his religion is seen as the religion of the colonizer, he is the one Christ will strengthen through helping him find comfort and contentment in the worst possible situation.

Yet, it is often the first scenario, the teenage boy, and not the Chinese pastor who this passage gets applied too. Because we lack a robust theology of suffering we apply this passage to self-enhancement, but Paul is not speaking of that, he is speaking of the suffering caused by imprisonment. We do not preach or posses a scripture of self-enhancement, we preach and poses a scripture that tells us we cannot, on our own, make ourselves better. That it is Christ living in us that makes it possible for Christians to live with contentment whatever the trial we may face. Apart from Christ, the pressures and trials of this world would completely overwhelm and destroy us.

Another example of Meme-Ology is the picture chosen for the cover of this article. It talks about how Christians are actually supposed to judge and lists a number of reasons and scripture passages as to why that is true. The problem is, the same Meme can and has been created by the “Judge Not” camp. Both groups believe they have the corner on scripture and see these ideas as at odds with one another. The problem is, Scripture allows for a healthy dose of tension. Jesus does command us “Judge Not” but he also tells us to make judgements, to discern the spirit. Each text has its specific context and specific instructions. The fact is that some of the passages listed are not describing person to person interaction but spiritual discernment. Many of the judgment passages pulled out are also talking about an eschatological judgment. As Rich Mullins says: “Because one day we are going to judge the nations and I have my favorites picked out.” In relationship to human beings, a fuller understanding of the judge/judge not commands would be that we should never put judgment before Love but we should have discernment about a persons actions based on a mature understanding of scripture and aid from the Holy Spirit who dwells within all who believe. As for spiritual discernment, we are to make judgment of what spirit is speaking, whether it be the Holy Spirit which indwells or spirits of the enemy who destroy. The words judgment and discernment are interchangeable. We should not pass a judgement on a human being, but we should be able to discern the actions and the spirit working in another person and react biblically, always putting love first.

These Meme’s also ignore other teachings of Jesus such as “Removing the log in our own eye before commenting on the speck in our brothers” and so on. They become justifications for saying and doing anything we want because our private judgments are infinitely more important than the consensus of the Body of Christ and certainly more important than the full, Spirit-Breathed council of scripture. At the point of Meme-Ology we are no longer even “Bible-thumping” we are “Private Judgment thumping.” Passing off our own private thoughts for biblical authority.

Not that there is not room of private judgments, but as John Williamson Nevin writes: “Private judgments must be brought into the church to see if they hold water alongside the corporate study of scripture.” That is, private judgments must be brought into the church so we can reason through them in a manner that glorifies God and encourages and strengthens the faith of fellow believers. That also means we may have adjust our private judgments to come in line with what scripture actually teaches us. The biggest disservice American Evangelicalism has done for us is give us the phrase: “This scripture means to me…”

That does not mean there is no room for individual revelation concerning scripture, in fact, Simon Chan in his book “Spiritual Theology” says that the nature end of a deep life in the spirit is what he calls “Private Revelation.” That is, the spirit leading us to do X,Y or Z and giving us the courage to follow through on that. This doesn’t mean you should keep it to yourself, but often we hear “Private Revelation” meant for us and try to apply it to another person, or we just make it up. These interaction with the spirit need to be filtered through a spiritual director or teacher who can help you discern the spirits and who is already praying for you. We are not meant to be isolated, sedentary Christians who act on every thought and who attribute every thought to the Holy Spirit.

The fact is, scripture is much more nuanced in its language then we tend to make it out to be. The fundamentalist and evangelical tendency to interpret scripture based on a “plain reading of the text” has done a lot of damage in the history of the American Church. It has excused us from actually digging deeply, to really examine the text. Down to the very languages in which it was originally written. English is actually problematic when it comes to interpretation because it does not allow for the kind of nuance that both Hebrew and Greek do. The example above serves as a good example of this. Judgement in scripture can mean judicial intent, but it can also mean discernment. In English we have this distinction, but for some reason, when we read scripture we apply one definition or the other to every use of the word. Instead, we should spend an hour or two digging into all the available background data to discover everything we can about the use of the word and how it is used in that particular passage.

We need to beware of Meme-Ology, it often tends towards a misrepresentation of scripture and the truth therein. As Christians, Christ is tells us explicitly no to do that in Rev 22:19. We are meant to consider the fullness of the council of scripture and that requires us to dig a little deeper than the plain English meaning or proof texting by pulling a verse out of context. So stay away from Meme-Ology, for the sake of the truth, so that you may teach the fullness of the word of God as you know Him more fully.

To Him be all glory, honor and praise, forever and ever, Amen.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on 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 Rachel in the North Shore of Boston 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 Iowa. 

The Language of Colonization; How Western Missionaries Continue the Sins of our Forefather’s in Modern Times.

It’s not that we shouldn’t support Global Missions, but maybe we should reevaluate how we support and whom we support.

The Altar in an Ethiopian Coptic Church, one of the oldest Churches in the world.

 

Jonathan Faulkner

 

Editor’s Note: It has been since February since Jonathan has posted. We hope you enjoy the new site layout and look forward to more articles in the future.

One of the blessings at being at a place like Gordon-Conwell is that I have had the chance to interact with Christians and Church Leaders from all over the world. I have met men and women from South Korea, The Philippines, Australia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Malawi and many, many more. I have tried, as much as possible to  submerse myself in these friendships and learn all I can about their cultures and their views on the product of Western Christendom and how the interactions between them have affected their cultures for the worse and for the better. This has led to many hours of lament for me as I realize that the system I was raised to think was the truest form of Christianity has actually done a great deal of damage in other parts of the world. As a Church Historian I know the History of Western Christian Missions and even some of the history of non-western Christian Missions. It is easy to claim a certain degree of separation when you just study the history of a movement. However, when you start to meet people who have been or who still are being negatively effected by these events your perspective begins to shift.

As a student I have taken the advantage of classes that teach Non-Western Church History, even as a budding expert on 19th century American German Reformed at Mercersburg and the internicene controversies leading up to the Civil War. I am still permanently indebted to men and women like Justo Gonzolas, Robin Daniel, the Late Lamin Sanneh and many others for teaching me about Church History outside the West, particularly in Africa, South and Central America and throughout the Caribbean. I have seen through their eyes the mistakes of the Western Church and the times when Western Missionaries were effective ministers. Through them I have learned the language of the colonizers and how that language has been harmful, destroying both the historical memory of a people, something upon which their identity is built and the damage done by stripping it away.

In my conversations with African brothers and sisters, especially Joseph Byamukama of Veracity Fount, a man from the nation of Uganda who has a vision, plan and desire to see theological education in Uganda. I have learned much about what role, if any, the west might have in global missions from my conversations with him. “The Western Missionaries come to our country and stay in the air conditioned houses with lights and running water. They have all their western comforts with them at all times and they never really come into the villages except to play with the kids or to get a photo op” he tells me. “But America has so much money, the American Church is the wealthiest in the world, if the American Church sent financial resources instead of missionaries, it would be more effective.” This is similar to what Missions Expert Paul Borthwick said in his book “Western Christians and Global Missions” and what Missiologist and Mission Historian Doctor Hank Lederle taught us at Sterling College so many years ago.

Joseph is also well educated in African Church History. He sees European Colonization as  one of the most damaging events in African History. White Europeans showed up to Africa with no understanding of African History. Race, which rose out of Darwinian evolutionary theory as a justification for the subjection and enslavement of people from the African Continent, particularly along the Ivory Coast. Combined with a presumed superiority by the Europeans meant they could exploit the continent and its human and natural resources and along the way destroy the historical memory. For example, the Ethiopian Orthodox or Coptic Church traces its roots back to the first century C.E. It actually predates the creation of some of the Churches which Paul wrote too and survived long after those churches were destroyed. “Yet most African do not know this” Joseph tells me “They do not know what it means to be African and Christian because they associate Christianity with colonization” not with the rich Christian tradition nurtured from the first century onward in North Africa by men like Tertullian, Anthony of Egypt, Origen, Augustine, Ambrose, Alexander of Alexandria and many more. These were Africans whose teachings undergird and inform our own theology today and whose origins have been all but scrubbed from the historical memory of the African continent. Men who have been portrayed as White Europeans rather than ethnically correct Black and Brown Africans. It is this history that is part of what Joseph hopes his Veracity Fount will help African Christians recapture so that they can continue to reclaim the Church in Africa, now the largest part of the global church, for Africans.

Along with his dream of bringing theological education to Uganda, Joseph also has plans and has purchased property to build a safari resort on the Grasslands. The business would be used to fund the theological training center but requires a great deal of capitol to start up. Conversations with wealthy American businessmen and women has often been fruitless and even difficult. “The other problem I have been running into” Joseph tells me “is that when I reach out to wealthy American Christians, they want to know what American Missions Agency or partner to send their money too. They do not want to write a check and make an investment with us as Africans, they want an American fronted organization.”

There are a number of misconceptions and stereotypes behind western ideals of Africa. The list we spent the first hour of our class on the Black Christian Experience from Africa to America is well over 100 items long. The west has a long history of judging, putting down and infantilizing Africans and Africa, starting with the idea that Africa is a country, not a continent made up of many countries. The most poignant story I have heard was of the American Missionaries who were headed to a town in an African country and who were invited, by a local African leader, to plant a church in his village they told him: “We have heard that there are no churches in the town we are headed too.” There were many churches in that particular town, all from different denominations who had all heard that this town had no true Christian churches. You see my point?

So, when I heard some missionaries speak, for the first time their presentation did not sit right with me. For starters, it was a ministry operating out of Ethiopia working for an organization that was recently mentioned on a front-page article by The Gospel Coalition about the worlds: “Longest running reformed bible study” that has been running in Africa. The organization is a school for under privileged kids which uses classical Christian education as a means to teach and train these kids to be good adults who will contribute to their society and country. They live in a compound that only allows them to have contact with their families outside after they reach their teen years and which has running, clean water and electricity. The person giving the presentation made sure that we knew that the country they were in, Ethiopia, did not have a largely “Christian Population” but instead they were mostly “Orthodox” who believed in “Salvation by works.” She did make sure we knew that Ethiopia had just elected its first Christian leader, an Evangelical, and that they were hopeful things would get better for Christians there. The presenter also noted that when these kids do get to see family they often spend time with Cousins who are attending the state schools and do not have a strong grasp of “English.” They also wanted us to send them more missionaries so that they could have more teachers and more people to run the finance and oversee projects required to run the school.

If you have been paying attention, the issues with this presentation should be obvious. These are missionaries working in Ethiopia who just referred to one of the oldest part of the global church as “Unsaved” because they were not “Evangelical Christians” because of a gross misrepresentation and incredible lack of understanding of Orthodox theology, summing up something incredibly complex as “works based.” This is similar to when TGC wrote and shared an article about “how to evangelize Eastern Orthodox” which was deeply insulting. They are using a Classical Christian Education, which is a purely western education system and which ill-prepares them to go out into their culture and interact with it. The effect and end product is a group of Africans who fit in better in America than in their own country. Gordon-Conwell has this same issue, bringing in African students and teaching them Western Theology which better equips them for American churches rather than African. The missionary also lamented that Africans outside of their school could not speak as much English as their students. They were lamenting that Ethiopians, who live in Ethiopia, not America or England, could not speak English. They also asked for more missionaries, instead of trying to raise up and train more indigenous leaders, they wanted more Americans to come and fill those teaching and financial supervision roles. Instead of asking and trusting Ethiopians to step into these roles, they wanted more Americans to come. Finally, they had the very infrastructure my friend Joseph talked about above, and though they were bringing in children to live in that infrastructure, they were cutting them off from their native language, culture and people instead of working to make sure that infrastructure was shared by all.

Some of you may not see the issues outlined above, if you are one of those, please take the time to read about the history of Christianity on the African Continent as well as the history of colonization and the language of colonization. The ministry outlined above is doing good in that it is caring for the needs of these children, but in doing so they are teaching them to despise their own culture and people. They are continuing the sin of whitewashing and colonization through using a curriculum that better suits them for America than Ethiopia. This is part of our history that is predicated on the false idea that western culture is somehow superior to other cultures and that the western church has the purest and truest form of Christianity, that is, the Evangelical Churches have the truest and purest form of Christianity. Africa, as a continent, long ago passed the west for the largest part of the global church, just as South America, Korea, Vietnam and other Eastern countries had long before it. Yet we are still the wealthiest arm of the church and that money could go so far in the hands of indigenous leaders overseeing their part of the global church. Leaders like my friend Joseph and many, many others who represent nation after nation who wonder why their western brothers and sisters will not let them lead.

I think the first time this hit home for me was when one of my sisters from the East and whose name is withheld for her safety, said to our professor in a class on the history of Christianity’s Creeds and Confessions: “When you talk about Calvinism in (her country) or Westminster or whatever it does not make sense to us, we want to study the scriptures but you tell us we have to study Calvin.” This spurred a discussion about how western systems are not one size fits all, often they do not even fit the west. The professors challenge was to write a paper about how her culture would address presenting unified doctrinal statements in a manner that was fitting to them so that she could teach us. The professor has taken this same sensitivity into his other classes, challenging foreign students to find ways their culture expresses faith and writing on that.

Honestly, there has to be a better way than destroying a culture and replacing it with our own. Perhaps it is time we humbly laid down any thoughts that we are somehow superior and allow the rest of global Christianity to teach us here in the West. Maybe it is time we go back to the feet of Jesus and instead of doing all the work, just listen to the Lord, our brother, who has given us the Gospel we proclaim. Maybe it is time we let my brother Joseph lead his own country and clean up our own back yard, leaving room for those who know their cultures and who can speak into the questions of those cultures better than we can

So, go my brothers and sisters, lead the way. May we be willing to support, love and lift you up as you use your gifts to reach the world for Christ.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on 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 Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church.