Month: November 2017

THe One Who Sets the Table: The Eschatological Vision in Isaiah & Implications for Reconciliation.

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

Have you read the vision of the last days sprinkled throughout the book of Isaiah? The beauty of the described coming Kingdom, a House set on the highest mountain where Rivers flow up to the summit and all the nations gather together as one. When we will “Beat our swords into plough shares” (2:4) and “He will decide many disputes among them” (2:4). Such a wonderful reality that we will one day see when Christ returns and the Revelation Prophesy is revealed. What a day that will be, when we will see the righteous rule of the Lord, the same God who created heaven and Earth. If that thought does not move us to praise and wonder I am not sure what will.

There have been times in Christian History where we have tried to envision this vision before Christ returned. Martin Luther thought the times were upon us, as did Jonathan Edwards and Phil Schaff and others. This was a theory known as Post-Millennialism, the notion that we would see a glorious age of the Church here on Earth before the return of Christ. While I do not subscribe to that (I believe Christ has to return for the Post-Millennium vision to be realized which is called Pre-Millennialism) I do believe that these passages, which though we are waiting on their fulfillment, have already been fulfilled in Christs first coming. In short, these days described in Isaiah and in Jeremiah and elsewhere in Scripture are merely awaiting their appointed time for the work has been complete by a God who is outside of, but steps into, time. These days are coming, when, we do not know, but we have assurance after assurance that they are coming.

But what does this have to do with reconciliation in the modern day? If you pay attention to Christian Print Media, you are aware that there has been a debate going on in Christianity Today concerning the setting of tables. One commentator says that the White Church needs to open up its tables to members of different ethnicities and colors while another argues that people of other ethnicities need to set their own tables and open up seats for members of the White Church to join in while some continue to argue for the separation that is part of our current crisis in the Church.

It is true that for most of the history of the Church, Western Christendom has dictated the doctrines and standards for what is to be considered “Normal” within the Church and even within the culture. The result has been a white, male dominated Christendom that has even done away with the old testament protections for women, widows, orphans and immigrants. Which has most recently defended a man who glorified his own sexual exploits and has ostracized a pastor for being willing to step out of the shell of what has been made “normal” for the sake of standing up for the other, the one we reject. The indictments in our culture, not counting some of the most insane of them (ones obviously made up) are generally true though not in every case and in some places less so than in others.

Soong-Chan Rah and others are right in saying that Western Christendom has set the table and determined what even constitutes a human and those who do not conform to that normate standard or who have conformed but then subvert that system are not considered or lose their standard of humanity. Of course, because this kind of thought has been normalized, western, white Christendom is not the only group to do so, but they have been the most dominate and loudest voice and most insolent oppressor.

If you do not believe the previous paragraph, consider the article I wrote a few weeks back on Lecrae and his divorce with White Evangelicalism. He was considered human because he fit the white Christian Music standard/mold. When he left that he was treated as less than human, when he left the requirements set forth by the power structure, he lost his human status in their eyes. He was lied about, attacked and his life was threatened. Same with Collin Kaepernick who has been told, along with hundreds of NFL players, that because he protested a flag that had never really represented him, he was less than human. These men stepped outside the bounds of the mold set for him and was treated as if they were less than human because of it by the established power structure.

I think one of the greatest problems with this whole business is that Man thought he could set his own table apart from God. What do I mean? I mean that if you read Scripture you cannot come away with anything less than God has determined what is when it comes to his creation and it is part of our rebellion to want to set the terms of creation and make the standard our own when in truth, the standard is much, much higher and broader than anything we can possibly imagine.

I apply the same logic to relationships in the Church. Scripture never uses the Complementarian / Egalitarian Language in scripture, which is why I think it is unhelpful when discussing relationships in the Church. What it does say is that “And he made them, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). And “Be sure to treat older men as fathers, older women as mothers, younger men as brothers and younger women as sisters” (1 Tim 5:1-2). These thoughts should completely eclipse our use of certain passages, some of which are highly contextualized and cannot be applied to the topics they are applied to or are misinterpreted and used to justify oppression and violence. The fact is, Kingdom relationships and relationships in the Church are extremely nuanced and at this point, their extent seems more a divine mystery than something set in stone. As in, the Imago Dei exists in all of us, but how they works cannot be quantified by Man and how we are transformed so that this Image that is intrinsic comes to the forefront is a mystery by the Holy Spirit. In kind, Kingdom Relationships are meant to be relationships that are mutually beneficial and beneficial to the corporate body. When we use unhelpful language or try to define it in terms of human philosophy we fail to understand the deep complexity and uniqueness of relationships in the Church. Be they leadership, friendship, pastoral or whatnot. If we are all created in the image of God, man and woman, then we are equal and if all of us have different manifested gifts then we are equal there too in that we all have the variety of gifts and some of us have certain ones and others do not but I cannot say, based on scripture, that certain gifts are given to men and certain to women. It would be nice if the writers of scripture had said that, but it does not.

What we do find is that man, so affected by the fall, cannot determine for himself who God is and who others are without allowing God to dictate that to us through His word. Because God’s understanding is perfect, for He is the created and He has determined in that creation what denotes being human and man’s understanding is clouded and his interpretation is clouded by Sin. The Holy Spirit then is given so that we can learn the things of God and learn them from Him through prayer and His word. We are desperately in need of Him and yet we are not content to let God be God in every way, we have denied Him the power to be the God of Isaiah’s prophesy. The god worshiped by many of us in White Christendom is not the God who wrote scripture, he is a poor substitute that looks more like man than the God of the Bible. It is certainly true that while God has made us in his image, we have done him the same favor. This is to our detriment and should not be praised, in fact it should be condemned since it has done so much damage to us as the Church.

Brenda McNiel says in her book “Roadmap to Reconciliation:” “We need our difference in order to reflect the glory of God which is our mission and human calling. This was God’s original intent in the beginning and it is still God’s will for the human family today.” God created us the human race and determined that we, as humans, are made in His image and that Image is as evident in our differences as it is in our similarities. Man cannot, and should not, undermine this by trying to whitewash or hide behind the hurtful excuse of “Colorblindness” as a way of diminishing the beauty of the diversity that God has said is created in His image and which is part of His plan.

So what is the point? And where does all this talk of tables mentioned at the beginning of this piece come into play. The point is this: God has set the table, He has set the standard and that standard is that He and He alone, the creator, can determine what makes up a human and that standard is higher and broader than anything, yes anything, than we can even conceive in this lifetime and the very moment that we try to use manmade tables or try to set a table and invite God to it we reject His design and His plan and continue our rebellion. When we try to use manmade measures and philosophies to determine what a man is we commit blaspheme against the creator. God has set the standard, He has set the table, He has determined that the table should infinitely and unapologetically diverse, encompassing every ethnicity and color and culture and that this table does not have a limit to the seating capacity or that one person can tell another they are not invited.

The implications for reconciliation here are huge, that is, God is the reconciler because He has set the table and one day, as promised in Colossians 1 all things will be reconciled to Him. Just as the vision in Isaiah shows us, a world that is reconciled to God and where men are reconciled with one another through righteous and just means. For those in Christ, this is our future and our present reality for it was accomplished from the beginning through Christ. It frees us to live together and to embrace one another as brothers and sisters with many languages, tongues and skin tones. The beautiful and diverse Body of Christ that worships Him and transforms this dark world.

Let us start to live this vision today because we can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, received  from God through Christ who is blessed 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. 

The Next Evangelicalism is Here.

Jonathan David Faulkner

One of the books I have been recommending to people is Soong-Chan Rah’s book “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Captivity.” The book is important and though confrontational in the way it comes across (Rah has obviously been hurt) it is one that many of us need to read if only to wake us up to the fact that the demographics in the Church are changing and have changed even more since the book was written. For Rah, the next evangelicalism is not defined by the current American Power Structure. It is not defined by “whiteness” as in, it is not defined by the Western thoughts and ideologies and normates that have longed defined American Evangelicals and which other groups have been forced to conform too. It is a global, biblical evangelicalism that looks beyond the limits of the current discussions on race, gender and ethnic issues in the secular society.

It probably looks more like my wife’s upbringing, a Christian School, that was not perfect, but where kids from all over the world came to attend High School. Where she was surrounded by and worshiped with Christians from Korea, China, Africa, the Eastern Rim, Austrailia and many, many other places. Where differences were embraced by a majority and where racism as we understand it did not come into play. Again, the school was not perfect, but it was a multi-ethnic, international community that embraced diversity and was united by the Gospel. Because of that my wife learned to respect and see the Imago Dei in people regardless of ethnic background and learn from, worship with and be in community together as a multi-ethnic community united by Christ.

Of course, this vision of a community presents some of us with a problem. Since here in America we still socialize our children with even a subtle racism even if we intend to or not. We use language like “they” and “them” to describe the issues in our society. Implying that there is a “Them” or a “they” allows us the privilege to separate ourselves from the issues in the communities we have designated “theirs” when the reality is this is an “us” “Our” situation. The problems that affect the “Them” also affect us and so we are all dealing with the same problems and suffering in the same ways and are in need of each other to heal. I said in my last article that: “There is no individual sin, every sin affects the corporate body” and I meant that, viewing it as a “us vs them” gives us a perceived excuse to ignore the pain of the other in favor of our own individual pain. We do this with race and we do this among ourselves. So socialized to believe that the individual is the most important and does not need the corporate that we are divided among ourselves. We are all divided by pain and by viewpoint and by self. We are all hurting and we are all crying out for mercy, yet, hurt people, who have not grown to maturity, hurt people. Instead of being the wounded healer and healing together through listening, weeping and working to change the systems that have hurt all of us we want to be left alone in our pain and in doing so continue to perpetuate the hurt done to us.

Issues of identity, human dignity, ethnicity, unity, care, these are community, corporate conerns that we do ourselves an extreme disservice by trying to deal with on our own. Our theology is so fundamentally flawed, informed by the American Dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, instead of scripture. It is no wonder we are the most depressed nation in the world. That despite our overtones and overtures about personal happiness we are the least happy nation in the world and we are taking our depression out on each other. Divorcing ourselves from the corporate mindset that is pervasive in scripture has completely destroyed our ability to even live together. Like C.S Lewis’s vision of Hell in The Great Divorce, continuing to get further and further about. By the way, before we pat ourselves on the back and say: “Yeah, you may be right, but this is secular society, not the church.” I am talking here, strictly about the Church. I cannot speak to secular society since they do not want to hear, I can only speak to Christians, especially those wrapped up in the mold placed by “White Evangelicalism” or “White Americanized Christendom”

The next evangelicalism is here, it is multi-ethnic, global and corporate and has many, many voices that need to be heard and have much to say and the White American Church is like the dwarves in Aslan’s country who insist they are still sitting in a cold, dank shack full of hay. It is scary, but maybe we need to make the effort to step out of our homogenous comfort zones and recognize the fact that what Rah describes in his book is already the state of the world outside of the White Church. If the “What Church” is going to have a seat at the new table it needs to step back from its own. The new table is very diverse and seats many nations, peoples and tongues. It has many languages and interpretations and styles of worship and we have the incredible opportunity to see Christ in ways we have refused to see in the American Church. We cannot continue to separate ourselves because someone looks different in the church or a woman is preaching. We have to lay down our philosophies that do not even use scriptural language and embrace the fact that relationships in the church, that The Church looks a whole lot different outside our echo chambers than we think it does and when we do step outside the walls not try to dictate to the greater church how they should conform to our viewpoints.

Now, my goal here is not to heap shame on us, we do not need that, but an honest assessment of our current state and the state beyond our walls is necessary, if we are ever going to take our place at the table of true, biblical evangelicalism, we need to see that we have not been. Nor do I want to come across as saying that the church in America is totally lost, there are many people in the “White Church” that have embraced the New Evangelicalism. This movement is global, it is ecumenical, it is multi-ethnic and it requires us to sit at the feet of those who we would not normally sit at the feet of. This is scary for some and a deep struggle for others, especially given how a lot of us were socialized.

Like Lecrae, we should all divorce ourselves from White Evangelicalism, for the sake of the Church and its witness, for the sake of God and His glory. If we are going to build a righteous community it has to be a community built on a mutual, gospel understanding of who we are as individuals and as a corporate body. Seeing one another as equals, brothers and sisters, whose relationships transcend our human definitions and boxes. This starts with recognizing that we all bear the Imago Dei and that image is not bound up in human understanding and not able to be defined by human inventions or philosophies. Accept that it is a divine mystery and accept that it is intrinsic in all human beings and treat everyone according, with dignity and care. View life through a lens that allows for someone other than self or our hemogenic groupings.

The New Evangelicalism is radically different than anything we have ever experienced and if we are going to be a part of it we need to be willing to accept our past mistakes, apologize, ask forgiveness and seek to heal the wounds we have caused in the name of Christianity. When the world sees this happening, when the project of reconciliation begins and the fruit is seen it will so greatly stun the world and many will come to know Christ.

Brothers and Sister, this is not an easy road, this is a hard and difficult road. It requires a complete paradigm shift for many of us and there is not currently a solution but a journey and that journey may take a good while. However, I am willing to walk it, and I hope you are too.

 

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. 

Racism Exists-So let’s talk about it.

Photo Credit African American Policy Forum

 Jonathan David Faulkner

I can very distinctly remember the first time I ever heard a racist slur aimed at someone of color. It was a co-worker at a catering company I worked for in college and something felt very wrong about the slur and though the man who was the target of the term laughed it off, you could see the hurt in his eyes. I grew up in a rural area where I heard a lot of negative comments, but I do not remember hearing a lot of racist remarks so the remark made towards my co-worker was a bit jarring. Not that things like what I witnessed did not happen where I grew up, but I was never really party to it nor was I as sensitive to it as I had my own set of derogatory terms leveled at me because of my disability.

It seems hard for us to accept but, yes, racism exists and it is as ugly and as harmful as ever. It exists in the sinful hearts of men and it exists in the economic and political systems and even in police forces. It exists in our sinful hearts and is carried out in the sinful systems we create. Oh, and it exists in the church too. Before you think I have gone off the deep end hear me out, because I know my audience and I am well aware where some of you stand. No, I do not see racism everywhere, but I do see in certain places in certain attitudes racism seems as necessary (for some) as eating. I have known people who could not let go of their hatred for others, especially those of other races. I have seen on national television NFL fans booing and spewing hate filled tirades at players for kneeling. Seen the Facebook posts of people I graduated High School with condemning the football players and sharing memes that shame and make fun of Collin Kaepernick. Yes, racism exists, in some places it is outright and blatant, in some places it has been talked about and acknowledged and the healing has begun. In some places it is subtle and continues in sinister comments and epitaphs and statues of former presidents being lynched.

The problem is, we do not want to acknowledge it, or we want to brush it off and say things like: “Oh I am colorblind” or “things are so much better than they used to be.” And in some ways they are, but in some ways they are much worse than they used to be, and though we do not like to confess or own up to that, we have allowed it to rise all the way to the upper tiers of our government and shunned rappers for speaking out against it. We tell Black Lives Matter to go home and continue to pass around false narratives without seeking to dig to find the truth.

By the way, Racism is not limited to black and white or white and black. It can be Korean to Black, Black to Korean, you name an ethnic group and there are likely examples of racism. It is a problem that affects everyone, there is no such thing as reversed racism, we are, as Dr. Emmitt Price III says: “All socialized in different ways and some are socialized to hate.”

My goal here is not this, my goal here is not to heap shame or guilt on anyone for being in whatever station or whatever ethnicity you were born with. Your skin color cannot change and should not be criminalized. Nor do I want to turn the tables and criminalize a group for being an ethnicity or for having a skin color or having a “white” mindset or whatever. My goal here is to challenge the thinking those who live with the mentality that there is nothing wrong, those who want to dismiss racism both personal and systematic. I want to help you think outside of the way you have been socialized so that we can acknowledge the pain of others and move beyond the Us vs Them mentality. Shame and guilt do not help accomplish that, to put behind the normalization on one limited people group so that we can fully come together in the unity of the Spirit while celebrating our infinite diversity. Racism is a problem, but it is not merely “their” problem, it is our problem, both as a church and as a society and we have to recognize that. Racism is a sin, but it is not merely a personal sin, but a corporate sin just as much as infidelity or fill in the blank. Every personal sin is felt by the corporate body, the repercussions of sin are not merely personal, they are felt corporately and sometimes universally.

There is pain and suffering in this world caused by the Church and by the world at large. Now, the secular world does not want our morality, does not want our faith, does not want our truth. But in the Church we have the Gospel and yes, we are to take the Gospel to the world, we are to be visible, but we cannot dictate the truth of the Gospel, the blessings of the Gospel, to a world that does not want it until we have taught them. That’s why in the Church we need to acknowledge and accept that we have perpetuated racism both individually and corporately and denounce it as often as we come across it within our ranks and have the hard conversations required of us to let the Holy Spirit work within us individually and corporately in the work of reconciliation.

The secular world may not want reconciliation, it certainly seems that way, but in the Church we are called to be different, we have the ability to see the Imago Dei in every person by the Holy Spirit. We do not serve a powerless savior, Christ’s death and resurrection is for everyone, even if, like me, you believe in the doctrine of the elect, (we do not know who is part of the elect so we had better preach the Gospel fervently), Christ’s death is for everyone and the Gospel is for everyone. The transforming power of the Gospel can remove us far from issues of ethnicity and divisions over ethnic lines and far from the evils of racism, but it will not do that unless we acknowledge the elephant in the room. Not that God is powerless to transform us, but because He is not going to use force to make us deal with this. He will, and is, stirring in our hearts to bring us to the table, His table, not a white table or whatever, so that we can discuss and heal and through Him, do the work of reconciliation. That is what should happen in the Church, that is what God is calling us and stirring us too. We cannot move forward unless we recognize and seek transformation from what is behind. In the words of a Casting Crowns song: “Jesus is going to change the world, but we can’t chain ourselves to the Gospel, because we are slowing it down.”

We are not mere individuals in the Church, I know that upsets some of our western, post-Enlightenment sensibilities, but we are not mere individuals. We are part of a collective, and like I said, I do not want to talk about guilt because scripture is clear, we are all guilty and fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23). God takes away guilt, and together then we are responsible for dealing with the hurts that have been caused by our history. If there is to be reconciliation there has to be acknowledgement of something bigger than and outside of our own limited space or individual pride. We have to let each other in and we have to be let in and guess what? We have already been let in by the Father. If you are a Christian and you have confessed your sins he is truly faithful to forgive our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The language of scripture is clear, there is no such thing as the lone wolf or solitary Christian, we are a corporate body with corporate responsibility to the Gospel.

Racism exists and it is a sin, a corporate sin, but God can and will redeem us and He is stirring the waters and seeking to do the work that is required for reconciliation. But we must see each other and walk together and let God do the work.

 

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.