Month: February 2020

Dada Is My Name: Reflections on having a One Year Old and remembering the one we lost.  

 Being a Dad is the single most rewarding, scary, cool, terrifying, fun and sanctifying things I have ever done. Some say it is all about the parents ego, but I strongly disagree.

Jonathan Faulkner

Let me just put this out there now. I am not sure how the friends on my facebook feed (and there are a couple of you) can say that becoming a parent is selfish. This idea simultaneously shocks and appalls me. The fact of the matter is, I feel I have given more of myself in the last two years than I have at any other time in my life other than when I got married. Actually, if I am honest, marriage and having children all fall under the umbrella of family, so I should have said that I have not given more of myself since I started a family, my wife and I, three years ago. If you enter marriage looking only to get out of it, marry for the satisfaction of self, you are going to be completely disappointed. Similarly, if you enter parenthood in the same way, as though the tiny human you make is going to fulfill you, then again…you are going to be sorely disappointed. There is a very good reason why they tell you in Marriage Counseling that marriage is a “Sanctifying” act. You get to see just how selfish you are and have to confront that head on if you want to survive. To say that getting married or having children is selfish is wrong, it exposes your selfishness and it will not fulfill you (Spoiler alert).

I have been a dad for two years now, yes, I count the baby we lost in January o f2018. That child was a human being, he or she had feet that would have one day run the earth as my daughter, who turned a year-old last Saturday will soon be doing. The fact that the child was lost to miscarriage does not change the fact that finding out your wife is pregnant causes you to instantly start planning the future with that child in it. You cannot claim them on a tax return, they have no SSN, but they are a human being and they were your human being for a short time. The Ultrasound picture now sits in our living room along with some of the gifts we were given in commemoration. I do not care if you think that’s cheesy or stupid, it is our way of remember the little child we loved and lost.

I know this is not my usual post for this site, but I thought it was appropriate considering that I have completed my first year as a dad of a child on this earth on Saturday. That is sort of a crazy thought for me, that the little girl who took my finger in her hand when I first held her is now bobbing around the house with her stuffed elephant, knocking down my block towers and getting a big smile on her face when she sees me come out of the office or back from the church building or visitations. Or when she comes to be with a book in her hands saying: “Dada, dada, this, this.” When she reminds me to put down all my study and research and sermon prep to just sit with her and read the same book ten to twenty times. Or when 5PM rolls around and her mother brings her into my office to remind me to close the workday of ministry and return to the ministry of my family. This girl reminds me that I am also bound by the teachings of scripture to manage my own household well because if I do not, she will suffer as a result, so will my wife and ultimately so will I and whether they realize it or not, so will my congregation.

If I am an under shepherd of the flock of Christ then I must be shepherding the entire flock, which includes my wife and I must honor of the covenant made with my daughter and Christ as her baptism. To raise her in such a way that she comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ and to be patient enough to help her form that faith into a resilient one through all the questions that arise for young Christians. To help her walk the road of Holy Doubt without crushing her spirit or turning her off from faith and from God. To teach her about God and His ways and to help her trust Him in a healthy manner. To serve her, as her father, so that she might know through not just my words, but my actions, what Christ did for her. To teach her to remember the promise of her baptism and to see that promise fulfilled in her. I cannot expert her to know the faith I do, if I am not demonstrating it for her.

For way too many Pastors the home has been the most neglected area of ministry. The home has been the place they unmask. We wonder why so many PK’s want nothing to do with the church after they graduate high school, it is because way too many of those PK’s never saw the faith they heard their parents preach from the pulpit lived out in daily life. The faith of Sunday Morning was not the faith of Monday morning. I do not want that for my daughter, I did not want that for my first child when we found out about her, I do not want that for my little Erin Price.

Instead, the child-like faith with which she trust me, her father, I want to become her child-like faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That starts with sacrifice and ends with unconditional love and grace that can only flow from Jesus Christ who I want her to know and be in relationship with all her days. I have to give of myself, give up my selfish ambitions, my time, my life for her. And I am not just saying this because she is sitting on my lap smiling up at me as I type this. This is a genuine desire.

Many of you have seen my #AdventuresofSaggyandFlappy hashtag. The two stuffed elephants that keep appearing in different places around the house to mark milestones in Erin and I’s relationship, to be an avenue for me to express my future hopes and dreams for my beautiful little wiggly girl. I would want the same for the child we lost. I would want them to know how much I love them by demonstrating for them how much Jesus loves them.

There is one sorrow that I carry now, it is interesting how this happens. This sorrow is that had the first child been carried to full term, had the Miscarriage not happened, our current child would not exist. It is kind of a weird thought, one marked by the joy of knowing that God has answered the prayer for a child but missing the child we never met. This is the strange ground I exist in as a dad. Some of you may think I am over thinking, but I am certain I am not. Do not get me wrong, as I said above, I love deeply the daughter I have now, she is an incredible human. Maybe you have never felt that way, but that is how I feel.

I say all this to say that I love being a father, I love getting to know her, seeing her little personality emerge and watching her explore…everything. This is the life I wanted, a life of sacrifice, praise the Lord for it, for it can be gone way too fast.

 

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.

The Eucharist and the Homily

The Debate over what is central to Christian Worship is an old one, but it may be based on the false dichotomizing of traditions that were meant to be co-equal.

Jonathan Faulkner

What is central to the Worship Service? That was the question that Francis Chan addressed in a recent video sermon that made the social media rounds last week and sparked debates across platforms. I haunt various Facebook theology groups including a lay group based on discussing the ideas in Chan’s book Letters to the Church so I have had a chance to see the multiplicity of perspectives argue back and forth on the content of this video and the claim Chan made that for “1500 years it was the Lord’s Supper that was central to Christian Worship and not the Pulpit.” I have enjoyed watching Chan take this journey since he stepped down from Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley CA and thought there was a lot of good in “Letter’s to the Church” even if Chan went too far in some of his conclusions. I would never consider myself part of the Emerging Church” movement which emphasizes a “burn it all down” approach to the organized and institutional protestant Church that has more in common with the Roman Catholic Church on 1517 than the Church as described in Acts. But as a serious historian and serious student of the scriptures alike, I recognize that Scripture was meant to be applied and the example set for us by the early Christians was meant to be our universal model and can be applied to an institutional church with great care and dedication.

Chan’s assertion however, that: “for 1500 years the Lord’s Supper was central to Christian Worship, not the pulpit.” Actually, fails the sniff test of the very passage his argument in Letters to the Church hinges on, Acts 2:42-47. Not to mention that this is a Roman Catholic revision of History that makes Peter the first Pope of Rome and over emphasizes some parts of the activities of the early Christians that should be held in equilibrium with others. Holding to the doctrine of historic development: The idea that the Holy Spirit guided the development of the Early Church and is still working to lead the development of the church in modern times. It would seem blasphemous that the Spirit would hold up the practice of the supper above the preached word. It would make more sense that because the early Church seemed to have held them in tandem that the Holy Spirit would hold them in tandem. That is, we cannot over emphasize one or under emphasize another. To do so is to create a false dichotomy that only confuses new believers and creates “sides” and parties.

Chan is right in that the Protestant Church has often neglected the supper in favor of the preached word and nothing more. It bothers me when I hear Christians say that they do not want to have Communion more than 3 times a year because they do not want to become numb to what it means. When the early Christians daily partook of the bread and wine, yet many protestants are hard pressed to do so once a month and once a week is absolutely out of the question. The opposite was true of the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the reformation. The Eucharist was done every week and the preached word was just sort of thrown in there for five or ten minutes. Martin Luther’s concern grew out of finding a people starving for the very word of God and bread of life (most of the peasant class were not allowed to take full communion either). That is one of the reasons the preached word became so central to the reformation alongside the Eucharist, the masses were literally spiritually starving. Similar to Jesus when He looked out on the crowds and: “Had compassion on them because they were harassed, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The Eucharist was still important, as evidenced by the vigorous debates over the elements and various views of the Supper. That is, until the next generation of protestants began to over emphasize the preached word over and even at times against the Eucharist.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly when the initial distortion occurred within the Roman Catholic Liturgy. It is less of an intentional change and more of a gradual transformation as the liturgy developed. The Formal Principle of Protestantism; that is the authority of the Word of God, was a corrective to the authority and abuses of the church that had neglected the authority of the Word under infallible Popes, some of whom had no ecclesiological training whatsoever and had no business leading in any church. If the word of God was authoritative, then the tradition had to answer to it and even be dictated by it and whatever was not biblical, such as the sale of indulgences, had to go. We baptize because scripture commands us to baptize, whether as sign and seal of covenant or believers’ confession of faith, we baptize. We partake of the body and blood of Christ because Jesus and the Apostles instructed us to. We greet one another because the Ancient Christians greeted one another, us with a handshake and them with a Holy kiss. The sacraments are part of the tradition, they answer to and are dictated by scripture and we should be wary of neglecting them, but we should also be wary of neglecting the preached word. Both are essential and both are central, they are not at odds, and for 900 years they were side by side with one another in near perfect harmony.

If Chan believes the Roman Catholic Argument that the Eucharist was central for 1500 years and emphasized over the preached word. Then he should go read the works of Cyril, Irenaeus, Tertullian and other church father’s who devoted a great deal of time to the preached word but also consistently and constantly observed the Eucharist. Men and women who quite obviously believed both were central to Christian Worship and both were important. Afterall, how can one define Apostolic Succession as the passing down of the teachings of the Apostles, without expounding on and expositing the teachings of the Apostles. The idea that the Popes were the succession to the Apostles is a later development of the Papacy, not the belief of the Early Christians. The early Christians were simultaneously devoted to the teachings of the Apostles and the breaking of bread. Not to the Apostles themselves, but their teaching which was exposition on the Old Testament and on the life, words and actions of Christ and from which came instructions concerning the breaking of the bread which was the body and blood of Christ.

This was a daily activity, not a casual weekend hour long get together with some loosely theological songs and a nice message meant to make us feel good about ourselves. The teachings and example of Jesus were held up to them and kept ever before them, not just in memorial but as participation in the divine life and divine family they had been adopted into through Christ. When someone came to Christ they were expected to learn about the things of Christ, not some proof-texted man driven philosophy, but the teachings of the God-Man himself.

The Sacrament and the Word should not be separated, nor should one be emphasized over and against the other. They are essential practices of the Church that have existed from the beginning of the Body and they should both hold a central place in our worship alongside the singing of praises to God. We should not longer tolerate their neglect or create spaces where both are not present and central. We need to reject the false dichotomy in favor of the biblical witness.

 

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.

The Tale of Two Speeches

One Speech and One Sermon, two different perspectives on the Church in America, One from the President of the United States, One from the President of a prominent Evangelical Seminary, who is correct?

Jonathan Faulkner

I just spent the last half-hour listening to the president’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. Like many, I am tired of the insults and put downs that have become common place within these speeches and so I would not normally have watched it, but since the President tends to talk up his accomplishments and since he was before one of his primary bases, Evangelical Christians, it seemed logical to expect to see much of the same in this speech. Guess what? I was not disappointed. Listening to the speech made it sound like Christianity was alive and well and he even used the word “Thriving” to describe what was happening. A similar word was used by Pew and Lifeway when they did their research on the ever-marginalized Churches in New England, Churches that are no longer sitting at the forefront of social influence and power and are increasingly further from those centers. The President also made mention of how he has done more for Christians than any other political leader in the nation’s history and one could infer “Since Constantine.” Still, between the self-endorsement and the attacks on political enemies one saw what the second speech reiterated over and over again.

The Second speech, which was actually a sermon on Psalm 85 by the new president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Dr. Scott Sunquist from GCTS Spring Convocation which served as my wife and I’s spiritual nourishment and preaching as we sat at home Sunday Morning waiting out the snow storm that canceled our own service. The sermon opened with one poignant and heart-wrenching line: “The Church in the United States of America is sick, Evangelicalism is sick, brothers and sisters, we are sick.” He then went on to paint the grim picture, combining for us all the statistics on church-decline all the reasons the people in our pews are so anxious, but at the end of that he gave us hope, he showed us the way back to health, his solution? Reach out to God and ask Him for restoration. I know this is likely the first time some of you have heard of this sermon so please go and take a listen before you continue reading.

I said above that the presidents remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast proved, in many ways what Dr. Sunquist said in his sermon, I will get back to that in a second. First, I want to ask the question that I asked in the tagline on this post because these are two very different views of the state of the Church in the United States of America. There is no compatibility here, either the Church is doing amazing and things are great, or we are sick and in need of a biblical restoration. The question we have to ask here is “What is the truth?” Is one of these men passing around false information meant to make himself look better in the eyes of a constituency? Or are they both way off base and the truth is somewhere in the middle? Many of us would like to believe the president, as a Pastor that would take a load off my mind. I would like to say that Christianity is thriving here in the United States of America. I would love to be able to stand before my congregation and say that all their fears are for not, we are in great shape.

However, I cannot ignore what I see with my eyes and hear with my ears. I cannot ignore what the cultural exegetes tell me, those people whose job it is to know exactly what the state of the church in America is like. I cannot help but think about Peter Bienart’s article in the Atlantic in 2017 that talked about “America’s Empty Church Problem” or the pianist at my church who lamented about a town where all the churches are either museums or condo’s or homes now (that was a town in Wisconsin no less). I think of what Barna Group calls: “the rise of the none’s” and what David Kinnamen calls: “the dropout problem” where young Christians who leave the church are not coming back and many are abandoning their faith altogether and the heartbreaking reasons why this is so. I think of the increasingly close entanglement between cultural evangelicalism and Political Power and the promise that all these things I mentioned above are no longer true, even though they are. I think of Dr. Peter Kuzmic who told the church we attended in Hamilton in 2019 that the president of the United States was: “Absolutely hindering missions work all over the world because of Evangelicals association with him in American Politics.” I see and read all of this, I hear the way people in my town talk about the people on the other side of the isle, people who are otherwise perfectly kind men and women who treat bitterly their political rivals. I cannot help but think that Dr. Sunquist is right, that we are in need of restoration. We have violated what Philip Schaff defined as the definition of Religious Freedom in the United States: “It is a Free Church in a Free State, or a self-supporting and self-governing Christianity independent but in friendly relation to the Civil Government.” That the very people who once wrote into their founding confessional documents like the Saybrook Confession that Christian Magistrates could not “proselytize” are now looking to the government to do just that.

Yes, Dr. Sunquist is correct, we are sick, and the president is incorrect, we are not barreling towards a brighter day, we are headed for our own destruction. Yet, I would be a fool to not look at the positive things that are happening in Christianity. The article by Peter Beinart I mentioned above does point out that one affect of our current situation in American Religion is that cultural Christianity is declining and biblical Christianity, which at the time was apolitical, is on the rise. According to a 2018 article in the Washington Post: “Conservative churches” which would better be defined as “Bible Believing” are growing while Liberal churches are dying on the vine. It is also true that 4 Million people between the age of 20-35 classify as what Barna calls “Resilient Disciples” that churches in the places where they are not longer the dominate power structure and where Power Religion is mocked and the church marginalized are laying down their denominational hard lines and embracing a biblical definition and the biblical example of the Church. In short, the Church is reforming, and though this time around there is not a one pivotal figure who has walked up and nailed 95 thesis on the Cathedral doors, there are many spirit led men and women who have found a more ancient voice, the voice of the Holy Scriptures. This new Reformation is taking place around our dinner tables and our fellowship times, at Theology on Tap and in Post-Sermon Q&A sessions. It is active and extremely organic, at times to a fault. Jesus is once again eating with the sinners and the tax collectors and the religious pharisees are once again condemning Him. It is true in Church History and it will prove true again, anytime the church aligns itself with the halls of power it never ends well for the church. Further, anytime we lose our power and influence it forces us back to a time when we had to live out what we believe rather than speak from a place of assumed authority. As Schaff predicted in The Principle of Protestantism, the cultural sects are dying off or reforming and rejoining the main body. Sectarianism has proven untenable.

Now, back to a point I made earlier, I said that the President’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast points to the truth of what Dr. Sunquist said about our sickness. If you listen to the president’s speech, he does exactly what James 3:9-12 tells us not to: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and saltwater flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olive, or a grapevine bear fig? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” In almost the same breath the president of the United States both cursed and attacked his enemies, those who he saw as working against him, and then praised God and even, at points, touted his own accomplishments as being from God. It may also surprise you to find that the general way of speaking, by the president, or tweeting, by the president, tends towards cursing man more so than it does to praising God. This is a sign of how sick we have become; we have propped up and praised a man who is in direct violation of the commands and text of scripture, and not only James 3:9-11. We have embraced a man who regularly participates in “course joking” who has openly admitted to sexual immorality a man who, at the National Prayer Breakfast, openly and brazenly admitted to hating someone who is very possibly his sister in Christ and accusing that sister of making false claims about her own religious practice. His harboring of anger and hatred puts him direct violation of Jesus own commands in Matthew 5:27. If this is not proof of illness, I am not sure what is. We claim the bible is authoritative, we claim that scripture is the means by which we are to live through the Holy Spirit, but then we do not live it out in our own lives and ignore it when it is convenient or expedient.

We are quickly coming to a point of no return, will we pray the prayer of Dr. Sunquist, “Restore us oh God.” Or will we continue to whore after the god of political power and influence? Will we continue to ignore scripture in favor of our preferences and our safety? Or will we repent and remember that it was not Christians in power that brought the Roman Empire to its knees, but a Church under persecution? IF we continue this line of pursuit, we put ourselves in danger of increasing persecution (some places this has already begun). Or we can return to the intention in Schaff’s definition above, two separate and free entities with only a friendly relation unless that government is openly apposed to Christianity. We may not be able, at this point, to back to what Schaff described as: “The relationship of church and state in the United States secures full liberty of religious thought, speech and action within the limits of the public peace and order. It makes persecution impossible. Religion and liberty are inseparable. Religion is voluntary and cannot, and aught not, be enforced.” I fear we are passed the point of a return to this vision and continued attempts to use the government to proselytize we will only face increased persecution.

This is why the president was wrong and Scott Sunquist right, all that is happening that is good in the church right now is actually in spite of what the president is doing or not doing for the church. His own speech and actions, violation of the biblical text which we claim is sacred, and so on and so forth are proofs to Dr. Sunquist point. Further, As David French pointed out our propensity to make excuses for him and to justify his behavior is even more damning and destructive. As we have seen countless times, in the attack on Russell Moore, in attacks on Mark Galli and in too many other cases to admit, we have violated Biblical teaching and done damage to our Gospel witness in a world that already wanted nothing to do with God. We are certain not in the favor of all the people (Acts 2:42-47). Just the opposite, we have taken the offensiveness of the Gospel (you cannot save yourself) and added our own offensiveness to it by not turning to God, but to man, to save us. We should be quick to repent before it leads to our destruction.

Bibliography

Bornman, Adam S. 2011. Church, Sacrament and American Theology: The Social and Political Dimensions of John Williamson Nevin’s Theology of Incarnation. Eugene : WFPF & Stock Publishing .

Fea, John. 2019. Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump . Grand Rapids : Eardhman’s Publishing .

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “Antichrist: Or the Spirit of Sect and Schism (1848) .” In The Mercersburg Theology Series Vol Vi: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Tome One: The Ecclesiological Writings of John Williamson Nevin (1844-1850) , by John Williamson Nevin David W. Laymen, 160-245. Eugene : Wfpf & Stock .

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

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “Thoughts on the Church .” In The Mercersburg Study Series Vol VII: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Tome Two: John Williamson Nevin’s Ecclesiological Writings (1851-1858, by John Williamson Nevin David W. Laymen, 131-152. Eugene : WfPF and Stock .

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

Schaff, Philip. 1888. Church and State in the United States or The American Idea of Religous Liberty and its practical Effects . New York : Charle Scribner & Sons .

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.

Bring Back the Creatives

David Kinnaman notes that many “exiles” who have left the church are creatives who felt their gifts are unwanted in the Church. Yet we lose something valuable when we lose their unique, Spirit guided insights.

Jonathan Faulkner

How many of you know that I am singer/songwriter? Yes, many of you know that I have a picture at the end of each article of me from a few years ago holding Rose my Electric Guitar after a Chapel service at Gordon-Conwell. But did you know I have written over 300 songs and performed over 100 shows made up of primarily my own music. While I was working for AltRockLive CMG I would even talk to artists like Kiros and The Classic Crime about my own music, got to sit down with Matt Bronleewe and somewhere have an email exchange between us with critiques about my own music. There was a time when, before John Walk and the Opened Eyes and the “Land of the Living EP” I was seriously pursuing a music career. When I got to Graduate School, I put that dream on hold except for the occasional John Walk concert with the guys. I was in the process of recording another EP when life just got to busy, and I gave up the pursuit altogether. On top of that I was starting to feel a little tension between my music and what I sensed those in the church wanted me to play. I lead worship at Chapel a few times with my unique folk-rock blend (and Crowder songs), then was never asked to lead again until my fourth year when I volunteered and the day I was asked to lead something with my schedule or the new baby, I can’t remember, kept me from doing so (though I played drums and guitars multiple times).

The message was becoming clear, your music is great for Broadway Market in Sterling, or the Youth Group Lock-In at the Baptist Church or even the open Mic at that bar in Wichita. It works wonderfully for entertainment during the Seminaries big clam festival and the yearly Kalos Talent Night (which I organized one year) but your music is not ‘church music’ so until you learn to play Chris Tomlin or “Mighty to Save” we will see you later. I understood, or at least I thought I did, I was different from the Hillsong types that seemed to be the ones leading worship with their droning keyboards and questionable theology were what was in and I should conform or stop trying.

Louis Cranach’s depiction of the Reformation, showing the Catholic Priests tending a dusty and dead garden compared to the living garden of Martin Luther.

Okay, it was not that bad, and to be fair, the worship at the seminary became something so much more than that by the time I graduated. I suppose I am not even bitter; I have never claimed to write or sing church-music but prefer Downhere’s self-description of “Ministry-Music.” That is, I write songs that are designed to minister to people in the moment they are in. I write songs to express my own longing for Christ and to process with my brothers and sisters the pain of reconstruction and healing. If someone hears one of my songs and knows they are not alone in what they are experiencing or that they can be pointed to Christ through one of the songs I wrote, I consider it a service to Christ. I have experienced a lot of hurt and joy in my life and the outlet of songwriting has allowed me the grace of processing with God and others. I have also had the blessing of hearing those stories of the few people who have been impacted by the music because God used it to minister to them. That is a humbling thing, and now that I am not playing as much, or if I am it is someone else’s material, I do not get to hear those things as much.

I have been thinking about this because I just finished reading Andrew Peterson’s new book “Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling and the Mystery of Making” and because of it I am deeply aware of the way I have allowed myself to put aside a part of myself that God has put deep within me, that is part of my created personhood in Christ and an essential part at that. I have also been reminded of a central ideas within the David Kinnaman book “You Lost Me” which states that Exiles (of which I would be one were I not a Pastor) are exiles because they have felt the church has stifled a part of the way God has made them. Creatives, like myself, have been told there is a way to do these things like worship or art or novel writing and any diversion from what is often strict, and rigid is seen as an annoyance, or worse, rebellion. The status quo is prized above all else, even above God’s calling on the community, and if one violates that status quo it is demanded they either fall back into place or leave. The result has been that creatives have either left the church and the faith all together like the award-winning worship artist Michael Gunger now agnostic. Or they seek out other avenues to use the expression of creativity God has built into them outside the church which usually involves leaving the church altogether. Their faith is remaining intact, but their relationship with the body of Christ is severed on a relational level because they have been told they do not belong there.

I know Andrew Peterson necessarily has no qualms with the praise craze of the 2000’s but CCM lost something when it happened and continues to lack something because it is gone. For instance, I am listening to Caedmon’s Call right now, at one point they, Andrew Peterson, Rich Mullins, Jars of Clay and others were the standard bearers of Christian Music. The music was intricate and beautiful, and the lyrics had a lot to say. The closest equivalent to them in the 2000’s upward was Casting Crowns who succeeded despite what the rest of the industry was doing. I started listening to heavier Christian Music in High School precisely because the CCM that adorned our car radio had almost (Casting Crowns and Tenth Avenue North being the exception) nothing to say to what my friends and I were experiencing and “positive and encouraging” did nothing when a friend took their life to suicide or when I was struggling with suicide after my brain injury in 2015.

I know this sounds incredibly selfish, but what BARNA research has shown us is that many people my age feel as though the institutional church and its products (like CCM) do not speak to what they are experiencing in a way that draws them to Jesus or addresses relative issues that are important to them in any meaningful way. When they need answers to questions, CCM has given them a gentle pat on the back and given them the power of positive thinking over and instead of the Gospel. This is why one of my criteria for reviewing an album at ARLCMG was the relevance to cultural issues. It is also why one of my top five albums of the last decade was KB’s “Today We Rebel” because it addressed topics people our age were concerned about, mainly justice and how the Bible tells us we should pursue it in obedience to God, not man-made laws.

Perhaps ironically, what has happened in the church is captured perfecting in a CCM song, namely, Casting Crowns “City on a Hill” which in the first verse says this: “Have you heard of the city on the hill, said one old man to the other, it was shining bright and it would be shining still, but they all started turning on each other, you see the poets thought the dancers were shallow, and the soldiers thought the poets were weak, the Elders saw the young ones as foolish, and the rich man never heard the poor man speak.” I have a hard time imagining a more accurate poetic description of church culture in North America than those lines, and they haunt me as I pastor in a ministry where I am the youngest adult there most Sundays. If I had a penny for everything, I have had someone grumble to me about my generation only to follow it up with: “but not you, you’re obviously an exception.” I can tell you that hurts, and so do the facebook posts about millennials based on stereotypes that are not true. Of course, I do not want to turn around and do the same thing to them by using the equally disrespectful cultural phrase that has gained popularity in the last several months, “okay boomer” because that only perpetuates the divide and returns the animus inherent in these debates.

What Andrew Peterson has done in his book though is to remind us what C.S. Lewis did a generation ago, that we as Christians are called to create and to do so with the Gospel in mind. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and when we do that the entire body is edified and encouraged in Christ, through what God is doing through creatives. Though he never quotes the Casting Crowns song, you can hear in the chapters of the book the second bridge: “It is the rhythm of the dancers, That gives the poets life, It is the spirit of the poets, That gives the soldiers strength to fight, It is fire of the young ones, It is the wisdom of the old, It is the story of the poor man, That’s needing to be told.” One thing that Peterson hits one, perhaps without knowing it, is that we are literally all connected as the lyrics quoted above remind us. Everyone in the body of Christ needs everyone else and needs to be “devoted to one another in family love, showing preference for one another” (Romans 12:10 translation and italics mine).

Last night at Men’s bible study we talked about what it means to do exactly what the verse above states. We talked about how a better translation of Philadelphia in scripture than brotherly love would be “Family love” or “Christian family.” The word, which appears 220 times from Acts to 2nd Peter literally means: “Love for those of the same womb.” The Christian then is not a lone, wondering soul trying to figure out his discipleship on his or her own, but a brother and sister in love and in fellowship and communion with other members of the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. This isn’t just community as we know it in the modern day, but a remaking from a person to a people who all share the same spiritual parentage, God the Father who has adopted us through Christ (Gal 4:4-8). I like what Joseph Hellerman says then in “When the Church Was a Family,” that we should, so much as copyright allows, sing our worship songs using corporate pronouns like “we” and “us” instead of “I” and “me.” This would better foster a sense of family over and against the radical individualism we love so much and which may not survive another generation anyway, at least not in the church.

I have been a part of what can happen when the church does this, it was the hallmark of my last two years of seminary. I saw what can happen when we think of each other as brothers and sisters instead of just the people we go to church with. What I did not mention before is that even though I did not lead worship, many of the other super creative and talented people in our community did and it was awesome what the Lord did with it. I think of my brother Brandon who introduced his own songs into worship, something I had tried to do two years prior only to not be asked to lead again. I think of my sister Tiffany whose passionate piano playing and vocal style was a cry to God that vocalized what our hearts were feeling. Outside of Chapel I think of Neil and Tyler and Frank and Gerald, the amazing musicians who made up John Walk & The Opened Eyes. From day one of making music together we just used our gifting on our instruments and voices to make music for the glory of God. As a side note, those four are the best musicians I have ever worked with, and I am unlikely to work with better. I think of the girl whose name I do not recall, who painted a picture on stage of what the Chapel speaker was describing, her way of worshiping and praising God for His death and resurrection. I think of my friend John, a seminary employee, who wrote poetry and would recite it at Kalos (I encourage you to read it, click here). My friend Mark who used his significant theological and philosophical powers to bear on issues in our culture in hopes of having a theological discussion on how we might address them biblically. I think of Dr. Adams whose “Story Theology” shapes my spiritual formation and devotional life to this day. Dr. Singleton whose creative means of lecturing mean I will not forget his stories or his wisdom (Nor will I forget Neil’s impression of him).

Artists rendition of The Battle of Milvan Bridge where Constantine claimed heaven opened and he accepted the Christian God.

Without these men and women and so many more our family at the seminary would not have thrived in the way that it was by the time we graduated. I pray that not only do those things continue, but they find greater traction and draw in more and more people. But also that this might be an example to the church in the United States on how to live as a family that uses the “ingrained desire to follow our creator in creating,” as C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity. I create music because my creator created everything and like Him, because I am made in His image and reflect Him. If I suppress that creativity because it is not kosher in the evangelical church culture, then I am denying something which God put within me to do. If I tell God I will use one gift He has given me, the preaching gift, but not the other gift, the musical gift, then I am not functioning in my full capacity. If I tell the artist that they are not allowed to draw or paint and donate those items to the church to be displayed, I am stifling their ability to use their gift for the edification of the family of God. If I tell the poet that poetry is only for the worship song writer or hymn writer, then I am not allowing them to fulfill their full calling within the body that is meant to build up the body. God is not the God of the status quo and we should be endlessly grateful for that reality. We should be ashamed that there are Christian Communities are popping up outside the church for creatives because they have been told they have no place in the church.

Yet just a cursory glance at musicians would show us that the majority of Christian Music is not the mainstream praise craze stuff that feels skin-deep and even fake at times. But is the deep, faith infused, beauty-oriented music of the margins. If you look at art, (in every medium) you find a renewed interest in theological art that depicts scripture and its stories. If you look at poetry, there is a renewed interest in poetry modeled after the psalms with their many styles and ideas. What is happening on the margins, though in need of some guardrails in places, is quite deep, quite biblical and quite good, and there is a lot of it out there encompassing just about every style, genre and theme you can imagine. Not only do these young men and women point to a brighter day for the church, they also are restoring something to Christianity that has been missing in this depth since Cranach painted his famous painting of the reformation. I even picked up my guitar the other day, which has not been used to write since I wrote the song “Type A” in 2015 and wrote a song based on what I have been studying about the Church as a Family of God bound up in and devoted to one another in that love that only exists in the family of God. Not one of those happy-clappy “God loves you” songs, but a deep lament over what has been lost by making the church just another institution that we attend, not the family of God and a prayer that we would be called back to that. It felt good, other than sermons, which are an artform all their own, I had not crafted much of anything since I graduated from Seminary and The Opened Eyes all went our separate ways.

Community has been another area the church has struggled, but it is something that our artists tend to be good at. I have rarely met anyone who likes to create and keep that creation to themselves. Like Andrew Peterson and the Rabbit Room, we want to share with one another. That was the premise behind the band at Seminary, God has gifted us with talent on different instruments (and these guys were seriously good) and so let’s use those gifts for God’s Glory to make music to encourage the flock. When we were all exhausted because Seminary, life and kids were piling up, we knew we could gather to play music or go grab a drink at THE FARM or Fibber McGee’s to unwind. We also knew we had other friends, brothers and sisters in Christ who we could take with us and who would encourage us as we encouraged them. This type of community built on mutual love and encouragement was something we were worried we would not find when we moved to Iowa. God, however, had other plans as my first week there we met another couple just a few years older than us who we instantly connected with and then a chance meeting at the park between my wife and another young mom would spark another friendship and that those two couples were already friends. The first six to eight months of pastoral ministry, usually known as the Honeymoon period, can be the loneliest for a new pastor and family, and though they have been lonely, the loneliness has been lessened a great deal by what have becoming monthly gathering at one another’s homes built on an understanding that we are brothers and sisters in Christ living in mutual love and encouragement.

Both these families are farm families and I think farmers are the greatest artists of all. Think about it, you would not be able to look down from an airplane in the summer and see that patchwork of yellows and greens without the farmers who plant the seed and tend the crops. God uses them to magnify the beauty of His earth, especially when you drive by a golden Kansas wheat field right before harvest, or the deep green on an Iowa bean field right before it turns brown and is ready for harvest. The farmer becomes the instrument through which God paints His landscapes, making them the greatest artists of all. I know this is probably a really mushy thought, and I promise I am not just trying to curry favor with our new friends, I really do think that way, as one who has flown in and out of Wichita many times in my adult life, and have wondered at the beauty of the fields.

I say all of this to say this: We need to bring back our creatives as a church and create space for them to create whatever the Holy Spirit guides them to create. There is still room for theological guardrails, because they have to exist, but we should drop all lot of the manmade junk that has determined what is and what is not Church music. I love the organ, I do not want to get ride of it, but I also love guitar, violin, drums, clarinet and banjo. I love the old hymns but there is a lot of new hymnody that is just as deep if not deeper than some of what we consider deep in our churches today. I want to have a space where I can create what God has given me to create and in such a way that I can ask the hard questions and even try to answer the hard questions. And I do not just want this for myself, I want it for my brothers and sisters who love the Lord as deeply as I do but do not think they have any place in the church because their creative expression is not “normal” within the walls of the church.

Religious Art is one of the ways Historians learn about the people of the past. I fear our lack of it will speak volumes to the archaeologist who exhume the remains of our buildings. That thought saddens me, so much so that I want to fling open the doors and tell my creative brothers and sisters to come in and dwell with me on the deep things of scripture and God and then by the Power of the Holy Spirit create together wherever God leads us. I want to see Achdenbuilds lining the walls and hear every kind of instrument reverberate off them, I want us to do what the early church did and use whatever we had before us for the glory of GOD and I want everyone who can in on it.

 

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

 

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.