Month: May 2020

I Am Tired

Sometimes these posts are well-thought out, well-researched pieces on topics relevant to the day or Church History. Sometimes I just have to let down the curtain and be real.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Dear Readers,

I am tired.

Not of you, not of the work that goes into this site, watching what God has done here this year has been amazing. Because of you we have broken every previous record this site ever set. I thank you for that because you keep this site running. We have had some fruitful discussions this year and I appreciate that. Thank you. Still, I am tired. Not by this site but by the constant barrage of social media and infighting that seems to define everyone and everything whether it is our current crisis or ongoing societal issues that point to decline.

I am tired of outrage culture, Christians backstabbing one another, denying the witness of Christ. I am tired of people downplaying the death toll, like 100,000 lives just do not matter, forgetting that some people are mourning while others act as though nothing matters. I am tired of seeing more stories of Black men either losing their lives or having the police called on them because of pure racism. I am tired of the excuses that get made for downright bad behavior that should not ever be excusable. I am tired of all the opinions being thrown at pastors who are just trying to do our jobs for the glory of God and look out for the safety of our congregations. I am also tired of pastors who are not doing those things, who ignore church history and its wisdom and lessons for the sake of poor theology of ecclesia. Who would put people at risk for the sake of the gospel rather than protect them? I am tired of politics and politicians, of toxicity, of immaturity. I am tired of death in every form and from everything. I am tired of accusation of fear and fights over masks. I am genuinely tired.

How long oh Lord, until Justice rolls down like water, until injustice is punished.

Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy.

Social Media has become a place where we all just fight, less and less I see those fun posts that say things like: “Here is a nice kitten in case you have been feeling sad.” Social Media has become what C.S. Lewis imagined Hell to be like, everyone fighting and squabbling and getting further and further away from each other.

Don’t you feel it too? Is this the Quarantine fatigue that everyone was referring to? Or is this just where we are at as a people?

I need a break from Social Media and its new, manic depressive, environment. It is fueling both our despair and our outrage. But we have been told that this is where we interact, this is where we dwell. One of the first memes, back in the early 2010’s, “I love my computer, all my friends live there” is now stalking us. We sit in the Spector of death and instead of mourn it we do everything we can to get away.

Reader I am tired, please pray for me, please hold me up to our heavenly father. I know a vacation is coming, but in the heat of all this, I just feel the tension and pressure. I have an incredible support system and that, I know, is rare. But I am tired, and I need your prayers.

Love in Christ

Jonathan David Faulkner

When Life was not solely tied to economics

In the economy of the ancient world one’s well being was not so tied to the economy as it was to their group structures.

Jonathan Faulkner

The Fallacy of Presentism teaches us to view historical events through our modern lens instead of reaching back into the past to understand the world of the past. That is, there is a widely held belief that a person’s well-being is and always has been tied to the economy of the city-state and then empire and then nation state that said person lived in. We have the arrogance to think that we in the twenty-first century are doing things the same way we have always done them. Thus, in our present times two equally dark options appear to be all that is left to us. 1. Either people die from the Pandemic or 2. People die from economic depression and despair. This is a false dichotomy that operates within a black and white framework and fails to work beyond the two equally horrible options. Tribalism then comes into play and one tribe adopts one side and another tribe adopts the other and both sides are at an impasse.

Of course, this is the problem in a society that has so undermined the intellect as to literally be blown about by every single wind of thought. We lack the capacity to think abstractly, throw in the way that the internet manipulates our thinking and steals our objectivity from us. Stripping away our ability to think beyond the black and white options available to us. And the failure of our education system to teach proper critical thinking skills and laws of logic mean that we do not have ability to reason our way to a third or fourth option in a situation like this.

The reality is that there was once a time when the well-being of a society was not tied to that place’s economy. There was also a time when societies did not rise and fall on economic power alone. Was economic power a factor? Yes, but it was not the only factor. Historians tell us that Culture, institutions and geography also played a major part in a person’s well-being until around the 15th century and the first wave of Globalization that came with Columbus, Magelian and other great explorers.[i]

Those places and cultures had economies, but they were centered more on cultural advancement than on economic development. It is telling that while money and ethical use of it is mentioned in ancient texts like the Bible, it is the group watching out for one another, not the economies of those places that take center stage. The Early Christians were not necessarily economically advantaged (in fact the opposite was true in most places) and yet they survived and thrived and even fulfilled God’s command to make sure there were no needy person among them (Duet 15:4, Acts 4:34). Even when Rome’s economy suffered during the various later invasions of the empire the church continued to care for its members and non-members, using her resources to ensure the well-being of everyone she met. One of the reasons the gospel spread so rapidly, and the church grew in kind was because even in the worst of times the church cared for everyone and sought the well-being and shalom of everyone. Even when someone had to forfeit their job after becoming a Christian, the Church would find alternate employment, retraining and other resources to make sure that person survived and flourished. This of course was not something the pagan religious could duplicate as Julian the Apostate so lamented in a letter to one of his priests in Galatia. A letter in which he also identifies the Christians: “Care for their own sick as well as our own” as the reason for Christianity’s unstoppable advance and his failure to revive Roman Paganism.

The reason for this was that the early Christians were a strong group family structure rather than a weak group individual structure. In the strong group the group was central, but not supreme, one understood that their well-being and flourishing was tied to the well-being and flourishing of its neighbor. When one part of the group suffered, the entire group suffered. This is one of the lessons of Isaiah 1, the sin of the group meant and the sinful attitudes of those within the group towards other members of the group would lead to the destruction of the group because in doing so they had abandoned what God had commanded them to do. The group was not supreme, but abandoning the group to seek ones own interests actually kept the one looking to his own interests from flourishing as well. The well-being of the individual was tied to the well-being of the group. The difference between this and tribalism is that tribalism holds the group ideology as supreme and punishes descent. This is how cults and totalitarian groups operate and is detrimental to the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

In a weak group like the one we live in one looks out for the interest of self, the self is not only the focus, but is supreme. Weak groups do not look out for one another because the self and the well-being of the self is central and in fact supreme. We are under no obligation to protect or watch out for or care for one another because we do not feel we are connected to one another. If you want to know how a weak group operates, look at our current discourse online. The irony is that we have applied tribalism’s totalitarianism to the self and so the individual self joins a tribe of people who think like the person and descent from the individual’s infallibility is considered anathema. Modern tribalism is not a strong group because it still insists upon the primacy of self.

Now, as I said at the beginning, until the 15th century there were a number of factors that determined a persons well being and all of those were tied in some way to the group because until the Enlightenment and the rise of individualism there was no such thing as a “weak group.” To this day the Global West is the only place where most societies are “weak group societies.” Until the first Globalization almost every society was a strong group society in which culture, institutions, geography, and economics were equal in seeing to the well-being of all human beings. Institutions included strong group family structures that find their most pure form in God’s intentions for Christianity as lived out in the early church. The phrase: “It takes a village to raise a child” carries with it a strong group mentality, as do the covenantal promises forged when an infant is baptized between the parents and the congregation.

Now, I have intentionally not specifically mentioned government because government would be included in the institutions mentioned before. Government should be a benign background operator that supports but does not dictate the other institutions that support the well-being of the strong group and provides protection against the enemies of the group. It should also recognize that neither too little government or too much government are detrimental to the well-being of all people. That means that Socialism and Communism and unfettered, government backed Capitalism are bad for the group. You cannot force people into a collective without doing harm and you cannot leave people to their own individual devices without doing a lot of harm, but government cannot be the primary check and balance or economic provider of the group. That should fall to the institutions on the front line which are daily involved in the life such as churches and schools. This makes strong groups voluntary but the effects of leaving the strong group are like those of not being a part of the group in the first place.

This also diminishes the reliance on economy because a person’s well-being is spread out across four separate categories rather than totally dependent on one. If the economy breaks down the institutions like the family are them to support the person. If something happens and a once prosperous geographical position is compromised the person can fall back on the economy or institutions or even culture to ensure their survival.

In our present crisis we are seeing the effects of weakened institutions which had already led to a greater amount of loneliness and isolation before social distancing began. One of the observable and recorded data points we have seen repeatedly in the last 4 years has been that people are more alienated, isolated and afraid then ever. There has been a growing since that those who claim to speak for us do not and that feeling is justified. This feeling goes back more than 4 years though, and likely further back than we think it does. Unfortunately, some have answered this alienation by using the same solution as the ones who did the alienating in the first place. Instead, we should focus on strengthening the local institutions that have the ability to care for those in the trenches and know what those needs are because they are rooted and grounded in the community. Like our grocery store here in town which has promoted and supported our food pantry and works with the churches. We strengthen one another, our churches in town are better because of our grocery store and our grocery store is better because of our churches. The same should be true of the churches and the schools. It is these local institutions that are the solution to solving and providing a third solution to the false dichotomy mentioned earlier. Institutions working in the geographical location of the people they are serving and caring for even while the economy teeters, these are institutions perfectly placed to care for those in need and provide for them. They should support one another and be supported by one another to make sure that no one falls through the cracks.

We can prevent unnecessary deaths of despair by becoming less dependent on the economy and more dependent on one another and the institutions in our location that there to work for our well-being. We can survive an economic downturn like so many people in so many places before us without having to sacrifice thousands either to the virus or economic downturn. We have done it before; we can do it again.

[i] Robert C. Allen, Global Economic History, A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2011, New York.

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife 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.

Being “Non Essential” is our Place in the World.

The World’s Posture towards us Should Not Surprise Us.

One of the great lessons that we learn in this world is that evil is inherently self-destructive. Passages like Romans 1:18-32 are examples of Biblical Teaching to this effect, so why are Modern Christians so surprised when the World acts like the World?  

Jonathan David Faulkner

On Friday I saw an article from The Gospel Coalition bemoaning the fact that churches are not essential. Usually I avoid the comment sections on these articles like the plague. But when I first saw the article I also saw one of the comment previews where the commenter asked: “The world has never seen the church as essential, why are we surprised?” Which got me thinking about how so many in the secular world had claimed that pastors should not be considered essential because we do not work warehouse jobs or in hospitals or have degrees in mental healthcare (though more and more of us do). But as I saw the reactions both to the Gospel Coalition article and to me and thought about them collectively, I concluded. 1. The Commenter is right, the world has never considered the church essential because the world is fundamentally opposed to the church, just as Jesus promised it would be. 2. Because the Church is not considered essential by the world, I should not be expected to be considered essential to the world, even if Ephesians 4:11-12, 1st Timothy 3-4 and so on mean that I am essential to the Church as one who was “given” by Christ for the growth of the Church. This is not a paradox or diminishing of my position, it was never intended that the pastor be essential to anyone but the church since the world tended to persecute first and foremost the pastors and teachers of the church starting with the Apostles themselves.

What baffle me, since this was also the day the President of the United States urged governors to allow for the reopening of churches, why so many Christians are surprised that the world treates us as nonessential. Please do not get me wrong, I do not disagree that Churches are important “third places,”[i] to use Timothy P. Carney’s term, of our society and that they can and do offer refuges from the mental health issues that come with a global pandemic. The question is, as the Librarian at Gordon Conwell asked: “Does the Church need to be declared essential to carry out her work and mission?” The answer of course is no, the church was not considered essential in the ancient world, in fact, the opposite was true, it was considered anathema to the ancient world. Why should we then be surprised when the world does not consider us essential? Or acts as Jesus promised us they would act towards us.

The other argument at play here is the idea that churches can close or that a government order can close the church and cease it from doing its ministry. First of all our brothers and sisters in the Underground Church in some Asian countries would laugh at that notion. Their governments has been “closing” churches for decades and it is still one of the most vibrant and active churches most faithful to the word of God. Even while facing the possibility of extreme persecution and martyrdom if they are found out. The western Church however is seen as an institution, which is where I disagree with Carney’s idea above that is it is a “third place” because the church is actually not a place, but a people. A kingdom within kingdoms. Our buildings are just that, buildings, they are not the church itself. The idea that the government can “shut down” churches is Ludacris if the idea of Organic Unity is true. When this all started I saw memes proclaiming that the church isn’t closed, it’s deployed and I like that until the thought occurred to me that we should always be deployed in such a manner. That if Ephesians 4:11-16 is to be believed, we gather to be equipped to go out into the world by our pastors, teachers and evangelist. We also gather in our buildings to worship God the Father because He has called us to Worship.

Consider this though, none of that has been on hold for most churches during this time. Even my Father-in-Laws Church which did not have the means to do livestreams or prerecorded services made sure their people got fed during this pandemic. If we were under persecution, if the Government really wanted us to not be able to worship or preach the Word, it would have been easy to shut us down, just have facebook and youtube delete our videos and profiles. This may happen someday, but for now we still enjoy incredible freedom to worship and distribute content from the Word of God. I’ve had a sermon played through over 3,000 (13K views of at least 1 Minutes times during this pandemic. If the Government wanted me silenced, it would be easy to do it. But they have not, it doesn’t matter if the church is non-essential to the world or if we cannot worship in our buildings. God is still God, we are not being told we cannot distribute content, we can still worship, the church is not closed.

We also have to take into consideration the fact there are a well-documented number of churches that have been epicenters of virus outbreaks. One denomination has even lost 30 pastors during this crisis because their churches continued to meet despite the warnings against it. I have written before on the responsibility of shepherds who have knowingly let the wolf into the sheep pen. I will not rehash that discussion here, just know that it is frustrating to see a wanton disregard for life among my fellow shepherds.

But why are we surprised the world acts this way towards us? IF the world is opposed to Christ and His message, should we not expect all of this? If the world really hates Christ, should we not be surprised. Has Christ not promised us that we would be persecuted for His name sake? That the comfort and ease the Church has experienced in the West is actually an anomaly, not to be the expected norm? For that matter, why are we surprised when the world acts like the world? The early Christians certainly were not, why should we be? The world is drowning in its own destruction, our job is to demonstrate the blessings of life in Christ and save as many as we can. Not join them or urge them on into their destruction, as so many do. Or act surprised when the world hates us or threatens to persecute us. We must be wary of thinking these things are abnormal when Christ promises just the opposite in Matthew 24:3-38 and many other places.

Pastors, at least, are essential to the flock because we are called to teach you how to live and interact in this evil and desolate world that is opposed to our very existence and would like nothing more than to see us disappear. Yet we persist, we continue even in places where meeting in our buildings are outlawed, where we are not only non-essential, but illegal. The Church continues not because of man, but because of God, the church persists against every attack of Satan and the World not because of anything presidents or kings say, but because of what God says. To treat or reduced the church to a mere institution of society is to give it a calling and position much lower than the one which it holds simply by being the continuation of Christ’s presence on this Earth. Quite frankly, it is insulting.

The Church and her mission are essential, but the world will never see us that way, we will always be labeled as non-essential by the worlds governments and even if we are labeled otherwise, we will still be treated that way. The only “special treatment” promised the church by the world was momentary suffering that ended in God’s ultimate and eternal blessing. The end result of the church is never in question, neither is the worlds. The Church is elevated, exalted, the world is destroyed, both by its own reckless sinfulness and the wrath of God. Let us stop marveling at the ways of this world, at the destructiveness of this world and let’s also stop participating in it, which we do when we engage in outrage culture. Instead, let’s live a life worthy of the calling to which we are called. So that the world may see and know Christ.

Actually, if you think about it, we are to work against the inclinations of empire, fight against the world’s tendency to self-destruction. If we become essential to the world, and to the empire, we may need to rethink whether we are really part of the church.

We are never closed, we are always alive.

[i] Timothy P Carney, Alienated America: Why some places thrive, while others collapse, 2019, Harper Collins Ebooks

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife 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.

It Is Time to Throw Out the Conflict Thesis

It is Time to Throw Out the Conflict Thesis:

The problem with some forms of revisionist history is that it revises the truth instead of correcting error. The Conflict Thesis of Christianity and Science is one such example.

Jonathan Faulkner

One of my favorite parts of Studying History is seeing how certain veins of thought developed and how the various narratives have developed over the decades and centuries. There is a useful area of History which can either help or hinder this task, Revisionist History is the practice of either correcting the historical narrative based on new facts that were previously unknown or rejected (this is when it is helpful) or rejecting historical realities in order to create its own narrative that supports whatever agenda the thinker has. This requires the thinker to come up with intentional misinformation to change the readers understanding of History.

One of the best examples of Revisionist History is the idea that Peter is the first Pope, it requires one to believe that the Roman System developed early, instead of 7-900 years after Jesus ascension. Another is the idea that there were no women in any leadership or high positions in the early Church, something scholarship and even the bible itself proves to be false. Modern Conspiracy Theories are another form of Revisionist History, these are particularly pernicious because they are often not rooted in any fact whatsoever and just make up a narrative claiming to be the truth. Something like the youtube documentary Plandemic which has been thoroughly proven false and thankfully been taken down. But one that has likely done the most damage, and the one which we will discuss today, is the Conflict Thesis of Science and Religion. It is from this 19th century invention that you get tales of Galileo being kicked out the church for proposing a heliocentric model of the solar system, all because he challenged the notion that the earth was the center of the universe. This is actually not true.

As Historian William R. Shea notes: “Galileo’s condemnation was the result of complex interplay of untoward political circumstances, political ambitions and wounded prides.” [i] Actually, as Dr. Jay Richards points out in his interview with Lee Strobel in “The Case for a Creator” of Galileo’s case: “His…can’t be reduced to a simple conflict between scientific truth and religious superstition. He insisted the church immediately endorse his views rather than allow them to gradually gain acceptance, he mocked the Pope and so forth. Yes, he was censured, but the church kept giving him his pension for the rest of his life.”[ii] Richards also explains that if Galileo did anything, he elevated the Earth from its long held place in the church as the “cosmic sump” where, as the Gnostics put it, we were trapped in flesh. It was not until the enlightenment that the idea that the Earth was at the center of the universe even makes an appearance. The enlightenment, which is the very thing which gives us the conflict thesis.

For 1800 years the church believed and encouraged the development of scientific discovery. It did not shy away from what was discovered about the world and the universe, it actually encouraged it and until the 19th century every single major discovery of science took place under the watchful and caring eye of the Church. Even the idea that the Earth was round predated the conflict thesis revisionist argument that the church told Columbus that the Earth was flat. As David Lindburg, a professor of history of science at the university of Wisconsin said:

“One obvious myth is that before Columbus, Europeans believed nearly unanimously believed in a flat earth – a belief allegedly drawn from certain biblical statements and enforced by the medieval church. This myth seems to have had an eighteenth century originated, elaborated and popularized by Washington Irving, who flagrantly fabricated evidence (revisionist history) for it in his four volume work on Columbus….The truth is that it’s almost impossible to find an educated person after Aristotle who doubts that the Earth is a sphere. In the Middle Ages, you couldn’t emerge from any kind of education, cathedral school or university, without being perfectly clear about the Earths’ Sphericity and even its approximate circumference.”[iii]

In fact, it is getting harder and harder to find scientists who agree with the conflict thesis to the point that the only place it still exists is in the popular imagination. Henry Schaefer, also of Berkley fame traces the history of scientific development and finds that the only time he finds sustained scientific advancement is where Christianity was a dominate influence. He quotes Johannes Kepler, who also has a fabricated myth surrounding his relationship with the church, when asked “Why do you love science?” would answer: “To obtain a sample test of the delight of the divine creator in his work and to partake in His joy.”[iv] The idea that Science and Christianity have always been in conflict is an easily disproved myth that persists, not in the scientific community, but in the popular mind, including the popular mind of the church.

Now, what I have listed here is not exhaustive, I would encourage my reading readers, or those with an audible subscription to get Lee Strobal’s book mentioned above and even look into Zondervan’s “Perspectives” series for their “Christianity and Science, four views.” To read a much fuller survey. Strobel is about as thorough as you are going to get while still being written for a less intellectual audience.

Since I have no grandiose ideas of godhood I am not going to suggest we excise the notion from the secular world. That would take an act of God, something He is already doing within the field of science and the clergy themselves. However, it is within my duties as a pastor and as a public theologian to suggest that the Church excise this disproved revisionism called “The conflict thesis” from its collective memory and language and start to once again cultivate scientific minds who, as Ron Baxter told our “Christianity and Science” class in college: “Play in the beautiful how of God’s creating work.”

Because here is the thing, the conflict thesis is, in part, why we are in the mess we are today as a Christian culture. Why we have not thought thoroughly enough about science and scientific research to understand what is happening in our world, both related to and unrelated to our present crisis. It is Christians inability to think and speak about science, our anti-intellectualism, that has led to us being susceptible to anti-vaxx untruths (even before coronavirus) and a multitude of other conspiracy theories and false or intentionally misleading information. It is this same anti-intellectualism that has fed to erroneous and flat out unsupportable biblical interpretations that either are disproven by biblical theology or by a basic survey of biblical orthodoxy. This is a feedback loop, one builds up and fuels the other. This then leads to clickbate headlines like: “Here is why the new Coronavirus Vaccine is the Mark of the Beast.” Followed by an article that is easily and quickly negated by both a basic understanding of the science of vaccines and just a surface level reading of Revelation 13-14. These headlines are also designed to spark and inspire your fear so that you share them, thus spreading the fear with the misinformation. Christians should not now or ever have been a people who spread fear or misinformation. That is neither loving God or loving to people. It is also exhausting and I am not sure why anyone would want to participate in it knowing the eternal joy that comes from knowing and having deep knowledge of Christ which is in stark contrast to the fear of everything that has been cultivated by our culture and indirectly by the conflict theory that has bred ignorance.

Science tells us about the world God has made for us and it is increasingly pointing to back to His existence and necessity to keep it all together. It also tells us how to care for that creation which He has given us so that we as human beings can flourish within the creation which we were given the task of caring for back in Genesis 2. We also have brothers and sisters at the forefront of many of these areas of science, including climate science, who are helping us learn to care for our world. We should be in prayer for them as they combat secular agendas and evil ideologies about the uses of science that inherently arise from living in a sinful world.

Maybe we can get back to what we once did, expand our knowledge of God’s creation and our ability to care for it, just as the church did for hundreds of years, and by the way, actually continues to do today. It is time to excise the “Conflict Thesis” from the popular imagination.

[i] William R. Shea, Galileo and the Church” in David C. Lindber and Ronald L. Numbers, editors, God and Nature, 2986, Berkley University of California Press 132,

[ii] Lee Strobal “The Case for a Creator” 2004, Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI. pg 162.

[iii] Natural Adversaries? “Christian History, Volume XXL. No. 4. 44.

[iv] Henry F. Schaefer, Christianity and Science, Conflict or Cohesion, 2008, The Apollo Trust, 16.

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife 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 Seven Guiding Values Series Part 1: “A Culture of Believing Prayer and Intercession” 1 Tim. 2:1-5

 

#ICYMI: We began a new series yesterday at FCCBC entitled: “The Seven Guiding Values of the CCCC” with value 1: “A Culture of Believing Prayer and Intercession.” from 1st Timothy 2:1-5.

We talked about how Christians should seek to live a “Peaceful and Quiet Life, Godly and Dignified in every way” Marked by prayers of praise, entreaty, intercessions and thankfulness to God on behalf of all people including our leaders and “all in high places.” Praying that they might come to saving faith in Jesus Christ so that the desire of God may be fulfilled by the Decree of God.

Hear the application and tune in Wednesday for the Disciples Download as we look at Matthew 6:5-14 as we look at Jesus instruction on prayer.

Memento Mori: In Loving Memory of Chris Valdenar

“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:34

Jonathan David Faulkner

This post is in memory of Chris D. Valdenar, 1990-2020 who passed away on Thursday May 14th due to complications from diabetes.

Where do I start to compose this piece? Just like my original Facebook Post on Friday afternoon after we found out that my long-time friend, 11 years and counting, had died due to complications from Diabetes. How do I even begin to honor a friend who had become a brother, and who became a brother so quickly. But not just to me, to so many, how do I sum up what his life meant, to mark it has left and the legacy it left behind.

Chris and I’s bond was something uniquely formed. I only have one other friend who I know understands the ins and outs of life as a disable adult. These are rare who understand the ins and outs of daily life with a disability. We met when he sat down at dinner one night, our college group was the eclectic group of friends that was basically our campuses island of misfit toys. Some of us fit in everywhere, some of us only fit in our own little group. Some had been dragged from their isolation, from sitting alone, to become not just a group of friends, but a family. Some of us were broken, all of us were broken, and most of us wondered how we had made it where we were. Chris marks the third loss from our group, Tim who we barely got to know before he lost his own fight with diabetes. Jennifer Shannon died on a spring Sunday Morning after a long fight with cystic fibrosis. I was in the middle of the sermon when I got that news. Yesterday I was writing tomorrow’s sermon. It is times like these I am thankful for that group. I think I talked to just about all of them and most of our wider circle of friends, it is good to know we are not mourning our friend alone.

Still, I miss my friend.

I am not entirely sure this has completely set in yet. It seems like yesterday we were driving to Applebee’s for Half-Price apps with two or three carloads. Or he and the group were picking me up from the Hutchinson Train Station at 2AM, or we were driving back from Formal watching the lightning to make sure there were no Tornados coming towards us. I could sit here and list memories for hours on end list memory after memory, story after story and bring in friend after friend to tell you story after story. He was a good friend to so many and many of us are broken-hearted.

Chris was always fun to see whipping around campus in his electric wheelchair or a joy to see come working his way towards you on his crutches. It seems weird to say it that way, but those are the emotions that came to mind. He was one of the many people who made sure I made it to Sunday services when I would do pulpit supply at Salem or Stafford (before I pastored there) and he would always sit in the front row. I believe it was at Hudson when someone asked if Chris, who was two years older than me, was my son. He was rough around the edges, but I never doubted his faith.

So on Sunday, in honor of my brother, I am going to turn on one of his favorite sports and mine and think of all the times we debated over Junior or Senior or Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Then at some point I am going to Applebee’s for a meal in his honor and I will never, ever forget my friend and brother.

 

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife 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.

Faith, Fear and Reopening Our Churches

Some have said we need to step out on faith that God will protect us from the Virus. And we do, the problem is we should not expose the sheep to the wolves and hope and pray God shuts the mouths of the Wolves.

Jonathan Faulkner

 

The image of a shepherd is one that scripture uses over and over again to describe God’s relationship to us, Jesus relationship to us and the Pastors relationship to their flock. In the Old Testament it was a shepherd boy who God raised up to be the second King of Israel and whose line God established, I do not think this was a coincidence. A shepherd understands what is required, the responsibility that comes with caring for large groups. By being a shepherd, David had developed the wisdom and skill to guide and protect a flock of people and so God elevated him to not shepherd sheep, but His people and though David did not always do a good job at this, he seemed to be better qualified than Saul. In the New Testament Matthew writes that: “when (Jesus) saw the crowds he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). Sheep without a shepherd roam from place to place, aimlessly and are easy prey for the bear or wolf or lion that finds them. In Jesus day the Religious Elite had abandoned the people to fend for themselves by creating laws and religious rules that the people could not possibly keep. Instead of shepherding the people, making them lie down in green pastures or lay beside still waters (ps 23), they had left them to see to their own eternity, failing to realize that their eternity was partly dependent on the welfare of the sheep they were called to shepherd. Jesus then is the Good Shepherd (John 10) who lays down his life for the sheep. He also demonstrates to us as pastors how to be shepherds, or under shepherds, ourselves as 1 Peter 4 reminds us.

When a wolf comes around the flock, when a bear or a lion, it is the Shepherds job to lead the flock away from the danger and even confront the danger on the flocks behalf, to give his or her life for the flock if need be to keep the flock from the danger. The pastor should never take their flock back towards the danger and just pray God will keep the danger from attacking the flock. Can God protect the flock with the danger right there? Of course he can, but it would be irresponsible to test God and say: “I am going to let the lion roam free and pray he does not attack the flock, you have this right God?” Or, I do see the thief coming to steal, kill and destroy the flock (John 10:10) and just let him do his damage or quickly send up a prayer saying: “Lord, there’s a thief there, just do not let him get into the sheep pen to steal, kill and destroy.” No, I raise the alarm, I fight the beast come to devour, I get the other shepherds and we confront the thief before he can get into the pen to do the damage he intends to do.

As a pastor I know this reality, I have to stand before God one day as one who was given the responsibility of serving as an under shepherd and give account for how I carried out that task. That is why those who seek to lead will be judged more harshly than others both on Earth and in heaven (James 3:1). We are being entrusted with the care of the flock under the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ. That thought terrifies me far more than this virus or this world but that fear is offset by the fact that I know I am covered by the blood of the lamb, that the true shepherd whom I serve is a lamb like me and that His blood was shed on the cross and that because I have confessed that He is Lord and believe in my heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). I know my eternity is secure, I have a personal relationship with God the Father through God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and even though I will fail multiple times at this task I am not in danger of losing that salvation He has given me. Still, I am not to squander what God has given me, in fact, one of the ways others know that Christ has transformed me is by watching how I live in this world and how I live out what Scripture teaches me to live.

That carries a certain amount of responsibility, that my actions will either draw people to the gospel or away from it. As a pastor, I am watched more closely by the world and one of the things that the world is watching right now is how I go about reopening my congregation. Do we fling open the doors (something I argued against last week) and abandon caution and discernment which require wisdom? Or do we take the time to make sure that we are not putting our congregations at risk for a disease that many of them could contract and die from? Again, if I know the wolf is lurking, I keep my flock away from the wolf, I even fight the wolf if necessary. If the thief is outside the pen, I do not open the pen and let him walk in. This virus is both a wolf, or a lion, and a thief. It comes into congregations and infects and kills, not just through the virus itself but all the false or misleading information available on the internet that has been intentionally manufactured to deceive and which many Christians are falling for (1 Timothy 3:1-17). The world has taken note of both approaches and mocked those who either ignored warnings altogether or blatantly refused to follow government orders. Many of these churches and pastors have already paid a high price by becoming epicenters for outbreaks. Over 30 Pastors have contracted and died from COVID-19 because they refused to listen to warnings. This is not brave, nor does it show your faith, it is irresponsible to put others at risk, not wise.

But what about the faith verse fear debate? Obviously we should not fear this virus as Christians just as we should not fear anything that is happening in this world. But to juxtapose faith and fear is to make a false dichotomy, fear is not and never has been the opposite of fear, doubt is. Fear can actually be healthy; I have a fear of God and I do fear this virus getting into my congregation because it could do irreversible harm to those whom God has made me responsible for. What I do not have is doubt, I do not doubt that God can protect us from this virus or that, if he wants to, can just remove it from the Earth altogether. I also believe that part of having faith requires me to pray for those two outcomes while at the same time addressing the very real circumstances that surround us here. I have faith God can protect my flock, but I am not going to put that faith willingly or recklessly to the test. That would be unloving and show a lack of care by the shepherd for the Sheep. If I love the sheep, I care for their needs, I feed them, I love them, I guide them to green pastures, I bolster their faith and lovingly address their doubts. But I also teach them that there are things in this life that are not to be trifled with and actively seek to defend them from those things that can harm them.

I urge my fellow pastors and church leaders to heed this warning. To love your flocks you have to guard and defend them from the evils of this world. We have largely failed at that task but now have a chance to step up and do what we should have been doing all along. Jesus is once again saying: “Pastor, do you love me?” “Shepherd my Sheep.”

Why We Do Not Just Fling the Doors Open

Even if the rest of the world wants to throw the doors open and abandon caution, we as Christians have a long history of applying wisdom to situations just like this, one we need to lean upon if we want to avoid becoming centers of catastrophe.

Jonathan Faulkner

 

It happened again yesterday, another person asked me if we were going to reopen our little church on the corner of 2nd street and 2nd Ave NW. The question is an innocent one, it is also a reasonable one, our Governor has relaxed restrictions for Churches and some around us are doing “soft” reopening’s over the next few weeks, so it is not one area pastors should expect not to hear. We have, in a way, never been closed, our building has, but we as a church have not. We have continued ministry and worship providing something that many of our members would not have otherwise but doing more with less personnel then we normally do. The activities of the Church are still going on, just in a different form and outside of our building. We will also be using our building again to record our worship services an hold Friday Prayer so long as social distancing guidelines are met.

Still, there is more to consider than just reopening. Christians have a long history of appling wisdom to these scenarios and we must continue that tradition because we have the ultimate wisdom-giver incarnate among us. For some congregations it may be safe to fling open the doors and return to some semblance of normal, for others, it may not, and prudence and wisdom are required to know which case is which. In the case of my congregation it may not be wise to go back to in person services even with the practicing of social distancing measures. The reason is that a vast majority of my congregation falls into the “highly vulnerable” category, not simply because they are 65 or older but because they have a multitude of underlying conditions that could greatly increase their risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. As their pastor, the under shepherd whom God has entrusted them too, that means in part I am responsible for protecting their health during this time. I take that responsibility very seriously and I have no plan to shrug it off or treat it lightly. I have to stand before God one day and give account for what I did with the resources He gave me and if they all die from COVID-19, that is pretty poor management. If I feed my flock to the wolves, I am no under shepherd but a thief.

I also do not buy the argument that we need to reopen for mental health reasons, or economic reasons. The fact is, if I throw open the doors, they come back and someone brings the virus with them and they contract it and die, it will not matter what their mental or financial health is. That is not something scripture allows me to do nor is it something I want on my conscious. I hate the fact that we are even having a conversation like this, especially since if the Church were living out its calling as it should we would not have to worry about the mental or emotional well-being of our members because we would all be taking care of one another through whatever means they have at their disposal, I know many of my congregation have, a blessing for a younger pastor.

Factor in the reality that churches have been hotspots for the virus and that over 30 pastors have died from the virus, we should not be so quick to fling the doors open. Even if the Government had no guidelines, even if we were totally free to make our own decisions, it would not be wise to meet with a fast spreading, deadly virus that could kill most of our people. This was true of Martin Luther during the plague of 1522 when there was no such thing as the CDC or Iowa Department of Health. We have all seen the quote because it has been all over social media in the previous weeks, but I share it here for emphasis:

“Therefore, I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.”[i]

Luther understood that during the Plague his responsibility before God was to be responsible and to not “cause their death as a result of my negligence.” He understood what I said above, If God should take him during the plague he would be able to stand before him and God would find that he has not caused the death of others or himself by being negligent in His pastoral duties. One could say that the modern idea of Social Distancing finds roots here in Luther’s sermon. That for the pastor, the responsible and wise thing to do is ensure that we do not lose one member of our flock because we ourselves were negligent.

Which brings me to the present crisis.

It is part of my responsibility to do three things, help my people Love God, Love People and Make Disciples. That means that I have to follow and be a disciple of Jesus and set an example for my congregation on how to Love God, Love People and Make Disciples. So, I study and read God’s Word and spend time in prayer and learn the commandments of Jesus which I am to pass down to others who are Disciples of Jesus. One of the realities that I am confronted with in Scripture is how valuable life is to God and how seriously he takes the destruction and undervaluing of that life. Even outside of the Pentateuch we find copious passages like Isaiah 1 which point to disobedience by Judah of God involving the devaluation of human life through murder and corruption. As Peter Enns writes in his commentary on Exodus: “”Life is something that the God of Israel does not treat likely, and it is thus incumbent on His people to behave likewise.”[ii] In the New Testament Jesus brings God’s moral law forward and with it the implicit value human life has because we are made in the image of God (Genesis 2, Matthew 5). Christianity is inherently whole life; we value life from the time it is conceived to the time we return to the dust simply because God created life and made human beings in His own image. Part of loving God is loving people and part of loving people is guarding their lives at all cost against even a deadly virus. Life does not become an idol, we are not to make images of man, that is also part of loving God, but we are to value life because God values Life.

The last few weeks have been tough because with every number added to the death toll, another family is grieving and mourning the loss of a human being and I mourn along with them. Now, I do not personally know anyone who has died from COVID-19, think of how magnified the grief would be were it one of the many men and women I love and have been entrusted as under shepherd. I have told my congregation that I do not want to bury any of them from this, I want them all back when this is over because I love them. It would be foolish to play chicken with their lives for the sake of an ego trip or because the Governor has lifted restrictions.

These are not easy decisions, please be patient and gracious with us as we work through this with you and find the best way to keep you healthy.

In Love

An Under shepherd of Christ, called and confirmed by Him.

[i] Lull, Timothy F.. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (p. 483). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

[ii] Enns, Peter, The NIV Application Commentary: Exodus, 2000, Zondervan, pg 422

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife 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.