Author: jonathanfaulkner

Hello, my name is Jonathan David Faulkner, Pastor, Writer, Musician.

Jesus Was Not A Socialist, and He was not any other modern category either.

A Decade ago the band “Downhere” asked the question: “Can anybody show me the real Jesus?” Not only have we not found Him, we have made Him even more unrecognizable

Jonathan David Faulkner

I have written before about the historical fallacy called Presentism: the practice of reading modern ideas back into history. Recently I had the occasion to think through the fact that while we encourage historians to avoid this practice, we encourage theologians to do so. For instance, Jesus and the Apostles would have known nothing of our modern idea of complementarianism, it did not exist, but we are quick to pigeonhole verses into this modern philosophy and then make bold statements such as “Paul was a Complementarian, see! His verse backs up my philosophy.” Or we look at specific stories and try to apply them to modern philosophical constructs that did not exist in the ancient world. It does not matter how and ancient church applies biblical texts, the church fathers could not have been _______ because they had no concept of ______.

The place on the left this often happens is the claim that Jesus was a Socialist or would support a form of socialist government over and against the capitalism that marks our modern economic system in America. Because Jesus was a Socialist, they argue, we should have a forced socialistic society. Both the right and the left have made the same error or turning to use the government to enforce their views of Jesus onto a secular society. Not only are we presenting onto Jesus our modern understanding of socialism, we are demanding that the agency which should carry that socialism out is the federal government. The right turns to the government to enforce religious morality which largely fails to be Christian morality, though based loosely on scripture or conservative philosophy. Both sides are looking to the wrong place both for their worldview and for the application of their worldview. The secular world wants nothing to do with Christian Morality and government forced proselytizing has only failed Christianity. The same is true in the history of pure socialism or communism. Forced collectivization has only ever benefited those at the top, usually the totalitarians leaders who have forced the collectivization. Even Democratic Socialist countries often run into the same issues of delay of services. In these countries’ collectivization revolves around a few services but is not voluntary and those services can be (but are not always) of lower quality than in non-democratic socialist countries.

Neither of these categories, capitalistic or democratic socialist, capture life in ancient Mesopotamia for the Early Christians. And for the Early Christians, our tendency to look to modern government, left or right, to fulfill our agenda would seem to be anathema. Yes, there were Christians in government positions, but until Constantine, proselytizing through government would have gotten them killed for denying the Pagan god’s of Rome. The point being, Christians should not turn to government to advance the kingdom of heaven because the secular governments of man are 1. In rebellion against God the Father, which means we should not make kings as Christians (see 1st Samuel 8:7) and 2. Are secular and therefore apposed to the very foundations of Christianity, Jesus Christ himself. When Christians turn to a political strong man to advance an agenda through government we actually do damage to our witness, especially when that strong man is extremely immoral and does not reflect the character which we have long insisted that Leaders, Christian or not, embody.

And yet, here we are. Both sides, let and right, within the church have turned to government to fulfill their agenda and they both look back to Jesus as their authority. The problem is Jesus does not fit either side of the debate, he is completely and utterly unique and His kingdom requires a greater amount of loyalty than any man-made kingdom ever. Jesus is neither the left-leaning hippie of the left, or the heavenly gift-giver who makes us more moral people if we want to, otherwise, no change is necessary. Nor will I make the claim that Jesus was a centrist, not because I do not think he was likely in the center on all these issues, holding a perfect balance because He was the perfect Son of God who had been from the beginning  and will be to the end. But because calling Him a centrist would be yet another attempt to make Jesus into my own political mascot, something I am writing against in this piece. It would also continue to perpetuate presentism because once again, centrism is a modern American Political position, not something the early Christian would have identified himself as.

If you do want to describe Jesus and the early Church, I think a combination of two words used by Howard I Marshall in his commentary on Acts and Joseph Hellerman in his book “When the Church was a Family.” “Voluntary Collectivists.” Hellerman is right in his assertion that the Early Christians came from a primarily collectivist culture, most cultures around the world are still collectivist at the grass roots level. There is a sharing and caring involved among the people and family is valued above all else but at the same time this wasn’t forced, the government was not making people share their belongings. If anything in Isaiah the Government is hindering this kind of care for neighbor as the elites horded wealth and neglected the poor and the foreigner. Since it wasn’t a forced collectivism it had to be a voluntary one, stemming out of the genuine love that God had shown the people, the outpouring of which resulted in a natural caring and need meeting among the alternate family of the Church. Nor does it seem that the Apostles demanded that people sell their possessions and then redistribute them as the need arose, but that people, seeing a need, would sell possessions and give the proceeds to the church who would then meet the need. Unlike the Collectivism of Russia under Stalin’s five year plan, no one was forcing the early Christians to give up goods against their will and under pain of death, but out of the gladness and humility that came through fellowship with Christ and through one another. This would follow the teachings of Jesus of Self-Denial and Self-Denunciation. One had to choose to follow these teachings, deny themselves and follow Christ. Interestingly enough, in this strong group society, it was the voluntary nature of the collective that made the early church so attractive despite how offensive the message of the Gospel was even to a Roman World that was also collectivist in thinking.

Now, in modern America, both left and right-wing circles, any kind of collectivism is considered evil because it tramples on the radical individualism we value so much. We have been taught and conditioned that the accumulation of things (consumerism) is what is required for the ultimate happiness of the individual. That the happiness of the individual is the chief end of life and so we should do everything we can to attain for ourselves the ultimate happiness and anyone who gets in our way or who points out those we have trampled on is in our way. But this also plays out in today’s tribalism which advances the claim that an individual’s self-disclosed identity, even harmful ones, are paramount. The accumulation of stuff has not made us happy as individuals, so now we must form an identity based on “our truth”  Jesus, once again, gets co-opted, just as He did with consumerism, into his usual role, not as God incarnate, but as therapist, and not a very good one, who sees whatever cognitive distortion the individual has bought into and affirms it.

Those who use Jesus in this way apply him to those who really want nothing to do with His message of “come and die to yourself.” We are apposed to his ideas of self-denunciation because they require to give up the idea that we have our own truth and to look beyond ourselves to find this truth. We are opposed to this because not only is it uncomfortable, it goes against the foundation of radical individualism.

In Voluntary Collectives, people have a natural bent towards working together for the good of the community, not the good of the individual though the good of the individual may be what is best for the community. In Voluntary Strong Group Societies, we still find to this day what is described in Acts 2:42-47. A group committed to one another and following their leaders who taught and ministered to their needs and arbitrated fights between them and none of it is forced, it comes from a natural love for one another and in the case of the early church, the outpouring of the Love of God for them.

The closest instance in our time we can look at to display this sort of voluntary collective would be the Moravians at Herrnhut who sparked the first protestant missions under Nicolas Von Zinzendorf in the 18th century. The Moravians, descendants of John Hus, practiced what was called “Communitarianism” adapted from Peter Walpot’s “The Yieldedness and the Christian Community of Goods” written in 1577. As a theological descendant of John Calvin and Martin Luther it might seem strange for me to support an anabaptist idea, but this is the one instance when I think the anabaptists got it right. The argument was that because God has given much to us, we should then share with one another so that no one lacks anything. Walpot himself said: “The more possessions one has the more one wants, whoever wants much, whoever wants feels the lack of much, whoever covets much feels left wanting much. That is the most poverty-stricken and dissatisfying life kind of life on Earth. And Christ, at those who walk at home in the true sabbath, Pentacost and Easter will have none of it.” Walpot has no problem with someone owning goods, but goods were not to be an end, but a means to ensure the security of neighbor. Basically a direct application of the “They had everything in common” of Acts 2:42. Again, this was not forced, the Moravians, who adopted Communitarianism, applied it willingly and only enforced it when their second community because practicing excesses and had to be reminded by Zinzendorf the basic tenants of their voluntary collective.

The historical fact is that when the Moravians launched their mission’s movement to St. Thomas in the 1730’s it was this idea of “Communitarianism,” this voluntary collective, that made them effective missionaries both among the slaves and among the merchants. They lived within their means, started business and became self-sustaining missionaries. To this day, the Moravian Church is strong in the Caribbean because of its willingness to get down alongside the people and work alongside them.

Contrast the Moravians with other cultures approaches to Missions, either coming in and destroying the local culture or acting as a colonizing force for the government. I have written before that every missions movement in history that is based on these two systems has failed. They are also based on doctrines like “The Discovery Doctrine” that are extremely sinful and harmful, hindering the spread of the Gospel in the same way the marriage between Evangelical Populism and Nationalism (Christian Nationalism) are today. Dominion theologies are destructive whereas the Moravians built something, learned the language, contributed to the local  and aided the people as neutral parties during the many wars that spread through the region in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Communitarianism was the closes thing we could get to Jesus in our time, yet he is not one of those either. Nor can we go so far, the other way, as some have, and call him a capitalist. Capitalist Jesus is just as deadly as Socialist Jesus. No, Jesus formed a voluntary collective of Brothers and Sisters that formed a voluntary collective built on mutual love and understanding, love for one another and their neighbor. They were defined by their radical care and that radical care put them in good standing with all the people outside the faith, even though the Gospel message was offensive.

We need to stop appropriating Jesus for our own pet causes, especially those that cause us to live in the direct opposite manner as He has put before us to live. Jesus is not the ultimate affirmer of our own personal truth, He is, though the Holy Spirit and the Word of God in agreement, the arbiter of truth and the one who imparts it to us. I cannot say that Christians need to reclaim the total and utter distinctiveness of Jesus because it is a universal and absolute reality, instead, I can say we need to embrace and insist upon His distinctiveness in a biblical manner that makes us again a voluntary collective that is defined by mutual love and understanding. The early Church was meant first and foremost to be a family of believers, and it was until it came to power under Constantine. It was Jesus, the real Jesus, who made that ragtag group of fisherman and tax collectors into a family with fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers. An alternative family to the ones that Jesus said His Gospel would divide.

A decade ago Canadian Ministry Music Group Downhere asked the question: “Can anyone show me the real Jesus?” in the song they listed all the places Jesus appears and how He gets used for everything under the sun. The song was the first time I ever considered the reality that “Jesus isn’t white,” something that has stuck with me this last decade. The point of the song is that Jesus is the opposite of all society makes Him out to be simply because He is God incarnate. The bridge sings like this: “If anybody walks behind the Good Shepherd, If anybody holds the hands that heal lepers, And if you recognize the eyes that see forever, please…”

Jesus, the one who is not a socialist or a capitalist, democrat and republican, the one we have not presented our modern ideas onto, can only be found in the pages of scripture, the Old and New Testament in their entirety. You want to find the real Jesus? You have to approach His word and do so by laying down all your modern ideas and philosophy’s. Come with the mind of a child, and the heart of a ten-month-old hugging her father tightly. Lay down your preconceived ideas and culturally informed ideas about scripture and read it, and if you feel so inclined, read about it. Learn about what God has left us, the culture into which it spoke, the people whom it spoke too and how it affected and impacted their lives and the way they live. Then, to the bewilderment of the world, do what you can to live like they did, those who saw, heard and reacted to the Real Jesus.

Amen

 

.\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 Scandal of Carl R. Trueman’s Mind

Critiques of Populist Christianity are needed and should be heeded, adopting a “Thou Shalt Not Question” attitude puts both Orthodox, Biblical and Historical Christianity at risk and damages the witness of Christ.  

Jonathan Faulkner

I want to start this piece by acknowledging the role that Carl R. Trueman has played in the development of my thought life as both a Historian and a Theologian. His book: “Histories and Fallacies” was essential in being able to identify Historical Fallacies such as Presentism. I also recently used his critique of Mark Noll’s “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” titled “The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” I have a lot of respect for his body of work and for his mind in general. However, since his article in First Things responding to Mark Galli’s CT Editorial both of which came out last December I have been sadly disappointed by both the lack of care in his response and the descent of First Things (which I still subscribe to, perhaps as a vain hope) as a serious enterprise into populism. In doing this, in my view, Trueman has not only made Noll’s point, that there is no Mind in Evangelicalism, but also his own, that there is no Evangel in Evangelicalism because we keep outsourcing it to groups outside Christianity.

I have always found both critiques entirely accurate 80% of the time and I had to chuckle at the irony of Trueman, in one line on a keyboard proving both correct. What little mind there is to Evangelicalism has sounded a lot like Mark Galli over the last four years and what little Evangel is there has been severely hindered and damaged by the cultural populism that claims to be Christian, yet neither has a mind or an evangel and has chosen to let the rich and power speak for them in the public square thinking that the government of man can save them before, over and against the kingdom of God because they have told that this is the only way to protect Christianity.

I have noted many times that this approach is not protecting Christianity but is in fact feeding it and the Christians who daily practice what the bible says, to the wolves. Trueman meanwhile, seems to imply that any critique of Christian Populism is the: “lambasting populist evangelicals as hypocrites or dimwits will simply perpetuate the divide.” By the way, Galli does not do what Trueman is accusing them of, instead he calls them to “Remember who they are” and to consider how supporting someone who is as Immoral as President Trump does to their Christian Witness. Trueman’s point is that Galli and other Evangelical Elites are “out of touch” with the evangelical populists. Trueman points out that he lives in Trump Country and that most of the people he knows who voted for him did so with noses plugged because the alternative is no better. He asks the serious question “was the alternative any better?” and of course, it is true that the answer was no. Neither option was good, both required us to give up our moral high ground and get dirty and both demanded complete and total loyalty to their platforms Something Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian noted actually means we as Christians cannot support either party because 100% buy-in is required. A point that Keller has doubled down on in his recent New York Times Editorial. For my part, I agree with Keller, the church should not be associated in totality with any one political party for theological reasons, most importantly being that Party-Spirit is expressly forbidden within the church by 1 Corinthians 1. That means to say that you follow anyone other than God in Christ first and foremost is to violate the spirit of unity. That means the identarian expectations of both the right and left are off limits to the Christian because they require us to identify ourselves wholly and completely with the party and the party leader. Taxes and to be paid to Caesar, but sole loyalty belongs to God (Matt 22:15-22). The Church then should not be aligned with the powers and principalities of this world but with the Kingdom of God which every Earthly Kingdom will one day bow to. Every time we have aligned with the kingdoms of this world (which in First Samuel God equates to rejection of Himself) it has never ended well for the Church going all the way back to Israel’s days as a Kingdom.

Trueman also commits the unfortunate mistake of reversing the order laid out in scripture for where every Christian should receive their instruction from. In Trueman’s world it seems the theologian should be takin their cues from the populace and so I as a preacher and thinker should just confirm the biases and opinions of my congregants on matters of politics. Yet, Acts 2:42 lays out for us the direction our instruction is to come from: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” If we are going to testify to the authority of scripture, it needs to inform our discourse and be the place from which our discourse begins. If we are to “Devote ourselves to the teachings of the apostles” then that means we should today be devoted to the teachings of the apostles and listen to those whose job it is to pass down those teachings to us, our pastors on the front lines, our seminary professors and our scholars, the mind of Christianity. Trueman, who would likely affirm the Apostolicity of the church, should understand this and direct the populace to listen to the mind of Christianity and weigh that against what the mouth is saying to see if it reflects the truth of scripture.

Now, that is not easy in our time when the mind is seriously divided over politics, but the mouth has given up listening to the warnings of either part of the mind altogether and the result is a Christianity that is schizophrenic and divided. Mark Galli expressed in writing what so many of us have been thinking over the last four years. Not just what Trueman calls the: “the sanctimonious subgenre of self-regarding anti-Trump noise created by hokey-wokey evangelicals—those who tweet endlessly about white privilege and misogyny in between writing checks for their children’s elite private schools and knocking back Martinis and Manhattans at the country club or the art gallery opening.” An insult to someone like me who has been a #NeverTrumper from the beginning, retained the name “Evangelical” because it is a global movement, not a strictly American phenomenon, who also does not tweet in this way, or cut checks to my children’s Elite Christian School. This insult serves to do exactly what Trueman is accusing Galli of, deepening the divide within Christianity as he takes a shot at more liberal or centrist Christians who have their own cultural Christianity to deal with. Galli expressed what a large swath of younger Christians have been asking for four years, if we had this standard for Clinton, why do we not have it for Trump? This is why I found Franklin Graham’s critique of Galli’s editorial amusing, those of us who have been unable to support Trump or right-wing politics (I cannot in good conscious right now support either party) have watched as over and over again Christianity Today has played it safe on the right, we have been waiting for someone on the right to express what many of us have been thinking and finally Galli has done that.

But what about Trueman’s assertion that Galli’s critique of “Populist Evangelicalism” is: “ symptomatic of the same underlying pathology” as the “Pharisees” who “standing in the Temple of Twitter, thanking God that he is not like other evangelicals—white supremacists, misogynists, or even this Trump supporter over here.” Does this mean there is no room to critique populism or populist evangelicalism? Is any critique or more accurately in the case of Galli’s Editorial, call to reformation based on Scripture and Christian Identity as well our historic demands that our leaders be moral. Would Trueman have attended the council of Nicea and told Athanasios or Nicholas to “leave Arius alone” over his heretical doctrine that was dividing and destroying the church in the ancient church? It makes sense if you follow the “Thou shalt not question” mentality of many within the upper echelon of the Ivory Tower that is certainly a cancer, and which has become Cult-like in its application. Instead of being like the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 11:17) we have become like the Galatians who have been “bewitched” by the circumcision group and proselytizers who stirred up trouble for Paul and the early Christians. We are more like the catholic hierarchy immediately before the reformation who made the people live off the bread of the pope rather than: “every word that comes from my Father who is in Heaven” (Mat 4:4). We would rather take the steady diet of fear of the world that is being fed to us by the leaders of evangelicalism than the very words of scripture which tells us that those who are in Christ are secure regardless of what the world may do against us or to us. We have been told not to question what we are being told and Trueman seems to perpetuate that fallacy in his response to Galli. If we cannot examine and question ideas and search the Word of God to see if they line up with what God has said, then we have given up our ability to think and reason for ourselves and together. Christians are not called to follow an earthly leader blindly, God made our minds and gave our us the ability to think and reason, we are to learn discernment then, even to discern the things of scripture and how they apply to life or if they apply to life. If we are not allowed to question something happening in the culture and examine it in light of scripture and critique in based on what scripture shows us, then we forfeit our ability to guard biblical and historical orthodoxy that has been handed down to us from the Apostles and the Early Christians. If we are just meant to live on the words of men without questioning them, swearing undying loyalty to them then we risk missing scripture altogether in favor of the gospel of man. I should not have to iterate the dangers of doing this, yet it seems that evangelical populism has opted to do just that.

Now, none of this means that Christians should not participate in politics, there is a long history going back all the way to the early Church of Christians doing just that. But how we participate is what matters. Do we mindlessly give ourselves to a political party? By no means! Nor should our participation be built on pushing an agenda, for the early Christians involved in politics this would have been a death sentence. Our involvement should be that as Stewards of the biblical justice. As Timothy Keller has said at other times it is the Christians responsibility to address injustice when it is seen and to work towards the correction of it. We should ask ourselves, if we are going to be involved in politics, am I contributing to justice or injustice by my actions here. Am I violating God’s mandate to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8)? Is our religion true and unstained by the world in that it is marked by “caring for widows and orphans” (James 1:27)? Or are we pursuing political power to push through an agenda and enforce a system onto a secular world, choosing conversion by Proselyte rather than by genuine belief that can then be discipled. The secular world does not want our morality, day-in and day-out they fight against it and imposing an unwanted morality on a secular society only makes Christians a stench for all the wrong reasons. If we are going to be offensive, let it be because of the cross, not because of our participation in politics or proselytization of a people that do not want it. Let’s make Christianity attractive for the reasons it was attractive in the ancient world, by being an alternative community that cares for the needs of its lowliest members for the sake of the Gospel, a Family on Mission, if you will.

I fear Trueman has proven both Noll and his own critique of Evangelicalism correct. He has shown that there is no mind and has sided with the populists who look less and less like the biblical Christians they claim to be every day. This moment should give us pause but also make us mourn, have we really gone so far that we think that just because our strong man is in office Christianity is going to be great again? Similarly, have we really abandoned and even shown to be a sham our claims that morality matters? We have abandoned our responsibility to think critically and discern what is going on in the world in favor of blind following of strong men who, when the pretense is removed, actually care nothing about you or I outside of keeping them in power. Trueman as a scholar, First Things as a scholarly work should know better. The only thing that can save Christianity is Christ and the only thing that is going to stop the decline of the Church is His people showing the world the blessings and benefits of a relationship with Christ in this life. No strong man, no promises of restored greatness from politicians who do not care about people. The soul of Christianity will only be recovered through Christ Jesus our Lord and living by the Word He has given us to live by out of gratitude to Him for the things He has done.

May God save us and have mercy on our souls.

 

\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.

10 Years after the day my Faith Almost Collapsed.

It has been 10 years today since the Night With the Grace Killers and I am not where I thought I would be.

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Deconstruction is a painful process; it is one that has been in the media a lot lately too as many have come and announced their “deconversions” from Christianity. Some have even written that Deconstruction’s natural end is a deconversion from all forms of faith altogether. I have many friends whom I still love dearly who have gone through this process and deconverted from faith altogether. It is easy to understand why, especially if you are deconverting from a cultural Christianity that is built on a relationship with the church and not on a relationship with Christ, why one might abandon faith altogether. You are deconverting from a civic religion, not true, biblical Christianity. But still others go through deconstruction from that cultural faith, or a cultural faith that at least hinted at the real thing, and we do not deconvert from the faith. Many of us have been hurt deeply by the church and we have seen firsthand the hypocrisy that is often perpetuated in the church, and often in pastors’ families. We see a faith that is not in Christ, but in cultural practice or we become the victims of abusive leaders who Lord their power over us, or parents who infantilize us, who never let us grow to adulthood. Instead of answering the questions that arise from these things we end up being told not to question and if we do we are in rebellion.

Most of you know that this is largely my story. Raised in the culture of “easy-believism” that so vibrantly marks both evangelicalism and general conservative Christianity. The kind of Christianity where all you must do is believe and you’re good to go to heaven. The what is generally perceived to be Jesus or the Bible, or God or even just what your parents or the church tell you. Then you go to AWANA and memorize a bunch of verses that are disconnected from their context and your good to go. Of course, everyone is a Christian and questioning that statement is tantamount to losing your faith. On top of that, my chosen medium for expression of my faith, rock music, was viewed as “not edifying” or “dark” by parents whose own parents leveled the same critique of their own music in the 60’s and 70’s. The music I write for now, Folk Rock, does not fit the current idea of worship prevalent in CCW (Contemporary Christian Worship) today. Even though I made a profession of faith in middle school and had been baptized, looking back it always felt like Christianity was something you did more than something you were. You always did all the “good Christian things” like instantly obeying every word that came out of your dads’ mouth or not smoking, drinking or having sex before marriage. Consequently, these were the things that most of my friends were sneaking around to do before and after youth group.

Then of course, was the infamous “Night with the Grace Killers” that happened 10 years ago tonight, the night when everything I had learned about scripture got tested and if it were not for my pastor and professor at Sterling, would have been the last night I ever stepped foot in a church building. After all the accusations, the lies about me and my family circulated by that pastor, being told to “shut up” because I was just a first semester college student who knew nothing about pastoral ministry and church discipline. Told that I was not “Jesus” or “Paul” or “Peter” and had no right to question the inexcusable actions of that senior pastor against my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in the youth group. I walked out of that building that Wednesday Night vowing to never step foot inside a church building again. As I said, I probably would not have had it not been for those two men. In that moment, everything I had ever thought about God before I was converted in Middle School, (I still believe I was converted in Middle School but came of age and a deeper understanding of Faith on that mountainside in Denver). In that moment I was either going to become what David Kinnamen calls either a: Prodigal, those who leave the church and the faith altogether after making professions of faith, or an Exile: One who feels they have not place in the organized church because of their music or artwork or whatnot but still retain and active and vibrant faith that they live out outside of the organized church.

God though, had other plans, and the fact that I am a Pastor today is a testament to His grace and healing work.

For the next two years after the night with the grace killers though I wondered aimlessly in my faith. I was having regular meetings with counselors and relearning everything I had ever been taught about Christianity. That was when I really started reading and reading and reading. Systematic Theologies and introductions of the Old and New Testament. I started learning not just the bible but about the bible. In the process I did not just learn about Christ and God, I learned to be in relationship with them. Then this hurting and broken kid went to serve the homeless in Denver Colorado for 3 months as part of the requirements for his bachelor’s degree and God literally met Him on the side of that mountain that cool July 4th as he prayed and walked the labyrinth. It was then, for the second time in my life, God broke through the noise of the pain in a powerful and mighty way and did a major healing work. Three week’s later as we prepared to finish up my time in Denver, as I was praying one morning, God gave me the definite and undeniable call to Pastoral Ministry.

I have many friends and family going through or who have gone through deconstruction. ba Whether that be from a legalistic fundamentalism or the libertine “easy-believism” that says so long as you believe in Jesus, do whatever you want except for smoking, drinking or having sex out of wed-lock. The truth is this is a painful process, it requires us to come to the realization that the Christianity we have inherited is not the Christianity of the bible which needs to be thoroughly thought through and which it is okay and even invited to ask questions of. Like the church member who, after hearing me preach on the cross of Jesus where I mentioned the two sections of the cross, one carried and one already waiting at the crucifixion site said: “I learned that the whole cross being carried all at once was an invention of the Italians in the eighth century. Who knows what to believe anymore?” This was after a trip to Israel. That is why we have to avoid a “Thou Shall Not Question” mentality, when someone does go through deconstruction they can do so in the safety of the Church with Church Members and leaders who are going to sit next to them, walk with them and help them reconstruct a deeper, biblical and Christ-Centered faith rooted in the history of Christianity and Christian Witness.

Please do not hear me wrong, I am not throwing out the faith my parents handed down to me, it is dangerous to throw the foundations out if they are sound and my parents did a good job laying the ground work for the faith I have today. What I reject is the Easy-Believism that I heard preached from the pulpit on Sunday when Scripture was telling me that yes, you just had to believe to become a Christians, but then through Christ you had to become someone totally knew. As C.S. Lewis put it: “God is in the business of making old men knew” yet the Christianity of Easy-Believism taught me that “becoming new” just meant being more moral, behaving my parents and serving people. A deep and personal relationship with God seemed to be reserved for times I needed my anger checked. It was not deep, it was not wide, it was a pool, a tiny puddle. It required not actual change outside of changed outward behavior until you got angry and then you had to ask God to change your inward attitude. This is sadly nothing more than mere behaviorism, the kind popularized by James Dobson in the 70’s-90’s. It focuses on behaving as ones parents tell them to behave which may have been loosely based on scripture. Meant to make “nice Christian kids” who ate their peas and followed their chore chart.

But what almost kept me from faith altogether before Middle School and my final conversion in Cleveland at an Acquire the Fire rally was that this did not make anyone I knew any better people and in fact I saw those who believed for decades longer than I had been alive act worse than they were telling me too. Easy-Beleivism was a foundation because it’s premise is true, all you have to do to become a Christian is believe in Jesus as Romans 10:9 says, but this is a foundation and not the whole building. Behaviorism on the other hand is legalism disguised as good biblical principles but if you peel back the curtain you find a lot of verses taken out of context to demand loyalty not to Jesus but to the family unit. My parents laid a groundwork for faith, but by making that foundation all their was when the last straw was to come, when I sat before the pastor who had spiritually and emotionally abused me I had literally nothing to fall back on. Perspective is a funny thing huh.

Where was my faith nourished then? Obviously, I still do not smoke, when I do partake of Alcohol it is on a limited capacity and with the conscious of my company in mind, and my wife and I did not sleep together before marriage. I did not abandon faith altogether, in fact, today my faith is deeper and richer and my relationship with God stronger than it ever has been. My faith was nourished through reading and internalizing the words of Jesus, in Denver as I served the homeless and, on that mountainside, when God came in force during the week in silence. Through many great men of faith who have spoken life into me, introduced me to the reformed faith which introduced me to the Church Fathers. Retaught me how to think through my faith beyond the black and white legalism I ended up with by the end of High School. It was formed in conversations, both with God and brothers and sisters, it was formed in the pages of ancient books, in libraries, in cathedrals and monasteries, classrooms and cross cultural worship sessions. It was formed in the 10:31 Office, in the long conversations with brothers who were my peers, in the now three years I have been reading through the Psalms everyday. Most importantly it was formed in the pages of scripture, spending hours and hours with Jesus, discovering a faith that you enter by just believing and which exposure to the one at the center, Jesus, leaves you totally and utterly transformed, not just by the Gospel, but by Jesus himself. Someone has said: “Christianity is the only religion where its leader bids us come and die so that we might receive eternal life.” I found a faith where you die to all your selfish ambitions and your selfish desires and you become like Christ because He lives inside of you through the Incarnate Holy Spirit and transforms you into His likeness. I do not think I am perfect or have found perfect Christian Faith, but I know I have seen God’s blessings as my wife and I seek to follow Christ and raise our daughter in covenant with Him. Praying she receives the promise of her baptism and believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior.

Yes, this change has caused tension and it has not made life any easier. If anything, I am the crazy one now. I still talk to a couple of therapist friends at times for wisdom and prayer and have many counselors helping me walk this Christian Walk. Brothers and Sisters who do not tell me how great I am or how I can do anything I put my mind too, but who help me walk with my weaknesses and strengths, who help me understand scripture and my faith as a member of that family of faith whom I love so much.

In some ways 10 years later, I am still the same person who left that church building 10 years ago. I am still passionate about the truth of scripture, I am still a musician, still try to do my best to stand up for the little guy. But in many more ways I am completely different than the kid who walked out of that church building. I am not where I thought I would be that night, instead, I am not able to make sure no one else experiences that hurt and pain so much as I can help it. I can now help others who are willing heal as they walk through deconstruction and help them as they ask questions about faith and the Bible and so on and so forth. I have also been equipped with the tools and resources, by God’s grace, to do this and God has placed me where He wants me to do the work of sharing what scripture has given us all to share.

As I look out my office window at the parsonage after a long day where I had the blessing of burying a dear saint and sister in Christ. As I think of the kindness of my congregation and the wonderful relationships we are forming here with young and old. I do not regret how painful this road was and still is. I do not regret how hard it is, it just drives me to the cross and the empty tomb. I desire for others to know nothing of Christ and Him Crucified and this whole story of the 10-year journey points not to anything I have done, but everything that He has done. Praise the Lord for His incredible grace and joy.

Amen

 

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.

Sermon Script: Small Christmas Rebellions – Preached on 12/22/19

Jonathan David Faulkner 

 You can listen here:

Reading of the Text:

Micah 5:2-5a

2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And he shall be their peace.

6:6-8

6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

May God Bless to our hearts this reading of His Holy Word.

Introduction: This morning I want to once again peel back the curtain for you, to give you just another glimpse into the pastor’s tool bag and show you another of the tools they equip us with in Seminary. I have told you about the tool of Biblical Theology, searching the full council of scripture one a topic and hopefully have demonstrated that to you. Now I want to tell you about the tool of what is called “Cultural Exegesis” The tool of Cultural Exegesis. What Cultural Exegesis is for the pastor, his ability to read what is happening in the culture and interpret the popular ideas and even, as C. Gene Wilkes puts it in his book “Jesus on Leadership” see the future in a manner of speaking. It is, as Karl Barth put it, preaching with: “The Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Cultural Exegesis shows us too things, 1. What the trends and changes in the culture at large are and 2. The tools which God is using to reach the culture at large. In our time we have been blessed with incredible Cultural Exegetes such as the Barna group and Pew Research Center who give us a fairly clear picture of both of these things. Many of you have heard me talk about statistics like 98% of people who come to church, and stay are invited by a church member and only 2% are invited by the pastor. That is cultural exegesis. It is also from cultural exegesis that we learn that there has never been a bigger difference between the oldest generation in the work force, and now the second youngest, my own generation and the reason for that is the internet and smart phones. But it also shows us the unique ways God is using the tools of the day to reach the younger generation and gives us a good blueprint for how to join in Him in that task. That is why you should read books like David Kinnemen’s “You Lost Me” or James Emory White’s “Meet Generation Z” Or look at what a mission we support, Network Beyond is doing in Fort Collins to reach their neighborhood, I can tell you after talking to Steve a few weeks ago, it is pretty exciting and all of it is applicable here in Buffalo Center, believe it or not.

God Reaching the World: Now, many of you may be wondering what any of this has to do with Christmas and especially with the Christ Child and our text for today. Well, there is no better time to talk about how God is reaching the world than when we celebrate the season when God’s plan for reaching the world was unveiled through the incarnation of Jesus Christ as a Baby. In fact, it says in verse Micah 5:3: “He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.” Jesus coming was meant to be one that reconciled God to man and man to each other. And our text this morning gives us a closer look at that, so let’s dive in.

As we come to the book of Micah we are dealing with a contemporary of Isaiah, in fact, there are a lot of parallels between Micah and Isaiah, Isaiah the court prophet and Micah the wilderness prophet, both preaching in the time of Hezekiah and both witnessing the carrying off into exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They both speak of Israel and Judah’s sins and the coming punishment for those sins, they also speak of the way to renewal that God himself has laid out for them and is laying out for them. We all know the famous parallel passage to our text this morning, Isaiah 7:14 where Isaiah tells Ahaz, “The Lord Himself shall give you a sign and Behold, a virgin shall give birth and you shall call his name Emmanuel, God with Us, Mighty Counselor, Prince of Peace and the Government shall be upon His shoulders.” In Micah 5 then God reveals where that counselor will be born, Bethlehem Ephrathah, the city where the great King David had been born and lived and where Solomon even ruled for a time in 1 Kings 3. Yet by the time of Jesus birth it would become the “least of the cities in Judah” so small it likely was not even counted among the tribe of Judah. Matthew Henry writes this about Bethlehem: “having down how low the house of David should be brought and how viley the shield of that mighty family should be cast away as through it had not been anointed with Oil. To encourage the faith of God’s people who might be tempted now to think that His covenant with David and his house had been abrogated he add an illustrious description of the Messiah and His Kingdom, in whom the remnant should be established and the honors of that house should be revived, advanced and perpetuated.” Bethlehem, which had become so low it was nothing more than a hamlet, Mary and Joseph, from a family that had been so humbled they may as well have never been kings. All of this because of the breaking of the Covenant and disobedience of God’s chosen people. Yet, through this humbled family would come the Great Shepherd, the one Servant King of Isaiah 53, the one who would lead God’s people back, the one from whom the remnant would be formed. He would rule with the strength and name of the Lord, bring glory to God, in Him they would dwell secure and be at peace. God would continue his work of lifting up the lowly as he had done time and time again form the raising of a lowly shepherd boy from Bethlehem as king, to the choice of a poor virgin girl in Galilee who proclaimed in Luke 1:52 “God lifts up the lowly.”

Peace with God: But Judah had a problem, a problem that comes out again both in the book of Isaiah and in our second passage for today, that is they kept trying to attain peace with God through their own sacrifices. They kept seeking peace in the blood of one year old calves, in the blood of thousands of bulls, Micah even goes so far as to suggest in verse 7 that they were offering their children as the Pagans did, the fruit of their wombs, all to achieve peace with God, to get on His good side. It is interesting because if you look at the sins of Israel it is very clear that they were not just sins against God, but sins against others, against one another and against the foreigner. Or they were sins of misplaced trust, turning to Egypt as Ahaz did in Isaiah 7 for protection from the Assyrians instead of trusting in God for peace and deliverance. Now they had turned to the daily slaughter in the temple, the blood of bulls and goats and lambs and even the fruit of their wombs, burning incense, thinking that this was the way to stay the wrath of GOD. Yet God himself says both in Isaiah and in Micah that these are not the way to renewal and are in fact an abomination to him as He says in Isaiah 1. One of Micah’s key concepts is that Spiritual Renewal begins not with the spilling of blood or burning or incense but with the ending of ones unjust treatment of others. This is not all there is of course, but it is the essential first step. Micah concludes his section on renewal that starts in 5:2 with 6:8 “He has told you oh man, what is good, to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” This should take us all the way back to God’s first promises to Abraham in Genesis, before the sacrificial system was enacted at Sinai under Moses, that his descendants are to be a light to the nations not through sacrifices but by their obedience to GOD. Yet by the time Micah was prophesying they had abandoned obedience to the word of God in favor of seeking wealth, hording up for themselves the riches of this world, even boasting in it, they mistreated and abused the sojourner, refusing to care for those who came in the midst, indeed, even refusing to care for their own poor, turning to the might of the king instead of the greater might of God. Everyone was out to get his own and it did not matter who got in the way. That is why Micah appeals here to the two tables of the covenant in reverse order: “Love people” “Do justice, love mercy” and “Love God” “And walk humbly with your God.” God does not desire sacrifices but right relationship. It is the horizontal and vertical beams of salvation that we talked about a few weeks ago, out of their relationship with God Judah should become a just and upright people who because they walk humbly with God do justice and love mercy and kindness.

Christmas: and that brings me to Christmas, a time when we like to quote from Micah 5, Isaiah 7 and many other passages but we never really stop to think of them in their context. Yet when you combine Micah’s words in 5 and 6 you end up with this: God has made a way for Peace with Him and that is through the lowliest of babes, from the lowliest city and a once great family brought so low they were unrecognizable compared to their former glory. Yet from this family would come Emmanuel, God with Us, Mighty Counselor, Prince of Peace, and He would shepherd God’s people with the might to the Lord and those who dwelt in Him would dwell secure and be at peace and because they did this, because they were in relationship with Him they would do justice and love mercy as a natural outpouring of their relationship with the coming baby foretold and who has now come, lived, died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day. The one who is coming back to judge the living and the dead and who through the Holy Spirit who dwells inside us, makes it possible for us even today to walk humbly with God and to do justice, love mercy.

Application: Now, I have heard it said in this church, by some, that what we need is a big revival, one along the lines of the tent revivals of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to bring people back to Church. We gather everyone in and they come and hear the dynamic evangelist preach and souls will be saved and boom, we will turn back the tide of secularism. Yet this is where cultural exegesis helps us because it tells us that those kinds of tactics do not work on the younger generations. In fact, the opposite is true, most younger people will not darken the doors of a church until they have had a lengthy relationship with its members. Now, there are obviously exceptions to this, but in most cases people want nothing to do with a Christianity where people think if they go to church on Sunday they are all set, they want to see that we live what we believe and they want to see us live what we believe in the public square. Many young people, and this is true of both young Christians and Non-Christians alike look at the church and see a parallel with the sins of Israel. They see us clamor for political power, putting our trust in man’s government rather than God, even at times conflating the two. They read op-eds written by prominent theologians and pastors against foreigners of any kind, they see us pursue wealth and the power it buys us and they see us act as if that has given us peace with God. They see us acting out of fear of what might happen when we lose our position of power rather than trusting in God and going to more and more unjust and immoral means to achieve that. Brothers and Sisters, this is not the way to have peace with God, this is the way to enmity with God, this is the path to our downfall, it always has been and it always will be and I tell you that with the authority of the Holy Word of God and the testimony of History behind me. You want peace with God, you want to see His blessings follow this church, you want to reach your town? Stop worrying about who is in power and start listening to the one in your heart. Have a relationship with God that, out of gratitude draws you to care for your neighbor, no matter the ramifications. You want to see this church grow, start reaching out to your neighbors, invite them to your table, get to know them, connect with them on a deep level, support them, whether they are a believer or not. Stop bemoaning how the times have changed and do what God has put before you to do. Don’t just bring people to church to hear me preach, be the church to them. Do Justice, Love mercy and walk humbly with God. God is not reaching people through big revivals but through small gatherings at your dinner table. Depoliticize your faith and search again the baby in the manger, the lowly, servant king. Oh, brothers and sisters, I beg of you, as one who has a heart for both my generation and yours to hear the Gospel, please hear what I am saying. We think we are on the path to peace, but we are on the path to destruction, please hear me.

Jars of Clay calls these things Small Rebellions, and the best example in history I can think of is the original St. Nicholas the bishop of Nyrsa who, when he still lived in his home town of Patara, after losing his wealthy parents to the plague heard of a father of three girls who had fallen on hard times, so much so he could not afford to pay dowries for his girls. Hearing this, Nicholas took a bag of gold and threw it through the window at night, when the family awoke they found the gold, paid off some of the family debts and paid the dowry price for the first girl. This happened two more times before the father finally caught Nicholas after he placed the third bag. Throughout his life he was known for his exceeding generosity and care, especially for the poor. So much so that when three Roman Generals were freed because of the work of Nicholas and came to bestow gold and treasures on them, he distributed to the poor. That is how the legend we know today of Santa Claus began. He trusted GOD more than man, he cared for others more than he cared for himself, he did justice and he loved mercy because he walked humbly with God. These are the small rebellions we can commit year-round, not just at Christmas time, but every day. Like Scrooge at the end of A Christian Carol who kept Christmas well by his care for others, Dicken’s writes: “All year-round.”

Brothers and Sisters, I love you, you who are made in the image of God and have been called into relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ who came as a baby to the lowliest place to lift up the lowly. May you daily commit small rebellions against the world through choosing to live as Christ in this world reaching this world with love, by doing justice and loving mercy as you walk humbly with God. Lifting up the lowly, caring for the widow and the orphan and the refugee, the single mother and the abused and trafficked women, the homeless man who comes to your door or who you see on the street. May you care for the least of these for in doing so you will have done it to Christ. May you follow the greatest rebellion of Christ, who came into the world as a baby and died for you so you could live.

Let’s pray

 

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.

 

“Small Christmas Rebellions” – A Reflection on Micah 5:2-5a, 6:6-8

“Give us days to be filled with Small Rebellions, senseless brutal acts of kindness from us all, as we stand between the fear and firm foundations, push against the current and the fall” – Jars of Clay

Jonathan David Faulkner

This week I have giving great attention to the words of Micah 5:2-5 and 6:6-8 as I prepare a Sermon on them for Christmas Sunday. These passages are ones we hear quoted often but we rarely are encouraged to meditate over, so here they are:

Micah 5:2-5a

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.

And 6:6-8

“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Again, two passages we all hear and maybe even have memorized but rarely do we really meditate on and even rarer do we see them placed side by side or consider their placement in Micah’s prophesy.

Consider the state of Judah and Israel at the time of Micah’s writing. They have broken their covenant with God, they are in danger of being carried off by Assyria. Micah, the wilderness prophet writes at the same time as Isaiah the Court Prophet, both have startlingly similar messages. Judah has disobeyed, they have broken covenant with God and have killed the Prophets who have warned them, but they have continued to offer their sacrifices to Him in a vain attempt to appease him, they desperately want peace with him, but they done injustice, they have been ungrateful for all that God has given them. Isaiah has warned them that God really hates their burned offering, the blood of their bulls is even an “Abomination” to him (Isaiah 1:10-20). God does not want their worship, He does not want their sacrifice, especially devoid of the very thing He desires above all, a relationship marked by obedience to His Word. The Sin of God’s people was so egregious that even the righteous prophet Isaiah was not unstained (Isaiah 6:1-7).

Here we find the prophet Micah echoing much of what Isaiah himself prophesied. You can almost put the two passages (Micah 5 and Isaiah 7) together.

Israel and Judah will be abandoned by God until God himself gives them a sign, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and His name will be called Emmanuel, God with us, and he will rule Israel as a shepherd who shows the majesty of God and the Government will be on his shoulders and He who is eternally begotten of the Father, the one who existed from before antiquity, will be born to a women in Bethlehem Ephrathah which is the lowliest of the cities of Judah, so small it may not even be counted among her thousands of cities in Judah. From this town is where the one who would bring us “Shalom” peace, wholeness, completeness, this is where He would come from. If you Add in Micah 6:6-8 you can say: “You will not achieve peace with God through burnt offerings, through calves, or tithes or dedicating your children to the Lord, only by relationship with God, through this baby that is prophesied about in the previous chapter, through doing Justice, loving mercy and kindness, walking humbly with Him, then you can have peace with God, through having a contrite heart, a repentant spirit, through doing what His Word has told us to do. You want peace with God, stop worshiping Him apart from Obeying Him.

Bethlehem was so insignificant and so lowly and yet that was where the Savior was going to come from. He was going to come from a place which Matthew Henry writes had been: “having down how low the house of David should be brought and how viley the shield of that mighty family should be cast away as through it had not been anointed with Oil. To encourage the faith of God’s people who might be tempted now to think that His covenant with David and his house had been abrogated he add an illustrious description of the Messiah and His Kingdom, in whom the remnant should be established and the honors of that house should be revived, advanced and perpetuated.” The very one who by being in relationship with Him we have peace with God and peace with one another. His coming lifts up the lowest of the low, the house of David, brought into obscure poverty so that the one found from the lineage of David was a Virgin girl and a Carpenter living in Galilee. A man and his betrothed, they were not even married yet. Yet it was through them God was going to work His amazing power of opening the womb of the Virgin. God is going to do what science and common-sense say is impossible.

Yet, God in His wisdom made a way, not for us to worship him, that should be our default, but for us to have a relationship with Him. We do that by walking humbly with Him, by doing Justice and loving mercy. We live in relationship with Him through doing what Jars of Clay called “Small Rebellions” those: “Senseless brutal acts of kindness from us all.” We follow the example of St. Nicholas of Nyrsa who when he heard about a father who could not provide dowries for his three daughters. So in the middle of the night he snuck up to the window and dropped a bag of gold in for the first daughter. He did this two more times, providing dowries for the other two daughters before the father finally caught him. This is a small rebellion, it goes against what is considered normative, it goes against what we consider safe, especially in our individualism driven culture. It is a rebellion against the attitude of both Nicholas’s day and our own, that we get our own, get what the god of self informs us we deserve. At Christmas time these rebellions should be foremost on our minds, these are the natural rebellions of a Christian in relationship with the Christ Child. These rebellions do justice but correcting injustice, correct the merciless acts of others by doing mercy to those who have been abused. This is the rebellion St. Nicholas and the legend that rose up around him gave us, that like God giving His son, it is more important for us to give to others and to give of ourselves for the sake of others than to receive what would be most self-gratifying.

The World is looking at the church and wondering why we are doing the opposite of this rebellion, they look at us and say: “Your scriptures say you believe in this, why do you not practice it? Your God tells you to “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God” it even tells you that you can do that because of and through Christ, so why do you not do it?” This is the great indictment against us, a sad reality that makes reaching this world so much harder. When we turn to politics or power or man’s philosophies to determine the life of the church we are actually killing it, doing harm to Christ, rebelling against the wrong kingdom. Christ’s coming is for you, so you can have relationship with God and from that relationship with God you can live in relationship with others, Just relationships, where mercy is enacted and we walk together humbly with God. God doesn’t want our worship, he wants our relationship and for us to be in relationship with others. Justice and Mercy come from God, they are meant to be lived out for others. What God has done is merciful and Just and you are meant to show that to one another.

Small Christmas Rebellions happen when you invite your neighbor over for dinner, even if that neighbor is less fortunate than you, doesn’t fit your view of normal, does not look like you, does not have the same socio-economic status as you. Small Christmas Rebellions start at your table, caring for the poor, the needy among us. Not letting the organizations do all the heavy lifting because: “that’s what they’re for” but doing it yourself. Just like God raising up Bethlehem to honor, we should raise up the lowly among us, for as Luke 1:52 says: “God lifts up the lowly” so should we. They are, after-all, made in the image of GOD and worthy of the dignity that this sinful world denies them and which through Christ, His body should work to restore to them.

Peace with God means you are free and clear to rebel against the world, to choose the things of God over and against the things of this world. That we do not have to fear the consequence that the world may enact against us for living out what we believe. They can kill us, but we will not die. So, commit the small Christmas rebellions, go and do what God has commanded, love your neighbor, have them at table, who cares what the world thinks, the secular world will pass away, but Christ and His Kingdom, which includes you, will not.

So, this Christmas, volunteer at the shelter, have your neighbor over for dinner, even if that neighbor looks differently from you, go visit the nursing home. Love your neighbor as yourself because God has first loved you. Do all that Christ has put before you to do in Scripture with the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. These are small rebellions against the world, for the sake of showing Christ to the world, and they are carried out through us, God’s chosen people. All because Christ came as a baby, the one who was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah and Micah and so many others.

 

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.

Top 20 Christian Albums of the Decade: 2010-2019

The Top 20 Christian Albums of the Decade

Jonathan Faulkner

After I left ARLCMG in 2013 it is true that I have not been as up to date on the Christian Music Scene outside of the bands I regularly listen too. That is not to say I do not still get updates and am not still on the mailing lists for several of my old music industry contacts. I still get their pre-releases and have even occasionally released reviews of various albums. Still, I want to post a top 20 of the decades (and some honorable mentions) because this has actually been a great decade for Christian Music across the spectrum. In fact, from Lecrae, to Third Day, to Demon Hunter to Thousand Foot Krutch to Tenth Avenue North, and across all sorts of genres from Ska to Metal to CCM to Rap, it has been an incredible decade. So let’s lay out the criterion, or dust it off as it were, for what makes an album worthy of a top 20 list, or even for a top review.

  1. It must have staying power: It must be one you come back and listen to over and over
  2. It must show the creativity of the band: No cookie cutter albums here
  3. It must be relevant to the times: This is the hardest category
  4. It must have clear Christian themes and messages: Like, from the Bible.

So, with these in mind, let’s start working through our top 20 of the Decade. They are listed as Album, Title, Year.

Honorable Mentions: “I Quit Church” Matt & Toby, “Love Letter Killshot” Disciple, “Come In” Children 18:3, “The Things We’ve Been To Afraid to Say” Tenth Avenue North, “The Mountaintop” The City Harmonic, “Good News” Rend Collective

20. Between Pavement and Stars, Five Iron Frenzy, 2015: This EP really makes the list for one reason, it is the only time in Christian Music when an artist has properly addressed the problems with Westboro Baptist. Well…that’s not the only reason, but “God Hates Flags” is one of the few songs of the decade that tries to deal both in grace and truthfulness with the so-called church in Topeka. Every song on this EP except for the fun “To Astoria!” addresses some issue of the culture which they have seen in abundance at their church in Denver called “Scum of the Earth Church.”

19. Blacklight, Tedashi, 2011: One of the many albums I reviewed at ARL still makes its way into my CD player (an old music listening device) today. The album has not only increased in relevance as times have changed, “Burn This House Down” feels more relevant than it did when it came out as Tedashi and other Christian Rappers both Black and White have moved away from cultural Evangelicalims/Christianity. This album is a work of art from start to finish with few exceptions (there is actually only one), the more you listen the more you learn.

18. How to be Human, The Classic Crime, 2017: Some might be surprised to find this album here given that it actually moves away from American Christian Orthodoxy, but in this case, that is a good thing as the band wrestles with their move away from simple faith to one of people questioning faith and even questioning all that they’ve been told. This is relevant for the same reason Matt and Toby’s “I Quit Church” is, it reflects the feelings and thoughts of the current generation. Helping us better understand the culture into which we are ministering. Authors note:“I Quit Church” is an honorable mention.

17. Extremist, Demon Hunter, 2014: There have been six Demon Hunter albums between 2010 and 2019 and two of them make this list. “Extremist” first because it addresses Christian Music’s tendency towards easy, irrelevant answers that point people to conventional, feel good, wisdom, not the truth of the Gospel. It starts with out “Artificial Light” and ends with the natural resting place of worldly wisdom: “The Heart of a Graveyard.” It addresses our modern religious western Pharisaic (“Cross to Bear”) and shows the bands ability to transition their sound while staying true to what makes them Demon Hunter.

16, Neon Steeple, Crowder, 2014: Another artist with two albums making this list is Crowder. I am not sure any of us expected such a solid first outing from the man once he left The David Crowder Band, and yet, here we are with two. Crowder shows he is not just a pawn on the industry, that he can speak to issues within the Christian Community. He does so in a way that points us to Christ and to the Scriptures. Something sorely missing in CCM today.

15. Inland, Jars of Clay, 2013: Can you believe this is the only Jars Album to come out this decade? It just confirms I am pushing 30…. Anyway…. Jars of Clay was known for their relevancy and Inland does not disappoint. From “After the Fight” to “Loneliness and Alcohol” which addresses our cultures isolation and alcoholism to the haunting “Human Race” and the need for a “Reckless Forgiver” This album speaks into the darkness and dissolution of our lives in ways lost on much of CCM.

14. American Prodigal, Crowder, 2016: There are certain albums you start to listen to and realize you need to wait because by the end you are going to be crying. This was one of them, and if you got the Deluxe Edition, well you were probably crying even harder when “Praise the Lord” came on and you realized that all your cultural Christianity had failed you. For Crowder this album seems like an unworking of all he worked to build, his next album feels more so, but this one knocks down the foundations to take us “Back to the Garden” when Christian Music was good and God was the focus. This album challenged Christian Music’s fundamental assertions and for that it did not get quite the credit it deserves.

13. You Were Never Alone, Emery, 2015: It’s hard to think of a band more accomplished in the last decade than Emery or a musician more accomplished then Toby Morrell who has gone unnoticed by the wider market. The first independent record from Emery was quite a showing and in true Emery style, completely different than what they had ever done before. “Rock, Pebel, Stone” was probably one of the best songs of the decade, as were “Thrash” and “To The Deep.” I should pause here and say that a lot of bands could learn from Emery’s business model. I have never been part of a community of fans were the artists connect better and address topics better than the BadChristian brand does. Forget Christian music learning something from this, the Church as a whole should.

12. Blurryface, Twenty-One Pilots, 2015: From one of the most underappreciated bands of the decade, to one of the two most appreciated. I had to catch myself one day recently when I almost referred to Twenty-One Pilots as a “new phenomenon.” I forgot that they have been around for over 10 years now and have only grown in popularity. Blurryface, a record about the artists inner mental health struggle and sins speaks to our generation in a way we understand and can identify with while seeking to point us to God, even when we feel He is absent.

11. Move, Third Day, 2010: This wasn’t the best Third Day Album of their long and historic career, but it was the best of the decade and deserves a spot on this list, it also holds the distinction of being the only album from 2010 on the list. This was a return to Third Day’s Southern Rock roots which made them famous. Yet it showed they could blend their propensity for worship with scripture-based encouragement. Oh and the beginning of “Lift Up Your Face” still grabs my attention and kind gives me chills, ten years later. Third Day may be gone, but their music is not forgotten.

10. Until We Have Faces, Red, 2011: Back in the day I stood in the front row and covered the Redvolution Tour with TFK, Manafest, Kiros and Nine Lashes. RED’s “The Machine” still stands out in my mind as the greatest stage prop I have ever seen and whenever I listen to this album now I still see that thing, I mean, it was incredible. That being said, of all the RED albums released this decade (5), and I know some will disagree, it was probably the best of them all in regard to message and cohesiveness. It also became the launching point for the next two or three albums. It was also the best balance (in this decade) of RED’s incredible rock and string arrangements.

9. Mansion, NF, 2015: Has it really been four years since a friend popped this album into the car CD player on our way to a “The Classic Crime” concert in Wichita? Or better question, has it really been an album a year since then? The first album by NF is the album that launched the career of one of the greatest wordslingers the world has ever seen (yes, he is better than M&M). I know a lot of parents complain about NF and his music, but maybe they should be asking why their kids identify so completely with the songs he is writing on everything from depression to trauma to the fallout of the Opioid Crisis. Mansion started a journey for Nate’s fans, and we all feel we have grown with him on this journey.

8. Anomaly, Lecrea, 2014: I have jokingly referred to this album as the one that woke up the “Gospel Coalition” but as one who has sat at the feet and learned from people like Lecrae Anomaly only shows how much more we have to learn, and that is okay. The weightiness of the issues discussed on this album are issues we need to make a greater effort to discuss and talk about with biblical truth and love in mind.

7. Long Live the Rebels, Disciple, 2016: Disciple has been making scripturally based, relevant music since creation…or so it seems…and their new role as an independent artist has only made them more so. Not only that, but they have become the epitome of Christian Rock bands, that is, all the veterans of the industry have played with them or been a part of them. Just when you think they are done, they come back with another one. That is the case with LLR, it shows again their staying power and ability to move seamlessly between themes while incorporating new sounds into a tested and true formula that keeps them relevant and on top.

6. Cathedrals, Tenth Avenue North, 2014: Maybe worthy of a top 5, but coming in here at number six is Tenth Avenue North’s 2014 outing “Cathedrals” which began the move towards albums with more relevant content rather than just the fun “Uplifting and Encouraging” anthems that made them famous. Songs like: “We Won’t Number the Pain and “For Those Who Can’t Speak” which features one of our top 5 artists, helped CCM gain back a small amount of relevance on modern social issues while addressing them in a gospel centric way. We need a lot more of that and Tenth Avenue is heading in the right direction, especially with their brave follow up EP that came out this year “The Things We’ve Been Afraid to Say” which was is among the honorable mentions.

5. The End is Where We Begin, Thousand Foot Krutch, 2012: I know, I get flack all the time about my bias towards the Canadian Rockers, but I really think that TFK’s reinvention as they moved from Label to Independent deserves to be here. Especially since they continued a trend of Christian Artists going independent and then releasing the best music of their careers. The fact that this album thrust TFK back into the spotlight and headlining tours again only makes it more important. The entire premise of the album, that we end before the throne of God and also begin their as new creatures, is profound in a world desperately trying to be somebody relevant even though Christ bids us to come and die. The album also shows that TFK’s reinvention was really a rediscovery of the very style that made them famous. Rawk on guys!

4. True Defiance, Demon Hunter, 2012: I do not think this album would have been here if I had not been listening to it a few weeks ago (by the way I reviewed this when it came out and did not catch this) and realized how cohesive the theme is from “Crucifix” to “I Am A Stone” the haunting ballad that closes the deluxe edition. The True Defiance Demon Hunter talked about in their return to “true metal” was the defiance of the Cross, yet we are defiant when we blaspheme the cross by continuing to live as if the Crucifixion did not happen. We mock Christ and Christ’s work when we continue in sin. The end result of a lifelong rebellion of the person who claims Christ is “A stone, unaffected, rain hell down onto me” a person worthy of judgment because they have claimed Christ and His cross but not been changed by it. This is theologically powerful, and it only makes the album more powerful once one picks this up. This is interestingly enough part of the message of 1 John 1:5-10, go look it, and this album, up.

3. Today We Rebel, KB, 2017: While one could maybe argue that Tedashi, Lecrea and NF have a bigger share of the spotlight than KB, this list isn’t about the number of albums sold alone, nor is it about how many awards the album or artist won. But about how the album has impacted the Christian Music Scene and how relevant the album is. KB may not have sold the albums the other rappers or artists on this list did, but Today We Rebel, with its stinging critique of White Evangelicalism (“New Portrait”) to the haunting and honest (“Art of Hope”) to the anthems for the rebellious against the world and the status quo, especially the quo of white-nationalism, like kB (“Rebel, Rebel 88”) This is an album worthy of a deep listen and its themes worthy of deep consideration by those outside of KB’s traditional listener base.

2. Resurrection Letters Vol 1, Andrew Peterson, 2018: When I worked at ARL I was not allowed to give a perfect rating, but if there were albums in the top 20 of the year that would have earned perfect ratings, the top three on this list would have perfect ratings, were I allowed to give them. That being said, Andrew Peterson is CCM’s best kept secret, and when I say that I mean you have undoubtedly by now heard “Is He Worthy” sung by Chris Tomlin or Shane and Shane and not know that the song originated on this album. Not only that, the album brings out the fullness of the resurrection and all its implications for Christianity both historically and in our present times. Have you ever considered what happened at the time Jesus awoke from the dead? The full implications? Andrew Peterson has, and its entrenched here in just under an hour of music.

1. On the Altar of Love, Downhere, 2012: Like Jars of Clay’s Who We Are Instead in the late 2000’s every decade there is an album that qualifies as an absolute gem. As in, yes it deserves a perfect rating and it often ends up being the one that the radio stations overlooked. Downhere’s “On the Altar of Love” is one such album, musically, message-wise, this is one of those albums that though under considered at the time of its release, gets better with every listen and though it did not produce a hit, it holds a special place in the Downhere fanbase

 

So, there you have it, the top 20 albums of the decade, you may disagree with my placements and choices, but you’re allowed to do this, it’s a non-essential issue. Still I hope you will give these albums a fair listen if you have not already, they are worth the time and energy you can put into them. Now, if you’re not a fan of some of these genre’s that okay too, I have extremely eclectic music tastes, I own that, just enjoy what you enjoy and we will maintain the bond of peace and the spirit of unity.

Christian Music can have a bright future, provided we listen to the people who God has given a voice too. Here is to another decade of great music!

 

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.

If We Believe the Word of God is Authoritative

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

The irony here is that Christians are supposed to be a light to the world and are supposed to influence culture…

We live in a modern and now post-modern world. The idea that man can attain the highest precipice of knowledge is giving way to the idea that man can know nothing in certainty at all. We are moving from a pluralistic society to one driven by primal emotionalism, so even post-modernism is breaking down. Now groups share their tribal beliefs and gravitate towards others who share those same tribal beliefs. Each thinking their tribe has all the answers to cure what ills us and the one who screams loudest gets heard while each claims to stand up for their own “Little-guy.”

This is a bleak picture, but should it surprise us in the Church and as Church leaders? After all, if we study the trajectory of the Church in the United States do we not see the same trends starting from the moment we set up the first church in the colonies to today with all those above forces still at work today. As my friend and fellow Historian Cameron Brock once said: “We are swimming in the soup the Church created.” Now, before you call me a cynic, go and study the history of theological debate in our country. From Puritan separatists to Fundamentalism, to the Internecene controversies of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries you will see Modernism devolve into Post-Modernism with the advent of the German Higher Textual Criticism Method to Tribalism with the rise of Fundamentalism and Reconstructionism to primal-emotionalism evidenced in second, third and fourth wave Pentecostalism, the Health and Wealth Gospel and the continued revialistic traditions started in the 1730’s. Go and read Charles Hodge’s arguments in favor sect and schism or Rev. Thornton’s arguments in favor of Slavery and Segregation. You will quickly see that the world learned all this and more from us. If Church tech is 20 years behind the culture, the church is about 100 years ahead of the culture as cultural Christianity (I say cultural because the number of actual Bible believing Christians is growing at the same rate as secularism, See Timothy Keller’s “The Reason for God”) shrinks and cultural secularism grows (as does religious curiosity) these trends affected the Church after 1955 and now here they are in the culture. Even the culture’s look towards Politics as savior is something that secular tribes learned from watching the Church produce the “Moral Majority” and the Religious Right which has descended into all sorts of delirium and delusion in recent years, place its hope in politics rather than God, leaving the sheep in the pews to be devoured by the wolves.

Whether we like it or not, we are to blame for the mess our culture is in. As one of my professors once said: “As the Church goes, so goes the culture.” Now, my secular readers may say: “You’re giving yourself a little too much credit here aren’t you?” And to them I would say, go back and study what I have outlined above, there’s more research than ever on this topic, some of which I have written. Now, this does not hold 100% true for 100% of churches 100% of the time, but there is an over arching narrative that has contributed to our ever-shrinking influence over our culture in America.

The solutions then have been to 1. clamor for more influence and power 2. Slip into auhindered legalism that makes us Pharisees or go the opposite direction and embrace Antinomialism, rejecting both the teachings of Jesus and the Bible from whence they come or 3. reform back to a biblically informed and biblically based Christianity which holds to biblical authority but does so with love and grace and from a place of transformation where we are actually “In Christ” and seeking to be transformed by Him through the Holy Spirit.

The current spokespeople for Christianity, as I have commented in the past, have chosen this first option so that the Mouth of the Body of Christ is rejecting the brain and allows the masses to be fed to the wolves. In their clamor for power they have embraced ideologies and politicians who scripture would likely, in fact- label as “Antichrists.” They have mastered the art of hermeneutical gymnastics to make biblical texts mean things they were never meant to say and have never said in history. They are Pharisees, imposing the laws of man and employing the strategies of men to advance not Christ, but a political agenda that holds morals over the secular world that the secular world does not want. If we cannot legislate morality, then why are we trying?

The second group are the John MacArthur’s and Rob Bell’s of the world, two different ends of the same spectrum. MacArthur sees the higher critical method as a threat to biblical authority and so has rejected the hermeneutical spiral altogether. He has chosen a legalistic “Plain reading” of the text that comes from the English and though he is one of the most learned men of his age, he has rejected that education in favor of a legalistic interpretation and then doubled down on it. He believes in the authority of scripture, but that authority these days seems to be limited to the “English Text” and disregard any type of cultural or historical backgrounds that might accompany and in fact aid our interpretation. Rob Bell on the other hand has let the Higher Critical Method do exactly what Charles Hodge and now John MacArthur fear it would do. He has used it to stand over the text and dictate to the text what the text does and does not say rather than letting the text stand over him and dictate to him what He should believe and using the whole council of Church History to help him understand how that applies to his life now. The ironic thing here is John MacArthur is doing the same thing, bringing a cultural presupposition that scripture in context would not recognize, nor would its writers, and placing that ideology in the text or into two or three verses in the text while ignoring a large swath of biblical council.

The irony here is that Christians are supposed to be a light to the world and are supposed to influence culture, we should, if we are able, participate in the government of men, so long as we do so first and foremost as citizen’s of God’s kingdom. The laws and morals and teachings of God’s kingdom should inform how we interact in those spheres, they are not weapons meant to destroy our opponents in secular arenas, but bread and wine for those who are starving to literal death and who need Jesus who made them and loves them, bread that to a secular world will at first taste bitter until they see demonstrated for them their life giving properties as we who partake of them daily are transformed by the Word who dwells inside us as the Holy Spirit.

It is also true that methods of higher criticism can be extremely helpful, especially in exegeting difficult passages such as 1 Timothy 2:12-15 or the entire book of Romans. But when we approach text criticism assuming our superiority over that of the superiority of the text we are always going to fail at biblical interpretation. We also have to remember that the modern chapter verse structure was not the way the writers intended scripture to be read. That is a helpful way of breaking up the text until you start pulling texts out of their context and dealing with them as if they are singular units unrelated to the whole from which they were taken. Every Christian can be a biblical theologian, meaning we can all consider the whole and full council of scripture. Biblical Theology and broader hermeneutics require us to orient ourselves not just on one text in a vacuum, but within its surrounding texts, it’s chapter, it’s book, its testament, it’s place in all of scripture Old and New Testament. When we boil scripture down to morals or a book outlining good things to do, we make it about ourselves, but the Bible is not about us, it is about Christ and all that He has done. The Old Testament is pregnant with it, the new testament explains and expounds upon it. But scripture was also written into a specific context, for specific reasons, it’s writers responding to specific issues, some of which we still have issues with today, such as the Elitism in John’s community and the elitism of modern pietistic, certain charismatic and fundamentalist movements and even in some forms of modern Christian Conservativism and Liberalism (1 John 1:6-7).

We, as man, do not get to decide what an almighty God may or may not have said and unless it is expressly said to Israel or has found complete fulfillment in Christ, such as the Ceremonial and Sacrificial Laws, then it is still binding on us today. In our modern individualistic and consumeristic mindsets, we tend to look for the parts of scripture that “suit me” and throw out the rest. Like Benjamin Franklin cutting out all the things he did not think Jesus actually said or did, we want to dictate to the text what it should and shouldn’t say and especially what it should or should not tell us to do. It is a reality though that if we actually went to scripture and read it and let it stand over us many of us would either have to stop calling ourselves Christians or repent of a histories worth of sins that the American Church has openly and intentionally engaged in.. We would find things like Dominionism and the Discovery Doctrine are in fact sinful because they deny the image of God in His creation and destroy human flourishing and dignity through stark and totalitarian injustice. These are not “Liberal” terms mind you, they are inherent in God’s original creation, back to Genesis 1 and 2 where we were made in the “Image of God” and told to cover the Earth with “Image bearers” as we were “Fruitful and Multiplied” (See Genesis 1-3). That means that all humans, by nature of being made in the image of God, have dignity and worthy of respect. Even though the fall has happened, the image of God is still there and through Christ we are transformed back into what is already inherent in us. The Transformation of Christ is not as much a recreation but a restoration in the manner which is described in Revelation 20.

We have all read Genesis 1-3 and we know there are a myriad of interpretations out there and we tend to chose which one fits us best, but when outside opinion and individual preference reigns, unity is destroyed. Individual opinion must be brought in and held against the entire council of scripture and church History and if it does not hold up to these two, the Special Revelation of Christ in His Word and the General Revelation of God in History then the opinion should be relegated to the ash-heap of history, not a new denomination formed around the opinion that both Scripture and Church History reject. But unlike Christ, we prefer to please ourselves (Romans 15:3) and go after “every wind of doctrine”” (Eph 4:10) that “tell them what their itching ears are longing to hear” (2 Tim 4:3). When we try to make scripture about us and our preferences, when we approach scripture with the hopes that it will justify our own egocentricism and elitism or theological position we are apt to twist scripture to say something it does not say, nor has it ever said.

Yet, if we really believed in the Authority of Scripture, not Solo Scriptura mind you, but actual Authority that these are God’s words written down to testify to Christ and to show us how to do the same. If we actually believed scripture was authoritative we would let it stand over us and inform us about God and His works and show us the way to live instead of looking to culture and recent inventions of history such as revivalism that appeal to emotionalism before and over scriptural authority, or an attractional model of Church that looks good on Paper, but as Josh Wilson discussed in his book “The Gospel Driven Church” rely not on scripture but on tricks and gimmicks over and above scripture, so much so in both cases that scripture is often lost completely. If we are doing good Cultural Exegesis we know that these are placebos, they do not work, they do not proclaim Christ, they do not make disciples, all they do is glitter the way to eternity in outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:52, Matthew 13:42).

Pastors, believing the authority of the Word of God must start with us. And if we truly confess the word is authoritative, we need to expend every orthodox resource available to learn about the Word and its surrounding and varying contexts. If we stand up in our pulpits on Sunday’s and read a text and then spend 15-20 minutes telling fanciful stories or trying to sanitize the text we will only lead the people entrusted to us astray and then we get to stand before God and explain why our congregations are lost. There are two reasons why James says that those who aspire to teach will be judged more harshly (James 3:1), we will be judged harshly by men and we will be held to a higher standard before the throne of God, we who served as Under Shepherds of Christ. May it be said of us that we led them to The Word, that is, to Christ who is the Living Word (John 1:1-15) and not to the wolves as too many of us have today. We should be as careful handling scripture because of its authority as St. Francis tells us to be when handling the actual bible itself: “If you see that the Holy Scriptures have fallen from the alter you should walk to them and put them back neatly and in order on the Altar out of respect for their being the very word of God” (The rule of 1221). We should be careful exegetes, letting scripture stand over us and dictate to us because we have reverence for the text and more importantly for the one whose authority is behind the text, Jesus Christ (Rev 22:21). But we also must avoid legalism in our applications of the text, pursuing the life-giving nature of the living word and not the death-giving nature of the dead, man-made, letter. That means we need to approach the Holy Word of God in communion, through prayer, with the Paraclete who leads us into all truth, the Holy Spirit who makes our divine Union with the Word (Jesus) possible in the first place. If we seek to interpret the Word of God without the third person of the trinity, we are no better than the Pharisees who enforce their own interpretations of the law rather than God’s intentions behind the Law. The Holy Spirit is meant to lead us into all truth, and they will, if we let them. We need to remember that the scriptures show us not a list of morals, but how to live a life that points to, testifies to and bears witness to Christ, the one whom the entirety of scripture are about. Not how to build better humans, or be the ‘best version of ourselves’ but how to bring glory to the Triune God.

To the Lay Person, the scriptures are a gift to you, as they also are to the pastor, You are meant to be in them daily, reading them, discussing them with other believers, hearing them taught and expounded upon. The early church did this daily and for many of us it has become a burden to even do this once a week. If we read scripture as a self-help book, we are going to find it sorely lacking in self-help material. Given that it is not about us, it s about Christ and carries behind it the authority of Christ. Scriptures job is not to make you a more moral person, it is meant to show you Christ, point you to Him and then guide you, through the Holy Spirit, into deeper communion with Him that leads you to a life overflowing with Joy and love (John 13-17) and so by default you testify to, bring glory to and bear witness to Christ and what He has done. This is the singular calling of the Church that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4:1-6. It is for this calling that we should be “eager to maintain the bond of peace and the spirit of unity” (4:3) and that we are “One Body, with One Spirit.” Living by scripture and in the Holy Spirit should make us naturally care for one another and for those who are not part of the church. It was this outward care that was evidence of an inward reality that caused the incredible expansion of the Church in the first century and it is precisely this kind of fellowship, deep and intimate, “having everything in common” (Acts 2:44) that the cultural exegetes are telling us unbelievers in our nation are looking for, the family atmosphere that is described in Acts, but is sorely lacking in much of the church in the United States. We should grieve when gangs and secular clubs are better at living in community than Christians are, and in many cases, they are. Read Francis Chan’s book Letters to the Church” for some stories that should shock us and make us mourn. I have been in secular communities that were better at loving one another than the church has been in history, one of which, the All-Ohio State Fair Youth Choir I still have friends who I am regular contact with. One even sang at our wedding and two wrote for 10:31 Life Ministries during college. It baffles me that God has laid out what His expectations are and we who claim His name prefer to replace those with our own preferences and our own authority rather than God’s. This is rebellion against Him, and it is rebellion we will answer for one day.

One of the underlying issues here is that most people have a relationship with the church as institutions and not a relationship with Christ which includes them in the organic body of Christ. If you read scripture outside of a relationship with Christ, you end up like one of my Atheist friends from my choir days who read the bible daily because it had “good morals.” The requires you to reject a large swath of what scripture says about the one who gave it to us, Christ, the Son of God and second member of the Trinity. We should make sure we actually have a relationship with Christ before we apply scripture to our lives and apply through the paradigm of one who is in mystical, divine union with Christ. Just as we come under Christ then we should come under the authority of His word and let it stand over us to teach us how to live as Christ.

If we believed in the authority of scripture, what would happen? Christian, stop praying for revival and start living as one revived. Lay down your moralism and start living as one transformed, give up your dead-letter legalism for the life-giving words of the living God. Stop claiming the name of Christ and actually have a relationship with Him and above all else: “Let the word of God dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossian 3:16).

 

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.

More Than Mere Ecumenicism: #FortheUnityoftheChurch

Party-Spirit is something explicitly rejected in Scripture, yet it is something the Church in America has openly embraced. A New Reformation may be one of restoration, the question is will we join the Holy Spirit or fight against Him?

Jonathan David Faulkner

Authors Note: There is a bibliography attached to this article for your further reading. I pray you will prayerfully consider both sides of this issue and deeply consult scripture concerning these matters.

One of the places I would most like to visit in life is the Gravestone of Dr. Philip Schaff which reads: “He worked for the Unity of the Church.” The great church historian’s legacy is one we should aspire too, he was able to work across lines that were even more fervently drawn in the sand, and which would become more-so as the nineteenth century would draw to a close with the rise of reconstructionism and its particularly schismatic brand of fundamentalism that claimed to be: “the only true church.” Schaff understood what the Reformers after Luther did not, that the church is meant to be defined by its historical definition, that is as “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.” That no matter how many lines we drew in the proverbial sand, this is how scripture instructs us it should be and tells us a violation of through party spirit is tantamount to Antichrist. Schaff provides the Anti-Thesis to Hodge’s idea that schism is necessary to “Preserve the Gospel” pointing out that Hodge assumes it is a work of man that the gospel is preserved and not through the work of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Hodge’s inability to see the church as an organic body made one by the Holy Spirit and defined by its Love for one another (John 14:21) gave Schaff pause and it should give us pause as well. Schaff was right to say of the American Church that we were a Church without History, working so hard to preserve salvation by grace through faith that we neglected everything after thus reducing Christianity to mere conversionism where we bring people to the cross, but never into discipleship. If Billy Graham said in the 70’s that Christianity in America is “A mile wide and an inch deep” how much worse are we today?

Brothers and Sisters, I love the Church, not the brick and mortar buildings that we call the Church, but the flesh and blood, Spirit indwelled people that is the biblical church. I know the argument is: “Well that’s how it should be, but this is how it is and we cannot make it how it should be.” But if this is how it should be then why are we not falling on our knees, asking God for the unity of the Spirit that Jesus prayed we would have in John 17. The scriptural view of the Church is possible by the Holy Spirit and yes, if we are living out what scripture says the Church should be, it won’t make sense but to the outside world but Jesus promised us it wouldn’t and our refusal to even try, our demands that we keep up the dividing wall of hostility between one another that Christ worked to tear down. Our capitulation to Party-Spirit as some follow Presbyterianism, some follow Congregationalism, some follow Lutheranism, should absolutely break our hearts that in doing this we are doing exactly what Paul warned us against in 1 Corinthians 1:12 and 3:4. I love the church so much that our current reality has made me weep, as a pastor and as a member of the Body. We have taken the very thing Paul warned us against and, ignoring the questions: “Is Christ Divided?” We have cut him into twelve pieces and shipped him to the four corners of the globe. Oh God, please forgive us.

But before I get accused of being a romantic or emotional or even an ecumenic I want to make clear what I am saying here. Schism and Sect and Segregation do not preserve the Gospel, they divide up Christ. Going out and finding a church that meets our preferences and refusing to fellowship with churches that do not, divide Christ, Spreading rumors about the pastors of other churches or hoping that the other churches in town die so you can absorb them is sin and divides Christ. We have become so arrogant that we stand over the church and dictate to it how it should serve our preferences and theological viewpoints instead of relying on the living word of God which we claim is our ultimate authority.

These things even find their way into how we translate the Creed. For instance, in a hymnal your Creed may read: “I Believe in the Holy Spirit, The Holy Catholic Church, The Communion of Saints…” or that second line might read: “I Believe in the Holy Church” or “Holy Christian Church” I even saw one hymnal that said: “Holy Presbyterian Church.” The translation “Holy Christian Church” comes out of reconstructionism and fundamentalism that arose in the 1890’s, from a group claiming they were the “Only true expression of the Church and all others were apostate.” This is the height of party spirit; this is the people in 1 Corinthians 1:10 who said: “I Follow Christ.” The super-spiritual who looked down in mocking jeers at their peers who follow “Paul” or “Apollos.” We see the word “catholic” which in the Creed simply means “universal” or “part of the whole” and think it means “Roman Catholic” instead of digging deeper we just let our prejudice run wild. We then go a step further and try to make our denomination the only true denomination, rebuilding the walls of hostility that Christ worked so hard to tear down (Eph 2). This is sinful and denies both the power of scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit to the point of both quenching and grieving Him. Oh God, please forgive us.

I am not talking about mere ecumenism here; I do not just want denominations to work together across denominational isles. I am talking knocking down the walls of denominationalism altogether in favor of the biblical and historic definition of the Church. I want us to stop acting like our expression of the Church is how it is meant to be and return to a biblical model of the Church. I want the church to be what God intended the Church to be, a universal, set apart, family united by the Holy Spirit that bears witness in our words and actions to Christ and follows His teachings. That would make us the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church that we read about in scripture. Denominations are not even the problem, it is the human sinfulness, the hardness of our hearts towards the things of God and our neglect of those things in favor of what we want, not even what we find in scripture, but what our individualism says we deserve. Brothers and sisters, this is sin, this denies scripture, breaks fellowship, grieves the Holy Spirit and divides Christ.

What is interesting is that God is starting to heal these divisions. All over the united states now there are churches that are combining. Black Churches with White, Older churches with younger, Rich churches and poor. God is starting, by His spirit, to erase these lines sometimes even against our will. We seem to be at the beginning of a new era of reformation one not marked with unintended schism but with God-driven restoration. There is even a Church near me here that is made up of multiple Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches.

I have said before and I will say it again. Sect, Schism and Segregations are the unbiblical luxuries of the Church in Power, we are no longer in power, we are even starting to see persecution. Instead of grasping at the last vestiges of the “glory days” of Christendom, instead of denying this work of God of restoration. We should actively embrace it, work to see it through by the Holy Spirit and return to what the Church is biblically meant to be. We do not have the luxury of our consumeristic mindsets in the Church anymore and that reality is only going to keep growing and the church gets pushed more and more to the margins.

And this is a good thing, it may surprise you to know that the places in America where the Church is growing the fastest are places where the Church has already been pushed to the margins. Places like New England where the Pew Research Center recently found that the church in New England is actually “Thriving” when they expected to find it on death’s door. God is doing a work, but it is not the work we have been taught to expect Him to do with our late stage revivalism, unless you read scripture. God is calling His people back to himself, away from all their “isms” and back to one another. The Church in the Majority world has already experienced this and knows that a united church is better than a divided one.

Brothers and Sisters, I plead with you, do not divide Christ or let Him be divided. Our mission is meant to be carried out as one, not several splinters trying to do the same, or not doing what God has called us too, but trying to make sure our own preferences are met and our seat at the table of influence bought and paid for. John Williamson Nevin writes that: “The Church is One and universal (catholic). Unity is essential to her existence.” We no longer have the luxury in America, just as our brothers and sisters in the Majority World have never had the luxury of dividing. Secular Society is looking at us and our bible and asking us if we truly believe what is in there and telling us that if we truly believe then we should practice it. The Doctrine of the Organic Unity of the Church is an essential doctrine of Scripture. It pervades the entire text; it is one of the central themes of three of Paul’s Epistles. It is what Jesus prays for in John 17 and what the Holy Spirit living community of Acts demonstrates for us.

As I said earlier, I love the Church, but not the brick and mortar buildings that are the gathering place of the church, but the people, indwelled by the Holy Spirit who make up the Church who are the Body of Christ. If the government came in and locked all our church doors today and told us we could not gather, that would not be an end to the church, we would just have to follow the example set forth by many of our Asian brothers and sisters who have had to meet in secret.

The ironic thing is this may be the only way to preserve the Church in Rural America, by choosing to live out Gospel unity in a manner that gives up willingly our denominational lines drawn in the sand. This seems to be the path the Spirit is already leading us on as we see it happening more and more in towns and cities across the nation. The question is, are we going to fight against the Holy Spirit or join Him in the work of restoring His people, teaching us again that we are to be “Members, one of another” (Rom 12:5).

So let’s reject party spirit and do that which God has made clear in His word that we are to: “be eager to maintain a Spirit of Unity and the Bond of Peace” (Eph 4:3). So that we can carry the message of the Gospel to the ends of the Earth “Making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:20).

 

References

Charles Hodge, A.A Hodge . 2001. Discussions in Church Polity . Scarsdale : Westminster Publishing House .

Debie, Linden J. 2008. Speculative Theology and Common-Sense Religion: Mercersburg and the Conservative Roots of American Religion. Eugene : Pickwick Publications .

Evans, Tony. 2011. Oneness Embraced: Reconciliation, the Kingdom and how we are stronger together. Chicago , IL: Moody Press .

Ford, John T. 1988. “Ecumenical Studies .” In A Century of Church History: The Legacy of Philip Schaff, by Henry Bowdenn, 245-293. Carbondale: Soutern Illinois University Press .

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

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

John Williamson Nevin, Sman Hendrix Jr. Charles E. Hanbrick-Stowe, David W. Laymen. 2017. One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic, Tome One: John Nevin’s Writings on Ecclesiology (1844-1849) . Eugene : Wfpf & Stock .

Miller, Samuel. 2016 . A Treatse on Mercersburg Theology or Mercersburg and Modern Theology Compared (1866). Philadelphia : CrossReach.

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

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.

Saneh, Lamin. 1995. “Global Christianity and the Re-Education of the West. .” The Christian Century 112.22 715-718.

Strange, Alan D. 2017. Ecclesiology of Charles Hodge. Phillipsburg : P&R Publishing .

 

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.

A Broken Fellowship: This Is Not Reconciliation

The Gospel demands that we be made new, but if we cannot admit our wrongs and ask for forgiveness how can we expect to be transformed or even be reconciled to God or one another?

Jonathan Faulkner

 

I woke up Wednesday Morning of last week to the same images you did. Brandt Jean hugging Amber Guyger, his words “I forgive you” hanging in the air. The full transcript of his words touching the human heart and bring tears to the eyes. USAToday headlined it as a “touching moment” and compared it to when members of Emmanuel AME forgave Dylan Roof who walked into a bible study in the historic Charleston Black Church and killed 9 people at a bible study. “It was so powerful” one Facebook friend wrote. “God’s forgiveness is so powerful, wow” wrote another. Below was the link to the video or the video itself. It really was a touching moment, but as soon as I saw the video something instantly sparked in me and another Facebook post I read later in the morning helped me put a finger on it.

First, I want to say I do not think that Brandt’s forgiveness was disingenuous, I think it was likely the real thing born out of actual Christian love and faith. It was also an extremely brave move during what I am sure is deep pain in the Jean family from the life that has been taken from them. My point here is not to question Brandt’s sincerity, but to point out a flaw in the western or distinctly American view of forgiveness and reconciliation. Especially since some act like acts of forgiveness like this are akin to reconciliation. It is as if we go: “He forgave her, now we can all move on and rest in peace.” The problem is, forgiveness and reconciliation require an admission of guilt by the party who caused the hurt in the first place, that is, forgiveness that leads to reconciliation and restoration. One can forgive in their heart, and indeed should, but just because the injured party has forgiven, if the injuring party is unwilling to acknowledge the action or actions that led to the injury then restoration and reconciliation have not happened, indeed, if the person who committed the injury or crime or injustice is unwilling to change their way but expects the person to simply forgive them and bring them back into full relationship, the stage is just set for that harmful behavior to continue in a pattern.

In fact, this idea that the injured party needs to just forgive and move on as if nothing happened does nothing but infantilize the injured party. As one of my mentors said recently: “It is basically how we tell little kids to forgive one another, but adults should be willing to listen and change their behavior when someone comes to them and says: “That behavior has hurt me.” Adults should be able to reach restoration and reconciliation because they are supposed to be the mature ones who can handle their issues like adults. To use the phraseology of psychologists: adults should be able to: “Do their own work.”

Whether we like it or not, this is precisely what the message WASP communities have been telling Black communities since the beginning of chattel slavery. One can find records of slaves being told by white preachers they need to; “forgive their masters the moment they whip them.” During Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement Blacks were told to just “Get over the injustices and forgive white people.” There was no effort on behalf of WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) communities to even encourage them to do the work within themselves to seek forgiveness for Slavery, Jim Crow, Bussing, Red-Lining and many other injustices committed against ethnic minorities in this country by white dominated power structures. Yet the message those victims has been plainly: “Forgive and move on” as if victims of those injustices were children on the elementary playground who were told they couldn’t join the pickup football game. This has been the modus operandum for the last 400 years, in fact it would be hard for one to say: “Well I did not own slaves, so I shouldn’t be expected to seek forgiveness” because the notion of infantilizing Black and other minority communities is part of the American Zeitgeist and has been for 400 years. It goes beyond infantilization to dehumanization as this site has documented in the past. Yet the average person thinks these problems are a “part of our past” and when you say something along those lines you shut down conversation and the one who has been hurt goes again unheard, the pattern continues.

Or, to make ourselves feel better, we try to state events in the positive. We say: “Look how much that whites have done to amend our wrongs towards you, affirmative action, equal housing and employment laws, so on and so forth.” As if our benevolence somehow makes up for all the injustice that is still practiced in certain areas even though it is against the law. These are mere band aids when we think the small gains made last sixty years make up for the previous 340 (hint, they do not) and when they are used as excuses for why we should not be held accountable for modern forms of injustice or historical ones.

Which brings me back to Brandt Jean and Amber Guyger and their exchange yesterday afternoon. Brandt’s forgiveness, though likely sincere, does not release Amber Guyger from guilt or excuse her from doing her own work. In fact, to my knowledge there has never been one admission of guilt of Guyger who enacted the Castle Defense, insisting throughout the entire trial she thought she was in her own apartment. There are records on racist texts, one even including an admission that she is in fact, racist herself. Amber Guyger has not, to anyone’s knowledge, done her own work, nor has Dylan Roof who admitted gleefully to what he did and who stood there stone faced as members of Emmanuel stood to say they forgive him. Roof is getting the sentence he deserves, Guyger is getting off easy.

The fact is, Amber Guyger was off duty, walked into the wrong apartment where her neighbor was easting Ice Cream and shot him because she did not take the time to check her situation and her emotions and killed an innocent man. One cannot even argue on the job stress, and yet it is not her who has to repent of her actions, the court is holding her barely accountable, but Brandt that has to forgive? Welcome back to the schoolyard, forgive the bully, but do not expect the bully to change. Are we adults?

I am not saying Brandt should not forgive Amber, or that I should not forgive those who have wronged me. Scripture commands that I do, but there is never going to be restoration and reconciliation until the people who have done the hurting, in this case WASP communities going back 400 years, are willing to do our own work and ask for forgiveness. That is where we reach biblical reconciliation and full biblical forgiveness.

Mathew 5:23-24 tell us: “Therefore if you bring your offering to the alter and remember your brother has something against you leave your offering there and first go and be reconciled to your brother and then go and make your offering.” The point is this, if you hate your brother or sister and realize he has something against you for that hatred or if you have mistreated your brother or sister and fellowship has been broken because of that mistreatment, then you need to go and do your own work internally and seek to have your relationship restored lest you offer your sacrifice still committing murder by the hatred in your heart.

The reality is there are a lot of people in WASP communities that come to offer praises to God on Sunday while they are still unreconciled to their brother or sister. And I do not mean just their Black or other minority brothers and sisters but also many of their own white brothers and sisters. Its endemic in our own community too as we infantilize one another, insisting that we do not have to change, treating the crucifixion of Christ as nothing more than a get out of jail free card rather than atonement for sins that makes it possible for us through the power of the Holy Spirit to no longer sin habitually.

Our hands are extremely bloody, both across ethnic lines and within our own communities. And please do not comment with “whataboutism” and trite folk religious sayings that are actually contrary to scripture. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the goal and all of us (in WASP communities) are guilty of embracing a sinful and rampant individualism that says: “I do not have to change, you should forgive me for my sin anyway.” That is not how this is supposed to work.

So, to my fellow WASP brothers and sisters, let’s stop this and take the time to do our own work. To then go humbly to our brothers and sisters both in our own culture and those of other cultures whom we have infantilized and harmed and abused and enslaved and killed off and so on and so forth and humbly ask for forgiveness. Lest we one day stand before the judge unreconciled and are thrown into prison.

What I would love to see in this case is Amber Guyger come to faith, because there is no evidence she is a believer, confess her sin of murder, both the murder of Botham Jean and the sin of her hatred at the root of her racism and be reconciled to everyone in the Black community. I would like to see the same thing among those who call themselves Christians who literally have no excuse not to do their own work and seek forgiveness where it is needed.

What might it look like? I have told this story before, but I repeat it here because it is necessary. By the way, it has taken me years to do my own work and reach a point where what racism I did pick up as a kid was anathema to me and I could repent of it and ask my Black brothers and sisters for forgiveness for it. So I praised God when on a flight here to Iowa from Boston I sat next to an older Black woman from Framingham who upon hearing my last name said: “Faulkner, there is a lot of baggage with that name isn’t’ there.” She was referring to the southern Faulkner family, wealthy plantation owners in Mississippi and North Carolina who fought on the side of the Confederacy during the civil war. They were also among those who stood on the doorsteps of southern churches to make sure freedom riders could not enter their all-white churches during the Civil Rights Movement (you can read this history in Carolyn Renee Dupont’s book “Mississippi Praying” where several Faulkner’s are mentioned by name). Though not my immediate family they southern Faulkner’s are related to the northern Faulkner’s as cousins who came over from Ireland before the four brothers I descend from. They are still family members though and some of those same racist attitudes are still present in current descendants of the northern family. Because I have done my own work on this issue I was able to admit that this was a sin my family had committed against Blacks, slave holding, fighting to uphold slavery, fighting the civil rights movement and those who still hold racist viewpoints in the modern era. This woman was aware of that history and in that moment I could have arrogantly defended the actions of my family or myself by saying I am not them, but instead I owned their actions that though I did not commit, the name I bear still recalls in their minds and apologized, asking for forgiveness. My hope is that she and I left that plain ride reconciled, though we will likely never meet again. Not so I do not have to stand before the judge unreconciled (for my own gain) but for the mutual gain of our Christian Faith and the glory of the God whom we serve.

That is the reconciliation we want, so let’s do our own work and get there…together.

 

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.

Rebellion Against the Wrong Kingdom

 

Jonathan Faulkner

 

There is a saying among many Church Historians, I first heard it from Dr. Dennis Hollinger the now retired president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, but from my own study of Church History already believed to be true. That is this: “Anytime in Church History when the Church aligns with the government of man, it never ends well with the Church.” There have been entire books written about this, many refer to Catholicism when they make this assertion and while pre-reformation Catholicism is a grand example of this maxim one can find a more modern example within the confines of modern Western American Evangelicalism specifically in relationship to WASP Congregations and Culture (WASP = White, Anglo Saxon, Protestants). This has been the topic of several books in recent years, both from the Church and from without. Most noticeably have been Francis Fitzgerald’s “The Evangelicals: The Battle to Shape America” and John Fea’s ‘Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” Both are great books if you want to know the History behind where we are now in WASP Church History. Much has already been said concerning this topic within the arena of Church History so my goal here to not to rehash what has already been done, but to add my theological training and my Church History training together.

 

At my church over the last few weeks I have been preaching through the Apostles Creed with the goal of teaching my Church not just what Christians believe but why we believe these things we confess and how those things effect our lives. Two Sunday’s ago, I preached on two words in the Creed: “Our Lord” and preached from Colossians 1:15-20. I wanted to address these two words on their own for a couple of reasons. The first being that Christ’s Lordship has been used in one of two ways in American Evangelicalism, either it has been rejected outright in favor of individualism, consumerism and nationalism. Or it has been used as a legalistic hammer to suck the life out of believer before they even become a believer as in Lordship Salvation. We need a balanced and theological view of Christ’s Lordship and Colossians 1:15-20 is a good starting place for such a view. The text reads as follows:

 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (ESV)

 

As I told my congregation there are two reasons Christ is Lord of all. The first is on account of who He is, as the image of the invisible God, the one present at creation (see also John 1:1-3), since He is the one who created all things and came before all things, He is Lord over them. He is also Lord because of what He has done, by the very fact of His death and resurrection which is what makes him the “Firstborn” among the dead. Christ is one with the father, if you have seen Christ, you have seen the father (John 14:9). So, In Him the “fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” This means that Christ is Lord over everything in creation. There is no realm where His Lordship does not touch. Yet He is Lord not just because of who He is, but because of the good and gracious thing which He has done for us. He is Lord not just because He is creator, but because He also served His creation by making a way to salvation for it (again, death and resurrection). Revelation shows us that one day He is going to claim that proper Lordship and that the rebellion of man is going to be overthrown once and for all. The Church then is to guide as many people to Christ as possible as it humbly serves people both “inside” and “out.”

 

Because all creation is in rebellion, as Matt Chandler is fond of saying: “We live in a Genesis 3 world.” Our world is post fall, it has denied it’s Lord in favor of self-government and aggrandizement. Due to that reality man rebels but setting up its own governments and turning to government leaders before and even instead of God. Israel is a potent example of this when in 1 Samuel 8 they ask Samuel to “Give them a king so we can be like the nations” and when God tells him to grant them one He says to Samuel: “They are not rejecting you, but me.” Of course there are other examples of this rebellion in western church history, starting with the Roman Catholic Churches election of Emperor Popes and culminating the Religious Right and then overwhelming support for Donald Trump. Asking for a king did not go well for Israel, Emperor Popes did not go well with the Roman Catholic Church and the American Evangelical sellout to Political ideology has not gone well for the Church in America in the modern day.

 

Christ’s Lordship though should rule out the very Christian Nationalism that First Things and the Christian Scholars behind it are currently advocating for. It should have ruled out the extremes that the Moral Majority has gone to secure the election of a president whose record of immorality can be read in almost every major magazine going back 40 years. I said back then that those who represented us were not protecting their people, but their power. Instead of being Isaiah in the court of Ahaz they were the false prophets who told Israel their exile would only last five years (See Isaiah 7 and Jeremiah 28-29). They sacrificed the church on the alter of their own reputations and the people are paying the price. Christ’s Lordship should have ruled out any form of capitulation to a government of man that was not first subservient to the Kingdom of God.

 

Note that I am not advocating for a “pulling out” or “Christian Isolationism.” As much as I enjoyed reading Rob Dreher’s “The Benedict Option” I do not think Protestant Monasticism is the answer. Instead, our participation in Government should be one that is first and foremost submitted too and informed by our participation and allegiance to the Kingdom of God. That may mean that we are more like Dietrich Bonhoeffer than Jimmy Carter (who is an evangelical Christian). Of course, there very well may come a time when the Benedict option is necessary, it certainly was in the church of the first century where confessing Christianity could find you lighting the streets at night as a human torch. For now though we can still participate in government activities so long as our participation come secondary and in submission to Christ’s Kingdom and the Word we are given to live and be governed by.

 

The goal should not be to make our Earthly kingdoms like the heavenly one through changing their governments and seeking power (theonomy) but by seeking to live out the kingdom among ourselves and showing how different the two really are. “Power corrupts” is an absolutely true statement, participating in a government that is increasingly apposed to the kingdom of God by seeking more power is not the answer, it’s the problem.

 

The modern Christian should be quicker to adopt the mantra of the band Demon Hunter’s Ryan Clark who penned the words to the song “The World is a Thorn:” “Won’t bow to man. Won’t bow to government. Won’t bow to greed. Won’t bow to false hope. Won’t bow to self. Won’t bow to modern code. Won’t sell my soul to a dead world. I defy.” Than to adopt one of Christian Nationalism or even try to turn our secular governments, in rebellion against God, into Theonomy’s. The secular world is secular, it is going to participate in its own destruction, the churches job is to bring as many into the light of Christ as possible and as we have seen throughout church history seeking government power is not the way to do that, in fact it works against the purposes of the church as laid out in scripture, rather than for them as Christians find power seductive and servanthood outdated.

 

Therefore, pastors should work to create separation between the church and Christianity and the civic religion, not tighten the tie. The Church needs to be the Church and it cannot do that if it is busy pursuing the things of this rebellious world, rather than the things of the Kingdom of Christ. We are to seek first the kingdom of heaven, not man. Yet the very heart of American Evangelicalism it seems has gone full blast after an idol called political power and the effect has been detrimental and destructive to the church in the United States.

 

May God have mercy on our souls, may we listen as those who profess His name are called back to His side. May we once again take up the towel of service to one another and to our neighbors and pledge allegiance to the kingdom of Christ instead of the Kingdom of man. May we stop this rebellion against the Kingdom of God and rebel against the isms of this world.

 

Someone needs to say again: “Choose this day whom you will serve! As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”