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

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Beware of Meme-Ology

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

 

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

I am not a fan of Meme-ology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center Iowa. 

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

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

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

 

Jonathan Faulkner

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

John Williamson Nevin & What I Learned Spending A Year With Him

John Williamson Nevin, 1803-1886

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

As a Historian, there are times I want to go inside the head of one of the people I have been studying. Like Churchill during the bombing of London, Luther at the Diet of Worms or Nelson Mandela after he had just been released from prison To know what they were thinking exactly at the moment of a major event, not the thoughts they wrote down afterward, but the things they were concerned about at the time. Doubtless, some did not realize they were part of a historical moment, the thoughts that did not get written down. These things fascinate me and I have enough of a historical imagination in regards to some to actually carry on totally fictitious conversations. These exercises not only help me understand their views on historical events, but help me understand the people themselves.

For the past year, as I have written my masters thesis on The Mercersburg Theology, I have been involved in these conversations with two historical figures named Philip Schaff and John Williamson Nevin. Schaff in particular has been my companion throughout graduate school as Jonathan Edwards was through my undergraduate days. I have written more papers on Schaff than I have on anyone else in Church History aside from perhaps Nicolas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf whom my undergraduate Church History professor loved and who had me write multiple papers on through three classes. Schaff’s ecclesiology has given me a biblically oriented answer to some of the theology I disagree with in the Calvinism I grew up with. He has also shown me a deeper and historically minded view of the church and its practices as well as corrected inherited views of the reformation that were passed down by the tradition I was raised in. Not that I can no longer be called a “Calvinist” but that I can more adequately take on the position of “reformed thinker” than I could before. Through Schaff I began reading the Church Father’s, a dangerous proposition, and learned a theology of life after the cross that puts the resurrection back in its proper place and draws out the implications of the event for the life of the believer.

It is his companion at Mercersburg however, John Williamson Nevin, who I have found the more intriguing of the two as I have studied my thesis. Not because he adds much to Schaff, as I argue in my thesis, Nevin takes the natural implications and applications of Schaff’s theology and applies them to the practical matters of his time, including the political situation, one that is not dissimilar to ours today. It is not just that, it is more so that I find in him a companion on my own theological and ecclesiastical journey, one who followed a growth pattern similar to my own and who parted from his former colleagues on major points of what he considered to be theological importance, mainly, the unity of the church and its life in a world where Christ has risen.

So, in my mind, I wonder what he was thinking in the moment when the young doctor who had just finished his doctorate at Halle in Germany, whom the German Reformed Synod had called to assist Nevin in his labors at the young Mercersburg Seminary. He had certainly heard of Philip Schaff, having already read his first major work “What is Church History?” in the late 1830s at Allegheny College. He was also familiar with Schaff’s professor, August Neander, who had befriended Charles Hodge during his time in Berlin in 1828, during which Nevin filled his chair at Princeton. So he was already acquainted with Dr. Schaff before he had been called from Germany to Mercersburg Pennsylvania and had already learned the German that he would use to translate Schaff’s works as the progressed. Still, as Schaff sat in his parlor that warm August night in 1844, I have to wonder if the older Nevin (Schaff was 25 at the time, Nevin was in his 30s) knew how deeply the young professor before him would impact him.

Nevin was born in 1803 to John and Martha Nevin in Franklin Pennsylvania. His father was what was known as a “Latin Farmer” an educated man who taught his children Latin, Greek and Hebrew and farmed on the side. He is considered by Theodore Appel, John Williamson Nevin’s biographer, as a kind of “Proto-Abolitionist” who gave his valedictorian speech in school as: “The Evil of Slavery.” Something his son and Dr. Schaff would later take up in their article “The Bible and Slavery” which appeared in The Mercersburg Review in 1861 where in the first paragraph the men write: “Slavery has no place in the kingdom.” Nevin was descended from Scotch Irish Presbyterians, which may have influenced his decision to enter Princeton when it was time for college. It was at Princeton that he took classes from Hodge who he later taught for and who would become the most vocal critic of Mercersburg and his former student and colleague.

Before reading Neander and Schaff, Nevin was, in all respects an old-school Presbyterian. Holding fervently to late puritan ideas of piety and Presbyterian ideas nurture through catechesis which at the time was the Westminster Standards. His first major work in 1843 “The Anxious Bench” was a scathing rebuke of Charles Finney’s New Measures which had taken over revivalism and which had appeared in The New York Evangelical in 1843. Needless to say, he was raised in the aftermath of Puritan, colonial America, having been born not even 30 years after the Revolutionary War. These views had begun changing even as early as 1836 when he was first introduced to Neander’s writings, but it is clear by reading “The Anxious Bench” that he still held to many of those founding puritan and Presbyterian Old-School ideas that he had been brought up with to Mercersburg and likely still held them as he sat across from the small-statured German in his parlor.

August of 1844 then marks the beginning of a more rapid transition from his former, schismatic and sectarian traditions towards the ideals of catholicity and divine union which would, in two short years, cause him and Dr. Schaff to be charged with heresy (Romanizing) by the German Reformed Synod (they were found not-guilty 42-1). In fact, if you track the changes in his writing from 1844-1849, it is clear that Nevin comes not just to criticize the individualism and sectarian nature of his upbringing but to outright reject it, even calling it “A great evil” and referring to it as “Anti-Christ.” The Tome that contains these writings in the Mercersburg Theology Study Series is called: “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” a cursory read through reveals a rapidly changing view of the church and sacraments that Nevin continually roots first in Holy Scripture and then finds in the Church Fathers. It is clear that the younger Schaff, who would complete his edits of the Church Fathers in the 20 years he spent at Mercersburg, had a major influence on Nevin’s Ecclesiology and Sacramentology.

I suppose I should not say he completely rejects his upbringing. Mercersburg, we can say, was firmly on the “Nurture” side of the Old and New School debate as evidenced by their rejection of what they called “Crisis Conversionism” and use of the Heidelberg Catechism which they considered to be the authoritative catechism of the reformation. Still, they saw Princeton as promoting a “Desacramentalized, Individualistic Christianity” to use the words of Mercersburg Scholar W. Bradford Littlejohn. So they fought for a historical understanding of the reformation, not one that misread the reformation as a split from catholicity, but as one that tried to reform it back to scripture. Schaff and Nevin understood that Luther’s intent was the change the church from within, not split from him, only after his efforts to reform from within did he split as a last resort, though he retained much of the Catholic Churches teachings in many ways. Schaff himself sees the reformation as a sort of organic “coming of age” for the church where it left behind its youthful rebellions and returned to the truth of the Gospel, justification by faith alone.

To Schaff and Nevin this meant that we are not to break fellowship with one another, as Luther never formally did with the Catholic Church (he was kicked out). Sectarianism and Schism were great evils that were distortions of the doctrine and which violated the spiritual and organic unity of the church. This also meant we were not merely individuals who entered a man-made building, but a part of a group, a universal, global body which existed in divine union with Christ who gave the teachings to the Apostles, who then handed them down to us. He tried to balance individual rights with corporate identity and spoke against both total individuality and total tribalism, attacking the “Two Party System” of the political landscape for the same reasons as he rejected sectarianism. Further, because of Divine Union, Nevin’s sacramentology changes quickly from a semi-Calvinist view of the Lord’s Supper to a Coena Mystica, Mystical Presence that is closer to Luther than Calvin and which rejects a purely memorial view of the Lord’s Supper which was advanced by the Revivalist and which Hodge would more or less admit believing in his debate with Nevin over this doctrine.

Nevin’s life, especially the transformation from 1844-1849 show what can happen when we go back and really read the Church Fathers and start digging into the documents of the reformation. You actually see in his writings, a man who is confronted by the historical reality he had largely been starved of growing up in a post-puritan world which viewed the reformation as a necessary split and which gave us the Anti-Catholicism sentiment that is still alive and well in some parts of America today. The interesting thing to note is that for all their discoveries and growth, Schaff and Nevin never return to Rome, though they express admiration for the Tractarian Movement in the Anglican Church, which Nevin actually thought did not go far enough, and borrowing liturgy from the High Church Lutheran Prussian Movement which Schaff was a part of, even borrowing theology from the Eastern Orthodox. Nevin does not reject the ancient wisdom of the Church Fathers on the basis of post-enlightenment snobbery, instead he adopts the wisdom of those whom the Apostles first handed down their teachings too. Men like Cyricl of Jerusalem, Irenaus of Lyons, Origen, Tertullian of Carthage. They rejected the Platonic construction adopted by Augustine in “The City of God” which was passed down through Jan Has and John Calvin and which had become full-blown Gnosticism in the American context.

I can attest to what happens when you start to read the church fathers alongside the writings of first generations of reformers. You start to recover something that you did not know you had lost and you start to feel a little bit lied too. Not that I completely reject the conservative evangelicalism and semi-reformed faith I was brought up with. There are good ideas within these traditions, especially things like the four core doctrines of Evangelicalism or the theological fences of the reformed movement that keep us from diving off the cliffs of heresy. One of the reasons Schaff and Nevin never went back to Rome, or even Anglicanism, was because they recognized that different strains of thought could exist together so long as they held to essential doctrines of the faith, or what Schaff called, “evangelical catholicity.” That is why I have not rejected and even embraced congregationalism in the CCCC, because they have successfully brought together many strains on evangelicalism and reformed faith, including Pentecostals and asked them to confirm to what they consider catholic (universal) doctrines and encourage unity among the body to the point that as pastors we are ethically bound to maintain the bond of peace with other churches in our towns even when we disagree on nonessential doctrine. As a mentor of mine said when I first entered the CCCC: “it is a place where you (I) can be as reformed as I am, and still rub shoulders with believers of different strains like I enjoy doing.”

I gravitate towards Nevin because I see a lot of the journey God has brought me on in Nevin’s journey. After my encounter with an abusive pastor in high school, I needed a better definition of the Church and deeper ecclesiology than what I had. What I thought were “anti-sectarian” rantings were really just as sectarian because my solution to the problems was to form another of the very things I hated, denominations. I was raised to think there was only one tradition and that Catholic meant the Roman Church. The first time I read of catholicity, which was the first time I read about Schaff, it was jarring to me. I was raised with the remnant of puritan and revivalist theology, which Billy Graham famously described as: “A mile wide and an inch deep.” I grew up with conflicted sacramentology, from my dad, a five-point Calvinist, and the memorial view of the Baptist church we attended when dad went back to school. Before I started actually reading the documents of the reformation and of the Church Fathers I thought I had been trained in the fullness of Christianity. One read through of Clement of Alexandria proved that to be an easily eroded façade. I did not read them because Jonathan Edwards had said that the church was in dark heresy from the time of Augustine on and I thought Augustine knew Paul.

I identity with Nevin because I see a lot of my own journey in his, the difference is that his transformation was born out of intellectual pursuit and mine was born out of the pain of what I experienced in my youth. He had the benefit of a colleague to guide him in the growth he had already begun, if I did not believe in divine providence, I would almost think I stumbled upon this change when I was handed an assignment to map the historiographical method of some guy named Philip Schaff in a historiography class. Nevin’s growth was a natural one, mine was born our of disillusionment with the church and her people.

I share this to share part of my journey, part of the process of moving from a place of disdain for the church to a place of love and a desire to answer the call to be a shepherd of God’s people. The goal is not to proselytize, but to encourage others on their own journey’s and encourage the new organic reformation that I have written about in the past. Not to force upon my next congregation these things that I have found in my study, but to be: “All things to all people” as Paul says and to encourage unity in the body across the various strains of Christian Faith.

The challenge Nevin brings to us is this: are we willing to critically examine all that we have been taught in light of discourse that may dispute that teaching and adapt for the sake of the Church. I am firmly a congregationalist, especially given the CCCC’s emphasis on participation in the global body of Christ while maintaining involvement and autonomy at the local level while the denomination offers just enough oversight to make sure our churches are healthy and our pastors are preaching essential doctrine. However, I have a deeper understanding of what all of them means and I have learned much of that from Schaff & Nevin who have helped me better understand what I am reading in Scripture and the Church Fathers.

Nevin’s life is an example of what happens when we start to read and step out of our limited view of Christianity that beholds us to one specific tradition. We may find that what we are doing is looking at one grain of sand through a magnifying glass and mistaking it for the entire beach. When we collide with the actual teachings of the reformation and of the church fathers we may find we are less divided than we think and continue to see the old divisions heal as we move on from a spirit of sect, to a spirit of unity.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

What Star Trek Taught Me About Diversity

& What it Can Teach the Church

 

The Cast of Deep Space Nine

Jonathan Faulkner

“I took the role because of one thought, that in 300 years I would be both Black and Human” – Avery Brooks, Captain Benjamin Sisko, Deep Space Nine

 

I have an unpopular confession, I do not like the new Star Wars. Not because the cast is more diverse than the original or because JJ Abrams has to do everything bigger than his predecessors do. It is not even the storylines that drives me insane, though the hour-long escape from the Imperial Fleet almost made me leave the theatre. I have not liked them because if you pay close attention or have any training in communication or theatre, you realize that the writers are actually struggling to write for such a diverse cast. To the point, in my mind, that it feels as though some of the scenes and lines are stereo and phenotypes which should actually offend the actors and actresses. This may seem like an unfair critique, but it is an understandable one when you consider that the original casts idea of diversity was Lando Calrizian and every single other actor or actress is white.

I guess too, one does not need to have a degree in Theatre to understand this point, one could just watch Star Trek. I did a lot of that growing up, watching The Original Series with dad, Deep Space Nine and Voyager on SPIKE TV, The Next Generation and Enterprise on Netflix and of course, the Animated Series (I have not been able to find the comedic spoof Quark). I was even watching Discovery until I deleted my CBS All Access account to save some money. In 50 years Star Trek has been the most successful and amassed the largest cult following of any other than maybe Marvel. The Original Series spurred three major spinoffs which lasted longer than its three seasons (TNG, DS9 and Voyager all lasted seven) and a total of seven with an eighth slated to debut next year.

Star Trek was the brain child of a man named Gene Rodenberry who was pioneering Sci-Fi long before George Lucas came along. His vision of the future was one where man had learned to live together, Earth was a peace and had a global government and was the seat of power for the United Federation of Planets. The tensions between ethnic groups had been solved, humans had overcome their differences and now lived in peace and unity with one another. There was even a plot device known as The Rodenberry Box that would not allow conflict between the major characters on the ship, something that Discovery has decided to do away with. The point was, that man lived together and that there was no need for tension, we were the human race, one race, one blood. Racism, prejudice and malice had been set aside and we were free from the restraints of their sins.

Because of that the cast of Star Trek was, from the beginning, fairly diverse. Nichelle Nicoles, George Takei, James Doohan, Walter Koenig all played people who represented not just their ethnic backgrounds, but maintained the accents and practices from those ethnic backgrounds. Leonard Nimoy plays an alien, a Vulcan, who is half human. Nicoles and William Shatner actually share the first on-screen kiss between a white man and a black woman. Takei finds and uses a samurai sword, Koenig speaks in his Russian accent, at the height of the Cold-War, Doohan plays a hard drinking Scottsmen. All throughout the ship you saw men and women talking and working together, Black and White working side-by-side. The Original Series had its issues, such as Kirk’s womanizing, but a lack of diversity was not one of them. Even those of Hispanic and Spanish heritage were represented in the actor Ricardo Montibaun who played Khan.

The later series continue this trajectory, adding to the diversity on the crew and in the universe. Some episodes even explore how humanity overcame its racism and prejudice to learn to live together. This was explored in great detail during the spinoff Deep Space Nine which featured the first black actor, Avery Brooks, to hold the highest rank in a Star Trek show (we had seen black captains before, but only as guest stars) through episodes that dealt with the historical problems of Earth in detail. Star Trek also featured Kate Mulgrew as its first major female captain (again, we had seen female captains and admirals before, but only in supporting roles) in Star Trek Voyager. Both TNG and DS9 feature the black actor Michael Dorn as Worf, in one episode of DS9 though Dorn takes off the makeup and we see his actual face, playing a famous black baseball player. VOY featured Robert Beltran and explored the injustices and atrocities committed against Native Americans in world history.

From TNG on, Star Trek also fought against the idea of cultural assimilation, or did you think the Borg were just a plot device. Ira Stevens Barr, who invented the Borg, wanted us to know that the fight against the Borg is not just a fight against the dark side of technology, but the problem of cultural assimilation, whitewashing and supremacy. It was also a fight for human autonomy and against the type of tribalism that runs rampant in our political circles today. The Borg are an indictment against white-supremacy, ethno-nationalism and every other evil we have devised in the name of sameness.

All this had a profound effect on me as a kid growing up near Ohio University, which at the time attracted students in mass from Asia and the Eastern Rim. Though my own high school was almost completely monolithic. I saw people, yes, they had different skin colors and features that were part of them, but they were people, people who looked different and did things different from me, but still people. Star Trek solidified that for me in my mind, so much so that the first time I encountered actual racism in my late teens it was shocking.

Star Trek showed all of us a future that could be, that can be, that I hope will be. It showed me a world full of human beings with different ethnic backgrounds, skin colors, cultural practices and languages and it taught me that this was okay. It was okay that we were different and we should not look down on one another because we have differences, and, that we should celebrate those differences and enjoy one another because they were part of being human and nothing to be ashamed of. Further, we shouldn’t look down on, malign or attack people from other cultures, but should work together in a spirit of understanding to make us all better because no one people group has the corner on completeness.

As a Christian, this made it easier than some to accept a diverse and multi-ethnic body and to see the changes happening in Global Christianity as good and important. I have also learned to see everyone as made in the image of God and that those in the Church, that is, living in communion with Christ, are having that image brought out and refined and that image is reflected in culture, skin color and ethnicity. So Star Trek didn’t just teach me to accept diversity as normal, it taught me a lesson that would inform the faith I would later claim, that God made humanity with different ethnicities, skin colors and cultures. And that, as Philip Schaff wrote in The Principle of Protestantism: “Christianity, having awakened in a historical and cultural context, did not seek to destroy culture, but to infuse them with its transforming power.” That is, make them the sanctified versions He had developed them to be.

Now, there was one drawback to these lessons, that is, that I came to the conclusion early on that humanity had already solved many of these issues. That is why my first encounter with racism was so jarring, when you are raised without prejudice and learn things like The Civil Rights Movement was a completed action (it is if we are talking about desegregation, but not if we are talking about integration). I also thought humanity was much more divided then I found we actually are. That we had solved our problems and had moved on from the racial tensions of our past. It wasn’t until later that I understood the gravity of some of Star Trek’s more poignant episodes such as “Let that be Your Last Battlefield” (TOS) and “Past Tense Part I&II” (VOY).

So much in my life has made diversity normal, Star Trek, proximity to Ohio University, where I saw the same kind of diversity I was seeing on TV. Even the music I was listening too, DC Talk and TobyMac and the Diverse City Band, reinforced and normalized the fact that diversity was normal. This doesn’t make me better than anyone, and I learned some lessons I shouldn’t have and have had to unlearn some things and relearn others, but what I saw in Star Trek was normal and reinforced by what I saw in the real world (even as a kid who was shielded from the racism that actually existed in the world).

Rodenberry’s future is a good one, it is one we should strive for, but it is also one that the Church can create within itself now by standing up against Racism, Ethno-nationalism, Christian Nationalism and those other great evils that we have long participated in and even endorsed, sometimes even twisting and mistranslating scripture, as in the case of the Slave Bible, to support and reinforce heretical and inhumane doctrines. The Church is a global organism, made up of every tribe, nation and tongue. It is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural made and reflecting the image of GOD. We can learn from Star Trek, what Rodenberry modeled is what the Church is and was meant to be since its birth.

Let us reflect that diversity and model it for the world.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

My Social Media Disillusionment

& Why Its Time to Back Off.

Jonathan Faulkner

When I first launched 10:31 in 2009, I wanted to use the platform of Facebook for outreach and to engage in conversations and exchange ideas. I wanted my writers to think about the global audience we had built in the short 2 years before we reorganized and expanded. I wanted to challenge myself to interact with a world audience and for the most part, it was a success as I learned and grew and was stretched by my writers and by our readers. When I 10:31 closed in April of 2015 and God’s Heart became my primary writing outlet (it already had the same international reach as its predecessor, a reach which has grown). I kept the same model of sharing to Facebook, trying to engage in the market place of ideas that was before. That seemed to work for a while, but in the last few years, with all the discord, divisions and partisanship posting serious content to Facebook or engaging in discussions in comment discussions began to get harder and harder. Especially now that outrage culture has become the norm, not the exception. Even last years #EndDehumanization campaign made me weary of posting because of some visceral reactions which I took down because they were contrary to the spirit of the post and bordered on abusive.

On top of that, in my adult life I have come to believe that I should strive to be the same person on Social Media as I am in real life. If I could not do that, then I did not allow myself to participate in conversations, something I try to hold others to and a resolution my wife and I both follow. That has even become difficult as statements meant to said in solidarity or encouragement have been misconstrued and moral judgements made about me by people who have not taken the time to know my character or know or have the ability to know me in person. The longer I have used Facebook the more I have seen the people on it turn into fundamentalists for whatever ideology they espouse, from Atheists to Christianity to SJW’s to, you name it. If Fundamentalism in real life is intellectually dishonest, then Facebook Fundamentalism is even moreso.

Maybe it is just my increased desire, the older I get, for face to face relationships. That is, more and more I use apps like Marco Polo to communicate with people who are far away just because I can actually see their facial expressions. I text less and less and have cut back significantly on my use of Facebook Messenger for this reason. I have a growing desire to be known, as a human being, by other human beings, not a picture behind a Facebook status that may or may not be used to paint you into an ideological category. The superficiality of the Social Network world no longer intrigues me, yes, it is nice to be able to stay in touch with friends from High School and such, but why can’t I do that without the outrage and posturing and fundamentalism of armchair pundits? I want real and authentic and social media has never and will never offer that.

In the last month I have unfollowed every single news outlet I once followed, added three news magazines and the papers I subscribe too (so all I am getting is the article I have just read in printable or sharable form). Unfollowed any political pundits or talking head with the exception of my own states representatives. I have also unfollowed Christian groups, Pro-Life (Anti-Abortion) groups and many others, left groups and unfollowed or snoozed those who spread fear, hatred or misinformation. In essence, I have Marie Kondo’d my Facebook and Twitter in favor of seeing the posts of my actual friends so I can interact with them and their big life announcements instead of gumming up my newsfeed with the latest spin. I have found that I for the first time since Facebook made the big change in 2010 or whatnot, I actually am seeing posts by my friends. It also means I see a lot more cat videos, which is okay with me.

I have also backed down on actually posting to social media, something those who have followed me for awhile have noticed (so has Facebook, trust me). Mostly because I have increasingly felt that posting to social media at times has become like casting pearls before swine. Not that I have terrible friends, I do not, the genuine friendships I use Facebook to maintain are filled with wonderful and amazing people, it was those who commented for the sake of stirring up division and starting fights that had seemed to take over my newsfeed and comment sections. I have even stopped responding to most messages if I can talk to the person face to face, though I need to be more diligent about this as it is one of the newer parts of this social media drawdown.

What I have come to believe is this: No mind was ever changed via Facebook, few people read your posts and think: “Hey that’s a great point, I think I will change my mind.” It may have happened a few times, but those times are few and far between. Most of the time people just get enraged and angry and throw violent and abusive words or make assumptions about your character based on nothing but that which was said and decide to label you a certain way. Social Media is not a place to debate ideas, it never ends well. It can be helpful tool, but no one has ever been convinced by a post which 9 times out of 10 they have not even read. This may seem unfair or even cynical to many of you, but if you really sit back and think about it, you might start to agree.

Because here is the thing, our online persona does have an affect and it is generally not to change a person’s mind, but to make them feel worse about themselves they may already do. When we attack and berate one another, say things we would never say in person, while hiding behind a computer screen several miles removed from the person we create a false sense of knowing and a false sense of reality. We need to be the same people we are in real life on Social Media and the same person we are on Social Media in Real Life. There has to be a constancy and consistency between the two and above that, we have to treat everyone as if they are made in the image of God and worthy of respect and inherent dignity and worth in the real world, as well as the online one.

So, do not worry, I will still be posting on social media, mostly pictures of my daughter when she is born, God’s Heart Articles and of course, the occasional Cat or Dog video, missing person notices and articles to read but not comment on. I will celebrate with my friends who are celebrating and mourn with my friends who mourn. And by the grace of God, be the same person in the real world as I am in the online world, while I continue to work for the Kingdom.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

 

The End of Political, Colonial Christendom:

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

Jonathan Faulkner

 

In the broad field of church history one of the many debates that will likely never be settled is the legitimacy of the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine who made Christianity the religion of the empire and ushered in the western “Church Age” that gave rise to the Christendom model that still exists in fewer and fewer places today. Constantine’s conversion allowed the church to solidify its doctrine, specifically the trinity and two natures of Christ, but the tie between the Church and Government that came out of it was nearly immediately problematic. Not to mention that once the Roman Empire fell and the emperor dethroned by the Goths a void existed that meant the other institution of power, the Church, was there to fill and take power leading the practice of the Pope crowning and ordaining the rule of the head of the Holy Roman Empire (800-1802)

I grant you this is a crude history that glosses over much of the details of Constantine’s conversion. Needless to say, the conversion set in motion the creation what today we call Christendom which Merriam-Webster defines as: “The worldwide body or society of Christians.” Of course, in the west we might add to this definition: “Holding power and influence over the state through political action.” Constantine’s conversion took a small, persecuted, but growing group of Middle-Eastern, Greek and African believers and set their teachings and leaders in places of power and allowed it to become a global faith. Hence the creation of Christendom.

And if we had left it at that, simply gaining freedom from persecution, even had we not had people placed in positions of influence, we would likely have been fine, but once we defined our doctrines, we found ourselves in power with little to do. As the years went on we returned to the place of our roots, waging wars against Islam and later against ourselves called Crusades. We responded to violence with violence and even committed violence of our own. The church became so powerful it could determine the eternity of the most faithful souls and condemn kings and emperors, wage wars and condemn heretics, exacting taxes and selling salvation. The Gospel became cheap and Christendom became politicized.

Then in the 16th century a monk named Martin Luther stood up to the correction of the Catholic Church and nailed the Ninety-Five Thesis to the chapel door at Whittenberg. By his own account he never intended to split, but reform, the Catholic Church, but a split occurred nonetheless and the Church in the West, which had already split many times and suffered from Schisms, split again into Catholics and Protestants.

Along the way we forgot we came from Middle Eastern, Greek and North African roots and began writing those things out of our history. By the time of Luther, Europe had already gone to Africa, The Caribbean The East Indies, Latin America and South America and with it began the ruthless and barbaric Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade which would last until the mid to late 1800’s. We called Africans, who had been Christians long before we had, barbaric, animals. We dehumanized and sought justification for our supremacy based on skin color, even falsifying scientific data to claim that these human beings were somehow less or “other” than us. We raped and murdered and sometimes completely killed off indigenous peoples and held men in bondage and rewrote scripture to justify it and make sure they did not rebel or gain an understanding of their personhood. Christendom had become the twin of colonization, often times showing up with the colonists to help them “Subdue” the natives. All of this was justified by the Discovery Doctrine which stated that if native persons did not bow and become believers they could be killed off.

 

The Discovery Doctrine, issued by Papal Bull in 1493: The Bull stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers and declared that “the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” This “Doctrine of Discovery” became the basis of all European claims in the Americas as well as the foundation for the United States’ western expansion. In the US Supreme Court in the 1823 case Johnson v. McIntosh, Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in the unanimous decision held “that the principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands.” In essence, American Indians had only a right of occupancy, which could be abolished.”

https://www.gilderlehrman.org/content/doctrine-discovery-1493

 

In America, Christendom fought for power and prestige all throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries culminating in the rise of the Christian Right and, as its death nears, an angry, renewed surge of Christian Nationalism. It apposed civil rights, continued the sins of the discovery doctrine, drove natives from their land, lynched innocent black men, stripped men and women of their dignity because of their skin color. It conflated the flag with the cross, making them synonymous. Many became cultural Christians, or Christians in name only and feeling their power wane they turned to violent nationalism, bringing with them some in the Church who had been leaders and who had grown up with the Christendom model with them. We panicked over the loss of our power and turned to a man whom we didn’t understand and could not control. Not all of us, some of us voted on one issue, the economy or whatever, some voted because they had seemingly been forgotten by the coasts and were angry because they felt they were not being heard. Racism, Hate Speech and other atrocities began running rampant. Christendom was dying, and we were confused.

The sins of a political, colonial Christendom have been exposed, there is no one to blame but ourselves, the church has lost its power and all this writer can say is “Praise the Lord.”

I know this is a bleak picture, but it is an important one, we must acknowledge our sins, some of which we are still committing. We must be willing to acknowledge our ignorance of the Church outside of our borders, a Church that is thriving beyond anything we can really imagine. A Church that is made up of every tribe, nation and tongue, that bounds across ethnic boundaries, a church that we are a part of, but have denied ourselves the benefit of fellowship with. We need to acknowledge this, we need to admit where arrogance and pride have spurned prejudice and hate in the name of power. We need to acknowledge where we have individuals have contributed to these things and seek forgiveness, while balancing a corporate acknowledgement that we, as the Western, yes, white, Church, has committed violence and dehumanized and engaged in supremacist ideas. Be humble enough to seek reconciliation that may involve some corporate and individual repentance. We have abused out power, historically.

If you are a long-time reader, and have made it this far in the article, you know I usually have a positive outlook on the church, and I do. Many are realizing that Christendom has run its course, biblical literacy is on the rise, as is the amount of churches involved in meeting the needs, spiritual and physical, in their communities. Christians in the pews are, in mass, abandoning the old model and politicized definition and acknowledging their place as part of a global, multi-ethnic and catholic church. But we must be careful not to make these changes without recognizing the ways we have failed in the past. We have to be humble enough to ask forgiveness where it is necessary and not assume the need to apologize means we are under some attack by leftist ideals. We need to recover the true Gospel that, as Paul tells us, has “Torn down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14) which we have re-erected using race and ethnocentrism as justification.

And as we go back to living Gospel centered lives, perhaps we will see a change in the world. I have no doubt that God is calling and drawing His people back to Himself. It is evident in the research of both Christian and Secular Sociologists. That calling means we need to repent of that which has driven us from Him and from one another. Because in this time of cultural crisis, the Church needs to be the vessel of peace and reconciliation that it is meant to be, a true continuation of the presence of Christ.

Jim Singleton has said, and I agree: “There has never been a time when the culture has been closer to the first century as it is today and the same goes for the Church.” That means that sect, schism and segregation are the privileges of a church in power. We must abandon these, re-integrate and renew our mandate to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. So that the world may know that there is a God, the God of the bible, who created us as one body, globally placed, crossing every ethnic line, not favoring one over the other. As politicized Christendom dies, the real Christendom can rise and we can enter the age of the Global Church.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

Shifting Focus: The Vital Importance of Small-Town Ministry And the Pastors Who Lead There.

Jonathan Faulkner

It has sort of become a “Where were you when” moment for me, that is, I remember that I was taking a break from working on a research paper on the influence of Philip Schaff on Dr. Vanhoozer’s Reforming Catholic Confession (catholic referring to the universal church) and a critique of his idea of “Neo-Catholicity.” When I stumbled across an article from Church Leaders (Liberty University) about Andy Stanley’s comment about the selfishness of parents who take their kids to small country churches instead of mega churches like his. He has since apologized for the statement, but the statement is not easily forgotten, especially as a kid who grew up in small churches in small towns.

Of course, the full name of my Bachelor’s degree is: Bachelors’ of Arts in Christian Education and Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. Like so many of my colleagues I was ready to go plant a church in the inner-city, be the next Tim Keller. I went to Denver for a summer and fell in love with city-life and with doing ministry there among the homeless population and youth from families coming off the street. It was the first time I experienced a truly multi-ethnic setting as an adult and the first time I was confronted with extreme poverty and homelessness. God used that summer to stretch and break me and to eventually call me into the full-time pastoral ministry, a call on my life that was fulfilled in November as I accepted a call to First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center IA.

But hold up…. Buffalo Center…” I can’t find it on a map, didn’t you just write a paragraph about loving Urban Ministry?”

It is true, Buffalo Center is a small town in Northern Iowa, the closest city is Mason City (also known as River City for those of you who love musicals). The closest major city is Minniapolis/St. Paul. My youth pastor in high school described Sterling as a small town at the intersection of four cornfields, that description pretty much applies to BC as well, Sterling boasted 2000 inhabitants when the students were there, BC is just nearing 1,000 residents, both are much, much smaller than Denver or my current city of Boston. If I follow Stanley’s logic, I suppose I am being selfish, not taking a larger church with more resources. That of course assumes, that I, a rookie with two total years in a part-time pastorate after college was applying to churches above 100 members.

The hard truth that the church is dealing with now is that the cities have been over-evangelized and over churched. Resources have been pouring into the big cities from churches in other big cities while the small-town churches and pastors often feel neglected. Everyone wants to copy what Keller has done in New York City with Redeemer, which is good, the City to City movement has done amazing things with the Holy Spirit reaping more and more fruit each year. Meanwhile, there is a town one and half hour from here that only has one church remaining. Contrast that with Boston where Park Street’s steeple is just one of many steeples including Old North Church and other historic churches.

I get the draw of the big city, and I know the argument of going where the people are, but I think that leads us to forget that there are people who do not live in the major cities, that our small towns are actually quite full of people and some, like BC are actually doing quite well all things considered. Not only that, the churches there do as much if not more for their surrounding communities than some large churches in our big cities. This is not to say we need to abandon urban and suburban ministry for rural, we do not need to neglect the city in favor of the small towns and small churches, but we do need a more balanced way of working together and distributing resources, financial and otherwise.

To some extent this is already happening, Church Planter and Revitalizer Ed Stetzer has made a point to begin emphasizing the importance of small town ministry and we are seeing more and more Small-Town Summit’s pop up that create networking opportunities for small town pastors who often feel alone, forgotten and isolated. The Gospel Coalition has come on board and supported these summits, committing to help provide networking and care for small churches. In a denomination like the CCCC most of us pastor in small towns and need the connections with other pastors we have not historically been able to get.

Small town ministry is hard, not because one is as busy as urban pastors can become (though it comes with its own demands on time and challenges) but because it can be extremely lonely and isolating for the pastor and their family. One of the things that attracted me to BC was that one of the first things the head of the search committee said to me as we sat in Cracker Barrel in Minnesota after he had picked me up from the Airport was that he understood that they were calling a young family to a small town and that it could get lonely and that they were conscious of that and wanted to make sure I knew that they would care for us as I cared for them. So far, even before we arrive, they have done just that.

One of the reasons I chose the CCCC was their emphasis on pastoral care, when I was in the ABC they were just beginning to figure it out, but the CCCC emphasizes it. They understand that one of the crisis the American Church is facing is that too many of our pastors are burned out or ill-equipped or struggling with depression or mental illness. Struggles that are not unique to either Urban or Rural settings, that for a pastor be an effective teacher, leader, encourager and engage in effective and meaningful care of their congregations, they need to be cared for as well and be caring for themselves. As Christendom has disintegrated, it seems so has the idea that pastors are superhuman. Still, ministry in any setting is one of the hardest callings you can receive and one that requires the most humility and grace. Pastors often see people at their worst and sitting with that without proper spiritual formation or relationship with God, both leading to care by the spirit, through the word and the ministry of others to the pastor.

That being said, we cannot, nor should we have ever neglected the rural church. Not only was doing so neglecting a vital part of the body, but has also been an adoption of big city attitudes towards the rural communities. Namely, to overlook, look down on and demean the people who live in small towns but do vital work such as farming, trucking, refining and so on. Stanley just vocalized what many have acted out, showing how disconnected we can become when we focus on our own contingent. The Church, in contrast, is meant to operate as a global body with all parts and members communicating and working together for the advance of the Gospel in word and deed. That means we have to equally work within the cities and the small towns and make sure we know the needs unique to each. Especially in an age where the Church has lost its power and influence in most places. We no longer have the luxury of seeing to our own specific part of the world, our city our town.

We need to find a way to support all churches at the level of their need. Is a church struggling financially? A few churches that are not may be able to help them out. Is a pastor burned out? There are many places around the country and the world that provide comfort and rest for burned out pastors to come and recover. Pastors of larger churches can check in with pastors from smaller churches and congregations can, through their deacons and elders, take stock of their pastors needs and health, both physical and mental. We can work together to be the church as God designed it to be, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Who cares for all its members while caring to those outside, whether they live in big cities or small-towns?

Stanley, as he has admitted, is wrong to think that parents who attend small churches are selfish. If anything, they find themselves in a smaller group that is sincere and loving and cares for them in the ways they need to be cared for. More resources does not always mean right resources or better equipped. We need to invest in small town churches and small town ministry so that those who call them home feel connected and cared for by the body as a whole and so that the pastors who care for them do not suffer from the isolation that still causes many to burn out early in their ministries.

There is so much work to do, but the Spirit is working, let us be open to it.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. 

Keeping Christmas All Year Long

Jonathan Faulkner

Those of you who know me or if you have heard me preach around Christmas time, you may be aware that one of my favorite Christmas Stories (sans Jesus Birth) is Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. Not only do I read the book, but over the next 24 days I will watch two or three different versions including the Muppets. I think it is because I am one who has a hard time believing someone is so completely gone they should be written off as hopeless or irredeemable.

If you know the story, especially if you have read the book, you know that this is precisely how Dickens describes Mr. Scrooge. He seems to be well beyond hope, whether it is the way he treats his nephew and Bob Cratchit in the opening scenes or his incredibly evil line in reference to the poor: “Let them, and decrease the surplus population.” Or even just in Dickens description of Scrooge and the whispers of those who he encounters during his encounter with the third Ghost. We are meant to believe that Mr. Scrooge is well beyond hope, totally damned, chains that were even thicker than Jacob Marley’s. His children, as the second Ghost reveals, are greed and ignorance, he is beyond hope.

But if you know the story, you know that this is not how it ends, indeed, it would be a very short story if Scrooge remained in his mournful state. It would also be like Dickens as he is not known to cheer his readers. Each of the three Ghosts show him parts of himself, things he left behind, things he was missing in the present and things that would be if he did not change his course. The change that comes over him is so complete that Dickens closes the book with the line: “It was said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well and keep it all year round.”

So far this Christmas season I have to admit that I am struggling with people. Not with everyone, but with a good amount. I recently went through my Facebook newsfeed and unfollowed a number of people and unliked a number of pages. So many people sharing negativity and hatred and spewing vitriol at their perceived “enemy” and then turn around and share a meme about being kind to retail workers or loving their neighbor. People from across the political spectrum, centrists included. Now, I know that Social Media is not real life, but I have seen it in real life or I have seen people speak disdainfully towards their neighbor and then write a status about remember those who are less fortunate and vice versa. I know the church has never had a broad conversation about how we should interact on Social Media, but I have come over the last year to believe that our real-life persona and our social media persona should operate under the same ethics and morals. We should be the same person online and offline.

The other thing on my mind is that we tend to be like the whisperers and the traders, all who had written off Scrooge. We have placed people in convenient boxes, declared them to be without hope, and then written them off. Writing people off gives us an excuse to no longer engage them and when we have done that we can deny them, even if only in our minds, the ability to change at all. We act surprised when a former white-supremacists repents and embraces ethnic diversity when that should be the norm. As we shout people down, we force them further and further into their echo chambers and then they about miss the Catalytic Event that is meant to bring change.

This is what we see with Scrooge’s nephew: He comes into the money lending house merry and cheerful, wishing Scrooge “A Merry Christmas” and giving him a hard time for thinking Christmas a “humbug.” By the end of the visit he is even more incensed against Christmas and his mood is made even worse by Cratchit wanting the following day off. When the Ghost of Jacob Marley shows up later, he tries to dismiss him twice as “A bit of undigested food.” When the clocks strikes one and the first Ghost doe not appear right away he mocks Marley’s warning again before the room fills with light. Even after the spectacular events witnessed with the first ghost, in anger he grabs the cone and forces it back on the Ghosts head, trying to snuff out the light. In the novel, it is not until the catalytic event of seeing Tiny Tim and learning of his fate: “An empty chair with a lonely cane” that the change begins to come upon him.

Today, we seem to have catalytic event after catalytic event, these are events that should shake us awake, make us think about the people around us, people who are often hurting and who are wondering if anyone cares. Do not believe me? Turn on the news, how do you not describe all the events, not the way they are spun, but the events themselves, school shootings, Standing Rock, Hate Crimes, The Migrant Caravan, Earthquakes, Tsunamis. How do we not describe these disaster’s as anything other than events meant to wake us up, turn us to God and treat our neighbors, even those we disagree with, as God would lead us, in His Word, to treat them.

Yet, like those who whispered about Scrooge, we tend to have written the “other side” off as without hope, irredeemable and worthy of contempt.

I had an interesting cross-ethnic encounter on a plane ride to Iowa last month. Rachel and I boarded in the B Group, something we do not usually do, so the chances of finding seats together were slim. However, right near the front of the plane we found two seats next to an older African American woman. We sat down and I asked her name and she asked mine. Upon hearing the name “Faulkner” she stopped and said: “Faulkner, there’s a lot going on with that name, isn’t there?” This wasn’t a statement made in anger, it seemed more in surprise at the last name than out of fear.

She was not talking about the author William Faulkner. She had grown up in the south during the Civil Rights Era and so the name was probably familiar to her. The story goes, as far as my father and I can piece it together, that there were two migrations of the Faulkner family to the Americas. The first went from Ireland to the south where they became plantation owners in Mississippi, the norther migration (which happened sometime later) sailed down the St. Lawrence River and eventually settled in modern day Port Huron Michigan. The southern part of the family became prominent plantation owners and slave holders eventually producing a secessionist senator and fighting for the Confederacy. During the Jim Crow era Faulkner’s stood in the doors of Mississippi Churches and churches across the south to block freedom writers and keep churches from integrating.

This woman knew the name and knew its history in the south. I learned all this last year as I read the book “Mississippi Praying” in which Faulkner’s kept popping up in favor of Jim Crow which prompted me to ask my father the rest of the story. This moment became a moment of reconciliation, I had the chance to acknowledge what people I am related to had participated in and though I can not repent for those who are unrepentant, I can do my best to make sure the that, even though I am descended from the Northern line unstained by the sin of slavery, that those who do know the name and family history, like this woman, see that God can redeem people and families and that we can be reconciled. I may never see that woman again, but God gave us a chance for reconciliation.

The point is this, the like Scrooge, no one is irredeemable, God has the ability to transform anyone and we, as Christians, need to be open to that reality. Instead of writing everyone off, we can see people in light of the Imago Dei, even those who are net yet believers. To see them in the light of that which was put within all of us from creation and which Christ can and will restore. That requires us to stop “otherizing” to quote a mentor and friend of mind, to stop viewing everyone who disagrees with us as an “Enemy.” To not say of the poor: “Let them then, and decrease the surplus population.”

See, the impression Dickens leaves us with in regard to Scrooge is that his encounter with the ghosts, his catalytic event, was so transformative, the change so complete, it was evidenced not just at Christmas time, not just in the immediate, but year around, in the infinite; “The rest of his days.” The spirits lessons of loving oneself and loving others in light of the love of God  moved Scrooge to charity and love. The Grinch’s heart grew three sizes, the man in line behind the boy with the shoes learns the meaning of Christmas.

There is not just a season of love, there is not just a season of hope, there is not just a season of light and there is not just a season of Joy. Dickens point is that these qualities should become part of our disposition year-round. That Christmas is not just a time to love your neighbor, but we should be loving our neighbor every day, no matter who they are.

As we enter this Advent Season, a time when we remember the birth of Christ and look forward to His return let us remember that we are not just living in liminal space. That we are meant to live everyday as if the ideas we talk about at Christmas, given by the Holy Spirit, are part of our lives year-round. That we should work for reconciliation, for the building up of one another, to the ending of oppression, to seeking restorative and biblical justice stemming from the Righteousness of God. Since we are reconciled to God, we should be reconciled to one another, not just at Christmas, but at all times throughout the year.

That is how we keep Christmas well and keep it all year long.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church.