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“You Cannot Ruin Easter”

God is still God, Christ has Still Risen, You are Still not Alone. 

Jonathan David Faulkner

Well, it is safe to say that my second Easter as a Pastor is not exactly how I pictured it would be. As I take a break from studying for Sunday’s Sermon “Resurrection Reality” to write a short Holy Week Piece that has, until today, eluded me. I was reminded this morning, by our conference minister Rev. Ron Hamilton of a truth that I have proclaimed but had not really thought about. As we do things a little differently this Easter, some online, some doing small drive-up services coupled with a pre-recorded online service for our members who cannot go out or who do not feel safe going out, or of course, it North Iowa weather decides to rain on our parade. Our conference minister entitled his email: “The Best Easter ever.” Of course, one wonders how this could be the case without us shouting to one another in joy “He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed.” However, Ron has a point here, one cannot ruin Easter, the Spirit of the Day cannot be dulled even by government ordinances, we will not have our usual traditions and meals together, but we will have the full day to reflect on what happened 2,000 years ago to make this day what it is.

The Resurrection of Christ

This morning I have been reading and studying the Greek of this week’s text, John 20:1-18, as usual I get to meditate on the text all week, by the time we get to Sunday I have been marinated and cooked by it, searched by it thoroughly and been interrogated by it and still will have not gained the fullness or completeness of the text itself. On top of trying to work through other Holy Week texts, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday all those events, the Triumphal Entry of Palm Sunday kicked off not look forward to their culmination in the resurrection. Jesus would cleanse the temple, curse a fig tree, teach in the temple one final time, be betrayed by Judas who would then be present at the Passover meal where Jesus washes the Disciples feet, including his, and institute the Eucharist, again with Judas present. He would pray in the Garden, be betrayed by a kiss, arrested, falsely accused, by denied by one of his closest followers and be handed over to the Romans to be crucified. He would die on that cross, have His side pierced and be buried in a tomb with a stone sealed with the governors sealed. Yet, even the legal seal of Pilate would prove to be futile, there was no way that on that first Easter the Lord, YHWH incarnate, would be held within the tomb or be hindered by death. The ultimate humility would become the greatest victory, as Jesus said many times, the last would be first. In the words of Ron Hamilton…”You cannot ruin Easter.”

Yes, we go through the emotions of the season, we experience the high of Palm Sunday, the somberness of the Last Supper, the fear, grief and pain mixed with a strange Joy of Good Friday. We feel the anticipation of Holy Saturday and the Great Easter Vigil. Friday comes, but we know Sunday is coming, we know what the Disciples did not, and which they did not understand as they were living it. That Sunday is coming and with it, Resurrection.

Yes, resurrection is coming, the resurrection of Christ has already come, but our resurrection, not metaphorical, but literal, is coming. We are taught this in scripture, we are shown it through John’s revelation. You cannot ruin Easter and you cannot ruin God’s plan. Yes, resurrection is hard to believe in, that is true, it seems impossible to us. But that is not different than it was 2000 years ago when nobody could even conceive of resurrection except for the Pharisees who believed in the resurrection of the last days. Even so, they understood as it as a purely eschatological event, resurrection was going to happen in the end times, not right before their eyes, in the very place they lived. Yet they could not deny it, notice in Acts they do not even try. Yes, they try to destroy the movement, but they do not try to deny the resurrection, that comes much later.

Friends, it is true that Easter looks very different this year, we are in a time which we could not have imagined or foreseen. However, God did, and He is still sovereign over it. He has foreseen and planned for all those who believe in Him who lose their life during this time. That answer is Resurrection, both of Christ and in the last days those who have believed.

So stay home or stay in your cars (if you are attending a drive-in service) remember that God is not distant but is near. He loves you and cares for you, you are not alone. No matter what happens, Christ has Risen, you cannot change that historical fact. Easter cannot be ruined, the truth is still true.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

The Building is Not the Church, but when this is over, you should Come to the Building.

“The Sense of the Church as an article of faith, shows what power it carries with it for the interior life of the soul.” – John Williamson Nevin “On the Church” 1857.

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

 Authors note: This piece was written March 1st and scheduled before the substantial spread of COVID-19. Many churches, including First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center are livestreaming or streaming prerecorded services. Readers are encouraged to plug into those online resources. 

Cyril of Jerusalem is famous for the quote that would be handed down to the reformation through Luther and Calvin in their respected works; “You cannot have God as your father, if you do not have the church as your mother.” The problem that arises when we consider the meaning of this quote in its original context and its reformation context is the essential definition of the church that is being used to make the assessment of church parentage. Cyril wrote in the fourth century, he received his ideas of the church directly from Irenaeus of Lyons who had received them from Polycarp who had received them from John. This was when the church still operated on an Acts 2-4 model of family worship. Yes, there was a certain amount of organization that was necessary but show me a family without some structure and I will show you their dysfunction. Catechism had already, begun, we know because the quote from Cyril above is from his first Catechetical Lectures and was the means by which the family passed on the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles to the next generation. It was within the Church that the teachings of salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection were passed down. Hence the Roman Catholic Idea that gets adopted by Luther in the Reformation that “Salvation is from the Church.” The church is meant to be the means by which those who are unsaved experience Christ and come to salvation through Him. It is not meant to happen outside the family structure of the Church, and until the rise of Revivalism and Sect and Schism, it did not. Still, Jesus gives the power of the keys to the Church, salvation is not meant to be outside the Church, salvation is Sola Ecclesio (the church alone).

However, by the time this teaching reached the reformation another understanding of the church had developed. St. Augustine, whose name Martin Luther’s order of Monks bore and from which Calvin took much of his theology had, in looking around and noticing unsaved sinners in the pews of the churches, developed the idea of the visible and invisible church. Essentially, Augustine took his Manichean and Platonic philosophical training and applied the idea of forms to the Church. The Church on Earth was a corrupt shadow of the Church in the transcendent. There were sinners among us because the Visible Church was the imperfect shadow of the Invisible Church. This is when the line “Communion of Saints” was added to the Creed. It was this communion that all Holy Spirit Baptized believers, past, present and future, were a part of through Christ, yet while on Earth, the Church was nothing more than an organization made up of sinful men and women and not in its perfect “form.” This became the dominant form of the church in the West until Philip Schaff’s “The Principle of Protestantism” as first preached and then published in 1844 at Mercersburg Seminary in Pennsylvania and sparked a debate over the nature of the Church between the Swiss born and German trained Schaff, his American accomplice John Williamson Nevin and their opponent, the distinguished Calvinist Charles Hodge of Princeton. Schaff understood structure and organization only as a “necessary evil” not as a means and end of the church. That is, our pastor/CEO business model of church  which has become the primary model of the church in North America was not to be primary or secondary to the nature of the Church, but the final concern after all other concerns were addressed and questions answered.

 

Schaff and Nevin scoured the scriptures and the Church Father’s available to them to come up with their definition of the Church as Organism and not organization. In Acts they observed that it was not until it was necessary that structure developed such as in Acts 6. That the natural “Structure” could be found in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 where the Church is living organically as a family in Christ. They also looked at passages like John 17 and 20 where Jesus prays for the unity of his Brothers, not as a loosely associated group of people, but as a people sent into the world as He was sent into the world, except for us the divine nature that dwells or is incarnate inside of us is the Holy Spirit and we do not share the same Hypostatic Union as Jesus did. We can only be drawn up into the divine life through the Holy Spirit, Jesus was and is always part of the divine life of the Godhead. Jesus is fully God and fully man, we are fully man and the person of the Holy Spirit comes and dwells inside us. All this feels like theological gobbledygook to one who has not been to seminary, but I promise it is important for the average person to understand this because it is essential to the definition of the church as Organism not as organization.

 

If the Church is an organism than it is a symbiotic one. We are joined to Christ, it is Christ who gives us our Oneness, not doctrine, not Creeds, those serve as reminders and reflections of scripture and its Truths, but our oneness is eternally bound to Christ. All the “One” phrases in Ephesians 4:1-5 point to Christ, none of the “one” in that passage would be possible without Christ. Unity apart from Christ is a myth and a dangerous one. The Church is an organism that is totally dependent on Christ for its very life and existence. We are the: “Continuation of Christ’s presence here on Earth” through the Holy Spirit.

 

Notice what this means the church is not, a building where people gather on Sunday and then do not think about the rest of the week. The Church is not a business where we seek the best marketing slogan, the church is not a place to drop the kids on Wednesday Night. None of that constitutes the Church, in fact, none of those should have anything to do with the church or be used in the same sentence with the Church because the Church is not a building. I write this because I have seen an increasing number of articles about how “going to church” is better for family health and development. Or the articles that tell people they need to go to church to be good Christians. I am tired of these articles, Church Leaders and The Gospel Coalition alike because they are ignorant of both the biblical definition of the Church and the cultural exegesis that tells us this mentality is why young people have left the church. Because Christianity, when reduced to going to a building, once a week to be told about a brand named Jesus who doesn’t actually remind or resemble the Jesus of the Bible. With 93% of young people who are still engaged in the church saying that, according to Barna: “A Personal relationship with Jesus is extremely important to my faith and my Church life” it seems we should be working to get better at fostering relationships with Christ, not trying to sell a brand. It seems we should return to an idea of the church where that relationship between God and Man through Christ is the very essence of how we understand the church. This would also give younger members the agency and ownership within the local body that they so often feel they are lacking or told frankly that they are not allowed to have.

 

But what about the buildings we call Churches? We can still call them that, though it might be more advantageous to call them “Meeting houses” as our puritan ancestors did. They should also be repurposed or reimagined with the goal of fostering intergenerational organic relationships by the Holy Spirit. That is, we can keep the sanctuary, but if should not be open one hour, one day a week but multiple days a week and not just for worship, but for prayer and for meals together and for distributing to the needy. Yes, even in a small town. The Church buildings we have can become bases of operation and training for God’s children to be prepared to go and care in the world. But we should do this not merely because Jesus and scripture tells us too, but because God has made us a family through adoption and out of that love, we should live in a gratitude that follows the example set for us by Christ and the Early Christians.

 

This kind of living includes the sacraments because the efficacy of the sacraments are in Christ whose Spirit pervades them. “Whether men chose to know it,” writes John Williamson Nevin “and lay it to heart, or not, the view that is taken of the Holy Sacraments, as conditioning the view taken by the Holy Catholic Church, and, through this again the view that is taken of the whole mystery of the incarnation, must ever be of radical and primary account in all true Christian Theology. Especially must this be the case with the Sacrament of the Eucharist.” Whatever is happening in the Eucharist, however Christ is present, the manner of which is divine mystery and we should avoid certainty on, are possible because Christ is still Incarnate. The same is true of Baptism where we are literally Baptized into and through Christ by participating in His death and resurrection. Nevin’s Colleague Emmanuel Gerhardt writes: “A Sacrament is a sign and seal of divine grace. The outward element is both the sign and the seal. As sign it represents grace- a spiritual good. As a seas it gives the assurance of a real and present grace.” Sacraments are given for life, for drawing us into deeper relationship with Christ, to partake of the body and blood of Christ in their mystical presence. The incarnation pervades everything: Again Nevin writes: “We become sons of God by union with him in a supernatural way. Let Christ be apprehended as the central bearer of the new creation whose universal fullness is made to reach over in the form of grace and truth (not law but life) into the souls of people, and the subline representation of St. John is simple and clear. Resolve the Christian salvation into an outward image only of Christ, wrought either with our without God’s help, and the representation is blind as chaos.”
Like with all things, instead of glorying in the awesome majesty and power of God we have oversimplified and done exactly what Nevin has warned us against. We have made the Christian Life about how good or moral someone is, how many times they attend Church each year or how many bibles verses they have memorized. These things are all well and good, but the speak to an institutionalized, outward model, not an inward transformative change by Jesus Christ within the heart. We are not called Moralists, we are called Christians, an insult which meant “Little Christs.” We got that name because we believed the Holy Spirit dwelled with us and made us like Christ, because we were committed to the “renewing of our minds and transformation of our hearts” (Rom 12:10). Because we did our best to have the “Same mind as Christ” (Phil 2:5) and because we were known for our radical care for everyone (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37). Millennial’s like myself do not want over simplistic ideas or to be told not to question the way the church has always done things. Sometimes questioning is essential for sustained health and our current way of “doing church” (I hate that phrase) is a hindrance to us being the Church. Our scriptures are deep, our God even deeper and our understanding of him in the modern context is substantially lessoned by our anti-intellectualism and “thou shalt not question” rigorism and both have led to biblical illiteracy of the highest and worst order.

 

The bottom line is this: our buildings are just buildings and we are the church, the buildings are just the meetinghouse of the church, God’s house is you and I (Gal 2:20, 1 Cor 6:19). As Downhere sings: “We are a Cathedral, made of people, in a kingdom that the eye cannot see.” We are the visible representatives of Christ on Earth who Christ dwells within and maintains His presence through. So while the Church is not a building, you should not forsake meeting together with your local body (Heb 10:25). Salvation comes from the Church because the Church is bound up in union with Christ first and foremost. The building does not dull out salvation, God does, though the church. Thus, the church should be an entrance into a deep relationship with God defined by love, thankfulness and transformation through Discipleship in the Holy Spirit.

 

So, if you are a believer, go to the place where the Church meets, the building, and be part of the Church which your Union with Christ means you belong to. The visible and organic church defined in relationship to the Holy Spirit and not to its sinfulness/perfection. You are the church and you are one part of the greater whole and the other parts of the greater whole, members one of another (1 Cor 14:12-26) need you to function fully. We all are called to work together for the gospel, not as isolated individuals, and we should do so with great anticipation of what God can and will do through us as a whole body where He has planted us.

 

References

Gerhart, Emanuel V. 2016. The Efficacy of Baptism . Vol. VI, in The Mercersburg Theology Study Series: Born of Water and Spirit Essays on the Sacraments and Christian Formation , by Philip Schaff, Emanuel V. Gerhart John Williamson Nevin, edited by David W. Laymen, location 4743-5729. Eugene , OR: WIFP & Stock.

Hoffecker, W. Andrew. 2011. Charles Hodge, THe Prince of Princeton, . Philidelphia : P&R Publishing .

John Willaimson Nevin, Philip Scaff, Emanuel V. Gerhart, David W. Laymen, W. Bradford Littlejon. 2016. Born of Water & Spirit: Essays on the Sacraments and Christian Formation. Eugene : Wfpf & Stock .

John Williamson Nevin, Charles Hodge, Linden J. DeBie, W. Bradford Littlejohn . 2013. Coena Mystica: Debating Reformed Eucharistic Theology. Eugene : Wfpf & Stock .

John Williamson Nevin, Linden J. DeBie. 2012. The Mystical Presence & the Doctrine of the Reformed Church on the Lord’s Supper . Eugene : Wfpf & Stock .

John Williamson Nevin, Philip Schaff, Daniel Gans, William B. Evans, W. Bradford Littlejohn . 2014. The Incarnate Word: Selected Writings on Christology . Eugene : Wfpf & Stock .

Nevin, John Williamson. 1846. The Mystical Presence . Philidelphia : J.B. Lippincott & Co. .

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

Nevin, John Williamson. 2016. Wilburforce on the Eucharist. Vol. VI , in The Mercersburg Theology Study Series: Born of Water And Spirit Essays on the Sacraments and Christian Formation, by Philip Schaff, Emanuel V. Gerhart John Williamson Nevin, edited by William B. Evans, Location 3989-4743. Eugene, OR: WIFP & 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.

 

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.

YPIACV II: When Convictions Create Tensions

This is a follow-up piece to “Your Pastor In the Age of the Coronavirus” where I explore the various competing theological convictions that are beyond the decisions pastors are making.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Christian Conviction, when lived, offers us a set of cohesive ideas which work together for the building up and edification of the body of Christ. These convictions are central to the pastors training and anyone who teaches them to lax these convictions are not doing their job. These convictions, named, are not forsaking meeting together, the care of the flock, seeking their shalom (emotionally, spiritually, physically etc), The preaching and living and insisting upon the Gospel and ultimately, adherence and obedience to the authoritative and Living Word of God and its full council. Obviously, the first three convictions come from The Word, but they are convictions The Word emphasizes all three in various passages. However, sometimes in history, like our current crisis, those convictions can seem at odds with one another, especially the first two. As Pastors we never want to give up in person meeting together, it is the essence of the Churches Family togetherness, doing things together, as a body. But if gathering together as a body would put us at risk for violating the second conviction, seeking the shalom of our congregations, then we have to fall back upon the fourth conviction: adherence and obedience to the authoritative and Living Word of God.

None of these decisions is easy, they are not as black and white as some want to make it. In the internet age we are technically able to continue meeting and worshiping together, even if that is not in person. But we also know that Human Beings are meant to be lived in community with one another and with Christ and while we can have community with Christ anywhere, these times make it hard for us to meet in person, something the CDC has now suggested we not do until April 30th, a long time for any pastor to not see their flock, but especially for your extroverted pastors (FCCBC I am looking at you). Extroverts do not want to give up meeting together because we recharge through fellowship. That is one of the reasons I schedule all visitations on Monday’s, it helps me recharge and get ready for the new week. Not having that has had a negative effect on my mental health, but it has also made me rely more on my heavenly father for sustenance and recharging. Most of us really miss our congregations, we know what the rest of the world is learning, that we need each other, and God oriented fellowship is greater than isolation. This conviction of course, comes from scripture, specifically from the entirety of the book of Acts, 1st Timothy 4:12-15 and Hebrews 10:25.

But many of us also pastor vulnerable congregations, and with more reports surfacing about churches who met and now have members sick and dying from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, gives us an even greater pause. Many of our congregations are also terrified, in an email this morning I mentioned the fact that what I am hearing from my people is that they would not leave the house even if we were meeting. The second conviction surges to the forefront, I am responsible, in love, for the health and safety of my congregation. God has entrusted this small group of His created and recreated people to me, as an under shepherd and He has given me His love for them through the Holy Spirit. I must stand before Him at the end of all things and give an account for how I carried out my responsibilities as an under shepherd. It would be unloving and irresponsible, if I know the lion is coming to consume the sheep, to not confront the lion and let him devour the sheep. I am charged, as an under shepherd, with the protection and well-being of my flock, I confront the lion, I do everything I can to keep the lion from attacking and devouring the flock. If need be, I give up my life to the lion to give my sheep a chance to escape. I do not bring the lion to the sheep and say: “Have at em’ lion, eat to your hearts content.” Similarly, I do not let the thief steal, kill or destroy, I am not the hired hand, I am the under shepherd and when the chief shepherd appears (Jesus Christ) I will have to give account for how I cared for my flock. If my flock dies of COVID-19 because I would not adjust to online meetings, then I am responsible for those deaths. It is unloving for me to expose them to something that could potentially kill them. As my regional pastor said to me on a Zoom call this morning: “If given the choice between having to repent of not meeting together and loving my congregation enough to not expose them to this, I would rather be on the side of love.” That conviction applies to both times of normalcy and during pandemics. I do not take this charge less seriously when things are normal. For more read: Luke 16, John 10, James 3:1-5, 1 Peter 4 ete.

That brings us to Insisting upon the Gospel. This is Paul’s charge to Titus in 3:1-11, because it is on account of what God has done for us that we are to do good works for others. I have greatly enjoyed the posts that have gone around Facebook saying that: “the Church is not empty; the church is deployed.” Yes, we come together to Worship God and equip His people the Church, but the Church is then called to “Go” and right now, all that equipping (which many of us are still receiving online) is hopefully paying off. Now, for us to get through this, we have no choice but to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We can grieve with those who grieve, laugh with those who laugh, deliver meals for those who deliver meals. The Church is the greatest force on this planet when we insist upon the Gospel, when God’s people, made new by the rebirth of the Holy Spirit, cannot be defeated by any force. History proves this is true, but for that we must insist on the Gospel and live by the Gospel. When a Pandemic hit we suddenly realize how unimportant and foolish our debates over X, Y and Z are and how important one another are. How important the lived aspect of the Gospel is. When we finally come back together, I hope we remember this and in fact, revel in it as we are reunited with our spiritual families and welcome new family members into the fold.

All of these, of course, fall under the umbrella of the forth conviction: “The adherence and obedience to the Authoritative and Living Word of God, taking into account its full council.” As pastors we should be good biblical theologians and recognize that even when our convictions are at odds, we can find wisdom in God’s Word. Hebrews 10:25 is in the same Bible that Romans 13:1-5 and John 10 are and we are accountable to all three. I appreciated a writer from Lifeway last week who noted that if the Government was tyrannically ordering us not to meet at all we would be under obligation to disobey. The church has done this from the beginning, think of the Catacombs in Rome or the Underground Church in China or the Confessing Church in Germany. However, that is not what is happening here, our government has requested that we close our doors to slow the spread of a virus that can kill our congregations, and even kill us. We even have the ability and have been encouraged to find alternatives for meeting. It has actually been quite incredible to see the response and ingenuity of various pastors and churches around the world. We are in interesting times that require interesting solutions and we can still care for and love one another while maintaining good social distancing and containment practices. I had the family of one of our shut-ins last week passing along her thanks for the cards and notes from the congregation. We can still love and care for our people and encourage our people to love and care for one another, just as the Bible commands, while obeying the government which the Bible also commands.

Obviously, these are not the only 4 convictions of a pastor, but these are the ones that have been heavy on my mind and heavy on the minds of many of my colleagues in these recent and coming days. It saddens me to see pastors who have ignored thinking through these convictions and are now paying the price for their negligence of the second because they insisted on the first. No matter how bad this gets, we will get through it, we will be back together again, and nothing can stop that. We must celebrate Easter a little differently this year, we must figure out how to celebrate the Eucharist with a congregation in their own homes. We have to encourage and insist our people live by the Gospel and use proper discernment. These types of events require the church to live maturely and by the Spirit alone.

I hope these pieces have given you a little insight into the through process of your pastor during these days. We are here to care for you who God has called us to shepherd and we should be taking that responsibility seriously. Please walk with us through this time as we walk with you. These are the hardest decisions we are ever going to have to make as your shepherds and there is a lot for us to consider and all of it from Holy Scripture. Continue to pray for us, and always remember, we love you.

A Response to R.R. Reno and First Things: i will not sacrifice my congregation.

We are now seeing the full depths of our depravity; the god of Mammon and Moloch have taken over.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Brothers and Sisters, I am angry, not because there is a global pandemic, not because there is worldliness, not because there is sin, but because the past two weeks I have watched as prominent evangelical leaders and major politicians pivot from a message of: “Stay home, shelter in place” to “we need to get the economy back on track and fast” the message has switched from “Protect human life” to ‘protect the financial bottom line. Which brings me to R.R. Reno and First Things, the once proud publications that actually addressed issues in a gracious and Gospel-Centric way, but recently has embraced the nationalism of the Alt-Right, something its own writers and editors, specifically Karl R. Trueman and Bradford Littlejohn (both historians) should know better than to partake of. R.R. Reno though, on March 17th wrote that we as Church Leaders need to keep our churches open:

He writes:

“Closing churches and cancelling services betrays this duty of spiritual care. Many are speaking of death and disaster. Social media whips up fear. Stern faces on TV tell us how many people are infected. Cancellations cascade into our inboxes. In this environment the faithful need spiritual truths from their church leaders, not recapitulations of public health bulletins and exhortations to wash their hands.”

As a pastor I do understand his point, he is concerned that Churches continue their role as spiritual caretakers of the people. However, as a pastor of an older congregation, I want to make this point, I cannot spiritually care for them if they have all died of COVID-19, the disease caused by this Novel Coronavirus of which they are mostly among the most vulnerable. Reno wants us to not worry about death because Christ as set us free from death and theologically he is correct, Christ has set us free from death, but unless it is for the sake of the Gospel, as in, dying as a martyr, we should be wantonly throw away the lives of our congregations. Part of spiritual care is physical protection, creating a sense of underlying safety so that they can worship as freely as possible. That may not be possible in every location, but it is possible in the United States of America for now, and I take my responsibility to care for my flock in all capacities very seriously. I get to stand before God one day and be asked if I was faithful with all He had given me. As a pastor I should be the first fed to the wolves, not the last, and I should not actively turn my congregation over to the wolves. I am a Shepherd and a Shepherd who lets the lion devour his flock is not a very good shepherd. Even though I am not the chief shepherd, the care of the chief shepherd has been entrusted to me and too many of my colleagues have taken that responsibility too lightly. Yes, we are free from death, but we should not actively seek suffering from disease and famine, that runs counter to everything we see within the Early Church. They did all they could to mitigate death, even, at times, suspending large gatherings and meeting in small groups in secret locations. Yes, they still worshiped, but they it was the pastors and priests who were among the many martyrs. That does not mean lay persons were not martyred, indeed, thousands were, but the pastor did not actively turn their congregations over to the Romans. Instead they had the same mind of Christ and gave themselves up for their congregations. During the Plague in Carthage, it was pastors and lay persons alike who aided in the care and health of those who the Romans had left to die. If anything, Christians should be signing up to help our medical experts and personnel, not debating whether we should be meeting in our buildings.

By the way, many of them are doing just this. Our little community here in Buffalo Center has been making masks for Mercy One in Mason City and other hospitals around the region as we anticipate the eastward spread of the virus and increased infections rates in our beautiful state of Iowa. I have members who call asking how they can help, I have a website, coordinated with another church in town, where they can go to find people who need help. The Church here is mobilized to do what Christians should be doing, caring for one another, but doing it sensibly. The Christian couple who runs our market are making sure people have the supplies they need; our food pantry is still operating. Christians are working together, across denominational lines, and when we attend church, we do so online and next week, my church will observe the Eucharist with instructions on how to receive it remotely. We will still carry out the ministry and ordinance of the Church by utilizing the technology that God has given us the ability to utilize, and we will do so while we love one another. I will not sacrifice my congregation on the altar of Moloch (the Babylonian god who demanded human sacrifice) by putting them at risk for this virus because the “Ministry of the Church must go on.” Especially when I can carry on that ministry from afar, through phone calls, text messages and service streams. Is it harder? Would I prefer the human to human contact, yes, but I love my congregation too much to chance them getting a virus that could kill them painfully.

The conundrum is often produced as a dichotomy, black and white, either we sacrifice people to the virus to save the economy, or sacrifice people because we let the economy falter. This kind of dichotomized thinking is rampant, it gives us two options and say: “pick between the lesser of two evils.” However, one sacrifices people to Moloch for the sake of Money (Mammon) and the other sacrifices people to Moloch because Moloch demands a sacrifice. Both prioritize something over human life, human life that gains its inherent dignity and value because it is attached to the very image of God. We are the only part of creation that gets stamped with “the image of God” and the part of creation that God says He cares most about. In God’s economy, humanity is greater than other created things because it bears His image. All creation points us to the glory and Holiness of God, but the Imago Dei points us to His image. As Eugene Peterson writes in “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” “If you want to know what God looks like, look in the mirror.” Now, I agree with J.W. Nevin that sin has separated us from God and requires us to have a renewed relationship with God through Christ so that the image can be fully actualized through Christ. But that does not change the underlying assumption that pervades all of scripture, humanity has value because it is created in the image of God. To prioritize anything over human life, anything, and then disconnect human life from God and His Holiness is evil, it is blaspheming, it says that money is greater than your grandfather and it grieves the Holy Spirit. By making the false dichotomy above we ignore the fact that there are third and fourth and maybe even fifth options to mitigate the suffering of both the virus and the coming economic collapse. In the richest country, with the richest church ever known in the history of humanity, there has to be.

Now, I reject the notion that the government should be the catalyst that forces us to act. That is, I do not believe in forced redistribution on any level. I believe that this is the time when the Church can and should stand up and do what it was always called to do, love our neighbors. In a crisis like this we do not have the false luxury (false because we never really had it to begin with) to ignore anyone’s suffering, especially those right next door or down the street from us or in the next town. We are in the same boat, you care for someone else’s needs, someone else cares for yours. That is how this works, that is how it worked in Acts and they fulfilled a part of the Old Testament Levitical Code (Duet 14:15) because: “There were no needy among them” (Acts 4:34).

The Spiritual Care of the church continues as we guard its physical health as well. I just got a call from the daughter of one of my nursing home residents thanking me for all the cards and calls from the congregation. One of which was sent from the entire church. We are meeting her spiritual needs even though we cannot physically visit her right now. No one is abdicating their responsibility to spiritually care for our congregations as R.R. Reno is suggesting, instead we are finding new and innovative ways to do this while we do what is responsible and guard the health of our most vulnerable. What is more loving? To put our congregation at needless risk so we can fulfill a role we can still do using modern technology. Or to take the proper precautions and listen to health professionals and the CDC for the sake of guarding not just the spiritual health of our congregations, but the physical health as well. We are the Church, we contain a faith so powerful it can move mountains from a God so powerful He created ExNihlo through Christ who has reconnected us to God by His death and Resurrection and sent to us the Holy Spirit to remake us into new creatures and allows us to fully actualize the image of God through being transformed into the image of Christ. if we cannot mitigate the effects of this virus, spiritually, emotionally, economically etc. based on whose we are alone, then we do not fully understand the power contained in having a relationship with the Triune God of the universe. (By the way, if the Church did what it is called to do there would be no need for forced Government redistribution).

I will not sacrifice my church on the alter of Moloch or Mammon, they are too precious to God and because they are precious to Him they are precious to me. Yes, I will tell them not to be afraid, but I will not, I refuse to, expose them unnecessarily to something that could kill them. That would be the highest form of evil and the greatest violation of my pastoral office I could ever commit.

 

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.

Coronavirus and The Death of Individualism

When this is over, and it will eventually be, perhaps we will have been reminded that what really matters is each other.

Jonathan David Faulkner

As a student of 19th Century Church History at Mercersburg I have little patience for Princeton, as a human being a struggle with Twitter because of how negative it has become. Yet, yesterday both of these combined to surprise me. This time in the form of a Tweet from Princeton Professor Kate Bowler about how the Coronavirus marks the end of individualism

I could write an entire article on how entertaining it is for someone who has studied the “Common sense” theology that Princeton was born into to hear someone from Princeton claiming the end of Individualism, but that is not the point of this article. What is the point is to explore what that means for society going forward.

Lifeway Research, Barna and Pew have all marked an increase in anxiety and its contributors in both Millenials and Gen Z compared to the other two living generations (Baby Boomers and Gen X) who make up much of the population. That means that isolation, depression and loneliness are all on the rise among people 15-35 and as a result we are suffering more anxiety because we have a much weaker social network to fall back upon. Instead we have one that, for all its claims to be social, is increasingly proving to be fake and in fact, toxic, to our mental heath (Social Media). Social Media creates the illusion of togetherness and interconnectedness but does not fulfil either human need. Jean M. Twenge has warned us about the effect Social Media is having both on us and our kids as the pressure to present a perfectly curated world based on your personal preferences overwhelms them.

Individualism, especially the radical American brand that was handed down to us and expanded upon from the time of the Enlightenment says that the individual is prime, and nothing should interfere with the individuals personal autonomy. That translates to an attitude that “no one is going to tell me what to do and as long as it feels good to me, I am going to do it.” If you are on Twitter today you know that this very attitude is being blamed for why the virus is spreading at the alarming rate that it is in the United States. We all saw the videos of college kids partying in Florida and then saw the new report that most of those kids have tested positive for the virus. The idea that “I am young and invincible” is one that has affected every youth, but individualism says: “I am going to do what feels good, consequences be damned.” Individualism fuels our other impulses, consumerism, stuff will make the individual feel secure, identitarianism, personal identity is the path to harmony and perfect happiness, hedonism, I want to do what makes me happiest and most fulfilled. These all look to the self as the greatest authority, again, the individual is prime.

Yet we have seen recently a rise in strong group think the extremes of the right and the left. Tribalism is our word for it, and though incompatible with individualism, it makes the same claim as individualism, the self of group is primary, and no one can tell the tribe what to think or to think differently. I remember sitting in a meeting with one of my professors for a “Readings and Research” course on Jonathan Edwards and Charles Chauncy’s debate over revivalism. Revivalism being a key contributor to the spread of individualism in America. I remember telling her that individualism is breaking down, but that tribalism is as well, leading to some kind of primalism that is purely emotionally driven which corresponds with the breakdown in language and increased isolation caused by Social Media. This observation came after an article in The Guardian about the use of Emoji’s in communication and the idea that we had reverted back to Hieroglyphs on tablets with glowing screens. The relationship between individualism and tribalism is thus that they both reject dependence on the other, in the case of individualism, prizing personal autonomy and in the case of tribalism, prizing group autonomy. It is the same idea, applied to two extremes.

Both individualism and Tribalism are dangerous to the public health and well-being of a society because they both reject anything other than what they have accepted as personal truth. This operative principle of relativism means that doing anything that does not see to the wellbeing of the central idea or person is evil is extremely destructive both to society and to the individual in general or persons involved. Believe it or not, this is how cults operate, loyalty to the leader or central idea is absolute and if one diverges from that then they are punished by the group. Think Westboro Baptist or Jonestown, they often seem like great places to be, but if you step out of line you become public enemy number one. Yet we have embraced both mediums unquestionably and are going to long pay the price for our obstinance.

If you do not believe me, look at this week’s debate over the stimulus package. Everyone is trying to get a piece of pie for their constituency, their tribe, and the result is ultimately an abandonment of the American People. Meanwhile Lobbyists want what is best for them, a juicy bonus from their employers, and so they bend the ear of their allies on the hill. That is not how a representative republic is meant to work and we are learning that the tribal mantra “America First” does not actually mean “Americans First.” We should be ashamed of ourselves. Individualism and Tribalism, two extremes, predicated on the same utilitarian principle. Do what is best for me and forget everyone else. Who cares if someone dies, they are not part of me or my group, I have nothing to do with them and they have nothing to do with me? How perfectly Stalinite of us saying “one death is a tragedy but a million is a statistic.”

Yet, as a Christian I know that this is not how the world is meant to be ordered. As a Historian I know this ordering of the world is abnormal when compared to the strong group societies that are still much of the world today. As a Pastor who believes what the Bible says is true (I should not teach it otherwise) I have a responsibility to teach my congregation that Jesus gave His life so that we could live a life that was radically different from the world around us. For the Christian, self-seeking is unprofitable and unuseful (Titus 3:1-11) and leads to fights and quarrels and schism. Self-seeking leaves us self-condemned while living the Christian Life that we can only live because God made it possible through Jesus Christ, should make us work for the benefit of one another. That includes those who think differently than we do, those who the world would naturally label our “enemies.” The Christian Life is meant to be lived for the benefit of our neighbors, not for the benefit of ourselves. We have received out reward and it is well beyond what we could ever gain on this Earth (i.e Eternal Life).

In times of crisis then, we should not look to ourselves, but looking to the good of one another and to the world that does not know Christ. I work just as hard for the benefit and shalom of my neighbor who is unsaved as I do for the saved neighbor. I do this not because I am obligated too, but because I am grateful for that Christ as done for me what I could not do myself. This does not mean there is not an inward quality to Christianity, we are commanded to work out our salvation, but that is also done in the context of our relationship with God and with others. The Churchman John Williamson Nevin, in his writing on the Two-Party System in the days leading up to the Civil War says this: “This does not mean there is not room for individual opinion, but that individual opinion must be brought into the group and be examined by all to see if it aligns with the word of God and the teachings of the Church.” Christians believe in an absolute truth, but we should be gracious in how we live and apply that truth because God has been gracious to us. We confess essential doctrines, but we also confess personal conscious and 1 Corinthians 10 tells us that there are some things that are left up to the personal conscious of the individual, but that considerations of conscious should take into account the conscious of another. If such and such an activity will be harmful to my neighbor, I will abstain from that activity in their company.

Both individualism and tribalism advance the individual conscious over the good of the people around us. Both make the individual conscious a self-contained god that declares its independence from every other god around it and is superior to everyone else’s god. Thus, no one is superior and no one’s individual truth is absolute. I am also under no obligation to do anything for my neighbor because my neighbor is my enemy. I have excused myself from doing anything for anyone, the self is my god and people better not play in my canned goods or challenge the high place I have built for myself. This has to be an exhausting way to live, but our culture has adopted it as normal, even voted it into office at the state and national levels.

The Coronavirus and COVID-19 challenge this mentality. I know last week I posted a piece about the need for more helpers, but that was because I wanted to see more of the few positive things I was seeing (I need to adjust my algorithm because my wife was seeing nothing but positive stories while all my headlines were about hoarding and toilet paper). I have seen how many of us have laid down our self-contained gods and self-worship to reach out to the other. We are self-quarantining because we understand how easy it is to transmit this virus and how deadly it is for older and vulnerable groups. We are adjusting store hours so that elderly men and women can go to the store without fear. People are baking bread so that their elderly neighbors who cannot get to the store can have bread. Yes, there are people hoarding, but there are a growing number of people who seem to be breaking from our usual American individualist way of life for the sake of helping others. They seem to be realizing that the benefit of helping one another far outweighs the benefit of helping themselves alone. In the words of Mr. Spock, “the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the one or the few.” I can only hope that this trend continues, and individualism does die a quick death. This may be optimistic; we may go back to business as usual in June or July when this thing finally ends. But I can dream right?

Think about it this way:

 

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 Message from Steve and Karin Oeffling A Missionary of FCCBC

We’re hearing new words, “Covid-19” and “Corinavirus,” and we don’t like the sound of it.  News of this strange, new virus have raised fears and concerns, along with honest questions:  Why is this happening?  What should I do?  When does it end? Will I be affected?

I received a wonderful phone call recently from a friend reading the Word of God.  He said, “ I need to ask you something.  In Acts 4, it talks about the church responding to people in need during a first century crisis.  When I read it, it was like God saying, ‘I want you to give toward the needs of people struggling to get through this crisis.’  Even though my retirement account is now in shambles, I need to give the church a check to meet the needs of people who are losing jobs and income.”

The check was sizable.  Within hours, nine others contributed to help with food, utilities, rent, and other necessities.  That gift was like a seed, which quickly flourished.  Some made meals; others reached out with phone calls, emails, or personal notes. Suddenly, it was compassion that went viral, spreading encouragement to many.  People felt loved, and experienced the presence of God in their fears and concerns.

Our questions remain, yet in uncertainty we go back to what we know, what is certain.  We love God who is faithful.  And we love others, which remains our calling.

Steve and Karin Oeffling

We Need More Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

There are just some articles you think you will never have to write. As the Coronavirus continues to put pressure on everyone from world leaders to the kid who has not been able to get his online schoolwork resources, we start to see what we are really made of. That of course is a common theme in history, whenever there is a disaster human’s have largely stepped up to walk with each other and care for one another. I can remember when Katrina hit and our little community in Albany Ohio took on several families and their kids came to our school. I think of the member of my church in an assisted living facility who was a riveter during World War II, who helped build the B29 Bombers. History is full of times when a crisis either national or international has rallied us to one another. We laid aside all those things that divided us and accepted that we are in fact one race, the human race, with one blood as Tony Evans and John Perkins have said over and over again.

But for some reason, this pandemic feels different, am I wrong? Usually you hear about all the good people are doing, It was not until a day ago that I saw businesses and individuals stepping up to aid those who are in need. Yes, there has occasionally been a story about a person delivering groceries to the elderly or whatnot, but those seem significantly less than what former news cycles have covered. Maybe it is just because I stopped watching Cable news in 2014 and went to print media only (magazines and newspapers). But even The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and the Bulwark (one left, one right and one centrist source) have been significantly void of stories of the helpers. Instead I have seen story after story about empty shelves and greed, post after post of people asking for something to help them feel better and now a group of Gen-Z engaging in hedonism on Florida Beaches while telling reporters they do not care if they contract the virus or not. One viral meme, though somewhat humorous, encourages us to complain about our kids and pets as “Coworkers we are reporting to HR.”

Meanwhile, In the Bulwark I read this piece by Tim Miller: COVID-19 and the Missing Call to Sacrifice in which he notes: “In America, it used to be common for us to be “called” to a higher purpose by our leaders. It was part of the mythos of our country, one of the reasons we believed in American exceptionalism. Our nation had a purpose—a calling—where other nations had mere interests.” Think Roosevelt calling for Rationing during World War II or President Kennedy’s famous words: “Ask what you can do for your country, not what your country can do for you.” I think of Lynn Austin’s character Julia in the second book of her Civil War Trilogy who gives up her posh, upper class life as a Philadelphia Socialite for the glory-less life of a battlefield nurse. Instead, even my local grocery store is completely emptied of Toilet Paper and I lost sleep on Wednesday Night because we found out that the panic has been causing places like Wal-Mart to sell out of Baby Formula meaning that there has been none for mothers of Preemies to buy the formula they need for their children and I wanted to find a way to help make sure these children, who are lucky to be alive in the first place, can get the formula they need.

 

Instead of giving up, we have decided to hoard. But, you say, we have given up a lot, we are not going to restaurants, church, school, work etc. Yes, we have given up social institutions, but have we given up our thoughts about ourselves? Sacrifice is not just giving up material comforts the government tells us to give up, sacrifice means giving of our very selves. Sacrifice is what our doctors and nurses are doing right now as they treat COVID-19 patents. Putting their own health at risk for the sake of helping those who are sick. Sacrifice is the Christians in Carthage in the 3rd century, who, when the Romans would abandon a plague victim on the side of the road to die, would go out and care for them. Sacrifice is laying down your political opinion, practicing proper discernment and doing what is necessary to care for and calm the fear of your neighbor, grandparent or immune compromised/disabled/pregnant/susceptible to the virus friends. Sacrifice is buying only what you need and Trusting God to take care of you regardless of what happens. And Love your neighbor enough to think about them when you shop or go out or decide to laugh at the latest restrictions. Sacrifice requires you to think of others and be a helper.

Friends, we need more helpers, not doomsayers, not down players, not panic makers, not disinformation and speculation. We need sacrifice and through sacrifice, to become helpers. Mothers need baby formula; older people need their needs met. Stop selfishly hoarding and be a helper wherever you can. Call one another, text, video chat and do not extort or destroy one another. Love one another for the sake of the Gospel.

Please, for everyone’s sake.

Because this will end eventually, and when it does, we will really need to help one another as we rebuild and restructure and reconnect from the isolation that drags at all of us right now. We need each other, so let’s be for each other, just as Christ was for us.

 

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.

Brothers and Sisters, We are not on Vacation

Yes, our buildings are closed, we cannot make our visitations in-person and we are hosting services online, but we are still called, ministry must continue, now more than ever.

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

With schools and business shutting down we as pastors have been left to do the same. For many of us we have to take the extra precaution of factoring in that many of our congregations contain vulnerable groups such as the elderly, disabled and those who are expecting. If you are like me, you have agonized over the decision to close if you are in affected regions. We were open last Sunday, but this Sunday, following the directive of our governor and both federal and state health officials we are closed. We will continue to host our Friday Prayer which are come and go and never see more than two people at a time in a sanctuary that seats 200. One of my members and I, along with my wife will record a video of the service on Saturday and post it to our various sites on Sunday. Again, these have been difficult times and difficult decisions for us to make and most of us are feeling a sense of relief having made the decision. My inbox has filled up with relieved congregation members since we made the announcement last night. This morning I finished exegeting my passages (something I started Monday instead of Tuesday as usual). I am guessing all of our schedules are a little topsy turvey right now.

However, amid the abnormal we should not in any way treat this as a vacation. Now more than ever we should be carrying on the work of a Minister of the Gospel. Now we turn our attention to calming the fear around us, being an example of a nonanxious, spiritually mature, presence who leads as one who is lead by the Shalom of Christ. Now more than ever it is important that we model the biblical example of Jesus for our communities. Yes, we have to obey the government (Rom 13:1-5) but we also have to discerning (1 Cor 2:6-16) in all things, seeking the Holy Spirit for guidance as we aid in caring for our flocks, many of whom are scared and anxious, and as we expand that care to our communities who are also scared and anxious and have no basis for the peace we have in Christ. It is true that life is now extremely abnormal, even for us, but our calm and peace is a testimony and can help all of us seek the Shalom of the cities God has placed us (Jeremiah 29:1-14).

It is also critical that we carry on our ministry of prayer more than ever. That time you would be visiting the nursing home. Pray. That day you have a member in the hospital with surgery, Pray. That time you would be at the local coffee shop or deli in conversational ministry, Pray. You can call your nursing home residents, send them cards, but these things take all of five minutes, instead, pray for them often and pray for your sick often, pray for your healthy, pray for your town, pray for your county, pray for your region, pray for your country and pray for the world. Whatever you do, bathe it in prayer for everyone and in every place. Encourage your church members to do the same and to check in on each other, these times are unprecedented, but God can use them for our growth and benefit as we pray for the everyone from small towns to the big cities. Pray for government leaders who have to make difficult decisions about public health.

Please do not think that this pandemic is a vacation for us as pastors, there is still much to be done. We are not unemployed, we still have sheep to attend to and people need that care and tending in every season, but especially in a time of global uncertainty. You are God’s under shepherd and responsible for His flock and treating this as a vacation will communicate a lack of care to your flock. Continue to be diligent, work from home, but continue to be diligent. Continue to pursue the Holy Spirit and ask God for guidance and put the same amount of time into sermons preached to a camera in an empty room as you would for a full congregation.

I know many of you are not treating this as a vacation, but the encouragement that your work is still important is essential in a time when you feel overwhelmed. Your congregation is encouraged by you when you continue in ministry through hard times.

Congregations, please keep compensating your pastors, they are still putting in office hours and dedicating time to your care. Continue to give to your churches through mail or online giving (if an option), continue to lift your pastors in prayer knowing that we are doing the same for you. Little Children, love one another, call one another, encourage one another, care for one another. The Church is an “All hands-on deck” body (1 Cor 14:12-26) and we all need to function all the time, but in times like these, moreso. Your pastor ministers to you so you can minister to one another. We love you and care for you and need you to practice the same for one another.

 

The Problem with Christian Celebrity

Athletes and Hollywood Christians are strategically placed for the Gospel, but we cannot and should not act as if they’re testimony means we are free to do whatever we want.

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Let me say this up front, I hate the idea of Christian Celebrity and I hate the culture we have created around celebrity Christian’s. Believe it or not though it is not the idolatry that it often ends up in, though I am no fan of that, nor is it the pedestal just below idolization that gets me, though again I am no fan of that either. It is the fact that those are the people often referred to when Christians talk about those who live out their faith even though they have no frame of reference other than one comment made to the media. Someone does not have to demonstrate with their lives they are a Christian, all they have to do is say something, even if that thing is tan gently orthodox and biblical and Christians flock to them like moths to a lamp. Mention the name of Jesus and your guaranteed to have 1000 new twitter followers overnight, even if your exegesis and application are extremely questionable.

You all know what I am talking about, you were all alive when Tim Tebow (congrats on your recent marriage by the way Tim), was playing for the Denver Broncos. I can remember people praising him for painting John 3:16 on his face before the game and for what became known universally as “tebowing” praying after he scored a TD. I can remember college girls fawning over him because he was such a good and godly man who did not smoke drink or chew or go with girls who did. He was held up as the archetype for what a Christian should be and in fact, he was, if your archetype of Christianity is the classic conservative “nice Christian boy” who epitomizes purity culture and who never upsets people.

Now, before you accuse me of being disrespectful, let me say that I have a great deal of respect for those who live out their faith in the public square. It is extremely difficult to stand up for your faith in our modern context and Tebow has paid a price for it. I also have a great deal of respect for Tim Tebow as a person, his special prom nights for children with disabilities is a truly gospel-oriented mission that gives dignity to kids who do not get to experience that dignity within the public-school system. I do have a problem with the culture he represents, but no problem with him personally. The problem is with the celebrity status and idolization that occurred because Tim Tebow stood up for His faith in the public square. Tim’s life is attractive for the Gospel, the Christian Celebrity that rose around him, hindered it. I felt the same way about Kurt Cousins recent comments after losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the Playoffs, something my own Packers did the very next week. I appreciate the words that he said, “win or lose, God is on the throne” what disturbs me are the people who raised the concert of praises and allowed the cycle of idolization continue. Again, Cousin’s life may attractive (I do not know enough about him to say) for the Gospel, but that kind of idolization hinders it.

We do the same thing to Politicians, all someone has to do is signal solidarity with Christianity and boom, Christians will flock to unquestioning support for them. Even if upon further examination we find that person is not a believer, or at least not living like one, but only used the manicure to secure a section of the voting base. This is the playing card that we have been watching play out before us in the political arena for the last 30 years, coming to fruition in the worst possible way with the 2016 election. We become uncritical followers of men seeking political power we risk allowing ourselves to be led astray from the Gospel principles found in the Word of God and the moral high ground we have always vigorously defended. I have beat a dead horse with this one, but I will say it again, we cannot insist on certain moral characteristics and then turn around and vote for someone who does not fit those characteristics. Regardless of what may be promised or what we may gain, better to lose the whole world then to forfeit our souls eh? Unfortunately, it looks as though we have chosen to forefeet our souls.

But that is the problem I see, we are not just forfeiting our souls, we are forfeiting our souls in the case of politics, but we are all too often forfeiting our witnesses by outsourcing them to the Christian Celebrity. We seem to think that the person who professes faith on TV or after the football game is going to be what stems the tide of secularism and reinvigorates the witness of Christ around the world. The problem is secular people and younger Christians do one of two things with the athlete/politicians/Hollywood type professes their faith. They either scoff at it because their experience with Christians they interact with daily do not live out what they claim to believe or they applaud it once and move on, getting back to the business of living out their robust faith. They either do not see it as sincere, or they ignore it all together. No one is reached, in fact, it seems that the opposite is happening, people tune it out because the Christians they know are no different than they are.

Celebrity among Christians seems to have become an excuse for not living out the gospel at home before all men. We think because they have testified to Christ we do not have to. It is a convenient way of outsourcing our own responsibility to communicate the Gospel in word and life. We seem to think that so long as (Insert name here) is working out his or her salvation with fear and trembling we are excused from it. Or that the Great Commission is for missionaries and pastors and we just go to church and fellowship and that’s the extent of our Christian Life. The Great Commission becomes “The Great Omission” to use Thom Rainer’s term even if your part of the 48% of Christians who know what the Great Commission is (Lifeway 2019). “Go into all the world and Make Disciples of all nations” apparently does not mean our own, or it does so long as we do not have to do it. “Put off the old self…and put on the new self” (Col 3:6-10) is all well and good and long as we do not have to do it. As long (so and so) is being a light to the world, do I really have to be?

I am being a bit snarky here, but if you look at all the data that has come out over the last 50 years as the Church as declined, this is the picture it paints. Now, there are some areas of the country where this is impossible, I think of our New England Brothers and Sisters who, in most places, have realized that living in a Post-Christian society requires Christians to largely abandon their whimsical, pie in the sky Christianity defined by Consumerism and attractionalism and return to a biblically oriented Christian Faith. I am inspired by the Church Planting movement in my own denomination that has been reaching communities with the Gospel by not being afraid to those whom the traditional Church in America has abandoned by making it a sin for a person of faith to even enter those places. Given the changes in our culture we can no longer afford to sit back and hide in our holy huddles thinking that will bring people back to us. Young people are not returning to church when they get older, even those who have a deep faith in Jesus, they remain in exile and disconnected. We can no longer make assumptions that allow us the convenience of ease and allow us to debate peripheral issues. We can either live out the Gospel or we can die, those are the only two options before us as persecution increases and we continue to be forced out of the public square. We do not have the luxury of outsourcing our witness to another, to celebrities. You want to see young people to return to churches? Take your own faith seriously.

I am serious, this is what I cannot stand about Christian Celebrity Culture, we seem to think that it has excused us from living out our own faith in our own portion of the public square. We think that if we do not sin and go to church, we are fine. The result is a lot of people who have relationships with the church, but no discernable relationship with eh Church. We have a lot of people that can proof-text their personal opinions (see last week’s piece) but have no biblical literacy or knowledge of the Bible beyond those defenses of their philosophical viewpoints. We also have a lot of people to look for the pastor to simply affirm their preconceived notions and if the pastor challenges those notions even in the slightest they get angry and make threats and bully people into agreeing with them.

The problem with all of this is God didn’t leave his Church here so that we could outsource our witness and gather around us people who would confirm our biases. Though we are promised in scripture that will happen. He left His church here to be a family and one that went out and witnessed to the world by showing the benefits and blessings of having a relationship with God. A Church then that does not love God, love people (inside and outside its walls) and make Disciples should not expect God’s blessings to follow them. In fact, they should expect the opposite since they have set themselves in opposition to God by their obstinate refusal to live out His commands. The culture pressures on the Church are moving us back in this direction in some parts of the country, but there are some places where resistance to any change back towards historic biblical orthodoxy and orthopraxy, not the canned conservative Americanized version that Billy Graham called: “An inch deep and a mile wide.”

If we want to see the church grow, especially in the alienated small towns throughout the Midwest and South, then the church needs to step up and be the third place of society it was in the first and second century. We do not have the luxury of debates in the public square over philosophies and ideologies that are loosely biblical, if that. And we certainly do not have the luxury at pointing to the latest Celebrity who put his faith into words and expressed it on public television as though their witness excuses us from our own. The secular world is reading our scriptures and calling us out on how poorly we live them out day to day. This is a difficult reality to accept, but Jesus was serious when He gave His commands and applied them all His people. Not just the Apostles, but to everyone who believed in Him.

Pastors, this starts with us, we need to stand up against these kinds of behaviors and take whatever it costs us knowing that we answer to Christ for how we handled His word and taught His people. We need to be willing to not just preach the Gospel but live out the Gospel and demonstrate the blessings of a relationship with Christ to our congregation. We can do this, even if it costs us calls and comfort because we are promised that God will take care of us and we can lean on those promises no matter what. We can also know that God is pleased when we do what He has commanded us to do even when it means people will be furious with us. We need to hold our congregations accountable to the full word of God, everything in their, not just their preferred theological construct. We also need to be willing to answer question, maintaining an open door for people come to ask us when we preach about those passages that challenge our preconceived notions. Not everyone will take you up on that, you will still have people angry with you, but both you and they have to stand before God and give account for how you lived out the Word of God. Be bold, stand firm and remember the one who has your back is greater than this world.

And the next time someone points out the Christian words or witness of a celebrity ask them how they are living out their faith in their community first, reaching people for the Gospel through loving God, loving people and making Disciples. Ask them how they are living out the Great Commission and how that celebrity’s faith may inspire them to live out more boldly the new life in Christ. IF we continue to be afraid to encourage our congregations to live out the Gospel, we will continue this trajectory we are on, and its not good.

To the lay person, please recognize that Jesus words do not just apply to your pastor or the Christian celebrity, but also to you. That you are going to be held accountable for what you did with what you did with the Word of God and how you treated one another, and those God has placed as under shepherds to lead you. Outsourcing your witness will lead to your destruction, not salvation, and if you do not believe me, read the book of Matthew. It would also be prudent for you to start questioning whom you are following instead of swearing undying loyalty to someone who contradicts the bible you claim as the source of your reasoning. Start reading the bible, the whole bible, and do what you can to learn about the bible and the world it was written into. Does that change how we apply it in the modern context? Well, it just might, but that is okay.

Now may the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob embolden you to live out His Holy Word in word and deed with humility and gratitude for that awesome work that was done in Christ.

 

\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.

Your Pastor in the Age of the Coronavirus

I am saddened by the often-vitriolic responses to pastors who have moved their churches to Livestreams or canceled altogether. Would you consider something with me?

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

To the Church Universal in an age of uncertainty.

Church, in an age of irresponsibility, let me start by reminding you that your pastor has been placed as an under shepherd to care for you. We are will stand before God one day and be asked how we carried out that mission and call on our lives, we will be held accountable for how we honored and cared for you. There are not enough pastors who take this reality seriously, but I assure you, this is not one of them. You are precious to God and because of the love God has for you, we love you as well.

It is for this reason that we are or should be taking the Coronavirus seriously. It is for this reason and for theological reasons that we listen to what the government, state and federal, it is for this reason I am home today trying to make and develop plans for my congregation, many of whom are within the age range listed as “Vulnerable Persons” according to the CDC. These are not plans we are making lightly or because we want time off. We are not looking at this as an out from our responsibility, if anything, situations like this are reminders of our responsibility to you as our congregants. The problem with this virus is not that it does not kill the same amount of people as the Flu, the problem with this virus is how easily it is to spread and that it is killing the most vulnerable members of our society. People, made in the image of God, whom we are responsible for caring for and considering. Roman’s 13:1-5 also means we have to listen to what the government is telling us to do and take it seriously when making decisions.

Yet, I have seen too many of my fellow pastors raked over the coals for either canceling and going to a live stream, or not canceling. I myself had two fake Facebook profiles shame me because our congregation met even though our state had not yet dropped the level of restrictions on meetings below 100. The fact is, these have been difficult decisions to make and for the sake of your pastor I want to encourage you to come along side them, remember that, like you, they are only human. We are thinking through and processing a lot of information, as are our elected officials and your public leaders in general all in the name of what is best for our health and well-being and added to that for us Pastors is the Spiritual health and well-being of our congregations.

Please, please, please, work with us, walk with us, talk with us. We love you and are charged with doing what is best for you and we are called to be vigilant and discerning in all cases. We also need you to help us care for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember that we are members one to another and that the body functioning properly depends on everyone. Now is not a time to panic, but a time to turn and seek the Lord and to intercede on behalf of one another and our communities. We should be voices of peace, but we should also be voices of wisdom and discernment in these tumultuous days. Christ left the Church here for times such as these and we need to work together for the Shalom of our communities.

Please be patient with us and ask how you can help, we need each other more than ever.

In Christ

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

 

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.