The Historically Doomed

“Those who are unwilling to learn from History are doomed to repeat it” – Santayana…oh and make Idols 

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

It may come as a surprise to some, but there is a consensus among Historians, both of Church History and otherwise that the Crusades of the middle ages were a bad idea. Especially the fourth when in 1207 the western church sacked and sieged the eastern church all in the name of the Holy Roman Empire. The goal of the Crusades was to “restore the Holy Land.” That was done through whatever means necessary. The logic followed that since the early Christians set up these sites they had to be defended and taken back and there was no tool off limits to getting that done. This meant that rape and torture were often used to excess by the Crusaders. They did not have the historical understanding we do now, that those sites were set up centuries after the fact because the Early Christians had no need to set up geographical markers and memorials since God’s Kingdom was not of this world. In fact, some of these sites were established by the Crusaders themselves as justification for their violence and brutality. The early Christians changed and empire by service to God in the face of mass persecution, the Crusaders defended a power-hungry empire that eventually turned on itself.

The Crusades have always interested me because they seemed to be a direct contradiction to what Jesus tells Pilate in John 18:36. “If my kingdom was of this world, then my disciples would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish Leaders. But no my Kingdom is from another place” (NIV). This is the Divine Logos, the one with all authority in heaven and Earth, telling us that his people would not fight to prevent his arrest because his Kingdom was not an earthly one. Jesus had already told Peter to put his sword away in 18:11. The people of God were not to produce violence in the name of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven was meant to be a place where “swords are fashioned into plowshares” (Isa 4:2), not used for violence. Even in the Luke 22 passage that is often used as a justification for armament the context is Jesus fulfillment of what was written, not going out to start a war. If anything, Jesus promises us multiple times in the Gospels that we ourselves should expect the sword to be used against by those who think that by doing so they are serving God.

I am not talking here about Christian Pacificism, again, I do not believe in Christianity+, so no ist or ism words need to be added to Christianity (hint, hint, that means there is no Christian Globalism either). But I do think that there is a modeled pacificity in Jesus suffering that we are to model when the tides turn against us. When the world comes to our door and drags us out and beats us or the Governments of this world turn on us. The Early Christians modeled this, they did not return violence with violence but violence with quiet confidence in God and the fact that the Kingdom they were dying for was not of this world. In doing this, in following Jesus example, as Peter’s letters tell us we are meant to, the Gospel spread like wildfire. To borrow a quote from Robin Daniel: “The blood of the martyrs become the Holy Seed.” But these were not martyrs for an Earthly Kingdom with Earthly motivations, they were martyrs for a heavenly kingdom with the only motivation being making Christ known.

That is the difference between the early Church and the Crusades and us today. The Crusades were about power, about control of a geographical region “In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” They did not advance the cause of Christ or the Gospel, instead they hindered it and still hinder it today. If you do not believe me, ask anyone who has served as a Missionary in a predominantly Muslim country. Unlike the West, Cultural Memory and Oral Tradition are still valuable commodities in the East, and so the memories are long. In the west we want to move on from events, we refuse to see how events in one generation effect the next generation. That is why we cannot comprehend how we are still dealing with the Ghost of Slavery and Jim Crow, they make us uncomfortable, as they should, and so we want to move on and gloss over us. They scare us, and so we do not deal with them when we should.

So we fail to realize how what happened yesterday at the Capital is the culmination of three hundred years of Church History in America, a Church History that since the 1920’s and sought to fuse power religion with power politics, often choosing figures who are as far from Christ as they can get to represent them. I wont hash out the entire history here, but I strongly recommend you read John Fea’s “Believe Me”, Jamar Tisby’s “The Color of Compromise” and Kristin Du Mez “Jesus and John Wayne” as these are thorough treatments of the formation of the relationship between Christianity and Power Politics that we know today as “Christian Nationalism.” The idea that Christians should use the powers of government to enact a Christian Moral Code on our society. While I am all for Christianity’s moral teachings, often the tactics Christian Nationalists have used to make these things happen have backfired on the Church and the moral failings of the men who have led these charges have done even greater damage. Not that there is not room for Christian engagement in the politics of earthly kingdoms, but Christian Nationalism has contributed to, not stopped, the decline of the Church in this country.

It might surprise you to think learn that I do not think that patriotism and love of country are bad things. On the contrary, you want to love the place you live, and you want others to love it. I also have a great deal of respect for those who serve in the military. But what Christian Nationalism does is place at the center of Christianity the geographical kingdom of man not the unbound kingdom of God that is not of this world. It binds Christianity to a national identity and downplays points where the bible contradicts the actions of the leaders. It also forces Christians to ostensibly serve two masters. God and Country, as equals and Jesus is clear that we cannot do that without loving the one and hating the other (Mat 6:24).

The other glaring problem with this equaling of God and Country is that God wants our loyalty to Him and Him alone, there can be no other. When we elevate something to where He is supposed to be or try to set something alongside Him, we are making an idol of that thing. That is why, as you were watching yesterday you saw signs that said: “Jesus Saves” and “Jesus 2020” held by the people storming the capital building. They have decided to serve two masters and in service to one they have hated the other. In this case, in service to the president they have chosen hatred of God because they served the idol, the creation, rather than the creator. What we saw yesterday was in no way “Christian” and I doubt Jesus wants his name associated with it. In fact, I think he saw those signs as a form of Blaspheme, not devotion to Him. The Jesus Life is one of modeled and patient suffering, if the Son of God wanted to lead and armed uprising against Rome, he is the only one alive at the time who could have done so and succeeded. Every time Christianity has aligned itself with the powers of this world it has failed in its mission to be salt and light.

One of my former classmates said it best.

Christianity is, itself, the primary identity of a believer. I disagree with Mike that there should be Christian Progressives and Christian Conservatives, we are just supposed to be Christians and everything else is to be subservient to and informed by Christ and the Word of God, especially those things that the Civic Religion likes the make idols of. Let us also not try to deflect and make excuses of “Whataboutisms” or “This was actually Antifa.” What happened yesterday was organized in far-right and darkest corners of the internet and needs to be roundly condemned by Christians of all stripes. The second of those claims has been debunked by Capital Police anyway.

If you are a Christian and you do love your country, which again is not a sin unless you have placed your country on the same level as God, then what happened yesterday should shock and appall you because it was a direct attack on our institutions and the Constitution. Things that the conservative movement which I grew up in, claimed to love and respect. This was a heartbreaking day for us as a nation, whether you are a believer or unbeliever.

One final thing, one of the contributing factors in what happened yesterday was the elevation of one man far above where even our founding documents saw he should be placed. Christians have made a bad habit of that on both the left and the right. We look for functional saviors when Jesus is literally the only answer. Neither Donald Trump or Joe Biden can fix what ails the Church, to turn to either of them is to reject God. Yes, it is true that God appoints our leaders and places governments over us but he does so for two reasons outlined in Romans 13, to ensure our good behavior or to ensure that we behave like Christ, and the bring the power of sword as judgment when we do not. They are not to be confused with the Lordship of Christ and the Kingdom of Christ, because as Jesus said, our Kingdom is not a Kingdom of this world. We are a people of two kingdoms, plain and simple, perhaps we better learn to live in the kingdom of heaven first, so we can learn to live in this one.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan 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 and daughter in Northern 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

What Your Pastor Experienced in 2020

All the ground that has been gained on Pastoral Health was almost erased.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

In June of 2020, the most recent “State of the Pulpit” survey came out with some slightly more encouraging numbers than the same study from five years before. There were gains made, specifically in relationship to Pastor Health that were much needed. For instance, most younger pastors reported to spending more time with their family than the previous generation which means a decline, or at least the creation of boundaries regarding hours worked so that pastors could shepherd their own families well. While the numbers on Pastoral Depression, lack of friendship with others both inside and outside of their congregations were still too high they did come down a little and less pastors reported experiencing pastoral abuse. The suicide rate among pastors did rise again in the time the study covered and the retention rate did not increase, so while there were encouraging signs in the report, there were more causes for concern as well.

However, in talking with pastors from all over the country and in my own life I am concerned that all or most of those gains were lost. 2020 was an exhausting year for a number of reasons, one of which has been the topic of a recent major Wall Street Journal (Paywall warning) and way too many of my colleagues have reported a net loss in almost every area that the survey showed gains in. Keep in mind, it did not help that Pastors were considered Non-Essential, which meant we did not have access to some of the resources available to Essential workers. 2020 was also made more difficult for pastors in small churches by the amount of the PPP that was consumed by larger churches. This has led to many pastors struggling financially in 2020 and those struggles are not going away in 2021. Again, this was not something we directly experienced but we know many who have.

Let me state for the record that I was fortunate not to face pastoral abuse like many of my colleagues did. I had some conversations with congregants about everything going on that hurt, but nothing abusive. I was broken over my congregation this year, but not broken by my congregation and that is significant in this time. We saw God do some amazing things in a confusing year when we all had a lot less. God made sure we got all the bills paid and met our budget for the year.

But I seem to be rare when it comes to my friends and colleagues, many of them faced stark abuse over everything from their response to COVID-19 to their response to the ethnic unrest to their positions on the presidential election. As the Journal article notes, rural pastors have seen our congregations divided by the world and its politics. In a year when we could have shown our unity and been a light, we become more divided than ever and instead of being salt and light, we were just salty. Then there is this tweet by Dr. Frank Cox:

Sadly, this is the summation of how most of what most of my friends and colleagues have experienced. I know there have been times when my wife has been concerned about me this year and I am grateful for her willingness to tell me so and help me make decisions for the sake of my own health. I am also grateful for a church board who understands that a healthy pastor will lead a healthy church.

Because while I did not face the emotional abuse that some of my friends and colleagues did. I did experience the exhaustion and massive crash that almost every other pastor experienced in 2020. As a young, rural pastor in an older church, there was a lot to do to keep the doors open in 2020, not from a financial standpoint, but from a technological and logistical standpoint. I got to use skills and abilities and learn new skills that I had not used in years or did not know I could do. I found myself filtering about 70 hours a week worth of work into 45-50, which I do not recommend and had to do in 4 months what most churches take 5-10 years to do, go from no livestream and minimal internet presence to a fully functioning livestream that is as high a quality as we can get with the equipment we have. In a larger church this may have been done by a team of 10-20, I had myself and another gentleman with radio experience. Preparing the slides and trying to do a full video bible study (now replaced by a Podcast) each week took up the time I had spent doing visits (now reduced to Zoom and telephone, so there was no travel time) and then some. This is not a complaint, I enjoy doing these things as a hobby, I was part of my High School’s broadcasting crew in High School and my College’s radio station and newspaper in College, so I had experience with both video and audio, but never thought I’d use them. I was also a graphics operator at my church in High School, so preparing slides was second nature, again, I just never thought I would be using these skills on the fly when everything shut down and using them all at once what has led to the exhaustion and burnout, I experienced in 2020. Like most pastors of small churches, I do not have a secretary, and so all this is placed on top of sermon preparation, preparing the bulletin and announcements, and getting everything ready for Sunday. I preached 50-52 Sundays in 2020 and prepared a bulletin for all 52. This is the prefect recipe for burnout and again, I am grateful for a board who gave me some rest.

I do not want you to think I have a hero complex, that if I had not done this the Church would not have survived. That is not the point, the point is to show you what your pastor may have gone through in 2020. I know I probably went a little beyond what some of your pastors did, but the general workload was probably about the same. Some pastors chose to lead Zoom Bible Studies, some chose to just produce a Sunday Morning Service. And most of them did this while having to put out major fires and deal with abuse from their congregations. There were moments this year when I questioned if I could do this, and I didn’t have people screaming in my face, berating or tearing me down, many of my colleagues are now set to leave the ministry early, or at least on a trajectory that could lead to them leaving the ministry early. This means the retention rate, currently only at 10% (this means only 10% of pastors retire as pastors0 will likely drop in the next five years from 10% to around 5% if historical statistics from previous eras hold true. It also means that, like many in the service professions (Police, EMT, Fire, Nurses, Doctors) the Suicide rate among Pastors is going to skyrocket unless there is a serious attempt at reconciliation. The state of Pastoral Ministry in America was already abysmal and there were many high-profile pastors and church leaders in 2020 who have made things worse, not better. Public trust of clergy was already at an all-time low, for example, and those pastors who have been intentionally divisive and cruel and who have been highlighted by the media, have continued that decline no matter what the faithful pastors do because it is the faithful and consistent pastors who you never hear of (as Jesus intended).

All this means that your pastor is probably burned out and ready to quit, whether he faced the worst of human depravity and pastoral abuse or is just tired from the added workload.

But what can you do? How can you help?

I am guess about now, if your pastor does not have a secretary, especially as Annual Reports and Meetings approach, could use your help preparing reports, preparing bulletins, designing service graphics. You may even volunteer to be a lay reader or put in so many unpaid hours ding office work. As I told my board, I cannot do all the things I am doing and keep the family together by myself, it is an impossible task. Ministry is meant to be done together, and right now, if you can make phone calls, you can help ease the load of your pastor in helping keep the family in the know. All you need to do is ask, to just say: “How can I help?” If you know of malicious gossip or the abuse of Church Members towards your pastor, you can at the least build up your pastor to those who have heard this gossip or of this abuse. You may not be able to confront the person, but you can be a positive voice for your pastor. If you are the one who is spreading the malicious gossip or has been abusive to your pastor, you should go and repent before God and ask your pastors forgiveness. Finally, you can pray for your pastor, pray long and pray hard for their encouragement, for help to arise for them. We can retake the hill we are losing among pastoral health on account of 2020, but it takes all of us.

May God help us all to be better than we have been, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan 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 and daughter in Northern 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

Something New, Hopefully Something Different.

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-ug2p8-f6bcad

The very first episode of The God’s Heart Podcast is here for your listening pleasure. In this introductory episode get to know your host Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner, a look into the content we will be covering on this show and a promise to you, the listener, never to lie to you or move the goalposts. Welcome to something new, that we hope, will be something different. 

SermonCast: What is Christmas? Part 2. John 1:1-18

This week at FCCBC we look at Jesus birth through the lens of the Incarnation. What does it mean that the Incarnation is the Blueprint for the Church? As we seek to answer the question: What is Christmas? At the end of the sermon there is also a special guest appearance by Rev. Faulkner’s daughter Erin as Rachel plays a closing song as part of the contemplative prayer at the end.

Watch the full service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pl3t6Nzsh6g

Christ and Christian Alone

Imagine a Roman calling themselves a “Christian Romanist” and how that would have been received?

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

I will not budge on the idea that there is not justification for any definition of “Christian Nationalism.” There is no definition, no way of working it together or defining/redefining terms that makes adding any adjective to the term “Christian” that can justify it. Even if you try to reduce it to the lowest possible definition, as “A Christian Political Movement based on recovering Christian values and morals in our nation” there is no justification for it. If that means we have to say there is no biblical justification for western Christendom, than we have to say that.

Why do I say this? Why am I bucking 300 years of Christian Consciousness in America and 1400 years of Christian Consciousness in the West? Because while Christendom may have been used as a tool by God as a means to spread the Gospel throughout the world, its excesses and obsession with “Power Religion” have nearly undone all those advances in western civilization to the point that Missiologists have called for a change from “the west reaching the rest to the rest reaching the west.”

As a historian I recognize that part of the Development of Church History is that Christianity became such an influential religion is so little time that it overwhelmed the Roman Empire and created something that has never been duplicated outside the West, but which, by clinging too we are now undoing much of the advancement of the faith which it encouraged.

This is what happens when something reaches the height of its decadence, when it has become so fat and comfortable that it must invent fights and new enemies to keep its power and position which it would not have lost if it had not created the fights and new enemies. As with the Roman Empire, Decadence often hides the internal rot that will eventually lead to the downfall of the empire or nation. Jonathan V. Last of The Bulwark has made the same case for the United States of America, that the fact that we are even having the fights and debates we are having in our society, the massive partisanship, underscored by hatemongering and fearmongering, are the result of internal rot covered by decadence. It is a privilege to be able to have the fights we are having in our society right now.

I have said this before about the Church, In the 19th Century there were entire theologies built around the idea of schism and some of those were important and needed debates, such as the debate between Abolition and Slavery which should have corrected the injustice against the slaves. Some of these debates should have corrected theological error, such as the debate over the nature of the church between Mercersburg and Princeton. But once these debates were considered “settled” (I respectfully submit they were not and that everyone lost) we moved on to other things. Eventually we turned our attention to “Creeping Secularism” to the point that we began neglecting internal affairs and allowing internal rot to form, meanwhile, our decadence allowed us to fight with each other, to be segregated and sectarian. Decadence gave us the privileges of looking at everyone to blame for the decline of Christianity while we ignored segregation, sexual assault, injustices of every kind for every reason, the plight of the poor and many other things. Decadence allowed us to focus on Abortion, an important topic, but also to ignore the rest of the life of the mother or the child once born. Decadence allowed our preachers to fight with one another and our congregations to attack their pastors. Now we see even our decadence slipping away as the Church slides ever faster into cultural exile in America and we think adding an adjective and founding a movement is going to bring that decadence back. Christian Nationalism, being a Christian Nationalist, is a means to try to reclaim that decadence. It has been tried numerous times in the West and once in the East, by numerous people groups, and each time it has failed to do anything but send the Church into exile as the internal rot is exposed.

Imagine, if you will, as the Roman Empire declined, and the Goths and Visigoth’s were sacking and pillaging closer to Rome and the Christians decided to add the word: “Romanist” to their name. I am a Christian in the name of Rome, and I am going to retore Rome to her decadence, to a time gone by. You cannot, because the early Christians understood that the empire was temporary and that the power structures of the world would shift and change. If there was a major Christian Nationalist movement at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire it was not widespread enough, except for under Emperor Valentinian II who promised to restore Rome to her glory days. His actions, however, hastened the decline of Rome, they did not slow it down. The Early Christians did not understand themselves as “Empire Buildings” they understood themselves as alien residents whose primary citizenship was a kingdom not of this world.

See, here is the thing, the bible is clear that we live in a backwards, upside down kingdom as Christians. That is, Christians are not to participate in the way the world gets and keeps power. That is, we are not supposed to clamor for the best places an top positions. Jesus tells his Disciples as much in the Gospel of John. The last are going to be first and the first last, so it is with little eternal reward that we clamor to be on top, to be the most influential. The Gospel has never succeeded in this manner, it has always succeeded from the margins of society, when it brings light to the darkness. “But aren’t we doing that?” We ask when we stand against Abortions and general immorality. Maybe, but if it is done in such a way that it adds to the darkness, rather than brings light and life, than we are not spreading the Gospel, just our own agenda. I hate abortion, I think it is a terrible moral ill, but it is just as great a moral ill if I demonize the girl who goes to get an abortion rather than be a light to her by providing another way, a third option that she may not be able to consider. Be that adoption of the child she carries or providing the means for her to raise the child herself. I believe in the traditional view of Marriage, I do believe the bible speaks against and calls homosexuality a sin. But if I dehumanize my brothers and sisters who are struggling with this sin, if I fail to treat them as Christ would have me treat them, I am adding to their darkness, not showing them the light and love of Christ. Sexual Immorality is evil, adultery, rape, incest, ect, they are moral ills, but if demonize the sexually immoral or if I dismiss and mistreat their victims in favor of their abuser, I am adding to the darkness in their lives, not showing them the light and love of Jesus Christ. If I participate in injustice of any kind, be it racism or anything else, then I am not showing them the light and love of Christ. The ways and isms and ists of this world are ways of darkness, when they are added to Christianity, they align Christianity with the darkness, they do not bring the light and love of Jesus into the world. When I apply the world’s philosophies and titles to Christianity, I have lost Christianity. Because I have effectively said that Christ is not enough, I need that ism or ist to make Christianity work. Christianity doesn’t “Work” because of man, because of you and I, but because of the name applied to the beginning of the word: “Christ”ian.

Therefore we reject Christian Nationalism and do not call ourselves “Christian Nationalists” Because anything that is “Christianity+” loses the gospel and becomes just another avenue for the darkness of this world. The Christians of ancient Rome understood this, John’s prologue to his Gospel was written as a reminder of this very thing, that there is no one and nothing else that compares to Christ and that Christianity has no need for additions or subtractions to make it “work” because it is eternally tied to the person and work of God himself. It is through Christ and the way He has shown us to live that we will influence the world, not through demanding that the secular world adopts a morality it clearly does not want.

You want to have influence on our society Christian? Take up the towel and cross of Christ, live the way He has shown you to live and do so without adding man’s philosophies and titles to it. Christianity can stand on its own, it has stood on its own for 2000 years in places where one could be put to death for proclaiming the name of Christ. We do not need these isms and ists at the end, we need Christ and Christ alone. And we had better repent because of Christ, before it is too late.

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan 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 and daughter in Northern 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

SermonCast: What is Christmas? Part 1: Luke 2:1-21

 

This week at FCCBC we started a new series entitled: “What is Christmas?” from Luke 2:1-21. We saw that Christmas is the most wonderful good news, but also the most offensive time of the year.

Watch the full service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V10mWxB7myM

“Emanuel, You’re One of Us”

“The Incarnation of Christ was not a mere 33-year event” – John Williamson Nevin.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Right at the end of my tenure at AlrockLive.com I was given a sampler to listen to of upcoming artists who, were I still working in the music industry I would be covering today. One of the bands on that sampler was a group named: “The Rend Collective Experiment.” I was almost instantly drawn to their musical style, with a Scotch-Irish heritage, their Celtic, Irish Folk style made me want to get up and dance. After I left ARL I fell out of touch with them, to the point the only song of theirs I had any knowledge of was “My Lighthouse” which was their first hit. I was not even aware they had changed their name to plain and simple “Rend Collective” until my wife and I had the chance to see them in April of 2017. For those of you who have been long time readers, you know this concert was just two months after we had lost our first child. Since then their album Good News has enjoyed copious play and a special place in our hearts. The song “Weep with Me” the scripture and story behind it were used by God to bring healing in that dark night of our lives. But this Christmas it has been a different Rend Collective album that has been played on repeat, A Jolly Irish Christmas Vol 2.

If I were writing a review of this album it would be a 4.5-5-star review. Which is hard to give any Christmas Album simply because finding creative ways to perform old carols and produce new content that will last is exceedingly difficult in such a niche market. But Rend Collective has managed to create a thoroughly original sounding album with new spins on Christmas Classics such as “Christmas in Kelarny” and “The First Noel” and more, while giving us some incredible original, theologically rich content that is extremely practical to the Christian Life in 2020. Before I get to one such song, let me just say that we may not think we needed a Irish Folk rendition of “Good King Wenceslas” but we did.

One of the original songs that stands out is “Emmanuel, You’re one of Us.” In the song the singer identifies what we are all feeling. That is does not feel like Christmas this year, that we have been through a lot. He acknowledges the pain and suffering of friends who have lost jobs and family members from the Pandemic. He also acknowledges the frustration so many feel about how 2020 has played out all over the world. But then he pivots with the lines of the chorus: “But I know Emmanuel, you’re one of us, You left your throne to wear our scars, Though Christmas lights may lose their spark, And winter’s cold may break our hearts, Oh Christmas means, Emmanuel you’re one of us” Again, as music critic this would have been one of those stop moments. You are nodding along, identifying with the artist and then he throws in the but, the conjunction. This is a technique the Apostle Paul employs to great effect, “One you were this, but now you are this>” is a common construction in the Epistles. Rend Collective formulates it as: “2020 was this, but Emmanuel is one of us.” Similar to what they did with “Weep with Me” which I mentioned above, they take the full implications of a passage of scripture and lay it bear in one line. “Emmanuel, God with us” is one of the names the Prophet Isaiah gives for the Christ Child in Isaiah 9:2-7, Gabriel echoes this in his announcement to Mary in Luke 1.

But as with everything with Rend Collective, you have to look higher than the basic, low protestant view of the Incarnation to fully understand what they are saying here. We all agree that “Emmanuel” means “God with us.” We would even agree that God did come and visit us (as Zechariah says in the Benedictus, Luke 1:57-80). But that is only part of the picture. God, after all, visits Moses in a burning bush, in a cloud of fire and fury, God visits people throughout the Old Testament, and He is said to be “with” Israel at all times, since His glory crowd dwells at the Temple in Jerusalem. God certainly could have come in this manner, appeared on the scene as a full-grown adult with “flesh from heaven” as the ancient heretics like to think of him. But He did not, He came as a baby who was conceived by the Power of the Holy Spirit, grew in the womb of a women, was born to her, had human flesh and human bones, nursed like a human child, grew up like a human child, experienced life as a child, an adolescent, a man.

It is this, born, part that we have a hard time with in our industrial, medially informed age. Which is likely one of the reasons most Christians do not believe the accounts of the Gospels. But the whole arch of the Old Testament, the whole thrust of all the law, the wisdom literature, the prophets, all of them, looked forward to God himself coming among us. John, the forerunner, would be followed by God himself, putting on human flesh and form to apparent spectacular mediocrity, according to Isaiah. If you read the Magnificat and Benedictus in Luke 1 and the Nunc Dimities in Luke 2, This is also what Mary, Zechariah and Simeon knew was happening before their eyes. John would prepare the way for Jesus whose name was also “Emmanuel, God with us.” Mary and Zechariah knew, Simeon knew (but let people sing the song please, its harmless poetry). But in becoming God with us, he become God one of us, he emptied himself of all he had and, in humble obedience, became like the very people who sit in our pews on Sunday with one exception, He never sinned. There was no time when He was not God, but there was also no time He was not human. Two natures, one substance, existing in perfect Hypostasis.

This is hard for us to grasp in our Gnostic western society where we treat the Incarnation as an impossibility, using the biblically false statement that: “the divine does not interact with the fleshly trappings.” Which leads us to be more vulnerable to either dismissing the incarnation, or treating like “another bible story with a moral point” or the heretical assertion I mentioned before that “Jesus had celestial flesh” which was promoted by members of the non-magisterial, Anabaptist reformation. All these are views of the Incarnation that dimmish it or even deny it altogether. If the Devine does not interact with that which is worldly, the incarnation cannot happen as the Bible laid it out, Jesus cannot be God incarnate since God would not condescend to the flesh of the unreal world. If it is just another story with a moral point then we are not reading about a historical event, but a myth, a legend, meant to teach kids to be good humans. If Jesus had “Celestial Flesh” then the incarnation did not actually happen, and God did not come and experience life as one of his Created Beings since we do not have that same “celestial flesh.”

Therefore, a high view of the Incarnation is necessary, it happened, historically, we can know and believe it with a fair amount of certainty (there is less evidence for Pilot’s existence than the Incarnation, McDowell). The Gospels appeared much too early for these to be fanciful tales, early enough that witnesses could have refuted it, and we know Jesus’s family never did.

But here is the more practical matter, 2020 has been a rough year, this is what the Chorus of the Rend Song quoted above is responding to: “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas at all, it’s so hard to forget all that went on, Some friends lost their jobs and some families too, Some people said it was all down to you.”

It is easy for us, as Christians, to turn the blame for 2020 onto God, to look at him and ask him “Why would you let something like this happen?” The simple answer is the one Job gets during his trials, God himself is the answer. It is all parts a comforting answer, a terrifying answer and a difficult answer. We want something concrete, tangible, someone or something to blame. Yet, rend knows the answer, God is not to blame, God is the answer, Emanuel, You’re one of us, they proclaim from the rooftops, you bore these same scars, you walked this terrifying road before us. Infectious disease is nothing new to you, it doesn’t take you by surprise. All these things we are trying to pin on you, you have walked through and shown us the way through, which is God himself.

Again, this is all parts comforting and all parts terrifying. Job never gets a “Why?” answer, the reader knows why, by Job does not, and many times we do not either, we will not get a “Why” to all that has happened in 2020 other than the worldly and scientific reasons. We will get “Emanuel, God with us.” That will not be enough for many of us, but it is the only answer we are going to get from God, and we have to be okay with that until His return and all things are revealed. We must be okay with the tension that this creates in us, and with the world. Contentment, the secret to contentment, per Paul, is Christ, the Final Sign.

I love this reality, though it is hard for my human mind to focus in on. The reality of the Incarnation is that God has dwelt among us, has experienced what we experienced. Like many of us in 2020, He has wept at the tomb of His friends and family, He has faced the struggle of financial hardship and has been tempted to sin, and yet, He did not do it, and did all things perfectly. He showed us a better way to live, what Eugene Peterson calls: “The Jesus Life in the Jesus Way.” This way was so radical the religious leaders and the government conspired to kill Him. He died on the cross, was buried and rose again and then ascended into heaven, physical body and all. Then He sent to us His Holy Spirit tosh wo us how to live in this world as He did, though imperfectly, and so that we might always have “God with us” as Jesus promised we would.

What a beautiful reality in such a dark year, the light is shining and it will never be put out.

God Bless you and Merry Christmas.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

SermonCast: What is Advent? Part 4: Luke 1:57-80

The Final Sermon in our series on “What is Advent?” Focuses on the birth of the Forerunner, John the Baptist and the prophesy of Zechariah, the Benedictus. From Luke 1:57-80.

You can watch the full service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ezy028ibQWQ

Beth Moore is Correct

History is not going to look on the leaders of Evangelicalism Kindly for this idolatry.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

I have never understood why Christian Leaders take cheap shots at Beth Moore, I suppose if you are heavily complementarian then she is violating your pet theology and therefore a Heretic. I, however, have always found her to be more orthodox, more biblically sound, than most of her male counterparts, especially on Twitter. This weekend she tweeted the one tweet that every biblical scholar should know to be true and has either been too cowardly to say, or because they have been deceived, have said the opposite.

Check out the entire thread

As you can tell, Moore is properly, and reasonably angry, an anger I share. I have written against Christian Nationalism as a Heresy (it is) and against the Christian Play for Power that marks the Evangelical backing of Trumpism. Moore is correct, both are dangerous both are devoid of the Holy Spirit, both are going to lead to destruction. There is no way around it. Christian Nationalism, historically, leads to the exile of the Church by the Culture and in many instances, all-out persecution against the church.

Why, because no matter how you read scripture, it is hard to make any other conclusion than the fact that God interprets king making (Trumpism) as betrayal and rejection (2 Samuel 1-3) and trusting the governments of man or confusing the nation with God’s Kingdom as a failure to Trust God as well as Idolatry. Even in Judah, when preserving the freedom of the nation became more important than following God and what God commanded, when turning to Assyria or Egypt was seen as redemption, but turning to God was not, God did not take kindly to these violations of His law, His Sovereignty and His Truth. Ahaz’s failure to trust was met by a proclamation of destruction, Hezekiah’s trust in Egypt was met with the Rabshakeh’s taunt and the only reason Judah was not destroyed under Hezekiah was the Rabshakeh’s Blaspheme (Isaiah 35-38).

But we are under the New Covenant, a Covenant of Grace, now we can do what we want?

Wrong, Every Gospel writer, ever Epistle Writer, refutes the idea. Ask yourself, what kind of kingdom did Jesus establish? Was it an Earthly one? Yes, but was it confined to a geographical location such as Judah? No, it was not, to claim it was is to make the claim Jesus was wrong. The early Missionaries went far beyond the borders of Judah. They were not confined to Palestine, they went to Rome, to Ireland, to Italy, to all the world, establishing a global kingdom that would one day have a physical center, when Jesus returned, but until that return, we were to be a kingdom within kingdoms. The United States of America is the Kingdom of God in the same way a peanut is a movie projector, they are two very different things with very different values. This does not mean we should not pray for our nation or its leaders, or even that we should not ask God to bless our nation, but we should be aware of the standard for blessings from God. Eugene Peterson lays out that standard as: “Living the Jesus life in the Jesus way.” We cannot claim to be children of God and then deny that status with the way we live. The Christianity of the culture, the Christianity that has become nationalistic and which has been taken in by Trumpism is great at quoting scriptures, but in no way does it resemble the life Jesus put before us to live. It fights culture wars at the expense of its allies and with the intent of eviscerating opponents rather than showing them Christ. This isn’t Christianity, if Jesus wanted to start a culture war, he had a chance to start one over paying Taxes to Caesar, he didn’t. He also did not tell the people to give themselves wholesale to Rome, just the opposite, he told them to pay their taxes, give their money to Caesar and themselves to God. The point? God gets all your allegiance, your heart, your soul, your mind, every inch and fiber of your being and make up, Caesar can have your money, but God gets your allegiance, no if’s and’s or but’s about it.

But that is not what our leaders have been telling their constituents, a sizable, influential, minority have been actively telling you the opposite. In a move that has just hastened the churches decline and long slide into cultural exile, they have fed their flocks to the wolves, telling them that the only hope for Christianity was not Jesus, but Caesar. See the problem? If your allegiance isn’t to God and God alone, you are not living as He has told you to live. Jesus also told us that no one can serve multiple masters for exactly the reason we see in our culture today, you will hate one and love the other. Living a life that is totally opposite of the one God has called us to, especially to maintain something man-made over something God-made, is to reject God, to make a mockery of His name and to deny His work in the world. To say that a nation of man is, or is more important than, the kingdom of God and its priorities is to make an idol out of that nation.

Let me reiterate, the fault of this is on the leadership of Evangelicalism going back to the late 19th century when the Gospel of fear first reared its ugly head among evangelists. A gospel that controlled how Christians went about political engagement and which become the center piece for “The Moral Majority” in the 1970’s. It is this Gospel of Fear that drives phrases like: “This is the most important election of our lifetime” which has been applied to every single election in my lifetime that I have a recollection of. It is this gospel of fear that is used to control how a person votes on issues, how they vote in elections, how they are mobilized to fight foolish and ill-gotten culture wars. It is a Gospel of Fear that fuels Christian Nationalism and Trumpism in general. Those Christian Leaders who have been Passive (As Moore calls out) and those who have actively led us astray into Heresy.

But we should know better, we should be better. Christianity is not a faith of fear, but of hope, of freedom, of love, of light. Fear chains us to this world, it acts as if this world is all there is. It also reduces God to something that is powerless unless the right person is in office or the right law is passed. This goes beyond idolatry, in Isaiah 36, this is called “Blaspheme.” God is not someone you can manipulate, He is not even a thing, He is an omnipotent being, greater than the greatest conceivable being. He is Lord, and He is coming as Lord, to reduce him to one of the deaf and dumb gods of this world is deny the facts of who He has revealed Himself to be.

This is not the first time we have done this as Christians, Zionism viewed some of the deadliest wars, the Crusades, of the Middle Ages, Crusades that eventually led to Christians killing Christians in Constantinople. Crusades that Historians largely agreed were ill-gotten, ill-advised, and harmful to Christian Mission. Yet we were so sure that God wanted us to liberate the Holy Land. We were willing to set aside the very Word of God to accomplish what we thought God wanted. That is not something we can do, Jesus himself tells us not to undermine the Word: “Anyone who adds…the plagues mentioned to this book will be added to him” (Rev. 22:18). There is a penalty to be paid when we go extra biblical. The Pharisees added to the words of God and they had judgment declared against them.

James spends an entire book telling Christians not to engage in Conspiracy Theories, Agitating for war and other forms of sedition. Instead, He tells Christians to live the life of Christ, focus on doing what a proven faith does. Proven Faith doesn’t spread false hoods, doesn’t practice elitism, doesn’t power-monger, doesn’t fear monger, doesn’t set a forest ablaze, instead it cares for the widow and the orphan, it makes sure those in need get those needs met, it lives the Jesus Life in the Jesus Way.

This is all a failure of leadership; we have elevated narcissists and then are left to wonder when they feed us to the sharks to feed their ego. The Gospel of Jesus Christ gets replaced with the Gospel of whoever the spiritual tyrant is at the top of the heap. This is not the way we were meant to live, in fact, Jesus expressly tells his Disciples in John’s Gospel not to do it. In Galatians Paul points out that when you add to the Gospel, you lose the Gospel, the same is true if you subtract from it, anything added to the Gospel denies the Gospel. Too many Christina Leaders have denied the Gospel by addition and subtraction. Anytime the equation is: “The Gospel +” or “The Gospel –“ you have lost it. The Gospel should never be played with or adjusted, watered down or made a burden. The Jesus Life, the way He chose us to live, is truly life-giving and enough to keep us occupied. It is the height of cynical decadence to call The Gospel of Jesus Christ boring, or to discard it when it contradicts our worldview. In fact, the opposite is true, when Jesus challenges your worldview, your worldview is what is wrong. Jesus is never wrong, not because He is a dictator you should not question, but because He is God. You are allowed to question Him, He even allows for you to put off following Him, but in the end, He is always right, and He will always be King. He is patient and loving and kind, but He is also Sovereign. Christian Leaders who place Biblicism as a core value (Evangelicals) should know this, hold to it and be bound by it. If the authority of the Word of God is paramount, then obeying Jesus is essential, even when obeying Jesus contradicts what the Gospel of Fear tells us to do or contradicts the worlds ways to which we have been enticed.

But I suspect there is another result of hubris at play here, the idea that we think that God’s way is foolish and even dumb. And from the world’s standpoint that is a perfectly acceptable position to hold to, but we should not be holding to the world’s viewpoint. Blessed Mary tells us that what God is doing: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” The proud think that the kings of this earth, the rich of this world, they are the way to go. But God does not have much use for them, instead he topples them and sends the rich away empty, all so he can exult the humble and feed the hungry. The Magnificat of Mary reminds us that God’s kingdom is upside down, its opposite, foreign to us, confounding our wisdom. It’s the opposite of Nationalism or Trumpism, it’s the opposite of power religion. The power in Christianity is in the humiliation of Christ, the weakness of a crucified savior. Modern Christians do not like that, it implies we may have to get our hands dirty, to love our neighbor during their sin, not after they have repented of it. It also means we have to reject strong men who make grand claims of salvation through earthly means, and who may even claim divine mandate. It means God didn’t get it wrong, as we are apt to think, or the world is apt to tell us.

The fact is, and Beth Moore knows this and has taught this faithfully her entire career, Christianity is supposed to be so utterly different, such a radical third way, that the world cannot compare us to themselves because our life, the life of the Spirit, is so much greater than anything this world offers or any path this world tells us to take. Christians have a long history of putting the powerful of this world to shame, it is when we align ourselves with them that things go poorly with us. The Jesus Life, the Jesus Way is the only way, it is the best way, without a doubt. We should not be complicit in sending people down a road that leads to their immediate and eternal destruction, it will lead to our destruction as well. As Moore said, leaders who lead their congregations astray will be held accountable, if not in this life, before the throe of GOD, a much more terrifying place than any mean Tweet or threat of violence. Those Christians who stood up at this weekend’s Jericho rally and stoked the flames of violence, who breathed lies and falsehoods in the name of an earthly individual. Those leaders who have led us to this point, they will be judged harshly by God and by History for this act of idolatry and blaspheme. Woe to them on that day when Christ return.

Beth Moor is correct, and we should listen to her. But more importantly, Jesus is correct and we should obey Him.