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.

A Letter On Viruses, Extremes and Social Media.

Christians are not to be a people of fear, when we go to extremes, we only perpetuate fears and divisions. Yet that is not the path God has laid out for us to follow, even on Social Media.

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Dear….Everyone.

I must admit, as a pastor, my heart is troubled. Not because there is a virus spreading through the nation as we speak but because of how I have seen Christians old and young taking extreme positions and politicized positions on Social Media and in the public square. Yes, the COVID – 19 is a major concern and it should be taken seriously, but that is all we really need to say about it, beyond that we begin to grant Credence to extremes and that is exactly what is happening all over my social media. In fact, after posting this article this afternoon Facebook may be deleted from my phone altogether. It has been a frustrated two or three weeks as we watch people destroy each other with opinions. We are all tired and were already, as a culture, more stressed and anxious than we ever have been in the history of our nation (except for the time leading up to the Civil War). This virus is not helping and is not making things better. Yet neither is the media, by catering to extremes. On one hand you have those who want to downplay what is happening and on the other you have those who are overhyping and overeating. I do agree with one commentator who purportedly said that “The media should be held responsible for the current state of our understanding (or lack thereof) of this virus and the situation.” The media has been taking extreme sides and even politicizing this issue well beyond the limits of what the media should be, on principle, doing.

That being said, we should hold them accountable by refusing to consume what they are feeding us, by ratings dropping, not by the government. We have to remember that we have contributed to this, our mentality as a culture has been: “entertain us” and applied to media we end up with news outlets as entertainment outlets, not as news outlets. We asked for sensationalization and we participated in the politicization of everything. The media in its present state is not so much an enemy of the people as it is a creation of the people. That includes us as Christians who have been playing the sensationalization game since the 1980’s. As with most things in the West, as Tom Holland points out in his book “Dominion” it was Christians who did it first.

Our extremes are also reflections of our own internal fears and anxieties. We are in a time of unprecedent quantities of both of those positions and they have only been bred by the increasing isolation and alienation caused by the internet age and the current state of our politics. These are things that Christians should have been speaking into when they began, instead, we ourselves have adopted a posture of fear and antipathy towards one another fueled by the anonymity of the Social Media Sphere. The beauty of Social Media is that it gives us the freedom of self-expression about all that we share convictions about. The problem with Social Media is that it gives us the freedom of self-expression about all that we share convictions about. Christians have never really addressed Social Media, some of us have tried to use it as a means of outreach and some have used it as a gathering place for the exchange of ideas. But I am part of groups where we have extreme guidelines about what we can and cannot say and how we can and cannot respond to our siblings in Christ. They seem like an unnecessary burden, just apply biblical ethics and morality to social media posting, but what seems obvious is not always obvious. The result has been that I have seen a lot of Christians either downplaying the virus or overreacting to it. Both extremes are born out of the very fear that we as Christians should be in full throat rejection of. These are the very times in History when the Church was at its best, but if you survey social media, we are far from at our best. We have to remember that this virus is affecting men and women made in the image of God, and though it has a low kill rate compared to other viruses that have affected us in the past, it is still a serious threat to the most vulnerable members of our society and we should do what we can to stop its spread so that those we love are not directly affected. If we, as a people, confess a pro-life ethic, we need to live that pro-life ethic by working to end something that threatens any life of any kind regardless of the effect it has on us. For that we need to act on biblical wisdom rather than on the worlds fear and we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us discern between which is which.

Christians, how are we not tired of this? How do we not see the toll our capitulation to fear of the world is having on both our own mental health and on our witness as Christians. As Christians in times of high anxiety we are called to do one thing, trust in God. Think of Paul in Prison as he wrote his letter to the Philippians. He was not worried about his chains; he was not concerned about the consequences of his actions. Disgraced, beaten and isolated he wrote these words: “ Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil 4:4-9). In the age of the Coronavirus it seems Christians in the general population have largely done the opposite. Even though many of the current teachers of the faith have warned us again and again against a fearful reaction because we are the people of the Word.

No, now is not the time to be afraid, now is the time to be a blessing to our communities and neighborhoods. Just like Abraham’s descendants were to “Bless the earth” (Gen 12:3). Now is our time to work for the shalom of our city (Jeremiah 29:7). Now is the time for us to, out of love for God, love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 26:34-40). Now is not the time to break off our relationship with God, but to lean further and deeper into it because we have the hope of the promised resurrection. Now is not the time for partisan politics within the church, but for us to work to “maintain the spirit of peace and the bond of love” (Phil 3:1-5). I am tired of seeing Christians, most of whom have been in Christ longer than I have been alive, acting out of fear instead of standing on the Holy and never changing Word of God. We need to stand firm on and lean into the relationship we have with God in Jesus Christ our Lord and remember His words in Matthew 6:25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Enough for the day is its own trouble.”

As someone at the Gospel Coalition said: “Fear is not our way and Panic is not our friend.” This has been completely blown out of proportion, but it has also been extremely underestimated and downplayed. A middle way is preferred, take it seriously, but do not believe everything you hear and do not resort to or spread fear and division over this and please, please, please stop politicizing this. Human lives are not politics, they are human lives, created in the image of God meant for the purposes of God.

Sincerely,

A sad and tired pastor.

 

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

The Church Is Meant for Reformation: The Problem with Revival and Restorationist Movements.

There are once again calls for revival and restoration among the various sects of the church. In their zeal they forget that in repeating the history that gave us their sectarianism, we are better off without them.

Jonathan David Faulkner

In my Thesis on the concept of Catholicity within the Mercersburg Theology I addressed the debate between John Williamson Nevin and Philip Schaff with Charles Hodge over the nature of the Church and included an entire chapter on the agreement between the three in regard to revivalism. At the time The Rev. Charles Finney was active in New England and by the end of Nevin’s life the famous D.L. Moody was beginning to gain prominence as a revivalist. They feared what Billy Graham eventually told us plainly, that Christianity would become: “A mile wide and an inch deep.” The Second Great Awakening was and the debate over it, was a debate, at its core, about the nature of the church and what was needed to keep it healthy. For the revivalist crowd it was a matter of reaching as many as possible for the Gospel. It is for good reason that many of the revivalists are known for their “hellfire and damnation” sermons. Meanwhile, Hodge, Nevin and Schaff were members of what was called the “old school” who believed in the nurturing methods of catechetical instruction through, for Hodge, the Westminster Greater and for Nevin and Schaff, the Heidelberg. Finney who once claimed in his lectures “On Revivals” which first appeared in The New York Evangelist in the 1840’s that revival were led by the Holy Spirit eventually himself conceded that revivals happened “primarily in the springtime.” The “New Measures” put forward by the New School like Finney and later Moody were particularly troubling to Nevin. Especially what was known as “The Anxious Bench” which was either a bench brought forward before the alter by the evangelist or a special pew reserved for members wanting special preaching. Nevin, in his work by the same title says of revivalism in his preface to the second edition: “Popery started, in the beginning, under forms apparently the most innocent and safe. What might seem to be for instance, more rational and becoming than the sign of the cross as used by Christians on all occasions in the early Church? and yet, when the corruption of Rome were thrown off by the protestant world in the sixteenth century, this and other similar forms were required to pass away with the general mass.” Revivalism, in Nevin’s mind, started out innocently enough but had now become consumed by excess. Charles Chauncy would prove prophetic, even if he was mostly wrong in his judgment of Edwards and Whitefield in the First Awakening.

Still, as insidious as Revivalism, with its pure emotionalism and forced moralism rather than actual conversion to Christianity, no one could have conceived of the extremely dangerous, deadly and gracelessness of 20th century Restorationism and its later counterpart Reconstructionism. It is from this movement we get the Churches of Christ, the Disciples of Christ and other denominations that are today known for their ultra-fundamentalism and abuses. Were Nevin and Schaff alive in the twentieth century it may not have been modernism that was the enemy of faith, but the sectarian impulse of restorationism. Unlike Revivalism, which stayed within the realms of pietistic moralism, these groups considered themselves the only true church on earth. You all know the joke about the man who comes to heaven and Peter takes him around and shows him the Presbyterian Room where everyone is standing frozen and singing hymns, the Pentecostal room where everyone is shouting and singing and then he takes him to the Baptist room and tells him to be quiet because the Baptists still think they are the only ones there. That is the best explanation of the restorationist churches even to this day. They assume they are the only real church. Reconstructionism went another step further, being birthed by a group that did not think Bob Jones University was far enough to the right. It is from this movement you get things like “Purity culture” in the extreme and the “Quiver Full Movement” both of which have less legalistic evangelical iterations that still depend on the dead letter, not on the living Word. One modern example of this sort of legalistic movement would be the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) which includes people like Mike Bickle (IHOP) and Bill Johnson (Bethel). The legalism and thought control techniques used in restorationism and reconstructionism (ultra-fundamentalism) qualify them as cults, as do the same techniques present in the NAR.

I suppose this is the outcome of the “common-sense” religion that Hodge loved so much and which Nevin and Schaff called him on in their debates. The irony is that both the revivalist and Princeton applied the common-sense ideas to their belief systems. Similarly, the modernists and the fundamentalists were both using the same underlying interpretive tools. While Nevin himself was raised and trained in this system by the time He and Schaff began their time together at Mercersburg he had been heavily influenced by the German School of Neander and Schaff who traced their theological roots back to Kant and Hegel and the Romantic School of Idealism. He becomes, to use D.G Hart and David W. Laymen’s phrase, a: “High Church Calvinist.” Influenced by the sacramentology of the High Church Prussian movement whose instigators had been Hodge’s companions in Germany in 1826-27 and whom Archibald Alexander had warned him against. The Mercersburg Theologians led the charge against desacramentalizing of the faith and the rampant sectarianism that had existed in some form since the debate between Luther and Zwingli at the time of the reformation and which would be the basis for both Restorationism and the NAR in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Thus, within Mercersburg we have a robust sacramentology based in the incarnation of Christ and an equally robust definition of the Church that is also rooted in the Incarnation of Christ. Both give us the theological means, rooted in totality in scripture, to correct the many errors and heresies that sectarianism and desacramentalization have allowed. Since “Christ is exhibited as the end of all separation and strife to them that believe” everything in the Christian Life and tradition answers to, exists within and is sanctified by Christ. There could not be an outward forcing of the inward change as revivalism demanded. Upon closer inspection it seems that it was the revivalist that saved you, not Jesus, and if that was the case, you were not saved. That is why my neck bristles when I hear someone say that many were saved by Billy Graham (yes, I have heard this exact phrasing). Christ does the saving; Graham was just the vessel. Jesus does the transforming, The Navigators (invited by Graham to do follow-up) walked alongside as people discipled themselves to Christ. We “Make Disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:18) by leading people to be Discipled by Christ. The great failure of revivalism is that it may have made converts, but it did not make disciples. Restorationism and Reconstructionism created pharisees and Sadducees in the biblical definition of both offices. Both made Christianity about the personal piety of the individual not the Holiness of God, no matter how much they made claims to the contrary.

Nevin refers to sectarianism as “Anti-Christ” because it divides Christ while coming in the name of Christ and claiming to be Christ. It looks good, especially if someone is claiming they are the only true representative of the faith. It makes one feel good to claim that are part of the only true expression of Christianity. But if that Christianity is rooted in anything other than Christ, be it emotionalism, personal piety, personal preference, moralism or whatever else we make it about. If Christ is not in, though, above, underneath and around it in word and deed, it is not Christianity and its leaders are, in Nevin’s interpretation, Anti-Christ. As Nevin writes in his sermon at the Triennial Convention the Reformed Dutch and German Reformed Churches in America in 1844 (As a newly arrived Schaff sat in the gallery): “The Church is one and universal. Her Unity is essential to her existence.” Sect, Schism and Segregation violate this essential quality of the church and are thus unacceptable for God’s Holy people. Interesting that Paul’s rebuke in 1 Corinthians 1-3 (“Is Christ divided?” would become the model for which we would carry out the life of the church in America.

It is this history that makes me nervous when someone says to me “We need a revival” or “we do not need reformation, we need restoration.” The inevitable question is: “Revival of what? Restoration to what?” and the resulting conversation usually has something to do with that person’s own individual interpretation of scripture devoid of any understanding of Church History. These two phrases may as well be code for “We need another sect, one claiming to be the truest form of Christianity.” To which I must strictly and forcibly reply “No!” If the solution is something man-made or man forced, what revivalism became and what restorationism was birthed out of, then we will never see either.

Reformation, on the other hand, is another matter altogether. Now, before I go on let me clarify something. Some of you reading this will accuse me of the same charge I have made against revivalism and restorationism above. I think the difference between revivalism/restorationism and reformation, however, are two-fold. 1. Reformation seems to be organic, the three times it has happened in Church History (almost every 500 years exactly) have not come from man imposing his own ideology but from the scriptures opposing the ideology of man. Martin Luther would not have sought reformation in the Roman Catholic Church had he not read Romans and his fundamental assertions challenged. Had Pope Leo listened to him, we would not have had a split and we would still be Roman today. He was also moved out of pastoral concern for the people he saw starving for gospel truths that the RC had abandoned in favor of the penitential system. Reformation for Luther was the natural result of the work of the Holy Spirit working through Scripture, not him forcing his own ideas upon man. So, Reformation is organic and 2. Scriptures show us a pattern of laxity and reformation even within the early Christian Congregations. Paul’s concern in writing 1st Timothy was not that we in the 21st century would have a tool for setting up the church, but a way to reform the church when heresy and schism had become the norm. The same is true about 1st and 2nd Corinthians and Galatians. We were meant to be formed and reformed by the Holy Spirit. We should all be experiencing mini reformations within our own bodies of believers as we examine the scriptures. Since we are never perfect, we should always be reforming in some manner. Every generation may, at some point, need to reform in their understanding of something in scripture. This type of body reformation is meant to draw us back to the truth of scripture and to the traditions of our spiritual ancestors. The Scriptures as the authority and the tradition as the Holy Spirit incarnated activity that are meant to reform us. Every time we take communion, we should be asking God to be reformed in His image for the sake of our neighbors. Since we are by nature a fickle and ignoble people who like to go their own way and try to have God bless our sins. Sanctification then, is nothing more than a process of reformation or as Titus 3:5 puts it “Renewal of the Holy Spirit.” We cease to be what we were and become a new creation where the sinful old-man should no longer be recognizable because we have sought to daily put him to death.

So I do not think we are on the verge of a revival, I also do not think we will see restoration, however, it does seem we are at the beginnings of another whole sale reformation of God’s people, at least in the west, as sectarianism, schism and segregation become increasingly unsustainable and we start to recognize them as sinful we are coming back to the scriptures and being reformed a new by them. The future of Christianity in the west looks more like the Christianity of the early church and not the Christianity of 1517. Luther and Calvin, for all the good they did, retained the Augustinian and Gnostic construction of the church as “Visible and Invisible” with the visible being corrupt and the invisible being perfect. This is the justification Hodge used for what he called the “necessity” of sectarianism. Yet we are finding this to be fraudulent in its application and Jesus and Paul would both reject it. The Church then is one because of the spirit and consists of those who have the incarnate spirit of God whom Christ promised and who draws us up into Christ. If this is true, and as I read the Church Father’s I find this logic present and accounted for as much as I find it in Christ in Scripture, then I am connected with my reformed brothers and sisters on the south end of town as much as I am with the Lutheran’s five blocks away. It also means that those distinctions are not necessary and are in fact a hinderance to the Gospel because Christ is presented as divided and not united. It also means that the church is not an institution undergoing reform, but an organism undergoing reformation. We have more in common with a caterpillar in its cocoon dissolving into goo and reforming into a butterfly, than we do with shuffling around a few people and changed the names of their positions. In a sense, what we are experiencing now is a restoration of such, but it is restoration of unity by reformation and it is being driven not by the whims of man but by the Spirits concern for the Unity of God’s people. The rise of secularism and the increasing marginalization of the church in the west (a process complete in Europe and the Coasts of the United States) means we no longer have these luxuries and the only avenue we have is to come back to Holy Scripture and take our place among the church catholic. This is the beyond mere ecumenicism I wrote on last year. It is, or should be, spirit bonded unity that cannot be forced or mimicked.

Philip Schaff understood the reformation not as a sectarian effort but as a “coming of age” of Christianity, our movement from childhood to adolescence and towards maturity. He believed that the end result of sectarianism was to die away or rejoin the main body and by the trends he appears to be correct. Increasing pressure on the Church has forced us to lay down the weapons we used in the culture war and embrace the love of enemies and prayers for our persecutors that is so central to Jesus ethic in the Sermon on the Mount. As the political influence of the church wanes we enter a time when our cultural influence can start to grow again. As we care for those who the culture rejects and tears down, as we make sure that everyone has what they need while we preach the resurrection (see Act 4:32-37). We will have to also embrace that which our ancient siblings embraced. Orthodoxy for Orthodoxy’s sake and orthopraxy for orthopraxy’s sake. Not because they are beautiful, but because they are commanded by God. That includes the essential unity of the church, its oneness that comes because it is eternally fused, wedded and caught up within Christ. The future of the church is not as institution but as organism as we engage in the activity of reformation by scripture and church history which answers to and is judged by those scriptures. As we walk by faith and not by common-sense sight. Eating and drinking the body of blood of Christ in their mystical form within the elements of bread and wine (or grape juice). This is how it was meant to be, reforming and reforming until Christ returns. May we embrace the Spirits call to reformation and renewal by sanctification.

Solo Dei Gloria.

 

 

 

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.

Young Pastor: Do Your Cultural Exegesis.

There has rarely been a better time for cultural exegesis, BARNA, Pew, Lifeway, Church Leaders and others have given us the tools to Discern the times we live in.  

Jonathan David Faulkner

Every now and then I like to introduce my congregation to a tool in the pastor’s tool bag. As part of the instruction I received at Seminary to teach the congregation about my job as a pastor. To peal back the curtain for them, to show them what goes into the work of pastoral ministry and into those sermons they hear every Sunday. Those tools include Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology and the topic of today’s article: Cultural Exegesis. I introduced this to my congregation during a Christmas Sunday Sermon called: Small Christmas Rebellions” from the book of Micah. The purpose of this tool, as many of you know, is to help us discern the times in which we live and by the leading of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, hammer out applications that speak to what we are seeing in front of us. To take all the data that is present and available to us and then hold the Word of God over it and see how it might speak into our cultural moment and how it might speak to the fears, joys, concerns, rejoicings of your congregation.

For example, Thom Rainer tells us that exactly 90% of churches in the United States of America are in decline. That means that 10% have experienced sustained growth or have plateaued. When you consider that in 2012 there were 113,000 Protestant congregations in the United States that means 11,300 protestant churches grew, if you only apply this metric to protestant churches. When you count in Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox the number is likely much, much higher. 11,300 is still a large number and a significant number. However, most of our congregants hear the 90% of American Churches are in decline and look at the now empty pews that were filled when the church was at its peak and those empty seats combine with the statistics create anxiety. We also hear words like “post-Christian” and our knee-jerk response is to fear what is coming. We look at the 90% and not the 10% and ask: “why is this decline happening?” when instead we should look at the 10% and ask: “Why is growth happening, what are these churches doing?” It is easier to dread and be anxious about what is coming rather than look deeper. Statistically speaking the picture looks dim until you realize that 11,300 of something is a big number. Just like in David Kinnamen and Mike Matlock’s book “Faith For Exiles” when they talk about the 10% of Millennials and Gen Z who meet the criterion for what they call: “resilient disciples.” 10% seems daunting until you consider that this 10% represents 4 Million Christians between the ages of 20-35. So while the religiously unaffiliated is growing and secularism is on the rise, there is also hope for the Church. As Tim Keller says: “Both Secularism and Christianity are growing at the same time.” This is not a “this or that” scenario, it is a “both/and” scenario. The question then that needs to be asked is: “What makes this 4 Million “resilient disciples” and how can we multiply that?” This question brings us to the extremely helpful tool that BARNA and the other research groups mentioned above become extremely helpful. They not only gather the information; they also help us interpret it. The whole point of the book mentioned above is to answer the question at the end of the last paragraph. What has been the defining factor in building resilient disciples? This book lays all that out and gives us a blueprint on how to duplicate it.

For my own part I can say that what has helped to make my faith resilient to the cultural currents is laid out within the pages of Faith for Exiles. Reading the book is like reading my own faith journey from about 2011 in Denver to today in Buffalo Center IA. The only reason my faith has survived the last four years especially has been the five factors laid out in the book and living in community with those who are part of that 4 Million.

I was in New England when my own denomination and LifeWay and Pew came to research the state of the Church in New England. We were told they were expecting doom and gloom, they expected to find the place where only 3% of the population was in Church on Sunday to be in dire straits, spiritually dead and in a state of decay, what they found and what they brought back to us was one word: “Thriving.” Just the opposite of what they were expecting. They found churches like my fellow CCCC Pastors whose little church was both thriving spiritually and building resilient disciples. That is not to say that New England is perfect, the same cultural divisions exist there as exist everywhere. The Same inter-generational misunderstandings and debates rage in their churches at times. However, if there is hope for the church in the west, the south and the Midwest it will lie in copying how the New England churches have gone through the transition from Post-Christian to Pre-Christian that the New England Churches went through 10+ years ago. As Cultural Christianity dies or at the very least becomes a smaller and smaller enclave and biblical Christianity becomes again the only way to advance the Gospel, the towns that have yet to go through these transitions and are now starting too will need to follow the example of our New England brothers and sisters who in most cases are putting the old divisions behind them and laying aside the infighting and actually doing what Scripture has put before us to do. Much like the Early Christians we will not have a choice as to whether we live out the full council of scripture or cherry-pick what we want to apply. We will continue to have less and less wiggle room outside of Orthodox, Biblical Christianity. A liberty we should never have taken in the first place.

Culture Exegesis and Cultural Discernment give you the ability to read what is going on in the culture and biblical and systematic theology allow you to draw on principles and applications from scriptures fullness to speak into the times in which we live, to speak with the boldness of the Holy Spirit into the anxiety of our church members and into the darkness of our world. You can tell them that even though Christianity may find itself in the margins in the next five years, and in some places it already has, that is actually a good thing because in places where it has become marginalized, it is actually growing. I can say that because of Cultural Exegesis and Cultural Discernment. I can look at the State of the Church and see what we are losing, or probably more accurate, what is being pruned away, is weeds and thistles that are chocking the Gospel and hindering its spread both at home and abroad. Cultural and Political Christianity are cancers and it does appear God is pruning them out of the branch, though some are not going willingly. We are quickly reaching a point where, in some places, Dean Inserra’s “The Unsaved Christian” will be irrelevant, and the good news is, that’s a good thing. When we stop pretending we are Christians, that is, having no relationship with God and fruit that in fact, is the opposite of Christian Fruit. We can get around to reaching people for the Gospel. These distortions of Christianity will likely always exist, but they are shrinking and doing exactly what Philip Schaff said they would in 1844, disappearing altogether or reforming to the biblical Christianity given to us by Jesus.

That is the other thing that Cultural Exegesis gives us, it gives us a glimpse into the tools God is using to reach the next generation. That’s the greatest reason to do your cultural exegesis, so that you know how God is reaching people in your generation and the one after you. There are great books out right now from BARNA and by James Emory White on both Millennials and Generation Z and they are worth reading and contemplating as you work to move your church from anxiety to evangelism. They paint both a picture of hope and caution about the future of Christianity, taking the good with the bad, drawing out the nuances of both. The tools God is using to reach the younger generations are not the ones He used to reach the previous generations. Mass evangelism is on the decline, but one on one evangelism is on the rise, people sharing their faith by the way they live and speak in their local communities. That is why I do not think making Christian Celebrities is helpful, they distract from the personal nature of evangelism through care for my neighbor and the building up of my community. It has allowed us as Christians to be checked out on the world and to turn our backs on it as if those Christian Celebrities are going to reach thousands.

Yet, the cultural exegetes tell us that the best way to reach the next generation is not to bring them to church, but to bring them to your dinner table. To model first for them the benefits and blessings of a relationship with God through Christ through sharing those things in relationship with them. Evangelism isn’t happening in the pews, when it happens, it happens on the front yard, in dining rooms, in living rooms or in game rooms. It is happening in bars and pubs through Theology on Tap groups, some of which have birthed churches within my own denomination. These are the things that the cultural exegetes tell us God is using to reach the younger generation. These tools are actually like what God used in the Early Church. There is even truth to God using dreams and signs and wonders in some parts of the world. We do not need to abandon the sanctuary, especially since young people do enter our churches, they are looking at the authenticity of our lives and the way which we live out what the Bible teaches. They actually could care less about what type of music we worship with, so long as it is done in a manner that is real and true and authentic. They do not want a brand, though they have been trained up with a “Brand” mentality, they recognize how fake that can be. The other issue is that many of them have read our bibles and looked at the church and said: “you are not living this way, why should I listen to you on ___________” (you name the issue).

The old adage is true, you disciple people with what you win them with. If you disciple people with a Christianity that doesn’t resemble scripture, you will disciple them with one. If you win people with an authentic Christian Witness, you can disciple them with an Authentic Christian Witness. This is something many who grew up in the church need to learn how to do, because they were discipled with programs and by programs, and not by older men and women of faith. The church needs all generations to be healthy and grow, but we are failing to practice the exhortation to be one when we look at one another with suspicion and distrust. Our modus operandi should not be the way that culture speaks to us (even if they did learn it from us) but should be how scripture shows us to speak to one another. If we win people with the agenda of the world, we will disciple them with the agenda of the world.

Young Pastor, it is imperative that you learn how to discern the times in which we live. Not just the date, but how to interpret the data and apply it within the context of how you lead your flock. Many in your congregations are anxious and are in need of some good news and they are in need of a strategy for reaching their neighbors and towns. They also need someone aware enough to lead them into whatever God is doing next. Cultural Exegesis should be an equal tool to biblical exegesis (biblical and systematic theology). Will it add to your sermon prep time if you are not doing it already? Yes, but it is worth it for you and your congregation. Scripture is still relevant in our time, we do not need cheap platitudes or verse quoted out of context, they need to know who the Word of God speaks into their lives today and instructs them to live in this day and age. Your younger members are especially hungry for it, asking for it, praying for it. I know this because I have done Cultural Exegesis, because I have read the research and learned how to interpret it. This is an important tool for us as pastors and we need to start utilizing it more by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

With all this said, I want to encourage you to go out and buy some of the books mentioned in this article. If you do not have time to read them outright, you can get most of them on Audible, though it may seem Ironic to read “Faith for Exiles” on Audible. Then start to integrate these things into your preaching. It serves to get you out of the bubble that can form around you but also get your congregation out of their own bubble. To wake us up to what is going on in our world. Read them and ask the Spirit to help you discern them for the sake of your flocks. It is needed now more than ever, and the resources have rarely been better. Use what God has put before you and use it well.

 

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.

Dada Is My Name: Reflections on having a One Year Old and remembering the one we lost.  

 Being a Dad is the single most rewarding, scary, cool, terrifying, fun and sanctifying things I have ever done. Some say it is all about the parents ego, but I strongly disagree.

Jonathan Faulkner

Let me just put this out there now. I am not sure how the friends on my facebook feed (and there are a couple of you) can say that becoming a parent is selfish. This idea simultaneously shocks and appalls me. The fact of the matter is, I feel I have given more of myself in the last two years than I have at any other time in my life other than when I got married. Actually, if I am honest, marriage and having children all fall under the umbrella of family, so I should have said that I have not given more of myself since I started a family, my wife and I, three years ago. If you enter marriage looking only to get out of it, marry for the satisfaction of self, you are going to be completely disappointed. Similarly, if you enter parenthood in the same way, as though the tiny human you make is going to fulfill you, then again…you are going to be sorely disappointed. There is a very good reason why they tell you in Marriage Counseling that marriage is a “Sanctifying” act. You get to see just how selfish you are and have to confront that head on if you want to survive. To say that getting married or having children is selfish is wrong, it exposes your selfishness and it will not fulfill you (Spoiler alert).

I have been a dad for two years now, yes, I count the baby we lost in January o f2018. That child was a human being, he or she had feet that would have one day run the earth as my daughter, who turned a year-old last Saturday will soon be doing. The fact that the child was lost to miscarriage does not change the fact that finding out your wife is pregnant causes you to instantly start planning the future with that child in it. You cannot claim them on a tax return, they have no SSN, but they are a human being and they were your human being for a short time. The Ultrasound picture now sits in our living room along with some of the gifts we were given in commemoration. I do not care if you think that’s cheesy or stupid, it is our way of remember the little child we loved and lost.

I know this is not my usual post for this site, but I thought it was appropriate considering that I have completed my first year as a dad of a child on this earth on Saturday. That is sort of a crazy thought for me, that the little girl who took my finger in her hand when I first held her is now bobbing around the house with her stuffed elephant, knocking down my block towers and getting a big smile on her face when she sees me come out of the office or back from the church building or visitations. Or when she comes to be with a book in her hands saying: “Dada, dada, this, this.” When she reminds me to put down all my study and research and sermon prep to just sit with her and read the same book ten to twenty times. Or when 5PM rolls around and her mother brings her into my office to remind me to close the workday of ministry and return to the ministry of my family. This girl reminds me that I am also bound by the teachings of scripture to manage my own household well because if I do not, she will suffer as a result, so will my wife and ultimately so will I and whether they realize it or not, so will my congregation.

If I am an under shepherd of the flock of Christ then I must be shepherding the entire flock, which includes my wife and I must honor of the covenant made with my daughter and Christ as her baptism. To raise her in such a way that she comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ and to be patient enough to help her form that faith into a resilient one through all the questions that arise for young Christians. To help her walk the road of Holy Doubt without crushing her spirit or turning her off from faith and from God. To teach her about God and His ways and to help her trust Him in a healthy manner. To serve her, as her father, so that she might know through not just my words, but my actions, what Christ did for her. To teach her to remember the promise of her baptism and to see that promise fulfilled in her. I cannot expert her to know the faith I do, if I am not demonstrating it for her.

For way too many Pastors the home has been the most neglected area of ministry. The home has been the place they unmask. We wonder why so many PK’s want nothing to do with the church after they graduate high school, it is because way too many of those PK’s never saw the faith they heard their parents preach from the pulpit lived out in daily life. The faith of Sunday Morning was not the faith of Monday morning. I do not want that for my daughter, I did not want that for my first child when we found out about her, I do not want that for my little Erin Price.

Instead, the child-like faith with which she trust me, her father, I want to become her child-like faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That starts with sacrifice and ends with unconditional love and grace that can only flow from Jesus Christ who I want her to know and be in relationship with all her days. I have to give of myself, give up my selfish ambitions, my time, my life for her. And I am not just saying this because she is sitting on my lap smiling up at me as I type this. This is a genuine desire.

Many of you have seen my #AdventuresofSaggyandFlappy hashtag. The two stuffed elephants that keep appearing in different places around the house to mark milestones in Erin and I’s relationship, to be an avenue for me to express my future hopes and dreams for my beautiful little wiggly girl. I would want the same for the child we lost. I would want them to know how much I love them by demonstrating for them how much Jesus loves them.

There is one sorrow that I carry now, it is interesting how this happens. This sorrow is that had the first child been carried to full term, had the Miscarriage not happened, our current child would not exist. It is kind of a weird thought, one marked by the joy of knowing that God has answered the prayer for a child but missing the child we never met. This is the strange ground I exist in as a dad. Some of you may think I am over thinking, but I am certain I am not. Do not get me wrong, as I said above, I love deeply the daughter I have now, she is an incredible human. Maybe you have never felt that way, but that is how I feel.

I say all this to say that I love being a father, I love getting to know her, seeing her little personality emerge and watching her explore…everything. This is the life I wanted, a life of sacrifice, praise the Lord for it, for it can be gone way too fast.

 

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

The Eucharist and the Homily

The Debate over what is central to Christian Worship is an old one, but it may be based on the false dichotomizing of traditions that were meant to be co-equal.

Jonathan Faulkner

What is central to the Worship Service? That was the question that Francis Chan addressed in a recent video sermon that made the social media rounds last week and sparked debates across platforms. I haunt various Facebook theology groups including a lay group based on discussing the ideas in Chan’s book Letters to the Church so I have had a chance to see the multiplicity of perspectives argue back and forth on the content of this video and the claim Chan made that for “1500 years it was the Lord’s Supper that was central to Christian Worship and not the Pulpit.” I have enjoyed watching Chan take this journey since he stepped down from Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley CA and thought there was a lot of good in “Letter’s to the Church” even if Chan went too far in some of his conclusions. I would never consider myself part of the Emerging Church” movement which emphasizes a “burn it all down” approach to the organized and institutional protestant Church that has more in common with the Roman Catholic Church on 1517 than the Church as described in Acts. But as a serious historian and serious student of the scriptures alike, I recognize that Scripture was meant to be applied and the example set for us by the early Christians was meant to be our universal model and can be applied to an institutional church with great care and dedication.

Chan’s assertion however, that: “for 1500 years the Lord’s Supper was central to Christian Worship, not the pulpit.” Actually, fails the sniff test of the very passage his argument in Letters to the Church hinges on, Acts 2:42-47. Not to mention that this is a Roman Catholic revision of History that makes Peter the first Pope of Rome and over emphasizes some parts of the activities of the early Christians that should be held in equilibrium with others. Holding to the doctrine of historic development: The idea that the Holy Spirit guided the development of the Early Church and is still working to lead the development of the church in modern times. It would seem blasphemous that the Spirit would hold up the practice of the supper above the preached word. It would make more sense that because the early Church seemed to have held them in tandem that the Holy Spirit would hold them in tandem. That is, we cannot over emphasize one or under emphasize another. To do so is to create a false dichotomy that only confuses new believers and creates “sides” and parties.

Chan is right in that the Protestant Church has often neglected the supper in favor of the preached word and nothing more. It bothers me when I hear Christians say that they do not want to have Communion more than 3 times a year because they do not want to become numb to what it means. When the early Christians daily partook of the bread and wine, yet many protestants are hard pressed to do so once a month and once a week is absolutely out of the question. The opposite was true of the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the reformation. The Eucharist was done every week and the preached word was just sort of thrown in there for five or ten minutes. Martin Luther’s concern grew out of finding a people starving for the very word of God and bread of life (most of the peasant class were not allowed to take full communion either). That is one of the reasons the preached word became so central to the reformation alongside the Eucharist, the masses were literally spiritually starving. Similar to Jesus when He looked out on the crowds and: “Had compassion on them because they were harassed, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The Eucharist was still important, as evidenced by the vigorous debates over the elements and various views of the Supper. That is, until the next generation of protestants began to over emphasize the preached word over and even at times against the Eucharist.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly when the initial distortion occurred within the Roman Catholic Liturgy. It is less of an intentional change and more of a gradual transformation as the liturgy developed. The Formal Principle of Protestantism; that is the authority of the Word of God, was a corrective to the authority and abuses of the church that had neglected the authority of the Word under infallible Popes, some of whom had no ecclesiological training whatsoever and had no business leading in any church. If the word of God was authoritative, then the tradition had to answer to it and even be dictated by it and whatever was not biblical, such as the sale of indulgences, had to go. We baptize because scripture commands us to baptize, whether as sign and seal of covenant or believers’ confession of faith, we baptize. We partake of the body and blood of Christ because Jesus and the Apostles instructed us to. We greet one another because the Ancient Christians greeted one another, us with a handshake and them with a Holy kiss. The sacraments are part of the tradition, they answer to and are dictated by scripture and we should be wary of neglecting them, but we should also be wary of neglecting the preached word. Both are essential and both are central, they are not at odds, and for 900 years they were side by side with one another in near perfect harmony.

If Chan believes the Roman Catholic Argument that the Eucharist was central for 1500 years and emphasized over the preached word. Then he should go read the works of Cyril, Irenaeus, Tertullian and other church father’s who devoted a great deal of time to the preached word but also consistently and constantly observed the Eucharist. Men and women who quite obviously believed both were central to Christian Worship and both were important. Afterall, how can one define Apostolic Succession as the passing down of the teachings of the Apostles, without expounding on and expositing the teachings of the Apostles. The idea that the Popes were the succession to the Apostles is a later development of the Papacy, not the belief of the Early Christians. The early Christians were simultaneously devoted to the teachings of the Apostles and the breaking of bread. Not to the Apostles themselves, but their teaching which was exposition on the Old Testament and on the life, words and actions of Christ and from which came instructions concerning the breaking of the bread which was the body and blood of Christ.

This was a daily activity, not a casual weekend hour long get together with some loosely theological songs and a nice message meant to make us feel good about ourselves. The teachings and example of Jesus were held up to them and kept ever before them, not just in memorial but as participation in the divine life and divine family they had been adopted into through Christ. When someone came to Christ they were expected to learn about the things of Christ, not some proof-texted man driven philosophy, but the teachings of the God-Man himself.

The Sacrament and the Word should not be separated, nor should one be emphasized over and against the other. They are essential practices of the Church that have existed from the beginning of the Body and they should both hold a central place in our worship alongside the singing of praises to God. We should not longer tolerate their neglect or create spaces where both are not present and central. We need to reject the false dichotomy in favor of the biblical witness.

 

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

The Tale of Two Speeches

One Speech and One Sermon, two different perspectives on the Church in America, One from the President of the United States, One from the President of a prominent Evangelical Seminary, who is correct?

Jonathan Faulkner

I just spent the last half-hour listening to the president’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. Like many, I am tired of the insults and put downs that have become common place within these speeches and so I would not normally have watched it, but since the President tends to talk up his accomplishments and since he was before one of his primary bases, Evangelical Christians, it seemed logical to expect to see much of the same in this speech. Guess what? I was not disappointed. Listening to the speech made it sound like Christianity was alive and well and he even used the word “Thriving” to describe what was happening. A similar word was used by Pew and Lifeway when they did their research on the ever-marginalized Churches in New England, Churches that are no longer sitting at the forefront of social influence and power and are increasingly further from those centers. The President also made mention of how he has done more for Christians than any other political leader in the nation’s history and one could infer “Since Constantine.” Still, between the self-endorsement and the attacks on political enemies one saw what the second speech reiterated over and over again.

The Second speech, which was actually a sermon on Psalm 85 by the new president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Dr. Scott Sunquist from GCTS Spring Convocation which served as my wife and I’s spiritual nourishment and preaching as we sat at home Sunday Morning waiting out the snow storm that canceled our own service. The sermon opened with one poignant and heart-wrenching line: “The Church in the United States of America is sick, Evangelicalism is sick, brothers and sisters, we are sick.” He then went on to paint the grim picture, combining for us all the statistics on church-decline all the reasons the people in our pews are so anxious, but at the end of that he gave us hope, he showed us the way back to health, his solution? Reach out to God and ask Him for restoration. I know this is likely the first time some of you have heard of this sermon so please go and take a listen before you continue reading.

I said above that the presidents remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast proved, in many ways what Dr. Sunquist said in his sermon, I will get back to that in a second. First, I want to ask the question that I asked in the tagline on this post because these are two very different views of the state of the Church in the United States of America. There is no compatibility here, either the Church is doing amazing and things are great, or we are sick and in need of a biblical restoration. The question we have to ask here is “What is the truth?” Is one of these men passing around false information meant to make himself look better in the eyes of a constituency? Or are they both way off base and the truth is somewhere in the middle? Many of us would like to believe the president, as a Pastor that would take a load off my mind. I would like to say that Christianity is thriving here in the United States of America. I would love to be able to stand before my congregation and say that all their fears are for not, we are in great shape.

However, I cannot ignore what I see with my eyes and hear with my ears. I cannot ignore what the cultural exegetes tell me, those people whose job it is to know exactly what the state of the church in America is like. I cannot help but think about Peter Bienart’s article in the Atlantic in 2017 that talked about “America’s Empty Church Problem” or the pianist at my church who lamented about a town where all the churches are either museums or condo’s or homes now (that was a town in Wisconsin no less). I think of what Barna Group calls: “the rise of the none’s” and what David Kinnamen calls: “the dropout problem” where young Christians who leave the church are not coming back and many are abandoning their faith altogether and the heartbreaking reasons why this is so. I think of the increasingly close entanglement between cultural evangelicalism and Political Power and the promise that all these things I mentioned above are no longer true, even though they are. I think of Dr. Peter Kuzmic who told the church we attended in Hamilton in 2019 that the president of the United States was: “Absolutely hindering missions work all over the world because of Evangelicals association with him in American Politics.” I see and read all of this, I hear the way people in my town talk about the people on the other side of the isle, people who are otherwise perfectly kind men and women who treat bitterly their political rivals. I cannot help but think that Dr. Sunquist is right, that we are in need of restoration. We have violated what Philip Schaff defined as the definition of Religious Freedom in the United States: “It is a Free Church in a Free State, or a self-supporting and self-governing Christianity independent but in friendly relation to the Civil Government.” That the very people who once wrote into their founding confessional documents like the Saybrook Confession that Christian Magistrates could not “proselytize” are now looking to the government to do just that.

Yes, Dr. Sunquist is correct, we are sick, and the president is incorrect, we are not barreling towards a brighter day, we are headed for our own destruction. Yet, I would be a fool to not look at the positive things that are happening in Christianity. The article by Peter Beinart I mentioned above does point out that one affect of our current situation in American Religion is that cultural Christianity is declining and biblical Christianity, which at the time was apolitical, is on the rise. According to a 2018 article in the Washington Post: “Conservative churches” which would better be defined as “Bible Believing” are growing while Liberal churches are dying on the vine. It is also true that 4 Million people between the age of 20-35 classify as what Barna calls “Resilient Disciples” that churches in the places where they are not longer the dominate power structure and where Power Religion is mocked and the church marginalized are laying down their denominational hard lines and embracing a biblical definition and the biblical example of the Church. In short, the Church is reforming, and though this time around there is not a one pivotal figure who has walked up and nailed 95 thesis on the Cathedral doors, there are many spirit led men and women who have found a more ancient voice, the voice of the Holy Scriptures. This new Reformation is taking place around our dinner tables and our fellowship times, at Theology on Tap and in Post-Sermon Q&A sessions. It is active and extremely organic, at times to a fault. Jesus is once again eating with the sinners and the tax collectors and the religious pharisees are once again condemning Him. It is true in Church History and it will prove true again, anytime the church aligns itself with the halls of power it never ends well for the church. Further, anytime we lose our power and influence it forces us back to a time when we had to live out what we believe rather than speak from a place of assumed authority. As Schaff predicted in The Principle of Protestantism, the cultural sects are dying off or reforming and rejoining the main body. Sectarianism has proven untenable.

Now, back to a point I made earlier, I said that the President’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast points to the truth of what Dr. Sunquist said about our sickness. If you listen to the president’s speech, he does exactly what James 3:9-12 tells us not to: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and saltwater flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olive, or a grapevine bear fig? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” In almost the same breath the president of the United States both cursed and attacked his enemies, those who he saw as working against him, and then praised God and even, at points, touted his own accomplishments as being from God. It may also surprise you to find that the general way of speaking, by the president, or tweeting, by the president, tends towards cursing man more so than it does to praising God. This is a sign of how sick we have become; we have propped up and praised a man who is in direct violation of the commands and text of scripture, and not only James 3:9-11. We have embraced a man who regularly participates in “course joking” who has openly admitted to sexual immorality a man who, at the National Prayer Breakfast, openly and brazenly admitted to hating someone who is very possibly his sister in Christ and accusing that sister of making false claims about her own religious practice. His harboring of anger and hatred puts him direct violation of Jesus own commands in Matthew 5:27. If this is not proof of illness, I am not sure what is. We claim the bible is authoritative, we claim that scripture is the means by which we are to live through the Holy Spirit, but then we do not live it out in our own lives and ignore it when it is convenient or expedient.

We are quickly coming to a point of no return, will we pray the prayer of Dr. Sunquist, “Restore us oh God.” Or will we continue to whore after the god of political power and influence? Will we continue to ignore scripture in favor of our preferences and our safety? Or will we repent and remember that it was not Christians in power that brought the Roman Empire to its knees, but a Church under persecution? IF we continue this line of pursuit, we put ourselves in danger of increasing persecution (some places this has already begun). Or we can return to the intention in Schaff’s definition above, two separate and free entities with only a friendly relation unless that government is openly apposed to Christianity. We may not be able, at this point, to back to what Schaff described as: “The relationship of church and state in the United States secures full liberty of religious thought, speech and action within the limits of the public peace and order. It makes persecution impossible. Religion and liberty are inseparable. Religion is voluntary and cannot, and aught not, be enforced.” I fear we are passed the point of a return to this vision and continued attempts to use the government to proselytize we will only face increased persecution.

This is why the president was wrong and Scott Sunquist right, all that is happening that is good in the church right now is actually in spite of what the president is doing or not doing for the church. His own speech and actions, violation of the biblical text which we claim is sacred, and so on and so forth are proofs to Dr. Sunquist point. Further, As David French pointed out our propensity to make excuses for him and to justify his behavior is even more damning and destructive. As we have seen countless times, in the attack on Russell Moore, in attacks on Mark Galli and in too many other cases to admit, we have violated Biblical teaching and done damage to our Gospel witness in a world that already wanted nothing to do with God. We are certain not in the favor of all the people (Acts 2:42-47). Just the opposite, we have taken the offensiveness of the Gospel (you cannot save yourself) and added our own offensiveness to it by not turning to God, but to man, to save us. We should be quick to repent before it leads to our destruction.

Bibliography

Bornman, Adam S. 2011. Church, Sacrament and American Theology: The Social and Political Dimensions of John Williamson Nevin’s Theology of Incarnation. Eugene : WFPF & Stock Publishing .

Fea, John. 2019. Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump . Grand Rapids : Eardhman’s Publishing .

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “Antichrist: Or the Spirit of Sect and Schism (1848) .” In The Mercersburg Theology Series Vol Vi: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Tome One: The Ecclesiological Writings of John Williamson Nevin (1844-1850) , by John Williamson Nevin David W. Laymen, 160-245. Eugene : Wfpf & Stock .

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “The Church .” In One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, John Nevin’s Writings on Ecclesiology (1844-1849) Tome One: The Mercersburg Theology Study Series Colum Five, by John Williamson Nevin David W. Laymen, 144-159. Eugene : WFPF and Stock .

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 .

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.

Schaff, Philip. 1888. Church and State in the United States or The American Idea of Religous Liberty and its practical Effects . New York : Charle Scribner & Sons .

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.

Bring Back the Creatives

David Kinnaman notes that many “exiles” who have left the church are creatives who felt their gifts are unwanted in the Church. Yet we lose something valuable when we lose their unique, Spirit guided insights.

Jonathan Faulkner

How many of you know that I am singer/songwriter? Yes, many of you know that I have a picture at the end of each article of me from a few years ago holding Rose my Electric Guitar after a Chapel service at Gordon-Conwell. But did you know I have written over 300 songs and performed over 100 shows made up of primarily my own music. While I was working for AltRockLive CMG I would even talk to artists like Kiros and The Classic Crime about my own music, got to sit down with Matt Bronleewe and somewhere have an email exchange between us with critiques about my own music. There was a time when, before John Walk and the Opened Eyes and the “Land of the Living EP” I was seriously pursuing a music career. When I got to Graduate School, I put that dream on hold except for the occasional John Walk concert with the guys. I was in the process of recording another EP when life just got to busy, and I gave up the pursuit altogether. On top of that I was starting to feel a little tension between my music and what I sensed those in the church wanted me to play. I lead worship at Chapel a few times with my unique folk-rock blend (and Crowder songs), then was never asked to lead again until my fourth year when I volunteered and the day I was asked to lead something with my schedule or the new baby, I can’t remember, kept me from doing so (though I played drums and guitars multiple times).

The message was becoming clear, your music is great for Broadway Market in Sterling, or the Youth Group Lock-In at the Baptist Church or even the open Mic at that bar in Wichita. It works wonderfully for entertainment during the Seminaries big clam festival and the yearly Kalos Talent Night (which I organized one year) but your music is not ‘church music’ so until you learn to play Chris Tomlin or “Mighty to Save” we will see you later. I understood, or at least I thought I did, I was different from the Hillsong types that seemed to be the ones leading worship with their droning keyboards and questionable theology were what was in and I should conform or stop trying.

Louis Cranach’s depiction of the Reformation, showing the Catholic Priests tending a dusty and dead garden compared to the living garden of Martin Luther.

Okay, it was not that bad, and to be fair, the worship at the seminary became something so much more than that by the time I graduated. I suppose I am not even bitter; I have never claimed to write or sing church-music but prefer Downhere’s self-description of “Ministry-Music.” That is, I write songs that are designed to minister to people in the moment they are in. I write songs to express my own longing for Christ and to process with my brothers and sisters the pain of reconstruction and healing. If someone hears one of my songs and knows they are not alone in what they are experiencing or that they can be pointed to Christ through one of the songs I wrote, I consider it a service to Christ. I have experienced a lot of hurt and joy in my life and the outlet of songwriting has allowed me the grace of processing with God and others. I have also had the blessing of hearing those stories of the few people who have been impacted by the music because God used it to minister to them. That is a humbling thing, and now that I am not playing as much, or if I am it is someone else’s material, I do not get to hear those things as much.

I have been thinking about this because I just finished reading Andrew Peterson’s new book “Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling and the Mystery of Making” and because of it I am deeply aware of the way I have allowed myself to put aside a part of myself that God has put deep within me, that is part of my created personhood in Christ and an essential part at that. I have also been reminded of a central ideas within the David Kinnaman book “You Lost Me” which states that Exiles (of which I would be one were I not a Pastor) are exiles because they have felt the church has stifled a part of the way God has made them. Creatives, like myself, have been told there is a way to do these things like worship or art or novel writing and any diversion from what is often strict, and rigid is seen as an annoyance, or worse, rebellion. The status quo is prized above all else, even above God’s calling on the community, and if one violates that status quo it is demanded they either fall back into place or leave. The result has been that creatives have either left the church and the faith all together like the award-winning worship artist Michael Gunger now agnostic. Or they seek out other avenues to use the expression of creativity God has built into them outside the church which usually involves leaving the church altogether. Their faith is remaining intact, but their relationship with the body of Christ is severed on a relational level because they have been told they do not belong there.

I know Andrew Peterson necessarily has no qualms with the praise craze of the 2000’s but CCM lost something when it happened and continues to lack something because it is gone. For instance, I am listening to Caedmon’s Call right now, at one point they, Andrew Peterson, Rich Mullins, Jars of Clay and others were the standard bearers of Christian Music. The music was intricate and beautiful, and the lyrics had a lot to say. The closest equivalent to them in the 2000’s upward was Casting Crowns who succeeded despite what the rest of the industry was doing. I started listening to heavier Christian Music in High School precisely because the CCM that adorned our car radio had almost (Casting Crowns and Tenth Avenue North being the exception) nothing to say to what my friends and I were experiencing and “positive and encouraging” did nothing when a friend took their life to suicide or when I was struggling with suicide after my brain injury in 2015.

I know this sounds incredibly selfish, but what BARNA research has shown us is that many people my age feel as though the institutional church and its products (like CCM) do not speak to what they are experiencing in a way that draws them to Jesus or addresses relative issues that are important to them in any meaningful way. When they need answers to questions, CCM has given them a gentle pat on the back and given them the power of positive thinking over and instead of the Gospel. This is why one of my criteria for reviewing an album at ARLCMG was the relevance to cultural issues. It is also why one of my top five albums of the last decade was KB’s “Today We Rebel” because it addressed topics people our age were concerned about, mainly justice and how the Bible tells us we should pursue it in obedience to God, not man-made laws.

Perhaps ironically, what has happened in the church is captured perfecting in a CCM song, namely, Casting Crowns “City on a Hill” which in the first verse says this: “Have you heard of the city on the hill, said one old man to the other, it was shining bright and it would be shining still, but they all started turning on each other, you see the poets thought the dancers were shallow, and the soldiers thought the poets were weak, the Elders saw the young ones as foolish, and the rich man never heard the poor man speak.” I have a hard time imagining a more accurate poetic description of church culture in North America than those lines, and they haunt me as I pastor in a ministry where I am the youngest adult there most Sundays. If I had a penny for everything, I have had someone grumble to me about my generation only to follow it up with: “but not you, you’re obviously an exception.” I can tell you that hurts, and so do the facebook posts about millennials based on stereotypes that are not true. Of course, I do not want to turn around and do the same thing to them by using the equally disrespectful cultural phrase that has gained popularity in the last several months, “okay boomer” because that only perpetuates the divide and returns the animus inherent in these debates.

What Andrew Peterson has done in his book though is to remind us what C.S. Lewis did a generation ago, that we as Christians are called to create and to do so with the Gospel in mind. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and when we do that the entire body is edified and encouraged in Christ, through what God is doing through creatives. Though he never quotes the Casting Crowns song, you can hear in the chapters of the book the second bridge: “It is the rhythm of the dancers, That gives the poets life, It is the spirit of the poets, That gives the soldiers strength to fight, It is fire of the young ones, It is the wisdom of the old, It is the story of the poor man, That’s needing to be told.” One thing that Peterson hits one, perhaps without knowing it, is that we are literally all connected as the lyrics quoted above remind us. Everyone in the body of Christ needs everyone else and needs to be “devoted to one another in family love, showing preference for one another” (Romans 12:10 translation and italics mine).

Last night at Men’s bible study we talked about what it means to do exactly what the verse above states. We talked about how a better translation of Philadelphia in scripture than brotherly love would be “Family love” or “Christian family.” The word, which appears 220 times from Acts to 2nd Peter literally means: “Love for those of the same womb.” The Christian then is not a lone, wondering soul trying to figure out his discipleship on his or her own, but a brother and sister in love and in fellowship and communion with other members of the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. This isn’t just community as we know it in the modern day, but a remaking from a person to a people who all share the same spiritual parentage, God the Father who has adopted us through Christ (Gal 4:4-8). I like what Joseph Hellerman says then in “When the Church Was a Family,” that we should, so much as copyright allows, sing our worship songs using corporate pronouns like “we” and “us” instead of “I” and “me.” This would better foster a sense of family over and against the radical individualism we love so much and which may not survive another generation anyway, at least not in the church.

I have been a part of what can happen when the church does this, it was the hallmark of my last two years of seminary. I saw what can happen when we think of each other as brothers and sisters instead of just the people we go to church with. What I did not mention before is that even though I did not lead worship, many of the other super creative and talented people in our community did and it was awesome what the Lord did with it. I think of my brother Brandon who introduced his own songs into worship, something I had tried to do two years prior only to not be asked to lead again. I think of my sister Tiffany whose passionate piano playing and vocal style was a cry to God that vocalized what our hearts were feeling. Outside of Chapel I think of Neil and Tyler and Frank and Gerald, the amazing musicians who made up John Walk & The Opened Eyes. From day one of making music together we just used our gifting on our instruments and voices to make music for the glory of God. As a side note, those four are the best musicians I have ever worked with, and I am unlikely to work with better. I think of the girl whose name I do not recall, who painted a picture on stage of what the Chapel speaker was describing, her way of worshiping and praising God for His death and resurrection. I think of my friend John, a seminary employee, who wrote poetry and would recite it at Kalos (I encourage you to read it, click here). My friend Mark who used his significant theological and philosophical powers to bear on issues in our culture in hopes of having a theological discussion on how we might address them biblically. I think of Dr. Adams whose “Story Theology” shapes my spiritual formation and devotional life to this day. Dr. Singleton whose creative means of lecturing mean I will not forget his stories or his wisdom (Nor will I forget Neil’s impression of him).

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

Without these men and women and so many more our family at the seminary would not have thrived in the way that it was by the time we graduated. I pray that not only do those things continue, but they find greater traction and draw in more and more people. But also that this might be an example to the church in the United States on how to live as a family that uses the “ingrained desire to follow our creator in creating,” as C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity. I create music because my creator created everything and like Him, because I am made in His image and reflect Him. If I suppress that creativity because it is not kosher in the evangelical church culture, then I am denying something which God put within me to do. If I tell God I will use one gift He has given me, the preaching gift, but not the other gift, the musical gift, then I am not functioning in my full capacity. If I tell the artist that they are not allowed to draw or paint and donate those items to the church to be displayed, I am stifling their ability to use their gift for the edification of the family of God. If I tell the poet that poetry is only for the worship song writer or hymn writer, then I am not allowing them to fulfill their full calling within the body that is meant to build up the body. God is not the God of the status quo and we should be endlessly grateful for that reality. We should be ashamed that there are Christian Communities are popping up outside the church for creatives because they have been told they have no place in the church.

Yet just a cursory glance at musicians would show us that the majority of Christian Music is not the mainstream praise craze stuff that feels skin-deep and even fake at times. But is the deep, faith infused, beauty-oriented music of the margins. If you look at art, (in every medium) you find a renewed interest in theological art that depicts scripture and its stories. If you look at poetry, there is a renewed interest in poetry modeled after the psalms with their many styles and ideas. What is happening on the margins, though in need of some guardrails in places, is quite deep, quite biblical and quite good, and there is a lot of it out there encompassing just about every style, genre and theme you can imagine. Not only do these young men and women point to a brighter day for the church, they also are restoring something to Christianity that has been missing in this depth since Cranach painted his famous painting of the reformation. I even picked up my guitar the other day, which has not been used to write since I wrote the song “Type A” in 2015 and wrote a song based on what I have been studying about the Church as a Family of God bound up in and devoted to one another in that love that only exists in the family of God. Not one of those happy-clappy “God loves you” songs, but a deep lament over what has been lost by making the church just another institution that we attend, not the family of God and a prayer that we would be called back to that. It felt good, other than sermons, which are an artform all their own, I had not crafted much of anything since I graduated from Seminary and The Opened Eyes all went our separate ways.

Community has been another area the church has struggled, but it is something that our artists tend to be good at. I have rarely met anyone who likes to create and keep that creation to themselves. Like Andrew Peterson and the Rabbit Room, we want to share with one another. That was the premise behind the band at Seminary, God has gifted us with talent on different instruments (and these guys were seriously good) and so let’s use those gifts for God’s Glory to make music to encourage the flock. When we were all exhausted because Seminary, life and kids were piling up, we knew we could gather to play music or go grab a drink at THE FARM or Fibber McGee’s to unwind. We also knew we had other friends, brothers and sisters in Christ who we could take with us and who would encourage us as we encouraged them. This type of community built on mutual love and encouragement was something we were worried we would not find when we moved to Iowa. God, however, had other plans as my first week there we met another couple just a few years older than us who we instantly connected with and then a chance meeting at the park between my wife and another young mom would spark another friendship and that those two couples were already friends. The first six to eight months of pastoral ministry, usually known as the Honeymoon period, can be the loneliest for a new pastor and family, and though they have been lonely, the loneliness has been lessened a great deal by what have becoming monthly gathering at one another’s homes built on an understanding that we are brothers and sisters in Christ living in mutual love and encouragement.

Both these families are farm families and I think farmers are the greatest artists of all. Think about it, you would not be able to look down from an airplane in the summer and see that patchwork of yellows and greens without the farmers who plant the seed and tend the crops. God uses them to magnify the beauty of His earth, especially when you drive by a golden Kansas wheat field right before harvest, or the deep green on an Iowa bean field right before it turns brown and is ready for harvest. The farmer becomes the instrument through which God paints His landscapes, making them the greatest artists of all. I know this is probably a really mushy thought, and I promise I am not just trying to curry favor with our new friends, I really do think that way, as one who has flown in and out of Wichita many times in my adult life, and have wondered at the beauty of the fields.

I say all of this to say this: We need to bring back our creatives as a church and create space for them to create whatever the Holy Spirit guides them to create. There is still room for theological guardrails, because they have to exist, but we should drop all lot of the manmade junk that has determined what is and what is not Church music. I love the organ, I do not want to get ride of it, but I also love guitar, violin, drums, clarinet and banjo. I love the old hymns but there is a lot of new hymnody that is just as deep if not deeper than some of what we consider deep in our churches today. I want to have a space where I can create what God has given me to create and in such a way that I can ask the hard questions and even try to answer the hard questions. And I do not just want this for myself, I want it for my brothers and sisters who love the Lord as deeply as I do but do not think they have any place in the church because their creative expression is not “normal” within the walls of the church.

Religious Art is one of the ways Historians learn about the people of the past. I fear our lack of it will speak volumes to the archaeologist who exhume the remains of our buildings. That thought saddens me, so much so that I want to fling open the doors and tell my creative brothers and sisters to come in and dwell with me on the deep things of scripture and God and then by the Power of the Holy Spirit create together wherever God leads us. I want to see Achdenbuilds lining the walls and hear every kind of instrument reverberate off them, I want us to do what the early church did and use whatever we had before us for the glory of GOD and I want everyone who can in on it.

 

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

 

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.

Our Culture of Proof Texting

Complimentarianism and Egalitarianism both require proof-texting to make their points, reading their own ideas back into the text whose writers would not recognize them. Both sides fail to address the proof-text for the others arguments and so a stalemate ensues and the church remains divided.

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

As a budding Historian of the Church in America in the 19th Century I get to study all the various debates that raged through that century. I also get to study the origins of those debates either in the enlightenment or in eighteenth century revivalism. Wrapped up in the radical individualism of western culture they end up dividing and splitting the church into fragments. Instead of engaging other ideas, writers would just dismiss the argument and attack the person making the argument. This was the case in the debate between Jonathan Edwards and Charles Chauncy during the First Great Awakening and between Charles Finney and Charles Hodge during the second. Or in the debate between Mercersburg and Princeton, though the Mercersburg Theologians do a better job than most actually addressing their opponent’s arguments theologically rather than just tossing insults back and forth. John Williamson Nevin understood that personal opinion and preferences were no basis for an entire theological system. Adam S. Borneman in his book “Church, Sacrament and American Culture” notes that: “Nevin was not anti-individual. Proper reason and proper religion, however, only took place when the individual submitted their own subjective reason to universal, objective reason. Private judgment, if it remained private, was not sound judgment. In order for it to be rational and accurate in its interpretation of the outside world, it was necessary for such judgment to show “itself to be truly general.” In other words, there was room for opinions within the Church, but those opinions should not be the basis for private, individual theologies that you then chose to associate only with like minded individuals. To both Nevin and Schaff Party Spirit was a worst enemy to the church than Roman Catholicism, a point I agree with them on. The result of all these debates, and what is still true today, is that both sides present railroad arguments that either dehumanize their opponents or make them into some identarian boogeyman. Like the gentlemen who said to me once in a theological forum concerning the interpretation of 1st Timothy 2&3. When confronted with Gordon Fee’s insistence that you cannot interpret 2$3 outside of chapter 1 and the cultural issues going on at Ephesus, he said: “Fee is tainted by Feminism, we cannot listen to him.” Fee, one of the preeminent biblical scholars of our time and likely one of the more conservative, was dismissed because of the boogeyman of feminism. In our 21st century context we are still inundated with the debates like this, we still practice party-spirit.

Here is the thing though, if you look at the basis for most of these debates, they center around one or two and sometimes three passages that rely only on a plain reading of the English text without any critical thought. Basically, these opinions get blown up into essential doctrines based on building an entire philosophical framework based on dealing with a text in a complete vacuum, wrestling it away from its cultural, literary, historical backgrounds and at the expense of the consideration of the full biblical council about the topic at hand. Some translators, like in the case of the ESV’s, have even admitted to making lexical decisions on difficult passages based on their preferred theological framework. This approach to scripture is dishonest, but at least consistent with the dictates of both modernism and fundamentalism (another debate from the 20th century). Reject the full council of scripture in favor of a personal opinion that is built on one passage that in the Greek is actually not as black and white as the English text makes it. The result is that we come to the philosophical system before we come to the truth of scripture and then we pigeonhole the text into that philosophical system. Thus we create a culture of proof-texting based on nothing more than two or three texts (sometimes only one) in the English rendering and claim those opinions are infallible. As I said in last week’s article, we love to read those opinions uncritically back into the text, the fallacy of Presentism.

The most hot-button issue where this happens is in the debate between complementarianism and egalitarian debates of the 20th and now 21st century. Both systems can trace their roots back to the nineteenth century and both sides practice this kind of proof-texting to make their point. Complementarians love 1st Timothy 2:11-15 and 3:1-13 with Titus 1:5 and a passage in Corinthians as the basis for their arguments and Egalitarians love to use passages like Romans 16:1-8, Matthew 28:1-15, and passages in Acts to make their point. Both are convinced they are right, both are built on proof-texting, both refuses to answer questions asked by the other. The closest thing to reconciliation between the two parties is Gordon Fee’s “Complementarian without hierarchy” but even this falls short because like the other two it requires proof texting and a though slightly larger, limited view of scripture. I have even heard it said that: “The Bible preaches complementarianism/egalitarianism” and absurd claim because scripture knows nothing of either philosophy and does not serve the purpose of preaching to anything other than Jesus Christ and His saving work through his death and resurrection for the Glory of God. Being first an ABC and then a CCCC Pastor I have had to study this issue in depth, I minister regularly with both men and women and associate with churches that have women pastors, women deacons, women Elders and so on and so forth. The second-highest ranking person on my denominations board is a woman and when we were securing the Board for 10:31 we explored thoroughly the debate and the scriptures associated with both sides. I also attended seminary with extremely qualified women who know the scriptures better than many men I know. The Pricilla’s to our Aquilla’s if you will. Because of this I have worked hard to study both the book of 1st Timothy and the role of women in the early church. I have talked to scholars on both sides of this debate and delved as deep as possible into the ancient world of Ephesus to learn what was really happening in the Ephesian Church that Paul might do a basic reset of the church. Because of this I have concluded through thorough study and teaching on this subject, just a few things. 1. It is dishonest to interpret 1st Timothy 2&3 in a vacuum that neglects chapter 1 and dishonest to deal with any passage in that way, 2. That there is a very specific cultural reason Paul gives for his words in those two passages and that has to be considered. 3. Women were not exceptions within the leadership of the Early Church, but regularly worked alongside men as Deacons and Elders, with even one serving as an Apostle. And 4. Both sides of the debate are wrong because they are predicated on proof-texting and ignore sound biblical theology making systematic theology impossible, doing damage to the text, dividing the Church into factions, are based not in the texts themselves but man made philosophy and have been used to justify all kind of heresy and mistreatment of others.

Now, I am not saying there no room for dissent on this issue, but if we cannot disagree without being disagreeable, to use a phrase from one of my mentors, then we have already failed. There is also a deep hypocrisy behind telling someone that the English text says: “Husband of one wife” while you yell at them and berate and threaten them to put you in violation of the rest of the text as a church leader. In that moment you cease to be “Above reproach” or “Sober-Minded” and you certainly are not in good standing with all the people. This again is the problem with this type of hunt and peck individualistic theology, apply what you want and leave the rest, even if what you apply makes you a hypocrite in another area.

So, what do we do with these ideas? It is important to remember that the world the bible was written into know nothing of these ideas. For complementarians then, I want you to consider passages like Romans 16. The text is clear there that Pheobe was a Deacon or Minister in the Church in Conchrene and that Junia (not junias, no self-respecting Roman would name their son after a goddess), who was “Premiant/well-known among the apostles.” Or Pricillia and Aquilla who were foundational for the founding of the Church in Corinth and who the ordering of the way in which they are addressed would imply Pricilla had some greater role in the church than her husband. They are even credited with having taught Apollos. They should also consider later evidence of women serving in the church such as John Chryssosotem who refers to his older sister Matilda as “The Teacher.” Consider that the book of 1st Timothy is not as black and white in the original Greek as many would like to make it, that there is actually ambiguity and confusion to this day among translators and scholars because the language is not as cut and dry as our English text makes it. It is possible Paul built this ambiguity in chapter 3 on purpose so that once the women learned quietly as the Jewish School boys and Catechumens were required to do they could lead again, in short, once their witnesses were restored, following how they had been destroyed by participating in the Cult of Artemis and the eve cult that may have been present because of it, and they knew the scriptures well, they could minister again. If the historical data we are starting to learn more about yearly is what happened, then we must consider it in interpreting the text. One might even look up N.T Wright’s arguments on this point and his translation of the passage which brings out the cultural nuances of the words used in 2:11-15. This is not a rewriting of scripture, but a translation that is built upon a deeper understanding of how the culture of that time would have interpreted the words. Also consider the implication of Jesus first instructions after raising from the dead was to instruct the women to literally preach and proclaim his resurrection to His brothers. Apply the same criterion for interpreting these passages in Ephesians that get used for this argument as well.

To Egalitarians, consider the texts in 1st Timothy, that there are standards for those who serve within the rank and file of God’s family. And those standards mean that not just anyone can teach and lead within the Church. There must be a standard and that standard cannot be built on man-made agendas, philosophy and criterion but on the Word of God. There is nothing wrong with desiring leadership within the church, as we have seen there is lots of biblical precedence, but that leadership comes with a requirement that starts with “Above Reproach” and includes being able to rightly divide the word of truth. The pastoral calling is a high one and it has been disgraced by too many preachers both men and women who have failed to maintain the integrity of the office and the integrity of biblical interpretation. One should not enter this calling lightly and those who do should consider both the internal and external call of God to make sure this is what God is calling them too. If we all did this there would be a lot less of us in the calling today. Women and Men both called to the ministry must be students of the Word of God and learn all they can about it if they are going to teach it. They must guard against dealing with a text in a vacuum and seek to become good and solid biblical theologians before they are good and solid Systematic Theologians.

Neither side then should ever Lord it over the other and demand the other should shut-up or “go home.” That is neither respectful nor consistent with how the Bible teaches we are to interact with one another as Brothers and Sisters. Instead, each side should mutually submit to the other, making allowances for the others viewpoint and considering the others arguments and doing so in a manner that does not cause further division, oppress the other or harm the advance of the Gospel. Too much of our discourse from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries are marked by this kind of toxic sectarian discourse that we are now carrying forward into the 21st century. In doing so we have continued to do damage to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and hinder its spread because Christians have lived and acted offensively in the name of the Gospel. The message we bear is offensive enough in our hyper-individualistic society, it ill-behooves us to live in such a way that is a stench as well. The early Church lived a life that was attractive to the outsider and they had favor with all the people (Acts 2:47), knowing how offensive their message was. Yet the way they lived attracted people from the lowest and highest strata of society and made them a family defined as members, one to another (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, 12:14=26). Both sides of this issues should work to “Maintain the bond of peace and the spirit of unity” (Ephesians 4:1-5) which means we cannot angrily shout each other down and work hard to eviscerate the other in comment sections.

Finally, let me address you from the other side of my calling, the pastoral side, not as a Church Historian who studies these debates, but as an under shepherd of the Christ. Through the Holy Spirit you are Brothers and Sisters, Heirs and Co-Hers with one another and with Christ. You are not individuals existing in a vacuum, the way you act, the way you treat one another in debates like this reflect the attitudes of your heart towards you brothers and sisters and have consequences and affects on your brothers and sisters. I have been deeply, deeply hurt by brothers and sisters on both sides of this debate because in their mind this is an essential issue. But no theological or philosophical position, held corporately or individually should ever be held over your brother or sister in Christ in a manner that denies them the love of Christ, the compassion of the Body or the dignity they inhabit by being made in the image of God. There is a time and place to contend for biblical orthodoxy but that orthodoxy cannot be divorced from orthopraxy and must be rooted in the full council of the authoritative Word of God, Holy Scripture, Old and New Testament, Genesis to Revelation, not the ideologies, philosophies or opinions of man. This requires us to lay aside our confirmation biases and approach one another with a spirit of listening and understanding. We must work to be biblical peace makers, not body dividers.

Consider too that we are entering a cultural moment in the South and Midwest that the East and West Coast churches have already experienced and had to respond to. One where we no longer have the luxury of these debates, when we will need all hands-on deck and devoted to Holy Scripture if we are going to survive it with our distinct Christian Identity, rooted in scripture, intact. Those who have doubled down on these positions on both sides, have made fools of themselves and made fools of the church in the public square. We are no longer in a place where we can afford our comfort and those churches which want to maintain the status quo of American Individualism and theologies based on individual opinion and built on two or three verses of scripture are dying and will die. If Jesus were walking among us today would he look at us who claim to be His children and say: “You wicked and unbelieving generation, how long must I endure you” (Matthew 17:17) or will we all hear: “Well done my good and faithful servant.” As much as many of us would like to hear the latter, I fear it will be the former that we would hear. Our hope is not in man, its not in rooted in Western Individualism or modern Western philosophy or any construct of Man, but on Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior and the Gospel which He has left us. The only way to restore the Church in America is through a return to the Holy Word of God and a rejection of the man-made ideas that are causing our death.

 

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.

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

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

Jonathan David Faulkner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

 

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