Tag: Christianity

A New Donatist Controversy?

What do we do with those who want to come back to Orthodoxy?

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

The Church at Carthage is one of those important places in Church History because if you look at it you can see a microcosm of the Church from the 1st to the 6th century. If it affected the church catholic, it was probably magnified in some way at Carthage. Carthage was where the first martyrs’ blood was spilled and in Carthage where the Christians first gained recognition for their care for the sick during a plague. Similarly, it was also a magnifier of some of the many controversies that arose within the Church and was the origin and epicenter of the Donatist Controversy from the 4th to the 6th centuries. It broke out over an appointment b of a Bishop by another Bishop who had turned over copies of Holy Scripture to the Romans under the Persecution of Diocletion. The Donatists believed that priests and pastors had to be perfect, there could not be any impurity in them and so for a bishop to be appointed by a traitor meant that he was impure, since he was appointed by a traitor. The controversy lasted for almost 200 years and drew writings from another North African Bishop, Augustine of Hippo whose writings would prove to be a stinging critique of Donatism. One most notable critique was that the Donatists had separated themselves from the Church Universal: “Caecilianus,” Augustine writers: “the Biship of Carthage is accused with the contentiousness of men; the Church of Christ established among all nations, is recommended by the Voice of God, and love forbid us to receive the testimony of men whom we do not find in the church, which has the testimony of God, for those who do not follow the testimony of God have forfeited the weigh which otherwise would attach to their testimony as men.”

It is important to note what Augustine is saying here: Those who have separated themselves from the Church Universal have no recourse to make accusations against those who are inside the Church Universal. The Donatists had separated themselves from the majority opinion, namely that there could be forgiveness for clergy and for Christians in general who had given in to the Empire so long as they were truly repented. By separating themselves then, the Donatists lost the authority that comes from the Testimony of God. If God had told us not to forgiven apostates, then perhaps the churches majority opinion would have been different. But the contrary is the position of the scriptures, when someone has truly repented of sin, receive them back into fellowship as a brother. Further, the church should not entertain accusations against Clergy on theological matters that come from those who have separated themselves from the Church catholic because the have forfeited their testimony by dividing the people of God. In Augustine’s mind, the Donatists had responded to sin with more sin. Demanding the perfection of the clergy meant no grace could be shown to those who had fallen and so no restoration could be granted, it was to deny them the power of the sacrament of Bread and Cup. Further, dividing from the church was and still is an sin because it divides Christ and Christ cannot be divided. Those who split are to be considered “outside” the church universal.  In our modern context, while this argument makes our denominational divides a sin, it also pushes us past mere ecumenicism to deep unity wherein we agree on the essentials and allow disagreement on the non-essentials.

Underneath the entire controversy was the question: “What do we do with those who succumbed to the pressure to apostatize and worship the Emperor but are now repenting and want to come back into the fold?” That has the baseline to the question I have seen people posting on Twitter, what do we do with the people who sold themselves out for political power, who will, when this over want to come back to the fold as if nothing happened?

I have written before about the heresy of Christian Nationalism. Statism that masquerades as Christianity is no different than the Priests who sold themselves out and either turned over Holy Books, or who burned incenses to the Emperor. The choice by Diocletian was either denounce Christianity or die or rot in prison. Those who sold out the imperial cult under Diocletian and Galerius in the East now found themselves in a Roman Empire under Constantine that was favorable to Christianity and so it made sense for them to renter the Church and it would have been understandable if people like Nicholas of Smyrna, who had languished in prison, took exception to this returning. Yet, they met the challenge with grace, unlike the Donatists who gracelessly refused to accept anyone who had betrayed Christians, regardless of how penitent they may have become.

I wrote way back in 2015 that those who were clamoring for power, the “Court Evangelicals” as John Fea calls them, were not building up the flock, but instead feeding it to the wolves, and feeding the other shepherd to the wolves as well. The reality on the ground, that is, the reality of those of us who interact with real people in the real world is that the world looks at us and hears Christian and automatically associates us with the power hungry who think that the future of Christianity hinges on a political party (fact check, it doesn’t). Not some of these people want to come back to the Orthodoxy table like nothing happened and so we are faced with the inevitable question: “How do we treat those who sold themselves out for power, who separated themselves from the Church Universal to support Statism masquerading as Christianity, and more so, what do we do with the Cultists who might want to re-enter the fold after this is over and they realize they are on the wrong side of history?

As Christians we do not have purity tests, or at least we should not, if we do have one it is the only Jesus gave, and that is by the fruits of the believer, we will know who they are. Those fruits are the fruits that come with repentance and a life in the Spirit. The key there is repentance, the complete change in thought, attitude, and action from one direction to another in keeping with the transformed life of the Spirit. If you have truly repented , there will be evidence in the transformed life of the Spirit, those who have not repented will not show evidence of a transformed life.

This is why I had no faith in the claims that many of the Evangelical Elites that President Trump was a “Baby Christian.” There was no evidence of repentance or a transformed life, instead, his sinful habits and worst characteristics have gotten worse overtime. If you do not believe, just look at Twitter. A repentant man would have humbly confessed the truth to the many allegations against him when they were true, a repentant man would have apologized for the harsh rhetoric and dehumanizing speech directed at Blacks, Latino’s and other minority groups. A repentant man would not have lied and downplayed real threats to public health and our soldiers overseas,  A repentant man would have been one showed contrition, but also vowed to do better, to turn things around. Repentant people don’t act tougher, don’t act like they have a mandate from heaven to do whatever they want, speak however they want. One of my prayers for the president these last four years would be that he would genuinely repent of all these things, the greed, malice, hatred, fearmongering, lying and slandering, all of which are vices mentioned in scripture that we are to turn away from, to put off, if we truly have put on the Spirit of God.

I know that some want to “Forgive and forget” but that is a little harder when we are as divided as we are. There has to be true and real reconciliation and that can only come through repentance from those who have wronged other. But here is the thing, those who have remained in the Orthodox Camp may have to do some self-evaluation of our own attitudes. There may need to be some things that repent of as well, maybe it is unrighteous anger, maybe it is a pure hatred of the “other side” or demonizing or dehumanizing on our own account.

But here is the thing, if they or we are genuinely repentant than forgiveness has to follow suit, if we are to be like Jesus, then those who genuinely repent have to allowed a twentieth chance. I am sorry, but this is not my thought, it is Jesus, he is the one who tells us to forgive, he is the one who tells us to love our neighbor and our enemies. I do not get a say in whether I offer forgiveness, it is there fore the taking if repentance comes. At the same time, if repentance doesn’t come we have to still be willing to forgive, even if the lack of repentance means we cannot fellowship together until that repentance has occurred. As Dr. Bryan Lorrits says: “Forgiveness if required, with reconciliation there is a loophole.”

But, with that I have to remind everyone that God’s goal is reconciliation, that is stated several times in Scripture including in Colossians 1:15-20. God’s desire is to draw all people to himself and if He is drawing all people to Himself then He is also drawing all people to each other. There is a trajectory towards God we are all taking, or should be taking, and if we are on that trajectory then we have inevitably getting closer to one another To look and see a Brother and Sister who I disagree with and say: “If these are the people you’re inviting into the Kingdom God, then I am out.” Doesn’t halt their trajectory towards God, it halts yours. It is important to note that we are all taking the same path towards God, Jesus Christ, if we are all on the same road we should not cause a roadblock by fighting over who should or should not be here. We do not get to determine that, only God does.

Because here is the reality before us, the Church was left here to prepare the way for the return of Christ. That means we are to do everything we possibly can to make it as easy as it can possibly be to see God’s desire that all people be saved (1 Tim 2:5) come to fruition. If our actions turn people away from God, we are not preparing the way, we are hindering the way. Isaiah prophesied long ago that a voice would cry out, and six hundred years later one did.

Church What a vision! What a reality and it is a reality we are currently living in and will one day realize fully. That cry, in the wilderness, it has already happened: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” John the Baptist calls out, God is coming, get ready, make the Highways Straight. And you know what, not only did John cry this, God showed up in the person of Jesus Christ the true and permanent heir to the David Throne, born to the Virgin Mary and her betrothed Joseph of the Royal Line of David. The Glory of God was revealed in Him and He proved over and over again that God’s word would endure forever, even though the leaders of the people were fickle and immoral, God showed that he would keep his promises. Then through His death on the cross He made a way for the lambs to be gathered back to God, for all sins to be forgiven and the scattered flock of God to come home and to this day He takes care of the young lambs, the rich, the poor, the lame, the sick, the imprisoned, the disabled, the disenfranchised, the lost, the least, there is not one who does not fall from his sight. Now he sits at the right hand of God and he is coming again as the right hand of God, in full power, in full splendor, as the Shepherd King and He will one day complete the gathering process. Every mountain is being made low, every valley lifted high, every rough place a plain and every uneven place even! There will no longer be any barrier to Him for anyone, His full glory will be revealed, Church Behold Your God! He is the same today, He was the same yesterday, He will be the same tomorrow, You and I will fade away and die, but He will endure forever.

This is the God who tells us to forgive, this is God who is working to reconcile us to one another as He reconciles us to Himself. So, when people repent, we will welcome them back, until then we will work on forgiving them, it is not going to be an easy road, but it is one we are required to take. We should do it by avoiding purity tests like the Donatists and let the fruits speak for themselves, just as Jesus told us to.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

 

Absolute Absurdity

What on Earth? How can man save God or His people?

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Authors Note: I woke up this morning, like many of you, to the headline that the son of the President of the United States, Eric Trump, had made the claim that his father had: “Literally saved Christianity” in an interview with a radio station in Utah. In keeping with this websites code of conduct, I will not address Eric directly, but will address this idea that Christianity needs man to save it.

Eric Trump Says His Father Literally Saved Christianity was one of the first things that popped up in my newsfeed when I logged into Facebook this morning. Of course, I had to fact check this because it is the internet, but you can find the audio clip here. My first reaction is to sit back and wonder what on earth is going on here, but as a Historian and Theologian that is a question that answers itself. Ideas can be many things, good or productive, bad or destructive. But the idea that a man, any man, with any political party, can “save Christianity” is not just bad and destructive, it is heresy, as is the idea that God would “disappear” if the Democrats would win or that we should fix our eyes anywhere but on Christ to get through the trying times our nation is facing.

There are several reasons for this: 1. It uses Christianity as a utility, 2. It makes religion dependent on government and government officials and 3. It denies the Word of God and even twists it to make it say what it does not. Let us address all three of these problems.

Before we do though, I want to make my “Political Positioning” clear. I was a member of the Republican Party until 2016 and contributed to campaigns during the 2016 Primaries. I was a supporter of then Ohio Governor John Kasich. Raised by Fiscal, Small Government Conservatives, I believe in a small central government and strong state and local government. I do not believe someone living in Washington understands what I am dealing with in Buffalo Center. I was disillusioned with Republicans during the massive bailouts in the mid 2000’s. I disagreed with much of Obama’s policies and positions. I consider myself a hard-line centrist who leans right on some issues and left on others. I have seen how “universal healthcare” can work when done right after living in Massachusetts, an acknowledge the reality that the personal stimulus of the CARES act was extremely helpful to the economy. I also think the Department of Ed should be abolished, as well as the FED because they are imposing rules that ignore the people living in the areas, they are making rules for. I will very likely vote Republican down ballot, but am a member of the Libertarian Party because they’re the only party left that seems to support small government and individual freedoms. As a disabled American I cannot support the Pro-Abortion Platform of the Democrats. I also think we can respect and honor our police officers, military and first responders while hearing the cries of the Black Community and working to reform the system so that it works towards the flourishing of both the communities and the Police that keep them safe. I studied Burke, the father of conservativism and agree that a society conserves the people by conserving the institutions, but status quo change is required, that is reforms are required, to ensure the flourishing of everyone involved. As a Church Historian I think that care for the poor and homeless, reconciliation between Ethnic groups and even medical care should be the purview and priority of the Church and recognize that when we abandoned those responsibilities to fight foolish culture wars was the beginning of the substantial rise of secularism in this country. I am also willing to hold in tension seemingly contradictory views, that is okay with me.

But now to the problems listed above:

It uses Christianity as a Utility: My Faith is not for sale, nor is it an object to be used for the gain of the people in power. I know we have played this game since Constantine, but Church History has proven repeatedly that every time Christianity is wielded as a sword by government officials it has not ended well for the Christians. I have noted that here, and here, and here and here. There is here, a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Christian Religion is. We are, the adopted people of God, making up the body of Christ here on Earth, “the continued presence of God” on Earth, as Philip Schaff noted. We are not a faith, so much as a people of faith that carry with us Organic Unity created by the Holy Spirit. A Kingdom, within Kingdoms, spanning the entire globe. I was reminded of this during a Rend Collective Concert at Gordon College where they respectfully asked us to consider that Evangelicalism is not a strictly American Phenomenon and what American Evangelicals do effects evangelicals around the world.

Christians do not believe in Christianity; Christianity is a socio-religious category that comes down to us via an insult by our Roman persecutors in the 1st and 2nd century. The term “Christian” was first used as a sneering insult to the members of the Church at Antioch in Acts 13. Later, to be a “Christian” was a legal charge of sedition that carried the penalty of death under Nero, Domitian and most other Roman Emperors through Constantine. Christianity is not something to be used then, but something to be lived out based on our Holy Scriptures, the Word of God made up of Old and New Testament. We believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, lived our life, experienced our pain and hurts and temptations but did not sin, died on the cross for our sins, was dead, buried and rose again, being seen to prove that he was alive he then ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father and will one day come again to judge the living and the dead. He was put to death by the governments of his day, both the Jewish and the Roman, and his followers were persecuted, hunted, killed and maligned, but persisted until this faith had spread throughout the entire world, despite the governments attempts to stop it.

The power in Christianity is not in the name of the religion, but in Jesus Christ out Lord. N.T Wright has said that we do not know what true power is, that God’s power defies the conventional wisdom of the world and is stronger than the powers of governments. Christianity was never meant to be an instrument, but a lifestyle rooted in and reflective of the person and work of Jesus Christ. For the Christian, power and influence come first and foremost through service and love, especially to those we do not like. Christianity did not spread because of the Roman Government, it spread despite it, and it will again, which brings me to my second point.

It makes Religion dependent upon government and government officials: With all due respect to the opponents of Christianity Joe Biden is not threat to God or Christianity. The left may be hostile to Christians and their policies hostile towards Christians, but the idea that Joe Biden or the Democrats are a threat to God or even Christianity is absurd, and fearmongering. Since Christianity, by its nature, has nothing to do with geographical boundaries and God himself is not limited to the United States of America there is little use in even making this claim. This is to make Christianity little better than the Pagan Religions of Antiquity, where the gods of the people were determined by the geographical location, the leaders of the city-states and the temperament of the people. Can the left enact persecution against us? Can we be stripped of religious liberties? Yes, but religious liberty is not the norm worldwide and not the norm in Church History, it was granted by man, and man can take it away. By constantly claiming that Christianity will suffer if “so and so” isn’t elected president is to make it a religion of the state. Jesus tells us clearly that we are not to fear man, but God because God can destroy both body and soul in hell. What our overactive religious imaginations are doing is leading to what could become a “self-fulfilling prophesy” where we cry wolf as Christians have been doing for 100 years and when the wolf actually comes he does all the things we claimed he was doing beforehand because we gave him the ideas and no one wants to listen because we spent 100 years crying wolf.

Government and Government leaders are appointed by God, not to protect Christianity, but to keep us from our worst depravities that come out when Anarchy is imposed. Government can also be used as a judge of Christians or a refiner of Christian faith through judgment and persecution of the Church. Keep in mind that Paul wrote Romans 13:14 before Nero was beginning to breathe his threats against the Christians. Christianity would be refined in the coming decades by the persecutions that Jesus promised us. Since Jesus promised us these things would happen, it is abnormal then to live in a society where Christianity is not persecuted, as many of our siblings around the world live under today. If Christianity could not be snuffed out under Nero in the first century or Communism in China today, what makes us think our survival depends on an elected man? Christ tells us to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar, and God what is God’s” (Matt 22:21) precisely because Christians don’t belong to the governments we live under, but to God because we bear the image of God. Christians can be protected or persecuted by governments, but faith can be wiped out by governments. We may need to evaluate our idea of “Religious Liberty” in the United States, to make suer we are not holding it as an idol. As Brad Stine once said: “you’ve been given the right, and it can be taken away.”

It denies the word of God and even twists it: This is a broader critique of Christian Nationalism in general. I am alarmed, but not surprised, when I hear passages like Hebrews 12:1-3 or Revelation 13:1-10 used and twisted to fit a Christian Nationalist agenda. The Vice President is on record from August 27th saying: “let us run the race marked out for us, let us fix our eyes on Old Glory…and let us fix our eyes on the author and perfector of our faith and our freedom.” This is, of course, is idolatry, heresy and blaspheme, it violates Jesus injunction against changing scripture in Rev 22 and if you follow the grammar rules for the original text, it makes “old glory” the “author and perfector of our faith and freedom.” Jesus is the only one who our eyes should be fixed on, “Old Glory” is an object, a piece of clothe that represents our nation. I have not problem singing the National Anthem, but when you start placing American symbols where Jesus should be, when you take your eyes off Jesus and onto the nation, when you look for the nation to save you, you are expressly denying the word of God that tells us the nations cannot save us, they can only uplift or judge us. You are also blaspheming the Holy Spirit which in Mark 8:28-30 Jesus tells us is an “unforgivable sin.”

Other believers are also guilty of such heresy and blaspheme, a popular Christian writer and radio hosts tweet about the president leaving the hospital which evoked the words: “Who can fight against him” from Revelation 13 to the president’s claim of defeating COVID-19 is to make the claim that is made of the first beast. “Who can war against it” is exactly what the people of the earth say about the first Beast which Blasphemes the name of God and persecutes His followers. This is not something I would even want said about me and proves that we should be much more careful when applying biblical passages to real world situations. What was said about the Roman Empire and Nero eventually leads to destruction (14:1-11) for those who follow them.

Isaiah’s Sign: In Isaiah 7:8 the prophet has a problem. Ahaz is troubled and worried about an alliance between Rameliah of Syria and Rezin of Israel. In fact, they had even come to attack Jerusalem and were having very little luck doing so and so in hear he wonders how to save Judah. Isaiah, of course, knows that this fear is foolishness and essentially asks the King who he is going to trust. The options before him are God, the father of creation and Abraham, the one who has called the people out and consecrated them to himself. Or letting that fear cause him to pursue other means such as Egypt, their former enslaver and Assyria’s nightmare, something Hezekiah would eventually do. Isaiah even tells Ahaz that the Lord would send a sign that he was with Ahaz and would protect him, a woman would conceive and give birth to a son, not long after Isaiah’s wife conceived and gave birth to their second son: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, meaning that God would be swift to plunder and quick to destroy Damascus and Syria. Before the boy was weaned, Syria and Israel would be desolations, which they were thanks to Assyria. One of the continuous themes of the book of Isaiah is how trust in and obedience to God leads to life, and trust in the world and disobedience to God brings death to His sanctified people. He wants genuine repentance and faith, not religious devotion.

It is fitting we find ourselves looking towards Advent because that sign, a virgin becoming pregnant and giving birth to a son who will be called “Emmanuel, King of Kings and Lord of Lords” is precisely what we reflect on, and Christ’s return as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” is something we look forward too. The question is the same to us today, who are we going to trust? God who has never failed us through persecution and regime change. Who has not let his People be destroyed for 17,000 years, or are we going to trust man who is fickle and fallen and who uses our faith as a utility, tries to make us depend upon him and twists scripture to meet their goals, who use fear of man, not fear of God, to make you act a certain way. I know who I am going to trust, and it is not man.

A Remnant Will Remain: For those who are not comforted by the above thoughts, or who still think fear of man is appropriate, Isaiah has another lesson for us. No matter how bad things get, God always keeps a faithful remnant of His people. He does not leave or abandon us. Cultural Christians, or Cultural religionists, always fall away when things get hard, but God always keeps for himself a faithful remnant who He then works through to reach the people around them. This is true of Israel in the Old Testament and it is true in Church History. Europe is currently a good example of this, Europe is now thoroughly “pre-Christian” even though it was once the global center of Christianity. When Christianity became unpopular in Europe, many Christians started seeking power, such as the Lutherans in Nazi Germany, thinking this would restore Christianity’s influence and prestige. The opposite happened, and the church in Germany is just now beginning to grow again. In the Czech Republic 95% of the population identifies as Atheist and yet, the Church there is vibrant and growing.

We can also take a lesson from the New England Churches, even though in New England the secularization pattern is to the left of the political spectrum, the New England Churches have retained their Orthodoxy and are, in fact, thriving despite only 3% of the population attends a church of any kind. The only place in the country where less people attend Church is the region in which I grew up, Appalachia where only 1.5% of the population attends Church. Appalachia is still considered part of the “bible belt” even so. In New England, as in Europe, a remnant remains, and that remnant faces persecution, soft in New England and hard in some European States. The governments in those states have sometimes even taken hostile tones and enacted policies that contradict Biblical Doctrine and belief, but the New England Churches continue to thrive. The same can be true of the Midwest where Secularization patterns are mostly to the right of the political spectrum (The Blue Wall MI, WI and MN the exceptions) where the remnant is only starting to form (though the Pandemic is speeding up that process). We had a Church Planter from the Anglican Communion of North America (ACNA) with us in August and they were excited to go an plant a church in Spokane because Spokane is “Post-Christian” everyone knows the terms and people, but only the aberrations of them the secular world gives them.

Church do not be afraid of what is going on in our world, Jesus told us we should expect such things and then reminds us that these are not yet the end. God is still with us, no politician can shut him down or save Christianity. Only Christ can do that, and we need him to renew and transform our minds and hearts after His image. You want to see Christianity begin to grow again? Put Christ back at the center, reject the idols of this world and the people who claim to be able to save us, but who can only hasten our demise. The heart of Christianity can only be restored through Christ Jesus, the true author and perfecter of our faith, to him to be all glory and honor forever and ever, amen.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

“Wait with Hope, Hope Now, Hope Always!”

When a People who have the greatest reason for hope, become the people of despair, something is wrong.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

I wrote a few weeks ago that many in our congregations, and most people in our world are living in a negative feedback loop. One fueled by negative news, constant blame shifting which comes from the Media and Political Leaders from both the left and the right. There appears to be, secularly, only one thing on the menu and that one thing is fear leading to despair. Much of this is driven by loneliness and anxiety about the future. I saw some of this when I shared what seems like a daunting statistic from Forbes and BARNA that 1-5 Churches have closed since the Pandemic and many pastors are planning to step down and away from Ministry germanely once this is over. But I did not leave those I was talking with in fear and despair, that would not be shepherding God’s people well, just the opposite. Because while despair is a reasonable feeling, Jesus feels it, we should always, also, remind people of the outcome. Even Jesus, in his despair in the garden, prayed a prayer of despair knowing the outcome, salvation for all mankind through the risen Christ.

I had been spending a lot of time in the Psalms of Ascent this week as I prepare to preach on Psalm 131 on September 20th and my daily psalm praying has come to them. The late Eugene Peterson wrote an entire book on these Psalms entitled: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction which may be the best non-commentary work on them one can read. I love the way Peterson translates this psalm (131) in The Message Translation, and it appears in the book in this manner as well:

“GOD, I’m not trying to rule the roost,
I don’t want to be king of the mountain.
I haven’t meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans.

I’ve kept my feet on the ground,
I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.
Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content.
Wait, Israel, for GOD. Wait with hope. Hope now; hope always!”

 PSALM 131[i]

Not only does Peterson’s translation, or paraphrase, capture best the Psalmists humility as they approach God, but it gives us a modern context for walking with God through things like a Pandemic.

One of the reasons I have heard for all the despair, and this is particularly true in places like Iowa where we have received almost no direction from state government, is that one does not know who to believe. Everyone has an angle; everyone says something different than someone else. In some ways, this is what one should expect in a society where truth is considered to be completely and totally “Relative.” This is, unfortunately the result of a society that tells one to “live their truth.” If my truth is that this thing is a “Hoax” (it is not) then why should I believe the one whose truth tells me to take it seriously. It also does not help that this is a kind of “lowest common denominator” truth and reduces and dehumanizes a person to their viewpoint or perspective which is generally only able to be articulated in the negative. “I am this, not this.” Truth in relationship to what you are not, is only a partial truth. There are times when this is okay, there are relatives in this world, but when everything is relative, and everyone operates on either a half-truth or flat out lie, both of which operate in the negative, then we have the mess before us today.

We take the opposite position of the Psalmist, instead of the humble posture presented in Psalm 131, we absolutely want to “rule the roost” and be “king of the mountain” and some even make a living of “meddling” with what they have no business meddling in and making Grandiose Plans. This can be the summation of our modern political discourse, everyone is attempting to do all of this, and as usual, what is done out of human pride, is leading to death and a deepening depression and anger. Yoda’s words in “Attack of the Clones” seems prescient: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side.” It is not biblical, but the proverb is playing out before our eyes because we are all afraid that all that we have built with our own two hands is going to come crashing down around, which in turn is speeding up the pace by which it crashes down.

This is another reason I have told my congregation to turn off the 24/7 News Cycle and open their bibles and further, spend more and more time in prayer. Because the Christian does not draw their hope from anything within this world, nor are to place our ultimate hope in anything in this world. Politicians let us down, pastors too, news media stokes our fears and bad actors mislead and misdirect us from all sides. Christians cannot even put an inferior hope in anything in our world now because it is delivering the opposite message Christianity should proclaim. The reason Jesus came was not primarily to pronounce judgment on humanity, though he did pronounce judgment in cases where his primary message was rejected. His primary message was the message of the Prophet Isaiah which Jesus tells us he fulfills in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free.” Jesus was, Luke tells us, reading the Isaiah Scroll, what in our modern bibles would be 61:1. Jesus did not come to primarily proclaim doom and gloom, but hope. Then He left His church here and commanded us to do all that He had commanded us, which included what He had said above. The message of Jesus is one that we should carry forth, a message supported by the way in which we imitate the way He lived. If you read the Gospels (particularly Luke 10-11) you will notice too that when the Disciples want to call down fire on two village’s, Jesus rebukes them and then He is the one who pronounces woe, not the Disciples. He does, of course, tell them to shake the dust off of a town that rejects Him and His message, but notice that woe has already been declared for rejecting them, it is not the Disciples declaring the woe. Pronouncing Judgment seems to be the responsibility of Jesus alone. We are to proclaim a message of hope and hen that message is rejected, we are to remember that judgment has already been proclaimed.

Unlike so many things in this world, this cannot be a “Passing hope” as in: “I hope the Packers win the Superbowl this year.” This is not a trivial message of trivial hope. This is a certain message of ultimate hope, hope with expectation, the kind we talk about at Advent, as if the hope that is certain at Advent is to be with us throughout the year. Not abandoned once we get to Lent or forgotten after Epiphany. This kind of Hope is a contented hope, it acknowledges how desperate things are at the present moment, but like the child who no longer pines for their mothers milk, but instead is contented in their mothers arms, knowing they will receive the tender love and care from their parent no matter the situation. Not an infantile crying, but childlike hope and faith that receives answers to questions and concerns from God the Father. This hope is what helps us “keep our feet on the ground” and “Cultivate(d) a quiet heart” before God, Rather than wondering about the things which are not ours to know, or demanding our own way, we can keep that quiet, confident hope.

It is this hope that the Psalmist exhorts us to, “wait for the Lord Israel, wait with Hope, hope now, hope always.” The ESV renders this as: “Oh Israel, Hope in the Lord, both now and forevermore.” The exhortation to “hope always” seems to have been lost somewhere in the annals of recent Church History. If we are not to place our hope, even trivial hope, in the people and systems of this world, then we are to place all our hope in our ultimate hope, that is, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior and we are to: “Hope now, Hope always.” There is no time when it is appropriate for the Christian to stop hoping and give themselves totally to despair, yet so many in the Church in the United States today have been doing just that, and have been for more than two centuries. One can go back to the Whig Theology of the 19th century, to the Fundamentalist, Modernist controversy of the early 20th, to all the debates and hope placed in politics and political actors who, instead of exhorting the people to Hope in God and wait with hope, have exhorted the people to fear this or that person/ideology of thing and so we, a people of hope, have allowed ourselves to become a people of fear and despair.

In allowing our hope to be stripped from us we have abandoned the very thing Jesus unleashed us to do. Because we ourselves are captives to fear and despair, we cannot set others free from their own fear and despair. We are like Peter in so many ways, holding our eyes on Jesus until the wind and the rain catch our attention until we drown. Then Jesus reaches out a hand and it seems that instead of taking it, many are refusing it as if it is not really there, preferring instead people and institutions whose ability to save us from a storm is little better than a flimsy piece of drift wood floating by just out of reach. Here is the kicker though, we think we are still in the boat, a cognitive dissonance which I am unable to explain at this present moment.

Things like the Ethnic Reconciliation many in the Church are calling for will help us do exactly what Jesus came here to do and sent us out to do. The benefits are enormous for everyone involved, I know because I have had a taste of it, a small glimpse into what it can look like and lament because it seems like a lot of that work is being undone. But whenever you bring up the topic with some Christians it is dismissed not as the Gospel issue which it is, but our culture has made it, like everything else, a political one. We need a desperate reminder that life is not a political issue, we may get one and it will likely be in a rathe unfortunate way. The pundits, who are responsible for much of the polarization, have drilled down on this issue and many others to tell us to be afraid, many of those pundits come not from the secular world, but from the pews of the churches and from the ivory towers of her institutions. Christianity has been taken over the doomsayers, at least in the public square, to the point that Christian who is not attacking their opponent with fire and brimstone is considered an oddity or accused of “playing both sides.”

But we are the people of hope, and it is about time we began to live like it. This was, of course, the very reason Christianity spread with such rapidity in the first four centuries. From Perpetua ad Felicitous to Polycarp and so on, the hope of the Christians and their refusal to give up both the reason for their hope (Jesus Christ) and their message of Hope in the face of the cruelest of torchers preserved for us by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Church History was the catalyst for the explosion of the Gospel. This hope prompted the Christians to respond to the wild beasts with the same quiet, child like peace that the psalms in 131 talks about. We are no where near that kind of persecution today, and we are failing the light persecution test in an increasingly Post-Christian, and even in some places, pre-Christian America.

I saw a “Radio Free Babylon: Coffee with Jesus” cartoon this morning. In it, Lisa, one of the regular characters, was asking Jesus for some hope during the Pandemic. Jesus reminded her of her elderly neighbors down the road and she immediately started thinking of ways she could help them in their struggle against isolation and loneliness. While I think this is a slight oversimplification, the point stands, nonetheless. We go to Jesus for some hope because we can trust Him, and He gives us that Hope and encourages us to share that hope with the person down the street. Hope is not merely for the individual, but for the corporate, we all share in this hope and we share this hope with one another. If we abandon this hope we may as well abandon the moniker of Christian altogether, because we are not, in choosing despair over hope, living as Christ. Again, there is nothing wrong with feeling despair as long as despair drives us to the ultimate hope, if that despair becomes our mode of operation then it becomes sinful because we are denying Christ and His Person and Work, of the three things that remain: “Faith, hope and Love” we are in danger of abandoning all three in favor of the world’s three remaining: “doubt, despair and hatred” and of this, we should repent. The way forward for the church in the pandemic and following is not more negativity, but true and genuine hope that is rooted and grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ and which does the things which Christ set us free to do. Oh, and let God pronounce the judgment while you pronounce the hope forevermore.

“God, help us put away the fearmongers, to silence the voices of hatred and doom and gloom, for the sake of your son, lead us to your Holy Throne as your children and may we live as a people of Ultimate Hope for the sake of our neighbors.” -Amen

[i] Peterson, Eugene H.. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (p. 141). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

The Radical (and Ancient) Third Way of Christianity.

The Church once again finds herself in a philosophical landscape that is incompatible with Her Doctrines, the way forward, is perhaps the way ancient.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Last week I posted the following on the Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner Facebook Page: Upon investigation of all the evidence it would seem that Christianity is incompatible with both Marxism which denies the radical unity of Christ by dividing groups into class and western, capitalistic radical individualism which denies the radical unity of Christ by asserting the idolatry of the individual. Neither consider biblical teachings of the New Humanity (Eph 2:11-22, Galatians 3:28-29) And adherence to either deny the teachings of Jesus as they are applied in the Gospels, book of Acts and the Epistles. It would seem the only favorable source for Christianity in responding to the present crisis is only the Word of God. Read in such a way that we the human let the text stand over us as an authority, rather than read our fallen human ideas back into the text. Once again Christians should find themselves in the middle, a radical third way to the options put before us by the World. A way that brings life, rather than destruction, which is all the ways of the world, marred by their total depravity, can bring.

I wrote earlier this year that Jesus was neither a Socialist (as portrayed by many on the left) or any other of our modern philosophies which we read back into the ancient world. Philip Schaff is correct that: “Christianity, awakening in a certain historical reality, did not seek to destroy the culture, but infuse it with its transformative power, to make it the best version of itself.” What this means is that while Christianity interacts with the philosophies of whatever culture it finds itself in, its goal is ultimately to transform that culture and its philosophies into what God intended them to be. It should remove the sinful aspects of the culture in favor of its own recreative power, but it does not destroy. Christianity also comes with its own philosophies and moral teachings that are greater than anything man made because they are not man made, they are God’s own teachings and philosophies. One of two things has happened philosophically that have led to distortions of Christian Teaching over the millennia, either Christians have borrowed the world’s philosophies and tried to syncretize them, such as is the case with Gnosticism and Christianity, a Syncretism still very much alive today in Evangelicalism. Or secular philosophies have taken certain teachings or Jesus and of Christianity and syncretized them to their own philosophy. Whether it was intentional or not, is beside the point, most western philosophy, including the moral philosophies of Atheism has been heavily influenced by Christianity. As I have quoted before: “Western Culture swims in the soup Christianity created.” So while there are aspects of both Marxism and Individualistic Capitalism that reflect Christian teachings, neither are compatible and when put with Christianity are distortions of Biblical truth, not reflections of it.

For example, it is true that the Early Christians believed in a form of redistribution based on their concern for others within the strong group, family dynamic and the broader community they were a part of. However, Historians note that this was voluntary and meant to be done out of the Joy that came knowing Jesus Christ as Lord. In the OT the redistribution was even encoded into the law, but in the NT Christians are encouraged to give out of the joy of Christ and concern for their neighbor and they did, generously. The finances of the Church should still, today, reflect the values of God and go towards care for the poor and needy, as they did in the ancient Church. (The pastor should also be paid for their services, but that is a different matter). The younger generation will give to Churches where money is being used for these purposes. Individualistic Capitalism rightly glorifies the dignity of an individual’s work, as Paul does in 1st Thessalonians. Those who can work, should work and work for the glory of God. The early church had a well-developed “Theology of Work” that was accompanied by a “Workplace Theology” which prompted them to be well known for their moral and upstanding business practices. However, when a convert could no longer work in their field, as was the case with many theater actors who were converted, the Church would provide for them until they were ready to pursue a new profession. Both ideas made their way into separate modern philosophies, whether the creators of the separate ideas knew their origins to be biblical or not.

It is unfortunate, as I said, these are either distortions of Christianity or borrow from Christianity. But both stand in opposition to the actual teachings of Jesus and the life put before the Body to live as one Body. They both ignore the reality of the new humanity that is formed in Christ, one that is radically different from either philosophy. Marxism is dependent on splitting people between classes and pitting them against one another. According to Marx history is the repetition of the Proletariat rising and overthrowing the Bourgeoisie ruling class. The wealth of the ruling class is then redistributed to all. This is commonly called Socialism but is also known in its more sinister form as “Communism.” When this has happened, for instance during the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the role of oppressor merely changed hands, the previously oppressed rise to become the oppressor. This is portrayed extremely well in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” It is true that redistribution can be done and is done in a way where this is not the case, such as many democracies in Europe which are hybrids between Capitalism and Socialism (commonly called Democratic Socialism) but these countries are not truly Marxist or truly capitalistic, rather try to take the best of the two and mix them. The Body of Christ is a strong group, such as what Marxism tries to create, but it is one group, not divided into many. More on that in a second.

Individualistic Capitalism, while it does rightly elevate the value of individual work, also places the primacy of the individual and the individuals work to the point of idolatry. That is, the self and what the self accomplishes takes precedence over all else and the self is divorced from the group to which the person belongs to the point of isolation. This is what we commonly call a “weak group” society and it is the exception in the world and in History, rather than the rule. The consequences of this, especially in the late stages we find ourselves in today, is that people feel increasingly disconnected and isolated. A phenomenon we are seeing explode with COVID-19, but which was already on the rise as Cell and other Digital Technology increased throughout the early 2000’s to today. Games like “The Sims” and Social Media Platforms have only served to create a false sense of community while they really lead to further isolation and depression. When someone is reduced to their job, disconnected from the groups that support them, the result is dehumanizing and the work which once brought dignity because it was just one part of the individual’s sense of self, leaves the person wondering if there is anything else to life. Work is a dignifying thing, there is no way to deny that, but a person’s profession is only one part of them. Christianity encourages work as part of the peaceful and quiet life, but Paul is never reduced to a “mere tentmaker.” Instead he is identified by his associations with his strong group or groups, A Jew, part of the Sanhedrin, then An Apostle, A Christian, A Roman Citizen. He is always identified as part of his group before he talked about what he did.

Society has made it seem like the Church desperately needs to chose between these two ideologies, but in reality if we settle for either, or even some syncretism of both, we are falling far short of what Scripture actually gives us to live out and the example to which we are to aspire. Christ has come to make an entirely new humanity that transcends the old one, not to reinforce social and class divisions as Marxism does, but to eliminate them altogether. While work is still important to Christianity, the worker is not reduced to their work, rather their work is one aspect of their life, it is also how they contribute to the transcendent new humanity, through their work they are engaged in active evangelism to reach others. They also contribute to making sure the group can take care of those unable to work or who need time to figure out a new profession. The model of Biblical reconciliation given us in Christ Jesus is one that eliminates the categories of oppressed and oppressor but also values someone based on their being In Christ and made in God’s image, rather than their profession or what they contribute. Redistribution that is done comes through the Church Leaders out of Joy and Gratitude for what Christ has accomplished on their behalf. It is not meant to be forced or demanded but should be done when possible. By doing this Acts even tells us that no one among them had any need, a fulfillment of Deuteronomy 15 (Acts 4:33). Individuals are thus to be viewed as human beings made in the image of God with that Image fully activated and renewed in Christ (or potentially so). Individuals have autonomy, but also need to be recognized as part of the larger group. Christian (Little Christ) should be the first identity that all over identities are subsumed under or subordinate too. I am a Christian before I am a Pastor, I am a Christian before I am a Father, I am a Christian before I am a Police Officer. But this does not erase cultural distinctives, but meshes them, transforms them. A Christian who is Black is still Black and brings their culture, transformed in Christ because God created it, to the table which God has set before us. There is to be, in the body of Christ, Unity in Diversity. Christians are every skin color, (almost) every profession, making up the whole of God’s created humanity.

It seems obvious that both ideologies have zeroed in on two different aspects of Christian Teaching and either knowingly or unknowingly, both scheme to form the perfect humanity either through Utopia (impossible) or total autonomy (also impossible). The New Humanity however requires us to hold in tension the individual and the group. The New Humanity is meant to be a strong group made up of individuals who are caring for each other not out of obligation but out of gratitude for what Christ has done. The New Humanity is meant to be both Salt, a preserving agent in the ancient world, and light to the world. That is, the New Humanity preserves the world and seasons the world, preparing it and curing it for Christ’s return but is also to be a beacon for all the world to see on how to live. This is a radical third way that does not diminish humanity to classes or to individuals, but which draws us up into something completely different, divine Union with Christ and with one another in which all the hostilities of this world, personal and corporate, are destroyed by the death of Christ on the Cross (Ephesians 2:11-22, Galatians 3:27-29). Christianity is not mere moralism, it is something new, as John Williamson Nevin tells us when speaking of the Incarnation: “A New principle of light and life.” Man is now in relationship with God the Father through God the Son. Nothing like this has ever been since the time of the fall and nothing like this ever will be again until the end of all things and that union is once again renewed and perfect at the end of all things. To diminish Christianity, to make it less than it is, denies the work of Christ and makes a mockery of his sacrifice. It is blaspheme against God to take away from Christianity, to make it less than what God has designed it to be, a New Humanity, meant to resemble what God intended Humanity to be in the Garden.

The judgment we heap upon ourselves by embracing anything less than what the Bible teaches us will be swift and fierce. Forget what the world may do to us in calling our bluff, those who think they are Christians but have no relationship with Christ and who actually live the opposite of what He has put before them to live are calling judgment and eternal damnation down on their heads. (Matthew 7:22, 23, Romans 2:1-11 1 John 1:1-11 and so on).

Lord, Heal your Church, call your people back to you. Amen.

 

Bibliography

Hellerman, Joseph. 2009. When the Church Was a Family . Nashville : B&H Publishing .

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

Nevin, John Williamson. 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 .

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.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife 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.

 

 

 

“You Cannot Ruin Easter”

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

Jonathan David Faulkner

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

The Resurrection of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Coronavirus and The Death of Individualism

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

Jonathan David Faulkner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about it this way:

 

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

The Problem with Christian Celebrity

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

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

#GospelDrivenSissyPreacher: It’s not as bad as they tell you it is.

By Jonathan David Faulkner

 

Christianity is falling apart, the Church in America is in dire straits, what are we going to do? Or is it…Well…if you listen to the doomsayers. I know, I know, we’ve said some things that lean that way, given our support of the Babylon Bee you’d wonder if we believed the media, that the state of American Christendom is so dire that we should just give up and start over.

Which, to an extent, that’s what has been happening, Christians like myself who have decided it was time to give up the idols of American Christianity and start to follow the faith as it was meant to be lived out. Not in the way that the media portrays us as something like Westboro or unintelligent Trump voters. Granted, both stereotypes are true in some cases, but not when you really start to evaluate the majority of Christians in the U.S. God is on the move, but you’re not hearing about it.

This of course is because the media’s knowledge of religion is minimal at best. As a post on the Religious Dispatch pointed out this week in an article of Trump and Hilary: “”The boys and girls on the bus are well versed in the talking points, image strategies, the horse race – all the conventions of modern presidential campaign journalism…their understand of religion is a mixture of broad bromides about the nature of religion in American life, imbed perhaps with entirely subjective notions of religion born of their own personal experience with it.” The media does not know enough about religion to even understand the life of a religious person.

And I’m not referring to revivals in West Virginia or AzuzaNow, both events our website has covered as well as many other organizations. I am talking about the average Christian that you meet in the corner deli or the coffee house. The Christian not reaching for power, but simply trying to live a life that is transformed by the Gospel. That’s the Christian you do not hear about, they are the everyday believers, leaving out and speaking the Gospel. Reaching their neighborhoods and communities with the message of grace and peace…and doing so without any recognition.

Unless you listen to Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. While Dobson and Falwell Jr. have worked to make a power play, struggling to achieve a false view of the churches role in politics. And while people like Feuerstien have torn down the body for not subscribing to their version of Christianity. Those who would rather continue driving a stake through the heart of the already bleeding American Church instead of seeking to actually be the Church.

Yes, the church has issues, there’s a lot of negative ideologies that need to be addressed, there are problems that need to be resolved. We have to talk about those things and we have to be discerning in dealing with them and how to solve those issues. We have to continue to address those things and figure out a way to do it in such a way that stays further division among the genuine believers while separating us from those who have twisted the gospel and refuse to be transformed.

 

But, we also must be aware of what is happening within the Christian Faith. Little hint, it is not what the media is telling you.

If you don’t believe me, take a trip to New England, one of the most densely populated areas in the country and one of the oldest regions in the country. A place where the term; “Post-Christian Society” is about the only way to describe it. A place where it is genuinely unpopular to be a Christian. From Maine to New York City the term “God Bless You” will get you a death glare. Just down the road in Salem the head of the Wicka Cult worships, down in Boston there is Harvard and MIT and a number of other schools with teachers that are openly hostile towards Christianity.

Yet, come and meet the Christians, not the ones in the various Liberal churches who cling to Leftist doctrines more than they stick to the Gospel, but to the actual, Bible-Believing Christians. The ones who know how unpopular their viewpoints are among the common people and higher ups. The ones who genuinely want to build people up and spread the good news of the Gospel.

But here’s the thing, this is not just happening here in New England, this is happening all across the country. Keller actually believes this to be the norm, not the exception, and that is encouraging news. These are not Cultural Christians, or Cultural Evangelicals, they are genuine, bible-believing, Gospel living believers who genuinely love each other and who genuinely love their enemies because they understand that love comes from God and because they love Him and know His love for them they are able to live out joyfully the life that we are all called to.

So we apologize if the impression we have given you of the American Church is a bleak one. That is not entirely the case. There are a lot of good things happening in the church, especially here on the North Shore, one of which we will be highlighting in the month of July. Seeking to celebrate those things which God is doing in the church and encouraging those who might be disillusioned as we are to know that there is hope.

God is moving amongst his people, the Gospel is stronger than ever, and maybe our current predicament has a lot to do with that. God can do amazing things when His people find themselves weak and without power. That’s how this whole thing started in the first place. In the weakness and powerlessness of the Manger, with a baby and his mother and father, a baby who would one day take on the sins of the world on the cross.

At God’s Heart for Those we choose to build up and encourage the Church, hoping to be a unifying voice among the chaos. And if that makes us #GospelDrivenSissyPreachers then so be it.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry

Who are you to decide?

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By Jonathan David Faulkner

 

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7

One of the tactics used against me by the pastor who spiritually abused the church I attended in High School was to tell people that “God could not possibly be laying something on your heart if you were not sure of your salvation.” This did a lot of damage to my own family members as well as to my already damaged Psyche. Sad as it is, questioning the salvation of others is an earmark of Authoritarian Leadership. “You are not a Christian if you do X” is a common line or “God cannot use you unless” or “God cannot use you unless” and of course “You are not a Christian if you…”

So when the radical fundamentalist and the leader of the “Facebook Church Movement” Joshua Feuestien comes out and says “You cannot be a Christian and vote for Hilary Clinton” my immediate reaction is to reject the idea completely. While it is true that there are moral issues with voting for Hilary, God’s Heart does not dispute that, nor is this an endorsement of Hilary. We take issue with saying someone is not a Christian because of who they vote for. Or saying someone is not a Christian in general.

In some ways this is also a pushback against things that I myself used to stand for. I have ruined my share of Christian Walks with the legalism I used to practice with great zeal. However, as I have grown and done ministry for myself and as God has redeemed the church and His word for me and redeemed His people, as the spirit has taught me, I have grown to reject those former things. I suppose it is the natural progression of the Christian to maturity, though I am far from mature and far from worthy of being called such.

It came down to having to question myself. “If I claim to be a believer but do such and such, but condemn that act in someone else’s life, calling them non-Christian, how am I actually a Christian?” The radical revelation of our changed condition in Christ thus gave me an answer. “Who are you to say anyone who claims to be a Christian is or is not a Christian, is God not working in them just as He is working in you?”

Who am I to decide if a person is a believer or not? Yet we do, as recently as last month the Pope called Trump an unbeliever. Some Christians have even questioned the faith of those Conservative Evangelicals who have thrown their lot in with Trump, who by the way, professes to be an Evangelical.

We do, also acknowledge, that American Christianity has largely grown illiterate, Biblical Literacy is at an all-time high as anti-Intellectualism sweeps through the laity. It is hard to practice the wisdom given us in 2 Timothy 1:7 when we do not know what it says and preachers preach on Opinions instead of building up the flock to stand firm as people of God.

Still, I am not qualified to judge them as unbelievers, I can look at their fruit (Matt. 7:15-20), I can discern an action or a thought to be in line with the Gospel or error or false teaching or even Heresy. But I cannot say for certain if an individual who professes faith in Jesus Christ is a believer or not. They could simply need guidance, direction, spiritual wisdom, discernment. They may just need to be shown their error lovingly and lovingly led to repentance. That has ben the way shown to me by those who have helped to rehabilitate me as a member of the Body of Christ. Had someone come to me and told me “You are not a Christian because you are a legalist” I would have laughed at them. Which is why we refuse to say that Feuestien is not a Christian, only that his teachings depart from Christian Orthodoxy, into Gnostic Heresy.

As the verse from 1 Samuel 16:7 states: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” God said this to Samuel while as he was looking at David’s brothers, considering their height and strength and physical appearance. But David, who was the youngest and not initially present for Samuels arrival, and certainly not a weakling himself. Was chosen to replace Saul as King of Israel. God calls David a “Man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22) despite the terrible sins of adultery and murder he committed.

Matt Chandler points out in a sermon series on James that “David would not be able to get a job at our church.” And he’s right. Were David alive today we might say “He is not a Christian, look at this horrible thing he did.” Yet David, when he was confronted by his sin repented and God kept his Covenant with David and if was from the line of David that Christ came into this world and now sits enthroned forever.

We are all being Sanctified, we are all being lovingly corrected by the Holy Spirit, learning how to live Righteously and sometimes that is a slow process. We must allow for it, we must also recognize our need for others to come alongside us and speak life into us and most importantly we need to recognize the constant and eternal presence of the Triune God and the Trinity’s role in our lives. Living in accordance with Scripture, becoming refined into the likeness of God while acknowledging and encouraging our identity as one body in Christ.

Friday morning, I released the following post of Facebook after seeing Feuerstie’s indictment against believers who vote for Hilary. I pray you will consider these words prayerfully and with a grain of salt: “It is not a sin to vote for someone in an election. And it is extremely foolish to tell someone they are not a Christian for voting for a candidate. However, we do need to look at the fruit of those who are running. Whether it be Hilary, Trump, Kasich, Cruz, Bernie or Rubio. We have to prayerfully discern through the lens of Scripture the course each Canidates platform could take us and look at the fruit of their past actions and come to a conclusion based on that, a conclusion that should be informed by the Spirit. But we also must not judge our brothers and sisters, calling them Non-Christians for voting for any particular candidate.”

We should not be divisive with our words, participating in foolish talk that causes quarreling among the saints (2 Tim. 2:23). Rather we should seek to build up, exhort and encourage one another. Wisely admonishing our brothers and sisters and joining together to worship God as one body of Christ (Col 3:10-17). Living in the spirit of “Power, Love and Self-control” (2 Tim 1:7) we have found in Christ. Praying for all people and living “Godly and upright lives before all men. For God desires that none should perish” and come to the saving grace of our Lord Jesus (1 Tim 2:1-5).

So let us stop focusing on who is a Christian and who is not. Let’s stop saying “you are a believer, and you are not a believer.” Let God judge the hearts of man and let us look at the fruits we bear and pray that we might produce the good fruit as we are commanded. Not dividing, but uniting, vessels of grace and love that bring people into the Covenant relationship with God that we daily enjoy.

 

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Jonathan David Faulkner is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry