Tag: church

Your Pastor in the Age of the Coronavirus

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

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

To the Church Universal in an age of uncertainty.

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

 

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

The Tale of Two Speeches

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

Jonathan Faulkner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

Philip Schaff, . 1964. “The Principle of Protestantism .” In The Lancaster Theology Series on the Mercersburg Theology V: VI , by J.W. Nevin, Ed Bard Thompson Philip Schaff, 48-219. Philidelphia : United Church Press.

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

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

More Than Mere Ecumenicism: #FortheUnityoftheChurch

Party-Spirit is something explicitly rejected in Scripture, yet it is something the Church in America has openly embraced. A New Reformation may be one of restoration, the question is will we join the Holy Spirit or fight against Him?

Jonathan David Faulkner

Authors Note: There is a bibliography attached to this article for your further reading. I pray you will prayerfully consider both sides of this issue and deeply consult scripture concerning these matters.

One of the places I would most like to visit in life is the Gravestone of Dr. Philip Schaff which reads: “He worked for the Unity of the Church.” The great church historian’s legacy is one we should aspire too, he was able to work across lines that were even more fervently drawn in the sand, and which would become more-so as the nineteenth century would draw to a close with the rise of reconstructionism and its particularly schismatic brand of fundamentalism that claimed to be: “the only true church.” Schaff understood what the Reformers after Luther did not, that the church is meant to be defined by its historical definition, that is as “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.” That no matter how many lines we drew in the proverbial sand, this is how scripture instructs us it should be and tells us a violation of through party spirit is tantamount to Antichrist. Schaff provides the Anti-Thesis to Hodge’s idea that schism is necessary to “Preserve the Gospel” pointing out that Hodge assumes it is a work of man that the gospel is preserved and not through the work of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Hodge’s inability to see the church as an organic body made one by the Holy Spirit and defined by its Love for one another (John 14:21) gave Schaff pause and it should give us pause as well. Schaff was right to say of the American Church that we were a Church without History, working so hard to preserve salvation by grace through faith that we neglected everything after thus reducing Christianity to mere conversionism where we bring people to the cross, but never into discipleship. If Billy Graham said in the 70’s that Christianity in America is “A mile wide and an inch deep” how much worse are we today?

Brothers and Sisters, I love the Church, not the brick and mortar buildings that we call the Church, but the flesh and blood, Spirit indwelled people that is the biblical church. I know the argument is: “Well that’s how it should be, but this is how it is and we cannot make it how it should be.” But if this is how it should be then why are we not falling on our knees, asking God for the unity of the Spirit that Jesus prayed we would have in John 17. The scriptural view of the Church is possible by the Holy Spirit and yes, if we are living out what scripture says the Church should be, it won’t make sense but to the outside world but Jesus promised us it wouldn’t and our refusal to even try, our demands that we keep up the dividing wall of hostility between one another that Christ worked to tear down. Our capitulation to Party-Spirit as some follow Presbyterianism, some follow Congregationalism, some follow Lutheranism, should absolutely break our hearts that in doing this we are doing exactly what Paul warned us against in 1 Corinthians 1:12 and 3:4. I love the church so much that our current reality has made me weep, as a pastor and as a member of the Body. We have taken the very thing Paul warned us against and, ignoring the questions: “Is Christ Divided?” We have cut him into twelve pieces and shipped him to the four corners of the globe. Oh God, please forgive us.

But before I get accused of being a romantic or emotional or even an ecumenic I want to make clear what I am saying here. Schism and Sect and Segregation do not preserve the Gospel, they divide up Christ. Going out and finding a church that meets our preferences and refusing to fellowship with churches that do not, divide Christ, Spreading rumors about the pastors of other churches or hoping that the other churches in town die so you can absorb them is sin and divides Christ. We have become so arrogant that we stand over the church and dictate to it how it should serve our preferences and theological viewpoints instead of relying on the living word of God which we claim is our ultimate authority.

These things even find their way into how we translate the Creed. For instance, in a hymnal your Creed may read: “I Believe in the Holy Spirit, The Holy Catholic Church, The Communion of Saints…” or that second line might read: “I Believe in the Holy Church” or “Holy Christian Church” I even saw one hymnal that said: “Holy Presbyterian Church.” The translation “Holy Christian Church” comes out of reconstructionism and fundamentalism that arose in the 1890’s, from a group claiming they were the “Only true expression of the Church and all others were apostate.” This is the height of party spirit; this is the people in 1 Corinthians 1:10 who said: “I Follow Christ.” The super-spiritual who looked down in mocking jeers at their peers who follow “Paul” or “Apollos.” We see the word “catholic” which in the Creed simply means “universal” or “part of the whole” and think it means “Roman Catholic” instead of digging deeper we just let our prejudice run wild. We then go a step further and try to make our denomination the only true denomination, rebuilding the walls of hostility that Christ worked so hard to tear down (Eph 2). This is sinful and denies both the power of scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit to the point of both quenching and grieving Him. Oh God, please forgive us.

I am not talking about mere ecumenism here; I do not just want denominations to work together across denominational isles. I am talking knocking down the walls of denominationalism altogether in favor of the biblical and historic definition of the Church. I want us to stop acting like our expression of the Church is how it is meant to be and return to a biblical model of the Church. I want the church to be what God intended the Church to be, a universal, set apart, family united by the Holy Spirit that bears witness in our words and actions to Christ and follows His teachings. That would make us the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church that we read about in scripture. Denominations are not even the problem, it is the human sinfulness, the hardness of our hearts towards the things of God and our neglect of those things in favor of what we want, not even what we find in scripture, but what our individualism says we deserve. Brothers and sisters, this is sin, this denies scripture, breaks fellowship, grieves the Holy Spirit and divides Christ.

What is interesting is that God is starting to heal these divisions. All over the united states now there are churches that are combining. Black Churches with White, Older churches with younger, Rich churches and poor. God is starting, by His spirit, to erase these lines sometimes even against our will. We seem to be at the beginning of a new era of reformation one not marked with unintended schism but with God-driven restoration. There is even a Church near me here that is made up of multiple Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches.

I have said before and I will say it again. Sect, Schism and Segregations are the unbiblical luxuries of the Church in Power, we are no longer in power, we are even starting to see persecution. Instead of grasping at the last vestiges of the “glory days” of Christendom, instead of denying this work of God of restoration. We should actively embrace it, work to see it through by the Holy Spirit and return to what the Church is biblically meant to be. We do not have the luxury of our consumeristic mindsets in the Church anymore and that reality is only going to keep growing and the church gets pushed more and more to the margins.

And this is a good thing, it may surprise you to know that the places in America where the Church is growing the fastest are places where the Church has already been pushed to the margins. Places like New England where the Pew Research Center recently found that the church in New England is actually “Thriving” when they expected to find it on death’s door. God is doing a work, but it is not the work we have been taught to expect Him to do with our late stage revivalism, unless you read scripture. God is calling His people back to himself, away from all their “isms” and back to one another. The Church in the Majority world has already experienced this and knows that a united church is better than a divided one.

Brothers and Sisters, I plead with you, do not divide Christ or let Him be divided. Our mission is meant to be carried out as one, not several splinters trying to do the same, or not doing what God has called us too, but trying to make sure our own preferences are met and our seat at the table of influence bought and paid for. John Williamson Nevin writes that: “The Church is One and universal (catholic). Unity is essential to her existence.” We no longer have the luxury in America, just as our brothers and sisters in the Majority World have never had the luxury of dividing. Secular Society is looking at us and our bible and asking us if we truly believe what is in there and telling us that if we truly believe then we should practice it. The Doctrine of the Organic Unity of the Church is an essential doctrine of Scripture. It pervades the entire text; it is one of the central themes of three of Paul’s Epistles. It is what Jesus prays for in John 17 and what the Holy Spirit living community of Acts demonstrates for us.

As I said earlier, I love the Church, but not the brick and mortar buildings that are the gathering place of the church, but the people, indwelled by the Holy Spirit who make up the Church who are the Body of Christ. If the government came in and locked all our church doors today and told us we could not gather, that would not be an end to the church, we would just have to follow the example set forth by many of our Asian brothers and sisters who have had to meet in secret.

The ironic thing is this may be the only way to preserve the Church in Rural America, by choosing to live out Gospel unity in a manner that gives up willingly our denominational lines drawn in the sand. This seems to be the path the Spirit is already leading us on as we see it happening more and more in towns and cities across the nation. The question is, are we going to fight against the Holy Spirit or join Him in the work of restoring His people, teaching us again that we are to be “Members, one of another” (Rom 12:5).

So let’s reject party spirit and do that which God has made clear in His word that we are to: “be eager to maintain a Spirit of Unity and the Bond of Peace” (Eph 4:3). So that we can carry the message of the Gospel to the ends of the Earth “Making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:20).

 

References

Charles Hodge, A.A Hodge . 2001. Discussions in Church Polity . Scarsdale : Westminster Publishing House .

Debie, Linden J. 2008. Speculative Theology and Common-Sense Religion: Mercersburg and the Conservative Roots of American Religion. Eugene : Pickwick Publications .

Evans, Tony. 2011. Oneness Embraced: Reconciliation, the Kingdom and how we are stronger together. Chicago , IL: Moody Press .

Ford, John T. 1988. “Ecumenical Studies .” In A Century of Church History: The Legacy of Philip Schaff, by Henry Bowdenn, 245-293. Carbondale: Soutern Illinois University Press .

George Marsden. 2006. Fundamentalism and American Culture, . London: Oxford University Press .

Hodge, Charles. 2017. “Response to the Principle of Protestanitsm (1845) .” In The Mercersburg Theology Study Series VIII The Devolopment of the Churh: The Principle of Protastantism and the Historical Writings of Philip Schaff , by Lee C. Barnett, David W. Layman, David R. Bains, Theodore Louis Trost W. Bradford Littlejohn, 209-224. Eugene : Pickwick Publications .

John Williamson Nevin, Sman Hendrix Jr. Charles E. Hanbrick-Stowe, David W. Laymen. 2017. One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic, Tome One: John Nevin’s Writings on Ecclesiology (1844-1849) . Eugene : Wfpf & Stock .

Miller, Samuel. 2016 . A Treatse on Mercersburg Theology or Mercersburg and Modern Theology Compared (1866). Philadelphia : CrossReach.

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

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “Catholic Unity.” In The Mercersburg Theology Study Series Vol VI: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Tome One: The Ecclesiological Writings of John Williamson Nevin, (1844-1850), by John Williamson Nevin, David W. Laymen, 112=133. Eugene : Pfpf & 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.

Saneh, Lamin. 1995. “Global Christianity and the Re-Education of the West. .” The Christian Century 112.22 715-718.

Strange, Alan D. 2017. Ecclesiology of Charles Hodge. Phillipsburg : P&R Publishing .

 

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

A Protestant Goes to a Monastery:

 

By Jonathan David Faulkner

 

I once considered Cloistered life, no joke, as I studied Church History I found the flow and practice of Monastic life quite appealing. Eventually I began visiting a little Benedictine Monastery and conversing with the brothers. As I prayed about the decision I found God was not calling me to Holy Orders, he wanted me in the Local Church and while one can do that in a Monastery, but it is not the primary purpose. Also, I am not Catholic, as you know I was raised Presbyterian, served as a Baptist Pastor and am working on Ordination in the 4C’s. I am aware there are Protestant Monasteries, even Protestant order of Franciscans, I consider myself a student of the Little Saint from Assisi, (I now own the Omnibus of Sources on him), but the more I prayed about it, the more the Lord called me back to His mission for my life. I still enjoy going to Monasteries, they are quiet places, great for study, praying and listening and resting.

It was the last three reasons that I went. If you live here at the Seminary you know that my life has been a bit crazy lately, between leading worship for Chapels, God’s Heart, Paper Writing and all those other things associated with Seminary Life I had been running a bit low on energy, I needed a rest, since I missed the Soul Care retreat in February because of Mentored Ministry I had not had a proper break and since I load my semesters to get a lot done early on I found myself in need of a break.

So I saw the opportunity and took it, a day trip down to the Monastery with one of my fellow Seminarians.

The Monastery is set in the hills, next to the little towns of Still River and Harvard (Not the school). Its white buildings were built in the 1600’s with the exception of a barn that was built when the Benedictine’s first moved out to the Monastery in the 70’s and took up Dairy Farming. Now it is the multi-purpose facility for the use of the many retreat groups that come through their each year. Benedictine Monks are called to perform some task per The Rule of St. Benedict and this particular Monastery’s good was hospitality.

We arrived for 8AM mass, it was modeled after the Old Mass so everything was spoken and sung in Latin with the exception of Holy Scripture, which was read in English. We of course could not take Communion since we were not Baptized Catholics, but it was interesting to see the Host Elevated and hear the prayers and songs of the Monks as they joyously participated. After that we met with Father Augustine and toured the Monastery, visiting the guest house and learning about the History of the Abbey. After that we were on our own for awhile, we ended up going down to a little stone chapel (My room here on campus is bigger) and spending time in silent prayer and scripture meditation. I also wrote a poem while we were there. Then we trekked back up to the Monastery (about a mile) in the rain so we could meet with Father Augustine to ask questions about Monastic Life. We then went to Sext, one of the divine offices, which was again in Latin, though this time we had English translations, and after that lunch. The rest of the time was spent reading and praying and being quiet before the Lord. I spent the afternoon in the guest house, watching the storm clouds pass by outside, occasionally feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders.

It was a quiet and peaceful day, just the day I needed as I drank in the much needed prolonged scripture reading. Meditating specifically on Psalms 130 all morning while sitting in that tiny stone chapel, listening to the birds sing and the rain fall, it was, what my Protestant Soul needed.

I know my readers are going to ask “Why did you go to Mass? Aren’t you a protestant?” The answer to the second question is “Yes, I am a Protestant,” Reformed as the next Reformed Theologian, but does that mean I can reject all that came before Calvin and Luther? We have discussed before how Church History did not start at the Reformation, Catholicism is our roots, and we are all part of the catholic (universal) church, which includes Catholics. There are also some very beautiful and life-giving practices given us by the Catholic Church that even Calvin upheld as good things (i.e Monastic devotion to study of scripture, praying the psalms). I may not agree with Transubstantiation, preferring the Reformed Doctrine of Real Presence and the explanation of Divine Mystery to answer the “How?” But there are many beautiful practices given us by the Early Church and then the Catholic Church that should never have been left behind.

The truth is, I went because it was good for my soul to experience God in another context, to be with Him in a place that was unfamiliar, yet quiet. The Mass was the best place to start, focusing my heart on God and preparing me for a day spent mostly in silence. The beauty of the Latin Service helped me meditate on the beauty of God. The reading of Scripture help prepare my heart to receive more Scripture. By the time we reached the Little Stone Chapel my heart was ready to listen to God.

As I opened my Bible to the Psalms I opened directly to 130. A psalm I long ago memorized and have spent time praying and meditating on. I decided to that this was a good time to pray through it again. As I did verse 7 kept repeating in my head: “Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is Steadfast Love and with the Lord is plentiful Redemption.” With these words came the Joy of the knowledge of that Plentiful Redemption. As I thought through the verses over and over again, the forgiveness of Iniquities, waiting for the Lord, Hoping in him, I could not help but think about how these aspects of the Gospel. Hope, Love, forgiveness of sins, all of those things that this Psalm reminds us of that we now have through the cross of Christ. How do we not come to him in gratitude and seek His will out of gratitude and with tears of Joy as we consider what He has done for us.

Do you know how big God’s Heart for you is? Or do you never get the chance to see it, is your life so full of activity that you never had time to simply retreat into Him. Do you ever sit back and consider what He has done for you by His great work of redemption on the cross. Or is your relationship with Him distant, you being unaware of His indwelling Spirit and Him reaching out to you, but you not knowing?

Oh dear brother, dear sister, I pray you know the Joy of your redemption so fully that it inspires you to sporadic praise of Him who gave it.  That you might be spurred to greater love and good works for those around you. That is might encourage you to encourage others, that it might exhort you to love God more deeply and to walk more closely with Him. That it might encourage you to righteous living and through that you might become an instrument of Justice, peace and mercy.

This is what I took from being with the community of Benedictine Monks. That there is so much Joy in our redemption that to deny that Joy is to deny part of its very core.

Oh brothers and sisters, hope in the Lord, always, hope in the Lord.\

 

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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 inChristian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry

Street Psalms

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Street Psalms

 

            Picture if you will a back alley way. Somewhere in between a large bookstore and a Starbucks Coffee, do you see the sidewalks leading in? They are well kept, red brick, full of people and bicycles going where they will. Occasionally a bus flies past on its way to the next intersection. There are no cars because this part of the city is meant only for pedestrians and busses. Traveling at light speed, not stopping to notice them as they stand over a trash can fire or sit on the curb or attempt to stay warm as the cold mile high night air sinks into their bones. One of them has a bottle of Jack, another has a cigarette and still another man is huddled under blankets. This is how they will sleep tonight, this is how they will awake the next morning, without anyone noticing.

That assumes of course that none of the local patrols come through and run them out, telling them to find somewhere else to sleep. Tonight that will happen and one of them will be arrested for trying to fight with the police officers. Which is what he wanted, after all even one night in prison is better than trying to find another place to sleep.

Welcome to Denver Colorado, welcome to the bleeding places. Where people who are forgotten get together to remember what community feels like. The knowledge is evident, the wisdom is coherent, you won’t survive another night without your brothers. Because there is something strangely comforting in knowing you were not the only one to hear “Get a job” or who someone looked down on during the night.

Three years removed from Denver I discovered how easy it is to forget these things. Forget nights spent with the guys flying signs or trying to sell newspapers. The same guys I would serve a meal to at Christ’s Body, the same guys who’s stories broke my heart day in and day out. I want to go back to that place, to see the faces, old and new. You promise to visit but rarely do you get the chance too. Then you hear the stories from your contacts, men such as my supervisor John, knowing that some of the guys have met untimely ends at the hands of drug addictions, police violence, the person in Aurora who is beating up God’s homeless men and women.

Where is the light in the bleeding places, where is the light that the darkness has not understood. Like a tiny watch light in the darkest place gives off so much light could be the gospel in the hands of the believers. End homelessness? Didn’t Jesus promise we’d always have the poor among us? But where is the lament? Who cares for the beggar Lazarus at the rich man’s door? Are we so caught up in going overseas that our own backyard has grown over and become unattended. Why will we pay so much to go overseas to serve meals but refuse to serve meals to the homeless  men down the street. America needs missionaries too, not Christians who are fighting over who is right and wrong or who look down on the charismatics for their charisma or the reformers for their stringent adherence to the word of God. We need to be the church again, we cannot be so camouflaged by the world that we blend in.

Yes, the gospel is essential; we need the gospel if we are function healthily. But we need crazy men and women of God to be out serving and loving and building up the church, and we need pastors who are deeply in love with God to bring the church to a place where the body deeply loves God. No intense spiritual highs that don’t last, just the pure and unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of grace and peace and does last, and goes well beyond understanding.

What if we stopped thinking it an inconvenience to serve one another? What if the church built one another up instead of tearing down? How would the world be changed, if men stood up to lead their wives and sisters. If Children grew up saturated by the gospel message, would we not see a change? If we stopped trying to have it out way, our will done, and sought God’s will. How would we make a difference? If we turned from the watered down gospel of the seeker-friendlies and turned to the gospel with its full might and transformative power, allowing and participating in the work of the Holy Spirit. How would the world be transformed?

So tonight they will sleep in a warm bed. Because two Christian families had extra rooms and didn’t find it an inconvenience to serve another brother in Christ, and tomorrow they will go to church, clean shaven and hear the height and depths of the Word of God. And though they may return one day to the streets for whatever reason but for a time, even if brief, they will know the true sacrificing love of Jesus Christ. And that, that love will make all the difference.

 

Denver

A Bigger Purpose

As my summer series continues I thought I might take a short break, release the next blog in the series tomorrow and take some time to reflect on something I didn’t talk about in the series.

Whether you believe it or not, God certainly frustrates the proud, in fact Proverbs says “God Opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” In my life pride has certainly been a struggle and my pride has certainly brought me too many places of frustration. I was in one of those places last summer in Denver as I sought to continue learning about Youth Ministry, making that the soul focus of my life. Even though at the time I was working at a Homeless shelter, acting as an intern, teaching occasionally and preaching on one Sunday night.

During this time I was also working at another location as one of the assistant Youth Leaders. I didn’t do much in the way of ministry, I mostly acted as crowd control and hung out, but for someone who wanted so badly to be a youth pastor I couldn’t seem to connect with the kids. It was odd for me because I was so used to connecting to the young people I worked with. I thought maybe it was Urban kids, but then as I reflected back on my two years teaching high school youth group I realized I really didn’t connect with rural kids either, nor had I actually connected in Dallas all those years ago.

Now I know that the sole purpose of a Youth Pastor isn’t to connect with the kids he or she is working with, but connecting is important. If we don’t connect with those we are serving on some level it will be very hard to serve them effectively. That doesn’t mean we will find ways to connect to everyone either, let’s face it, there are some people that we may have nothing in common with or connect on in any way except for the fact that we are Christians.

But for me I didn’t connect because I wasn’t doing what God wanted me to do. Youth Ministry was something that I wanted, it wasn’t actually what God was calling me to do. I limited myself because I didn’t want the responsibility of full time pastoral ministry. I didn’t want to stand up on Sunday morning and preach, I didn’t want to build 10:31 beyond Youth Ministry, all of these were what I didn’t want.

But we know that God works in mysterious ways, and we know that when we don’t think we can do something God can use us to do great things. We also know that God works with broken and messed up people who are focused only on themselves. He can change them, but he can also use them and through their brokenness do great things through them.

But when we are prideful it seems that we have a harder time being used by God, going where He wants us to go, when God’s plans don’t seem to agree with our plans we get angry and aggressive towards Him. We go about our own way and then God has no choice but to frustrate our own plans so that we will start acknowledging Him. That is one of the lessons I had to learn as I grew in ministry, if I wanted to do ministry it couldn’t be about me or what I wanted, it had to be about God.

When I began to live out this new mentality the doors of ministry opened with a vengeance. In fact it seems that everywhere I go I have a chance to reach out to talk to someone and we connect, at least most of the time. This isn’t a product of anything I’m doing, but of a choice to conform to the will of God.

Now Youth Ministry is only part of what I do, this week I’ve been blessed by the chance to hang out with the youth group my younger sister works with here in Boston. Each interaction, whether it was riding roller coasters or having a conversation has been a chance for ministry, a chance to bring glory to God.

I still struggle with pride, but the Lord is keeping me humble, reminding me constantly that He is in control and that His plan is perfect. If we rely on pride and in our own achievements then we will be opposed, but if we approach him with humility God will bless us. If we acknowledge that we can’t do ministry on our own, and surrender what we want to do to God, then God is going to take us to places we never would have expected.

God Bless You
Jonathan David Faulkner
Director/Founder
10:31 Life Ministries

Good Discipline – Vow Making

Vow Making – More Than a Promise

I love hearing my friends reaction when I tell them what time I generally wake up in the morning. Not that I am boasting in my 5:30am average wake up time, one just has to give an answer when they are asked what time they get up in the morning. The truth is that I never wanted to wake up that early, the combination of hyperactivity and an inability to sleep if the sun was up caused me to get up long before it ever thought about coming up that day. To say that I want to get up that early would be crazy, what I did with that time was even crazier.

Usually I would sneak around the house, at least when I was really young, then later I would wake up and get on the computer and play some sort of video game until I heard mom or dad walking around upstairs. In college I would put my headphones in and try hard to not disturb my roommate. When I returned from Denver though I felt a need to do something very different with that time. so I made a promise to God to spend it with Him in prayer and in study of scripture.

Breaking Vows We’ve Made

Whenever the Israelite’s broke their vows  with God something bad generally happened (read 1 Cor. 10 for a summary). Another example of what happens when we break out vows can be found in the story of Samson (Judge 113-16). God  told Samson’s mother that no razor should come upon Samson’s head and he would deliever Israel from the hands of the Philistines. This is where we get the idea of a Nazarene Vow, because Samson was a Nazarene and so he couldn’t cut his hair.

Now in Samson’s case cutting his hair meant that he would lose all of his strength which he did when Delilah (his wife)  tricked him into giving her the secret to his strength. Samson is a great example of what happens when our vows are broken, whether by us or by those we love. Now we all know that Samson’s hair grows back and he does eventually do what God said he would do and free Israel from the Philistines.

If I don’t get that time that I’ve vowed to set apart for God in the mornings then my day really doesn’t go very well. Unless of course the spirit allows me to sleep in that particular morning because I am in need of rest. Yesterday morning was one such morning where I didn’t get the full hour and fifteen minutes that I vowed to spend in prayer an din the word but I also had a final and a late night the night before so I continued reading in the book of John, wrote in my journal and got my day underway.

Vow Making & Honoring those Vows

On this discipline George writes; “Vow Making is a discipline in response to a holy God. Making a vow and taking an oath are both modern disciplines practiced by Christians of all ages and stages of life. Our promises should be specific and personal.”

The vow I made was specific and personal, and God has honored that vow, making sure that I myself honor my vow. I have several friends who have committed themselves to sexual purity, who have made a specific vow that they are going to save themselves for their husbands and wives. When they are in situations where those vows might be in jeopardy it seems that God steps in and holds them to that vow they made and I believe can even remove us from positions where we may be forced to compromise.

When we honor our vows God honors us, God continues to honor his covenant with us despite our tendacny to disobey, shouldn’t we honor our vows and oath with God.

Making Vows to one Another

I wonder what would happen if we were to make and keep vows to one another. Meaning that Christians in the body of Christ were to go to one another and instead of making vague promises to one another actually vowed to love and support each other. Then we work together to keep those vows and to help keep our weaker brothers and sisters from stumbling as well as working together to help others keep their vows to God.

An example of this would be a dear friend of mine who doesn’t text or like to talk to guys 1 on 1 after a certain time of night. As a man of God I have to honor her decision and help her to uphold that promise she’s made to herself and to God so I have to be conscious of the time if I am talking to her or texting her so that I can honor that.

If we did things like this it would probably make us more conscience to the needs and hurts of the poeple around us because if we vow friendship we are vowing to listen, support, love and serve, all the things that come with a healthy relationship with someone. If I make a vow to serve the 10:31 Life Ministry team I had better serve them to the best of my ability. Figuring out how to do this is tricking and I have to admit I haven’t fully figured it out yet.

–   –   –

So let’s make vows and keep them, practice making them this week, make a vow to spend more time with God through intentional study of scripture. Make a vow to maintain or re initiate a friendship and allow God to work in that situation. Then be faithful to your vows and know that God will be faithful and honor your vows as well.

God Bless You
Jonathan David Faulkner
10:31 Life Ministries
Director/Founder

“For the Lord is Good
His Steadfast Love Endures Forever
and His faithfulness to all Generations”
Psalms 100:5 

 

 The Good Discipline Series
Week #1: Good Discipline
Week #2: Good Discipline – 
Prayer
Week #3: Good Discipline – Obedience
Week #4: Good Discipline – Art
Week #5: Good Discipline – Journaling
Week #6: Good Discipline – Silence
Week #7: Good Discipline – Fasting
Week #8: Good Discipline – Vow Making
Week #9: Good Discipline – Labyrinth Walking
Week #10: Good Discipline – Meditation
Week #11: Good Discipline – Solitude
Week #12: Good Discipline – Practicing God’s Presence