Tag: Jesus

Little Feet that Run the Earth, and the Tension of the ones that Do not.

My daughter is one of the great joys of my life, but after losing a child to Miscarriage and Infant Loss, this is the tension I live in now.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

I have been thinking a lot lately about my March 2018 article: My Baby Had Feet as I have tried to finalize thoughts for the book by the same title and search for a publisher for it. One of the final chapters goes by the same title as this piece. Readers and followers of this website know that in August of 2019 we announced a new pregnancy and in February of 2019, 13 months, and 2 days after we lost the first baby, our daughter Erin was born. These are exciting times to be sure, and we celebrated them thoroughly, just as we celebrated her first Birthday in February. I have loved almost every minute of being a father, almost because there are things that you struggle with, especially when its your first full term child. There were some ups and downs as we navigated finding an eye doctor and surgeon to remove the congenital cataracts she was born with. There were sleepless nights and near sleepless nights, we both almost gave up hope as we struggled to finish seminary and help a newborn adjust to life outside the womb. It has been exciting to hear her find her singing voice (already, at 18 months) and start to speak and even say “amen” when we finish praying together, or when she comes running to me when I get home from the church yelling “Daddy!”. As her little personality develops, we are challenged in new and exciting ways as we seek to shepherd her, even now. To a faith that we not only pass down, but she also owns as her own as early as possible.

Still, there is a tension here, a tension that I hope to zero in on in the last chapter of “My Baby Had Feet.” This tension is this: If we had not lost the first child, the child we have now would not exist. The child we miss, and never got to meet, the child who we loved and had started to bond with and whose still, tiny frame only saw this earth for a moment, had that child lived, our daughter would not. That is a strange and yet necessary thought as you see their ultrasounds sitting side by side on the bookshelf in the living room (pictured above). Instead of grieving one and rejoicing in the other, we would have rejoiced in the one and been ignorant that another even existed or was in store for us (although by now we may have been expecting another).

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Some may say I am being overly dramatic, but this is part of my healing journey, so please walk with me. As a theologian, I am okay with such tensions, after all, we live in the liminal space of the now-but-not-yet tension of our salvation, saved, being saved, already saved, going to be saved. I am used to tensions and okay with them…as a theologian. As a human being, I am not okay with tension, I hate it, it is uncomfortable. There have been times when I want to take that ultrasound picture and throw it across the room and shout at God for taking that Child from us, even though I know it was the fallen world and not God who took that child from us, but my human instinct is to blame him. Even though I know it was He who could have let the child live and also He who brought around us friends and family who supported us, prayed for us and loved us. Even though I know it was Him who provided the tickets to the Rend Collective Concert where we started to heal, as a couple and as individuals. He did not cause my child to die in the womb, He could have prevented it, but He also had something else for us, a little girl who belts our Rend Collective, even though she does not yet have the language to do so. Maybe this is something we need to develop, along with a better theology of suffering, a theology of tensions. As I said, theologians have one, we are willing to hold in tension what seems totally contradictory, such as Man is created in the image of God, and Man is fallen, broken and utterly depraved. Like Suffering, we need to learn to sit in the liminal space between two events or two ideas or points of tension.

Like tension, we do not like suffering either, American Evangelicals and American Protestants in general are “Suffering averse” and to avoid tension we will hThe Adventuresold a completely heretical or anti-biblical position and demand others hold it too. We will downplay suffering, even ignore it, so that we can remain in our happy-go-lucky bubble. We scream or grumble at pastors who make us feel uncomfortable, we refuse to listen to any leader or government official who disagrees with our established viewpoint. We generally hate being challenged on anything, and yet, if we really dig down and dig deep in scripture, we will find a challenge to everything this world has taught us to hold dear. We will also find a lot of teaching about suffering….A LOT of teaching about suffering.

Take the book of Philippians, we love to polish this book up, to make it some great letter of affection from the Apostle to the Church which has supported him, and it is. That is not the entire story though, Paul is saying all that he says in Philippians chained to a Roman Praetorian Guard, waiting day-in and day-out to hear whether or not he is going to live to see the year 62. Nero has risen to power, and while he is not yet persecuting Christians to the extent he would in a few years, he is uttering murderous threats, and this may have concerned the Philippians. On top of that, there has been a divide among them, certain people in the church have allowed Pride to well up and cause divisions in the Church. Add to that the fact that other teachers were in the area, trying to damage Paul’s ministry, even thought they were preaching the True Gospel. Finally Paul is concerned about the Circumcision Group gaining a foothold in Philippi, likely because they had done so much damage in nearby Galatia. It is under House Arrest, chained to a guard, with detractors attacking him and a myriad of concerns for the spiritual welfare of the Philippian Church, which He loves, that Paul writes the oft misquoted and misapplied: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation, I am to be content” (4:11). And “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:13)

Image may contain: 3 people, including Rachel Faulkner and Jonathan Faulkner, baby and outdoor

But it is hard for me, as a Pastor, to apply contentment in tension like this to any and ever situation. It is even harder for me to apply them to the loss of a child. To live in the tension, as Paul did, between prison and freedom in Christ. That is uncomfortable, it is also uncomfortable to live in the tension between wanting to meet and hold a child you cannot while playing tag with, singing with and dancing with a child you can. But that is where I live, between saying: I am content with this child, but I miss the one we lost. I am happy this one exists, but I wish I had these experiences with the other as well. It is the tension ever Christian lives in, “Thy will be done father” alongside “please intercede on the behalf of so and so.” I do not want to be content, I do not want to live in Liminal space, the sinful world took something from me, and I want to make them pay, I want to be angry, I do not wish to be content and focus on Christ in my pain. But this is what Scripture challenges me to do, to suffer well, because it is in suffering that God will be glorified (John 9:1-15, Phil 1:14) whether that suffering be because of the fallenness of nature (miscarriage and infant loss) or from the sinfulness of human kind such as persecution. I do not want to “Rejoice in the Lord” that is, Rejoice in all that God has done for me and for the Church in general, but at the same time, I know this is what is best for me. Christ, after all, was able to live in the tension between suffering and life, and he chose to give his up for my sins, to glorify God the father, whom He was equal with, by humbling himself and taking up the towel and then the cross. I can glorify Him through these momentary afflictions and losses without grumbling and complaining as I look forward to the day of Christ Jesus. In doing this I know I will show my salvation, and the destruction of my detractors, as well as shine as a light to the world which is depraved and fallen (Phil 1:27-2:30, 2 Cor 4:17).

I may not be saying anything here, just working out thoughts and hoping to have some good. Maybe a dad is reading this who lost a child and then had another one in the next year and they are saying: “yes, I know this tension, thank you I am not alone.” Or maybe the theologians who read this post will spend the day dissecting me and correcting me because my theology of suffering and tension needs some work or to be better fleshed out. The latter of that is true, since this post is short, and Bonhoeffer wrote books on the Theology of Suffering. But I hope I can speak clearly to one father who has gone through this experience, who is living in this tension, and help you sort out your thoughts a little bit. Because, while we focus so much on the mother after a miscarriage or infant loss, you too lost a child, someone who carried something of you and was in your image, as well as Gods. Yet, you are often left to suffer alone, and usually long after your wife has started to heal, since you have walk with her in her pain, often delaying your own grief in the moment. I know, because I have been there, just as I am here now.

Or maybe you’re a father who has never had this experience, how can reading this, gaining knowledge of this tension help you reach out to those who have. The father whose wife has struggled with infertility, or now inhabits the tension I am talking about here. How can you reach out and better walk with them through this? Or maybe you are a father who has lost many children to infant loss and miscarriage and infertility. Yes, you are a father, even if those children are not living with you on this planet, they are yours and you were part in creating them, just as I helped created Shalom. I know that it seems now that your hopes and dreams of beginning a family are smashed against the rocks, and that you live in the tension of wanting to hope in the Lord, and curse his name from grief. But hold on, you are not alone and you are not forgotten, by God or by me. Stand firm in the tension, and know that whatever happens, Christ has not abandoned you or not heard your cries. He is there with you, weeping with you and holding you up so that you can endure all things though Christ who strengthens and redeems you.

I praise God everyday for every second I get to spend with my little girl, I do not take her for granted and cannot imagine life without her, and I thank God for everything He has given me through her. But that does not mean I do not miss the child we lost, do not love the child we lost, or at times think about what that child would be like. Praise God for his mercy and the fact that I can, in fact, live in the tension.

If this is you, or this is your story and you are looking for someone to talk to or council you on this subject. I would love to listen to your story and even walk with you where I can. You can contact me through this site, and I pray you will.

 

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.

 

Jesus, Church History and Disability

To be truly Pro-Life, we need to consider all life, that includes those with disabilities, but what does the bible teach us about interacting with the welcoming and how do the Church Father’s inform our attitudes towards the Disabled in the Modern Day.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

I have had the blessing of being asked by a brother from seminary to speak to his youth group on the question: “Was Jesus Ableist?” tonight via Zoom. This is one of the reasons Generation Z gives me so much hope as a Pastor, they are willing to learn and their Christianity tackles the tough questions that all too often do not get asked. What follows here is a summary of the talk I will give tonight on the topic. I am hoping to speak more on this topic, so if you’re looking for someone to speak on it, let me know.

As many of you know I was born with Congenital Cataracts, meaning I was born mostly blind, I passed this condition on to my daughter however technology has advanced past the point where this is going to be a major hindrance for her as it was for me. Because of this though, I grew up with the language of ableism and know it well. As a Pastor one of my fears at the calling process was that a church would look at my disability and reject me solely on that aspect of my personhood. I have seen it in my father’s ministry time and time again but have only encountered it once or twice since entering ministry in 2014, though it was a constant problem in seminary. You want to get used to comments like: “I hope you can get your drivers license” or “Can’t you read that” or “Why do you have to hold your phone so close?” But you never do. It is not normal for an adult male to not have a drivers license (I was on track to get one and COVID-19 sort of tore up the tracks), it is not normal to hold your phone inches from your face. I was even told by several peers growing up that I should “kill myself’ because I would never amount to anything. For a long time my goal was to make people “forget” I had a deficiency, not realizing I was playing into the hand of what is commonly named by sociologists as “Ableism.” Looking back, the energy put into the wide range of skills and abilities I developed, such as being able to work on small motors to being really good at the Madden video games, all to “disprove the stereotypes” may have been better used to study the scriptures or perfect the musical ministry.

Ableism generally defined is: cultural understanding of “normal” and how it affects our view of those who do not fit that definition. Theologian Amos Yong, in his book: “The Bible, Disability and the Church” defines it more extensively as: “the discriminatory attitudes, negative stereotypes, sociopolitical and economic structures and institutions that are built on normative perspectives (what is normal) together function to keep people with disabilities from full participation in the world.”[1] It is Yong’s definition that we will use throughout this article.

As an answer to the question: “Was Jesus Ableist?” the answer of course has to be “No” for two reasons. The first is that Ableism as a Sociological idea did not exist in Jesus day and therefore he could not have been ableist merely because there was no understanding of Ableism. This response allows us to avoid the fallacy of Presentism, reading our own ideas back onto ancient peoples. The second reason is more personal and less clinical, Jesus was not ableist because he is constantly acknowledging, giving dignity and agency too and restoring the disabled. He also refutes cultural understandings of disability such as its connection with sin that was prevalent among the Jewish Rabbi’s.

The Secular world commonly states that, Almut Caspary points out: “A Human being was (is) considered to be of value in view of his or her potential to contribute both materialistically and through acquired virtue of the family and of society.”[2] This was true in antiquity and it is true today as see that a person is often defined by their profession (what they contribute) or their philanthropy (their virtue) rather than simply by the fact that they are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). In the ancient world then the deformed or disabled or ill were thought to be curses from the gods or evil “monsters” who were a sign of the disordered universe the gods put in order. For this reason, any child who was undesirable was “Exposed” or fed to the birds and the beasts. Only Judaism had any teaching, bound up in Genesis 1-3, that would tend towards the care of the disabled or elderly, but even the Rabbi’s made exceptions to this. The disabled were barred from serving in the inner sanctuary of temple by God himself because only those without blemish could approach God. This is all laid out in the Levitical Codes for the Priests set forth by Moses in the book of Leviticus. However, as Michael Bates points out, this did not mean there were no disabled priests, only the abled could entered the holy of holies, but a priest could be disabled and simply attend to duties in the outer courts. The disabled were also allowed to enter the temple and worship with the people and would even beg alms in and around the temple.

By the time Jesus entered the scene the Pharisees had all but excluded the disabled from any work or duty. Yes, they could enter the temple or Synagogue, but the only time a Pharisee might interact with the disabled would be as they were entering the temple handing out alms as a spectacle to others. There are exceptions to this, such as the Qumran community which regularly took care of the disabled, but for the most part the Jews had adopted the same attitudes towards human life as the Romans. Utility trumped created status. The Disabled were a means to make the Pharisees look good, through the giving of alms. Hence the reason Jesus exhorts his disciples: “When you give do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing” (Matthew 6:2-4). Giving to the poor was supposed to be for the poor, not for the honor of the pharisees or any other wealthy individual.

As I said before, Jesus had a different purpose for disability, it was, as he said in John 9: “So that God might be glorified through Him.” But in glorifying God through them, Jesus did something else for the disabled, he gave them a dignity they did not previously have, an agency in their healings and restoration. He did this first and foremost by acknowledging them even when the crowd wanted him to keep pressing on, such as in the case of Blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:26-42. He cried out, the crowds tried to silence him, but Jesus noticed him, heard his request, and healed him. The simple acknowledgement of the Disabled beyond just throwing a couple coins their direction, in and of itself, restored dignity to the person. Jesus willingness to listen did as well. Healing and restoring them restored them agency they once had or even never had. Remember, in that society most of the people Jesus healed would have been killed at birth. The sick that he healed, especially the lepers, would have been consigned to a life of solitude unless there was a leper community nearby. For all to be healed meant they could become members of society in a capacity that allowed them to contribute.

The Apostles, for their part, continued the teachings and way of Jesus forward into the rest of the New Testament. When Peter and John, in Acts 3, come across a man with a disability begging outside the temple, Peter does not give him silver and gold, something that will only help him for a little while, they heal him in the name of Jesus Christ. The poor and the disabled, often the same group, then became a central focus for care for the people of God. It was part of “Considering others greater than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3) to care for the disabled. The Church Father’s spoke of the Imago Dei as being intrinsic and not having been totally lost in the fall. This prompted Christians to take in infants that had been “Exposed” and raise them as their own children. Their approach to human life was such that since human life was created in the image of God, they should value and care for that life in all its forms, including the disabled. As Peter Enns notes in his commentary on Exodus: “Human life was so valuable to God that its very violation was an offense to him.” Irenaeus made an unfortunate mistake when he failed to recognize the similarity between the Greek words translated “Likeness” and “Image.’ The two words are synonyms in Greek, but it caused Irenaeus to separate the image into the form of a person, and the likeness into the character of a person. This would develop into the Imago Dei which was broken but not totally lost in the fall and the Simillitudo Dei or the Character of God which was lost completely in the fall, both had to be restored by Christ and could not be actualized without Christ. Eventually these two ideas would come back together in Aquinas and Calvin, but they were largely left separate throughout the Medieval Period.

The Cappadocian Father’s are particularly interesting on Disability. They are Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil the Great, two brothers and their friends. Basil is particularly interesting because he receives credit as being the first to develop a Hospital in his “New City.” A former desert monk turned Priest in the 4th century AD. Basil thought the monks were not living out the full life of Christianity, yes, they were close to God, but how could they care for others? So, he moved from the Desert and began his ministry in the Cappadocia at Ceasarea Mazaca. It was outside Caesarea Mazaca that he would establish what was called “The New City” which contained apartments and hospitals complete with surgeons and other medical personnel. It was a place for the poor and disabled and diseased to come and live and be cared for. Gregory Nazianzus offers the justification for their concern for the poor in equating care for the poor, sick and disabled as doing so unto Christ. He is worth quoting at length:

“I revere greatly Christ’s ointment box, which invites us to care for the poor, and the agreement of Peter and Paul, who divided up the preaching of the Gospel but made the poor their common concern, and the way of perfection of the young man, which was defined by the law of the giving what one has to the poor. . . . Let us take care of Christ while there is still time; let us minister to Christ’s needs, let us give Christ nourishment, let us clothe Christ, let us gather Christ in, let us show Christ honor. . . . Let us give this gift to him through the needy, who today are cast down on the ground, so that when we all are released from this place, they may receive us into the eternal tabernacle, in Christ himself, who is our Lord.” (Oration 14, 39-40)

As I said earlier, Medieval Christianity says very little about disability, through Thomas Aquinas does try to recover the image of God, saying that it resides in the intellect and is present whether or not the person has their faculties or not (See Summa Theologica 2-2.15.1). Martin Luther, in the Reformation Era is of no help to us as he once chided that a disabled child was a “monster” who made him sick to look at. Calvin gets us closest to what the Church Father’s taught concerning the image of God when he says: ““although the primary seat of the divine image was in the mind and heart, or in the soul and its powers, yet there was no part of man, not even the body itself, in which some sparks did not glow.” (Institutes 1.15.3 and 1.15.4). This would have been applied to the disabled as well, as they are included in those whom Calvin believed the Pastor and Deacons should visit on a regular basis.

As society has developed in the west in the post-reformation era ecclesiological attitudes towards the disabled have looked more like first century pharisaic attitudes than that of the Church Father’s. There has been a long-standing debate in the church over what the Image of God in man is and whether it is present at all, something the Church Father’s seemed to have taken for granted. In the South during Slavery (and in the North as well) the image of God was only reserved for the White Male slaveholder. Those who looked and talked a certain way were accepted as having been made in the image of God and Blacks and women were considered to not carry the image at all. In fact, considerable ink was spilled to justify the belief that blacks were less than human, that ink also often followed inhumane experiments on Blacks who were, to quote a prominate southern Pastor: “Mere savages.” The irony here is that it was Black and Brown men and women who first handed down to us the doctrine of the “Imago Dei.” This attitude was also applied to the disabled who could not possibly be made in the image of God because they were deformed or imperfect or blind or deaf and therefore did not deserve fair or humane treatment. They were, like Blacks, subjected to dehumanizing and horrendous experiments by Doctors. In the majority world the practice of Exposing disabled infants was and still is common. Disabled children were undesirable because they could not contribute to the world at large, since they were lacking utilitarian ends they were treated miserably. This problem persists today. In fact, there appears to be a consensus among prominent Evangelical Conservatives that the Imago Dei is permanently lost in the fall and thus has no bearing on how we treat others. The Doctrine of the Imago Dei is seen as a “Liberal” puppet, though Liberal Christians have even less of a sense of the doctrine of the Imago Dei when it comes to disability.

Even though Tertullian argued that human life began when seed met seed (conception) and carried the Image of God from that point, Liberals Christians often support the cultures desire to see Abortion available for all. There is a group calling themselves “Whole Life” as in, from conception to grave, but they are relatively small. For the disabled, Abortion has been a means of systematic Genocide, so while Conservatives might cut funding to disabled programs, liberals argue that we have no right to exist. The argument that gets employed is that the persons “Quality of Life” will be lowered because of the disability and so, a person should be exterminated. This is the ideology that caused Iceland to claim they had “cured” Down Syndrome when the policy is to abort as soon as the extra chromosome is discovered. France recently banned the ads that portrayed children with down syndrome in a positive light to keep the mothers who aborted their downs children from feeling guilt. Planned Parenthoods founder Margret Sanger wanted to use the organization to advance the cause of eugenics and named blacks and the disabled as her targets. It is for this reason that I would have a very difficult time ever voting Democrat, though currently it is equally as hard to vote republican for similar and different reasons. Further, half of all police deaths in 2017 were of the disabled and there is a servere lack of training for officers in how to communicate with those who cannot communicate with them. By the way, the answer is not defunding the police, but reforming and better training would go a long way towards solving this crisis. The ADA, which was signed in 1983, was bad law, it may have helped in some ways, but it is largely unenforceable and lacks teeth. It also does not apply to churches and religious organizations. All of these things, especially the “Quality of Life” argument rely on the language of ableism and its normative perspective to determine the value of a human being.

On all these topics, the church in modern America is largely silent. Even on the topic of Abortion which conservatives have a movement against when it comes to disability. And the Doctrine of the Imago Dei which the Church Father’s developed for us? Well it is largely forgotten, and Churches are sadly seen as unwelcoming and unfit for disabled parishioners. Joni Erickson Tada and Joni and Friends have done a lot to restore teachings about the Imago Dei and there have been a good amount of books written, some of which are cited in this piece, but the general attitude within the Church towards humanity is that of utility. A person is valued for what they can contribute, not simply because they are made in the image of God. We have been discipled by the culture more than the Word of God and that has led to seeing people through the lens of utility rather than through the lens of God. Churches then should adapt to help those whom Jesus considered, by making buildings handicapped accessible and worship handicapped accessible. To work with the mom whose child is on the spectrum or who has down syndrome and needs special attention and care. Providing large print or digitally accessible bulletins for the blind and visually impaired or, if you can, braille. Churches with Deaf Members can hire signers or ask members fluent in sign language to sign the sermon and worship. You can also Contact Joni and Friends for more wisdom and advice.

Jeri Jewel, the first disabled actress, once said that: “The real disabilities are the human ones, fear, anger, hatred, bitterness, bigotry, envy and strife.” God is the only one who can remove these disabilities from the hearts of men and women, from all of us. We as disabled people need also to learn to forgive those who are abled and have harmed us or been indifferent to us.

The Church Father’s taught us that the Imago Dei is present from conception and though it is marred by the fall, it is still present in every human being whether they be rich, poor, abled, or disabled. It is also fully realized in everyone through a relationship with Christ Jesus. The Church Father’s show us a Christianity modeled after Christ who gave people dignity, agency, and restoration. When we treat the poor or disabled with contempt or with indifference, we are treating Christ with contempt or indifference. God has made us in His image, and we should work towards seeing that image restored in everyone we encounter through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ableism is to be rejected and we should gather in the sick and the lame and the disabled and care for them and treat them as though we are caring for Christ himself. That way we can hear the words we long to hear: “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

[1] Amos Yong, The Bible, Disability and the Church, 2011, WB Eerdman’s Publishing, Grand Rapids MI Kindle Edition

[2] Almut Caspary: The Patristic Era: Early Attitudes towards the Disfigured Outcast, as found in Disability and Christian Tradition, Ed. Brian Brock and John Swinton, WB Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids MI pg 24-38

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.

A Plea from the Rural Church:

In Four Months, We have seen the devastating impact of the current crisis on the Church, the solution is to finally do away with the Urban/Rural Divide.

Jonathan Faulkner

While there are many humanly justifiable divisions within the Church. I say that because there is no biblical justification for divisions among God’s people and all humanly divisions are labeled as Anti-Christ by John and the early Church Father’s. Heresy is condemned and no true church follows the teachings of heretics. The one humanly justified division that has never made sense to me was the Rural and Urban divide. This divide has been the subject of much ink spilling of late with books on Rural Ministry by Donnie Griggs, Stephen Witmer and many others as many in the theological world try to grapple with how many Evangelical Christians felt abandoned and marginalized both politically and ecclesiastically. Timothy Keller has documented what has been called the “Trickle Down Effect” similar to the theory of Economics, applied to the Church, trickle down Ecclesiology means that the crème of the crop, the best of the best, will trickle down from the bigger churches to the smaller churches, or the urban and suburban churches to the rural churches. The problem is, as Witmer and others have documented, that simply does not happen in most cases. Exceptions would be people like Shannon O’Dell whose book “Transforming the Church in Rural America” Chronicles a big city pastors move to a small town in Georgia where he transforms the Church into a caricature of the big church he left.

I am personally not comfortable with O’Dell’s methods or outcome. Like many in the reformed camp I dislike the “multi-Campus” mega church model that built theological empires like Mars Hill, the Village Church, and others, many of them have set their campuses free in recent years. So the model itself has fallen into disrepute by many of the biggest churches. The fact is, the local pastors can do the best work for the people, and piping in another preacher is piping in another contextualized theology that does not apply to your people. Andy Stanley, in Atlanta, may be able to offer general teachings to my people in Buffalo Center, but he cannot address issues specific to Buffalo Center and teach my people to think biblically about those specific issues. The other issue is that big urban churches have traditionally been talent vacuums, they find the best and brightest and then, instead of equipping them to go, they keep them. They also dominate the resource allocation and tend to be the ones marketed to because they have the money to purchase these things. When they do connect with the rural church it is often in a condescending manner, sending the youth group missions kids to run a VBS for those poor, pagan rural children. Indigenous leaders get left out in the cold and when we try to reach out to the bigger churches for any reason we are met with silence or worse, cold indifference.

I know he has since apologized, but Andy Stanley’s comments on rural churches back in 2017 area good example of the attitude large churches have towards small churches and the attitudes many large church members have toward small churches. There is a reason there is a wide resource gap between the urban, suburban and rural churches.

From a secular perspective J.D Vance may be correct that the solution for the rural person is to band together and lift themselves out of poverty and isolation, but from a Christian perspective this is not how it is meant to be. Every church is connected through the Holy Spirit. It is quite arrogant to assume differently or to look down another part of the church because they do not have the resources you do. In fact, Paul challenges believers to do the opposite, to consider everyone else as better than ourselves. Philippians 2:1-11 is our framework for how we should interact as Christian’s and its application is both corporate and individual.

But what are we to do? If the statistics are correct and we have no reason to believe they are not. We are all in dire straights but the Rural Church which usually lack the large financial resources and reserves that large churches have are even more so with Forbes reporting that 1 in 5 churches will likely close due to the shutdowns. And every church, despite reporting initial gains have reported a net drop as regular attendees have stopped attending anywhere. This data from Barna is distressing.

As the church fails to respond to the issues surrounding us in the world in a way that is biblically informed and authentic. As we fail to love out our values across the board the generation that was already leaving slowly is now leaving in droves. Our disunity as the church in America is a major contributor to this reality, and that includes disunity between urban/suburban and Rural Churches.

In some ways this exodus is good as a true and genuine faithful remnant is codified. But as a pastor I never want to see people leave the church for any reason, but to know the life giving word of God. It seems God has used this crisis to reform his church and any reform is going to cause people to leave, but as they go we have to hope God can use us to bring them back to Him. Coronavirus has only sped up the long decline of the church that has been leading to and causing reforms as the church loses its power and influence.

But now it is time to heal the urban/suburban and rural divide. For bigger churches to reach out and share resources like Good News Cokmunity Church in Okaboji Iowa has done in sharing their Right Now Media resources with us. There is also a need, however, for financial partnerships. Large churches often have large cash reserves and excess, some of those reserves could pay my salary for 100 years on the interest alone. But that money sits in bank accounts waiting for rainy days instead of being stewarded to help advance the Kingdom of God around the world, especially in small, rural towns. While many larger churches will more than meet their budget this year, many rural churches are going to face much bigger than average budget shortfalls that will effect them into the new year, if they make it into 2021. Again, there are many big churches that could erase that shortfall with the interest on their savings accounts and still not see an affect. And that is even despite the fact that giving has dropped significantly in the last three decades.

Let me be clear here, this isnt about wanting a cut of the bugger pie, this is about the church doing what it has done for 2,020 years, working together for the building of the Kingdom. It is known that one of the reasons younger people dont give is because they want to see their money used for good causes, not sat on to gain interest. When they do give to churches it is because those churches prioritize ministry over budgets.

I am also not saying that big churches should just give money away without restrictions. If money is given to a smaller church it should be used for a need within that church such as building expenses or the pastors salary. As a means of diverting the pain of the pandemic on smaller congregations. Churches should be looking to knew another for aid, not the federal government who has proven it views us as irrelevant and non essential.

I know that Amdy Stanley or one of the other big city pastors will probably never read this. I have no hope of Keller coming across this. But I do hope someone in the bigger churches will and ask God how they akd their church can use his resources to help struggling rural churches to make sure that the Gospel is preached and proclaimed to everyone. The encouragement of financial or other resources help to pastors of small churches can make a huge difference. I hope someone other than the Lord himself hears this plea and sends it up the chain. For the sake of the glory of God. Not my own.

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.

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.

 

 

 

#Fortheunityoftheentirechurch: Because the Cross Demands It.

It no longer seems sufficient, given study of scripture, to advocate only for a segment of the Church, but of the entire Church, scripture demands I work for unity for the sake of the Gospel.

Rev. Jonathan Faulkner

This Sunday I preached on the sixth guiding value of my denominations Seven Guiding Values. Value #6: “A Culture of Peacemaking and Reconciliation” from Ephesians 2:11-22. I tell my congregation that these values are not scripture but are reflections of scripture and draw their light from scripture, that it is the scriptures behind them that are authoritative and not the values themselves. Just like the moon reflects the sun and has not light on its own, the values reflect the truth that God has laid out for us by his Holy Spirit through Scripture and He leads us to that truth by the same Holy Spirit (John 14-16, 1 Cor 2:6-18).

Every year for the last four years this website has used a catchphrase to describe the theological direction for the coming year. I usually change it in June. Last years was #FortheUnityoftheChurch, the year before was #EndDehumanization and before that it was: “The Widow, the Orphan, the Refugee and you.” This years catchphrase arises out of a conviction that arose in deep study of Ephesians 2:11-22 in preparation for this sermon. Therfore this year is: #FortheUnityoftheENTIREChurch. Now, I do not believe in #Activism, that is, I refuse to participate in a culture of staged outrage where words are never followed by actions. It is easy to sit here and write about the unity of the Church but if I am not actively working towards that unity then I am a hypocrite, especially if my actions go so far, the other way and cause a further breaking of fellowship.

For our understanding of what we are working for the unity of, the most basic definition is the Church as defined as the Body of Christ sharing in Organic Unity with Christ and with one another both and at the same time visible and spiritual carrying forward and living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every sphere of life. I understand that this definition may seem exclusive because it limits the church to only those in Christ, but numerically, all over the world, that is actually quite a broad net spanning every nation, tribe, tongue and 6 of 7 continents. Anyone who has made the good confession that Jesus is the Christ the son of the Living God (Matt 16:17) and believed that God has raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9) is counted among its ranks and that includes all who have died and passed into glory who the church also share organic unity with Christ. So, while this seems like an exclusive definition it is quite broad because it encompasses all who are in Christ.

Christ, after all, should not, cannot and is not divided, even though his people may act otherwise (1 Cor 1:11-15). Sectarianism is a lie, perpetrated by Satan for the sake of trying to conquer God’s people and brings into our time the spirit of Anti-Christ which destroys rather than builds up. Sectarianism has many forms, schism, splits caused by disagreements, sect, separate groups forming around a specific theological viewpoint and segregation, the idea that people of ethnic backgrounds cannot worship together and should therefore remain separate. These are sinful attitudes and events caused by the sins of man and they have the consequence of dividing Christ. They also deny the work of Christ on the cross, which is a blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. When we undo what Christ has done, or deny what Christ has done, we are in sin and the only course of action is to repent and turn from that sin and let God heal us, because He is faithful to and will do so. Would you rather throw yourselves on the mercy of God than his wrath? Following Jesus in words only is to have a baptism of the body, but not the heart. Our faith in Christ is dead, perhaps even a sham, if it is not followed by actions and those actions include doing what He has called us to do and not returning to the old dividing walls of hostility that He has torn down (Ephesians 2:11-22).

Racism is a dividing wall of hostility; it keeps the church from being unified. When we harbor racism in our hearts, the sin of racism, we rebuild the wall that Christ tore down and make a mockery of Christ. The entire Church cannot be the example of unity that it is meant to be if we are walking around rebuilding the dividing walls of hostility in their various forms. John Perkins points out in his book “One Blood:” “All the genetic differences that people see on the surface come from 1% of our DNA. We really are one blood, there is no such thing as different races.” This is why I hate using the term “racial reconciliation” preferring instead to talk about “ethnic reconciliation.” We are called to be a new humanity who is reconciled first to God and then to one another (Ephesians 2:1-22). The way we show we are reconciled to God, is by being reconciled to one another. If you say you are reconciled to God but hate your neighbor or brother, thus creating a wall of separation, and in Jesus words in Matthew 5, committing murder, you may not actually be reconciled to God.

I know this is a hard teaching, and I know it flies in the face of everything we have taught or been taught in our modern American Churches. It is hard because we have learned well Ephesians 2:1-10 but have neglected 11-22. We know full well that God has brought us near to himself, but we are not taught that God has brought us near to each other. We are missing a huge section in the Gospel and it is having disastrous and deadly affects on the Church and on society. We as Christians should not strive to be politically correct, but we need so desperately to be Biblically correct and that means living by its full council, as Eugene Peterson says: “the Jesus Life in the Jesus Way.” The Jews were meant to be a nation of God’s people who were a light and blessing to the world. America claimed that mantra for herself and has slid into the same sins as Israel both during the Monarchy and during the time of Jesus.

#FortheunityoftheENTIREChurch means we work towards the goal of reconciliation between Black and white, young, and old, rich and poor, ethnicity and ethnicity, male and female. It does not matter what your background, if you come into Christ, you are reconciled to everyone else in Christ. The Churches Organic Unity means that you and I are connected to each other by the Holy Spirit through the blood of Christ and when we deny that, we are actually hurting ourselves while we hurt the witness of Christ. The body of Christ is meant to be multi-ethnic, the early church is a prime example of that. Look at the names of the leaders at Antioch in Acts 11 and 13, look at the need that arises in Acts 6 and so on and so forth. Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Galatia, Corinth all multi-ethnic and multi-generational. This is what Christ has created and we should not let anyone tear it down and actively speak out when its members are denying what Christ has created.

The point of this post is not to shame and guilt anyone, but to show you that this is Christ’s vision for the Church, this is a biblical vision for the church and denying that will be to our detriment.

Let us live out what God has given us to live with joy, with gratitude and with peace, together in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen!

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.

Christianity Requires Recreation

“God is not in the business of making good men better, but old men new.” – C.S. Lewis

Jonathan Faulkner

Long before I had ever preached a sermon on Colossians 3:1-17, perhaps before I had even read it (I was not a habitual bible reader, or reader in general in High School) I read Book IV, chapter 10 of C.S Lewis’s Mere Christianity which is titled “Nice People or New Men.” It was there, an in the work as a whole, that I first came upon the idea that God did not send Christ to die so we could live more moral lives than we already did, which is what the Christianity of my youth had taught me, but that Christ died so that we could become completely new creations by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Lewis’s image of the Horse being completely destroyed so that we no longer called it a horse, but something completely different, a winged creature, has stuck with me all these years and it is the best metaphor for what Paul describes in Colossians 3:1-17. Hence the reason the sermon I preach wherever I go as a guest preacher uses this very analogy to describe taking off the old self and putting on the new self. Lewis calls this transformation, we are not merely better, but we are recreated, reformed, we return to our preformed state. Now we are “Born of Water and Spirit” (John 3:5) as a new creature.

This was a hard teaching for Nicodemus to understand, as Dallas Jenkins so brilliantly displays in his work “The Chosen” (which again I recommend). It is just as hard for us to understand today. It has not made its way into American Christianity because it does not agree with the basis of “Common Sense Realism” that pervaded the halls of Princeton and dictated the theology of Scottish Presbyterianism. Christianity was like any other religion, a way for us to become better humans. Yet, even in the Nineteenth Century it was not totally lost on us. My own theological, historical mentor J.W Nevin commented extensively on the New Creation, even writing an entire Treatise on it called ‘The New Creation.” Nevin writes:

“It goes to the very foundation of Christianity. Is it a doctrine only or a fact? Is it a new creation in Christ, or is it a divinely wrought image of that only out of Christ? The question is worthy of something more than a magisterial wave of the hand, after the summary fashion of the criticism here in view.”[i]

The whole point of the New Covenant is that we are reformed, something new is being created, our fundamental constitution changes (Jeremiah 31:31-34). We are not the same being we were before, now we, through the Holy Spirit, put on the New Self that comes from being born of Water and Spirit. Paul then tells us in the book of Titus to “Insist on these things” (3:7) and to avoid the weeds of foolish controversies and the sin of the old life which we were formerly enslaved to but are now free from and indeed, changed by rebirth so that we have the ability to not do those things we formerly could only do.

Modern Christianity, however, does not act in this manner. Instead, it gives us a list of expected behaviors and if you do not meet the standard criterion then you are lost. The Woe’s to the Pharisees, Jesus instructions to the people, ring in our ears, do as they say, but not as they do. We are very good at cleaning the outside of the pot, but inside the pot we are rotten to the core (Matthew 23:1-36). So much so that our rot and pharisaic tendencies have become normalized and even encouraged. We are not to “Lord it over” others, but that is precisely what we have chosen to do in almost every area of life. We are to build others up because we have been built up, but all we know how to do is infantilize and tear down one another, slander and gossip against one another. If you do not believe me, go look at the Facebook Comments on almost any post that is uncensored, or the YouTube comment section for that matter. We fight hard against becoming the new creation because recreation requires us to give up our long held hostilities and even the pain that becomes a comfort blanket for a people who have never really grown up to maturity (Eph 4:7-11).

This is what Billy Graham was referring to when he said that: “Christianity is a mile wide and an inch deep.” We believe that all that is required of us is to pray a prayer and accept Jesus into our hearts, but that is not what Scripture instructs us to do. We are to “believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and confess with our mouths that Christ raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:13). That is what is required for us to be saved, then we receive the Holy Spirit and the work of recreation or reformation begins. The old self is burned away, and the new self is brought forth. We become a new creation in Christ and we are to put the old vein rivalries and former definitions of Love away, far away, as we embrace the new life.

Now, let me make a point about the Love of God. God does love His creation unconditionally, but when we come in contact with the love of God we should be transformed by it. It should awaken us to the reality of how terribly sinful we are, and if it doesn’t, we need to question whether it was God’s love we encountered or the devil’s false abstraction. Or we need to question why our hearts are so hard towards God that we are not changed by an encounter with Him. God’s love should make us listen to one another, especially when they come to us with a grievance against us, God’s love should make us treat one another with deep respect and dignity, God’s love should make us desire reconciliation above continuing to harm our friends and family members.

Christianity in scripture, in Jesus own words, should be an inch wide and a mile deep. Jesus is clear about the fact that the wide road leads to death, and a truncated and diminished gospel that does not include recreation or reformation by the Holy Spirit, that just makes us more “moral” is wide and thin. We have fed a lot of people sugar coated death which sounds scriptural but is based on human wisdom and definition. God’s love is unconditional, and it accepts us as we are, but scripture is clear that it never leaves us the way it found us. Jesus did not tell Nicodemus that you must become more moral, He told him to be reborn, of Water, the baptism of repentance which signs and seals on us the covenant and spirit, the reconciliation and new life, new creation, in Christ.  It is foolish to think we will be saved because we become better humans without a deep personal relationship with Christ, because we went to Church on Sunday and Tithed 10 Percent every week. Those are good things, but even the Pharisee’s did them while placing unbearable burdens on the people and Jesus tells them they have a place reserved for them in Hell because of their religion devoid of relationship and transformation (Matthew 23:1-36 again).

Brothers and Sisters, we are to be transformed, not merely made better, but something completely new, unrecognizable from the old self. The Image of Christ is not a mere outward image only, it is also an inward one, one that requires us to be remade and reformed at the hands of the Potter who is our God.

Solo Dei Gloria, Amen.

 

[i] Nevin, John Williamson. The Incarnate Word: Selected Writings on Christology (Mercersburg Theology Study Series Book 4) (p. 34). Wipf & Stock, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

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.

Church, Your Pastors Need You!

With only 10% of pastors who start the ministry, finish the ministry, 78% of pastors feel they have no close friends, we have a crisis and it is only going to get worse.

Jonathan Faulkner

Author’s Note: This was written and scheduled before the shutdowns, God’s Heart recognizes that we are all now in the same boat and feeling the isolation. We love you and miss you all! 

Ministry is not meant to be done alone and yet, 70% of pastors in America today struggle with depression and with it, 78% severe loneliness causes by a lack of close friends. This is according to Lifeway Research conducted by Thom Rainer. Every other week, it seems, we are hearing story after story about pastors burning out, pastors committing suicide, pastors getting into extra marital affairs, pastors leaving the faith altogether. The number of pastors I know who are either unhealthy, no longer pastors (some are no longer Christians) or in need of extended respite has gone up exponentially over the years. Along with that, it seems more and more Christian College and Ministry Preparation organizations like them (including seminaries) are having a harder time finding pastoral candidates and my own conference is recruiting simply because we do not have the pastors in the “pipeline” to fill our pulpits. Take my Alma Mater where, the year after I graduated boasted the largest ministry and biblical studies prep enrollment in the modern era. Just six years later they had no new recruits in this year’s incoming class. Pastoral Ministry, they are realizing, is either unpopular or downright dangerous, given the above statistics, it is likely the latter.

Now, before I go on, I want to make a disclaimer, this is not a cry for help, this is not me trying to get attention. I am writing this for my brothers who cannot> I am writing this because up until now I am relatively unscathed. I have been a pastor a total of 2 years (1.5 at my first ministry and 9.5 months at this one). I do not have 30 years of heartache, criticism and loneliness that many of my brothers do. It is something I want to find a way to avoid, as much as possible, including protecting my family from the pains and hurts that often come from Pastoral Ministry. Paul Borthwick once told our Missiology class in Seminary that missionaries experience up to a 600 on the psychological pressure scale, the average persons stress level is around 100. When asked about Pastors he said it was about 500-600 as well. Sustaining 500-600 for a long period of time is supposed to kill a person and yet, our pastors and missionaries operate on these levels from week to week. So, I am writing this as a youngling, maybe I can be dismissed as naïve. However, keep in mind, I grew up in a pastor’s household (I am a PK) and I married a PK. For that reason I have now lived on both sides of the pastoral health coin and between my wife and I we have 50+ years of pastoral family experience between us (wow, we’re not even 30 yet).

One of the ideas they are teaching us in our seminary pastoral ministry classes, at least at Gordon-Conwell was that we should teach our people what our job consists of. The old joke about pastors only working one hour or day a week comes to mind as a common misconception about what pastors do. Though most of our congregations do not actually think this is true, whenever we do talk about the pressures related to our jobs. I recently listened to a sermon from Good News Community Church in Ogunboji IA. From a pastor who was stepping down entitled: “The Sermon most pastors should not preach.” Talking about pastoral health is considered Taboo in some church circles and we are facing a reckoning because of that. It is a topic that needs to be discussed in greater detail and at greater lengths and not just in our own little pastoral huddles but in front of our congregations. The reason is both complicated and simple, the health of the pastors will help determine the health of the Church. When a Pastor feels unsupported and isolated, the congregation will suffer because of it. When the pastor feels attacked by His flock, he will attack back. An unhealthy pastor almost always leads to an unhealthy church. Churches should not only want healthy pastors, they should be going to the same lengths the pastor goes to for them, to keep him healthy.

Do you see what is being said here? Churches, your pastor needs you! In fact, scripture gives us a corrective towards the role of our shepherds. First, it is the pastor or teaching elder who carries on the teachings of the Apostles. He or she is responsible for apostolic succession defined as the passing down of the teachings to future generations. The pastor preaches the word of God, it is their primary focus and should take up most of their time. In small settings the pastor is also responsible for the care of the flock, but they cannot and should never be the sole person expected to care for the flock. In Acts 6 when the Hellenist Widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution the Apostles, who understood their primary concern was to tend to the preaching of the Word, selected a Deaconate, a word which literally means servant or minister. Now, in congregations of 20-40 it is common for the pastor to do both works and usually they are able, however once you get above 40 it becomes more difficult to care for everyone and every need. But I want you to notice that the Deacons were not called to bring matters to the Apostles so they could take care of it, they were empowered by the Apostles to Minister. The Deaconate served the Apostles by freeing them up to do the work of the Word and Sacrament while they took care of the on the ground needs. That does not mean that the Apostles were not involved in the care of souls, on the contrary, the Apostles still made visits and showed Pastoral concerns (read any of Paul’s letters) for the physical and spiritual well-being of their flocks, but they also had deacons who served them by serving their flock so they could be devoted to the word of God. Since scripture knows nothing of a non-spiritual leader in the Body of Christ we must continue in the care for our shut-ins and sick and in prison, however, we also must remember that our pastors cannot and should not be expected to do the full work of the church alone and if they are, something has gone wrong.

One of the claims of the ancient Roman Church is that Peter and Paul had two different styles of leadership, Paul believed in a plurality of leaders and Peter believed in one sole leader. I do not think scripture supports such a split, Peter’s letters and indeed his own life seem to revolve around a plurality of leaders and he acknowledges that churches have multiple under shepherds (1 Peter 5:1) it just is not the primary concern of his letter and so does not get the treatment it does within Pauline letters that deal with specific corrections to churches in specific situations. In Acts we see Peter and Paul operating within a plurality leadership structure, Elders, Overseers, Presbyters, Deacons. Again, Pastors are not excused from the care aspect of the ministry, but they should not be the only ones doing it and members should not expect pastors to do all of the visitations and all of the care.

We also have a problem in how we talk to and about pastors. That is, we would say something to a pastor that we would never say to someone else, we will make criticisms of spiritual leaders that we would not make to someone else. We hold pastors to an impossible standard of perfection and when they do not meet it, they are met with criticism and a disrespect normally only reserved for our political opponents on Facebook. If this seems like an overstatement, I have seen it and heard it firsthand in my own father’s life and have even experienced a little bit of it myself in my short ministry. I got called a “Disrespectful stupid kid” by an older member of my first church because we had a contemporary Sunday and all the Deacons and myself wore jeans and a Polo. We had even informed the church the previous two weeks and the man had plenty of time to prepare for the Sunday. Halfway through the second song the man grabbed his wife by the hand and stormed out. This kind of behavior is something we should expect to see at a pre-school, among kids who have never known any better or been taught any better. Not the behavior we should expect to see from men and women who have been Christians for 40+ years. Thom Rainer recalls the story of a young pastor who came across a woman praying in the sanctuary “against the new young pastor (him) who had brought Satan’s music into the church.” Pastors are regularly triangulated, that is, when someone says: “Someone told me” or “People are mad” when they do something that someone does not like. We get to be roast preacher by person who just shook our hands and thanked us for the sermon. This is although many of our church by-laws ban clandestine parking lot meetings and gossip. As a Pastor we have to forgive the people that hurt us, but we also need to pray for and exhort those who hurt us to be better, to grow to maturity in Christ so that they are producing the fruit of the Spirit, which, by the way, we need to produce too.

On a personal level, Paul instructs Timothy, his emissary to Ephesus, to make sure that he was taking care of himself (1 Tim 4). This is because Timothy is filling the role of an Apostle, setting back in order what the false teachers had torn asunder (1 Tim 1:5). Paul understood that unhealthy and immature leaders were the reason that the church at Ephesus was a mess and so he wanted his emissary to be healthy himself as a model of the life found in Christ. Timothy is to: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers and example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (4:12). Further, Timothy was to “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (4:16). Admittedly, when I taught Master Classes on 1st Timothy in 2013 and 2018 these were the hardest passages to teach on, they seem self-serving, but if pastors are going to teach the full council of scripture, we must teach our congregations to honor the full council, and that includes the passages about our health and responsibility. Our congregations do not need to just know how to relate to the world as Christians, they need to know how to relate to one another and we are included in that “one another.” Perhaps we need more sermons on Pastoral Health, not less, more sermons on 1st Timothy 4:11-16, not less. Timothy’s example was meant to bring a broken and unfaithful church back to saving faith in Christ, how can we do that if our congregations are allowed to treat us like we are sub human?

Now, not every church falls into this trap, there are pastor loving churches out there. One of the goals Rachel and I have in our current ministry is to turn the generosity shown to us back towards our town. We have also been blessed to have formed a friendship with two families our age and our older Church Family praises God for that. They are not perfect, we have had some bumps in the road as I learn how to communicate with a church again (interesting how seminary numbs those senses) and learn to slow down and smell the roses of small town church life. The biblical standard for all church leaders is high, overseers, elders and deacons, but the standard of Christianity (Jesus Christ himself) is so high the only way we can attain that standard is through Him. That is how it is supposed to be, how God meant it since He put Abraham to sleep on that mountainside and took the full weight of the covenant upon His own shoulders. We as pastors need to expect more from our congregational leaders and from our congregations and they need to similarly expect more from us. We have failed in our discipleship if we have a lot of Christians in our pews with a faith so fragile and conscious so weak they cannot do the work God has put before them and they disappear when things get tough.

But Church members, we need you as well. We need you to come and talk to us when you have a concern, that is one of the reasons we keep office hours. But also need you to pray through your words and handle the conversation in a manner that is healthy and mature, and which builds up and does not tear down. We need you to stop saying: “Someone said” or “People are talking” because those phrases are unhelpful and pull us into a relational triangle that is extremely unhealthy. We need you to step up and serve when asked, to be a part of the body of Christ and care for one another. Churches should not consist of one man or woman doing all the work, that is not the church, instead we are members one of another (1 Cor 14:12-26) and should be “devoted to one another in family love, honoring one another as better than ourselves” (Rom 12:10). We should also: “have the same mind as Christ who…humbled himself to death.” (Phil 2:5-11). We should be a community “Devoted to the teaching of the apostles, the breaking of bread and the prayers…having everything in common” (Acts 2:42-47). That includes Pastors, lay people and everyone else in between.

Finally, we need you to stand up for us among yourselves and stand up for our wives and kids. My wife has been shocked at how many pastors’ wives no longer believe because of either 1. the way their husbands have been treated and 2. Because their husband has neglected to “manage his own household well” (1 Tim 3:1-11) and the busyness of ministry (some pastors report working 80-90 hours a week). I know too many Pastors kids who have left the faith altogether because of how their parents were treated by church members. Their response is: “If the people in the pews are not going to live out scripture, then I want nothing to do with Christianity.” We are servants of you, but we are also servants of Christ. Servant, however, cannot mean dehumanized slave who bows to members every whim and gets yelled out for every misstep. We need to stop infantilizing each other, pastors to their congregations and congregations to pastors. To claim the grace of God all day while we treat others gracelessly is to not actually know the grace of God.

So, what do we do? First of all, when your pastor sets a life-flow schedule like the one I have, do not mock it, do everything you can to make sure he can make it work. Pastors set a life-flow schedule and make sure your church is aware of it. When I arrived here in Buffalo Center I set out what a normal week would look like. A typical week would start with visitations on Monday (do this, it helps you deal with the usual Monday depression) and then I am in the office Tuesday and Wednesday with a text study with area pastors on Tuesday mornings. I am off on Thursday, then I hold office hours Friday and Saturday morning. Then I get up early to pray on Sunday Mornings and open up the church and prepare for the service. During those office hours I am usually preparing my sermon. General wisdom says that if you preach a 25-minute sermon you should spent about 25 hours preparing for it. Tuesday morning is devoted to preparing the text in the Greek or Hebrew, the afternoon is devoted to further study, commentary work or extra biblical reading. Wednesday is more of the same, finishing any textual work that needs done. The afternoon is for preparing for a church meeting, if we have one that night and more sermon study. I am in the office from 8-5 and after 5, unless I have a meeting, I shut it all down and go spend time with my wife and daughter. This pattern and rhythm of life will give you about 45-50 hours a week worth of work that includes the time you spend praying for your congregation (an important part of your ministry). On weeks when you have funerals you will work a lot more hours and you may not get your day off and weeks you have meetings and hospitality expectations (my wife and I try to invite visitors over for coffee/tea and dessert or a meal when they attend church) add to this, but can be seen as times when your ministry and family intersect.

The bottom line, ministry should not be a death sentence. We should not be burning out pastors if we are living as the body of Christ, no one should be burned out, we should all have all our needs, physical, spiritual and emotional, met through Christ and through the Body of Christ. We are interdependent and need to live in this manner because it is the example scripture has given us. We should not have 10% retention rate for pastors, and we should not have 70% of our pastors fighting depression and 78% of our pastors battling severe loneliness. Nobody should have to suffer these things within the body of Christ, if they are, pastor or lay person, the body is suffering from it.

Pastors then, take care of yourselves, and congregations, take care of your pastors. You may find that by allowing them to care for themselves and by caring for them. They are in a much better position to care for and love each of you as the shepherd God has placed before you to lead you further into Christ.

I write this because we love you in Christ.

 

“You Cannot Ruin Easter”

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

Jonathan David Faulkner

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

The Resurrection of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

YPIACV II: When Convictions Create Tensions

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

Jonathan David Faulkner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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