Tag: The Church

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.

Heal Your Church

2 Chronicles 7:14 is often deployed as a prayer for national renewal in modern times, but this is not an accurate application when held up to the Theology of the New Testament. The true application is much deeper, and better.

Rev. Jonathan Faulkner

This one will probably rattle a few cages, but the cages need to be rattled for the sake of biblical Christianity. We have all seen the posts recently, the prayers for God to “heal our land” with a reference to 2nd Chronicles 7:14 which reads: “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (NIV). The passage which falls in the middle of Solomon’s dedication of the temple and the events surrounding it (see 2nd Chronicles 6-8) is God’s response to Solomon after he prays and leads the people through the expected ritual sacrifices. The passage is one of many appearances of blessing and curse language. God is telling Solomon what will happen if the people break the covenant of Moses that they have agreed to live by as God’s chosen people. If they engage in covenant breaking God will shut up the heavens and keep the rain from falling or send pestilence on the land, because God has chosen to reside in the house which Solomon had built for Him. If the people repent of their covenant breaking the Lord will hear their prayer and restore them and their land. This follows the Covenant pattern of the OT in which a land, seed and blessing are promised to Abraham and are passed down to Moses and then the house of David who also receives the promise of an eternal kingdom.

But by the time we come to the New Testament Israel has long broken the covenant, a sect called the Pharisees have arisen to be the Jewish protectors of purity. They are the self-appointed gate keepers to keep Israel from covenant breaking. And the house of David? It has been reduced, removed from its royal splendor that built the temple to, what in our times would be lower and middle class tradesmen and shepherds who, though they can trace their lineage back to David, have nothing of the former glory of their line. The land had been stripped from them by Babylon, the blessing seemed far off, the seed was scattered. God has utterly devastated the house of David, reduced it to almost nothing. The kingdom was ruled by Rome with a false king named Herod sitting on the throne, it would not be Israel’s land again until the 1940’s. Far from experiencing the blessings of Covenant renewal, they had experienced the full weight of the Covenant curses of the Old Testament.

But YHWH had not forgotten His promises to Abraham, to Moses or to David. There is still a kingdom for the House of David to rule for eternity and it would come through the line of David, to a descendant named Joseph whose betrothed Mary, still a virgin, would give birth to the son of God named Jesus Christ who would tell the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate that: “My kingdom is not of this world, if it were my followers would have fought for me” (John 18:36). Christ’s death, resurrection and the resulting rise to power as King and Lord over the universe assured that the covenantal promises to David were fulfilled. David now has a heir sitting forever, that heir just so happens to also be God in Incarnate, Jesus Christ, the second member of the Triune Godhead who rules over a kingdom that is not of this world.

The new covenant then is initiated by Christ’s blood, a covenant full of better promises which are in some ways continuations of the Old Covenant Promises under better terms. For example, instead of ritual purity through slavery to endless sacrifices and cleansing. Christ has declared all who are found in Him to be clean before God, to be righteous before God on account of what He has done, not what we have done. By grace he has become the lens through which God the father sees us and we can now live out of gratitude for that reality and keep the moral law of God, which Christ has written on our hearts (Matthew 5-7) through His sanctifying work in us. Second, instead of having to worry about breaking the new covenant we have the Holy Spirit to help us grow more and more into Christlikeness and Godliness. The only ones who are in danger of eternal punishment or curses associated with the New Covenant are those who are covenant Fakers, who claim the name Christian and either intentionally live otherwise and deny the life set forward of Christ. Or who claim to be Christians and think they are living the Christian life when they are reenacting the sin of the Pharisees, religiousness without the relationship that transforms. Paul calls these people Pseudadelphoi which means “False Brothers” They claim to be believers, as First John 1 says; to walk in the light but walk in darkness. In Romans 2:1-17 Paul says they are “Heaping condemnation upon their own heads” when they condemn the world for the vices mentioned in Rom 1:28-30 but then turn around and participate in them.

Finally, the land promise is better, in that, in the OT Israel was promised a specific geographical location, the Fertile Crescent which we know today as Israel and Palestine. Israel had to come in and conquer it once the “sin of the Canaanites” was complete (Gen 15:16). Many of the Covenant Curses of the Old Covenant dealt with some sort of blight on the land, famine, pestilence, disease, drought, and in the case of long-term disobedience loss of and removal from the land itself. However, the New Covenant does not include a specific land promise, but a general and eschatological promise of inheritance of a future place, that is, the New Heavens and the New Earth. Christ, being the descendant of David to whom the spiritual kingdom of God would come sits on the throne forever and one day creation will happen anew, recreation, and those who believe, those whose names are written in the book of life (Rev. 20) will inherit the Earth (Matthew 5:5), that is, the new heavens and the new earth. Thus, there is a land promise in the New Covenant but not one that ties the church to any specific geographical location such as Israel or The United States of America. The people of God now constitute a spiritual kingdom that spans kingdoms, hence the formula kingdom within kingdoms. There is a future geographical location for the kingdom Christ rules, the entire earth.

So this asks the question of how we then apply this verse today. Let me answer that by saying that it is entirely possible we should not directly apply this verse, word for word, to us today. Since the land itself is not a promised part of the New Covenant, there is no literal “land” for God to heal since the one we will finally inherit is already healed. But there is a principle here that can be applied and it applies not to a nation state but to the Church, God’s people, the Kingdom, within the Kingdoms. That is, one can say that if God’s people turn from their wicked ways and humble themselves before God, if we stop the act of covenant breaking we are committing by not living by the way Christ has given us to live, if we repent of this. Then God will hear us and heal His Church. The application is not then directed at the nation as a whole, but on the people of God who exist in the nation but are part of the global kingdom of Christ.

And let us be honest, there is a lot for us as the Church in the United States to repent and turn from starting with clergy and extending to the laity. IF we continue in covenant breaking, that is, living as though Christ has not died on the cross or that the Holy Spirit has not come into our lives. If we continue to sin so that grace can abound (Romans 6:1) we will be self-condemned and, just as with the Church in Germany in the 1940s and 50s see our lampstand removed. We are already headed into exile as Elliot Clark, David Kinnaman and Mike Matlock have pointed out in their respective books “Evangelism as Exiles” (Clark) and “Faith for Exiles” Kinnaman and Matlock). The culture has shifted abruptly against the Church as evidenced by the Church as being viewed as “nonessential” by the government. It is even entirely possible by trying to legislate the end of secularism through political power, we have only sped up the pace at which the culture has turned against us.

This is an uncomfortable truth for us, we like to think we are a chosen nation, but no matter what the nations founders intended or what John Winthrop claimed about the Massachusetts Bay Colony, no matter what promises we have claimed for ourselves. The Bible does not support the notion that under the New Covenant God will “Heal our land” if the nation turns back to Him. He will, however, heal our churches if our churches are willing to repent and turn back to Him. IF we are willing to stand up against the evils and injustices in this world while maintaining the humanity of every individual regardless of their profession or what community they represent. If e are willing to be the people of God, called to be salt and light to this world, of course God will heal our Churches and through healing our churches we may find that He heals our land by moving His people to do what He has called us to do.

The Church in the United States is broadly guilty of covenant breaking, that is not to say every church, or every person is, God does always keep his remnant faithful. But many churches have engaged in covenant breaking while claiming to be God’s people. They have supported schism and sectarianism while claiming to be the true church, they have clamored for power and influence and hated those who stood in their way. The sin does not have to be as blatant as Westboro Baptist to still be sinful and for it to be a violation of the life Christ has given us to live. But that also does not mean these churches are hopeless, there is still time, we can give up the charade of cultural religion and adhere to the Word of God first and foremost. We can reverse the trend of increasing suspicion towards churches and clergy. We can repent, and we can do it publicly. We must do this before God does completely remove our lampstand and we face the kind of persecution some have already told us we are facing.

There is still time, so let us pray together, Father, Heal your Church.

For an addition post on this topic click here

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.

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.

 

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 .

John Williamson Nevin, Linden J. DeBie. 2012. The Mystical Presence & the Doctrine of the Reformed Church on the Lord’s Supper . Eugene : Wfpf & Stock .

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. 1846. The Mystical Presence . Philidelphia : J.B. Lippincott & Co. .

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

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.

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.

 

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.

Coronavirus and The Death of Individualism

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

Jonathan David Faulkner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about it this way:

 

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

A Protestant Goes to a Monastery:

 

By Jonathan David Faulkner

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Jonathan Takes Five: Talks Arts, the Church and Seminary Life.

By Bradly Tucker14140_10151927346899245_829737775_a

Hamilton Mass: Jonathan David Faulkner, the 24-year-old Proprietor of God’s Heart for Those and the former director of 10:31 Life Ministries, Pastor, Musician and Writer took a moment out of his busy study schedule to sit down and talk about his passion for the arts and the church, his current writing project and life in Seminary.

Brad: Jonathan, thank you for joining me.

Jonathan: You’re welcome

Brad: We know that you are musician, many of our readers have heard your music live, but what most people do not know about you is that you write as well. Can you tell us a little bit about that aspect of your life and any projects you might be working on?

Jonathan: Well, since I was a kid I have loved to tell stories, my mother used to say I could make something up and no one would know if it were true or not. I did not always use that power for good, especially before I became a Christian in 8th grade. I never wrote any of them down, what I did write was poem after poem, some in lyric structure, others were just poems. I would write them at school, print them off and carry them around in a huge binder or write them in this big notebook. I still have the binder and most of the songs, I should go back and look at them.

Anyway, I wanted to write a book, so I started writing this weird apocalyptic thing in this huge notebook. The idea was pretty good, or at least I thought it was, but I never finished it. My Junior year of college I wrote a book about my life and God’s work in it in about two weeks, I do not know where that book is now. Then last year I started working on a book series called “The Mozzaratt Saga.” Four books, a Trilogy and an origin story written by the main character of the book. I am almost done with book one and have made a good deal of progress in the origin story. The second and third book are still in the planning stages while I work out the plot, which by the way, you will have to buy the books when they come out. I am also working on a project dealing with Star Trek and another on Reconciliation and Social Justice, this of course while maintaining a rigorous Seminary reading schedule.

Brad: Those sound interesting, we know you have been involved in the Seminary’s Art’s Society. What do you think is the relationship between Christianity and Art?

Jonathan: I think they should be closely linked. In fact part of my mentored ministry responsibilities will be working in promoting art of all kinds at the church. For me it comes down to this; as Christians we are created by God, as part of God’s creativity, part of a natural response to that is to create, and we all do it, whether it is writing a song or coming up with your own paper filing system, we all create. I believe we are called to be sub-creators. Meaning, we create out of the overflow of our hearts of the Love of God with the desire to glorify Him by what we create. In Christianity then, art becomes a discipline for practicing the presence of God and glorifying Him, as well as a means to bless others by the gifts God has given us.

Several years ago, as part of the Good Discipline Series for GHFT I wrote an article on Art as a discipline. I still feel the same way, the closer we get to God the more our creativity will show up in the things we do. Back then I had written like 12 songs, in the 3 years since that article was written I have written over 200 more, that’s the Holy Spirit, that’s God driven creativity, I cannot take credit for that.

Brad: So should the church embrace all forms of art?

Jonathan: Absolutely, we do ourselves a disservice when we relegate art to music and music only. Painting for example is a wonderful expression of the Glory of God. Poetry is part of the Bible, and there is a lot of good poetry and good poets sitting in our congregations. I have talked to artistic church members who feel like they are being stifled, like their creative abilities have no place in the church. So we do ourselves and these an incredible disservice by not embracing their gifts and abilities so that we can all be blessed by them.

It should also be said that arts is individual praise to God expressed in the Corporate body. If you praise God by painting the body of Christ should have the chance to join you in praising and Glorifying God. That way, in your eternal enjoyment of Him, others might also get to enjoy Him through the use of your gifts.

Brad: Do you have time to create while in Seminary?

Jonathan: Not as much as I did before, that is for sure. But I try to take time out of my day to work on “non-academic work” to make sure I have time to let the creative juices flow. I spend a lot of those hours working on the book series or writing music. I call them Artist Dates, a term we used in Denver to describe getting away to do what our soul longs to do.

Brad: So art helps you cope with a busy schedule?

Jonathan: Among other things, I have a strict routine that I follow as far as prayer and scripture reading go. Sometimes I go to prayer on campus, though usually I leave early because the spirit has stirred something within me and I have to write a song or poetry or something. I need to start taking a notepad with me.

Brad: Any final thoughts on Art and life in general?

Jonathan: I think that art is as much formative as it is transformative. I will give you an example; songwriting, for me, usually comes out of times of deep reflection and contemplation on God and what He has done. That is formative for me because it helps me draw closer to Him. But say that song makes it into my life show, someone hears the message and is encouraged and drawn closer into their relationship with God who is transforming us through Sanctification. Or starts to think about God because of it. Whether that night or over time they find themselves drawn to God and become a believer and be transformed by God and the Gospel because God encouraged me, by the Spirit, to write the song. It also may be transformative for me in case I forget the lesson I was contemplating when I wrote the song. It could be the same with a poem, a story, a drawing, a painting any form of creativity, especially when coupled with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Brad: Finally can you tell us what you are working on for the upcoming month at GHFT?

Jonathan: Sure, today I finished up an article on Interruptions and Ministry and I have been doing some research on the latest Joshua Feuerstien’s claims. So there could be another article addressing his teachings and claims. Other than that I cannot say what God is going to do, what surprising work of grace He might see fit to bring about that would make me want to praise Him.

Brad: Thank you Jonathan and have a good night.

Jonathan: You too Brad, night.

 

Bradly Tucker is the Content Editor & Copyright Manager for GHFT