Tag: The Gospel

Pastors were Censored in 2020, by their Congregations.

“It is a poor sermon that offends no one” George Whitefield. but the offended need to wrestle with the Scriptures. 

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

On a recent Podcast for The Bulwark Tim Miller noted that we tend to become the very things we rant and rave against. Miller, who worked for the Jeb Bush Campaign in 2015 is old enough to remember all the talk among Republicans about having good moral leaders who have strong character, as am I. For this reason he was one of the most vocal Never Trump Republicans until he left the party last month in one of the most amazing Newsletters I have ever read. He also made the point that Conservatives have long railed against the kind of brand authoritarianism that they have embraced in the last four years. Christianity has had this problem for several decades, perhaps even a century, as we have railed against sexual immorality while propping up pastors who have willfully and unapologetically participated in it. This is what is called: “Blame Shifting” it takes the pressure off me and makes me a victim of something or someone else. When we blame shift we move from being the victimizer to the victimized and we never have to face a reckoning for our actions because, well, we are the victim. I was raised in a conservatism that was all about the consequences for ones actions. My parents never outlawed underage drinking in our house, but they did tell us that if we got caught and went to Jail, we would be spending the night there and then they would come a get us. If we broke the law, there would be consequences.

In the bible, there are consequences to our actions, in 1 John 1 and 2 we are told that if we say we are in the light and walk-in darkness the truth is not in us, we are liars, and if we say we know Jesus and do not follow his commandments then we are liars and do not have the truth. The consequence of this lying is that we are outside of the name of Jesus and we will face eternal punishment for that. Too many Christians believe the cultural Libertinism that has coaxed them into believing that their actions mean nothing in the grand scheme of salvation. I usually avoid Religious Litmus tests, but the one John gives us, in fact that Jesus gives us in John, is that if we love Jesus or know Jesus as Lord and Savior, we will do the things He has commanded us. Not out of legalistic obligation, but out of immense gratitude. The Jesus life and the way of Jesus are the way to exceptional blessings beyond what the citizenship of a nation can give. But the consequence of not living the Jesus life and not going the Jesus way is that we are outside the body, no matter how much we claim to be in. John does not want believers to sin, but when we do we can repent and go back to living the Jesus life because we have Jesus on the throne. Instead, Christians act as though their sin is justified by Christs Sacrifice, this is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer has called: “Cheap grace” which nullifies the cross of Christ. Sin is never justified, but you are justified only through Christ, not by making it up with good deeds, or ignoring it, pushing down the shame and going on to the next sin. The cross of Christ should drive us to repentance for our sins both before and after we are believers.

I say all this because censorship has been back in the news, specifically censorship of conservatives by “Big Tech.” I am not here to argue the merits of this argument, I do not believe there is a targeted war on conservatism. I believe in a free-market and negative rights meaning I believe that social media companies are private companies that have the right to protection under the constitution to make sure the government cannot infringe on their right to free enterprise. Because we live in a fallen world this is going to be abused or under applied or whatnot and demanded perfection from anyone is only going to lead to disappointment.

It is also disingenuous to argue against censorship when it was Christians who perfected the art of Cancel Culture and Censorship as far back as the nineteenth century. That is part of what it means to be a Historian who specialized in the nineteenth century, it is to study the history of the Church in America fighting with each other and trying to cancel each other out, it is the history of internecine warfare such as the debate over Slavery between Abolitionists and the Stonewall-Campbell Churches or the debate over the nature of the Church between Mercersburg and Princeton or the fight between Princeton/Mercersburg against the revivalists. If you understand this paradigm you can understand the politics of Christianity in the twentieth century as laid out in the incredibly thoroughly researched: “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristin Du Mez. You can even find the roots to all this in the debate between the Old and New Light Puritans during the First Great Awakening. With Charles Chauncy trying to “Cancel” James Davenport, though Davenport probably needed to be canceled, still Yale used Chauncy’s arguments to curb the Revivals that broke out on campus, even banning students from attending a church pastored by a Revivalist. The story of the beginning of Mercersburg Seminary’s fame begins with the revivalists trying to “Cancel” Schaff and Nevin for “Romanizing.” An effort that went down in spectacular fashion in a 42-1 vote. The Church should be on the lookout for heretics, to some extent censorship can be a good thing, we should all be glad that Nicholas and Athanasius had the gal to stand up to Arius and his heretical notions about Christ. To some extent the debates of the nineteenth century were over important matters of orthodoxy, the debate over the nature of the Church for instance, is important, but some were debates of selfishness, such as the debate over Slavery, by that I mean there should never have been a debate among biblical Christians over whether it was justifiable is one of convenience. Slavery was never acceptable, as William Wilberforce argued, it should not even have been a debate, slavery should have ended and reconciliation and yes, restitution, should have been enacted right away. This is like Zacchaeus’s repentance and restitution when he encounters Jesus, he repents, he commits to making restitution and then Jesus tells him that Salvation has entered the house. Christians in America should have led the charge against Slavery, instead we fought over it.

My point is, we have been doing this for years and in the last 10 years or so it has gotten worse as we descend into chaos and infighting over every little thing. Pastors then, have become the targets of wild conspiracy theories, abusive church members via phone call, emails and face to face conversations or anonymous notes left on desks and crazy internet trolls. Usually, it is because the Pastor has failed to preach exactly what the person or congregation has been listening to on the internet. The Pastor gets canceled because he is not telling the “itching ears” what they want to hear. Of course, given the 2 Timothy 3 reference above, this should not surprise us, but it is a concerning trend among Christians who claim the name of Christ.

The problem is, when Christians do this, they are forcing their pastor to violate the Scriptures by which they are bound. Those who want Christianity+ and force their pastor to go along with it are putting their pastor at risk, not before the public, but before God. We are not supposed to give in to the itching ears, we are supposed to hold the line as part of the foundation of the House of God. Congregations, are of course, putting themselves at risk too, of eternal punishment, by refusing to follow the teachings of Jesus and instead insisting they be comforted in their false teachings and heresies, that their conspiracy theories be confirmed, and their idols be lifted, they are putting themselves in danger of eternal death. They will not see heaven because they have spent their lives denying Christ while claiming His name. Pastoral Abuse is a significant problem in the Church, as I noted last week, we have likely lost all the ground gained on Pastor health over the last year.

Whenever I preach sermons on controversial topics I always tell my congregation not to respond right away, if they are angry or uncomfortable, I ask them to sit with that, then to go and study the Scriptures for themselves and to wrestle directly with the scriptures. Then if they still have questions they can come and speak to me during scheduled office hours as long as they are able to have a conversation and constructive discourse. If they do this, they will have to wrestle not with what I said, but with what the Bible says and if they hold the Bible to be authoritative, then they should be shaped by it as Disciples of Jesus.

On Sunday I preached a sermon where I was intent on calling out the sin that led us to what happened on Wednesday. My expectation was that my congregation would get angry, that I may even face the possibility of losing my job, not because I do not trust my people, but because of the nature of the material and the experience of pastors around the nation. Thankfully, once again, it seems a majority of my congregation have been receptive to the message and call for repentance and Gospel renewal, an answer to be prayer, and not the experiences of some of my friends who went the same direction I did. Too many pastors, last year, reported abuse after mentioning everything from “BLM” and Policing, to Politics and Religion. This is unacceptable, abusing anyone, is unacceptable. After the sermon I told them what I mentioned in the paragraph above, so far I have not heard from anyone, but at the time of writing, it is Monday morning.

This is not a fear I have, and yet, the experience of my colleagues tells me I should. Let me put it this way, Tweets like these should not exist in Christendom.

Here is what needs to happen, there has to be a recovery of Biblical Literacy and a devotion to deep biblical study and a renouncing of idols by our congregations, there also has to be anew renewed understanding of the role of a Pastor in our Churches. We should not be ear ticklers, we should be tellers of biblical truth, fulfilling a call to prophetic ministry through the prophetic scriptures. Pastors are called so that the assembly of believers can have the scriptures opened to them by people who are trained, guided and directed both by the Holy Spirit and by wise people. We are not supposed to cower to the masses and tell them what they want to hear, we are supposed to prove ourselves as workman for Christ who are not ashamed of the Gospel (2 Tim 3:15). Our congregations need to respect that, and pastors need to understand this call. We need more Timothy Keller’s and less Greg Locke’s. It may cost us our job, but when people refuse to hear truth, we should shake the dust off and move on.

Congregations should not censor their pastors, they should listen to them, unless they are violating or adding to Scripture, then you need to address that in the manner prescribed in Matthew 18 and Titus 3. Pastors are not infallible, which is why we need to make sure we ourselves are humbly living the Jesus Life in the Jesus way. We also need to be examples of good and righteous discourse, an example of how to engage with ideas we disagree with in a manner that is reflective of Jesus and His love for the world. This is one way a secular education has benefited me, by learning the ideas that are present in the world I am able to refute them through a biblical lens and in a biblical way. Instead of cowing to our congregations, we should expect that they hold this standard themselves and learn to engage in a secularizing America in a way that is God honoring and which does not further undermine that already eroded public trust in the Church and in pastors.

Let it be known that there are situations where censorship is necessary, when someone is promoting a false gospel that has been debunked by the scriptures and when someone is pushing harmful conspiracy theories or inciting violence. These things go against the teaching of scripture and once evaluated, should be rejected by us because scripture rejects them. But let us not adopt the ways of the world and cancel anyone and everyone that does not agree with us. Let’s make it so that the above tweets are a thing of the past as we conform ourselves, once again, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and let it conform us to the image of the Son. Your zeal should be for Orthodoxy in the worship and service of the Father, but Zeal has to be tempered by Love, love spoken and acted upon because we have received grace from the father. Congregations and Pastors alike, there are consequences for our actions, some are going to play out in this world, but also eternity, we are not living for today, but for eternity. The way you treat your pastor matters and if God chastises those whom he loves, then there will be consequences.

May we repent for our sins against one another, for the sake of the Gospel, turn from our wicked ways and return to Christ.

 

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

Deconstructing The Tale of Rhett and Link

Perhaps the fault here does not lie with these two YouTube comedians, but someone closer to home.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Though it is not everyday I take the time to critique an article written by Alisa Childers and published by “The Gospel Coalition” in February of this year and shared again this morning. I have been wanting to address deconstruction and deconversion here for awhile but did not wish to do so in a vacuum. Alisa Childers article: “Deconstructing a Deconversion Story: The Tale of Rhett and Link” gives me a chance to address that topic as a critique of the Christian approach to engagement. As a musician and former writer for Altrocklive.com, I missed getting to cover ZoeGirl, Childers former band, but have a great respect for her as a musician and as a theologian and apologist. As has been the policy of this site we will not address or rebuff her, but her ideas, ideas which seem harmless, but in fact continue to deny a needed and justified critique of Christianity in America and the way it goes about discipleship and apologetics.

The Gospel Coalition Facebook page actually did a wonderful job summing up the idea that I am addressing here, so I will use their words: “Could it be that the cultural influences driving these deconstruction stories needs to be re-examined, rather than Christianity itself?” In the article Childers examines the influence of two Youtube Stars named Rhett and Link who were some of the Christian celebrities who have deconverted from Christian faith due to a lack of answers about serious questions and doubts about faith by their faith community. These high profile deconversions have, perhaps unintentionally, had the affect of driving some kids away from Christianity. This is something I can understand, if I had been 12 years younger when Josh Harris deconverted in 2019 it likely would have toppled my faith altogether. Childers is right when she says in her summation: “The truth is that we have a personality-driven culture in which two comedians can persuade Christians to rethink their faith in just three hours of video. And that’s no laughing matter.” She is correct. Celebrity influence on Christianity, be it in the secular culture or Christian celebrity culture (which I critique here) is a problem. But it is not the root of the problem which Childers is making it, it is the fruit of a greater problem and it is one that has affected me, my wife and so many others in our generation.

Before I come to the actual root cause, let me address the idea that Christianity does not need to be critiqued, as the TCG Facebook summation is suggesting, again, I have written before that a failure to critique Christianity puts historic, orthodox and biblical Christianity at risk. It is precisely because of internal critiques and adjustments that the early Church, through the councils, maintained Christian faith, not in lieu of it. One could even say that Christianity is a faith which relies on constant critique, discernment, and evaluation, not a stoic “thou shalt not question” approach that has been the modus operandi that has plagued Christians since before the tenth century. We must be able to make critiques of problems within our faith for the sake of the health of our faith.

But here in lies the root of the problem: our adoption of this “Thou shalt not question” attitude in our approach to Discipleship and Apologetics and at the same time our willingness to farm out discipleship and apologetics to the videos our kids are watching on Youtube. I will be blunt. The blame for all this falls not on Rhett and Link for questions they had about faith that went unanswered but on parents who are letting their kids be discipled by screens first and then cannot or are unwilling to facilitate and answer questions and doubts their kids may have. The blame also falls on Pastors and the “ivory tower theologians” who have insisted that no one, for any reason, should ever, have questions about the faith.

Before you pass judgment on me though, let me state that I am a pastor and a father of (soon to be) two young girls. I am writing as part of the problem who wants to find a way to be part of the solution. Discipling my daughters towards saving faith is something I have spent much time thinking through with that, teaching them how to defend their faith in an increasingly hostile culture. That starts with being willing to set boundaries and take responsibility for the passing down of faith to my children. My wife, who holds a degree in early Childhood Education says that: “Questioning like this is developmentally appropriate and stems from their brains moving from concrete to abstract thinking.” That means I should be ready to answer my daughter’s questions about faith with real answers, not dismissals. My own questions were often met with: “Well you just have to believe.” Had someone introduced me to Josh McDowell’s now updated:” Evidence that Demands a Verdict” and helped me parse it, perhaps I would not have struggled with questions about the historicity of my own faith.

But discipleship and apologetics are more than just allowing room for doubt and answering questions to our faith and teaching our kids basic doctrines. It is about so much more, since we are not merely intellectual beings. They are about the tools which are used and the way that Christian Faith gets lived out in the practical day-to-day functions of the human being.

There was a saying he heard in seminary repeatedly: “You keep them with, what you win them with.” This was a critique of the seeker friendly, entertainment model of the Church that was prominent in the Mega Church Movement in the 90’s and early 2000’s. But the principle is true in regard to discipleship and apologetics, if children are won to the faith by things meant to supplement and enrich, not be the basis for faith, then their faith will rise and fall on that tool. Veggietales was a great way to learn Bible stories if you could get past the moralism, but if Veggietales was the only way my faith was formed as a kid, I would not be a Christian today because while I would know the stories, the moral hypocrisy of Christians in the world would have destroyed my faith. My wife and I are very selective of what and how much content our two-year-old watches and plan to continue that, within reason, as she grows older. We have been encouraged by research from Barna Group, Jene Twenge and Andre Crouch which have challenged us not to let digital media disciple our kids. My wife and I are what David Kinnamen of Barna calls “Digital Natives.” That means we grew up in the media and digital age as younger millennials, Delta’s (Gen Z’s preferred name for themselves) and whatever the name of my daughter’s generation is going to be even more so than we. If I farm out my duties to disciple my daughters to whatever the popular Christian Media of the day is, should I be surprised when those influences on her deconvert and take her faith with them? I did not do my job of teaching them the faith, I let someone else disciple them,and when their questions came up I ignored them.

Pastors need to be aware of this too. The tools we use for reaching, teaching and engaging younger Christians will affect their view of the faith. If one of the tools in our bag is the: “You shall not question” tool , then we are not creating an atmosphere where faith forming discourse is encouraged and actively pursued. When we use placeboes and “Christian Adjacent” resources, resources that claim to be Christians but are really just panaceas or placebos, when we prefer pithy one liners that are not backed up by the text, or only loosely backed up by the text, why are we surprised when Christians question the faith. If we push moralism over the Gospel…well…you see my point. As teachers we bear a great responsibility before God (as do you, parents) when it comes to discipleship and apologetics and our discipleship has either been too strict or too loose, or worse, farmed out.

The evidence for Christianity is so overwhelming, but when we do not allow questions to be asked and doubts to be had, we redirect them to the people who will answer those questions for them. Radical Atheists, the “New Atheists” are very good at apologetics and discipleship and they are more than willing to fill the void left by pastors and parents who drive their children away when they ask questions and are met with scolding or dismissive statements. This appears to be what happened in the case of Rhett and Link. They had questions, Christians did not answer those questions (they were given Ravi Zacharius and Lee Strobel to read) and so they turned to secular sources who were more than willing to answer those questions. Then we point to the culture and say: “Look what they are doing, they are leading our kids astray, why don’t they just believe? Darn secular culture.” But we fail to ask ourselves what caused them to turn towards the secular belief system in the first place, we blame the outcome, to avoid blaming ourselves.

Then there is the second reason given for deconversion, which would have ultimately been my reason had my own deconstruction ended in denconversion. The failure to live out in the practical day-to-day life of the Christian the teachings of scripture and the life of Jesus. Many young Christians grow up hearing all about the Gospel but never see it lived out, in fact, they see the opposite. They see pastors abusing children and their congregations. they see the moral failures of Christian celebrities like John Crist, they see Christianity claim to be the representatives of The Kingdom of God while embracing a Christian Nationalism that denies that there is a Kingdom of God, or makes the United States into the Kingdom of God (hint, it’s not). Like their secular counterparts, they look at all of this and conclude that no matter how much evidence you give them for the truth claims of Christianity, it cannot possibly be true because the core teaching of transformation by Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit is erroneous and therefore untrue. My generation grew up hearing all about how “The world is watching you” and “You’re the only Bible some people will ever read” and so we watched how the people saying these things lived and concluded that the Bible was not true. This ranges from parents to pastors to Christian Celebrities. So, they turned to their secular counterparts to discover that they had seen the same hypocrisy and had come to the same conclusion. Let me point out that this paragraph is not a full critique, for that I would recommend “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, “Believe Me” by Christian Historian John Fea, “The Evangelicals” By Francis Fitzgerald (hostile sources) or “The Color of Compromise” by Jamar Tisby (for more sources send us a message)/

Many have been irreparably damaged by Christians, by Christian parents and pastors, who they looked up to and either went to ask questions of and got turned away or dismissed or who physically, emotionally, and spiritually harmed them. I fall under this second category, the night I confronted my spiritual abuser should have been the night I left Christianity, but I hung on, or more, God hung onto me. Even though every adult other than my parents I had looked up to in my life had been in the room that night, 3 against 1 (I had a mentor with me who advocated on my behalf) should have been the death stroke for my Christian faith. It probably would have been if I had returned to Sterling and my Professor had not recognized what was happening in my head and heart. They were essential to my hanging on, God used them to hang on to me until He could get me to the side of the mountain outside Denver that cool 4th of July.

Which brings me to a phenomenon I am noticing among my peers who go through deconstruction and remain in the faith, my wife being one of them. That is the presence of a supernatural encounter with God at a critical moment of their faith, a moment of decision. I hope Barna will do some research into this, since I am hearing more and more of it happening. As younger Christians try to disengage with faith due to the lack of influence or failures to live as Christians by the adults in their lives, more and more of us are having supernatural, unexplainable encounters with God that bring us back to full belief and help us begin reconstruction through a deeper study of the Bible and Church History. The result is a more robust and deeper faith that cannot be assailed by the world because it teaches us not just about God and the life of Christianity, but how to engage in a secular world. These experiences range from that still small voice, hearing the Holy Spirit speak, to visionary/auditory experiences like what I experienced in the labyrinth that day.

The problem is, if we are doing this right, if Christian faith is established, these things should not be necessary, if the Church is doing what it is supposed to be doing, we would have kids who are not just praying a prayer to avoid going to hell (the way most of my peers describe conversion to Christianity) to young people who understand they are indwelt with the Holy Spirit and can live out the lifestyle of Christian worship. Children would not be responsible for their own discipleship through videos on YouTube or apologetics primarily from books, but through deep conversations with their parents who are living the faith and through deep gospel preaching that establishes the historicity of Christianity and a life that reflects the idea that we are part of something bigger than everything this Earth offers. If Christians were living out the Gospel, were really living and teaching it, we would not need have teens who have grown up in church and who were considering leaving the church when they went to college because they had learned nothing of the faith, having unexplainable encounters with Christ in the service that was no different, that led them to drive to Wal-Mart to buy a Bible. This should not be, yet here we are.

The bottom line is this, Childers is right, Rhett and Link should not have the influence to lead children into deconstruction, but that should not lead us to critique the culture, but ourselves. The blame for this fall not on Rhett and Link and their experience, but on the parents and pastors who have failed in discipleship and apologetics by farming out their responsibilities to YouTube and other Christian celebrities.

I would be remiss in my own duties if I did not point out that Jesus himself warns us against letting our teaching of the faith be lax when it comes to younger disciples. Matthew 5:17-20 reminds us:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

The reality is, until Jesus returns, and restoration is accomplished, all things have not yet been accomplished. Most of it has, but not all, and Jesus is clear that for the moral law to pass away All (Pasa in Greek) must be fulfilled. Thus the Christian Teacher is to teach and do all that the moral law commands (the Moral law is the context of Matthew 5), and of course, the only way to do that is to follow and live like Jesus. We are also told by Jesus that if anyone causes a younger Christian to stumble, it would be better for us if a millstone were tied around our neck and we be thrown in the river.

Many will likely disagree with this analysis, that is okay, but we cannot, should not, take lightly our responsibility to disciple our children or teach them apologetics. We will be held accountable for that, for how we passed down the faith. Some of us will rejoice in that reality and some will not, but we have to agree with Jesus, with the scriptures and be ready always and forever to “Give a reason for the hope that we have” (1 Peter 3:5) otherwise we will continue to get the same outcome and continue to play the same blame game that will only lead to more deconversions like Rhett and Link’s.

May it not be so with us.

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

The Heresy of Christian Nationalism

The Churches in Germany should be a warning to us, they should scream, “don’t do this, stay away from this.” But History is incredibly consistent and we find ourselves at the crossroads again when service to God, may mean being critical of our country.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Over the last four years I have had the chance to study the effects of the various nationalistic movements in history. One that I have had a unique opportunity to look at is the Church in post-war Germany. For those who do not know, Herman Goering thought it essential to co-opt the Church, both catholic and protestant, to ensure that the Nazi’s machinations against the Jews would not be met with opposition from the Christians. Georing did not have to try hard, as Bonhoeffer scholar Dr. Gordon Isaac of Gordon-Conwell points out, the ground was ripe in Germany for the type of Christianity fused with Nationalism that Goering needed to accomplish his subversion of True Religion. Germany had been going through its own nationalistic period since David Strauss in the mid-nineteenth century and both world wars were the inevitable outcome of such a spirit, the reason then that Goering had little trouble co-opting the church was because the Church already had adopted some of the tenants of nationalism, indeed, it had replaced the Gospel with them. Goering merely completed the transition. There is a picture of a Lutheran Church in Berlin lined with banners and flags all bearing that terrorizing symbol of the holocaust, the Swastika. Whenever I have had the chance, I ask people who have been or who live in Europe if the Church has ever recovered from this thorough alignment with Nazism and the answer I always get is a firm and resounding “No.” In fact, the churches that are thriving are the descendants of Bonhoeffer’s “Confessing Church” while the mainline churches are dead or dying. It has been almost 80 years since World War II ended and the churches where this played out are all but gone. After the war, Christianity fell out of favor precisely because it had sold out to the government and went alone with what Hitler and the Nazi’s were doing. It gave up its prophetic voice, the prophetic voice of the Gospel, to be the trumpeters of Nazi Propaganda. It is truly ironic in every sense of the word that Eric Metaxas has given the fullest treatment of the Nazi Theology that arose in Germany.

Hitler himself said in December of 1941 of the Churches:

“The war will run its course, and then I will see it as my life’s work to sort out the problem with the Churches. Only then will the German nation be safe. I do not care in the slightest about articles of faith, but I am not having my Clerics sticking their noses into worldly affairs. This organized lie has to be broken in such a way that the state becomes the absolute master. We need to get to the point where only Idiots stand behind the pulpit and only old women sit in front of it, and the healthy youths are with us.”

One of the rules of being a Historian is that you should avoid making one to one comparison’s whenever possible. Since Nazi Germany is not Modern America there are different social pressures and mitigating circumstances. But I do believe that in this case, a one to one comparison can be made to the Church in Germany in the 1940’s and the Church in America in the 2010’s. Just like Christians in Germany in the 1940’s, Christians in the United States have merged the tenets of nationalism with Christianity and reignited Christian Nationalism to a harmful and destructive extent. Like German Christians we are like the boiling pot of water with the frog in it. Christian Nationalism was first introduced in a subtle form by the Whig Party as a political platform (for those who do not know, Abraham Lincoln was originally a member of this party). Southern Democrats had their own version of it that also drove the division over Slavery. It is interesting to read pieces from the era from both the North and the South where the causes of both groups were framed in distinctly theological terms.

The nob got turned up again in the beginning of the twentieth century with the “Modernist/Fundamentalist” controversy where political language begins to get infused into the theological discourse, it is also around this time that revisionist history begins to give rise to the myth of a Christian Nation. The Temperature gets turned up again in the 1970’s with the rise of the religious right, again in the early 2000’s with George W. Bush’s election and again in 2016 when 81% of Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump as president and the church seemingly coalesced around one human being as the savior of Christianity, a view which I have recently written is completely absurd. Now we find ourselves in a boiling pot of water and we are, like the frog, internally self-destructing in a manner that is reminiscent of the German Churches.

This is how the enemy operates though, as Jonathan Edwards pointed out in the 18th century: “Any sign that could be a sign of a revival, we must remember that the devil can mimic these things.” He is crafty, running around like a lion dressed as a lamb, slowly slipping in one small error after another until we have a full blown heresy right before our eyes and we are so used to it we fail to realize it is heresy. That is what Christian Nationalism in any state, in any place, in any time is, pure and unadulterated heresy because it confuses the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of Man.

As my friend and fellow pastor Jess Joles said to me in a conversation: “We keep trying to make the Kingdom of man, the Kingdom of God and they are absolutely two different things.” The early Christians understood this, and instead of trying to remake the Roman Empire into the Kingdom of God, they set up resistance pockets in the catacombs where they loved their neighbors, enemies included, cared for the sick, enemies included, and served the poor and downcast, again, even their enemies. The result of this humble service for 300 years was a transformed empire, it did not go in reverse, they did not seize power and force Christianity on a society, they humbly and patiently grew into a formidable part of the population and when they did come into prominence through Constantine they continued, for the most part, the humble service to their neighbor. Historians like to talk about the Christianizing of Rome in terms of triumphalism, but that really could not be further from the truth. Even after they came into their own in the 4th Century, they had no illusions that the kingdom of God and Rome were the same thing. The Christendom model that is now dying here in America was a later aberration that has also been the victim of much triumphalist revisionism over the centuries starting with the Roman Catholic Church and continuing with the Protestant Church today. It actually bears little to no resemblance to what actually happened. Christendom presided over some of the deadliest wars in modern history and some of the worst atrocities, like the Holocaust, were committed under its watchful eye. Christendom, Christian Nationalism, Dominion Theology, they are all pieces of the same heretical puzzle that tries to make the kingdoms of man into the kingdom of God.

The result has led us to this new movement that the Washington Post reported about Monday called “Patriot Churches.” Groups that have, to couch it in Isaiah’s language, chosen to weary man and God (Isa 7:12) by placing their trust in man and asking God that their man be elected because he is the one who will save Christianity. The cross draped in the flag is unfortunately nothing new in modern Church History, it was the cross and flag that came to South America from Spain and decimated the people there. In fact, anytime the cross has come draped in a nations flag, Christianity has not been received well, but that is exactly the symbol these “Patriot Churches” are using, such as Liberty Baptist in Spokane, which a friend of mine who is an Anglican Priest lives down the street from. It should be obvious to us that this is contrary to the Word of God and the Kingdom of God which has no flag, but a cross, but it does not appear to be as the Post reported that “more churches are looking to join.”

The Heresy of Christian Nationalism is this: It confuses the kingdom of man with the Kingdom of God. The Kingdoms of God is no longer confined to a geographical location, it s a global kingdom within kingdoms and it is united not by a spirit of Patriotism which is a fleeting feeling, but with The Holy Spirit that is a real, living member of the Trinity who lives inside us and is not a fleeting feeling. Even Israel was not meant to keep God’s blessings bound up in a geographical location but bless the entire world with the knowledge and peace of God the Father. God may have chosen Jerusalem to dwell in, but now He dwells in 3 billion temples spread out all over the world. Each temple is organically fused to one another by that very Holy Spirit who lives within. Christian Nationalism reduces Christianity to what a nation thinks it is and it quite literally says: “what you think is Christianity is not really Christianity, we have the real deal.” The amount of ignorance in this position is easily recognizable, it says that God only always works one way in all places and any divergence to that way is not “true Christianity.” The bible, by the way, neither supports this position nor allows us think in those terms. The only “true Christianity” is a life that is totally wrapped up in Christ and Christ-Like in every way and any form of Christianity that no longer looks like Christ, as the world’s critique of Christian Nationalism goes, is no longer Christian. More and more in talking to unbelievers I hear Ghandi’s words to MLK: “I like your Christ; I dislike your Christians.” If Christ is not seen in Christians, we have ceased to be Christians.

In a Church History class I remember a Korean Student asking how the Church in Korea could avoid following the same pattern of the American Church. For those who do not know, Christianity in South Korea has exploded over the last 20 years but has evened out and even began declining. The answer every student gave was: “Avoid entanglement with Politics, when the culture takes your power and influence from you, do not fight for it back.” That was the sin of the German Churches, when the people in power offered them a seat at the table of influence they saw it as their chance to stop their decline, it only sped up that decline. The same pattern is playing out in America, the Religious Right was a response to increasing secularization, instead of graciously returning to a seat at the back of the room and waiting to once again be moved up at the banquet table. We started fighting foolish and ill-advised culture wars that intended to force Christian morality onto people who were telling us they wanted nothing to do with it. The fallout of that has been unpleasant and the Church has, sadly, contributed to the vitriol in our current political situation by fighting people instead of proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord. Again, this is a pattern in history, any attempt to force a Christian Utopia or a Christianized society has been met with fierce secular pushback that has done more and more damage to the name of Christ.

What we have done is syncretize the Kingdom of God to the Kingdom of Man and when you syncretize anything you inevitably remove what made both unique in their separation, to syncretize in religion is to compromise it. You are, in effect, saying: “That tenant of our faith does not matter because it conflicts with the tenant of the philosophy we are syncretizing it too.” Kenneth A Myers noted this in his 1996 Essay: Proclamation over Protest” where he notes that by syncretizing the Church with the Kingdom of Man we have lost what is unique about the church, we have turned ourselves into a mere “voting bloc” which man can then hold sway over. Instead of the sacramental people of GOD, united in baptismal grace and sharing in the same bread and cup, holding with organic unity by the Spirt and united in Creed and Deed, we have allowed ourselves to be blown about by the winds of the doctrines of man’s kingdoms. Once we give up our status as the “Called Out” people of God, we give up the ability to speak into the culture in any relevant or meaningful way. What Myers wanted Christians to do rather than act as a voting bloc who has to fight culture wars to have any influence, but move from protest to proclamation, to go from civic engagement as an aggressor, to go to civic engagement as a messenger of a different kingdom. This is a well tried and proven means of civic engagement where the Church keeps its total uniqueness and God’s word is proclaimed in the public square.

A Christianity that is allied so closely with nationalism cannot proclaim the way that Christianity is meant to be proclaimed because it carries with it the concerns of the national politic. It is also easily swayed to spend millions fighting against abortion laws while abandoning the children in the foster care system or the mothers who feel they had no other option then to get an abortion in the first place. It means we become “Pro-Life” in a political sense, making a “Pro-Life” ethic little more than an Idol, instead of honoring every life from the top down, from conception to the very end of life. The result of such a focus and limited concern is evident in the way many Christians have treated the COVID-19 Pandemic. Personal Freedom, a tenant of American Ideology, not Christianity, is touted as more important than the life that may be snuffed out because personal freedom was more important than loving our neighbor. Religious Freedom is another such case, despite the revisionists attempts, religious freedom is purely a western invention, is it influenced by Christianity? Absolutely, but it is an extension of man’s thoughts about Christianity and the bible, not the bible itself. Religious Liberty is granted by man and man can take it away. It is also a blessing from God, though not granted expressly by him in scripture (actually the exclusivity of Christianity may actually exclude it as a God given right, but that is another article). In scripture we do find that when man squanders the blessings of GOD, the blessings are taken away. When “religious liberty” becomes more important than loving your neighbor you are likely going to lose your religious liberty since you squandered a good gift from God. And if you do not believe, consider that this is the entire history of Israel and even Christianity. When the Church uses the blessings of God for good, it grows, when the Church tries to hold onto the blessings and makes idols out of them, bad things happen.

Christian Nationalism has also allowed us to settle for the Christian Libertinism that is endemic in the prosperity circles. “Love God and do what you please” does not mean love God and do what pleases your hedonistic pleasures, it means that if you truly Love God, what you will do is what pleases Him, if you Love God you will Love people because it pleases God when we love people and make disciples, it displeases God when we treat people with contempt who think differently than we do and tear them down. It displeases God when we act like the world and follow its pleasures and passions. The Apostle John warns us that: “Love of the world is enmity with God.” If you love the politics and pleasures of this world more than you love God, you do not love God but are at enmity with Him.

Because Christian Nationalism requires us to sell our soul to the kingdom of man, it is safe to say that in doing so we have made an enemy of God, we are in effect doing things in His name without a relationship with Him and Matthew 7 stands in condemnation over us. But we have gone a step further, we are doing things in His name that are contrary to what He has called us to do. The only recourse is repentance, turning 180 degrees, going in the opposite direction and letting God completely transform and renew us in the Gospel, to once again reform us into His image.

That is the stage where the European Churches have been for almost 80 years. After World War II the backlash against Christianity by the secular world was enormous, just as Jesus and Bonhoeffer predicted it would be. Why should we expect things to turn out any differently here in the United States? The answer is that we should not, we should expect the same kind of backlash whenever the secular forces gain full control over the society. We may be about 50 years away from hard persecution in this country if we do not repent as a church and return to the throne of Jesus. Christ will never return to the center of American Public Life until He returns to the center of the Christian heart, the center of the Churches heart and has had time to patiently ferment there, as he did in the lives of the early Christians. So, let us turn and repent and know that God will heal His church. Let us once again take up the mantle of proclamation, reclaim our uniqueness as the presence of God here on Earth and let God renew us by His Gospel so that His desire may be fulfilled. Let us become again, a Kingdom within Kingdoms and though it may be panful, the grace of God’s refining is that we enter into eternal rest at the end. Christian Nationalism is a heresy that leads to death, the way of Jesus leads to life.

Before you go, would you consider taking a stand against this Theological Heresy by sharing this article and signing the Statement Against Christian Nationalism

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Rev. 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.

#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.

The Tale of Two Speeches

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

Jonathan Faulkner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Than Mere Ecumenicism: #FortheUnityoftheChurch

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

Jonathan David Faulkner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

MacArthur’s Comments on Social Justice: Why He’s Half-Right on Matthew 5:13-16

Jonathan David Faulkner

If you have been following me for awhile you know that I tend to take a hard line stand on the churches involvement in society. The Church is given the Gospel and is meant to live out that Gospel in every sphere. Now, how we do that I generally leave up to the reader, especially as one who refuses preach and agenda or support any particular agenda especially one put forward by the current political nightmare. There is one issue I have and will continue to insist upon: that Christians should always take up the cause of Justice in their immediate context and work towards the horizontal reconciliation we have in Christ. I have argued before that Christians should be engaged in Social Justice issues because the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in tandem with the Gospel compels us to be a people of Justice.

So when a man as learned and knowledgeable about scripture comes out against the idea of Social Justice I tend to wonder if we are reading the same scripture. I do understand that we all approach scripture with our biases and upbringings and hopefully the Spirit will help us put those aside and bring us to what God is actually saying in the text. The problem is, I think MacArthur is partly right in his comments. I have preached on Matthew 5:13-16 as part of a sermon series called “The Hard Words of Jesus” while I was at Stafford, a series I spent a month reading for in total because I wanted to understand the difficult texts of 5:13-20. MacArthur is right when he says that Christ is talking about the Light being Christ and His Gospel and the salt being the Gospel as a preservative. However, Jesus however uses the first-person plural in Greek, meaning “You” or “you all” to refer to those listening to the Disciples. He has also just finished the Beatitudes and will soon talk about his mission to fulfill the law and not abolish it.

Jesus is literally instructing those around him, “you are the salt of the Earth, you are the Light of the world.” Yes, it is true that elsewhere Jesus refers to himself as the Light of the World and is referred to many times as the Light of the World by the Gospel writers especially John. Jesus is the light of the world and his words are the salt of the Earth, but here He is addressing a crowd, speaking to a group of people who have come to hear him speak. He refers to them in the sociatic Those who are there are being told that they are the salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. Obviously this conflicts with MacArthur’s understanding as he is quick to use this passage to dismiss a myriad of social situations that Christians have spoken into Moral, Political and Social.

I do understand his hesitancy, and his critique is not wholly without merit. I myself am critical of the modern Social Justice movement because it tends to reject scripture in favor of some enlightened statement of “tolerance” which is actually extremely intolerant. This though, is a result of the Church forfeiting its responsibilities in large part, in the social sphere, to pursue political advancement and power or to maintain some perceived status quo. Christians once led everyone on matters of Justice in America from Homeless ministry to care for the elderly to detox centers and so on and so forth. At the beginning of the 1900’s fundamentalists began pursuing an agenda of social reform through the government and even abdicated their responsibilities to the federal government by supporting The New Deal and expansions of government services. Meanwhile Christian leaders became more insular in their focus and even began rejecting those they had once served. Adopting the rampant individualism of their time and ours they dismissed the suffering as people who simply needed to work harder so God would lift them from their poor state. The result tends to be a Social Justice that is done poorly and without the influence of scripture. In fact, I would even argue that the current Social Justice movement is not even Just since it seems more concerned with turning the oppression back on the oppressor instead of true reconciliatory Justice.

There are, however, many within the Church who understand biblical justice and how it should be lived out. Names like Timothy Keller, Branda Salter McNiel, Bryan Lorritts and many, many more are calling us to true biblical justice that results in biblical reconciliation. Secular Social Justice has no basic or principle for a true notion of Justice, the Church does and many of its leaders are embracing that.

That being said, here is why MacArthur is more wrong then right on this topic: Jesus speaks knowing the completion, knows that He will promise the coming Spirit that will make a way for us to live out the Gospel and knows that one day Paul will call us to be imitators of Christ. He had then the benefit of foreknowledge, He knew that those people could not just hear the Gospel but be the Gospel because the spirit was dwelling in them. They could, by His power, go out and be Salt and Light to the world. The Gospel, working through us, lights the way towards truth and the Gospel, acting as Salt through us is to preserve the society.

One of the ways to preserve a society is to preserve Justice in its highest form. That is, because I can act righteously on God’s righteousness, even if that be imperfect at this time because I am still imperfect, then I can be Just in my decision making and actions towards others. Conversely if I am living a righteous life I will not do that which is unjust or commit any injustice towards my brothers or sisters. In short, a righteous society will naturally do Justice since Justice is a by-produce of righteousness.

I have said this before in sermons but it bears repeating, this was the intention for Israel. They were first and foremost, living by the law of God, to be a righteous society and when they failed at that, simply turned to traditions and practices, God became displeased with them. Not that I am trying to say that MacArthur has brought upon himself the displeasure of God by rejecting Social Justice, but that his theology has always seemed to be a bit too focused on fundamentalist traditions to the exclusion of all else. Preferring Christians be in the World but not really in the world so we can avoid at all times anything that might make us look of the world. MacArthur has written many great works in his lifetime some of high quality, it is unfortunate that he has maligned himself with comments like this and with the “Strange Fire” controversy over Charismatics.

If Jesus is correct and we are the light of the world, as in, the Gospel lived out in this world meant to light and preserve the Earth then we must, if we are to be consistent with the whole council of scripture, seek to do Justice in the church and in the social sphere. That is not a Justice that rejects the Gospel as our secular counterparts understandably do, but a Justice because of the Gospel, the Gospel making us Just as it works through the Holy Spirit to make us righteous. So when we come across an unjust system we can stand up against it and even work to rework it to remove that injustice whether it be through corrective measures, if required, or through just changing the way the system works. Doing so with the reconciling mindset, that total restoration of person and relationship can be established. Remembering that unjust systems are dehumanizing to both the oppressed and the perpetuator. Acknowledging too that sometimes the goal of restoration of relationship is impossible because of the nature of the oppression and the extent of the damage done. (Note: I would apply this to an abusive relationship or rape, not to ethnic reconciliation though I have heard two stories recently about abusers and the abused reconciling).

So, MacArthur is partly right, Jesus is the Light of the World and we become such when The Spirit dwell within us. The Church is not just a mere collection of humans untouched by the divine, but a great family bound together as the continued incarnation of Christ through the indwelling of Christ to be made into a reconciled Holy Temple (Ephesians 2). If the Gospel is to have such a great effect on us then we are, out of gratitude, obligated to participate in the healing work of Reconciliation and Social Justice is a tool we once wielded for that work.

Now, I know some of you think I am trying to synchronize or justify, but the more I read scripture, really read scripture, the more I see God’s heart beats for everyone from the poor to the rich for the reconciliation of us to himself and us to one another in every sphere of life. There may be some spheres where this is impossible right now because of how thoroughly secular they have become, but that should not stop us from striving. God has not given us a spirit of fear, as Paul tells Timothy, but the Holy Spirit which comes in power and grants us the ability to do what God tells Micah to tell Israel, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

#GospelDrivenSissyPreacher: “You Don’t Talk About Sin Enough”

By Jonathan David Faulkner

I always check my email about four times a day, since God’s Heart uses my personal email for site communications BT has access to it as well. So if I don’t see it, BT probably will and it will come up in our bi-weekly meetings. But I saw this one, an email from a concerned reader right after our Celebration article that came out right after Easter.

“I do not like God’s Heart for those, and I am not sure I want to read anymore.” The writer told us, “you never talk about sin, and I think you should.” After praying about it I responded in brief, inviting the emailer to converse with me on the subject. We had a good email conversation over the next couple days and I was able to explain to him why we do not always talk about or harp on sin.

The truth is, we do talk about sin, but we have made a conscious decision to be a positive reinforcement to the church, giving wisdom and guidance in our crazy world. We recognize that sin exists, that people sin, that we sin, we believe what the bible says. I do not pretend to be a perfect man; the reality is that I am a sinner. My job then, is to repent of that sin when it happens and then rest in the reality that I am forgiven and reconciled to God and walk in the spirit and work to reconcile any damaged relationships. I have to do that; it is required of me by scripture, and that requirement is life-giving when it is lived out. Sin separates us from God and repentance and God’s forgiveness reconciles us to Him through the blood of Christ. We are all under grace, and we need it daily.

That’s how we view sin, we want to be real and honest about it, and now we want to tell you something.

You do not need us to remind you of your sins.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that most of us who are believers are well aware of our sins. Those who are not aware of their identity in Christ often say they are haunted by it. Like the Psalmist says; ”My sin is ever before me.” We are aware of when we sin, we are aware of the sins of the past, we are aware of the sins we commit when we commit them. If our conscious is not seared, we are aware of our sin.

So, unlike Joshua Feuerstein and many other groups on all ends of the theological spectrum we do not think it is any benefit to you to throw sin in your face and condemn you for it. In fact, my father has three things that remind us of our sin.

They are:

  1. The World and its depravity
  2. The Holy Spirit who Convicts
  3. The Accuser who condemns us.

Instead, my father believes then that we should be building each other, that we should speak the life-giving words of Christ and: “Be reminded of who we are.”

That is what the late Morris Tee and I set out to do after the closing of 10:31, during a time in my life, just over a year ago now, when I myself was rediscovering who I was in Christ and working to reconcile all that had been broken over the winter. When we were dissolving the corporation and all its various entities (A process that is still going on a year later) we wanted to keep God’s Heart because, although it did not have the readers it once did, it had served a purpose over the years and we wanted to renew that purpose, to build up and encourage the body of Christ.

But you cannot do that when you are constantly putting down and condemning everyone, harping on sins (some of which are not sins) and putting down those who disagree with you. This of course is in stark contrast to the man whose teachings we have spent the last few months addressing. Trying, and sometimes failing, to be gracious towards this man, despite our strong disagreement. We have maintained that we want to see restoration and redemption in this situation and not for this man to be torn down.

We want a healthy and robust church, full of people who are assured of their identity in Christ. It is not that we have some unhealthy view of sin, disregarding it and brushing it off, but you do not create a group of believers who know the joy of freedom by chaining them to sins that they are forgiven for and set free from.

Another reason that comes to mind is that this is a reaction to my own time as an extremely legalistic fundamentalist. I have destroyed so many people, some of which I may never be reconciled to. Before I go I hope I can restore a few, show love to those who I formerly would not have.

So if that makes me a Sissy Preacher, then so be it, if that makes me a coward and a liar in the eyes of those who disagree with me, then let it be. I can be gracious with them, I can love and honor them too and pray for restoration in their lives, that they might know the Joy of true and genuine freedom in Christ.

We will affirm always that Christ died to be the propitiation for our sins, that God’s wrath is totally appeased and we can have forgiveness and can be reconciled to Him. We affirm then that the position of the believer has been changed and the condition before God changed from Sinner to Saint, Sons and Co-Heirs because of the blood of Christ and that we are justified and made righteous by the sacrifice of Christ. We also affirm that the Holy Spirit is at work within the believer, transforming the mind and heart of the believer into Christ’s Likeness and that this is an ongoing process that will come to completion in heaven. That God has completely freed us from sin and when we repent of sins committed He is faithful to forgive and to cleanse us, His covenant People, restoring us to a deeper relationship with Him.

At God’s Heart for those we are #GospelDrivenSissyPreachers, and we thank God for the chance to do that every single day.

 

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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

Why Conservative Evangelicals Should Support Social Justice.

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By Jonathan David Faulkner

In the news this week has been the Urbana 2015 Missions Conference. I had many friends who attended as well as a sibling and have heard many good things about the conference. Alongside those good things have been the coverage of Michelle Higgins comments declaring the Pro-Life Movement to be a “Spectacle.” Higgins is a worship leader, #Blacklivesmatter Activist and director of “Faith for Justice.” In her comments she also took shots at conservative evangelicals who she accuses of bowing to the “Idolatry of white supremacy.” Which she says evangelicals have made their “Sidepiece.”

InterVarsity, who runs the Urbanna Conference, released a statement affirming their support of the Pro-Life Movement. Joe Ho, InterVarsity’s National Director of Asian-American Ministries supported Higgins initial comments and InterVarsity’s embrace of this new Social Justice Movement mentioning the fact that Evangelicals largely failed to support the initial Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. King and others, stating that “I (Joe) do not think our neutrality in those years honored God.”

(Read InterVarsity’s response to Higgins Here)

As a student of Urban Ministry, having served in an Urban setting with Global Expeditions, World Vision and Mile High Ministries. As well as holding a bachelors in Urban Ministry I am not afraid to admit that I identify very strongly with the Social Justice Movement. I have seen, and lived in the conditions that are often being protested against. I have sat out on the street with the homeless, seen the shame on the face of the father who cannot find work. Talked with street kids and worked in impoverished neighborhoods. I love the goal of social justice, it is good.

But Higgins comments reveal several problems with the Modern Social Justice Movement. The first is that it stands deeply divided. Higgin’s attack on the Pro-Life movement, another social justice movement, reveal this to be true. Despite the fact that 60% of abortions are African or Middle American, sparking a #BlackLivesMatter movement within itself. Secondly is the fact that social justice activists are quick to condemn conservative evangelicals who they see as “Unsupportive of their cause.” For instance a mem on Facebook that proclaims “Instead of building mega-churches, we build mega-homeless shelters instead.” Failing to realize that Mega-Churches tend to be the largest supporters of Homeless Shelters and Orphanages and Crisis Pregnancy Centers. The Day Shelter I worked at in Denver, was funded, for the most part, by Grace Chapel, a Mega-Church. The pastor, was a Conservative Evangelical, like myself, who cared for those men and women who came through his door everyday. Third is the push towards Cultural Absolutism, which is reflected in the attitude of condemnation towards Evangelicals and final is the lack of strong doctrine and good theology behind the movement. Take the Progressive Presby’s or the Chicago Protestors from Black Friday, who operate from an extremely liberal interpretation of Jesus that has been modified to justify their actions.

All of this has brought the Social Justice Movement to an all-time low. A point where it is doing little more than clanging like a gong. Leaving Higgins words sounding as hollow as an empty coffee thermos. Not that Conservative Evangelicals are any better, we are just as divided, moreso in fact, due to having much more time to do so. We can have bad theology, we are far from perfect, but largely the evangelical church has sought to live quietly, sometimes to our detriment.

With all the issues given above you might be questioning the title of this article. Wondering why you should become involved with such a mess of a movement and how I could possibly support the kind of “Movement” described above. I gave the reason, because the goal is good, it is, in most cases, a noble goal. Racial Reconciliation is a good thing, one I pray is one day realized. The issue becomes the methodology chosen to carry out the desired “Justice.”

This is where Conservative Evangelicals can have the greatest impact, by bringing in a strong biblically centered, theologically sound and spiritually effective backbone to the Social Justice Movement. See, we have the study, we have the knowledge and the sense of the Holy Spirit that Liberals admittedly lack. We have the moral and ethical background and teaching and have the ability to put that into practice on the individual level. Often times Conservative Evangelicals are very good at this, not all the time, but often times.

Instead of using this study and biblical insight to work to better the earthly kingdom in the hopes of leading people toward the heavenly one most Conservative Evangelicals have chosen  isolationism and some have even chosen anger and hatred. Some have even taken the Conservative Evangelical equivalent to Higgins position and attacked their like-minded brethren. Yet again furthering the division within all Evangelical circles.

So why should Conservative Evangelicals support the Social Justice Movement? For the sake of unity amongst the people of OOD and for the sake of effective spread of the Gospel in its purest and most attractive form, guided by the Holy Spirit, with us as vessels. To marry spirit led sound theology with what I believe to spirit driven zealousness for those in need.

This is a hard road, it will require both sides to lay down presuppositions about the other and acknowledge the good points of both sides. It will require reconciliation and sincerity in attempts to renewal, acceptance of and forgiveness for past mistakes and most importantly an ever deepening devotion to being led by the power for the Holy Spirit by all within the Kingdom of Heaven.

In closing I think that Joe Ho is right, after reading Dr. King Jr’s. Letters and various speeches, Conservative Evangelicals should have supported the Civil Rights movement. Perhaps if we had, we would not be in our present predicament. We are still here though, we can reconcile, we can be united again.

Authors Note: These are the thoughts of a conservative evangelical pastor and you are free and welcome to disagree with the above comments. 

Jonathan Faulkner is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a pastor. He has served in the projects in Dallas, Wichita and Denver, he is also a musician and writer.