Tag: Unity

A Plea from the Rural Church:

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

Jonathan Faulkner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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.

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.