Archives For Culture

* On Civic Engagement

The Calling of the Church

“If the new man is eclipsed in present daily life, and the new society is but a future vision, then contemporary alternatives to the Truth will rush in to fill the yawning gap of a plummeting world. Like a street corner observer, the church will be only watching the passing parade instead of leading and directing the rescue.”

– Carl F. H. Henry, “The New Man and the New Society” in God, Revelation, and Authority: God Who Speaks and Shows. vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1979), 541.

“The church which bears his name is already called, now, to challenge and contain powers of evil: as the living Body of its living head the church is now to resist the Evil One, not to indict rampant injustices and support the afflicted and oppressed, now to sensitize moral conscience against wrong and for the right, now to exhibit the purpose of God in a new life and a new community while it proclaims the revealed truth and will of God.”

– Carl F. H. Henry, “Good News for the Oppressed” in God, Revelation, and Authority: God Who Speaks and Shows. vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1979), 545-46.

“As never before the church needs to exercise her total witness to the world in the context of the truth of revelation and of the reality of redemption.”

– Carl F. H. Henry, A Plea for Evangelical Demonstration (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1971), 123.

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I ended part two of this series talking about how idolatry-centered community seeks an idealized community. Outside of Christ, the relationships we intend to enjoy are contingent upon their satisfying our idolatrous desires. If unchecked or unaddressed, Christians will embark on a form community within the context of a local church that continues down this path. This is where Dietrich Bonhoeffer especially has a word for us.

In his little book, Life Together, Bonhoeffer argues, “The community of Christians springs solely from the biblical and reformation message of the justification of human beings through grace alone. The longing of Christians for one another is based solely on this message” (32). He goes on to say later, “I am a brother or sister to another person through what Jesus Christ has done for me and to me; others have become brothers and sisters to me through what Jesus Christ has done to them and for them” (33-34). In other words, what forms biblical community is the gospel, and what continues to constitute Christian community is the gospel.

But what if instead of the gospel, something else is at the center of community? What if heart idolatry makes a requirement for community that is a substitute for the gospel or a non-negotiable add-on? Bonhoeffer answers,

“Those who want more than what Christ has established between us do not want Christian community. They are looking for some extraordinary experiences of community that were denied them elsewhere. Such people are bringing confused and tainted desires into Christian community. Precisely at this point Christian community is most often threatened from the very outset by the greatest danger, the danger of internal poisoning, the danger of confusing Christian community with some wishful image of pious community, the danger of blending the devout heart’s natural desire for community with the spiritual reality of Christian community” (34).

This “wishful image of pious community” stems from a predisposition (control belief) that enters into the equation before the gospel and continues as an alternative ideal in contrast to the community God is creating by His Word and Spirit in the real world. To state it clearly and bluntly, Bonhoeffer argues,

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial” (35).

Why is this? I think the answer goes back to the source of their “dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself.” Those dreams simply don’t surface from thin air. They surface from the heart idolatry desiring a community that is self-serving, comfort-securing, pride-protecting, approval-demanding, and control-promoting. And it is this kind of dream that, if it becomes a reality, will destroy Christian community. To pull from Bonhoeffer again, “The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifting” (36-37).

For there to be a truly counter-cultural community, I believe we need to come to terms with the truth that Bonhoeffer articulated, namely, “Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate” (38).

Before we press into this reality created by God in Christ, I think there is one more version of community that Christians must counter. In my next post, I will talk about legalism-driven community.

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In the first post, I talked about 11 different aspects of society used a filters or barriers to form or foster community. I argued, “In order for a gospel community to be counter-cultural, we first have to assess what we are encountering in the culture. How does culture and society determine how community is formed and fostered? What are some of the guiding principles and motivations behind its formation?” If part one addresses the external schema of society formation, this post addresses the internal driving forces influencing how and where we fall out in our version of societal segregation.

Dick Keyes, in his chapter “The Idol Factory” (in No God but God) takes about the construction of idols in our lives. He makes the distinction between “near” and “far” idols. Near idols are those that are more specific, superficial and concrete, such as career, spouse, possessions, etc. Far idols, on the other hand, are “farther” from the surface of things and go to the root of why we do what we do. They get to the “sin beneath the sin” and are also referred to as “source” or “root” idols.

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For the past several weeks, my disciple-making team and I have been working through what a counter-cultural, gospel-centered community of servants looks like. I think this is an important subject matter, one to which I hope to devote several blogposts.

In order for a gospel community to be counter-cultural, we first have to assess what we are encountering in the culture. How does culture and society determine how community is formed and fostered? What are some of the guiding principles and motivations behind its formation? These are questions I find important to determine the starting point, that is, the current reality in which we enter.

I have discovered 11 aspects “societal segregation” that form and foster the community at large. By segregation, I’m talking about ways society separates or isolates individuals to form groups favorable to their preferences and/or convictions. Positively speaking, they may be referred to “affinity” grouping. Most often, this happens naturally.  When multiple aspects of societal segregation are combined, clustering sub-cultures are formed. The eleven aspects of societal segregation are:

11 Forms of Societal Segregation

  1. Demographically – “age and stage” in life; boomers, busters, Xers, Nones, etc.
  2. Economically – low, middle, upper class
  3. Ethnically – black, white, hispanic, asian, “other”
  4. Sexuality – heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgender
  5. Spiritually – religious, spiritual, atheist, Christian, Catholic, etc.
  6. Geographically – downtown, midtown, suburb, exurban, rural, etc.
  7. Linguistically – English, Spanish, Korean, German, etc.
  8. Educationally – not just levels of education but philosophy as well
  9. Politically – republican, democrat, independent, tea party
  10. Occupationally – white collar, blue collar, no collar; government, private sector
  11. Extra Curricularity – hobbies, sports, music, third-place loyalties

These eleven forms/aspects have several uses in society, most notably being how they serve as filters for societal identification. When you get to know someone, you will discover their age (demographic), perhaps where they live (geographic), what they do for a living (occupation), and maybe even what they enjoy doing in their free time (extra curriculars). These aspects can not only serve as filters but also barriers to keep out (separate) those most unlike yourself. If you find someone to be a Hispanic (ethnic), speaking Spanish (linguistic), practicing Roman Catholic (spirituality), construction worker (blue collar), and you are none of them, it is possible that a person with those aspects may never become a part of your community as barriers have been erected (either knowingly or unknowingly) to prevent that from happening. As you can see, using them as filters can lead to creating barriers, but using them as barriers can lead to judgments and stereotypes. These aspects become the basis or grounds for security the kind of community that most suits your preferences or convictions, that makes you most comfortable by security people most like you. Judgments are made about people to determine who is allowed into the community you (and others like yourself) have formed.

In my next post, I will share what I believe to be the internal driving motivations behind societal segregation and five components of heart idolatry surfacing in the process.

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Last week, I gave a talk on discipleship at the “Building Biblical Churches Conference” hosted by the Spurgeon Fellowship of Florida. One of the points I argued had to with the responsibility of the leadership to create a culture for disciple-making. It just doesn’t happen by accident, and it should not happen by exception. In order for disciple-making to become normative in the life of a church, I argue that one of the most fundamental steps to take is to create a culture through robust means spearheaded by intentional leadership.

Disciple Making CultureHere are six means I believe church leaders should be intentional with implementing in order to create a disciple-making culture:

On Creating a Disciple-Making Culture

1.  A Philosophy That Focuses on Disciple-Making [PURPOSE]

From the very beginning, church leaders should have a clear understanding of the mission of the church. The church does not exist to satisfy the preferences of members or cater to the demands of religious consumers. The church exists to make disciples, and a philosophy that undergirds that mission focuses the life of the church toward that end. The practical benefit of purposeful thinking encourages a straightforward and simple approach to ministry rather than a busy calendar and complex, compartmentalized approach.

2.  Leadership Who Model Disciple-Making [PRAXIS]

Like priests, like people. Those most influential in creating culture are the leaders and the example they set. If church leaders are not the lead disciple-makers, then it is disingenuous to pursue a culture of disciple-making when the leadership undermine it. The Apostle Paul was such a discipler that he could send one of his disciple-making disciples in his stead to teach, serve, and live in a manner consistent with the life he modeled for churches. This did not come about on a platform or in an office. It happened because Paul was on mission in all of life to make disciples of Jesus. A model either magnifies or marginalizes the making of disciples.

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“There is a love for the world that makes ministry impossible; there is a love for the world that produces either the abandonment of ministry or the making of ministry so worldly it’s useless.” – John Piper

“There is a love for this world that is irreconcilable with ministry to the world…more people leave Christ, church, and ministry out of love for the world than anything else.” – John Piper

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Last Sunday, in my disciple-making training, we did a little excursion from our normal schedule to think about Christmas. As disciples of Jesus, we should seek to leverage every opportunity to make much of Him, including (or especially) the season of Advent. However, not everything is as “wonderful” this time of the year as we think. For many, it is the most stressful, demanding, and overwhelming time of the year, with challenges awaiting from all facets of life.

On a cultural front, we are constantly hearing news about the culture war, in particular how the tide of our culture is washing away any remnants of Christianity.  Whether it be nativity scenes in the square, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, or the marginalization of Christmas carols that have anything to do with Jesus, each Christmas is another incoming tide of secularism in our country.

On a financial front, we are faced with the onslaught of consumerism. Covetousness is the fuel, and our credit cards are the engine. Materialism is king. The season begins with “Black Friday” and ends with bank statements of higher levels of debt. In the end, Christmas, especially for little children, is a season about me . . . and all the stuff that I think I deserve.

On a relational front, we are faced with potentially volatile situations when we gather in close proximity with relatives we usually don’t see throughout the year. Some have differences in traditions and particular ways Christmas is celebrated (or not). For others, debates and arguments may arise over things like politics or other preferences they are passionate about. Or, it could just be the awkwardness of the moments when you know you should be closer to one another than you really are, and you kinda just go through the motions, doubling down on your pretending, and anxiously await the absence of such awkwardness.

On a personal front, we are often faced with frustration and stress. We are busy with more shopping to do, more parties to attend, more food to cook, more people to entertain, more of just about everything. The intensity of the season leaves little room for margin to think about anything else than the next thing you have to do. For others, the personal complexities are filled with grief, sadness, and loneliness. For all the years together and traditions made with the ones you love, they have died, and each little moment brings back the memories once shared together and now seems like a constant stream of tears.

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I was put on to this dude by Jefferson Bethke. He’s a straight shooter. I know I’ve put up a lot of “spoken word” stuff lately on the blog, but it’s worth highlighting as the younger generation is finding a voice in pop culture to artistically share gospel-centric convictions with light and heat.

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