Church


Christian’s have far too many committees.

In fact we have so many of them its amazing we achieve anything at all.

case in point:  I have a friend that recently went to a church meeting  for a ‘team/committee’ at 10pm on a friday night. after recieving a text message to come to the meeting at 9pm,  This meeting was for a ‘committee’ that had met less than one week earlier, the meeting a week earlier had gone for 3 hours and had achieved nothing.

The question has to be asked how can you preach on a sunday about ‘going out in the world and making disciples’ and then have your weekly schedule look like this:

Monday – small group
Tuesday – worship meeting
Wednesday – nothing
Thursday – helping with the small group you lead
Friday – youth/young adults hang out session (because we have to have something that will keep us out of the world)
Saturday – nothing or hanging out with christian mates at night to watch a DVD
Sunday – church once or twice including service in someway e.g. worship team, childrens church, prayer ministry, coffee/tea etc.

 In fact many surveys have shown that because Christians tend to socialise within Christian circles their work colleagues, next door neighbours and non christian friends see very little of them and so are unable to form any meaningful relationships that don’t seem to be overtaken by christian activities.

On the other hand there are a large number of christians (normally single males – i know some of those reading this blog would dispute that) that don’t actually step up to leadership or serving within churches which means those who are serving within churches tend to have a heavier load which takes a greater amount of their time as there are less people willing to serve or lead.

Do your experiences mirror this i.e. are you involved so much at your Church ‘serving the lord’ that your non christian friends and family can count their time they see you in minutes in a week?
OR
have you have had experiences that are quite the opposite?

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This post is a reply to Nathanael Baker’s recent post on Syncretism, which I very poorly replied to on his blog site, due to in part the drugged up stupor (all legal – anti biotics and pain relief) I was in and the late hour of the day I was replying.

Nathanael has raised the issue of Syncretism on his blog. Which while sounding like a modern hip ad agency is actually something that dates back to the time of Plutarch. In short Syncretism as it is understood in the modern Christian theological scene is ‘the incorporation of non-christian elements’ into Christendom. Every Christian culture in every epoch has done it. The western church does it, the eastern Church do it, they do it in Africa and Asia, they probably do it at your church (and with that I have now cut my readership).

Syncretism can be found in the Bible and while not mentioned by name (but hey neither is the word Trinity) it is still has a Biblical basis. When I think Syncretism the first thing that popped into my mind was The New Testament Church Jewish Christians who tried to force their laws on gentile Christians in order that they could become ‘real christians’. Other examples of syncretism in the Bible include Israel in the Old Testament who did a pick and mix exercise with God and opted for God and witchcraft/oracles/golden calves.

Syncretism is not just a finger pointing exercise (although my above paragraph makes it look like it is!) Take for example some Western churches fascination with materialism and the way this is incorporated into church worship practices. To get to the bottom of this syncretism and distortion of the Gospel one has to

1) Uncover and Identify the syncretism properly – e.g. name exactly what the syncretism is and how it conflicts with the Gospel ( i.e. this can’t just be a personal dislike campaign because the church doesn’t play your type of funky Gregorian hymn chants)
2) Understand why the syncretism happened – i.e. did this syncretism replace something? What symbols go with it? What has been the wider Church’s part in contributing to it?
3) Restoration or in the words of Mirsolav Volf – ‘exclusion (of the toxic) and embrace (of the good)

Of course Christianity (or any religion) always interacts with Culture. However the issues lies in how much which influences which and in what ways. For example a ‘Christian’ population who are more likely to read Playboy then their Bible are likely to have a dilution of the truth of the gospel, just as a Christian population who only have access to one or two books of the new testament (say gospels) on an irregular basis due to persecution and accessibility may also have some syncretism issues as they do not have access to the full Bible. On the other hand someone in Africa whose heremutic of the bible is from a Word of Faith perspective is also going to have syncretism issues.

What I am saying is that this issue can not be simply solved by everyone racing down to their local Christian store and grabbing a copy of the Bible and reading it from cover to cover. Nor will it be solved if we make a long list of rules of things we can and cannot do (the Pharisees tried that and look what happened there) Nor can it be solved by some huge authority (such as myself) declaring what is right and wrong. Although I am pretty bloody sure the prosperity doctrine is a load of crap.

Local communities have to take some responsibility for their own doctrine by looking at
• scripture, (The Bible)
• the universal Tradition of the church, (including looking at things like creeds)
• theological reason
• experience of God including the transformation he has had on the individual (think Holy Spirit here people!). For some Christians this of the four is what their theology is built on – which does mean syncretism is much more likely to occur.

and weighing them all up.
What we find in cases of syncretism is that normally one of these 4 is taken way out of proportion at the expense of the other 3 (or the other 3 are manipulated to fit the
Favoured 1) The church in the past has had some huge syncretic mind explosions. E.g the Dutch Reformed church and Apartheid which if looking at the four aspects above mainly revolved around the misinterpretation of tiny selected bits of scripture e.g. darkness not mixing with light this of course resulted in tactfully ignoring things like the creeds.

As Nathanael quotes in his post – simply declaring ‘Jesus is Lord’ means nothing if our practice does not line up with this. The responsibility lies with every committed Christian to live out ‘loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength.’ For those in leadership the bar is even higher (as stated in James) and one must make sure ones congregation/members/people being ministered are given access to the full breadth and width of Jesus and his Gospel be they culturally favoured topics or not.

I remember listening to a Focus on the Family program a few years ago on ministry to deaf people. The program focused on how this was one of the most unreached people groups in America and had in it the story of one girl who when told that she could pray with her hands and God would hear was incredibly liberated.

In my current work environment – a mutli cultural catholic school this idea has again come to light for me. For all our protestant cries at the reformation that the service needed to be in the vernacular (the local language) so people could understand rather than Latin, I see little of this represented in most protestant church services I visit.
In the catholic masses I have been in many parts of it have had Maori elements integrated throughout. My kids at Catholic School pray in Maori, Samoan and English – the message they are getting is that God understands all of these languages. I am currently working on teaching my middles (8-10 year olds) a benediction in Maori from Luke and am trying to improve my Samoan Pronunciation so we can learn a Samoan worship song.

Of course this is a complex issue some newly arrived immigrant groups like to set up their own separate church service where the service is preached and practiced entirely in the native tongue. In other congregations their might not be someone fluent enough to translate into English as the native tongue is the only one that the people are fluent in and I see a different blog post on this ! But here lies my question does everything always have to be in English?

My pet peeve though, on reflection from seeing this now from how God is viewed from the Catholic perspective in the NZ church and many evangelical churches is : why do we (protestants- and I am going more towards evangelicals here) tend to throw in other languages as token : ‘lets have a token maori prayer to welcome the new pastor’ and then for the other 11 months of the year not mention our bicultural heritage or grapple with it from the pulpit or in small groups?

  • What sort of message does this communicate to the wider community and to those people of those cultures?
  • What about the songs we sing – does this not limit the way we can worship God in – especially when the songs come from cultures different to our own?
  • Does the fact that we are so restricted to an evangelical style of worship force different cultural groups to go and create their own churches?

Any ideas? Thoughts?

‘The sad thing is not all Christians are up for Incarnational living’ – His Brilliance

‘I’m not Jesus Christ’ – Len Brown, Manakau Mayor

In this current political and social climate a lot of people are looking to politicians for answers to solve our country’s ‘problems’ whatever you class our problems to be. Depending on talk back radio (and what time of the day you tune in) this can be anything from a loss of Biblical values, the decline in education, the fact that caning was outlawed, the anti smacking bill, tax cuts, or the fact that Helen Clark has been in power too long (or a combination of anyone of the above)

I wonder if the Christian population of New Zealand is actually really seeing the whole issue. Of course this is a top down issue that needs to be addressed with some government policy but this is not the responsibility of government alone. Indeed many Christians are so obsessed with this that and the latest inane object of material infatuation that the idea of actually intentionally moving into a community be that middle class/poor/or rich with the intention of being Jesus in it and giving themselves sacrificially to the people in it so that these problems could be addressed from the bottom up has not occurred or been presented to them.

Len Brown’s comment that he is not Jesus Christ is in fact very eye opening. Brown realizes that Christ has within him some amazing miracle power an ability to change communities. This is something that right now we need to grasp. This power won’t come from us sitting in church buildings and expecting people to come to us, nor will it come from us shouting at people and telling them how useless they are. Of course as His Brilliance pointed out not all Christians are cut out for this (which coincedentially makes me wonder are we teaching the full Gospel?), unfortunately a lot of us would rather stay home with our xbox’s , our computers and a nice collection of respectable indie rock.

There are some amazing people (like there are in a lot of communities) doing the work of Jesus in communities around NZ. Indeed some of them have got incredible mention in the last few days in South Auckland. Unfortunately this is not the norm for Christian NZ. Indeed I know from my own circles that the aim of the game is to find yourself a ‘nice house, in a nice area and to send the kids to a nice school (which I will insert here is normally monocultural) ’

It is not until we intentionally get off our rear ends and place ourselves into the uncomfortable (be that rich/middle or poor) and be Jesus that we will see the miracles, John Key is not my saviour and neither is Helen Clark (although I will certainly work with who ever to do my saviour’s work) . Len Brown has it right Jesus Christ works miracles.

  I have just got a job at a Catholic School. Very exciting!

So to

  1. appreciate  a bit of the culture and faith of  my pupils and their families I thought I would attend Mass
  2. give another aspect to my own faith and experience something different I thought I would attend Mass

It was magnificent. I went to the local Church, not the one attached to my new found school. The church hosts 3 services a sunday and from what I could estimate  a minimum of 350 people were present in this service. It was full to bursting! From their website they say about 1200 people worship with them on an average Sunday. This was of course not the average Sunday as it was the last day that the Priest was with the Parish after having served with them for 12 years, so I think some extra people may have turned up.

In preperation for the great event, (and to not make myself look like a total dunce) I printed off a fantastic guide called why do catholics bounce on one knee. Which was very helpful…. but did not help when we accidently sat in the choir stalls and were very kindly asked to go sit somewhere else…. I also tried to learn the apostles creed over night (as wikipedia told me this was probably the creed we would say – it was wrong – hear that people wikipedia was WRONG!), which I was semi successful at, only to find that we said the Nicene creed and that they had it on Powerpoint – in fact they had a significant amount of stuff on power point! 

Anyway the service was awesome there was a lot of Jesus in it and for all of you who are scared that we said 10 hail mary’s and worshipped a few saints let me reassure you that the Virgin Mary was mentioned a whole once (apart from the creed) and we were not urged to worship any saints.

The intercessory prayer was fantastic we prayed for world peace (see I can cross that off my list! see my eariler post), for those who were sick and for those in the parish and for the priest.

The songs were full of theology that I don’t think any one would have a problem with (words written by the out going priest and music by one of the church members).

Our Scripture readings from the liturgy was something from Isaiah and (you’ll like this) 1 Corinthians  1 (the bit about some liking apollo, some liking cephas , some liking Christ and some liking Paul) on which the Priest did a very fine sermon about us not favouring church leaders (within our congregation) and spliting the church as we all serve one christ.   In fact the priest mentioned Jesus and community so often that I think some post emergent churches would be comfortable with having him over for coffee.

The congregation had a great mix in ages, races and socio economic groups. There were lots of young families, loads of children to older people. Women played a prominent role in the service as readers, communion service helpers, reading intercessory prayers, official welcoming and one woman was blessed by the priest for her ministry of the Mass to the sick at the end of the service.  

It was a very moving service, not in the same sense that a pentecostal service or even a baptist one is ‘moving’… but God was there, the Holy Spirit was there and my goodness the beauty and wonder of God incarnate was present.

My thanks to digger randle for this link (digger was the youth minister off 1 vs 100 who one $98 000 the other night – well it was a few months ago now as we are ages behind here in kiwiland) Anyway, I visited his blog and found this fascinating article from a couple of months ago form The Age in Australia regarding an ex Hillsong Member.

A couple of quotes to whet your appetite –

For five years, Tanya Levin was a Hillsong insider – infatuated with the evangelical church and its leader. Then she left and wrote a book. Now she’s trouble, writes David Marr…..

…..So Tanya Levin is a problem. She asks questions. She wants explanations. She challenges the vision of Hillsong’s leadership. In short, she’s trouble. ….

…..Two years into writing People in Glass Houses, her insider’s account of Hillsong, she was shown the door. “There is no debate within Hillsong,” she says. “That’s fundamentalism. It’s not open to free thought and question, not at all…..”

“…..My impressions in September of 1985 were of a bunch of nice people,” Levin writes. They waved their hands and spoke in tongues. Houston preached. “Even today,” she confesses, “when I hear Brian Houston’s voice I feel better…..”

….For Levin, the core lie of Hillsong is the claim that God will repay everything you give. And the longer you have to wait, the greater the return. “How do you actually stand in front of people and say if you give me your money God will give it back to you and actually sleep at night when you’re taking old people’s money. It’s obviously the more desperate people who want to make an investment decision like that. Very vulnerable people….”

….Levin doesn’t fit that picture. She doesn’t hate. Something in her seems to yearn for those exhilarating years fighting the good fight against the devil in all his disguises right down to the voodoo beat of rock’n’roll. “We were told you can’t have it because it’s incantation and you’re going to raise all these demons.” How different things are now. Levin begins to sing some Hillsong Christian trance music: “Doof, doof, doof. Christ is the future. Doof doof doof…”

I highly reccomend you go over and read the article It is a very very good read pop on over .

This months Christianity today also has a good article from a slightly different perspective

I had an interesting weekend away with a group of youth leaders from my church at a farm. Interesting, is the word I use when I can’t be bothered explaining the mix of emotions, experiences and all that it encompassed. A brief summary:

  • Marshmallow toasting
  • Fantastic food
  • Interpretive dance
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Charades (I had to act out Albertine by Brooke Fraser – can I just say that is a flippin’ hard one to do)
  • Me doing masses of study for BCNZ paper
  • A nasty spiritual attack that left me in masses of pain for most of sunday morning
  • Listening to Life Fm – we were very excited about this! (don’t get that in wellington)
  • A lot of discussion.
  • Finding out the true lyrics to a ‘Fray’ song ….. turns out I have been singing something that wasn’t there……. in my defence I wasn’t the only one!
  • Oooh and yes …I got the leaders to Bongo themselves 😛 (highly entertaining)

Anyway one of the things we discussed was community. In fact the debate got quite heated at times. There was argument that Christian’s rely far to much on online community and use it too much (which I disagree on) and there was argument that we needed to become more like the Acts 2 church.

So my questions for you are (you can pick one or both)

  1. What would you define community as?
  2. Do christians rely on online community too much?

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