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My Life in Circles – An Update

Six months ago I wrote a post about feeling like I’m living on a spiritual merry-go-round. Like I just keep encountering the same issues over and over again. Perhaps the problem is that I don’t hear so well and God needs to keep saying the same thing over and over and over.

 

Well, I’ve actually had some movement again and so I thought I’d post a bit of an update on the 5 issues I was exploring at the time of the original post.

 

1) Who is Jesus?

Check out my last post for the answer to this one. Suffice it to say that I think Jesus is exactly who the early church claimed he was. The incarnation of the Word of God. The Logos of God, born into the human race, fully God and fully man. Born to redeem mankind out of the hands of the evil one and reestablish humanity in relationship with the Father through the Son’s redeeming death and the work of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ.

 

2) What is the Bible?

The Bible is a collection of various writings from key members of God’s adopted family. I believe God fully intended for the Bible to exist and to be used by his past, current and future children as they learn about the history of the people of God, the climactic birth, life and death of Israel’s (and the world’s) Messiah and Savior and the New Covenant established by Him.

 

While there are translation and interpretation issues in all Bible versions I no longer consider this an obstacle to the truth. I believe the Spirit of God can and will help every true seeker after the One and Only God to understand and rightly interpret everything that is vital to our relationship and salvation in Jesus Christ.

 

I think it is advantageous to read widely on difficult passages (both in terms of Bible translations and scholarly and pastoral interpretation) and seek God earnestly for answers to those issues that we struggle with.

 

I also think it is wise to always approach our interpretation with humility, as pride can easily blind us to our own faulty beliefs.

 

3) The Law and the Christian

After much prayer and reflection I am finally starting to let go of the issues raised by Messianic Judaism/Christianity. I still need to process some of this issue through writing but I’m starting to feel released from a legalistic desire to simply return to the letter of the law in the same way Israel lived before the New Covenant.

 

4) Is there really a Christian Mysticism

This issue has become one of the biggest life changers recently. I continued to question my motivation towards mysticism and began to see a sensate desire for experience that seemed akin to other unhealthy desires to feel a certain way.

 

In addition to this I encountered some disturbing realities linking various movements within contemporary Christianity that I have serious reservations about. In all these movements, mysticism and experience are the key components and seem to be the ties that bind the whole thing together. This has caused me to reconsider many movements and schools of thought that I had once felt quite at home in.

 

This issue needs its’ own post and so I will leave it at that for now.

 

5) Christian Apocalypticism

 

This one was on the bottom of the list and I’m actually only starting to re-explore it at the moment. In light of my previous issue on Christian Mysticism this last point has suddenly sprung to the front of my mind again.

 

I’m been very weary of jumping off the deep end with issues and yet I’m constantly finding myself up to my eyes in turbulent waters.

 

As far as this issue is concerned I find myself looking at it in two distinct ways. One way of looking at it is that we are standing on the precipice of greatness. While the world may look troubling on the surface there are some deep spiritual currents moving over the surface and the Spirit of God is hovering, ready to usher in the kingdom of God. If the church would just fix some of the problems of the past we could truly usher in the Millennium of Christ and establish the kingdom of God on earth.

 

The second way of looking at it (and the one I’ve usually considered more biblical) is that the world is not going to get any better and that the church is not going to get any better and that it is going to become progressively more difficult to remain true to the kingdom of God is a world that is doing all it can to destroy the gospel and the people of God.

 

Again in reference to the previous issue on mysticism, I’ve suddenly become very aware of the current trends in Christianity. A couple of years ago I thought mysticism very good and I felt like one of the few who saw the truth and really desired intimacy with God. Now I realize that the mystics are not the isolated visionaries, but rather they are becoming the staple stock of the new/emerging church. I light of this and many other issues I can simply say that I doubt what everybody thinks is the Truth and the Light is in fact going to turn out to be so in the end.

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The Church as a Worshiping Community

I started this blog by acknowledging an interest in both historical Christianity (such as Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism) and postmodern Christianity (such as the Emerging Church Movement, Quakerism and other Post-modern manifestations of Christian Community). It seems to me however that as each week passes and I continue to write and reflect that I see the light of Orthodoxy burning brighter than its’ Post-modern counterparts. I’ve been really happy to discover that many of the things that attracted me to the “Emergents” has proven to have an even deeper expression in Orthodox Christianity, while those elements of emergent Christianity that concerned me are not found in the Historical Church. It appears that many of the positive developments that just “felt right” were in fact gleaned from an existing tradition as old as Christianity itself. Another development is that interacting with the heavy-weights of Orthodoxy has left me questioning some of my previously held positions regarding the Church. After becoming disillusioned with mainstream/evangelical Protestantism I thought I’d found the answer in the anti-institutional model of church. It seemed convincing that the early church was this spontaneous, free-form community of individuals connected to Christ as their individual heads, but the more I study the early church, and the historical record, the more these assumptions are shown to be false. In large part these positions are derived from reading certain New Testament texts without taking into consideration the fullness of the historical data or the Liturgical and Spiritual continuation with the model set out under Judaism.

As a result of this I’ve decided to write this week about something I’ve noticed in some of the Emergent groups that has struck me as deficient. I’m thinking especially of the emergent groups that are particularly anti-institutional and this perceived deficiency is hence rooted in their Ecclesiology. I started reflecting on this while exploring the Ecclesiology of Historical Christianity, which has always held a much higher view of the Church than its’ contemporary off-shoots. It seems to me that when the Reformers broke with the Catholic church they down-graded their view of the church and this process has simply continued to the present day. Now we have emergent groups that have such a low Ecclesiology that almost nothing of theological weight could be said about it. I don’t think many Protestant Christians even understand how low their view of the Church really is when compared to these older traditions.  But it isn’t simply the age of the historical traditions that give them credit, it’s the Deep Theological content of their view of the Church that makes them, at least to me, upholders of a richer, deeper, more meaningful expression of what the Body of Christ really is.

One area (and there are a number of others) where this creates a problem is that I feel it causes some in the newer movements to fall short on the first of the two greatest commandments by replacing the first with the second.

One of the things the Emergents definitely seem to be getting right is the second greatest commandment. They understand community and they fight for it wherever they are. They really do Love others as themselves and are fighting hard to bring the kingdom to earth as it is in heaven – Feeding the poor, widowed and orphaned, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, caring for the environment, rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn. The Emergents, and those who think like them, are certainly following the biblical mandate to be community with each other and care for others as though they were literally an extension of their own body – the body of Christ. But that being said I still think that some of them are missing out on a vital part of what it means to be the Church.

A few years ago a well known Pentecostal minister wrote a book called, Liturgical Theology – the editors provide the following description:

Bad worship produces bad theology, and bad theology produces an unhealthy church.

In Liturgical Theology, Simon Chan issues a call to evangelicals to develop a mature theology of the church–an ecclesiology that is grounded in the church’s identity as a worshiping community. Evangelicals, he argues, are confused about the meaning and purpose of the church in part because they have an inadequate understanding of Christian worship. As a remedy for this ailment, Chan presents a coherent theology of the church that pays particular attention to the liturgical practices that have constituted Christian worship throughout the centuries. With a seasoned eye and steady hand, he guides the reader through these practices and unpacks their significance for theology, spirituality and the renewal of evangelicalism in the postmodern era.

I find it encouraging that a Protestant Evangelical would acknowledge such a significant lack in the Churches identity and practice. That said however I find it strange that many Protestants will try to “reclaim” elements of the past without realizing that a Church exists, and has existed since the beginning, that holds every single one of the ancient Church’s teachings and practices (an example of what happens when church history is taken seriously can be seen in Peter Gillquist and his Campus Crusade colleagues who took the “reclaiming” to its’ logical and spiritual conclusion by joining the Eastern Orthodox Church).

Chan makes an interesting statement in the book that has confused a number of his Protestant readers, he says:

“The church precedes creation in that it is what God has in view from all eternity and creation is the means by which God fulfills his eternal purpose in time. The church does not exist in order to fix a broken creation, rather creation exists to realize the church.”

For most Protestants the Church only exists because Adam and Eve fell. But the Orthodox Church teaches that God’s plan for creation always included the Church and always included the Incarnation. Humanity was always meant to become a divinized people. God always meant to join humanity to his Divinity through the Incarnation resulting in the divinization of all creation through humanity– with Christ Incarnate as the epicenter of that creation. Therefore the Church is much more than a loosely connected body of people who believe and practice various different things about Jesus. When we become members of the One Church we enter into the people of God, the people who find their existence fulfilled through the worship of God.

Historically the church is first and foremost a worshiping community. The Greatest Commandment is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. We were restored to fellowship with God so that we could once again join the heavenly host in crying out to God holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God almighty.

Now I’m not trying to say that Emergents don’t worship God, it just seems to me that the first and second commandments have somehow become reversed in some of their thought and practice. The church is simply the term used to denote followers of Jesus who love each other well and live out his mandate to be there for each other through the ups and downs of life. A people who seek to build the expression of this communal life practice wherever they go. Now this is great, but it’s not enough.

The church exists to worship God and through that worship to become recipients and conduits for the grace and energy of God to reach out into every sphere of life and creation. If our primary focus is community before worship we will very soon be building that community on our own steam and find that eventually the source of our energy is insufficient to create what can only be done by keeping first things first.

I think this same lack is true of many evangelical churches as well, in which the preaching of the word, rather than the worshipping of the Word Incarnate, takes center stage.

I really feel that the Orthodox Churches Ecclesiology, both theologically and practically brings the fullness of what it means to be the Church. The Divine Liturgy is centered on the worship of the Trinity. Sacramental theology is vital here and sharing communion is the center of their service. Through communal participation in the service the community is joined physically and spiritually to the Incarnate Christ. It is through this Worship and by Participating in the Body and Blood, the Grace and Energy, the Life and Spirit of God, that the Christian is able to Love their Neighbor as themselves and be Christ to the world. Without this as the center of the Christian Life I think the churches of the Reformation, and beyond, are going to continue to grasp for depth and meaning (sometimes with very good intentions) without finding the River of Life that flows from the Throne of God.