Reading

Someone asked the other day, what I have been reading. At that point, the answer was not much. I was part way through a Booker prize winner from a few years ago, which was not really grabbing my interest, as well as a book called Lamb, by Christopher Moore, a comical, but thought provoking, fictional epistle recording the childhood of Jesus, through the eyes of his childhood friend, Biff. I haven’t finished either of them and they continue to languish, one on my ipad, the other on the bathroom floor.

Three more books have come into my life since the question was asked. One from the questioner herself, the rest through a web page suggestion from Nettie at This Dusty House. None are fiction, all have to do with the Christian church, and they just seemed to compliment each other, as I read them together, over this past week.

imagesThe first was Mark Buchanan’s Your Church is too Safe (Zondervan). Following on the theme of his earlier book Your God is Too Safe, Buchanan pulls out well known, well loved, Biblical passages and presents them in a new light. He portrays God as a God who expects us to take “some hell-bent-for-leather risks” if we are to truly be faithful. He encourages churches not to try to choose between fellowship and mission, but to see them as partners together. He suggests that we get back to the basics of being church, devoting ourselves to “teaching, fellowship, sacraments, worship,and stewardship” and to stop spending energy on vision casting. He points to the “religious spirit” which works its way into many churches as being the most difficult to remove, the most harmful to the growth of the church, and often the most counter to God’s word and the Holy Spirit’s working. Buchanan is Canadian and writes with a Canadian accent, which I appreciate,

cover30351-smallThe second book this week is a brand new one, due to be published this week. Aliens in the Promised Land (P&R Publishing), by Anthony B. Bradley, provides a hard hitting, frank, overview of the place of minorities in American churches. As a Canadian, I’m sure some of the criticism Bradley aims at the white dominated denominations in America can be brought across the border as well. As part of a bi-national denomination his words come with a sting. His language and writing style are colourful and provocative, setting the tone already in the introduction by labeling some of his detractors as “John Calvin-loving racists” and going from there to point an unwavering finger at all of the mainline churches as he enumerates their misdeeds and missteps. Bradley has gathered other voices as well as his own African American one. Chapters by Asian, Hispanic, Latino, and other African Americans all tied together by the work of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and their report: Racism and the Church. The book is not all negative. Each chapter provides corrective words and encouragement to the church. Its final chapter is a what’s next, step by step plan for the future. Bradley himself states, in the closing words, his hope that this book will start a conversation, to get folks to listen to someone outside their tribe, to move toward embracing our common human dignity.

cover27745-smallFrom moving to unsafe, uncharted territories, to the issues of racism  it just seems right that the final book of this trio be one on we one thing we as churches, in one way, or another, share, worship. R.C Sproul’s How Then Shall We Worship (David C. Cook) is coming out in it’s second edition. First published in 2006, this book takes us through the Old and the New Testament in an effort to reground our worship practices in scripture, to reclaim the symbolism of the sacraments, and to have us rethink the meaning of worship. I was particularly taken by his study of the Church as a house of prayer recognizing that the practice of worship in ancient Israel included praise, prayer, and sacrifice, he wonders why  Protestant churches in North America are not houses of prayer, why prayer is pushed to the side by other elements we apparently find more exciting. Sproul does a wonderful job of connecting the elements we find in worship to scriptural anchors, in a very readable way,  resonating with my own Calvinist background.

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Form of Subscription

I’m taking a course right now, from Calvin Seminary, on church polity. Tonight, I wrote a short paper on the Form of Subscription, the document that all office bearers in the Christian Reformed Church  sign to signify their agreement with the creeds and confessions of the church.  The writing brought back memories.

When I signed the Form of Subscription at the beginning of my first term in council, I really didn’ t know what I was signing. I’d been elected as an elder and was presented with this document, that needed to be signed, signifying my agreement with all of the articles and doctrines found in three confessions that I recognized, but had only studied marginally. I was supposed to teach about them faithfully and be ready to let my council know if at some point I disagreed. I was also supposed to make myself available for discipline if my position was found to be wanting. This ceremony took place at the first council meeting I attended accompanied by the words “you’ve got to sign this”

I looked at the document pasted in the back of an old council minute book, surrounded by the signatures of those who had been in the same position before me. I knew all the names, but one stood out, my father. I knew that he was a smart and critical man who would not have signed something he did not believe in. At the time, I knew that whatever it was that he believed about the doctrine of the church, I believed too, so I signed.

I’ve learned, since then, what it is that I do believe, and I would still sign it today.

But, I don’t sign things anymore based on whether or not my father agrees. (and should not have then either) because, about a lot of things, we no longer agree (and maybe never really did).

Post-Modern?

My theology class spends a lot of time, as it should, looking at the ideas and issues of theology through history.  We look at God, the Trinity, the Bible, among others through the eyes of history’s great philosophers and theologians.  We study the progression of thought and the metamorphosis of what becomes our creeds and confessions.  I find it interesting and exciting until we hit what is known as the post modern era, and then I just get confused.

I think my theology may be stuck in, at best, the modern era and maybe even in the pre-modern.  The pre-modern theologian is good with mystery, good with epic tales, good with a world filled with of good and bad spirits.  The modern world wants to be able to put ducks in a row, understand how things work, put science around things, find the order in the world, and get everyone to agree on a single answer to the question.   The post modern rebels against both those ways of looking at the world.  Every question can have multiple answers,   the big stories are no longer appreciated as a source of truth,  there may be many paths to the top of the mountain.

In each of the essays we do for the theology class, we need to position the topic in relation to the post modern world.  How does it see the Bible, God, Jesus, truth, church?  I have no issue showing the negative side of these issues.  My problem is putting what I know as the church into this post modern culture.  My prof is not drawing the picture that the is church heading for a serious problem with the culture (in the western world anyway) but I am drawing that conclusion.  Can we continue on the road that we are on or does the message need to change to fit the culture?  Is it the message that needs to change or just the delivery system? Do we carry on in the way we have in a world that does not accept that there is only One Way?  What does a post modern church community look like?

He’s got me asking questions which I think was the goal.  My issue now is, how far outside of the box can I think or accept?

1 Peter 3:15

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

I’m preaching tomorrow in my own church since our pastor is away on a well deserved holiday.  Since almost all the preaching that I have done to this point has been in this church, I needed to come up with a new sermon that I could use here and would also be applicable to other churches in the future.

1 Peter 3:15 is a passage that has been important to me, especially in my work with youth.  Young people are always so free to ask questions, to come right out and want to know why you do the things you do, how you would use your faith to deal with a particular issue in life.  They have kept me at a readiness to answer.

I wonder how others do with this.  Do they live a life that encourages those around them to ask about what makes them tick or do their lives seem so much like the norm that their neighbours assume that they already know the answer.

Many of us really like the words of St. Francis of Assisi “Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.” We use these words as a license for silence.  We argue with ourselves that words won’t be necessary and we don’t make ourselves ready we can act out our faith.  St Francis with these words is making a statement about our lifestyle, I am sure that he knew that if we did truly act out the gospel  at some point words would  have to become a necessity.

I am finding that the papers I am writing are really helping to make me realize how difficult it really is to quantify my beliefs about God, the Bible, Theology in general to words on paper.  It is good to write it down, to think about it, to ruminate on what has been said in the past, to formulate a statement of what I believe at this time in my journey.  More Christians should likely do this sort of exercise and often.  I think about the statements of faith that are written by young people doing profession of faith.  Many of them are wonderful at the time, many of them are the last effort made to really spell out what is believed.

Always be ready to answer for the hope that you have.