Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Contra Mundum: A response to the question, "Why are Christians Unoriginal?"

This is a response to the article by Kurt Willems, who first published his article entitled “Why are Christians Unoriginal?” on the Relevant Magazine website.

It is no secret that Christians flood the market with “bleached” and “family friendly” alternatives to almost every secular product out there!  It seems the only thing that Christians feel no need to mimic is food products… perhaps we’ll see a Christian line of cereal one day?  I sincerely hope not.

In any case, Kurt brings out some great points that I want to commend but his view (at least as espoused in the article) falls short of a MAJOR key.

“In popular culture, alternatives can be either a hip rebellion against the institution or simply what we call generic. Instead of Dr. Pepper, you can drink Dr. Thunder. Problem: the alternatives never measure up to the original. Yet Christians love to propagate alternatives.”

So very true, so very true indeed.  The alternatives simply do not measure up to the original.  The original is popular because it is appealing.  Let’s be honest, many people love Guitar Hero but how many people are flocking to their local Christian retailer to purchase “Guitar Praise”. 

If you’ll permit me I would like to quote a lengthy portion of Kurt’s article.  I agree with his list of what the church should be known for, but I think the problem is that he has left out the REASON behind EVERYTHING on the list. 

That, by and large, is the real problem.  What’s missing from his list is what is missing from the majority of churches today.  Here’s the quote:

“In theory, the Christian subculture isn’t a terrible idea. Unfortunately, Christianity often expresses the wrong kind of alternative. This isn’t to say that all of the things listed above are bad in and of themselves, but that we sell ourselves short if that is the only kind of alternative the Church is known for.
In the New Testament, we’re given a picture of the Kingdom people of God who organize themselves around an alternative king, namely Jesus. The greatest alternative isn’t a second-rate imitation of things from the popular culture, but rather a community (many communities in local contexts) who together live in a radically different way – the way of Jesus. In a world where the popular thing was to proclaim, “Caesar is Lord,” the earliest followers of The Way declared, “Jesus is Lord.” This wasn’t just a war of words, but a change in allegiance, one that often meant social marginalization and for some, death. Yet, this movement flourished. Why? Because the Kingdom of God unleashes a beautiful alternative that is so different and creative, that it’s attractive and has the potential to enhance the rest of the world.
The Kingdom of God ought to be known as an enhanced society, not an “almost as good as the popular culture” or “safe from the evils of all things secular” bubble. Scot McKnight says it well: “The kingdom of God, in short compass, is the society in which the will of God is established to transform all of life.” N.T. Wright offers another glimpse into the Kingdom, noting that currently, “heaven is the control room for earth” because “the one who is in heaven is the one who is ruling on earth.” Taken together we can understand the Kingdom of God as: God’s ruling activity embodied within a transformative community for the sake of the world. God’s invitation to us is to become known as a kingdom kind of alternative culture.
Some signs of a Kingdom alternative include:

Love of God
Love of neighbors within and outside of the covenant community
Seeking the welfare of all people
Defying hatred and greed
Feeding the hungry
Clothing the naked
Bearing each others’ burdens
Choosing self-sacrifice over the sword
Redistribution of resources for the purposes of social uplift
Wonderful marriages
Love of enemies
Sexual purity
Healthy conflict / resolution in the midst of quarrels
Learning more about the Scriptures as an open-minded community of disciples
Healings, signs, wonders and the unleashing of all forms of creativity
Justice for the marginalized
Imagine if these were the things that the Church was actually known for. The reputation of the Church wouldn’t merely be as a manufacturer of generic imitations, but rather the kind of alternative that the New Testament envisions.”
I should point out that I take issue with the “open-minded community” remark.  That has the whiff of squishy-ness in my opinion.  We do need to be a community of disciples who are modeling the church in Acts 2 by learning more and more about the Scriptures, but
”open-minded” thinking is dangerous at best, otherwise this is a good list.
Jesus is Lord!  That is so very true.  If that’s the case, and it is, then WHAT might be missing from this list?  A LOVE FOR CHRIST and a PASSION FOR THE GOSPEL!
We need to feed the hungry, seek the welfare of all, protect the sanctity of life and defend the innocent.  In short, as Christians, we are to seek justice.
When you leave out Christ from the equation of what the church should be known for you are left with little more than a hyper-moral activist organization.
If you were to ask the question “Why?” after each one of the items on the list above, the answer would be emphatically FOR THE GLORY OF JESUS CHRIST.
Am I being unfair to Kurt?  Might he agree with this and it was simply left out of the article for the sake of length?  Perhaps, but the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ should take center stage and so room for that should be automatic at the expense of other things.
What is Kurt’s conclusion to this problem of a misguided Christian sub-culture?
“How do we change our rep? This seems to be happening already as a new generation of Christ-followers begins to take up the mantle of Kingdom creativity. Many young adult followers of the way of Jesus continue to reclaim the radical revolutionary nature of the Gospel. The recovery of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) as central to Christian community in the present and the simultaneous vision of God’s future redemption of all created reality, motivates us to broker a message of hope to the outside culture (Romans 8.18-28, Revelation 21-22, Ephesians 1.10). If Jesus invites us into a counter-cultural discipleship community, and if God’s new creation reality draws us toward the kind of world where all things will be restored, then our alternative has the potential to become the most relevant gift that anyone could ever offer our culture.
In a culture plagued with disease, we can offer healing. In a culture of a lost sexual identity, we can offer a path toward discovering the One who makes us fully human. In a culture of violence, we can offer peacemaking. In a culture of economic injustice, we can offer generosity. In a culture of hatred and division, we can offer love and acceptance. In a culture of death, we can offer the sanctity of all forms of life. In a culture of conformity, we can offer a prophetic alternative.”
There’s the miss.  Did you catch it?  How do we change our reputation as Christians?  By taking up the “mantle of Kingdom creativity”.  What does that even mean?  That is the Christian-ese jargon that plagues much of Christianity today.

What we need to do is be a people known for their singular love for and devotion to Jesus Christ.  Who help others and serve and meet needs because it gives us the opportunity to display the love of Christ so that we get the opportunity to SPEAK and PROCLAIM the truth of Christ. 

If you are serving others in Christ’s Name and you are leaving out the spoken message of the Gospel then you are no more than a compassionate moralist.  What sets the church apart, as was eluded to in the beginning of Kurt’s article, is our allegiance to Jesus Christ.

We are HIS people.  We are not our own, for we were bought with a price so that we be conformed to His image to the glory of God!

We do not, absolutely DO NOT, need “Kingdom creativity”.  We need a renewed passion for the Word of God.  A renewed passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“In a culture plagued with disease, we can offer healing. In a culture of a lost sexual identity, we can offer a path toward discovering the One who makes us fully human. In a culture of violence, we can offer peacemaking. In a culture of economic injustice, we can offer generosity. In a culture of hatred and division, we can offer love and acceptance. In a culture of death, we can offer the sanctity of all forms of life. In a culture of conformity, we can offer a prophetic alternative.”

NO, in a culture LOST and DEAD in their sins, we have the message of hope!  That though they have sinned an innumerable amount of times against the God who made them and though they feel all hope is lost… God has done the most unimaginable thing ever!  In no way obligated, God provided the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His only Son, so that we (sinful, lost, spiritually-dead, wretched sinners) could receive that which we need so desperately… namely… the forgiveness of our sins.

We owed a debt to God for our sin (Romans 3:23), God was in no way obligated to provide forgiveness.  In fact, if God gave each of us what we deserve at this very moment we would all take our next breath in the torments of Hell.  But God, because of His great love and because of His grace and mercy, sent Christ.  Christ came and willingly took God’s wrath for YOUR sin so that if you will turn away from your sin and trust in the atoning work of Christ, God will forgive you and grant you eternal life! (Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:16)

You see the answer to the needs of the world (poverty, hunger, etc) is not found in creating more social programs in our churches to address these things… it is to preach the Gospel so that sinners are saved, their hearts are regenerated, and they become a new creation with new desires.  New desires that will be driven by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the saving truth of the Gospel AND to love their neighbor as themselves… seeking the well-being of others over self.  We have been saved with the purpose of conforming to Christ!  (Romans 8:28-30)

If we want to see a change in the church culture, then we must concern ourselves with making disciples through the plain teaching of the Gospel and NOT through creating more unnecessary Christian alternatives…

Consider this, what if we took the time and money wasted on Christian alternatives and diverted all of that towards finding ways to share the Gospel with the lost world we are trying to mimic… rather than closing ourselves off from the world with a sub-culture, let’s engage the culture with the Gospel.  Do we not realize that by making all these catchy Christian t-shirts with a  modified “Coke” logo or products like “Guitar Praise” that we are turning the world away before they even listen to our message? 

Christ must be central to everything we do.  How foolish do we look when we go out proclaiming that Jesus is the best thing in the world and then we try to prove that by imitating the world that we are calling others to turn away from?  Seriously?  Let’s tell that about Christ and then let’s show them that He is better than the world by the fact that we live contra mundum.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Imperative of our calling from Acts 4:12

 Acts 4:12 - And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

I absolutely love that verse.  It becomes even more beautiful when you open it up to its broader context and read the first 3 chapters of the book of Acts.  As you see Peter's boldness before the one group whom we would have expected to have intimidated him.  He proclaims to the Sanhedrin there that it is Jesus who is the truth and the life and the way.  In Him and Him alone is salvation.

With verse 12 (among others) Peter slams the door to the universalist thought that all paths lead to God.  There is no other Name under heaven by which anyone is ever saved.  Only through Christ!  And Christ is defined as the Stone that the builders rejected, that God has made Him the cornerstone.

In other words, God has built His true church upon the Cornerstone of Jesus Christ.  The Biblical Christ is the only Christ in whom lies salvation.  We do not get to define who Christ is to us, He is who He is and who He is is revealed in Scripture.

However, because this is such an amazing Scripture that declares the Sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation... I think we may overlook the imperative that is contained there as well.  There is an imperative in verse 12 as well.  Jesus isn’t just the Name by which we can be saved… He isn’t just the Name by which we should be saved… He is FAR more than that…

No, Jesus is the Name by which we MUST be saved.  People MUST be saved and that salvation only comes through Jesus Christ!  Solus Christus!  Through Christ alone!

We need, desperately, to see the urgency and imperative nature of the need for salvation that Peter makes clear in our text.

People must be saved.  It is the basic need of all mankind that they be reconciled to the God whom they've sinned against.  It is as necessary as oxygen is to the lungs, but sadly many many are dying every day without even so much as having heard of the Jesus who has died to save filthy rotten wretched sinful people.  No one is too sinful to be saved by the blood of Christ.  We are called to go and preach the Gospel.  God has ordained that through the foolishness of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:18) He makes His Word known to the lost and dying world, dead in their trespasses.

Let us see the necessity of salvation and be diligent to preach the Gospel in boldness no matter what persecution may come.  Further, let us seek to make persecution a means by which our trust in Christ grows stronger and the message of the Gospel is spread to every corner of the world.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

God's grace in saving a life...

I post a great deal of videos and other links and such to pro-life materials.  Trying to educate people and get the word out to them that God creates life and that abortion is most definitely murder.  As a result of course I receive, as many of you do who've taken up this mantle as well, many angry criticisms to my inbox complaining that I have no right to say such and that I am anti-women's rights and a bunch of other non-sense.

Well, as many of you know, there are times when you just feel like you absolutely want to just give up.  You feel like nothing you are doing is accomplishing anything and you are just spinning your wheels.

I've been there, then one day about 2 years ago I received an email from a young lady I had known several years prior but had since lost contact.  To give you some background, she was a teenager when I had last been around her, some of her friends attended youth group at the church where I was youth pastor and she didn't come there regularly (she had a different church home) but she had come to a few of the discipleship events we had done. So I knew her as an acquaintance.

Here is the email.
"I wanted to share something with you that really touched me. I recently found out i was pregnant and am only 19. I was not planning on having a baby or even making that a part of my life. I had college and to much fun on my hands or so i thought to be bringing a baby into the world. My parents have raised me in church and I know abortion is wrong but i also knew it was my choice. I thought very hard and actually considered abortion and cried many nights over what to do. Ive been noticing you publishing things on facebook about abortion here lately and watched the video you published today, i really believe that was meant for me from show me what i need to do and follow him. God works wonders and i wanted to share what you and God have helped me with without you even knowing."

I haven't heard much from her in the last year or so, but I do know that she DID give birth to a happy, healthy baby boy and they are doing very well.

So the encouragement to you brethren is to keep fighting the good fight.  Keep proclaiming truth, keep proclaiming the Gospel, and keep doing so in love.

Every time I think about that child I can't help but be humbled at how God used what I thought was not accomplishing anything at all to save a life.  By God's grace, that child is alive and that mother avoided that sin and I am humbled and honored that God would use me and allow me to have any part of that at all.

If you are feeling that what you are doing is pointless... don't give up... press deeper into the grace of Christ and lean more upon His understanding.  His grace is sufficient.  His Word, His truth, will NOT return void without accomplishing what He sends it to do.

If you have a similar story, I'd love to hear it.  Feel free to post it in the comments section below!

Soli Deo Gloria,