Banishing Amiable Religiosity

During his 1907 Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching at Yale University* (these lectures became his classic Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind), Forsyth shared the three ways in which he thought the Church suffers:  i. from triviality.  ii. from uncertainty.  iii. from satisfaction (with itself, or more specifically, complacency).

He later went on in that address to emerging pastors and preachers to make this statement:  “What we need is not the dechurching of Christianity, but the Christianizing of the Church.”  This was his answer to the three ways the church suffers.  But how was this to happen?  Here’s what he said and he may well have been speaking yesterday:

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Saints and Fatheads:  The Genius of the Church

Saints and Fatheads: The Genius of the Church

In a fictional letter to a young Pastor, Ian Stackhouse (a non-fictional minister in Guildford, age unknown/irrelevant 😉 contributing to the Baptist Journal Ministry Today UK, February 2018 Edition, writes:

“Dear Timothy,

As always, I feel very honoured that you should write to me so candidly about the things you are dealing with, but I am a bit worried, I must admit, by your growing criticisms of the congregation.  You may not like me saying this, but I put it down to these conferences your denomination insists on sending you to.  Conferences about growing your church are all very well, but if you are not careful you will end up despising the congregation you are serving.  The truth is, Timothy, we all feel disappointed from time to time by the place we have been assigned to, and it is very tempting to fantasise about being somewhere else that is more congenial to our personality, more alive in the Spirit, and – let’s face it – bigger.  But the tragedy of it is that all the while we are ministering to the people who are not there, planning for the people who we have yet to engage with, we are missing out on the wonders of the people who are there, the treasures that are sitting right under our noses had we but the generosity to notice . . . . .

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This Beverage of Life

This Beverage of Life

“The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith:  She believes in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth , and the sea , and all that are in them; and in one Christ, Jesus the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God:  [announcing in prophecy] the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ, Jesus our Lord, and his future manifestation from heaven in then glory of the Father to gather all things in one, and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race . . . . .

As I have already observed, the Church, having received the preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it.

She also believes these points of doctrine just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth.

For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the content of the [apostolic] tradition is one and the same.  For the churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world.

But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all [people] that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Irenaeus, Against Heresies I, 10, 1-2, trans. A Roberts and W. Rambaut, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol.I, ed. A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, and A. C. Coxe (Buffalo, N. Y.: Christian Literature Publishing, 1885); translation has been slightly modified.

Irenaeus

Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

In a really well written article in Themelios by Uche Anizor that draws together various ecclesiological strands of Colin Gunton’s thought from multiple sources, we see some really practical outworkings of what the church is and should be and will be in the light of a robust doctrine of the Trinity.  Anizor writes, “Gunton’s relentless attempt to root the nature and calling of the church in the being and action of the triune God opens up a way for a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common, while offering a potentially more fruitful starting point for ecumenical dialogue regarding the nature of the church.”

“a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common.”

We all know things could and should be better; some are disillusioned to the point of desertion; others remain but function in a spiritual wilderness akin to the effects of Ritalin; whilst yet many more recognise a “concrete and realistic perspective” is the only way to live in reality and eschew fantasy.

Thus Anizor opens with these words,

“Conflict in relationships is often rooted in inappropriate or unmet expectations. This commonplace wisdom regarding everyday relationships is no less true of one’s relationship to the church. Our conduct and feelings toward the church are governed largely by our expectations of what the church should be. These expectations, furthermore, are rooted in our understanding of the church’s nature. Ministers who weekly find themselves disappointed with the failings of their congregations would do well to attend to their understanding of what the church is. Laypeople who find themselves regularly frustrated with their community’s shortcomings are advised to do likewise. Disappointment (among other negative feelings) often flows from unrealistic expectations, which sometimes betray an unbalanced view of the church. Therefore, a healthy understanding of the nature of the church is of utmost practical import. Is the church the kingdom? If not, what is it? In what ways, if at all, is the church (and actual churches) a sign of the new Jerusalem? How can we theologically describe this imperfect reality we call the “church”? Colin Gunton provides one helpful response.”

The way forward is offered positively thus,

“First, we examine three related areas that contribute to a fuller understanding of the trinitarian heart of his ecclesiology: (1) the ontology of the church, (2) the place of pneumatology, and (3) the role of a proper Christology.  Then we provide a constructive appraisal. The hope here is that Gunton’s contribution might help free pastors, teachers, and congregants to live and serve in the church with a love and compassion rooted in realistic expectations of what the church is and will be.”

The essay really weaves a fantastic theological tapestry integrating the Pneumatological, Christological and Ecclesiological threads.  We need to know who this God is before we build on ecclesial foundations.  That is why I enjoyed the comments right at the end just before the conclusion, aimed at those pastors and lay people who are tempted to disillusionment at the ontology of the Church:

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The Church is a Mystery

The Church is a Mystery

Whilst I was digging around in some church history today, I came across this nugget of Eusebian observation:
“As the third century drew to a close, the tensions within the church were becoming more explosive.  Eusebius looking back on the situation as he had seen it as a young man could write,

maxresdefault‘But when as the result of greater freedom a change to pride and sloth came over our affairs, we fell to envy and fierce railing one against the other, warring upon ourselves so to speak as occasion offered with weapons and spears formed of words, and ruler attacked ruler and laity formed factions against laity, while unspeakable hypocrisy and pretense pursued their evil course to the furthest end.’ 


It was a grim picture of ecclesiastic strife at the moment of Christianity’s triumph.  Paganism had indeed been defeated.  The world was ripe for religious change, but not for religious peace.”
The Early Church by W. H. C. Frend, Page 114
*
And this made me think!  The church had faced all sorts of external pressures and problems, persecutions and heresies.  When peace came, they turned on each other!  This is shocking!
*
Nietzsche made a similar point when he observed a church that was brazenly hypocritical; living, as it were, with a great gulf between what she said she believed, and what she actually did.  I suppose this applies to both corporate and individual.  He said,
*
“They would have to sing better songs to make me believe in the Redeemer:  his disciples would have to look more redeemed!”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke ZarathustraSICK-nietzsche
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I get what he means about the songs on some Sundays, but I don’t know what he means that those who follow Jesus should look “more redeemed”, I’ve tried to look more redeemed, and my wife asks me if I’m ill, or in pain!
*
I suspect Nietzsche meant act more redeemed, although, acting righteously brings its own set of unholy problems;  all manner of good-deeds can mask insidious sin and self-serving righteousness.  Basically, the church has always struggled.  Struggled with what it claims and what it does; or what it believes and what it practices.  Sin could be most seductively and demonically at work under the guise of doing good.  Many a good intention is shipwrecked upon the rocks of slightly off-centre zeal!
*
While Nietzsche is appalled at the church he observes (probably a limited observation anyway unless he really was Superman); Eusebius, on the other (and much earlier historically) hand, is quite shocked!  “OMG, they’re turning on…. themselves!”
*

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Baby Dedication

Baby Dedication

Our Father,

We lift baby Faye to you now,

In your presence and in the presence of your people.

 

We pray your divine ‘Yes’ over this beloved child’s life.

We pray for your purposes to be fulfilled in her life.

We pray, in anticipation of her responding to your love in Jesus Christ.

And dedicate her now in the hope of her baptism in years to come.

 

You have made her in your image.

She is a child of God.

And so she is loved from before the foundation of the world.

We pray on her behalf that in time and beyond, she will recognise her need of you, Father God.

 

We pray that you will not allow her to live cheaply towards you.

We entrust her to you Father.

That you would make her heart restless until it rests in you.

 

Enfold her family we pray Lord.

That they would be protected in Christ;

So that they would live for Christ.

Make theirs a happy home; a happy marriage; a happy family.

Teach them Father, to make Christ central in everything.

 

So, Faye,

I bless you in the Name of Holy Triune Name of God:

God the Father,

God the Son,

and God the Holy Spirit.

 

To live a fruitful, joyful, hopeful life in Christ.

Abide in Him little one,

Seek first His glorious Kingdom,

And everything in life shall be added unto you.

 

In the presence of God, and of his people in this church:

All God’s people said:  “Amen!”

Amen and amen.

babyfaye

This is my granddaughter Faye in 2013

Risk-Opoly-Chess-Battle-Scrabble

games

We set up the board as it should be set up.  A place for everything and for everything, a place.  You go first.  Ah, nice move.  The Knight advances.  My call:  A7…. That’s got to be a hit – the aircraft carrier I reckon, well….Eighteen points for that word?  How can that be?  Lead-piping in the Library is no match for an attack of infantry and cavalry – it’s going to be a blood bath.  Your move:  Rats!  A geography question – If a Lieutenant attacks the Spy, deep into enemy territory – who wins?  Draw a picture and I’ll try to guess who!  But do not pass go, there is no £200, but there is a jail.  Only three 6’s get you out of that, and you know what the fundamentalists think about that!

This is gibberish.

A Christendom model of Church is equally gibberish in a post-Christendom context, a bit like playing the rules of one game whilst playing another!  Trying to keep all these games going in some sort of super-human Robo-Cop-Christian kind of way, is demeaning and dehumanising, a bit like what Stanley Hauerwas in Resident Aliens calls being nibbled to death by ducks (p.126).

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