Friday, May 23, 2014

Feeling alone in the crowd

We aren't meant to be alone.  Even though we go through periods of being alone, it isn't suppose to be the status quo.  Genesis 2:18 is God's verdict on this condition and it happens fairly early on in history.   But this theme is reiterated throughout Scriptures.

    And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

(Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)

We need the building up, the encouragement that the church provides.  But more than that, we need the safety net it provides as well:

    Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV)

It is unfortunate that in a religion that appears to put such an emphasis on togetherness, people experience such loneliness.   It isn't just a melancholic loneliness I am speaking of here either.  There is also the "lone ranger" syndrome that is so prevalent, especially in protestantism.  The type of loneliness that expresses itself in the attitude of control, singleness, do-it-yourself behavior. 

But why is this?  Is it just our fallen nature?  Or did we create this for ourselves when the church decided it was more important to be like the culture around us then it was to be our own and to set the pace for our culture?  Was it when we started having an allergic reaction to the the idea of a christian subculture or when the accusations of developing "christian ghettos" began to be bantered about?   

Probably there are no satisfactory answers to these questions, but be that as it may, maybe just voicing the questions can be a first step in answering the more important questions of how to get out of this hole we've dug ourselves into.

The Eastern Orthodox tradition allows for interaction with saints that have gone on before us.  They take quite literally Hebrews 12:1 picture of a cloud of witnesses coupled with Jesus' words to the Sadducees, "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living", which is even more striking when we realize Jesus was speaking about people who had died long ago.   So, according to Eastern Orthodoxy, why not commune with them?  Why not pray to them?  Even more, why couldn't they interact with us?  I must admit (here my protestant friends will gasp) there is a certain amount of logic to the argument. 

Of course, there are a whole lot of questions that come to the fore if one chooses to go down that road.  Perhaps the biggest being that of safety.  How do we know that the one speaking to us is really the person they say they are?  Saul spoke to Nathan who was conjured up by a witch.  Was it really Nathan?  But here my EO friends would point out that the believer is part of a greater Tradition (notice the capital 'T') and that the Church (again, notice the capitalization, it is important) is there to help the believer and especially protect him or her from any sort of deception from the enemy.  On paper this sounds good, but beyond mere romanticism I have have questions of its practicality.

Some anabaptist and protestant groups have sought to fulfill the call of Scripture to community in communities or, if you will, "christian ghettos".   This isn't new by any stretch of the imagination.  You see this happening right at the beginning of the formation of the church in Acts 4:32-37.   Now it is clear that this did not continue throughout the early church but, at least in the beginning they appear to have found gravitation towards a type of communalism a natural response to the deep spiritual change that had taken place in their hearts.  And in times of renewal and great need the church has repeated this process throughout history.  The a fore mentioned Anabaptists (especially the Swiss Brethren and the Hutterites), the Brethren of the Common life (who had an influence on Thomas Kempis, who wrote "The Imitation of Christ") and in more modern times The Jesus Army in England, the Jesus People USA in Chicago and Gloriavale in New Zealand just to name a few.

Shane Claiborne's group (Sorry, Shane, I know you wouldn't like me calling it that. It is for reference sake only) The Simple Way could be looked at as a more recent attempt at scriptural Community (capital!) although better suited to single people or those with very, very small families.  Also, their focus seems to be more towards that of a social gospel.  Although this would endear them to postmodern non-believers and Christians alike,  I have serious doubts as to whether this was really what Jesus intended when he commissioned the Church (again, I hear gasps - but my defense of that statement will need to wait for another post).

I still haven't offered any solutions!  But that is ok.  I didn't intend to (did I say I would?).   I am only giving vent to my frustration and even melancholy over my current situation: feeling alone in the crowd.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What's in a name?

A friend of mine remarked that he was sick of being labeled, as a Christian, a gay-hater.  If you knew my friend, even for five minutes, you would know that this label was the furthest thing from the truth.  He literally hates no one.  However, because he is a Christian and he holds that the Bible is the Word of God, he therefore also believes that homosexuality is a sin.  Not just any sin, but one that consigns its practitioner to an eternity in hell. Ergo, he is a gay-hater.

It should not be surprising that as Christians each generation will find a new label for us.  Even "Christian" is a label that was not applied out of kindness (Acts 11:26).  It means, in essence, little messiah and it was intended to be derogatory.  Today it is hard for us to see this label as threatening.  It isn't really.  Not anymore.  That coupled with the fact that the church embraced the label as a sort of badge of honor, two-thousand years later "Christian" simply means a follow of Christ.

There were other such labels throughout history.  Later on Christians were labeled atheists because they refused to worship all other gods except one.  They got labeled protestant because the protested against the current church practices.  They were labeled Anabaptist because they refused to acknowledge the efficacy of child baptism and instead re-baptized (thus the epitaph) adults.  More recently those who held to a high view of Scripture (among some other things) were labeled Fundamentalists.  Those who sold out for Jesus were called Jesus-Freaks.  And the name game goes on and on.

Now none of these names seem overly hurtful and perhaps they are not.  They all accurately, to one degree or another, reflected a truth about the Christians of the time so they were eventually and gladly embraced by the various groups.   Which makes them quite different from that of "gay-hater".  We don't hate anyone.  We love even the homosexual who hates us without a cause. But on the other hand we shouldn't be surprised when we are labeled for that is something that has been going on from a long time.  But the real question is going to be: Is it true?

Yes, we believe homosexuality is wrong, sinful and vary harmful to both to the homosexual and to society.  Not only does Scripture teach this, but I believe history will bare witness to this some day.  But to label this as hate is simply inflammatory and counterproductive.  If only I could say that for all Christians the label was false.  But I know of so-called Christians who hate.  But they aren't Christians.  They are pretenders who have never met the Messiah-Christ-God-Man who came down off of his mountain to live among us and to die at the hands of those whom he came to save, all the while praying from the cross, "Father forgive them".  Telling them the truth about what they were doing and their terminal condition got him crucified.  However, it didn't make him a hater.  Anyone who can look at what he did and call that hate really doesn't have a clue.

Hater?  No. Label me what you like. People have being doing that for centuries.  But at least make the label a good one, one that tells the real truth, one that I can embrace.