Bonhoeffer On Being a Visionary


Most Protestants seem to love Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Yet, it’s surprising how few live and think like him. One quote in my reading of Life Together was truly revolutionary in light of current Church Leadership wisdom.

“God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.” – Bonhoeffer, Life Together pg. 27.

In other words, do you have a dream for how the Church should be? Do have a wish to form it in your image? Do you want everyone else to worship like you do? What is your biggest frustration with the way a Church works?

Most of us, if we think hard enough, could answer the last question with more than one grievance. But how does that connect with the other questions? Most of our frustrations can come from this visionary dreaming which says, “I have the right idea of worship,” which is saying, “I understand God and what He wants better than others.” It’s a very heartbreaking place to be, since God is not afraid of breaking someone’s vision if it does not match His.

Another point is that this community is monotone and static. If you made the community value every thing that you valued, you would not be challenged with new things or things of change that you might need. Maybe you need to switch from contemporary to traditional every once in a while. Maybe you need a off-the-cuff prayer instead of a prayer book today. Whatever the case, community brings change and good. The reason is that God is over this community. His Spirit is working through us and changing us.

Another point that is different from this is that the visionary dreaming could be considered trying to be equal God, since the values of the self can override the values of God.

Our ideals are faulty, just like Adam and Eve in the garden. We can have a vision and it be the same as they who thought God’s greatness could be matched by them. This just cannot happen and will lead us to the same heartbreaking reality that Adam and Eve were exiled to.

Christian community is brotherhood (equality) and is fully under God (submission). So envisioning a reality that is not yet is not the same as living the reality that God has already established.

What have you done to set up your own ideal? What have you done to submit to God’s reality? What is challenging and changing you?

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The Upper Room


One person I highly respect posted a blog on the ascension and the anticipation of the coming of the Spirit. It helped me think further about this week on the Church calendar. For a little over a week, we remember the waiting on the Spirit after the Ascension of Christ.

In Luke, the ascension is simply described as Christ separated and taken into heaven. In Acts, it is more mystic and says he was lifted up and a cloud caused him to ascend from their eyes/sight. Acts goes on to describe waiting. It seems that the disciples just did not know what to do after such a mysterious event. They carried on business as usual. Meeting together, remembering, and even electing a replacement of one lost from the original 12 disciples (which did not matter in the end because Acts loses sight of the original 12 very quickly, but that is a post for another day).

The one thing they lacked was clarity, which was probably what they were needing. They were left with no instruction. All they knew was Torah, Israel, and some bits of what Jesus said. What was to be the great thing that sent them out to witness to the other nations?

That has been the week and a few days we have been remembering, but on this day, we jump in celebration. The party has begun. There is now direction. The Spirit has come and we are going out spreading that Spirit around. There is no hanging out in meeting rooms just waiting and setting things up so that things do not fall apart on us. We are going out sharing and creating, innovating with the guidance of the Great Innovator (the Spirit).

In order to do that, we must follow the Spirit out of our rooms. The Upper Room was where the followers met after the Ascension and they stayed there. Many reasons have been named through history: fear, uncertainty, etc. The main truth of the passage is that they stayed and were not being moved. They were static. But the Spirit came, and we see in Acts the blind side of the Holy Spirit. No one saw it coming. The actions of love and the sharing of the Spirit that happened in the rest of Acts are phenomenal and inspiring.

We also have upper rooms in today’s Church. Our room could be fear, dogmatism, judgmentalism, social status, etc. But the Spirit is leading us from all that to a lifestyle of love, bravery, power, compassion, etc. We do not live in a past anymore where we are just waiting. We have a guide taking us out the door.

So let’s celebrate this Sunday. Not in our “rooms”, but outside somewhere. Share the Spirit somehow. Minister to the hurt, give a little more, show more grace. And when you feel like you can not, remember that the Spirit can. It sees the image of God in everyone and treats them like that.

Today is Pentecost, and it is the day of new beginning. It is the day we left the room, locked the door behind us, and never looked back.

What are you waiting on? Are there rooms that you stay in that do not reflect the Spirit? Will you follow the Spirit out of that room and into the world?

The Paradox of Incarnation


In the old days of the Middle East, many people believed that multiple deities existed. Every culture had their god or set of gods. Many even gave some form of divine status to their rulers, mostly because the ruler demanded it. In this world, divine status was something worth pursuing. It was something to fight for, attain, and enforce. This meant you having your will and then getting what you wanted.

This sounds so different from the incarnation. In Philippians 2, Jesus is portrayed as giving up all the perks of being God. He wanted to take on human form, a lesser form, so that He could rescue the human.

Jesus, the God who became man and became a servant and said I will give my life for them, came into a world that said I will destroy any one who does not give me what I need or want.

Almost 2,000 years later, not much is different about the world. We still have countries fighting wars for resources. Many people are stolen and put into slavery. People believe that other world-views are inherently evil. People still will kill each other for loose change. I think we should look to Jesus and his Spirit for guidance. Instead, we find it tempting to have control and to use it.

Deitrich Bonhoefer says this:

“Human Love desires the other person, his company, his answering love, but it does not serve him…But where it can no longer expect its desire to be fulfilled, there it stops short-namely, in the face of an enemy. There it turns into hatred, contempt, and calumny. Right here is the point where spiritual love begins.”

Even if there are technicals that you disagree with Bonhoeffer on, there is wisdom in this saying. We should live out the Incarnation of Jesus, but the only way to do that is to have the utmost love that was given to us by Christ. We will find that being a servant is the only way to show Christ and to be a Christian. It is the only way to have agape love.

So are we like the old rulers, who sought to fulfill their own love needs and control everyone into serving them, or are we like Christ, who gave up divine status as something worth chasing?

Are you seeking to be God’s replacement and be over everyone else? Or are you seeking to love (serve) God and others?

The Ascension


It is Thursday. Today many Churches officially remember the Ascension of Jesus and will also celebrate with their brothers and sisters at their local places of worship.

When reading the end of Luke, I find the account most encouraging. Christ takes His followers outside of Jerusalem and gives them final talks on who He is and what the Scriptures said about Him. As he leaves, He tells them of the plans to move out into the world through them and change the world for good. But he says also to go to the holy city of Jerusalem and wait.

First the excitement must have been overwhelming. They even praised God while heading back, which had to have thrown everyone else off. Here are the people who had their Messiah killed (they might not have known of Jesus’ resurrection) and now they were rejoicing. What was possessing these people? A spirit of joy which was awaiting the Spirit of God to come down on them signifying his mark of approval.

But they had to wait. Waiting can be most difficult when coupled with anticipation. But on this day, we remember that waiting was how we started. We were not going out and using our own strength. We waited, prayed, did the normal things until the Spirit gave us better direction.

Let us remember this day well. The day when God committed kairos, and came and acted inside us in order to empower us for a work that was greater than us.

If waiting is a struggle for you as it is with me. This day will teach us to wait on God. We should not be afraid to act, but we should remember that the Spirit must indwell in us and be the beginner of our expressions of faith.

So act out your worship, but make sure the Spirit of God indwells you and makes God the center. Do not do act on faith because of yourself, because that is not faith, but is selfishness. Hold true to the reason for our rejoicing, hold to the one who has ascended and was glorified. And let Him send you His Spirit and empower you for a greater work.

The Conservative Baptist and Roger Williams (A Church and State Issue)


In American Church history, there is a man named Roger Williams. Many today seem to not know about his existence, but he is very crucial.

Roger Williams started as an Anglican in England, but eventually was disillusioned by that church body and went to live with the Puritans in Massachusetts. After a certain time there, he felt convictions that led his interpretations of Scripture away from the Puritans. He was evicted from the settlement and took his followers elsewhere. There he established the first church which birthed the tradition known as Baptist.

Roger Williams was a major proponent of the separation of church and state. He saw what had happened in Europe ever since Constantine named Christianity an acceptable religion and eventually made it the official religion. Too much invested power from one to the other led to corruption, murder, stealing, and condemnation of innocent brothers in the faith (this could lead to a paragraph about Martin Luther and the Anabaptists, but I digress).

The point of this post is to point to the Southern Baptist Convention and other Baptist denominations and say that something is not matching up. Are Baptists to give in to the state or be something separate. Williams never outright took up blind violence against the state, but he did want to make it clear that the Church just seems to work better when it does not try to seek a pseudo-matrimonial union with the state. I think the SBC needs to consider their founder’s history and words and apply them better.

This is in light of the recent vote for the NC marriage amendment. Many Baptists and other traditions came out to proclaim that the church and state serve the same purpose and should work as one. Is this our purpose? I have posted elsewhere on this vote more directly, but the point is to call out a bigger problem, the Church in America wants to be primarily American and not first and foremost Christian. This will cause problems with us and the state, but mostly with us. (As a side note, this action sounds much like the Catholics and the Anglicans 200+ years ago, something that a SBC person usually will not like.)

PS – My own denomination, which has no lineage crossing lines with Baptists but is a Wesleyan tradition, has made this same mistake.

The Nature of The Authority of Scripture.


It seems as if Christianity is always fated to battle with science, but does it have to? It also seems that the conversation about who the Bible exercises authority over is heated as well. Let me address both in this post. Starting with authority of Scriptures.

In Charge of Whom?

Most Evangelicals and Fundamentalists would seem to think that the Bible is written for everyone everywhere. In a sense, that is true. Call it God’s love letter to the world, if you will. But that is a starting point. What one must remember is that the letter is in the form of covenant. If you pan through the Torah and through other books of the Bible, the love letter is being offered to everyone, whether or not they accept it.

Who is the one that accepts the Covenant? I think the answer is obviously the Christians accepting Christ as Lord. In the nature of a covenants, that means that the ones who accept the covenant are then subject to the conditions. Paul in the New Testament seems to carry this implicitly when talking about the faith of Abraham in Romans and Galatians. The point is not getting the cart before the horse in the matter. Authority is for those who accept the authority. (We must also remember that the nature of the authority in detail is not agreed upon in the Christian Church itself, but that is a post for another day.)

Origins and Process.

Now that we basically see authority in a nutshell, let’s turn to the Bible’s authority over science. This is tricky, since the Bible is not a science text-book. Many Christians will tell you that evolution cannot show you origins and is untrustworthy. This is only half-true. It definitely does not show you origins, but it does not claim to do so either. Most people get confused we they listen to Hawkins and others who say that evolution is the Grand Theory of Everything. There is a bit that evolution cannot explain, so it is not a threat to the Scriptures and neither is Science. Science is only concerned about the observable anyways, which excludes origins.

The creation story also has an even more important point. The creations accounts (yes, plural, since the two have different orders to the creation timeline) seem to focused not simply on the mechanics of creation, but on liturgy (the work of the people in worship). Liturgy here is steeped in creation so that everything someone does is subject to the worship that God requires. The Genesis accounts are more worried about how a man lives and who he is living for. Besides, if the creation accounts were just scientific, it would only be academically authoritative and not able to set the rules for living, which is a major point of the grouping of the books that it is a part of, the Torah (meaning Law in the Hebrew).

Conclusion

The Bible is the authority of the Church being the accepted love terms from God. But it has to be authoritative over our hearts. The Origin aspect of the science vs fundamentalist Christianity debate is faulty not only in that the latter does not understand the former and the former has false representation of what the latter is really supposed to believe. It is time for the Church to pick up its book and look at it as the liturgy, much like a book of prayer or a doctrinal statement, but much more powerful and useful. Once we view it as that, our understanding of ourselves will be better and our reflections of what is in us will be none other than Christ alone.

In what ways have you tried to make the Bible authoritative in your lifestyle? Or do you want to lack power and stay a textbook?