Category Archives: Missional Church

Narrative

The idea of narrative has become a central focus in politics, social justice, education, and opponents to changing the narrative. What exactly is narrative all about?

NAR´RATIVE, a. [Fr. narratif.] Relating the particulars of an event or transaction; giving a particular or continued account.

Noah Webster, Noah Webster’s first edition of An American dictionary of the English language., 2006.

Narrative relates to story telling. There is a fairly recent school of theology called Narrative Theology. In essence, narrative theologians want to focus on the meaning of the story and not on the particulars. Another way of putting it is, narrative theology does not believe that propositions, principles, or laws should not be deduced from the text. The story of Scripture is to teach us how to have a relationship with God.

Now, there some consequences to changing to a narrative hermeneutic. First is the loss of propositional reasoning and logic, especially in terms of God. It is not so much that God planned to create and then spoke creation. The story of creation is to teach us about living within the creation, living with one another, and living with God. Second, narrative theology has opened the door to individual interpretations of biblical material. There is no absolute truth, only what this means to me. Traditional Bible studies have shifted from discerning what the Word says and how I feel about the text. Much of what is called Spirituality today is a result of this approach. Third, the Word of God ceases to be positive Truth, but all metaphor. If the Bible is narrative, then so is theology, church, and basically traditional Christianity.

The kingdom is explained in metaphors, similes, images, and pictures. It is impossible to put all the images into one simple, rational definition for a dictionary. You can’s codify these descriptions or contain them in a neat box. Jesus’s words point, open, and suggest rather than conclude and define. This idea of the kingdom of God is filled with imprecision that can’t be pinned down; it invites us to risk entering a world we may not be able to control or manipulate for our own needs (like going through the wardrobe into Narnia). This may be frustrating; it may create consternation in those demanding precision; but it invites us to risk having our imaginations invaded by the God who is endlessly elusive. … Scripture does not so much define reality as invite us onto a journey in which we discover the world God is creating. … Entering the missional waters is not about strategies or models; it is about working with the currents that shape our imagination of what God is doing in the world.

Roxburgh, Alan, and Boren, Scott; Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One; Baker Books, Grand Rapids,, 2009; pp. 38-39.

The above quote is typical of the movement in theology in the 21st century. Traditional interpretation is characterized as simple, uninviting, pinning down God, and manipulative for our own needs. The narrative has already changed because every theologian from antiquity forward has been wrong. In 2015, Tod Bolsinger published a book titled, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territories. Here is how Amazon describes the book (mostly taken from the back cover):

Explorers Lewis and Clark had to adapt. While they had prepared to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean, instead they found themselves in the Rocky Mountains. You too may feel that you are leading in a cultural context you were not expecting. You may even feel that your training holds you back more often than it carries you along. Drawing from his extensive experience as a pastor and consultant, Tod Bolsinger brings decades of expertise in guiding churches and organizations through uncharted territory. He offers a combination of illuminating insights and practical tools to help you reimagine what effective leadership looks like in our rapidly changing world. If you’re going to scale the mountains of ministry, you need to leave behind canoes and find new navigational tools. Reading this book will set you on the right course to lead with confidence and courage.

https://www.amazon.com/Canoeing-Mountains-Christian-Leadership-Uncharted/dp/0830841261

I can barely take missional church language anymore. Narrative has destroyed Truth and reason. How many Presbyterian Churches or Denominations still hold the Westminster standards in high regard. They are in our Constitutional Book of Confessions, but few members have studied them or read them. They aren’t narrative. Of what use is the Heidelberg Catechism or the Belgic Confession if no one teaches them or preaches them any more? It’s ok, though. We don’t need such old, dusty books because we are climbing the mountains without a map and we don’t really know what we get where we are going because we don’t know!

Changing the narrative is how the church has been able to change historic church doctrine. God didn’t really mean homosexuality is an abomination. God loves everyone, and don’t even try to define what that means. God didn’t really become human and the death and resurrection of Christ are just stories. When narrative theology dominates, there is no longer any real meaning to anything. Just go with the flow. It’s ok because we’ll get wherever it is we are going.

When God fails to be the ground of all meaning, there is no ground for any meaning. Lack of meaning in the world results in humans creating their own meaning and where has that gotten us? The world needs a specific, identifiable God. Without him, all we have left are millions of people trying to be god. Are we surprised that our national history is being erased? We can no longer rejoice in the wisdom of the Declaration of Independence because some “god” wrote the “1619 Project,” and it is no longer about facts. It is about the trajectory of America according to “The Fight Over the 1619 Project Is Not About the Facts.”

I remember when the comment, “Don’t confuse me with the facts,” was part of a comedy routine. No longer. We must forget the past and look to the future. And because we are existentialists (actually little gods), we can make it into anything we want it to be. Since there is no absolute God with absolute morality, we can lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, force whoever we want to come out on top and get our way. Don’t worry about some judgment of God after you die; it is only a metaphorical narrative.

So, what do we do? Jump into the river and flow? How can we possibly fight the current political power that is not based upon any facts? The only way Christians are called to respond and called to live. Die loving our enemy. However, the love we are called to is not the romantic ethereal love that makes everyone feel good. We are called to the kind of love any of us would naturally display when we see our three-year-old going into a busy street. Grab them and bring them back.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Jude 20–23, ESV

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…

Ephesians 6:10–18, ESV

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The Law of Laws, part 2 of 10

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

(Exodus 20:4–6, ESV)

There is but one God, YHWH. The implications of this truth are endless. Just to name a few, we are subject to his created order; we are subject to his laws and commands; and we cannot complain about it. Every time one says, or thinks, that God is unfair denies him his rightful place. Every time one says that they don’t like God’s rules denies him his righteousness. Every time one says that they are oriented toward homosexuality, robbery, anger, or any of the other things scientists have tried to tell us we have genetic dispositions for denies the creation of God, and thus denies God.

When God says that he “…created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” (Genesis 1:27, ESV) He leaves no room for us to choose our own gender or to make up new ones. This is why St. Paul write, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever,” (Romans 1:22–25, ESV) he is speaking of the consequences of a people, culture, civilization, which has denied God.

One of the remarks Paul makes is that foolishness consists in worshiping the creation and not the Creator. The is what God says in the second commandment. He does not command that we are not to make gods. He is saying that when we have made other gods, we are not to worship them. God is a jealous God. His righteous jealousy is not that we have made other gods but that we offer the glory rightfully his to these other gods. The second commandment is about right worship. This is a message desperately needed in the contemporary church.

Over the years, the word contemporary had grown in definition. Originally it was used to say that two or more people live at the same time. Though that use has not been lost, it has been expanded to mean something existing during a certain time. Relationship of person with person has become relationship of a person or group of persons to the age in which they live. This includes the events, knowledge, and pathos of the age. Not to over state this, it is not uncommon for an historian to say, “So and so was a man of his times,” meaning that to understand this person completely, we have to understand the influences surrounding him.

The contemporary church could refer to the church as it exists today. There is nothing wrong with that. However, sometimes it can refer to the church as it has adapted to its times. During most of my lifetime I have heard that the church has to keep up with the times. We have to become relevant in order to communicate the Gospel. We have to cast aside the rich and meaningful language of the past and use contemporary language. We have to cast aside the rich rituals, music, and traditions of the past and become more accessible to our generation.

I recognize that there are arguments for both sides of the question. I am not beginning a debate. I do point out that making the Gospel “relevant” and “accessible” does change the content of the message. Form and function are bound in such a way that changing the form requires a change in the message and vise versa. [Note that the restoration of theology during the Reformation altered the forms of worship at that time.] Not only can we not create other gods but we cannot choose how we worship the one God Almighty. If we are to truly glorify him, we must glorify him as he directs. Worship must be controlled by God through his word.

Our current pandemic situation has forced many churches to close. So, many have created worship to stream on the web. My objection is in calling it worship. How can it be when worship is the gathering of God’s people around the throne? How can it be worship when there is no community to share the Word and the Sacraments?

I have heard many times that churches must have nurseries and children’s churches so that worship is not disrupted. Jesus said that we were to let the children come to him. The lack of family activity during church denies our baptismal promise that the community becomes involved in raising godly children. But pushing them out of church, even if we think we are offering something more relevant to them takes them out of the presence of Christ as his people gather. There needs to be a return to the biblical truth that though baptism does not save one’s soul, it does claim that child as a member of the community. The loss of children in church fractures the unity of the church.

This is only one illustration of the conversations we should be having about worship. My ordination by the church is to be a minister of the Word and Sacrament. This is not the usual way pastors are expected to work. Maybe I should be called a minister of the Word, as long as no one is offended, and the Sacraments considering the Lord’s Supper should only be served once a month, or four to five times a year. Yet the reason ordination is to call one to serving God’s gathered people his Word and his Sacraments defines that which is central to worship.

Often, the second commandment is said to be a commandment against idolatry. True enough. However, idolatry is a gross symptom of a much deeper problem. It is not about cleaning all the symbols, art, and music from our worship times and spaces. It is about committing ourselves to giving God glory and worshiping him as he has directed us to worship. In my opinion, that means that everything done in worship must be intentional with the design of God’s glory.

That means, for instance, that we don’t choose songs because we like them or they have a catchy beat. We choose them because the lyrics are sound in doctrine and work toward enhancing God’s glory. (I recognize that this means throwing much of the “contemporary” music in the trash). That means that we don’t go to church hoping to get a pick-me-up for the coming week, or to be recharged, or to find relief from the past week. We go to church because there, with brothers and sisters in Christ, we come into the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The worship of the church is the worship of God. Individual “worship” is devotion, which is also a good thing to do – – often. But it is not worship on God’s terms and as Christ has designed.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

(Ephesians 2:19–22, ESV)

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Filed under Emerging Church, Law of God, Missional Church

God Help Us

Several events in the past week or so have brought these three words to my prayers more often than usual. Don’t get me wrong, when I don’t pray this, I am failing in my praying. It was Jesus who taught us to pray saying, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Sadly, Christians often say this prayer but refuse to go the next step.

Faith without works is dead. At least according to James. You might rightfully extend that to prayer without action is a waste of time. Yet we need the biblical action of the church in obedience to God’s Law more than ever. Our Constitution was grounded in it. The preachers in the pulpit preached it before and after the Revolution. The Church of Jesus Christ has an obligation to be politically involved and active.

Without apology, I believe that our obedience to Christ and the moral law God gave us, does not allow us to blindly speak of conscience over righteousness. The time to allow anyone, especially those in power and those who shape the thinking of the rest of us, to lie, cheat, steal, and kill in order to gain what they want must end. And the Church is the leaven in society that was designed to stand against such immorality. Unfortunately, the church seems perfectly willing to act the three monkeys neither seeing, speaking, nor hearing as long as they are left alone.

The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (my own denomination) chose to “remember Breonna Taylor with a vigil for justice.” Every human being should be saddened when another human loses her life. But to claim she was an innocent victim of over-zealous police use of force denies the facts and truth of the incident. Taylor’s boyfriend shot at the police first and in running away to hide used Breaonna as a shield. This is only one example of how the church in this age has bought the lie and thus brought darkness into the world.

I have served five churches during my ministry. In all but one I have received rebuke for becoming “political” in the pulpit. Why, then, is it acceptable to join the modern Social Justice movement and support such political activity? Moreover, what political positions are non-moral issues? Abortion? Same gender marriage? Homosexual behaviors? Denying God’s determined gender to claim another?

How about publishing “fake news” by either the left or the right. Or violating one’s oath to uphold the Constitution all the while violating it. One of the things that has become an interesting twist in the events of late has been the revelation of the principle “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.” It is true that our sins will eventually find us out, but not to worry, we can simply deny them or ignore them.

The Church is the institution that has allowed the creation of today’s America. I say shame on us. Shame on me for not being a bolder pastor. Shame on our denominations for allowing the humanism of the world mold and shape us. Shame on us for not listening to our founding fathers and those of the past who warned of such apostasy. And shame on us for allowing politics become free of Christian oversight. It is not true what we are told, that there is an absolute separation of church and state.

The state exists by God’s grant. The state exists to keep order and make society free for the Church to manifest the Kingdom of God. The state is responsible to God. But how does God speak to the state? By those who proclaim the Word of God and those who obey it. We the people are the judge of the government and we should always be skeptical of the motives and manipulations of those who deny our right to do so.

…confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

James 5:16 (ESV)

Our first job as the Church is to pray. Prayer begins with confession. It seems to be that when we pray for one another in the humility of confession, we can no longer treat one another poorly. However, this speaks about relationships in Christ and not relationships outside of Christ. The world hates us because the world hates Christ. And anyone who thinks such hatred can be appeased simply by helping the poor, the oppressed, and the down-trodden, does not yet understand the world’s hatred of Christ. Are we to help the people living like the description above? ABSOLUTELY! But such help alone will not redeem them. Only Christ redeems, and who can believe if they do not hear, and who can hear if Christ is not preached?

James continues, though, for it is not enough to pray for forgiveness and for the spiritual health, growth, and relationship to Christ. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” I believe this is the prayer we must make for our world, our rulers, our nation, our enemies. Why? Because it is the prayer of a righteous person. Righteousness is obedience to God’s Law. Righteousness is obedience to the commands of Christ. And he commanded a lot more than handouts to the down and out.

Jesus told his disciples that their job was to make disciples. Discipleship in this context was to teach them to obey the commands of Christ. The Great Commandment extends to all Christians. Christian parents are to teach obedience to their children. Allowing children to grow up and make their own decision for Christ is like waiting children to grow up before they choose what food they want to eat. They will starve first.

The same holds true for Shepherds of Congregations. It is our job to teach the sheep to obey Christ. How can the sheep know what they need to know about Christ unless the Word is consistently preached? Saying that the Holy Spirit will lead you to the knowledge and obedience without the need of communal worship which includes the sacraments and the Word. God’s method is to use the Holy Spirit in conjunction with preaching in communal worship.

The key is confession and restoration to righteousness, then righteousness praying for the world, then the prayers of the righteous working by the power of the Holy Spirit through the arms, legs, bodies, and minds of the ones praying. Faith without works is dead. Prayer without action is useless. God can perform miracles and make wide-spread changes in the world. But looking at history, at least the history we have left, God usually does his work through human work.

God help us. Help us from ourselves. Help us from anti-Christianity. Help us to pray, stand, and work for the Kingdom that it may reign on this earth even as it does in heaven. If not, then let’s just go watch sports and movies on TV. God won’t help us do that.

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Filed under Faith, Law of God, Missional Church, Truth, World View

The Great Divide

A Sermon

Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel.” (Acts 14:1–7, ESV)

Our world is seriously divided today. The divisions are greater than almost anytime I can remember, though the Civil Rights movement along with the protests against the Vietnam military action (war) were pretty serious too. Yet there was a significant difference. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of peace and he worked hard to keep the civil rights battle non-violent. He did not sacrifice his principles, and what he was calling for was a specific change. Everyone, especially now, should read again and again that famous speech King made on August 28, 1963. You can find it here.

Today, the violence in our major cities is irrational. How can such destruction, crime, and death result in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? I am afraid that there are some people who in the past, restrained by the Spirit of God, simply want to destroy anything they can see and touch. As in Iconium, their minds have been poisoned by unscrupulous leaders, university professors, politicians, and just plain anti-nomians.

At the same time, the American churches have forgotten the gospel. We have remembered part of it; the part with God’s love and grace. We have preached that anyone and everyone can enter the Kingdom if they would believe in Jesus Christ. But we have forgotten the hard part.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34–39, ESV)

These words of Jesus are an echo of the prophecy of Micah:

The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand. Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house. But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:2–7, ESV)

It is frightening how the words from the ancient past accurately describe what we are living today. The basic truth, though, has never changed. All humanity is effectively separated from God by sin. The promise of Christ who would come to bring reconciliation would naturally cause the division between God and humanity to the fore. Those who look to God and Christ for their salvation do find it and experience forgiveness of sin and relationship with the Creator of all that is.

However, from Adam throughout all time, there are those who make the choice to oppose Christ and his salvation. They have a better way. And so, as in Iconium, peace becomes division all because many turned their lives to the one and only God. And division plots violence against God and his people. Haven’t you wondered why Americans tolerate every religion under the sun except Christianity? Could it be because Christians answer to a greater God and have his authoritative word? To make accommodation to any governments of the world is to deny the rule of Jesus Christ.

I am not suggesting that Christians become opposition to the government. Some have taken it this way. But we are to remain apart from the world while respecting the government as an instrument of God preserving life and order while he continues to gather his sheep. And that is the real problem. For decades, we have allowed human ideas to prevail over godly ideals. We have trusted the ungodly to educate our children naively thinking they had no agenda other than reading, writing and arithmetic. Once it became too late, we discovered that all humanistic education was a transforming of young minds slowly, generation by generation, until we arrive to a world that has not taught our children how to reason and think but what to think without reason.

So, in 2020 we have arrived. The great divide between God and man is before us in dramatic fashion. Jesus said it would happen and this is not the first time it is happening. And now can be the Church’s finest hour, or its saddest. We call all people to the gospel. We call them to the love of Christ who died for them. We call them to the grace of God who sent is Son to die for them.

When Jesus said he would bring a division between parent and child, he was not saying the child must stop loving the parent or the parent must stop loving their child in order to love God and become a disciple of Christ. He was saying that there must be a priority of love. “Whoever finds his live will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The great chasm between God and man has been bridged by the love of God. When the Spirit brings Christ’s reconciliation and applies it to me, I become a different me; one who loves the Lord my God with all my heart, all my strength, and all my mind.

The divide will be closed one day. Jesus will return to the earth for his final judgment. He will separate his sheep from the goats, his wheat from the chaff. It is interesting to me that in Acts 14, what has been translated as “unbelieving Jews” is really “disobedient Jews.” The “Jews” part is not what is important and to be clear, disobedient Jews implies there were obedient Jews. Paul was one. But the interesting part is that disobedience is really the foundation of all unbelief. Opposition to God, oppositions to God ordained government, opposition to the Word of Truth is what we are facing in our world today.

The judgment of God comes in many forms, and the rebellion and irrationality of violence may be one of them. But it is God who judges. We do not bring judgment on anyone. However, as my mother always said, actions speak louder than words, and we can discern those who love God from those who do not by their actions. And seeing so many who have been led astray must break our hearts. Because we have the only answer there is.

Nevertheless, division will remain, and Christian faith will always be a matter of bearing a cross. You can label the division however you like:

  • Democrat versus Republican
  • Conservative versus Liberal
  • White versus Black or Black versus White
  • Educated versus Uneducated
  • Rich versus poor

When all is said and done, none of these divisions, perceived or real, is what Jesus Christ will look for when he returns. There is only one great division from which all others flow: the division between those who believe and those who don’t. Care must be taken by those who believe, for we all know that our faith was not something we could produce on our own. Neither is it possible for the unbeliever to turn from their disobedience apart from the grace of God and the Holy Spirit.

In the meantime, we who believe must pray for peace and proclaim the gospel always and everywhere. It is our calling. The Truth proclaimed is for those who do not believe that they may believe, or that they have no excuse when Christ returns.

Maranatha. Come quickly Lord Jesus. And make us faithful.

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Filed under Hate, Love, Missional Church, World View