Thursday, May 11, 2006

Why bother?: Introduction

I read an article on that a priest, Father Jonathan Morris, wrote regarding The DaVinci Code. The DaVinci code, is, of course, very controversial among Christians. Some people will preach against it, others will just ignore it, and others have either read it or will see the upcoming movie. What struck me in this article, though, was that Father Morris said:

"Dan Brown is capable of passing fiction for fact because Christians don’t know their faith — what and why they believe. That’s not Mr. Brown’s fault."
This is a statement with which I emphatically agree, yet with my yearning and passion for trying to understand why I believe what I do, I often feel that I am in the minority among Christians. It is probably fairly accurate to say that most Christians have no interest in learning the history or context of Biblical texts or the history of the development of Christianity.

One of my random quotes on the right side of this blog states that "Theology is seeking to understand with the intellect what the heart--a person's central core of character--already believes and to which it is committed". This is the first reason, I believe, why we ought to be more serious about studying different aspects about our Bible and our faith's history. If we only have a belief but do not know very much about that belief, how strong and deep can it truly be?
This post, therefore, is the introductory post to a series (I have no idea how long it will be) of posts in which I will explore different reasons for why this kind of study is important.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Knowing You

There's a song called "Knowing You" that has the following lyrics:

Knowing you, Jesus, knowing you
There is no greater thing
You're my all, you're the best
You're my joy, my righteousness
And I love you Lord

Knowing Jesus is probably what most Christians would say that being a Christian is about--that we really have to know Jesus, not just know about him. I don't disagree with that. What makes me sad though, is that I don't know how many people who say these even do know much about Jesus. There are people who do not know Jesus was Jewish. There are people who do not know that the scriptures that we call the "Old Testament" are the scriptures that Jesus knew, but he knew them in Hebrew. We celebrate his birth and we celebrate his resurrection. But do we know anything about the holidays that he celebrated? when we read about the last supper, and we see that Jesus blessed the bread and the wine, how many people know the words he used to do that?

How can we really come to know Jesus if we do not know anything about him, if we do not study what he did, said, or taught? Doesn't it only give us a superficial knowledge of him if all we can say is that he lives in our hearts?

It takes work to get to know a person. It takes time. But isn't that more of a treasure to find? If we do not work at knowing a person, how deep is the relationship?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Heaven isn't too far away...

Those words are from the chorus to a song called "Heaven" by the group Warrant. The next line says "...closer to it every day". It's such a different view of the idea of heaven than we typically tend to think, isn't it? We usually think of heaven as a place we go after we die, not a present reality. Sure, maybe there are glimpses of it at times, but overall, it does seem pretty far-off and evasive. But is the idea of a far-off place to go consistent with Jesus' message?

It intrigues me that the idea of heaven that most people generally have has to do with life after death, but when we look at Jesus' first words of his public ministry as recorded by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Matthew 4:17). Has come near. I wrote about this in a previous post so for this one I want to go in a different direction. Let's talk a little bit about this future place, and see just how far into the future it is.

We all probably tend to think, at some point or another, of sitting on fluffy white clouds playing harps. That's the image we've gotten over time, isn't it? It's also kind of boring, if you ask me. The idea probably comes from different images of worship in the Book of Revelation, but there is one image in particular that sticks with me. Let's take a look at it:

"After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!'" (7:9-10)
The part of these verses that strikes me is that this multitude is infinite; nobody can count it, and that it is people from all nations, all cultures. They are all worshiping together; they are all acknowledging God together. I also noticed it says they cried out in a loud voice, not in loud voices. There is no division among them, only unity. It's a beautiful image, isn't it?

Yet we don't have this yet. We have divisions between religions and within religions. We have our own ideas of how and what church and worship should be. Have we made it all too complicated? What would it be like if people could come together and worship God together? What would it be like if, instead of going to your regular church, you visited with and worshiped with people of a different denomination and/or culture for a short time, to see what it was like?

Perhaps, if we focused more on uniting with people worldwide, and less on "our church", more people would be influenced to turn to and worship God, and as Jesus and Warrant say, heaven will come just a little bit closer.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Have I Got a Gift for You...

A few months ago, I took a spiritual gifts survery again (well, actually, I took two of them, but more about that in a minute). For those of you who don't know, spiritual gifts surveys are used for Christians to find out what their spiritual gifts are so they can know in what capacity they can best do the work of the church. Good idea, right?

I used to think so. I'm not so sure anymore. I decided that I would take two of these surveys: one from the church I currently attend, and another that I had from a church that I used to attend. I'm glad I did this, because it showed me that spiritual gift surveys are not the best way to find out where one belongs. I had different gifts show up on each survey, and one that was high on one survey was low on the other.

And if they are all written down on a list, at which point in the list does one draw the line to show which are a person's gifts and which are not? At 11? 8?

Although Paul does mention spiritual gifts on a couple of different occassions, I think that with these surveys, we really are putting too much emphasis on it. Without them, sure, there are people who are volunteering in a capacity that perhaps they should not be. But with them, people may never try different areas because they feel locked into what the survey told them of their spiritual gifts.

Do I think there are spiritual gifts? Sure. But I think that the surveys can make it too boxed in. Find out what you love to do and what you are good at, and go from there. Use your talents and abilities to bring glory to God, and to bring God to others. Whether or not it is something that shows up on a spiritual gift survery doesn't really matter. Isn't that what we should be doing with what God gave us anyway?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Statement of Faith

I subscribe to an e-mail newsletter from Emergent Village . They are usually very thought provoking, and this last one was especially thought provoking to me, so I thought I'd share a bit with you.

The topic of the newsletter was that this Emergent movement does not have a statement of faith, and that rattles some of the critics. Everyone should have a creed, right?

According to the newsletter, the idea of having a statement of faith is uncessary. It states:
Why is such a move unnecessary? Jesus did not have a "statement of faith." He called others into faithful relation to God through life in the Spirit. As with the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, he was not concerned primarily with whether individuals gave cognitive assent to abstract propositions but with calling persons into trustworthy community through embodied and concrete acts of faithfulness. The writers of the New Testament were not obsessed with finding a final set of propositions the assent to which marks off true believers. Paul, Luke and John all talked much more about the mission to which we should commit ourselves than they did about the propositions to which we should assent.

I always find it refreshing when people compare what we do in Christianity today with what Jesus did, because often, they are quite different. Jesus told people to go out into the world and make disciples; we bring them into our mega churches. Jesus made a radical statement about selling all that one has; we have to have lots of stuff. So is it really that surprising that there's a difference when it comes to having a statement of faith? I'd imagine that Jesus' statement of faith would be something like "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength...[and] your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30, 31). Jesus didn't seem to be anywhere near as concerned with what people believed as he was with how they related to God and to each other.

Yet it seems that we are often so focused on making sure a person believes the "right" way, and there sometimes are a lot of apologetics to "prove" that a person's or organization's statement of faith is correct. I'm sure you may have seen them--long statements of "What We Believe" peppered with a handful of Bible verses after each statement. [Have you ever actually compared the verses to the statements to see if they match up? I have. Sometimes they are a big stretch and taken out of context].

The biggest problem that I see is that if one must subscribe to a statement of faith, then that person can feel very alone and left out if they disagree with any part of it. They may feel they have to keep quiet. They may feel that they are not a True Christian after all, or that people will think they are in Big Trouble with God.

It seems to me that we might have a lot more Christians if we were more encouraging in exploring and discussing different ideas rather than having them set in a creed.