Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Priorities in the Christian life

In class the other day we were discussing how when you look at Christian art you almost always see the person praying with head up, eyes open, and arms out. So, the question was, when did we start praying with head bowed, eyes closed, and hands folded? When did such an open expression become so closed? The answer was, after the Protestant Reformation. The idea being that the reformers wanted to block all that was physical, as it hindered the spiritual connection.

We then discussed a number of dichotomies that reflect dominant Protestant thought. I will list a few of these here: Reason vs. Imagination, Word vs. Image, Spirit vs. Flesh, Intellect vs. Emotions, and Fact vs. Fiction. In all of these cases Protestants have generally placed a higher value on the first member of each set. Now, I don't believe anyone would deny that valuing the first is incorrect. However, it seems that there is a place for all of these in the Christian life. Instead of devaluing one over the other, we should rather just assign them different levels of importance.

For example, I believe that reason is more important to understanding God and His revelation, rather than imagination. However, I do not dismiss imagination or imaginative works just because they may not be as important. They same could be said for fact and fiction, in terms of literature. Certainly, fact is more important, but I believe there is a important role fiction can play in the Christian life (see C.S. Lewis), such as proclaiming moral truth and pointing to the revelation in God's Word.

My point here is that while the reformers reacted correctly to some of the theological errors of their day, they may have reacted too harshly and for around five hundred years we have followed their lead, possibly to some detriment. One of the consequences of this can be seen in the emergent church movement. Many young people are drawn to the emergent church because they tend to worship in a more open fashion. That is, bodily expressions are allowed or even encouraged. Of course, many of our more charismatic Christian brethren practice this already, but among mainline and conservative evangelicals, such expressions are rarely seen.

There is no place in Scripture that shows people worshiping like some evangelicals do today. In fact, the examples of worship in Scripture are very expressive. David even danced before God, even though he was criticized for it (2 Samuel 6:14). This and other texts are not telling us we have to worship this way, but they do tell us that God is not displeased by such worship. The flip side of this coin is that some in the emergent church go too far by valuing emotion higher than intellect and imagination higher than reason, which is the exact opposite of the reformers problem. If we are going to err, I hope it is on the first of each of the previous mentioned sets, since they are rightly more important. But, please do not devalue God given gifts. Rather, incorporate them into your life in a God honoring way that allows you to realize a more fully rounded Christian life.

The dichotomies and many of the thoughts of this blog came from Dr. Steve Halla and his class Christianity and Science Fiction. I just added my own reactions to ideas he presented.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

You want to do what to our members?

I want to catechize them. Webster's defines it "to instruct systematically especially by questions, answers, and explanations and corrections; specifically : to give religious instruction in such a manner." I'm not saying that our members do not receive any religious instruction from Sunday School or Bible studies. However, catechizing someone involves a more clear cut and orderly process of teaching them biblical truths.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was exposed to practices of the Lutheran Church by virtue of attending a Lutheran grade school and high school. Part of our school work was to memorize Luther's Short Catechism. It contained a number of questions with answers and Scripture references so that we could learn the essential truths of the Christian faith. We started learning this in first grade and continued for a few years. Part of the reason we did this was because Lutherans practice infant baptism, which they believe saves you, and then when you reach junior high you confirm your belief in God and become a member of the church.

Of course, I don't agree with this practice, since it does not match biblical accounts. However, I had to do everything my Lutheran friends had to do class wise, except of course the actual confirmation, since I was already member of a Baptist church and had no desire to switch. I greatly appreciated learning the essential truths found in the catechism. Of course, I didn't like it at the time, since it was homework, but looking back I realize how fortunate I was. Sadly, most of those in my classes never turned their life over to Christ, but of course, they thought they were already saved.

So, if we remove the faulty theology, we are left with a fantastic way to learn biblical truths. While this is generally aimed at children today, there is no reason why anyone wouldn't benefit from learning. In fact, catechizing was practiced from the earliest years of the church up until more recent times when some Christian denominations lost the practice. Baptists themselves had a catechism that was written in 1689 and adopted by the Philadelphia Baptist Association in 1742. Most typical Baptist church members have no idea of this fact and what they have lost, since we stopped systematically teaching them doctrine.

I think we should return to our roots and raise up a new generation that is taught the essential truths of God's Word. Every person who becomes a new believer in Christ should learn at least part of a catechism and I think there is value in teaching it to our children, even before they make a profession of faith. How can they believe if they have not heard? A wonderful example of a catechism can be found at John Piper's Desiring God website. I like his cleaned up version of the 1689 catechism, since the original has some language that we no longer commonly use.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Can a Baptist have a liturgy?

A coworker of mine recently told me of the new church he has been attending. He related to me how they participated in the Lord's Supper, or Communion, in a way he had never seen before. They invited everyone up to the front where they tore off a piece of bread and then dipped into a chalice...filled with wine. Now mind you, this church identifies itself with the Southern Baptist Convention, but was unlike any church he had ever attended.

I told him that the method of communion was reminiscent of my experiences with the Lutheran Church. The experience was more formal and ritualized, but to me, it lent it more gravity. I never personally took Communion with the Lutherans because I disagreed with their theological viewpoint, but was present at many Communion services. There were a number of things about their worship experience that I enjoyed. The church architecture itself, imposing stone churches designed in the shape of the cross with a large stained glass window at the rear of the sanctuary depicting Jesus with a massive pipe organ in the balcony at the rear, lent a sense of awe and majesty rarely found in Baptist churches. I also enjoyed some of the liturgical aspects of responsive readings, processions and recessions, and corporately spoken prayers. Couple these with the grand and majestic sound of the pipe organ forcing you to sing your praises louder in order not to be drowned out and in my mind you have a worship service with the potential to be focused squarely on the majesty of God.

Don't get me wrong, I also thoroughly enjoy the less liturgical services I have at my church. There seems to be a deeper sense of community in such settings, especially in a smaller church.

So, what then shall we do? Can Baptists have a more liturgical "high" church kind of service? I absolutely think so. In fact, I think we have lost something very precious by abandoning this style of worship. I don't think that we have to abandon our current worship structure either, since it too has some great positives. Somehow, we have to find a way to either incorporate the two, or perhaps focus on one style or the other on a given Sunday. Certainly, it will have to be a slow process of introduction to your typical Baptist church goer. "What are we, some kind of Catholics?" But I believe that a new generation should be raised to know the awe and majesty that can come from a service that reflects how our Christian ancestors worshiped and how still today some of other brothers and sisters in the Lord still worship.

In my next post, I would like to examine some of these issues further by bringing up catechizing our church members. I figure if I keep going I might be the victim of a Baptist lynching!

Just to clarify, I don't agree with the Baptist church mentioned here serving wine at communion. I know it's what Jesus drank, but I don't think it is a very good idea and not the way I would have done it if it were my church. Everyone has their opinion on this issue, but I didn't want that to be the focus of this post.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Consistency is important

One of the things that has been on my mind lately is how, as Christians, we often live inconsistent lives. Obviously, all of us are sinners and are bound to not live out our values at all times. However, I find the problem to be much deeper than that.

We often target something we find offensive or sinful and do our best to denounce it, avoid it, boycott it, or even attack it. But then there are other things that are just as sinful or detrimental to our Christian walk, but that we enjoy, that we just kind of look past. But, if we see someone else involved with the issue we dislike we are quick to point it out, yet would be completely offended if they did the same with the issue that we just kind of gloss over. The verse that comes to mind that addresses this is Matthew 7:2, "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

Again, I know that we are all sinners, but it really destroys your witness to non-believers when they see us engaged in activities that contradict what we so proudly state elsewhere. I believe that this can unfortunately descend into hypocrisy. We can become like the Pharisees and be whitewashed tombs; pretty on the outside, but full of death and decay on the inside.

I've purposely tried to be vague because I didn't want to bring up specific examples that might offend some people. I'm just as guilty of being inconsistent as everyone else, but I've realized areas where that inconsistency shows and with the Lord's help I pray that I will correct them. I just hope that perhaps this might get you thinking about ways that you can live more consistently in your Christian life and ask God to point these out to you.

My first blog post!

This is my very first blog post! My wife will tell you that it will also probably be my last, since I really never keep up with these things. She's probably right. However, it seems as if everyone gives their two cents on the internet these days, so why not me too? I'll end this one now so that I can get on to the weighty stuff.