Other

1200.jpgWell it beats giving into the Patriarchy!

“When we increasingly understand who we are in relation to an enemy – whether that enemy is legitimate, innocent, or imaginary – we develop an increasingly hostile identity. Such an identity teaches us to see sameness as safety and otherness as danger. It is characterized by duality: us and them, right and wrong, good and evil, light and darkness. It promotes a mentality of us versus them, us apart from them, us instead of them, us oppressed by them, or us occupying them, but never us for them or us with them.”

~ Brian McClaren

I am in the middle of my student teaching and next semester the Theatre II class is putting on a production of The Crucible, a McCarthy-ist interpretation of the famous Salem Witch Trials. I believe this choice to be both fantastic for the young theatre students and quite apt for the times in which we live. We are living in the times of witch hunt, fervency, suspicion and falseness.

We have hit a strange new bottom in America. I have witnessed a disturbing rush of polarization amongst the people, in and outside of the Church. The election of Donald Trump in November 2016 has caused a chain of events, some direct and some indirect, that have caused neighbors, families and friends who did not before define things within an us/them dichotomy, begin to do so. People who I love and respect immensely seem to have found a world where one is either the witch or the witch hunter.

I have begun to see a complacency towards white supremacists, and violent backlash by Antifa. I have seem troves of young people adopt Marxism and Nihilism as their fortresses in the battle against a threat that, for me, doesn’t even exist. I have seen calls for an ethno-state and a disturbing amount of research that is in many ways similar to that seen in late 1800s regarding “race”.

This is all to say that both the Church and the world are in the throes of a revolution. This revolution, I’m afraid, is being fought by Christians who have resolved themselves that if you are not with us you are against us, on nearly everything. “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”

The other, be they Conservative, Liberal, Muslim, Black, Mexican, Un-American, Gay, or Jewish, have born the blunt of a self-righteous indignation that has led to marches in the streets and hatred towards their neighbors. I worry for the Church, I worry about what is being taught and preached in our churches to future generations of the Redeemed. When I can look at a co-religionist and wonder where within them hides the Holy Spirit to allow such vitriol and malice towards another human being, one who has done them no harm and who God loves and seeks to heal and reconcile, I am filled with a great sadness. “Are we yet alive?”

A revival, of life and healing, must occur in our churches to curtail this trend towards hostility, subjugation, accusation and hatred towards those with whom we would want to hold animosity towards. The liberal Christian who cannot stand the conservatives churches because of their stance on women or gays. The conservative christian who cannot align with the christian men and women who view abortion as an issue of “my body”. The Christian Antifa member who sees violence and pays it with violence, or the Christian white supremacist who would not welcome a black person to their dinner table.

God’s love for us does not end at the cross, nor does it end at your sinner’s prayer. God’s mercy and benevolence does not stop at theological differences, nor does it yield to biology, gender or nationality. God’s love is greater than us, it is greater than the other.

We too must be greater than the question of us or them.

 “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
~Matthew 5:43-48

 

 

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Hermitico Christi, Part I: What is Orthodoxy?

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Read this, git gud!

I have been thinking a lot lately about the role that Orthodoxy (right belief) and Orthopraxy (right actions) play in properly experiencing Christianity as a religion. This semester has been very difficult for me to dedicate my mind to such thinking, but two projects have furthered this thought process: a research paper on the survival of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria and a senior level lesson plan on the Reformation. These two subjects dealt with Christian Orthodoxy and what it is.

Well, what is it exactly? That thought continues to cross my mind. For around 1200 years the Roman Catholic Church had a monopoly on what was orthodox and what was not (mind you to the exclusion of the Coptic, Greek, and other such churches). Then came the reformers, a varied bunch of (mostly) men that came about around the 16th century. Did they redefine orthodoxy? To answer that, we must define the things that loosely kept the reformers a cohesive group:

  1. Bible Only (Sola Scriptura): This idea deals with who and what had authority. The reformers all agreed on the importance of scripture and how all authority must be derived from it. In most reformers mind’s the priesthood and Papacy were unsanctioned authoritative powers.
  2. Christ Only (Solo Christo): This idea deals with where salvation lies. The reformers stressed that the Church as an organized establishment had no power over salvation and that only through the person of Jesus Christ does one have security in salvation.
  3. Grace Only (Sola Gratia): Similar to the above in that through God’s Grace alone, and not through any earthly works is one saved. Martin Luther himself would call the Epistle of James to be an “Epistle of straw” for its focus on good works.
  4. Faith Only (Sola Fide): The Reformers taught that salvation was appropriated by faith alone. Similar to Sola Gratia, only through faith and not through any action on behalf of the believer is grounds for salvation.
  5. God’s Glory Only (Soli Deo Gloria): The underlying, foundational doctrine of the reformers was that God’s Glory was the ultimate purpose of all things. They held that doctrines of God’s sovereignty, the efficacious call of God in salvation, and saw how these contributed ultimately to God’s glory rather than to man’s or to the church’s. To this end, the reformers taught supernaturalism and the necessity of a new birth from God.

These five points, though not mapped out fully at the time of the Reformation, bind together the separate movements. Together, they would epitomize the Protestant movement and variants of these five points makeup the majority of Protestant church doctrines today. It is imperative to remember that many of the reformers including Martin Luther were not trying to start their own church or religion, but simply to reform the already existing Catholic Church. This is the problem with Orthodoxy. The arguments that the reformers made regarding the injustices and spiritual bankruptcy of the Church have won over millions in the past five-hundred years. However, does that make it true? The Catholics are happy continuing on what they have been doing for nearly two-thousand years, and the Coptic Church has continued to do their thing even longer than that! So where does the onus of Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy lie?

A while back I wrote up an explanation of how salvation works according Methodism’s founder John Wesley. In that post, I best described what made most sense to me incorporating all that I know about salvation from the Wesleyan point of view while mentally taking into consideration the different viewpoints of other Christian theologies. However, that is only one very possible outline for salvation under Christian doctrine. According to John Calvin, a contemporary of Martin Luther and fellow reformer, the matter of Free Will is unnecessary in understanding salvation as God chooses, through his Sovereignty and predestination, those elect who will be saved. Is this Orthodox?

Some topics are too large for me to grapple with at this time, such as the Trinity and the nature of Jesus. However, I fully believe there are several small statutes and doctrines that I can tackle sufficiently, at least for my purpose of discerning the meaning of Orthodoxy.

This is will be a multi-part blog concerning my own personal devotion and religious understanding. I have dubbed it Hermitico Christi, a play on the Imitato Christi of medieval Europe. My hope is to find right belief and to then enact right actions through examining the walls of the Christian faith. This will primarily be done through a close analysis of the Councils of early Christianity, Protestant Doctrines, and my own Reason.

Salvation

It has come to my attention that in my desire to properly describe theological concepts, I have lost folks in translation. The terminology plus my understanding of how salvation works can and should be better described. The following is my attempt to explain the process of salvation as understood by John Wesley, Methodism as a school of thought, and myself.

Salvation is not a momentous event or one that “happens” and can be looked back on. No, rather salvation is a process, a journey! Salvation can be summed up somewhat in the following illustration of “God’s house”:

house

First, we start with Prevenient Grace, illustrated by the sidewalk leading up to the house. This is the grace that lives in all of us, even before we accept Christ into our lives. It is the prompting of the Spirit of God, a nudging and an urging within us from our being created in God’s image. It shows that God loves us so much that He is willing to take the first step to reconcile us to Him. However, even though He takes this first step we have the choice to accept it or not, that is our free will. We cannot initiate the process of salvation, which is why all men are condemned to an eternal separation from God.

Once you have reached the house, you climb to the porch. The porch of the house represents Repentance. Without sincere repentance and a desire to reconcile with God, one cannot enter God’s house.“Know that corruption of thy inmost nature, whereby thou are very far gone from original righteousness,” Wesley wrote. “Know that thou are corrupted in every power, in every faculty of the soul, that thou art totally corrupted in every one of these, all the foundations being out of course.” This self-knowledge is what allows us to begin the reconciliation between Sinner and Redeemer. In more legalistic terms, this is where the second party concedes to the terms of the “contract”, that is, Redemption from Sin and Death.

Now comes the sticky part for many Christians. Figure 1 in the diagram above, as crude as it is, shows the doorway into God’s house. This “doorway” into the a relationship with Christ is a two-parter. First comes Justification. Among many Baptist and other Christian denominations, this part of God’s saving grace is the beginning and the end of the entire salvation process. In a legalistic tradition it is viewed as a contract that is signed and agreed upon. However, in most groups of Christian intelligentsia and scholars, the process in which a human is lifted up from Sin is a process, not a singular transaction. Justification, or justifying grace, is the kicking-off point for the New Birth; “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17 ESV). The New Birth, as John Wesley understood it, is that moment in which you are given new Life. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (Eph 2:4-5 ESV) The issue now is recognizing that Justification, what one might call “being saved”, does not necessarily occur at the same time as the New Birth. In fact, I would argue that in more cases than not the sinner is justified and sometime later experiences the New Birth, that is, regeneration through the giving of new Life by the Holy Spirit. Justification, being not self-justifying works but rather the forgiveness of sins, must necessarily occur before a fundamental change happens to the soul of the newly Redeemed.

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Whew! So we have opened the door and are standing at the precipice of God’s house. “But haven’t I been redeemed, rescued from Sin and Death?” you might ask. Short answer is Yes… but. The sinner has indeed been redeemed, rescued if you will, from the clutches of the Sin of this world, Satan and Death, but is that all the sinner should aspire to? Is that all of God’s promise for them? Absolutely not.

To enter God’s house is to experience Transformative Grace, or  Sanctification. This is sometimes misapplied to strictly “works”. John Wesley believed that “when the re-creative spirit is at work real changes occur. Not only are we granted a new status in Christ through Justification, but God does not leave us where we were; God inaugurates a new creation, restoring the relation to which we are called”. This transformation process is the Holy Spirit working in us to move us closer to God, to move our relationship closer to God, and to “mirror God to the world”. Works, or the bearing of good fruits, is part of this process. However, they are merely fruit, the outward and “seed” planting aspect of this transformation. This simple explanation of the sanctifying process is like ignoring the fact that the fruit is attached to the tree! The transformative nature of Christ indwelling within us changes who we are on a fundamental level not just in our behavior and actions, but also in our very being. We become a new creation, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isa 43:19)

We are brought to God through a yearning for him in our souls (Prevenient Grace), which we then recognize our need for his Love and Forgiveness (Repentance), which allows us to receive that forgiveness and reconciliation (Justification), from which we are then fundamentally changed and regenerated into new creations (The New Birth), who may then go on to “Christian Perfection” (I’ll touch on this in the future) through the transformative nature of Christ living through us as the Body of Christ (Sanctification).

Institutionalism

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At Ministry Academy this weekend I said something that warranted murmurs and looks. When asked about whether our individual churches were bridging the gap between Ecclesio-centric (Church focused) or Communio-centric (community focused) I brought up the fact that I believe the Institutions of the Church, The United Methodist Church included, are expendable and are transient. I said that, though important, things like programs and making sure apportionments are paid in the institution they are ultimately secondary or even tertiary to building God’s Kingdom on Earth. This is our goal, this is why we are being transformed through the sanctifying, transformative and saving grace of God.

My mention specifically of how the UMC may, one day, end was not met with applause as you could guess. I have since evaluated carefully my eschewing of the institutional side of the Church for a purely missional ideology. My wife pointed out that the institution is a necessary vehicle for the betterment of the kingdom and I could scantly deny that! The United Methodist Church has been a fantastic place of growth and knowledge for myself and others, and to deny such a great facilitating work for Christ to use in my life seems foolish. However, I still am suspicious of churches that emphasize the survival of their particular denomination or institution to the detriment of building and transforming lives of those that make of the body of Christ.

What do you think? Is the missional and transformative mission of the universal Church so important as to sometimes neglect the needs of the institutions, or must we accept that in order to lay foundations for the Kingdom we must protect our institutional branches of the Church in order to allow transformation to happen?

Ministry Academy

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Starting last September, a number of men and women in the Cookeville District of the United Methodist Church got together in Beersheba Springs Tennessee to begin a several months long focus group on discipleship, its role in the modern Church, and how the United Methodist Church must approach our lack-luster track record with helping people come to Christ and abide in Him.

This understanding of discipling goes far beyond the paradigm of simply making church members. I don’t give a rodent’s rear-end about making church members. Institutions (even the United Methodist Church) will come and go over the course of history. I am a citizen of The Kingdom of God and my goal is to better the Kingdom as we prepare here on Earth. We, the Church, are The Kingdom on Earth. It is our mission not only to spread Christ’s message to the ends of the world, but to also nourish and nurture the saving grace in those whom the Holy Spirit indwells. The Ministry Academy aims to both recapture old Methodist ways of discipleship and explore new ways to better make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the World.

Today, my wife and I prepare to again meet with this group of pastors, lay-leaders and other people within the district that strive to this cause. In order to survive as both the catholic (universal) Church and the institution that is The United Methodist Church, we much recognize that we are losing the hearts and minds of people worldwide. We must unshackle ourselves from the 1950s institutional Christianity that has decayed over the past generation, and make our case for a more missional faith. Christ lives not in the walls of a fancy building, but rather in the hearts of redeemed men and women who work his Will in the world.

Responsible Grace

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I am a member of the United Methodist Church. On January 6th, 2015 I said yes to Christ’s “yes” and began my journey of salvation. I was led by the good Grace of God into a Church that has been very good to me and my wife. As one who is theologically minded when making judgement calls about the more minute issues that Christians debate, I found myself quite drawn to the Methodist church even before I professed.

I will not go into the detailed and nuanced issues here that led me to follow Wesleyan theology (named after Methodism’s founder John Wesley). I will say that the idea of Prevenient Grace really struck me as a logical conclusion based on Biblical text, Wesley’s writings, and my own experience. Not only was this an idea progressed throughout the early Methodist movement, but even some Early Church Fathers seemed to espouse the idea of Prevenient Grace:

“Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without him we can do nothing.” ~St Augustine

The idea, if you are unfamiliar with the concept, is simple enough. In fact, I would say it is common sense. Much has been written on the subject and this Prevenient Grace has been debated among both Anglican and Reformed scholars for generations. The best book I have read on the subject is Responsible Grace by Randy L. Maddox:

“In its broad sense, Wesley invoked the prevenience of grace to affirm that every salutary human action or virtue, from the earliest expression of faith to the highest degree of sanctification, is grounded in the prior empowering of God’s grace. … This broad sense of prevenient grace goes back to the Early Church and is found in many classic Roman Catholic sources. ~Randy L. Maddox

Even in a legalistic sense, Prevenient Grace must logically occur even, as Wesley points out, when taken into account the idea of Total Depravity. For the “contract” of salvation to occur God’s Grace must precede the act of acceptance on the part of the sinner. God’s saving grace is neither totalitarian nor universally given. God’s love issues forth to reach our own aching souls that are depraved, yet made in His image.

I will continue to elaborate on my beliefs as time goes on. I plan to keep this blog going to better my own Christian walk.

The Servant’s Palm

 

When I thought about all the ways I wanted to begin this blog, I thought of how I had begun so many other similar blogs that pertained to faith, philosophy, and other experiential human processes. I quickly became discouraged and thought better of it.

However, in hopes to better formulate my own belief system within the Christ centered borders of the realm in which my soul inhabits I need to be able to articulate my thoughts and feelings in a way that is both productive and documentary. My harried and strange path that the Lord has allowed me to traverse has left me with scars, bruises, caked soil and other markers of a long journey. My palms, though in reality smooth and unworn, are cut and calloused from years of spiritual toil. That hardship does not stop with the New Birth, rather Christ takes His servant’s hands in His and toils through the world with his servant.

This blog is a part of that toil, part of the journey that began when I realized I was Dead and needed Life. Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest, my Lord has not forsaken me.

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A Prayer like unto Daniel’s

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O God have mercy on me; in you my soul takes refuge. In the midst of lions, surrounded by ravenous beasts, with teeth of spears, with tongues as sharp as swords I call upon your name O Lord. From the depths of the pit, hear my plea. Come near. You say, “Do not fear.” O Lord, take up my case and redeem my life. I will extol the Lord at all times. His praise be ever on my lips. But those who seek the Lord, will lack for no good thing. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord rescues him from them all. You have rescued me from the mouth of lions, and I will declare your name to my brothers. In the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him!

Al-Amin

Ya Al-Amin
O Trustworthy One

I loved you. I loved you more than I could have ever expressed to my Lord in prayer, in prose or poem. I wept at the thought of your cause and your position as The Messenger. The conviction of which you held to the rope of God and the heartache and abuse you suffered for delivering your message moved me to become someone that my former self could scant recognize. I loved you.

I trusted you. I trusted your words and your actions. To me, you were the most perfect of men, beloved by God and mankind. You without sin and without blemish, though human still and with perfect imperfection. I looked upon you as a standard for my own life, my own humanity, and my own manhood. You were known by your people to have never spoken a lie and even amongst your enemies you were Al-Amin. I trusted you.

I believed in you. I believed in your God and in your message. I believed your recitation that was from our Lord to be the most beautiful poetic verse I had ever the privilege to hear. I believed you when you said La Ilaha Ilalah, and I answered with Muhammadan Rasullulah. I believed your plight and your love for me as your “brother”. I believed in you as your wife did that night on the mountain. I believed your ascent, O your ascent into Heaven. My God, how I believed in you.

You were my father, my brother, my friend, my master, my beloved, and my Rasul! You were complete in my eyes as the most merciful of men. You were thrown out by your own people, despised by pagans and Jews alike. Arabia has not seen the like of you before or after. My Master! Have you been a dream!? I loved you as a son loves a father! I loved you more than my flesh and blood! I am ashamed, and I am destroyed.

I sat you at the foot of the throne of God in a Temple of Certitude, and you poisoned the foundation. You cracked the walls and muddied the gold, turned to hard stone the heart that once beat and would cease beating for you. O my prophet, my teacher. Why have you deceived me? Why have I been deceived? Why,why, my God, why?

“A Temple of Certitude”

A Temple of Certitude
-a requiem-

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Six years

I built upon a hill of works and a hill of parchment,
a temple of certitude.

I formed the base upon solid thought and will,
whilst humming away Truth, Truth, Truth.

I erected impregnable walls of justification,
whilst whistling away Equity, Equity, Equity.

Six years

I coated the halls with the gold of magnificence,
whilst laughing away Beauty, Beauty, Beauty.

I raised up a throne of power and authority,
whilst singing Glory, Glory, Glory.

I prostrated to whom the throne was made,
whilst chanting litanies: Forgive, Forgive, Forgive.

Six Years

I placed as my master the trustworthy slave,
whilst crying Peace, Peace, Peace.

I filled the chambers and the halls with remembrance, devotion and conviction,
whilst speaking Love, Love, Love.

I ran through the temple, my temple of certitude,
whilst shouting Forsook, Forsook, Forsook.

Six years

A spirit erupted through the temple sanctum,
It declared no, no, no.

I hid from the spirit, seeking solace from the trustworthy,
he cried woe, woe, woe.

I pleaded with the One,
he was gone, gone, gone.

Six years

I built upon a hill of works and a hill of parchment,
a temple of certitude.

I saw it crumble before my eyes, before my hands, and before my feet,
and I whispered why, why, why.

Upon two hills, as powder fine on the ground,
lay my temple of certitude,
dust, dust, dust.