Posts Tagged ‘group dynamics

03
Oct
09

Buffet or Banquet – Acts 11:1-18

In order to be faithful to the gospel of Christ, we must have boundaries, right? There are things that are normal and proper – limits to what we do and believe. And yet to be faithful to the gospel, there is this nudging, this incessant prodding, as the Holy Spirit pushes us out beyond our limits. There is this nagging voice always whispering in our ear, “Are these limits God’s – or are they ours?”

Peter believed in limits. We learn that in the reading. We could easily think that Peter’s limits are simply the dietary laws of Leviticus. But, there is a much larger issue going on here.

Peter believed in the validity of all the Levitical laws. Those laws not only said what you could eat, but what you could wear, which nation you should belong to, how you should worship and who you should love. You see, for Peter and some other church leaders, you had to be a Jew in good standing to be considered a follower of Christ. To be in good standing you had to be “pure” and live up to all the laws – end of discussion.

Well, actually not the end of discussion. To be a Jew in good standing, you had to live up to those Levitical laws that the hierarchy decided were still binding. Just as in current times, some were and some weren’t. The Levitical laws have been used selectively ever since they were formalized. It just depended on who was calling the shots at the time. Continue reading ‘Buffet or Banquet – Acts 11:1-18’

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16
Sep
09

IS THERE A DISTINCTIVE REFORMED THEOLOGY?

Around the world there are myriad variations of the churches that fit under the general banner of Reformed. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) alone boasts membership of 215 denominations in 107 countries with over seventy five million members, the majority of which are in the southern hemisphere.[1]  This vast number still does not contain all the denominations with roots in the 16th-century Reformation led by John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and others. Many of these denominations, especially in the United States, developed after previous church bodies split apart over irreconcilable differences, while others exist separately because of geographic location, or ethnic origin. Some others have been drawn together into larger groups or denominations, such as the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom or the Uniting Church in Australia. While belonging to the WARC, to foster common mission and ministry, relations between some of these various ‘partners’ are tenuous at best. An example is found in the way many members of the Christian Reformed Church in the U.S. refer to the Presbyterian Church (USA) disparagingly as Neo-Reformed, while some of the latter refers to the former as Neo-Nazi. Among those that have recently united, there has been a blending of polity and theology, or at least a tolerance developed for varying beliefs and processes within the same body, that may leave some wondering whether they still possess a truly definable theological identity. Continue reading ‘IS THERE A DISTINCTIVE REFORMED THEOLOGY?’

18
Aug
09

The Power and the Glory – Matthew 4:1-11

Read the passage here.

Being a numbers geek, I am always tempted to craft an artful sermon about the significance of forty – you know, going over the theological, cultural and political significance of forty as it appears so many times in scripture. I am tempted, but I know that I would probably be the only one who got anything out of it – and, as I so often need to be reminded, it’s not about me.

I am still tempted, though. If I did it well, it would be a sign that I was pretty gifted when it comes to theological study – it could make me look good. But, then again, looking good – making a big impression – is that what ministry is really about?

Then again, if I did it REALLY well and used a lot of theological language that was tough to understand – and I made sure that the right people got a copy of it – I could get some real mileage out of it in the presbytery. I could gain some power and prestige out of that, couldn’t I?

Okay – probably not. Continue reading ‘The Power and the Glory – Matthew 4:1-11’

09
Aug
09

The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:1-20

One of my former ministers once told me that if I ever get a chance to preach on the Ten Commandments – don’t. He told me that whenever he had preached about them in the past, someone got very upset. Some people, he said, think they are the cornerstone of righteousness – the sign of a faithful nation that should be displayed prominently on every government building. And some, he said, think they are pie-in-the sky ideals that are impossible to live up to, and have no place in public discourse.

So I well imagine Thom shaking his finger at me right now and saying, “I warned you.”

The Ten Commandments or Decalogue – literally “Ten Words” – are foundational in both Judaism and Christianity, and for good reason. Scripture tells us they were given to Moses directly from God. The scripture that tells us this is our reading that follows, but also Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 5.

The Ten Commandments are clear, concise, memorable and unambiguous, and form the basis for ethical behavior of two of the world’s prominent religions. That, at least, is what we learn in Sunday School or catechism. Reality, as usual, says something different. Continue reading ‘The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:1-20’

25
Jul
09

Theology Where it Belongs

As a frustrated writer and teacher, and someone who loves doing both, I recognize a need in churches to teach folks how to reflect theologically. The single biggest reason for this, quite honestly, is that I believe church hierarchies have done the local church member a grave disservice by allowing them to excluse themselves from the conversation. Increasingly, the theological discussions surrounding potentially contentious issues have occurred in denominational ivory towers, leaving the average church-goer divorced from the process of contemplating God’s place in any controversy.

There seems to have developed an attitude that only trained and qualified clergy, and the most mature elders in some instances, have the capacity to truly understand the theological implications of any number of church initiatives and stands. A case in point might be the Presbyterian debate surrounding an upcoming constitutional amendment. Where is the basic discussion occurring on this subject? On the floor of presbytery meetings, which is not so much a problem as an indicator. Continue reading ‘Theology Where it Belongs’

21
Jul
09

Marx on Religion & its Role in Oppression (Part 1)

Illusion that Numbs 

“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.”[i]Karl Marx, On Religion

Karl Marx has long been considered an absolute critic of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. Parts of the above quote are often used by Christians and non-Christians alike to fully express Marx’s attitude, but rarely are these snippets used within the full context of this excerpt. While this passage is, indeed, criticism it does not represent the scathing and total rejection of the value of religion that many people would have us believe. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature” does not convey the full meaning of the sentence within which it is contained, and it is rarely connected in context with the remainder, “the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation.” Marx’s stance is, I believe, more correctly interpreted as a critique of society that has become heartless and spiritless – one in which, however ineffective it may be, religion attempted to be society’s missing heart and provide some hope for those in need. Continue reading ‘Marx on Religion & its Role in Oppression (Part 1)’

19
Jul
09

An Episcopalian Triple Play. Arms wide open – well, kind of.

It is unlike church hierarchies today to risk alienating anyone, especially large numbers of people, and to risk the secession of member churches and expulsion from a world-wide organization that gives them political and financial clout. It is even more unusual that decisions having those potential outcomes would be made in the name of justice. But, this past week, The Episcopal Church (TEC), the American branch of the Anglican Communion, risked all three possibilities by passing three of their own decisions that throw their doors wide open. Continue reading ‘An Episcopalian Triple Play. Arms wide open – well, kind of.’




... or, preaching from both ends

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That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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