Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Moral Authority: Vitamins for the Body of Christ

Imagine a basketball game where people whack each other until they’re bleeding, and there’s no authority in place to intervene and stop the nonsense. Imagine a hospital where people in the waiting room are mutilating themselves with knives and banging their heads against each other, as the medical staff looks on and commends them for their open mindedness.

Such is the state, I fear, in many churches around the world. In our legitimate desire to make church a safe place for exploration, discovery, conversation, grace, and understanding, I would argue that it is possible to go too far; possible to become a community whose only basis of fellowship is our use of the word Jesus – and even that name becomes meaningless because the real person attached to the name is perceived in so many different ways that he has come stand for both war and peace, indulgence and abstinence, and so much more that is contradictory.

While it’s clear that we need grace, and it’s clear that we can’t know everything with certainty, it’s also clear that to say one belongs to a community means, in some sense, that you share in the basic convictions of that community. If the community is a church, you’re saying that you share the basic convictions of Christ – at least as interpreted by that community of faith. I would argue that every church has the obligation to stand for the things they believe Christ stands for – and to do so in a sense that creates some accountability. This doesn’t mean a lack of grace and it doesn’t mean that the church is trying to become some sort of ‘sin-free’ zone. But it does mean that if I am willfully disregarding the ethic of the community and someone points it out – and I absolutely refuse to respond – then I am declaring that I’m not, in the truest sense a part of this family. I can visit – but I can’t really be a part.

Sounds harsh? It seems that the alternative leads to the church becoming nothing more than a reflection of the world in which we live: same greed – same indulgences – same addictions – same broken relationships. There’s more to the Christian life than just having an ethical structure; much more. But there IS an ethical structure, and when that structure is ignored, Christ’s body becomes anemic. In absence of action or authority, I fear that this anemia is inevitable.


At 20/7/06 15:28, Blogger Josiah said...

Wow. Hard words. But they are greatly needed today, especially for the emerging churches in our midst.

One has to ask the question: how do we exercise Church discipline? How do we keep from degenerating into a "spirituality club?"

In the past the solution was to sign statements of faith, take membership classes, etc.

Any ideas on how to do that today?

At 20/7/06 17:05, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had an interesting experience attending the Wed. study series at Bethany on the unmentionables. Of the 6 people at my table I was the only one who felt that the Old Testament stories of God commanding the Israelites to destroy nations couldn't be used as an excuse for war. 2 people were silent on the subject, 3 felt pre-emptive war was not only right but quite Biblical.

I've been attending your church for some time now. I am a Christian. I'm also a white, lower-to-middle class, gay, liberal man who strives to live out the call of Christ to love God and other people. And surprisingly enough, inspite of everything I just mentioned, I accomplish that goal here and there.

So, for curiosities sake, if the church is to uphold the "ethic of the community", where does that begin? Do we begin with the pro-war believers sitting at my table who's literal interpretation of scripture provides them with ammunition for all sorts of doings? Or does it begin with me and the things I have found to be true that might not jive w/ what it means to be a Christian w/ some in your community?

I understand the need for fences and even walls (see, I pay attention in study!) but I hope that before we start pointing fingers, saying who is and and who isn't in, that we realize, as you pointed out, "that we can’t know everything with certainty". Maybe our guidelines should be based on acts and attitudes of charity, love and sacrifice? Jesus seemed to have a lot to say about all of those. The again, if we did that, maybe we'd find that we're all outside those guidelines from time to time. I'm not sure where to begin either. - RC

At 20/7/06 22:30, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

I think your comments indicate exactly the same concern that I'm trying to articulate. There are almost infinitely diverse ways of approaching the Bible - and each way eventuates in a different ethic. The point of this Wednesday evening class has been, thus far, to try and help people understand the variety of ways that exist to inerpret these ethical issues. However, it seems that a community, if it is to mean anything, needs to continue to hard work of study, seeking to interpret the heart of God and what is asked of us. We won't do it perfectly, so we'll need humility. But we must do it - otherwise a community will have no distinctives.

The use of the Old Testaments invitations to genocide as a basis for pre-emptive war is indicative of the degree to which we need careful instruction regarding hermeneutics and church history as part of that which is formative in matters of the faith.

At 21/7/06 13:52, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is certainly very human (I wouldn't say divine) to seek distinctives for ourselves and our groups. The idea of true moral authority is a much different issue. I think, in this day and age, we all know enough to realize we cannot truly make statements of "fact" with real authority. Our religion, or science, or politic, is more like poetry than prose - not granted an objective position of observation, we can interpret and express what we see to the best of our ability. This does not rule out opinion, and debate- indeed, it seems to beg us to be alive in engaging in plumbing the depths of this thing called life. It DOES rule out making judgement with a sense of autocratic power.

For example, do you truly believe that your and my saviour, Jesus, (a carpenter mind you, not some pious zealot) lived without committing acts that we (at least some of us) would decry as sin? If he did get drunk now and then (probably), or kiss a girl that he didn't marry (perish the thought), does this change your opinion of him? Or does it make you think - well, if he did it, then it wasn't really sin... Where does that leave us in our notions of reaching clear, objective, knowledge useful for making judgements?


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