Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Christ and the Dragons 5

posted by Scot McKnight

Dragons.jpgJames Emery White’s , in his new book ( Christ Among the Dragons: Finding Our Way Through Cultural Challenges), zeroes in the issue of civility.

Civility is a huge issue today. Incivility has overtaken the news media (not all of it but too much of it). We have Rush Limbaugh and we have Michael Moore. We have crossfire shows that have one goal: pit enemies, provoke emotions, and draw in an audience. It’s like the medievals watching a beheading.
James Emery White says there’s a bitter blog dedicated to tearing down the pastor of every megachurch. (I had not heard that; it’s sad if it’s true; it’s even sadder if you are doing it.)
What is his appeal? White appeals to two things, which are really only one: he appeals to love and to unity. If we have love we will have unity; if we have unity, it’s because we have love. If you want unity, you will eventually be challenged to love.
Here are his words about what Jesus said in John 17: “The observable love between those who called themselves his [Jesus'] followers was everything. Why? Jesus said this unity, and this unity alone, would arrest the world’s attention and confirm that he was from the Father” (105).
So, here’s the question: What can we do to attain this unity? What can we do when we find ourselves at odds with fellow Christians? 

What are the two top things we can do to attain more Christian unity?

But White is not being utopian here: he distinguishes the powerful relational unity of the Christian faith from uniformity and unanimity. He knows the unity is to be found at the Lord’s Table, of all places. 
What animates this unity is the love of God and the grace of God, along with the absence of anger and envy among the followers of Jesus.


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RJS

posted June 30, 2010 at 7:52 am


This is a deep problem worth a great deal of thought.
Top two things?
(1) Fellowship with each other – the closed communion is destructive of unity. The only only things I see in scripture that justify breaking communion are personal moral failures (incest for example). Where else does Paul, for example, recommend removing one from fellowship?
(2) Approach all disagreements and disputes with a desire to convince and persuade a brother or sister. We are not scoring points, and receiving high-fives from the like-minded. Life is not a debate. Of course this also requires an openness to being proven wrong on occasion.



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JHM

posted June 30, 2010 at 8:07 am


RJS has good points. My 2 I think are:
1) Figure out what is core to Christianity, what holds us all together, and then “let go” a little of the rest. Letting go doesn’t mean you don’t have strong feelings, but that you realize that there are a diversity of opinions within the Church and you can disagree about many things without harming the core that binds us together in unity.
2) I had an epiphany at some point that if I claim to be a follower of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then that same Spirit indwells the fellow Christian I’m arguing with. It seems simple, but this frees me up to love that person just as I love Christ who unites us and it frees me up to remember that someone much greater than I is leading that person down their spiritual journey.



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Diane

posted June 30, 2010 at 8:13 am


Unity comes from stepping outside of the “world’s” timeline–usually much too rushed–and taking time to talk with people, listen open-mindedly to their objections and not drag along people who are disgruntled under the banner of “so and so thing needs to be done NOW.” Very little needs to be done today, tomorrow or the day after, or the month after or even the year after. Also, people who are unhappy, like a body part in physical pain (we are a body of Christ) are a signal that something is wrong. That doesn’t mean cutting off the body part! Usually, it means a decision or practice is the wrong one–one humanly invented and not discerned through proper corporate worship and listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It may take longer to discern the Holy Spirit–and it may mean listening seriously to people who are usually disdained–but that will be the right path and offer the right answer.
So much of unity is about giving up ego. In some circles, it is not allowed for a person’s name to be associated with his or her idea, as that can cause “ownership” over the idea and less flexibility about modifying it in accordance with the Holy Spirit.
All of this actually require faith–faith in God’s way and not a business model.



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Travis Greene

posted June 30, 2010 at 9:18 am


“What are the two top things we can do to attain more Christian unity?”
1. Fight like you would in a marriage. Be passionate and tell the truth as you see it, but keep it clean and remember that whether you come to an agreement or not, nothing will change your basic orientation toward that person/group.
2. Serve each other, especially communion. If you are able to hold a grudge against someone while you hand them a piece of bread and say “This is Christ’s body, broken for you”, then God help you.



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T

posted June 30, 2010 at 10:06 am


Some great comments. I really like Travis’ intra-marriage comment. Fantastic.
I’ll only add that the level of grace we show others is the best indicator of how much of our own faith is in grace.



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Naum

posted June 30, 2010 at 10:50 am


A quibble with the Michael Moore/Rush Limbaugh comparison.
An entirely false equivalency?
?granted, Moore produces one-sided polemics, selectively arranging and presenting arguments but AFAIK, predominately free of the racism and hate Limbaugh generally emits on a regular basis.
One man is a propagandist for the “least of these” (and a shameless self-feeder, the only way in which the two are similar beyond their popularity), resorting to exaggerated (in stark contrast to the corporate mainstream media propaganda that’s funneled 24×7 into Americans) visuals and “in your face” pseudo-journalism. The other is a champion for society’s rich and powerful, casting aspersions at the meek ? that they are responsible for their state, while defending the right of the affluent to oppress.



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RJS

posted June 30, 2010 at 11:08 am


Naum,
Wouldn’t we do better at acheiving civil discussion and a level of unity if we refrained from comments like this?
If you agree with Michael Moore … he uses exaggerated techniques to make important points (flaws are overlooked).
If you agree with Limbaugh … he uses exaggeration and overstatement to make important points (flaws are overlooked).
I think a desire for unity can mean resisting the urge to quibble and claim the high ground. Focus on the issues.



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Chris M

posted June 30, 2010 at 11:44 am


I have been impressed with the ability of NT Wright & Marcus Borg to write a book together The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. They illustrate what RJS@1 says are the top two things:
(1) Fellowship with each other – Wright & Borg put the writing of the book in the context of celebrating the Eucharist daily while they conversed.
(2) Approach all disagreements and disputes with a desire to convince and persuade a brother or sister… Of course this also requires an openness to being proven wrong on occasion. — Wright & Borg contend they were trying to do this.
Neither of these things are easy to do especially at the level of contentious issues but, for Christ’s sake and the church’s sake I believe this must be our approach.



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Pat

posted June 30, 2010 at 11:55 am


Tough stuff, particularly when you find yourself at ideological odds with some of the people with whom you serve. Love yes, but unity also requires mutual submission. But how long do you submit when you feel like that’s all you do and it’s not reciprocated? I think at some point you have to move on, wish them well and find a likeminded body of people with whom you can advance God’s kingdom.



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Naum

posted June 30, 2010 at 12:37 pm


@RJS
Um, there is a difference between one man selectively editing and arranging the frame v. spewing hate and racism?
And being squeamish about speaking this truth is not only cowardly, but an act of depravity to sanction such an equivalency.
It would be like pronouncing as equal a man who steals a loaf of bread to feed his family to a pederast.



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RJS

posted June 30, 2010 at 12:50 pm


Naum,
A couple of months ago I sent Scot a link to Obama’s commencement speech at Michigan and he put up a post on it. Many of the commenters here couldn’t really begin to enter into a civil conversation over what I can only class as a deep seated hatred of the man. We couldn’t even get off the ground.
Comments like those you are making here from the other side – out of a deep seated hatred of a man – only intensify the fire.
There is no way out of the circle toward unity unless some choose to step up and stay on the high ground. It doesn’t mean agreeing, and it certainly doesn’t mean defending racism or oppression. But it does mean avoiding rhetorical cheap shots and smoke bombs.



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DRT

posted June 30, 2010 at 1:05 pm


I am quite passionate about this subject since I feel the need to have a website that would be set up to go against an existing church. Does that make me wrong immediately? When is it permissible to do such a thing. I contend that setting up a website to get a voice out is in keeping with the biblical principles of trying to work it out with the person but if that does not work then take it to the church. A website is a great way to take it to the church without people having to do the personal confrontation and be able to approach it with a cool head (theoretically). There is nothing wrong with that in my view.
My experience is that people who pull the ?we need unity? card are also the people who would pull the ?she/he is not a team player? card in the workplace. For the record, no one ever did that to me. But the impact is devastating on the individual. How can they possibly combat being labeled ?not a team player?.
It is that same mentality that happens in the church that I belonged to. They basically would lie to people and have a good old boys club but when someone wants an open discussion they take out the ancient book of shunning and refuse to talk. How can you have unity with a group who thinks there way is the only way and view a change agent as being against unity? All changes happen by someone doing something differently, not by always doing it the same.
Because of this lack of change and closed mindedness, I think the unity principle is thoroughly abused by churches and this shows up in things like child molestation, embezzlement and many other extremely dysfunctional activities.
I totally agree with RJS that the point is to focus on the issues, but that is not what is said in the post above. The above says focus on unity, which makes people alienate each other.
Pat said it too. How long do you submit to someone who is doing wrong? For the sake of unity? Clearly that is wrong.
As I said, this gets played out as a good old boys club in my church and they lie and hide things from the congregation and libel people who try to change as ?not in unity?. Whose unity should it be anyway!
I will rant more upon request?..I have one post on my blog about this, but it is very tame compared with where I want to go…
Dave



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RJS

posted June 30, 2010 at 1:36 pm


And my point here was not either Obama or Limbaugh. My point is that if we wish to enter into conversation with other Christians in unity it does absolutely no good to go off on rants, whether justified or not.
If you know that people you are speaking with, would like to persuade, listen to Limbaugh or to Obama, a rant simply shuts down conversation. It eliminates all possible meeting ground.
Captcha “under altruism”



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Rick

posted June 30, 2010 at 2:18 pm


I think the Chris M example of Wright and Borg (M. Borg, not the assimilation kind) brings up an interesting situation, and is related to what JHM mentioned in #2: what are the core issues.
With Borg denying (or at least downplays) the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, can we find unity with him around the Lord’s Table?
As Michael Spencer once wrote:
“There is no doubt that Borg has a faith that strives to be faith in Christ, but the plain truth is that Borg- nicely- reinterprets the central tenet of the Apostle?s and Nicene Creeds in such a way that most Christian communions would say he rejects the resurrection. If Borg believes Jesus is ?alive? and is the ?son of God? who ?died for our sins,? but gives metaphorical meanings to all these terms, is he a Christian? In my opinion, Borg has rejected much of what is essential for a ?good faith? belief in the Christian gospel.”
That is where it gets uncomfortable when striving for unity. Of course it should be a high priority for us, but it gets..um..messy.



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RJS

posted June 30, 2010 at 2:35 pm


Rick,
I had a similar initial reaction to Chris’s comment about Borg and Wright. But then I wonder where to draw the line on communion. Would you receive communion if you were in a church where you had doubts about the stand (say a liberal episcopal church)? Or would you abstain on principle?
I don’t think Wright ever backed down on what he considered essential for the sake of unity. He just carried on the discussion honestly and civilly. And he didn’t decline to share communion with someone who would be admitted to the table in his church.



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Rick

posted June 30, 2010 at 3:19 pm


RJS-
Good questions.
As someone who leans towards paleo-orthodoxy, I look at the strong stance most (if not all) of the early church apparently took on the issue.
However, I do realize some actually have come to the faith because of open communion (is that then considered “seeker-sensative”). So I appreciate the mindset of someone like Wright and the various churches that practice it.
But White brings up a strong criterea:
“The observable love between those who called themselves his [Jesus'] followers was everything. Why? Jesus said this unity, and this unity alone, would arrest the world’s attention and confirm that he was from the Father” (105).”
Is Borg a true “follower” if he denies the physical resurrection? What if one denies Jesus was God, or fully man, or the Christ?
Again, quoting Spencer:
“Borg has rejected much of what is essential for a ?good faith? belief in the Christian gospel.”
Then, if one denies the fullness of the resurrection, and therefore the fullness of the gospel, are they a Christian?
Can we then have “Christian” unity with that person, around the Lord’s Table, as White is advocating?
Or, is there a difference between unity at the Lord’s Table, and having Christian unity? If so, perhaps the Lord’s Table is not the best representation of true Christian unity.
In lieu of your good recent post, I want to stay away from “middle road” language, but is there a third way in such cases? (I know, it is an overused term).



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Naum

posted June 30, 2010 at 3:25 pm


@RJS
Not a rant, nor comments from the “other side”.
Just an observation that IMV, it is uncivil to equate a hate talker with a long history of racism and hate to a one-sided propagandist.
There is a boundary crossed when one aims to be “civil” means one is more devoted to “order” than “justice”. To prefer a “negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice”.
Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.



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John

posted June 30, 2010 at 4:03 pm


DRT (#12). I’m sorry, but I couldn’t disagree more. When the Bible says to take it to the church, it refers to taking it to the church’s established and appointed leaders – not an outside blog. Your statement, “without having to do the personal confrontation” is precisely what the Bible says NOT to do. The point is personal confrontation (see Mt. 18:15). I hope you’ll forgive me, but it sounds like something didn’t go your way, you didn’t have a way to get your way or voice your sentiments to your satisfaction, so you are using the blog to lash out. I really don’t mean that as harsh as it may sound – I feel your emotions, and hate that you experienced whatever you did. But I do want to challenge you to examine your motives and to strongly urge you to take your concerns to the people you are concerned with and follow the biblical model. Which is not an outside blog, but confronatation/resolution in the spirit of love. If this gets you nowhere, that is a sad indictment of the church and its leadership, but i would then simply find another church. Not enter the world of the “bitter blog.”



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DRT

posted June 30, 2010 at 4:19 pm


John, thanks for your feedback. That is exactly why I posted in hoping that I would get some thoughtful replies here.
I was raised catholic, so in that venue the church is not owned by the community, instead by the RC. But in this case, it is a church that is owned and built by the community in the past 8 years. If the leadership is unwilling to allow a voice in the church service or other meams, it seems practical to me to post on a blog.
I offered to present the issue to the church community and anyone who would want to listen and they gave a cease and desist order to try and stop my voice from being heard.
DAve



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Chris M

posted June 30, 2010 at 4:36 pm


When I read Wright & Borg, I had a tough time understanding what was going on because I know Borg does not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus and that is a dividing line for me re being a follower of Jesus. I have great difficulty reading Borg because our starting points are clearly different.
I serve as a pastor in a theologically liberal denomination in Canada. I struggle with the issues of love and unity almost daily especially with a number of my peers and with the judicatorial leadership. The history of my current congregation is clearly liberal. From the beginning of my ministry, I decided to be as clear as I could about my biblical convictions and why the resurrection of Jesus was a new ‘physicality’ to quote Wright and not a mere metaphor. So if Emery is right about what Jesus said in John 17: “The observable love between those who called themselves his [Jesus'] followers was everything. Why? Jesus said this unity, and this unity alone, would arrest the world’s attention and confirm that he was from the Father”, then how do we live out this unity with one another (liberal, conservative, evangelical, etc) so that the world’s attention is arrested for the sake of Jesus?
I think RJS’s two observations @1 point us in the right direction, albeit messy.



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Travis Greene

posted June 30, 2010 at 4:38 pm


DRT,
If they’re not willing to hear your voice and try to reconcile, shake the dust off your feet and move on. If asked your opinion about the church, be honest about your experiences, but an anti-church blog would be counterproductive. Setting up some kind of counter-blog may make you feel better, and you may even feel righteous in doing so, but it wouldn’t help them and I think it would also be quite bad for you.



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tscott

posted June 30, 2010 at 6:16 pm


It was traditionally evangelicals who opposed ecumenicism. The RC and Anglicans are making postures in these directions. EO and RC only have some apostolic issues to confront. The Mainline denominations will go with the flow. Unity is necessary to confront the unprecedented confrontation with secularism.
So to summarize my view, this is about the evangelical community starting to recognize the need for ecumenicism(although as I said before, this subject has a minority who espoused it throughout the 20th century). One side of this issue not discussed so far are the evangelicals who believe that in the end times there will be a move toward one big church, and the real Christians staying in small organic ones.



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DRT

posted June 30, 2010 at 11:08 pm


Travis,
Thank you.
I wonder if Jesus when confronted with the Pharisees would shake his sandles or put a message out there in some other way that says he does not agree with what they are doing.
Sometimes it may take saying that you disagree to show that you disagree.
Dave



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