just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Messiness of church (Part 2)

Last night I was moving about the speed of a slug. Some sort of flu-bug came on me since Sunday and I have felt lousy. So as I was dazing on the couch, thankful that Dalina was kind enough to go pick up Heather at the airport at 11 pm, I stared blankly at the pre-season tilt between Dallas and Seattle. During a commercial, as I was channel-flipping, I happened upon a news story about Venezuela that caught my interest. I watched the rest of the story focusing on Hugo Chavez. It was CBN, and at the end of the story Pat Robertson offered some additional commentary. His comments included the idea that the United States should assassinate Hugo Chavez. It would be a lot cheaper than war.

Thanks to DLM for posting your comments yesterday. I appreciated your perspective and identify with the tension that exists within seemingly polar opposite viewpoints espoused even within the Christian community. This is also a part of the messiness I am identifying. It is a messiness, that makes me wonder if I am reading the same Bible as Pat Robertson. Is it possible that another Christian, a Christian leader, is calling for our government to kill the leader of another government? What Scriptural basis could he possibly make for this? Have I, and my faith community, been misreading the Sermon on the Mount, the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament? To those who cynically look upon the church from the outside, this is just another example of the hypocricy of Christians. Aren't Christians supposed to love their enemies? Aren't Christians supposed to turn the other cheek? Well yes, but we live in a the "real world" of violence and evil that must be contained. Why didn't Jesus think of that--why did he ask us to seek first his Kingdom and the ways of justice and peace through redemptive, sacrificial love--the way of the cross.

I am not without hope! "But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 3:10b-11).

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God." (2 Cor 2:14-17)

"Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we comend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair..." (2 Cor 4:1-8)

So my confidence is high, because my faith is staked on Jesus to build his church. Let us not assume that WE can solve every problem. But let us be careful to build on no other foundation than Jesus Christ. As Michelle Hershberger preached in Charlotte, "Jesus is not going to let his Church fail.

I don't think I can build upon Jesus, while calling for action that he himself would not condone--the killing of another human being for whom he died. If we are going to be pro-life. Let us be pro-life all the way.

the peace of God be with your spirit

p.s. You may notice that the administrator (me) has removed some of the comments left under my last post. For some reason I get the equivalent of junk mail arriving in the form of comments to my blog posts. I just wanted to make it clear that I am not removing the comments of real people responding to my posts, but junk mail soliciting my money.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The messiness of church

I woke up this morning thinking about the messiness of the church. Here's what I'm thinking about.

Some people think they don't need the church because of the hypocrisy the see in those who go to church. I find it interesting that these people, many times are not rejecting God, or their own spiritual quest, but they cannot stomach the superficiality (wearing of masks), the cultural ghetto Christianity, the dysfunction in our congregational family systems...and probably sundry other reasons. For whatever reason, these individuals continue their God quest outside the Church. The question is, can you have a God-filled life without the Church, without a rhythm of worship with a local expression of the Church? Can you live a life that is more true, less hypocritical, while at the same time rejecting the Church, which Jesus and the Bible seem to unequivocably claim to be part of the God-filled life--organically so. In other words, I can't have the God of the Bible and Christianity, without taking my place in the Church. Anything else, is me inventing my own path.

Then there are the people who see the flaws and messiness of the Church throughout history. People who view the post-Constantinian church as compromised by too close of an identification with the powers of this age. People (most Protestants I would say) who view the institutional (Catholic in the West/and most people have never thought much of the church in the East-Orthodox) church as corrupted by power or caught up in dead rituals, traditions, and idolatry. For many Anabaptists there has been a reaction against the differentiation of authority between priest and laity. There is somewhat of an ambiguity as to where the locus of authority lies. In deed we have affirmed that the Holy Spirit is at work in the whole Body of Christ. We have embraced an ecclesiology that seeks to live out the priesthood of all believers. We have de-and reconstructed the role of pastoral mininstry. My role as pastor is not an office I fill.

So we many times look around the Church of the first 1500 years and focus in on Church as our own tradition reconnecting with Christ in the written words of the New Testament, as the Holy Spirit works in us to lead us on the path of conversion and discipleship to Jesus in all of life. In this move we have emphasized the role of discerning Scriptures and the way of faithfulness in local communities--where we worship, find fellowship, and seek to live out our witness (historically as a third way, outside the political, cultural mainstream). These cultural enclaves, have been evolving as the currents of modernity have influenced the way we are and live. Mennonites look very much like our neighbor across the street as I've heard Keith Weaver say.

But, getting back to my point. In focusing on the church as gathered local communities, we've lost a sense of the church catholic. The church that is organically connected in Jesus, with all it's members across time and space. Yes, this even includes the part of the church represented by those who persecuted our forbears. Then there were the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Conquest of the Americas. So, in our ecclesiastical sense of self, we do not see all this messy flawed history, as our own history in any kind of primary identity way. We are a part of the Reformation, so our sense of churchliness is primary formed out of the reaction against the church Catholic. Although if you read Snyder and other Anabaptist historiagraphy, we discover that even our own roots in early Anabapstism were influenced by medieval mysticism and many practices of the Church (catholic). Can we just be localized church, or our own denomination without the Church catholic (C)/orthodox (O) across time and history? Well yes, you will say, of course we are a part of the Church across time and history. But I would ask, how is that reflected in our worship, in our theology, in our ecclesiology. (I am so thanful for Pilgrim Marpeck.) I know, I know, some of you will say, "But will they have us?" But the discussion of that question is for another post.

Then you have the contemporary currents of rejecting, or moving beyond with little sense of identification with denominations. For those in this category, church is following the Spirit into the "new thing." I don't have time to go into this one in depth, but the question at the end of it is--Can you have the fullness of the Holy Spirit, while rejecting or viewing as unnecessary the history of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church? It's not that we cling to old wineskins, and reject the new (to use a very popular metaphor in this stream), but we view these words of Jesus as primarily referring to his work of establishing a new and better covenant once and for all. Read Hebrews. So the primarily application for this text (wineskins) is not just to rationalize why we need to do the "new thing" whatever it is (and it is always changing)--worship style, seeker-sensitive movement, laughing revival, emerging church... just to mention a few.

I am a flawed individual, who will be no less hypocritical if I avoid the church. I am a Mennonite, with a full appreciation for the distinctives of Anabaptism. But I am also recovering my Faith heritage as a Christian, who is receiving the faith (Jude 3) not just through the letter of Scripture (Holy Spirit at work), but also through the Great Tradition (of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church) that helps me hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church. I am a Spirit-filled Christian. I believe that I was sealed with the Holy Spirit at baptism. This reality in my life, however, is not just limited to the understandings and constructs of Charisma magazine. I am seeking to follow the Spirit with my local congregation at Sunnyside, into the world that God has made and is in the process of redeeming. I am seeking communion with the orthodox faith of the broader Body of Christ (St. Vincent of Lerins).

Well, this is way too much depth for not having had my first cup of coffee today.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sophia sermon (Proverbs 8)

Here are the lyrics to the song by Matt Maher
Sophia (a love song for Wisdom)
She’s so, you know, makes me want to be like Jesus. I am your hands, tell me what your plan for this is. In your sacred heart, I burn for you. Could I burn with her in a flame of truth where all my burdens float like angel feather?

Sophia, you know me. Sophia, see through me. Sophia, dance with me, help me make it through the night.

Dark night, so bright, now I see the way of passion. Let go my soul, now it only longs for your affection. In your sacred heart, I dwell with you. Could I dwell with her like the angels do, where all my burdens float like angel feather?

The essence I gathered from the commentaries and from the way the church has traditionally interpreted Psalm 8 and the personification of Sophia—is that Sophia is not another person, but the personification of a noun that describes an attribute of God that is revealed in Jesus. The apostles understood that Wisdom was not female in a literal sense. How else could they have asserted that Jesus was in fact Wisdom? Paul explicitly states that Jesus is the “wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).

Here is something else that I didn’t really bring out this morning that is a part of this discussion. God is not a biological entity and so he has no body or gender. The same goes for Wisdom. It is true that the Bible uses masculine language for God, but that does not mean that God has a masculine body. The Bible uses female language for Wisdom because that is the way Hebrew works. There is no statement being made that God is male or female, or that he has a wife. After all, humanity was created as God’s own image as male and female.

So I understand the song by Matt Maher to be a song directed to the Wisdom of God—present with the Father at creation, revealed visibly in the Son—Jesus Christ. The lyrics of the song point to Jesus—Sophia makes me want to be like Jesus.

Here is more commentary on the way the Church deals with Arianism--the heresy that believes that Jesus was created. What does Proverbs 8 say? The key verses are 22-25:

The LORD created me at the beginning of His way
As the first of His works of old.
In the distant past I was fashioned,
From the first, before the beginning of earth.
There was no deep when I was brought forth,
No springs rich in water;
Before the mountains were planted,
Before the hills I was brought forth.

What's the difference between the words "begotten" and "created"? We understand that Jesus was not created, but the creeds speak of him as begotten. What's the difference?

Here is some pertanent commentary from the Divine Council Forum:

Basically, "creation" implies that whatever is created did not exist before it was created. "Begotten" on the other hand, refers to something being produced or brought out, implying that whatever was begotten had been around before it was produced. Although it's not a perfect analogy, think of the difference between the conception of a baby and the baby's birth. Conception would be the point in time when the baby was created. The actual birth of the baby is when it was "begotten" or "produced." Unless you've got a pretty inadequate view of the personhood of a fetus, you should catch the difference. Prior to conception, the baby did not exist. When the baby is born, we know that isn't the beginning of its existence. The analogy breaks down with Jesus, or Wisdom, since the baby was indeed created prior to its begetting--but that brings us to the main point: does Proverbs 8 speak of the creation or the "begetting" of Wisdom? And if it refers to the latter, where are the Scripture texts that speak of some such prior creation of Wisdom?

The answer to these questions is that the Hebrew vocabulary of Proverbs 8:22-25 speaks of begetting, not creating, and there are no verses in either testament that speak to any earlier creation of Wisdom (and, by extension, Jesus). There are, on the other hand, several verses that clearly have Jesus the uncreated son of God.

But what about Proverbs 8:22? Doesn't it clearly say that Wisdom was created? No, actually it doesn't. The word is actually be translated "begat" or "acquired" or "brought forth" in many other translations., in part becasue the Hebrew word conveys those meanings in other passages, but also because of the logic of the passage.

In verse 23, Wisdom is said to have been "fashioned" in the Jewish Publication Society's translation. The Hebrew verb used here actually has a pretty limited range of use, and overwhelmingly means "to pour out." "Pouring out" need not imply "point of beginning." In verses 24-25, the same Hebrew word is used in both places the JPS translation has "brought forth." Verses 24-25 speak of Wisdom being "brought forth," which need not necessarily speak of a time of origin. Given that Wisdom is "brought forth" and "poured out," a translation of "begat" is quite defensible, and even expected.

The question now becomes whether the author of Proverbs 8 imagined Wisdom being "conceived" prior to being "begotten." There simply are no texts in the Old Testament that suggest this for either Wisdom. Unlike the rest of the ancient world, we don't have sexual language used of Wisdom's conception or of God's consorting with a goddess to produce other gods. That idea is foreign to Old Testament theology. On the other hand, there are texts that refer to this "second deity" as essentially having Yahweh in them or being Yahweh.

Friday, August 19, 2005


This is the picture that is on the desktop of my computer. Was it already 13 years ago (Sunday) that we walked out of Mowata Baptist Church as husband and wife?!

I'm holding down the fort for a few days while Heather is in Atlanta helping orient Jill Yoder to the world. I understand that she is doing quite nicely, sleeping in till 8:45 AM.

I read a book recently by Doug Pagitt entitled REIMAGINING SPIRITUAL FORMATION. One of the practices in this church is for the Sunday sermon to germinate in a group that meets every week on Tuesday evenings to look at the texts, discuss and point in the right direction. I could really use that type of a setting this week (and others) to put together the sermon on Proverbs 8. It was nice timing that I read The Da Vinci Code earlier this summer with my friend from Ephrata, Duane. Perhaps we can put to rest some of the flaky theology floating around that is trying deconstruct the orthodox Christian view of the Trinity, and replace it with worship to the lost Christian Goddess--Sophia.

I know that at least Heather and Ira are praying for me.

Lord, open my mouth that I may declare your praise.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

some good books

The Divine Conspiracy (Willard)
A Generous Orthodoxy (McLaren),
The Rebirth of Orthodoxy (Oden)
The Illumined Heart (Matthewes-Green)

The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoyevsky)
Blue Like Jazz (Miller)
Don Quixote (Cervantes)
I Am The Clay (Potok)

Amazing Grace (Kozol)
In The Middle of Everywhere (Pipher)
The Lexus and the Olive Tree (Friedman)
The Culture of Disbelief (Carter)
The Sibling Society (Bly)

Ancient Future Evangelism (Webber)
Called to Commitment (O' Connor)
The Wounded Healer (Nouwen)
Streams of Living Water (Foster)
A Peculiar People (Clapp)
Missional Church (Guder)
Treasure in Clay Jars (Barrett et. al)
The Story We Find Ourselves In (McLaren)
The Upside Down Kingdom (Kraybill)
God's Politics (Wallis)
Ancient & Postmodern Christianity (Tanner & Hall)
A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology (Finger)
School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism (The Rutba House)
Transforming Mission (Bosch),

Sunday, August 07, 2005

A Prayer of Archbishop Oscar Romero

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom of Heaven is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow, we water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are the workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

May that future be filled with grace, peace and hope.


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Jansen's First Fish

I have been feeling the urge (the primal hunter/gatherer compulsion?) to go get fishing equipment. Finally, Jon and I made it happen on Monday evening. We loaded up the van with kids (Mackenzie, Jansen, Emma and Ethan) and headed off to the Shangri-La that is Bass Pro Shops in Harrisburg. Even though Mackenzie had her doubts about this outing, all misgivings fell away the instant she walked through the doors into another world of stuffed wild animals, mountain scenes complete with a lake and live fish through a massive wall of glass. Aside from Ethan wandering off and giving us a scare, things went smoothly and we returned home happily equiped with three fishing rods, a basic tackle box, and some essential lures, hooks and bobbers.

Jon gave us a primer in tying nots with fish line and other fundamentals in Fishing 101 (somehow I missed that class) when we dropped them off. He even set us up with a nice lure without a hook to do some practice casting in our back yard. Yesterday, after a few misdirected motions, they both got the hang of it.

Tonight, Jansen and I decided to go over to the pond at Darryl and Janice's around 7:30. We had gone over to Mill Creek, but with Hollyn and Jansen's casting consistently finding the trees on the opposite side of the creek, I called an audible and decided to drop Hollyn off at home, pick up my rod and make the quick trek to the Weaver's. It was a beautiful summer evening. The sun was just making it's way down over the Manor. The sound of Mr. Garber doing hay in a nearby field. We made our way to the dock and I got Jansen set up with a couple of reminders about casting and being careful not to get his line tangled. After a foul ball, his second caste landed nicely about 20 yards out. I went to put a lure on my own pole. No sooner had I threaded the third eye on my rod than Jansen says, "Dad, I think I got a fish" I looked up and sure enough, I didn't see his bobber. I said, "Reel him in." He kept his composure nicely and reeled him in. It was a nice-sized Sunny.

I took him off the hook and threw him back in. Several minutes later, while I was still working on my on rod, he says, "Dad, I think I have another fish." This one was up for a bit more of a fight, jumped out of the water once. What an incredible thrill. You talk about a holy moment. We did have a tangled fish line a bit later that took 20 minutes to get out, but as we were walking back to the van, Jansen asked, "Dad, can we come back tomorrow?"