The Cost of Community

Long ago in a distant land, a prince dreamed of creating more than a geographical or political kingdom. He dreamed of establishing a community in which all persons were committed to each other in loyalty and equality, where every person sought the welfare of the neighbor even at a cost to the self. So the prince called a great meeting of all the heads of clans, all the wise and trusted people of the land, and dared to tell his dream. Each chieftain and his clan were invited to join in the foundation of a new society. As part of the community's inauguration, each was requested to search his cellar for the best wine produced from his ancestral vines. These treasured bottles would be uncorked, poured into a great communal vat, and blended, as the true community it represented, into a common vintage.

"How can I mix my exquisite wine with that of my neighbors?" asked one of the winegrowers invited to this covenanting. "I would sacrifice the unique variety of grape, the special climate of the year, the sweetness of a late harvest, the indefinable magic of bouquet, and I would violate my art as a winemaker. Impossible! Give up my distinct variety? Lose my separate self? I will not be adulterated in such a common cup."

So he corked a bottle of tap water, affixed his most beautiful label to the bottle, and at the time of the ritual poured the water ceremoniously into the vat. When the covenanting was solemnized, all filled their glasses for the communal draft, the toast that would seal commitment to community. As the cups touched their lips, all knew the truth. It was not wine. It was water. No one had been willing to pay the cost of community.

An excerpt from David Augsburger's Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor (60-61).

Toward a Christian Politic

Robert Putman and David Campbell just wrote an article published in the Los Angeles Times:  Walking Away From Church.  In it, they describe the trend of younger Americans to abandon the church because of its close union with the Republican party and conservative ideologies of our times.

A friend sent me the article and wrote, "Americans need to keep politics out of the church."

Politics do not need to stay out of church.  Some messages inevitably have political consequences.  Loving immigrants and abortion for instance.  However, the biblical principles that makes me against abortion and for loving immigrants (stand up for the rights of those weaker and loving my neighbor as myself) also makes me against the death penalty and war.

We need to make sure our political views are shaped by Scripture and the Holy Spirit rather than prominent political ideologies.

The problem that has manifested itself in the American church is that Christians aligned themselves with one political party and let that political party define their political views rather than letting Scripture.  Christians were once involved in both political parties, but they apparently thought a closer alignment with one political party would be more beneficial to bringing about God's will.  In so doing, they compromised on a lot of issues that they should not have.  By aligning themselves with one political party, American Christians abandoned their position outside the fray as a prophet to all of American politics.  We became part of the system rather than a force that helps shape the system. 

On health care, it does not mean that the church should be for universal
government health care, although it could.  Health care, like most issues, is more complicated than an either/or decision.  The church should be for everyone having adequate health care without going broke.  If a person believes that they should have health care and claim to be a follower of Jesus, then they should love their neighbor as they are being loved.  If they have health care but think others should not, there is a great spiritual disconnect from the golden rule.  All of this does not mean that we must conclude that the government should be the one to provide health care.  But if health care is something a person feels they deserve while claiming to be a Christian, then they should also feel that other people made in the image of God deserve equal treatment.  We need to wrestle with how everyone can have adequate health care because that would be the right response of Christians who have health care. 

So I cannot conclude that politics should stay out of the church, we just need to make sure that Jesus remains the center of those politics.  For further reading, check out John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus or Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America by Perry Bush. 

War, abortion, health care, and budget deficits are issues that God is concerned about, and they are inherently political.  However, Jesus does not have a position on gun rights, term limits, level of taxation, representative democracy, international trade policy, etc. I would have no problem of the church I minister at being branded a politically "liberal" church if that meant that we were a church that stood up for the poor, against war, and against the death penalty.  But we would not be able to abandon conservative issue of being against "abortion," nor could we say that homosexuality is a lifestyle that is in God's will.  We cannot be liberal or conservative - just Christian.  And we need to make sure that we allow Scripture and the Holy Spirit to shape our views rather than go to Scripture to force our view on it.

Our biblical belief that homosexuality is a sin, even if we don't proclaim it from the rooftops, will make us unpopular.  By the end of the article, that was the main issue that author was centered on.  The belief that homosexuality is a sin yet our nation should allow them to have equal rights makes me loved neither by the religious establishment or the tolerance culture of our world.  Just this last week, Lindsay was asked her view on homosexuality by someone who was considering our church.  I'm pretty sure her answer that homosexuality is a sin like any other sin, yet we are still called to love homosexuals was not the answer they wanted to hear.  I doubt they will be visiting.  They wanted to hear that it is okay to be a homosexual, and despite the alluring siren call of our culture, that is not something we can say and still be honest with Scripture.  For some our age, their belief that homosexuality is a valid lifestyle in the eyes of God will cause them to discard Scripture.  But does that mean that the church should never teach on the issue?   

So I would advise that we need to not throw the baby (politics) out with the bathwater (Republicanism).  We need to make sure that we have a politic that is glorifying to Jesus, has the golden rule at its heart as it is at the Gospel's heart, and that we only stand up for and against issues that Jesus would stand up for or against.

Nearly Unified - The Marburg Colloquy

On October 3, 1529, the leaders of the Protestant movement gathered together to unify. They nearly did. Out of fifteen articles, they agreed on fourteen. And in the fifteenth, they had a disagreement on just one point, the nature of the presence of Jesus in the Lord's Supper. In attendance were John Oecolampadius (age 47 - theologian who was a professor at the University of Basel), Huldrych Zwingli (age 45 - Swiss Reformation leader), Martin Bucer (age 38 - a unity-minded reformer in Strasbourg and lead mediator between Luther and Zwingli), Caspar Hedio (age 35 - a forgotten reformer who ministered in Strasbourg), Martin Luther (age 46 - needs no introduction), Justus Jonas (age 36 - professor, translator of Luther and Melanchton's Latin works into German), Philip Melanchthon (age 32 - the first prominent theologian of the Reformation), Andreas Osiander (age 31 - a German/Lutheran preacher and eventual professor), Stephan Agricola (age 38 - German/Lutheran preacher), John Brenz (age 30 - professor made prominent for his writings on the topic of Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper). If you are wondering where Calvin was, he was only twenty at the time of this meeting and had not yet broken from the Catholic Church.

What baffles me in reading about these pillars of the Reformation is how there was so much controversy over completely theological yet extrascriptural ideas. Just because they were talking about the nature of God or Jesus, the nature of justification, or some other spiritual subject does not mean that it was worth dividing over. The reformers were experiencing the newly allowed ability to think for themselves but had yet to discover how to stand only on essentials while allowing freedom to disagree on other subjects. They were amiable and friendly in their disagreement in the fifteenth statement, but it kept them from being united.  Like us today, we still have not learned how to unify over essentials and not divide over every difference of doctrinal opinion, worship styles, or opinions on the color of the carpet.

From this side of the division, it seem pretty ridiculous. Luther's stance was one step removed from transubstantiation, the belief that the body and blood of Jesus are present in the sacrament. While Zwingli believed that the cup and bread are just symbols. This was the nature of the disagreement that kept the early Protestant church divided.  Luther was willing to concede, but Melancthon convinced him that if he were to do that, then reconciliation with the Catholic Church would be impossible.

Following is the Marburg that were agreed upon.

The undersigned have agreed to the articles given below at Marburg on October 3, 1529.

First, that we on both sides unanimously believe and hold that there is only one true, natural God, Maker of all creatures, and that this same God is one in essence and nature and triune as to persons, namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, exactly as was decided in the Council of Nicaea and as is sung and read in the Nicene Creed by the entire Christian church throughout the world.

Second, we believe that neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit, but the Son of God the Father, true and natural God himself, became man through the working of the Holy Spirit without the agency of male seed, was born of the pure Virgin Mary, was altogether human with body and soul, like another man, but without sin.

Third, that this same Son of God and of Mary, undivided in person, Jesus Christ, was crucified for us, died and was buried, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God, Lord over all creatures, and will come to judge the living and the dead, etc.

Fourth, we believe that original sin is innate and inherited by us from Adam and is the kind of sin which condemns all men. And if Jesus Christ had not come to our aid by his death and life, we would have had to die eternally as a result of it and could not have received God’s kingdom and salvation.

Fifth, we believe that we are saved from such sin and all other sins as well as from eternal death, if we believe in the same Son of God, Jesus Christ, who died for us, etc., and that apart from such faith we cannot free ourselves of any sin through any kind of works, station in life, or [religious] order, etc.

Sixth, that such faith is a gift of God which we cannot earn with any works or merit that precede, nor can we achieve it by our own strength, but the Holy Spirit gives and creates this faith in our hearts as it pleases him, when we hear the gospel or the word of Christ.

Seventh, that such faith is our righteousness before God, for the sake of which God reckons and regards us as righteous, godly, and holy apart from all works and merit, and through which he delivers us from sin, death, and hell, receives us by grace and saves us, for the sake of his Son, in whom we thus believe, and thereby we enjoy and partake of his Son’s righteousness, life, and all blessings. [Therefore, all monastic life and vows, when regarded as an aid to salvation, are altogether condemned. (This last sentence of the seventh article is found only in the Zurich manuscript. See WA 30III, 164. Concerning the External Word2)]

Eighth, that the Holy Spirit, ordinarily, gives such faith or his gift to no one without preaching or the oral word or the gospel of Christ preceding, but that through and by means of such oral word he effects and creates faith where and in whom it pleases him (Romans 10 [:14 ff.] ).

Concerning Baptism
Ninth, that holy baptism is a sacrament which has been instituted by God as an aid to such a faith, and because God’s command, “Go, baptize” [cf. Matt. 28:19], and God’s promise, “He who believes” [Mark 16:16], are connected with it, it is therefore not merely an empty sign or watchword among Christians but, rather, a sign and work of God by which our faith grows (The various manuscripts have both gefordert and gefoddert, which can mean either “to promote, grow” or “to demand.” Zwingli understood the latter meaning. Luther used the word in both of its meanings. See the note to the ninth article in WA 30III, 165 f. Cf. Sasse, op. cit., p. 271) and through which we are regenerated to [eternal] life.

Concerning Good Works
Tenth, that such faith, through the working of the Holy Spirit, and by which we are reckoned and have become righteous and holy, performs good works through us, namely, love toward the neighbor, prayer to God, and the suffering of persecution of every kind.

Concerning Confession
Eleventh, that confession or the seeking of counsel from one’s pastor or neighbor should indeed be without constraint and free. Nevertheless, it is very helpful to consciences that are afflicted, troubled, or burdened with sins, or have fallen into error, most especially on account of the absolution or consolation afforded by the gospel, which is the true absolution.

Concerning Governing Authorities
Twelfth, that all governing authorities and secular laws, courts, and ordinances, wherever they exist, are a truly good estate and are not forbidden, as some papists and Anabaptists teach and hold. On the contrary, [we believe] that a Christian, called or born thereto, can indeed be saved through faith in Christ, just as in the estate of father or mother, husband or wife, etc.

Thirteenth, that what is called tradition or human ordinances in spiritual or ecclesiastical matters, provided they do not plainly contradict the word of God, may be freely kept or abolished in accordance with the needs of the people with whom we are dealing, in order to avoid unnecessary offense in every way and to serve the weak and the peace of all, etc.

[Also, that the doctrine forbidding clerical marriage is a teaching of the devil. (This sentence of the thirteenth article is found only in the Zurich manuscript. See WA 30III, 168.)]

Fourteenth, that baptism of infants is right, and that they are thereby received into God’s grace and into Christendom.

Concerning the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ
Fifteenth, we all believe and hold concerning the Supper of our dear Lord Jesus Christ that both kinds should be used according to the institution by Christ; [also that the mass is not a work with which one can secure grace for someone else, whether he is dead or alive; (The Zurich manuscript contains this additional statement. See WA 30III, 169.)] also that the Sacrament of the Altar is a sacrament of the true body and blood of Jesus Christ and that the spiritual partaking of the same body and blood is especially necessary for every Christian. Similarly, that the use of the sacrament, like the word, has been given and ordained by God Almighty in order that weak consciences may thereby be excited to faith by the Holy Spirit. And although at this time, we have not reached an agreement as to whether the true body and blood of Christ are bodily present in the bread and wine, nevertheless, each side should show Christian love to the other side insofar as conscience will permit, and both sides should diligently pray to Almighty God that through his Spirit he might confirm us in the right understanding. Amen.

Martin Luther
Justus Jonas
Philip Melanchthon
Andreas Osiander
Stephan Agricola
John Brenz
John Oecolampadius
Huldrych Zwingli
Martin Bucer
Caspar Hedio

The Zurich manuscript lists the signatures in this order: John Oecolampadius, Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, Caspar Hedio, Martin Luther, Justus Jonas, Philip Melanchthon, Andreas Osiander, Stephan Agricola, John Brenz.

The Fads of Evangelism and the Way of the Heart

A friend sent me the following link:

Evangelism's Fads and Fixtures

It's a good article that has a list of ten things that were formerly fads in Christianity but have now become dangerous fixtures.
  1. Making Converts
  2. The Sinner's Prayer
  3. "Do You Know Jesus as..." 
  4. Tribulationism
  5. Testimonies
  6. The Altar Call
  7. Witnessing
  8. Protestant Prayers
  9. The Church Growth movement
  10. Chick Tracts
My friend asked, "Do you think he's being Pharisaical or right on target?  If the later, how might we correct people in love and start more beneficial trends, especially in older, more established churches?"

Pharisaical implies having extra laws that keep us away from God.  The Pharisees in Jesus' day were worried about appearances while ignoring the greater matters of the heart.  They had created a system of laws that were supposed to make one right with God if they were adhered to.  The problem is that Pharisseism is not just a thing of the past.  It is alive and killing today.  The author of this piece attempts to tear down some of the Pharisaical practices we have developed over the years. 

I'm not the expert on correcting older, more established churches as the church, despite being older and corrected, I minister at became a third of its size during the corrections (although we are now back to the old number and still growing).  We still have a long way to go to be a community of real, authentic relationships with one another, have a passion for Jesus and his works, and to always love those around us in practical ways. 

Making Converts and Testimonies
His view on "making converts" and "testimonies" are just arguments over semantics.  We are to go and make disciples, nor is it wrong for a church to know an individual's story as a Christian before hiring them.  He is right that much of Christianity has morphed into making converts to make more converts - almost as if the purpose of being a Christian is to make other Christians.  When do we ever experience the Christian life in community?  When do we ever go out of our way to love others?  Where is the passion to follow Jesus no matter what the cost?  When is God's will brought about into this world because of the lives of those surrendered to Him?  Those need to be the focus.  Just changing the word from "convert" to "disciple" will not cause that to happen.  Those are just words.  We could "make disciples" and never expect them to live a life of total surrender.  

The Sinner's Prayer

The Christian Church does not use the sinner's prayer.  We think that makes us right.  Instead, we use baptism in a similar vein as other churches use the sinner's prayer being just as guilty in trying to have a quick, cheap grace conversion experience.  People in Christian Churches typically teach that if you get baptized, you are saved.  Really?  I understand that 1 Peter 3:21 states, "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you."  It is part of salvation; I am not denying that.  But Peter goes on to say, "Not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him" [1 Peter 3:21-22 (ESV)].  We treat baptism like other churches treat the sinner's prayer.  In the process we have people who have "fire insurance" policies because they have been dunked under water with the right words said over them during a religious ritual, but they are not people with a good conscience before God who live their lives as His hand and feet in their workplaces, homes, schools, and communities.  God desires people who have given them their whole heart, not people who have just been baptized or say a sinner's prayer. 

Do You Know Jesus As...

We want a quick fix evangelistic method rather than living a life of total surrender where we live in such a way that the lives around us are transformed by the Holy Spirit through people seeing God through our works.  "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16 ESV). 


The only message I have shared on the end times is one that hearkens back to Martin Luther believing that he was in the end times.  We Are In The End Times - Or So They Would Have Me Believe. We need to live every day as if it were our last.  What relationships need mended?  What changes need to be made in our life to be more of who God wants us to be?  We should never put those off to tomorrow.  Keeping the end times in focus should help us to live more faithfully today.

Unfortunately, the end times too often becomes a distraction that pulls people away from Christian living.  Amos 5:18-24 is pretty relevant here.  He wrote that we should not desire the coming of the Lord for that day is not a good day, nor should we become dependent on rituals, worship through song, or church gatherings for our relationship with God.  Anything that distracts us from our true calling, expecially pseudo-religious babble, needs to be excised from our body.  

Altar Call

The altar call was one of the first things we removed at our church when we started changing.  I still struggle with whether it would be beneficial to bring the altar call ("invitation time" in our churches) back, but we have had more people baptized since its removal.  But again, as stated previously, our goal is not to get people baptized, the goal is people living a life of total surrender to God's will in community with on another while carrying out the loving work of Jesus in the world they live in. 


Cold turkey door-to-door evangelism is ineffective.  Actually it's more than ineffective; it's detrimental to the cause of Christ.  People don't want strangers knocking at their doors.  It might have worked in the seventies.  I am not talking about then.  But a method of witnessing that will never grow out of style is to love our neighbors and look for opportunities to help meet their needs. 

The author of Total Church shares a story of an incident at his church.
“Matt rang to ask what he should do.  His friend George has asked him to go street preaching.  Matt wasn’t interested but didn’t know how to respond.  So the three of us got together.  As the conversation began, it was clear that George thought we were selling out in some way.  But as we talked about sharing our lives with unbelievers, about evangelism that was 24/7, about opening our homes, George’s tone changed.  At the end of our conversation he admitted, “I’m not sure if I’m up for that kind of commitment.”
Door-to-door evangelism is a distraction for many people who practice it.  They think they are doing the cause of Christ because they are doing something that requires boldness and takes them outside of their comfort zone.  Boldness should not be confused with doing the work of the Lord.  Many of the things we do requires that we be bold, but that does not mean if something requires boldness, we are doing the work of the Lord.  In James 1:26, James talks about how we can deceive our heart by talking too much.  The context shows that if we talk about love, we can deceive ourselves into feeling like we are loving others while not doing a thing.  What we really need to do is love others; it does not change anything if we just talk about it.  Witnessing door-to-door, street evangelism, or writing on the internet are placebos that make us think that we are doing the work of the Lord,.  We are surrounded by people who need to see the Lord by us living the life He would have us live. 

Protestant Prayers, Church Growth Movement, and Chick Tracts

On the issue of Protestant prayers, I love the Northumbria Community prayers.  They're bookmarked on the side of this page near the top.  I find that needing to be creative in prayer stifles me from actually just praying.

"The Church Growth Movement" is such a loaded subject that I will not delve into a discussion on it.  I don't even know what aspects of the movement the author was attacking as fads that have become a fixture.

And Chick tracts are the furthest thing removed from being a fixture.  I have never encountered someone using them.  


Any practice that makes us feel like we are doing what God wants us to do while we can still live our selfish life is a distraction from the real call of God on our lives.  There are many fences that keep us from God that need to be torn down in order for the Church to be a people who God is encountered through.  Changing the face of Christianity in this culture starts with each one of us living a life of total surrender to the cause of Christ.  It's difficult to do in a society that screams, "Balance!" at us all of the time, but Jesus desired total surrender that leads to radical living.  May we never shy away from destroying Pharisaical fences.  And may we never hesitate to do the will of God no matter how crazy it might make us look.

Bill Gates Using Vaccines to Kill People Around the World?

The headline reads "Bill Gates says vaccines can help reduce world population."

Bill Gates recently said at a conference:

"The world today has 6.8 billion people... that's headed up to about 9 billion. Now if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we could lower that by perhaps 10 or 15 percent."

The conclusion of Mike Adams, the writer from Natural News, makes a tremendous, illogical leap.  Adams concludes from Bill Gate's statement, "Clearly, this statement implies that vaccines are a method of population reduction."  He then goes on to state that vaccines are good for population reduction through the following:
  • They might kill people slowly.
  • They might reduce fertility.
  • They might increase the death rate from a future pandemic.
Clearly?  Not really.  The writer is using the phrase "population reduction" in a different way than Gates, either through ignorance or an attempt to attack Gates or vaccines.  Most probably, an attack on vaccines.  Too frequently, people speak out against something so much that they start making nonsensical attacks in order to prove their point.  In the end, this damages their argument. 

What if the point Gates was trying to make was that in a healthier environment like Europe or America, people choose to have less kids?  This is thought to be true and would appear to be what Gates would mean by "population reduction."  I'm not a vaccine fan, but it is fallacious to conclude that Gates thinks of vaccines as a method of killing people.  Gates is just rehashing the common belief that if you provide people with an environment of healthier living, longer life spans, and less infant and child mortality, then they will have less children. 

A Public Health Report from the 1970s stated that in order to reduce population we need to "Reduce current infant and child mortality rates sharply."  Reduce population while reducing death?  That's the theory.  The thought goes that if people know their one child will live through to adulthood, then they will just have one child.

We don't have to agree with that theory, but people like Gates who promote population reduction through better health care are not proposing mass genocide by using vaccines.  Gates appears to have a good heart and is trying to do his best to help the world.  Obviously, like all of us, he is limited by what he understands to be best, but we do a disservice to the man by labeling him as an intentional killer of humans around the world because he supports vaccines. 

All he is doing is reiterating the popular notion out there that if we can insure kids won't die of diseases that are preventable, people will want to have fewer children.  This decrease in death from disease will be brought about through vaccines and better health care.  The resulting decrease in population will not be brought out by poisonous vaccines but through people wanting and having less children.  This will be implemented through contraception and abortion (reproductive health services). 

Now, that statement is flat out in support of abortion as a means of decreasing population because "reproductive health services" is codeword for abortion, but I doubt that he is proposing creating poisonous concoctions to inject children with.  He does appear to clearly be for abortion.  However, it is an illogical leap to say that he is trying to kill off humanity through vaccines. 

We don't need any more illogical articles from people against vaccines.  It damages the cause of the logical articles out there.