Saturday, December 19, 2009

Merry Christmas from the unChurch Abbey

Merry Christmas from The unChurch Blog. May God's Kingdom come in you; as it is in heaven, so be it in your life and work! Now, go track sloppy footprints of grace and wonder all through 2010.

Credit for this fine photo goes to our friends at, maker and purveyor of parody gift items imprinted with things you would say under your breath. Thanks monk-in-absentia Darin of the Prarie for passing it along to us!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chihuahua Worship

Conservative Jesus, liberal Jesus. Whatever. You can hang the name "Jesus" on anything, but it ain’t necessarily so. You could name your Chihuahua “Jesus”, but that doesn’t make him el salvador del mundo, and I won’t be bowing down to your pooch. Or to your bad religion. Even if you hang a cross on the wall and tell me I must.

What’s Jesus got to say about it?

He says the world has plenty of bogus christs. "Men will tell you, 'There he is!' or 'Here he is!' Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. [Luke 17:23-25]

I can feel the eyebrows raising already: Come on, Joe B, that passage is about the “end of the world” or “the rapture”, what's it have to do with anything? Well, if you can set aside your "Left Behind" 3-D glasses for a moment, you may find the key in Jesus’ strange answer in verse 37: "Where, lord?", they asked. He replied, "Where there’s a cadaver, vultures gather."

Naturally, the fellas asked Jesus to get specific: “Where, Lord??” But there is a broader principle in play, one that stretches from Genesis to Revelation, and it cuts right through your life. It's not a matter of "when" or "where".

In verses 26 thru 30 Jesus describes people on the eve of judgment. And they are being normal. Just…being…normal. Then suddenly, but not without warning, God is sorting them out by fire or water or by sword. Jesus warns in verse 30, “It will be just like this in the day the Son of Man is revealed. Nobody should go back inside to save his stuff, or come back home to get anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it.”

This fundamental principle of Jesus is not when or where, it's always and everywhere: Where people live the way of flesh, they are just vulture food! And, looking back to Luke 17, we see that such people are prone to invent (or just infer) a bogus Christ. One who justifies them, and who condemns their opponents.

And here too is the seed of the inevitable, carnal tendency to choose up sides, put on matching shirts, and fight it out. We try to be like God, so God is like us. Therefore God is on our side. Therefore your side must be defeated. It is nothing more or less than the collective iteration of not loving your neighbor. It is ambition. It is politics. It is war. It is the evil that Jesus abhors and God avenges. And it is normal.

It also happens to be why I have quit "Church, Inc" forever. I'd rather walk by the spirit on the fringes than bow my knees to a so-called-christ who’s just the mascot of some group’s shared opinions. A christ who affirms us as we slouch, in Jesus' name, down the mortal path of Man: accumulating assets; forging alliances; competing for adherents; inventing rules; enforcing norms; quelling dissenters; excluding nonconformists. In other words, being normal. Being plain old ordinary men of juicy flesh. Whitewashed outside, but full of respectable, normal, 10%-more-righteous-than-your-neighbor bones. The kind of normal that God's vultures eat for lunch on the side of the road. "There is a way that seems right to men, but it ends in death."

Lost souls assure themselves that God is on their side. They cram into churches and jostle to the fore, seeking validation from God, and authority over men. But the people of the spirit move with God, free and powerful as the wind. They participate in God's new creation, expressing faith in Love. Their hearts are siezed with the beautiful revolution of the Kingdom of God.

“If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you shall live.” [Romans 5:4]

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Not for the Healthy, but the Sick

    "If you choose Jesus, may it not be simply because of a fear of hell or hope for mansions in heaven.

    Don't get me wrong, I still believe in the afterlife, but too often all the church has done is promise the world that there is life after death and use it as a ticket to ignore the hells around us. I am convinced that the Christian Gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and that the message of that Gospel is not just about going up when we die but about bringing God's Kingdom down. It was Jesus who taught us to pray that God's will be done 'on earth as it is in heaven.' On earth."

I have no idea how Shane Claiborne is getting articles in Esquire magazine, but I do think this letter says a lot that I want to say... in a much better way than I could say it. This is what the unchurch is all about.

Sorry for yet another blog link-to-an-article. It is worth reading, though. Go read it. It is especially interesting coming on the heels of a news story I just read about Bible translations, in which some "argue that contemporary scholars have inserted liberal views and ahistorical passages [such as Jesus saying 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.'] into the Bible, turning Jesus into little more than a well-meaning social worker with a store of watered-down platitudes."

Read. And discuss. Do these two stories have anything to do with each other? And was Jesus just about telling us what to believe, or was he about showing us how to live?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Maybe We're Not Christians Anyway

You know him as the mega-church-pastor who sinned with a gay prostitute and tried drugs. But he's the same Ted Haggard who wrote this article below, three years before he got so famously busted. See what you think...


Maybe we’re not Christians. Maybe we’re just the most popular religion of the day, using the power of persuasion, the force of our numbers, and the strength of our money to advance our ideology. Maybe we just believe whatever makes sense to us by default, and we don’t truly—as individuals and as communities of Christians—seek to be genuine disciples and to do God’s work of caring for the fatherless and the widow of our day. The Scriptures say that we are known as followers of Jesus by our love for one another. But, undisputably, we are not (see John 13:35). The Scriptures say that we are not to boast about what we have or what we have done, but we do (see Jer. 9:23-24). The Scriptures say that in the last days people will be lovers of themselves and lovers of money. And we are (see 2 Tim. 3:5, NKJV).

Could we be Pharisees? Our own books, television programs and prophecies should make us wonder. I believe that we all know and love the Word, but we live in earthly vessels with a fallen nature. We feel and see the hopes of the Spirit within, but we also end up doing the very things we do not want to do. When we preach, write, lobby, raise money, build, broadcast, threaten, sue and spin, we present conflicting images that don’t stand up very well against the tests of time and scrutiny. We are confusing the world, other Christians, and our selves. This isn’t something that can be changed with a list of practical exercises. This is something that has to be dealt with deep within us by exposing ourselves to the wisdom of the Scriptures, to one another, and to God.

We have to get this right. Even though the global church is stronger than we’ve ever been, we in the American church are showing its signs of impotence. We are on a global stage now, so our words, actions, investments and thoughts have greater impact. We have the opportunity to do unprecedented good, but also the dangerous ability to do unparalleled damage. Let’s make the right choice. If you are like me, you are conflicted. I don’t like this article. Granted, there is a part of me that does, but most of me doesn't.

Most of me likes the comforts of the church I serve. I like the way I travel; I like being a VIP guest; I like being a headline speaker. I like the way I’m treated by both the public and the body of Christ. I enjoy the political platform we Christians are given.

But at the same time, there is a dark cloud in the back of my mind wondering if God isn’t stirring another Martin Luther to nail his theses to our church doors. I would rather have us return to our foundations of integrity by the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the illumination of the Scriptures, rather than have us defending our lifestyles, edifices and power to future generations as they read history books recounting about our demise, a demise brought about by our own hypocrisy. We need to ensure that we are not the whitewashed tombs and snakes of our day (see Matt. 23:27, 33).

We need to be sure.

Cut and pasted the umpteenth time, and I have NO idea who owns the rights to this article written by Ted Haggard. Good article, Ted.
Joe B

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Seven Shifts

The unChurch is about living the faith in the power of God's spirit. It is not about debating "How to Do Church Correctly".

But occasionally we see an article that combines the two. The "Seven Shifts" below are swiped from a fine article by Eric Swanson on the "Ten Shifts Churches Must Make" to be effective. That's right, I axed the three that pick at the "technology of Church", leaving only Seven Shifts.

These 7 grabbed me because they go to the heart of what it is to follow Jesus.

To Succeed in the Missio Dei, Churches (People) Must Shift From...

1. From Building Walls to Building Bridges
“nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket,
but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all... (Mt 5:15)

2. From Measuring Attendance to Measuring Impact
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast...mixed
into a large amount of flour until it’s worked
all through the dough” (Matthew 13:33)

3. From "Attracting Saints to Services" to "Sending Servants"
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve and to give…” (Mark 10:45)

4. From Competitive Duplication to Partnering
“'Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers hands?' And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same." (Luke 10:36, 37)

5. From "Social Fellowship" to "Functional Fellowship"
"From Jesus, his whole body, fit and held together by
what every connection supplies, according to the proper
working of each individual part, causes body to
grow and build itself up by love." (Ephesians 4:16)

6. From Condemning the City to Blessing the City
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which
I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord
for it, because if it prospers, you too will
prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7)

7. From Ministering in a Congregation to Ministering in a community.
“As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city,
he wept over it…” (Luke 19:41)

Which of these shifts make you think how you and your crew can
better bring the life of God crashing into Planet Earth?

Go do it.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Yeshua's Shabbat

Among Christians, there's occasionally some debate around how we are to "do" the Sabbath. Is it Saturday? Is it Sunday? Is it imperative that we rest on that day? That we worship at a church building? Do those Old Testament laws apply to us?

Oh the dilemma. What's a 21st century Jesus follower to do?

Numerous New Testament scriptures point out how Christians are now "grafted in" with God's chosen people. Peter and Paul also seem to point out that it isn't imperative that Gentile Christians follow every law within the Torah, and that one day isn't any different from another. Jesus, of course, was occasionally chastised by leaders for things like healing on the Sabbath, or picking a piece or two of grain to eat on the Sabbath.

However, we also believe that Jesus came to FULFILL the teachings and covenant of the Old Testament, not to do away with them. There is a lot to learn and to understand from the Old Testament laws and from Jewish culture of the first century.

Keren Hannah Pryor, as a part of her "Appointments With God" series for the Center of Judaic-Christian Studies, has written a very insightful piece on The Sabbath Day. Insightful, and long. Too long to copy in here, in fact, and too long for me to expect many of our delightful unChurch blog readers to actually click on that link and take in the entire thing.

But I do encourage you to try. Go ahead, give it a shot.

For those of you that cheated and didn't go read the entire thing (eh, I had a tough time reading the whole thing myself), I'll here is a slightly abridged version, where I cut out about 70% of the stuff in the middle:
    The original concept of a Sabbath day was instituted by God Himself at Creation when He saw that all He had made was good and He ‘rested.’ The Hebrew word used in the Genesis account, shin-bet-tav, which also reads Shabbat, literally means ‘to cease.’ He ceased from His work of creation. This unique seventh day, marked by the setting of the sun on the sixth day, yom ha’shishi, was designated by God as kadosh – holy.

    He appointed this day of Shabbat as a time that was to be set apart for His holy purposes. This informs us that this seventh day of rest is the Creator’s intention for His entire universe, particularly for those “made in His image” whom He loves with a perfect love.

    The Christian observance of ‘The Lord’s Day’ on Sunday has much in common with Shabbat. The first disciples and followers of Yeshua attended synagogues on Shabbat (e.g., Paul, Acts 18:4). Gentiles who had come to know the God of Israel through the “good news” - the evangelion (Gr.) – and were thereby “grafted in” to the olive tree of Israel (Romans 11:24), were exhorted to attend the communal services on Shabbat, “where Moses [the Torah] is read every Sabbath” (Acts 15:20) in order to learn more of God’s Word and His ways.

    We know that the first disciples, the “early Church”, adhered to Shabbat and the biblical calendar. The question is raised, “When was the present day Christian ‘Sunday’ instituted as the day of worship?” The first law commanding Sunday rest was issued by the Emperor Constantine in March, 321A.D. His decree was worded: “On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in the cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.”

    In the year 386 A.D. under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church, Theodosius I forbade litigation on Sunday and established the practice: “No person shall demand payment of either a public or private debt [on Sunday].”

    Theodosius II, in the year 425 A.D., forbade all amusements, both circuses and theaters on Sunday. Gradually all quarters of Christianity transferred observance of the day of rest from the seventh day to the first day. Today most Christians are of the attitude, “What difference does it make? A day is a day.” The answer to that lies in the heart of each individual in the framework of their communion with God.

    Following the removal of the followers of Jesus from the Jewish community and the Hebraic framework of worship, a schism was created that would prove to be ever-widening through the centuries that followed. However, certain elements of the “day of rest” would endure and the central goals have remained similar for Christians and Jews alike. The Sabbath is a day to focus on the Almighty, to seek His face and purposes; also to set aside the regular activities and concerns of the week and to find refreshment and, if possible, to spend time with family and friends.

    This was a day that was observed nationally in Western Christian culture, just as the Shabbat is in Israel today. It saddens one to observe that the modern popular culture, with its focus and emphasis on materialism and the physical dimension of life, and 24/7 commercialism, has forfeited and ignored the gift that God has provided for both spiritual and physical health – the Shalom of Shabbat.

    Let our prayer be: "Father we call the Sabbath a delight, and the holy day of the Lord honorable. We look to You in love and gratitude for Your blessing and and provision, and for Your grace, peace and light bestowed upon us in the Prince of Peace, the Sar Shalom, Yeshua ha'Mashiach, Jesus our Messiah. Amen.
My "Sabbath" often involves getting up much earlier than what I'd like, spending 5+ hours in a church building, going out to eat with friends and family, watching football, taking a nap, and then going back to church for a couple more hours. All of this, of course, begs the question -- Am I really "delighting" in the Lord's Sabbath?

Monday, October 19, 2009

For the Price of a Cup of Coffee...

There are basically two kinds of people in this world:

(1.) The ones who think this magazine ad is hilarious, and

(2.) the kind who are offended by those who think it's hilarious.

Okay, there is another kind:

(3.) The ones who find it ridiculous, but are crushed by the tragedy of it.

There are a million things I could say about it. Can you guess any of them?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Camels and Needles and Good News

Jesus told us we'd always have the poor with us. But we sure do try to avoid them, don't we? We aim to move to suburbia so we can be isolated from them, so we don't have to intermingle. Then we get upset or annoyed on the rare occasion someone tries to ask us for some spare change.

I had the opportunity to do a lot of walking around downtown Chicago last weekend. In addition to the miles and miles of walking, I also used public transportation the whole time. The huge breadth of people, the diversity of faces and colors and tax-brackets... It's a jarring reminder of the sheer number of PEOPLE God has placed on this planet. All of them deserving love and compassion, all of them under God's dominion. Each of them loved by Jesus enough to die on the cross.
"He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'" (Luke 4:16-20)
Really, if you want to see the diversity of people and colors and tax-brackets in a smaller city, you can just head over to Wal-Mart. It's the great equalizer. I suppose some might avoid Wal-Mart because of the very fact that it's filled with the people we try to avoid in suburbia.
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Luke 6:20)
I've heard some say that Sunday mornings are the most segregated day of the week, because of the lack of diversity within our local churches. I'd say the same holds true for the rich and the poor. There's just not much income diversity in most churches. In fact, it seems like the rich tend to huddle together in churches. That's not entirely the fault of the churches, I suppose (although I'll definitely give them some of the blame). Local churches serve local areas, and our society continues to draw broader geographical lines between the gated community and the trailer court.
"Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me... I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:16-26)
For some reason, though, we've turned the gospel around into something "for the wealthy." The rich go to church, and they try to help the poor heathens through various ministries. Sermons occasionally touch on money, but it's generally about tithing -- I've seldom seen anyone mention the Matthew 19 passage without adding, "but that doesn't mean you have to do that!" I've heard countless preachers say that it's "okay to have nice things" and that it's okay to have lots of money... You just can't LOVE IT too much.
"The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." (Luke 7:22)
What, exactly, is the "good news" then? What are we preaching to the poor? To buck up and get a job? That maybe they can join our church, provided they don't have too many tattoos, and provided they take a shower and put on some clean church clothes? That if they become a Christian, maybe God will reward them with wealth?
"The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want." (Mark 14:7)
I saw a wide variety of people over the weekend. I had a friendly conversation about Notre Dame football with a homeless man in a wheelchair. My daughter asked for some money to give to a woman who "looked like she needed some."

But these aren't the type of people I see around me at church, or in suburbia. Jesus talked about releasing the oppressed, the forgiveness of debts, and good news for the poor. He surrounded himself with these people. Have we done the opposite? If it's so hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, why are our churches filled with rich people?

Have the camels all gotten smaller, or have the needles gotten bigger?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Literary Friday

What is beauty? Why does one thing attract us while another repulses? What is it we feel when beauty's mysterious power strikes our senses? Our buddy Marty dragged me into the deep waters of this mystery when he posed me this question: "Why is it that beauty and neatness and order surround good people, but where those things are scarce you usually find an abundance of bad people?"

I was intrigued, so I invited Marty to summon the gentle monks of unChurch Abbey for a Boston Barstool Council where, with the help of our enlightened Theology Waitress, we plumbed the depths of the question: "How God is revealed in creation (Romans 1:19-20), and how does man either participate in God's creative work, or trash it by exploitation and neglect?"

Sometimes pop culture produces something not only sublime in beauty, but profound in meaning.

A tip of the hat to K.T. Tunstall's "Suddenly I See" that tackles the question of beauty head on, while injecting 10cc's of beauty, uncut, straight into your arm. Go ahead, indulge yourself with this tight-woven satin of sound, lyrics, and pictures: Video with Lyrics (scroll down to the YouTube player).

The song, of course is about her own experience of beauty upon encountering the "beautiful girl", which I'd say is the universal norm of God's highest created beauty. She describes its impact: "I see this is what I want to be", and "I see why this means so much to me." It is not envy, and it is not lust that beauty evokes. It doesn't matter whether the beauty is the iconic beatiful girl in the photo, or whether it is the running back's cleated ballet, or the glistening of a spider's web. What is this power?

The beauty of creation inspires us with hope that we embody our Creator's power. And it reminds of that certain extent to which we already do. Mostly, it leaves us with the question, will we tend to our own little endowment of beauty or will we waste and exploit it?

Theologians and other God-thinkers have returned their gaze to the issue of "beauty" after centuries of neglect. Maybe the best discussions on the subject are "A Meaningful World" by Wiker & Witt (on the scientific side of the coin) and "Simply Christian" by N.T. Wright (on the relational side.)

But a picture is worth a thousand words, so my thanks to my friend Ray who sent me the photo at the top of the article. Wherever it's from, it makes the point, and surrounds us in that "silver pool of light."
[Joe B]

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mid-Life Meditation

How high will I climb in life? I'm already there, peering down. How many children will have my smile? My chin? My eyes? They're born, they've walked, they've driven away. My obituary is finished, and I'm not even dead. My life is more behind, and less ahead.

"Mid-life Crisis" is a cliche of modern life, and I've had a taste myself. The mere fact that most is "behind" colors what comes next. The things we pursued fade like the last days of summer. Careers plateau, kids fly the nest, and hairlines recede.

We've watched in silent horror as sane adults leased face lifts and boobs, sports cars and mistresses. We watched in shocked disbelief as friends upended the bounties of their lives into a bonfire of vanities. We are repulsed, even as we feel the bite.

Midlife crisis is the crisis of being human. Only, at moments, our humanity breaks the surface of this hypoxic, monotonous sea. Across we reach into the hostile heaven, snatching a gulp of breath from its fatal, forbidden expanse. What is a whale to think, which way is up? To succumb to the safe, slow descent, or aspire the absurd beaching of sun-drenched death? Another beached behemoth, live at six and ten.

I once awoke, a boy of twelve, and peered from my window. A streetlight shone, buzzing to the mute applause of the empty street. Its halo called me out to walk the wilderness of solitude. A world seen by none but me; a world of wonder 'neath my feet; a world of bats, preying on the streetlight's swarm.

Eventually every soul awakes to its scarcity of life. One awakes to life's elusive quest; one awakes to an ill-fitted toupee; one awakes never more. So let us love in the light, for love is from God. Hope does not disappoint, for God has poured out his love into our hearts by the holy spirit he has given.

Joe B

Friday, September 18, 2009

Breeding Like Rabbits

Rabbits breed "like rabbits.” They reach maturity in just 4 months, and their gestation period is a mere thirty days. And rabbits are extremely--well, let's just say they're always "in the mood". Elephants, however, take years to reach maturity and have a long gestation period. It takes 2 years and tons of food to reproduce even a single elephant.

Something small and simple multiplies easily, but something large and complex is hard to reproduce.

A megachurch is like an elephant. It dominates the landscape and it's highly visible, even a little scary. A major investment of both money and energy is required to produce another megachurch, and the odds of success are very remote.

But an unChurch is like a rabbit. Rabbits live underground and you cannot easily find them, but they are everywhere. They are nonthreatening...even cute and cuddly. And they're always in the mood to multiply. They are very easy to duplicate, because anybody can gather a few people together in a living room or coffee shop.

A “plague” of rabbit churches could easily transform a nation, very quickly. It's happened before; there's no better example than China in the Communist era, 1950-2000. We're talking over 100,000,000 tasty little bunnies in just 2 elephant generations!

Elephants are cool. But I like rabbits. I identify.

Adapted without permission from Rabbit & Elephant by Tony and Felicity Dale. Download chapter 1 here.

Joe B

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lowering the Bar for Church; Raising the Bar for Discipleship

Ah, the power of a good slogan! The title is a slogan coined by our hero, Neil Cole, icon of the Organic Church movement. We seldom swipe an article whole, nor seldom devote an article to "how church is done." Today we do both. The following article was published on Neil's blog, Cole Slaw. It's long by unChurch standards, but excellent.

Here it is...enjoy!

We need to upgrade the operating system for the church. A good upgrade does a few things. It makes the operation simpler and more intuitive. It also is more powerful in accomplishing all its important tasks. Finally, a good upgrade opens up the software to whole new markets that would never have tried to use the product in the past.

There have been two major upgrades in Church formation since Acts that have changed the entire system. The first occurred dramatically during the rule of the Emperor Constantine. The church shifted from an underground, grassroots, organic movement to a more institutionalized organization. I believe that the second is occurring now.

Church 1.0

The first century church was church 1.0 in its various minor differences. The Jerusalem church would have been the original church 1.0. Antioch would be church 1.1. The Galatian churches started in the first journey of Paul and Barnabas would represent church 1.2. Corinth would represent a change to 1.3 as Paul added some patches to the way he approached church. The Ephesian church would be church 1.4. And so the changes went on through two centuries of church life kept simple and organic by the oppression and persecution of ten different Roman emperors. Heresies emerged and were purged. There was the establishment of regional bishops and the institutionalization of some of the forms of Christianity during this period, but over all the church remained a grassroots, marginalized movement under the heat of intense persecution.

Everything changed in 313 AD when Constantine declared that the empire would not only tolerate Christianity but restore to the church all lost property. He was the first “Christian” emperor and Christianity went instantly from the margins to the mainstream and everything changed. Christianity became the state religion and the church did not change much from that point on. This was the shift to Church 2.0 and all its eventual variants.

Church 2.0

Over the centuries, after Constantine, the Western church has evolved in many ways, but none have been a significant systemic change. There was the establishment of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church and for hundreds of years there were very little changes. The Reformation split the Western church into the Roman Church and the volatile protestant church—or church 2.1. But as an institution, in spite of the differences, the institutional system remained mostly unchanged. The Anabaptists were set lose by the reformation (and persecuted by it) but it was just a change from church 2.1 to 2.2. Whether the church adapts to reach coal miners in the 18th century England or postmodern pilgrims in the 21st century, most of the changes have been patches and plug-ins to the Church 2.0 system. Whether you are talking about high church or low, Pentecostal or Reformed the church has remained in the 2.0 range of upgrades. From Baptist to Brethren, from Mennonite to Methodist, the changes in the system are relatively untouched over the centuries. Music or no music? Pipe organ or electric guitar? Tall ceilings with stained-glass widows or meeting in a box building without windows, the actual system of church has gone relatively unchanged.

You have the priests or pastors, the Sunday service with singing and a sermon, the weekly offering, the pulpit with pews and the church building. These have been constants since the forth century. Even if you move the whole show into a house instead of a church building, if the system hasn’t changed you have only shrunk the church, not transformed it. Changing the style of music does not upgrade the system. Turning down the lights and turning up the volume is a simple patch to the same old system. Choirs and hymns or praise bands and fog machines, kneeling or standing the system is changed very little. Sermonizing with topical messages or expositional ones is not changing the system just making minor adjustments. Sunday Schools or small groups as secondary learning environments are not a systemic change at all, just a variation on the same old operational system.

While most of the advances to Church 2.0 over the centuries have been plug-ins and patches to the same old system, there have been anomalies along the way. Usually, these anomalies are the result of rampant persecution that drives the church back to the old default system. One could say that these are examples of going back to the Church 1.0 system, because their 2.0 system crashed in the face of extreme heat. The radical Anabaptist churches are like that. The Chinese house church phenomenon is also a departure from the expression of the Church 2.0 system. But these experiments are really not the norm and have not, to date, influenced the church as a whole in any permanent fashion, except perhaps to say that they are part of the learning that has led to this new operating system—Church 3.0

Church 3.0

I believe that the second major shift is occurring now in our lifetime. Many people want to go back to the beginning again. As much as I am enamored of what I learned about the church of the first century we simply cannot go back; we can only go forward. Granted, if we did go back it would be a vast improvement on where we have been more recently. But I have to ask, could we do even better than Church 1.0? Some may find that even such a question is heretical. It is only a question, but it bears consideration.

Can it be that we can actually improve upon the first century church? A careful study of Acts reveals that even in the first decades of the church there was profound improvement as people learned from experience, so why not more so today, building upon the foundation of two thousand years of mistakes? I believe it is possible. I think we can see the awesome impact and rapid spread that the first century saw, but we also can benefit from two thousand years of learning as well and utilize the technological advances we have available today.

Imagine if the apostle Paul could buy an airline ticket and be across the world in twelve hours instead of twelve years. Imagine what he would do with the internet and the ability to see events unfold globally and instantaneously. Our ability to understand culture and translate languages today is built upon two thousand years of mistakes and the successes they produce. Perhaps more than any other benefit we have is that we can look in hindsight at how easily the church was overcome by institutionalization—where the church is no longer people in relationship to one another, but an organized system—and move forward armed with that knowledge. The early church flew blindly into a trap of a religious hierarchical system that kept her in the dark ages for hundreds of years. History can train us for the future if we listen to it. No, church 3.0 is not a shift downward in church life or quality. It is an upgrade in every sense of the word, perhaps even above the early church. Why would we suspect that God would be content with us going backwards? Why wouldn’t he want us to grow and develop in better ways?

The best upgrades do a few things. First they allow for greater power in what you want to accomplish, and church 3.0 is a huge boost in raw spiritual power. Every part of the body of Christ can function at a much higher level. A second thing you may look for in an upgrade is to move to a simpler and more intuitive ways of using the system. This upgrade to the church 3.0 is certainly that in so many ways. It is built upon simplicity and potency bound together in a way that increases speed and power in the influence that the church can and should have. Thirdly, upgrades take advantage of the latest discoveries in technology and help you interact better with all the other electronics you may use. Church 3.0 is far and away better at being fluid and mixing with multiple expressions of church structure and overcoming the world’s obstacles. Fourthly, an upgrade should have greater capacity to accommodate much more information, functionality and storage. Finally, some cool new features in an upgrade should significantly improve the system’s performance and make it much more fun to use. Church 3.0 is so enjoyable it is quite common for those who have made the switch to comment that they could never go back to the old system.

Do not be deceived into thinking that this is just another patch to the same old system; it is a radical change from the core of what church is. Church 3.0 has rebuilt the function of the church in every sense from the smallest to the largest capacity.

Stolen and posted by Joe B

Friday, September 11, 2009

unLearn your unTruth

"If you study the teachings of Christ, you’ll realize that learning wasn’t his primary goal. His primary goal was unlearning. He was reverse engineering religious minds. And those can be the toughest minds to change. That is why two phrases are repeated over and over again in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said…”, “But I tell you…” Get this straight: Half of learning is learning, and the other half of learning is unlearning. Unfortunately, unlearning is twice as hard as learning. It’s like missing your exit on the freeway. You have to drive to the next exit and then double back. Every mile traveled in the wrong direction is a two-mile mistake. Unlearning is twice as hard, and it often takes twice as long." It is harder to get old thoughts out of your mind than it is to get new thoughts into your mind." (From In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, by Mark Batterson)

Personally I am continually astounded at how easily many educated Christians embrace things directly contrary to Jesus, simply because others have said them before. And then they weave elaborate theories to justify it all. Oh yeah, and then condemn the nonconformists who refuse to go along. It really doesn't seem that complicated. But then I forget all the years I spent complicating things for others. God forgive me.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Three to a Bed

Pretty sexy stuff, ain't it? It may be the family of God, but hey, there's a lot of Jerry Springer stuff in the family album. Take Abraham, for instance, a top-shelf bronze-age bad-ass. A nomadic warlord, mightier than kings. And by Christian standards, he's a walking scandal.

The Father of the Faith for Jews, Muslims, and Christians is maried to his own sister, Sarah. Plus he's pimping her out whenever opportunity knocks. Not to mention, he's also hittin' it with the pretty young Egyptian maid, courtesy of...Sarah! I kid you not, Thanksgiving dinner at Abraham's tent was hot as the Fourth of July. Are you surprised to learn that the girls did not get along after a while?

And so it goes. The downstairs maid becomes the upstairs maid becomes the nurse maid. Meanwhile Sarah's discovering that her Cinderella has become the belle of the ball. That cute little teenager has that cute little baby on that cute little hip, and "By golly he looks like Papa." What's not to like? But if you're Sarah, you're seeeeething! Hagar has gone from baking the bread, to shaking the sheets, to rocking the cradle, to rocking the boat. How could she resist?

"A little smirk, a toss of the hair, a little tension in the air..."

Sarah couldn't sleep in the bed she'd made, but regret ≠ repentance. Regret doesn't make you righteous, it makes you worse. Her mistake, in the shapely form of Hagar, seemed to taunt her, and she grew increasingly abusive. Finally Sarah complained to Abraham who found himself caught in the terrible middle, between Ishmael the heir, and Sarah the jealous wife.

You really need to read the story in Genesis 16 & 21, but I'll try to sum it up: After a visit from an angel and a night of hot lovin', Senior-Citizen-Sarah conceived the child Isaac, according to God's promise. Ishmael mocked Isaac, just as his mother had mocked Sarah, so Sarah demanded Abraham throw them out on the street. Abraham agreed, but only after God promised him He would bless the single momma and her little boy. By God's hand, both sons prospered, and they fathered nations of eternal enemies.

So what's the point of this tale of la ménage à trois? Well, it has nothing whatever to do with sex, but everything to do with religion! With never a hint about sexual morality, St. Paul unwinds the allegory in Galatians 4. Let me boil it down all the way: Sarah/Isaac & Hagar/Ishmael represent the conflict between the life in the Spirit versus the slow death under the Law. Abraham fixed his "little problem". But you? You're still sleeping three to a bed!

Isn't it ironic? I mean, how you're pondering how Abraham could be such a sinner with all that nasty-nasty...and all the while you're under the covers with your back to the holy spirit, spooning with the law of sin and death.

You've been called to live by the spirit of God, the way of eternal life. But you are still clinging to a checklist of rules and social expectations, which is the death warrant of mortal flesh. If you live by the rule-book, you're just slow-rotting flesh; but if you're led by the spirit you're a child of God.

I do not care whether your rule book is stringent or loose, religious or secular, written or unwritten. And I do not care whether you keep it well, or keep it poorly. Those who live by a rule-book are not led by the spirit of God; they are not sons of God. They are sons of earth, and to the earth they shall return.

"You may eat from every tree in the garden, but you may not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."

God's first command still stands today. And that goes for you.

I suggest you put your robe on and read the whole story. Believe me, the Bible's version of this tale is better than mine.
Genesis 16-21 & St. Paul's two cents worth, Galatians 4 & 5.

Photo courtesy of Beta Male, voted the sexiest band in Indianapolis. Talented and decadent and creative. That's them in their daytime habitat, writing music!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Right Relationships of Brotherly Love

People fight. People argue. It's inevitable. Some people just don't get along, and some people just plain don't like each other. When it happens in the "family," what do we do about it?

It seems this issue gets overlooked in many church circles. We *know* what the "bad" sins are. Drugs. Felony offenses. And the sexual ones that involve naked body parts, obviously. But Christians seem to be notoriously bad communicators. We often gossip like it's our national pastime. And then if someone stabs us in the back, we hold stuff inside. Because we know that, at church, it's our job to smile and shake hands and look like everything is A-OK, lest we rock the Boat Of Christian Community.

Besides, if someone hurts us, there are plenty of other Christians out there. We can just mark that person off the list. Keep our kids away from his kids, honey, that's the bad seed.

The unChurch, though, desires to see something different. "Throwing our lives in together" means the good and the bad. It means transparency, vulnerability, and overcoming the isolation of suburban sprawl. Sharing the yucky stuff isn't too bad when it's our boss or our distant cousin that wrongs us. The rubber really meets the road, though, when it's another Christian brother or sister.

My good friend Craig says it something like this:

Being the kind of creatures that we are, it is inevitable that we will 'rub each other wrong', maybe even pretty often, depending on the specific personalities involved. What is NOT inevitable is that any given pair of Christians will be committed enough to each other, and to loving each other even when it's hard, to do the 'relationship work' to preserve the 'brotherliness' of their relationship. It really has a lot of aspects in common with marriage; except that, in our culture, it's not a given anymore that people will do the hard work to preserve and strengthen their marriages, much less for something as 'abstract' as brotherhood in Christ.

I've read that it was fairly scandalous -- or at least quite weird -- that first-century Christians called each other brother and sister. It wasn't just a quaint thing to say. It was a new family, a new way of living. Living and loving together.

Learning to confront and communicate with each other in love is not an easy task. Most people don't LIKE confrontation. But without any confrontation, you just have... avoidance. It's way too easy in our current society to avoid each other. I imagine it was probably much harder to avoid ANYONE 2000 years ago. You didn't have people retreating behind the garage doors of the suburbs. Today, we have to proactively make an effort to love and keep those relationships healthy.

I don't want to go all "Dr. Phil" here, but it is mostly a matter of communication. Learning to confront in love. Learning to argue in love. Learning to live and love different personality types.

I think it's really a lost art, being able to confront each other and argue in love. You've got to have some trust in each other as a family to hash things out like that. It seems like the disciples were always arguing with each other, but Jesus and love were the common threads that held them together.

Right relationships of brotherly love. That's what the "community" aspect of the unChurch is all about.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The River Runs Backwards: The Gospel According to Joe

Everybody knows how the river flows. A thousand tiny streams converge into one mighty river, right? That's the way of the world, especially in the affairs of men. A thousand little peons wear t-shirts for one big mega musician, or a rock-star politician or a pin-up preacher.

But that's not God's way; God's river runs backward.

And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of [the city], and on either side of the river, there grew the tree of life, which bare twelve sorts of fruits, yielded every month. And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
[Revelation 22]

You may have recognized that the Tree of Life mentioned here in Revelation appeared first in Genesis, in the Garden of Eden. But did you also recognize the river? The river that watered Eden branched out and became the four great rivers of the Earth. Notice that here the river of Life does not aggregate and flow to God's throne, it flows from a single, wonderful point, and it winds or branches whereeveer it will. This God-river turns up in Ezekiel 47 in vivid detail, and we see the water coming from under the altar, and "swarms of living live wherever the river flows." Then, instead of blending in the saltwater of the sea, the sea turns fresh when they meet. Earth redeemed, a gallon at a time.

So what's that got to do with you? St. John captures Jesus at his quotable best in John 7:38:

If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believes on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." This he spoke of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive. [Jn 7:38]

Dude, do you see it? If we drink from the river, we're The Immortals. Mere mortals are like Adam, "living souls" who will die; But we, like Jesus, become "lifegiving spirits." Eternal springs of life.

Yeah. This river runs backwards.

[Joe B]

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

166 Hours: A Glimpse Inside unChurch Abbey

The gentle Monks of unChurch Abbey would like to invite you into our world. We like to say "Church can have 2 hours a week, the unChurch is about the other 166." That includes work-time, family-time, bed-time, and party-time.

Let me introduce unMonk Eric and unMonkie P.J. They do not write or speak, instead they sing rock and roll, and they rock babies to sleep in the name of God Almighty. Years ago they bought a house at the intersection of the suburbs and a trailer park. At times they've felt it was a big mistake to buy in this location, since sometimes "people problems" can spill over from the trailer park into their own fenced, green back yard. Until one day that asked "What if...?"

What if God put us here on purpose?

School starts this week. So P.J. says, "It sure is expensive buying school supplies for the kids. Heck, how do poor people DO it?" So she calls some friends and says "Let's party." They asked their more fortunate friends to help out their less fortunate neighbors. They set up lawn chairs, set out food, lit the grill, and sent invitations to the neighbors. Gardeners and nurses and VP's and cooks and programmers and teenagers. Then they set put the donated school supplies out, like "See? We got this extra stuff. Can you use it?"

As in heaven, so on the earth. That's what unChurch is all about. Eric & P.J. are gonna kill me for making a big deal about this, but it was too good an example to waste. The bible says "provoke each other to do good."

So, what if God put you where you're at? On purpose?

[Joe B]

Monday, July 27, 2009

Touchdown Jesus Leads Us To The Promised Land?

If I follow Jesus, will I get a promotion at my job? If I trust in God, will my company make more money? Will I be successful in what I do here on Earth, if I am obedient to God's calling?

The other day, I was reading a Sports Illustrated article on Tim Tebow. Tebow is the Heisman Trophy-winning Quarterback of the Florida Gators. He is one of college football's best and most recognizable athletes. He's famous. He's also a Christian, a guy who is outspoken about what he believes. He goes to prisons and talks about Jesus. His father is a missionary in the Dominican Republic.

I'm a huge fan of world-class athletes that also are willing to talk about Jesus. Kurt Warner does it. Reggie White. A.C. Green. Orel Hershiser. There's an abundance of professional athletes who have talked at length -- and even written books -- about their faith.

I'm also a fan of players and teams that reach out to the community, and to each other. Many teams have a chaplain, and many clubhouses have Bible studies and church services that are well-attended. People like Tebow take the time to work in third-world countries or to meet with guys on death row. That's awesome.

So I read the SI cover story with great interest. The story focused on Tebow's Christianity. Two thirds of the way into the article, I read about how before last year's BCS title game, Tebow called 15 players into his hotel room and read a passage from Matthew to them. The words of Jesus: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

How can you not love this guy?

Then Tebow told his teammates that they would beat Oklahoma "not because we're the better team or because we've worked harder," although he believed those things were true. "We're going to win because we're going to handle it the right way, we're going to be humble with it, with God leading us."

That sentence made me stop and think. What? Is that really how God operates? "We're going to win, with God leading us"?

I'm used to seeing players point to the heavens or even kneel for a moment in prayer after scoring a touchdown. Practically every player you see in a post-game interview thanks God for the win. Kurt Warner, at one point, said that "The Lord has something special in mind for this team."

In fact, most of our churches preach a similar mantra. Obey God, and he will bless you. The Prayer of Jabez idea seemed to blow up into an entire institution. Enlarge your territory! Increase your impact! After all, the more football games we win, or the more companies we own, the more people we can help and win for Christ, right? Why WOULDN'T God want us to have all of that success?

Hmm. I think about Stephen. Peter. John. Pretty much all of the apostles. Ignatius. Justin. Origen. Jim Elliot. Millions more people crucified, stoned, burned at the stake, boiled in oil, ripped apart, or eaten by lions. Man, weren't THOSE guys missing out on "Christ's blessings!"

I wonder if Paul's tentmaking business really took off, and he ended up owning a whole string of tentmaking franchises. He probably just never mentioned it.

All of this makes me think of one of my favorite passages in the Bible, three kids on death row, speaking to the king, in Daniel 3: "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

Did he say "even if he does not"? What's that supposed to mean?

One could easily find scriptures saying that God will bless us if we follow him. But what exactly does that "blessing" entail?

If we follow Jesus -- a homeless guy who was jailed and then killed by the time he was 33 -- should we expect a life of successful earthly endeavors?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Only Way?

Is Jesus "the only way?" Well, as the humble swordsman Indigo Montoyo famously said in "The Princess Bride": "You keep saying that...I do not think it means what you think it means."

Below is a brief article from the blog of pastor Brett Nicholson of The Edge @ Bethel Temple, Evansville IN. I cannot kick off this discussion any better, so let him begin for us:

"Core to our calling as a church is to “make the case for the faith” to our generation. This is inspired by a study of the book of Acts and how Paul went about the task of missions. In that spirit, July is dedicated to equipping us to answer the question: “Is Christianity fact or fairy tale?”

We’ll begin with the question I think is the toughest.

“What makes us think Jesus is the only way?” Without question, of all the claims we make as believers, this one gets under people’s skin the most. Or, to put another way, “So if I don’t believe what you believe, I’m going to hell?” Ever heard that one in a conversation with an unbeliever? In the age of tolerance, it’s a pretty hard sell to say ours is the way and others are just out of luck. How do we answer?

There’s no question the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is the only way. But, I guess my goal is to fully appreciate and embrace the beauty of it rather than succumb to the temptation of grudgingly accepting it (in the back of my mind thinking God is too narrow). Better yet, I need to be able to articulate a solid answer when the question is posed. Therefore; my goal is to take a deep, hard look at Jesus’ claims to being the one and only way to eternal life."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Yankee-Doodle Diety

Not sure you're into following Jesus? What's the matter, don't you know the future of America depends on it? I mean go ahead, be a it for the old Red, White, and Blue, and for our boys in Baghdad.

Recently I got a well-meaning chain e-mail that sounded like this:

“Our nation has been on a slippery slope for a long time. If you look around you will find corruption, greed, moral decay, and a steady move away from the things that made us great. The principles upon which this nation was founded are no longer our backbone. However, we can reverse this trend.

“2 Chronicles 7:14 In God's word HE states, "If MY people who are called by MY Name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land".

I am convinced that we must pray for our nation and its leaders and ask for forgiveness. So I ask you to join me in this plea to our Lord. If you feel led to do so, would you please send this to people in your address book; ask them to pray EVERYDAY. (25 to the only the 5th power is 9,765,625 people.) IMAGINE if each person reaches TEN others...or all TWENTY FIVE!

If you do and they comply, we will lift up millions and millions of prayers a day to our Creator. He will hear us and in faith will answer.”

A counterpoint:

First of all, let us not mistake who God was speaking to in 2 Chronicles. He was speaking to his chosen people -- the Jewish nation in Palestine, 450 BC. Is that the same as Christians in the USA, 2009? I am not saying this does not pertain to us at all, I am merely asking HOW does this pertain to “us”, the 9.77 million people envisioned in the would-be chain letter above?

The “we” in 2 Chronicles is not “America”, neither does it refer directly to any odd conglomeration of souls who pray. Does that mean it doesn't apply to us? No, that's not what I mean. It just means that we need to look at what words like "us" and "land" mean in that context. So who are God's people today?

Well, I suppose that would be Christians. This passage is interested in His gathered people, His followers, His church. The “us” referenced is all the Jesus-lovers in Iran and Israel, Mexico city and Vatican City, Angola and America. Not political entities, but the “one holy ethnos” he’s gathered from every tribe and tongue.

So if CHRISTIANS, who are called by God's name, will humble themselves and pray and seek God's face and turn from THEIR wicked ways, God will hear and forgive THEIR sin, and bless THEIR land. However, the popular myth of this e-mail suggests that “we good guys” should be praying against “those nasty OTHER guys”. Those greedy people, those corrupt people, and their moral decay. Those for whom we vote and cheer; those whose CD’s and DVD’s we collect. Them…the ones that have pushed America down such a "slippery slope."

This seems to run completely contrary to the verse we're referencing. God says that WE must humble OURselves. Us! Our churches. Our Christians. WE must turn from our wicked ways, not bow in smug false repentance for the sins of others.

Then he will heal our land, right? And America will "turn around", and be restored to her greatness, to her manifest destiny? But He's not talking about America. God has no more interest in America’s success as a nation, nor for the souls of its citizens, than he has in Congo or Cambodia or Costa Rica. If you do not understand this, you do not understand God and his kingdom.
Joe B

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Radical Forgiveness, Scandalous Grace

Often, when we think of the forgiveness that we are supposed to have as Christians, we think of how we are to react to the guy that cuts us off on the freeway, or the coworker that says something negative behind our back. Are those good examples of the kind of radical forgiveness that Jesus lived and espoused? Or should we be looking for something more... severe?

This news story caught my eye a few months back. Years ago, Raymond Guay abducted and killed a 12-year old boy. Recently, he was paroled from prison. By order of the judge, he had to remain in New Hampshire to serve his three-year parole.

It will come as no shock to most of us that the tiny, peaceful, rural community of Chichester didn't want him living there.

But that didn't stop a local pastor -- David Pinckney -- from taking him in, to live with his family.

The town didn't like that one bit. Hundreds of people gathered in a town meeting to ask Guay to go live somewhere else.
    But now many locals feel like prisoners in their own homes. Smith said he will not allow his 11-year-old daughter to feed her pony, Wilma, alone anymore. Ingram, who lives near Pinckney, has blocked her back deck with the family's gas grill, a barrier to make sure the children do not go wandering.

    "To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't want Mr. Guay to be living in my town," said the county sheriff. "I'm a parent, too."

    "We were warned," said Pinckney, who has four children, ages 13 to 18, living at home and a fifth, age 19, away at school. "It was said this could disrupt life. People wouldn't like it. He's not liked. But at the end of the day, this is what Jesus did. He defended the defenseless. He was a friend of sinners."
In case you missed that, yes, Pinckney has four children living at home. The youngest is close to the same age as the boy that, 25 years ago, was shot in the head and found a month later, dead in the woods, wearing nothing but his socks, underwear, and eyeglasses.


In the conversations we had about this story, the common theme seemed to be something like, "Sure, that's cool that he did that. But geez, I've got young kids. I don't think I'd trust a guy like that around MY kids."

The story of the killing is, indeed, tragic. The final paragraph of the news story is a quote from the mother of the boy that was killed by Mr. Guay.
    "The worst part is the winters, when the wind is howling outside and you're curled up in bed, nice and cozy," she said. "That's when I think about my poor little son out there in the freezing cold in his underpants. Can you imagine?"
No, I can't imagine. I hesitate to even think about it. Is this really the kind of man Jesus wants us to love and forgive?

Would YOU take him into your home?

Friday, June 19, 2009

A New Sect, or an unSect?

Is the unChurch a SECT?? Our last article spoke of how men remake God to suit their taste, then hold everyone else to that standard. But how is the unChurch any different? Isn't The unChurch just one more calf-worshipping sect among many? Friar Joe B goes way out on a limb to answer that.

I have to speak only for myself on this, but I will point out that our faithful critics do not criticize us for being specific or narrow, rather for being too inclusive and fuzzy. Our critics ask "what Jesus are you following", as though it were a difficult question. But honestly I think that anyone who reads the gospels has a marvelous view of who Jesus is. It is only by applying layer upon layer of interpretive frameworks that the picture gets obscured.

That is why we are clearly not a sect, we are clearly an "unSect"!

I believe Jesus is utterly accessible and knowable to us who believe, whether we be learned or ignorant. The spirit of God himself dwells in our hearts and minds through faith. It is this faith and love that entwines us securely in his being. It is not knowing correct facts and adhering to abstract "beliefs" that secures our place in his communion, nor is it strict adherence to certain manners, nor is it the approval of any particular religious authority.

I believe that that all the complexity and esoterica of religion: faith, truth, ethics, and spirituality...are all summed up in Jesus himself, that real guy in sandals who stood up among us and proclaimed "God's Kingdom is Here!" He is knowable. I know him. And I absolutely love him, because he positively rocks.

Jesus once criticized the scholarly authorities of his day saying "Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering." (Lk 11:52)

Contrast this "Way of the Experts" with the wonderful way of Jesus described by St. Peter. This is long, but read it long and slow--it's God's word:

"Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. Therefore, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Generations of ambitious men have clamored over their claims to be St. Peter’s Rightful Successor, but it is sometimes hard to oserve how the religion hammered out by the Calf-Sculpting Department of the Religious-Industrial Complex is even remotely related to the wonderful, powerful Word of Jesus that brings light and life to Man.

St. Pete continues: “And we hold a more-sure prophetic word,* and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Why is the Word of Prophecy "more sure" for us? Because, the same spirit who lived in the prophets lives in us, through faith in Jesus Christ who calls us.

Too spiritual? Too scary? Who knows. But I ain't skeered.

* I think this is a more literal and accurate translation of the Greek text of 2 Peter 1:19. Permission, The Joe B Version (JBV) New Testament, 2009.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Of Golden Calves

Sure, I know. You are right. Everything you think you know about God is exactly, precisely right. What you think you know = what you actually know, 100% of the time. In his 1952 book, Your God is Too Small, J.B. Phillips raised eyebrows as he confronted the tendency to attribute human-like limitations to our eternal, almighty God (for instance the arrogant notion that you have God all figured out, and you can anticipate his every move.)

Let me add my voice. Many Christians, even biblically literate and seminary trained, are prone to over-emphasizing certain attributes of God, to the diminution of others. The result is always a scaled-down, wee little god. One more to our liking. Maybe one that bears a passing resmblance

Calvinists tend to favor the facets of God that are disciplinarian, righteous, vengeful, selectively merciful, deterministic, and sometimes generous. Charismatics emphasize the intimate, fatherly, forgiving, merciful, friendly, joyful, and always generous. And shall we speak of conservatives and liberals?

Bottom line: Excluding or diminishing facets of our Father that are supernaturally revealed in Scripture is a flaw that cultivates error, lack of love, division and carnal living. The Lord our God is One. Let us pray to the One True God to open the eyes of our understanding so we may know Him better. In all his brilliance, glory and life-changing power.

NOTE: This article was written by Chris Bradford (Exec Pastor of Discipleship, Fellowship Bible Church, McKinney TX) and published on his modest-but-profound blog. It was stolen from his wee little blog, and had a stinging intro added, in an act of villainy not equalled since the burning of the fabled library of Alexandria. Comment on his blog page to voice your outrage!!!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Transgenders and Jesus

Here's the "ethics dilemma" that Dr. Russell Moore of Southern Seminary presented to his ethics class for pastors:

Joan is a fifty year-old woman who has been visiting your church for a little over a year. She sits on the third row from the back, and usually exits during the closing hymn, often with tears in her eyes. Joan approaches you after the service on Sunday to tell you that she wants to follow Jesus as her Lord.

You ask Joan a series of diagnostic questions about her faith, and it is clear she understands the gospel. She still seems distressed though. When you ask if she’s repented of her sin, she starts to cry and grit her teeth.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know how…I don’t know where to start…Can I meet with you privately?”

You, Joan, and a godly Titus 2-type women’s ministry leader in your church meet in your office right away, and Joan tells you her story.

She wasn’t born Joan. She was born John. From early on in John’s life, though, he felt as though he was “a woman trapped in a man’s body.” Joan says, “I don’t mean to repeat that old shopworn cliché, but it really is what I felt like.”

Joan tells you that when she was twenty she began the process of “transitioning” from life as a man to life as a woman. She underwent extensive hormone therapy, followed by extensive plastic surgery—including so-called “gender reassignment surgery.” She has lived for the past thirty years—physically and socially—as a woman.

“I want to do whatever it takes to follow Jesus,” Joan tells you. “I want to repent…I just, I don’t know how to do it.”

“I am surgically now a woman. I’ve taken hormones that give me the appearance and physical makeup of a woman,” she says. “Even if I were to put on a suit and tie right now, I’d just look like a woman with a suit and tie. Not to mention the fact that, well, I am physically…a woman.”

“To complicate matters further,” Joan says through tears, “I adopted my daughter, Clarissa, when she was eight months old and she’s ten years old now. She doesn’t know about my past life as…as a man. She just knows me as her Mom.”

“I know the sex change surgery was wrong. I know that my life is twisted. I’m willing to do whatever Jesus would have me to do to make it right,” she says. “But what would Jesus have me to do?”

Joan asks you, “Am I too messed up to repent and be saved? If not, what does it mean for me to repent and live my life as a follower of Jesus? What is right for me to do?”

You see, the scenario about “Joan” isn’t really all that hypothetical. Chances are in your town right now, there are people in that situation. Why don’t they show up in our churches? Is it because they doubt if our gospel is really addressed to them? Or is it because we doubt it?

Not another word from me. What do you think? What's the dilemma? What's the solution?

For Dr. Moore's article and conclusions, CLICK HERE. If you have no opinions about the dilemma, you definitely will about his conclusions!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Washing Feet Until We Take Over the World

What is the "kingdom of God"? What is our place here on Earth, here in America? How are we to interact with powers and authority systems? Should we be trying to win some abstract "culture war"?

"As we allow Christ's character to be formed in us -- as we think and act like Jesus -- others come under the loving influence of the kingdom and eventually their own hearts are won over to the King of Kings. The reign of God is thus established in their hearts, and the kingdom of God expands...

This, in a nutshell, is the primary thing God is up to in our world. He's not primarily about getting people to pray a magical "sinner's prayer" or to confess certain magical truths as a means of escaping hell. He's not about gathering together a group who happen to believe all the right things. Rather, he's about gathering together a group of people who embody the kingdom -- who individually and corporately manifest the reality of the reign of God on the earth. And he's about growing this new kingdom through his body to take over the world. This vision of what God is about lies at the heart of Jesus' ministry, and it couldn't contrast with the kingdom of the world more sharply.

I'm in the midst of reading The Myth of a Christian Nation (a provocative title if there ever was one). But the book's subtitle is "How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church." The author's main point is that the kingdom of God is about following the life of Jesus Christ. Trying to align ourselves too closely with any earthly government or political powers (voting the right way to take America "back for God," for instance) is not at all what the kingdom of God is about.

Jesus taught a "power-under" kingdom, where greatness is measured by sacrifice, service, love, and death. All perfectly embodied in the cross.

What this also means is that there is danger in associating the Christian faith too closely with political viewpoints, whether conservative or liberal. Jesus was about hearts and not about legislation. To some degree, many evangelicals fuse the kingdom of God with their preferred version of the kingdom of the world.

I'm not sure that Jesus is interested in "taking America back for God." The kingdom of God isn't about winning a culture war, or keeping the right words in America's Pledge of Allegiance, or outlawing gay marriage. The kingdom of God, incarnated and modeled in the person of Jesus Christ, advances by exercising power under others. Self-sacrificial, Calvary-like love.

It's a tough road to travel. Who's up for it?

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Among our readers you will find all sorts. Insiders, outsiders, rebels and commmited church-heads. Some have left Church-As-We-Know-It, while some have stayed behind to work to salvage it, and some believe that everything their church does is right, no matter what. Whether they are for "church" or against "church", they are completely defined by it. The gentle monks of unChurch Abbey do not have a dog in that fight. We just tilt our hearts toward God, follow onward, and leave the church-heads to fuss over the rest. Still we found this article to be very interesting, written by guest scribe Brant Hansen, a syndicated Christian radio morning show personality who left "church-as-we've-made-it" some years ago. These are his observations.

FAQ #24: Shouldn't We Just Stay Where We Are, and Work for Change, Rather than Abandoning the Church?
by Brant Hansen, Syndicated Radio Host, from his blog, "Letters from Kamp Krusty"

Frequent Answer #24: For you? I have no idea.

And, by the way, sport, that's a weird way to pose the question.

I get this all the time, though. Since chronicling our own move out of the typical American 501-c-3 church structure, a lot of people have posed the question this way. It's a way of saying, a) yes, your fundamental critique may be right, but b) you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Or, perhaps, it's another way of saying, a) yes, your critique may be right, but b) I don't know any like-minded people around here, and I can't just go sailing off by myself.

Or, perhaps, it's another way of saying, a) yes, your critique may be right, but b) I went to Bible College, okay? What the heck else am I supposed to do for a living?

Or, perhaps, it's another way of saying, a) yes, your critique may be right, but b) I've already staked out my position on this, so now I'm committed to defending it.

Of course, there are those (many) who say, a) your critique is totally jacked, this system is the one God gave us, by golly, and b) you're an idiot, and c) shut up, and d) seriously, you're an idiot. This is a popular option, but these people usually aren't asking FAQ #24.

So, what should you do? Stick it out? Try to change things from the inside? Occasionally ask a question here and there, rock a boat here and there, slowly press for change?

Like I say, I don't know. I can't speak to your particular situation. I wish I could; this blog entry would be a lot more interesting. But one-size-fits-all thinking is, in part, what got us into this expensive mess.

Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost wrote a brilliant new book, ReJesus. (You should buy it and read it. I can make that categorical statement.) They say the church needs a serious "reboot", to re-align the software (all our church trappings) with the hardware (Jesus). Jesus' values, Jesus' priorities, Jesus' teachings.

By advocating for that, they're advocating for radical change, and I'll bet you know it, too. So here's one way you might look at it: Will that radical change happen without people like me making a radical change?


None of this, of course, applies if you object to the very idea of leaving church-as-we've-made-it. If you see "preaching", Biblically, as a sermon delivered each week to roughly the same audience by the same guy in the same building, and you regard this to be a sacrament, you'd never ask the question at all. (I heard a very popular preacher the other day say, on the radio, "When someone causes you to doubt or question, you get away from them, and get into the House of the Lord. I know I need to do that, because I need a talented man of the pulpit to help me understand, and...")

You may be a person, like this Talented Man of the Pulpit, who really needs, who must have, a Talented Man of the Pulpit. In which case, you've likely stopped reading this blog. You may think his sprawling campus is the House of the Lord, too, in which case, you've likely stopped reading this blog.

Here's another consideration: The original question reveals something horribly wrong. By abandoning a particular institutional conception of church, you are not abandoning the church. It's an insidious idea that begs the very question.

Now, for you, it might ultimately mean that you WILL wind up leaving the church -- the people called out by God for his purposes -- but that's a different issue. Simply put: You may not be able to deal with the freedom. Freedom is wonderful, and just like most wonderful things, like, say, sex and the strong force in an atom's nucleus, it's also dangerous.

You may need someone to tell you exactly how much to give, and exactly to whom. You may need someone to draw up a chart of the Eight Things a Disciple Must Be Doing. You may need the busy-ness that comes from meetings, and meetings that plan meetings. You may not know how to live without it. (I've heard it before: "Well, then -- what do you do?) You may not ever be able to break from something your parents did. You may need to be able to easily explain you're a "real Christian" by saying, "Here's where I go to church."

There's other stuff you may need. You may need to feel more occupied on Sunday mornings. You may need help being told what to study. You may need to avoid the disapproval of those who will judge you for what you're doing. You may need the significance that comes from your social standing in that particular group.

You may, if you're a musician or speaker, need a crowd.

If these are things you need, deep down, leaving a particular 501c3 organization may, in fact, ultimately result in leaving the real church.

Oddly, while we can worry about that, I'm more worried about the people currently well-plugged-in to American Church Life who have no role -- who've been trained to have no role -- in the church of Jesus. They left the church, and are busy members in good standing.

Anyway, I can't answer the question for you. If I were a career pastor, or lived in a small town, or -- any number of possibilities -- I, frankly, doubt we'd have made the move we made. I don't know that we could have done it.

It's been a wonderful thing, opting out, and a blessed thing. But I can't say, for everyone, everywhere, it's the thing.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Commune in the 'Burbs: Part II

More on Craig's "covenant community" -- Part II. See part I here.

There were 80 or so of us who committed ourselves to our first covenant in June of ’74 (I was all of 18 years old at the time). By the following fall, there were a few less than 70 of us left, as the demands of community life began to become clearer. At first, the big deal was just that, having made a covenant with each other, our lives weren’t our own, to do with as we pleased; at least, not like they’d been previously. It’s hard, you know – somewhat akin to how marriage is hard – to give others a say in your life, when you’ve never done that, and it’s not exactly how things go in the larger culture. And besides that, loving other people is hard – especially people with whom you live really closely. One of my favorite quotes from my favorite book not-the-Bible (The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis) says, “. . . to be able to live at peace with hard, obstinate and undisciplined people [ie, people like me]. . . is a great grace.”

In the first years of our new ‘community’ life, it was just an amazing time – everything we touched seemed to prosper. By the early 80s, we had something in the neighborhood of 500 adult members. Not that I’m playing a ‘numbers game’ at all, but things just worked; evangelism was easy. The community life was pretty attractive, especially to college students, and everything we touched seemed to turn to gold. We liked to say that we were ‘the greatest thing God is doing on the face of the earth’. What’s that proverb about ‘pride goeth before a fall’? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Now, you’d no doubt not be surprised if I told you that the guys who were leading a group like that had some pretty strong egos. At least, a couple of them did. And their ego clashes eventually led to a rupture in the community. And then, the guy who, after all that, was the main head leader-guy, was found to have, uh, certain deficiencies of character. And between those two things, the life of our community was rocked pretty hard. By our 10th anniversary in ’84, we had around 180 members. And from that, we’ve had to rebuild our community life, incorporating the ‘lessons learned’ from our troubles.

One thing we learned – when our community was comprised almost completely of young singles (in ’74, we had five married couples in the community, who had two children between them), there was a certain ‘gung-ho’ intensity that didn’t translate well, once we started marrying each other, and the community transitioned to something more ‘family-based’. The whole ‘intensity’ thing also sometimes happened at the cost of individual members’ taking responsibility for their own lives. ‘Radical self-denial’ could easily morph into a kind of authoritarianism. And so, part of our challenge in rebuilding the life of our community was to foster the same kind of radical discipleship, while respecting the integrity of the would-be disciples, and not crossing over into authoritarianism.

Another thing worth mentioning at this point relates to something that Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book, Life Together (which is a great book on the dynamics of Christian community life), to the effect that ‘he who loves his vision of community more than he loves the community, destroys the community’. That is, if we love our vision of community more than we love our actual brothers and sisters, the community will die. Sort of the Christian version of the old bit from the French Revolution about making omelets and breaking eggs. And that is also consistent with our experience of community life.

In the early years of our community, community life was largely ‘household-based’. Groups of singles would share a house together, and have daily patterns of prayer and sharing. Or families would have singles live with them, to live the community life in a family setting. I personally lived in both of those – in a household of 18 single men (sort of analogous in my life to my dad’s military experience), and later, with a family, along with two other single men, and three single women (I’m guessing that might provoke a question or two).

These days, we don’t have so many of the ‘old-style’ households, but we do make an effort at ‘clustering’ – families will buy houses near each other, so that physical proximity can foster close relationships. Right now, my wife and I live in a neighborhood where we’re within a block of about ten community families, and within 4-5 blocks of 6-8 more families. Living close to each other just makes a ‘life together’ a whole lot easier, and more natural.