Casting Stones at Other Christians

My previous post, which briefly discussed Calvin College’s de-invitation of The New Pornographers, was edited a few times yesterday.

I knew what I wanted to say, but after the first posting, I changed it. A few minutes later, I changed it again.

I wanted to be critical but in a positive way. My first draft didn’t meet that qualification, at least not in my mind.

I don’t want this blog to be another place where we go to just gripe about other Christians.

There are problems with the church and they should be addressed. What I don’t want to do is talk about the “church” as if I’m not a part of it, to point the finger at the horrors of other believers while ignoring the fact that I often ignore the evil habits in my own life.

I can’t talk about grace toward sinners while refusing to show it to my spiritual family.

In my opinion, Calvin College made a mistake. It certainly wasn’t their first and it won’t be their last. They’re not perfect.

You know what? I’m right there with them.


The New Pornographers: Actual Pornographers?

This morning at Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta has an item about Calvin College, a Christian school, inviting The New Pornographers to play, only to withdraw the invitation.

Here’s the reasoning:

However, after weeks of discussion and consideration, the irony of the band’s name was impossible to explain to many. The band’s name, to some, is mistakenly associated with pornography. Consequently, Calvin, to some, was mistakenly associated with pornography. Neither the college nor the band endorses pornography. The Student Activities Office regrets the way this has happened.

I want to know why the student body (or heck, the administration) couldn’t do a better job of telling people that this wasn’t a porn show? (Hemant guesses some older donors probably had an issue.)

I can see why some of their members want to remain blameless and beyond reproach. But the culture they’re trying to engage already knows The New Pornographers aren’t associated with pornography. If anything, outsiders might wonder why some Christians are making such a big deal about the name and won’t take the college seriously as a result of this.

If the goal was to protect their witness, the college might have unintentionally just hurt it.

The Parable of the Good Muslim.

A man was driving down from Washington, D.C. and pulled over when he saw a stopped car with its hood open and blinkers on. He asked the driver if everything was alright, only to be ambushed by three other men who were in the shadows, waiting.

They beat him mercilessly, stripped him of his clothes, took his money, and left him for dead on the side of the interstate.

A member of Congress drove by and, seeing the man, continued on his way, not wanting to miss the vote in the Capitol.

A pastor drove by and, seeing the man, continued on her way, hoping to get home in time to finish sermon preparations.

But a Muslim, driving by and seeing the man, pulled over and put the injured man in his car. He then took the nearest exit ramp to a local motel and rented a room for the evening.

The Muslim told the manager that his mosque would pay for whatever expenses were incurred, as well as reimburse him for any extra effort he made in caring for the man.

Now, which of these do you suppose was a neighbor to the man?

Go and do likewise.

Lacking Context: Ignoring Other Voices

Last week, I asked and briefly explored why more churches aren’t doing more to teach Christian history. I don’t mean the occasional reference to the Protestant Reformation, either (which has been my experience in church). I mean a strong effort to teach people how the church grew after the last chapter of Revelation, who influenced it, and what its struggles were.

I proposed that part of it is due to a lack of time on the part of pastors and a lack of interest on the part of their congregations.

I also suspect that we don’t dig deeper into church history because many of our departed spiritual heroes held radically different views than we do.

Until recently, I never know that many of the early Christian leaders believed the Eucharist to be the literal body and blood of Christ. I never knew that many of them saw baptism as an instrument used by Jesus to save people, and not just a symbol of grace already bestowed.

Those two views alone fly in the face of what I’ve been taught in most churches. It gives me pause when I learn that some of my views were not shared by the earliest Christians. Some of these people aren’t far removed from the apostles.

So it may be easier to just ignore them. Besides, if your interpretation of the Bible is correct, if you see your views as having descended directly from Jesus and the apostles, then what do you care if other Christians disagreed with you?

The truth is, we should care very much. Jesus promised that he would be with us always and that the Spirit would continue to lead us into truth. (Listening to others will also help guard us against the prideful attitude I mentioned in the previous paragraph.)

When we neglect our spiritual predecessors, we risk shutting out what the Spirit is trying to teach us.

We need that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) to help guide us, because they’ve been where many of us are now. If they challenge our interpretations, then perhaps our understanding has always needed to be questioned.

Charles Spurgeon sums it up nicely:

“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.”

Let’s never forget that we are the latest branches of a larger family tree.

Jesus, the Son of Anarchy

I think that FX Networks’ Sons of Anarchy might be a good place to start for some Monday-morning theology. Here’s what I mean:

The show’s main premise is that Jax Teller, the heir of this club, discovered in the first episode an unpublished book by his late father, also a member of SAMCRO. In it, the departed Teller admits that the gang has lost its way and spells out his vision for what the club could be. From the series’ onset, Jax is torn between two fathers: the would-be reformer and his uncle, who sits as president of SAMCRO.

In this show, the son is the visible representation of the father’s dream. Jax’s father has a desire, and (presumably) the younger Teller will attempt to carry it out. There are other elements of the show that wouldn’t fit with the life of Christ (who, best to my knowledge, never operated a porn studio), but it fits quite nicely with what Christians believe:

Jesus is the visible representation of the will of God. He is the Word, sent from heaven to carry out His Father’s will.

What is His will? The rescue of all things.

Jax Teller isn’t out to destroy SAMCRO. He is a part of it and wants to save it. In the same way, Jesus becomes a part of creation to save it, not by carrying certain people off to heaven but by destroying evil and establishing justice and peace. Our world will be rescued from every kind of plague and oppression (both spiritual and physical), and we’ve been invited to either share in that salvation or reject it entirely.

Christ embodied that mission in his life, miracles, teachings, death, and resurrection. He showed love and compassion to his neighbors and dined with his enemies. As he was nailed to the cross, he begged God to forgive his murderers.

May His likeness be visible in our lives, too.

Lacking Context 3

For the last couple of days, I’ve asked why more churches don’t expound on our history as God’s people. I offered a few possibilities yesterday; Robert in the comments section has offered some great observations as well.

It’s unlikely I’ll have time to post today, so in the interest of strengthening our intellectual and theological muscles, I’ll ask this:

Where do you go to research church history? The library? A Web site?

Sound off in the comments section below! (If it’s online, please provide the link so we all can enjoy.)

Thanks, and enjoy your Friday!

Lacking Context 2

Yesterday, I asked why churches don’t teach their own history.

I’m going to give every leader the benefit of the doubt (for the moment) and propose three reasons why churches are historically illiterate.

  1. Lack of training. Pastors didn’t teach it because their leaders didn’t teach them, so they keep silent about church history because they don’t feel comfortable talking about what they don’t know. If that’s the case, you have to respect someone who is mature enough not to talk past their knowledge. The downside is that they passed on their lack of knowledge to the next generation of spiritual leaders.
  2. Lack of time. Pastors are furiously busy and only have so many weeks in the year. So they spend what time is available focusing on the Bible, which is virtuous because too many of us are biblically illiterate, too.
  3. Lack of interest. Maybe some of them have taken this route, only to realize it’s not what their congregation wants to hear. How many of us ever sat in a history class in school, complaining that we’re never going to need what we’re learning? That same attitude may be present in our churches. (In my experience, I’ve never heard of fellow churchgoers demanding to know more about early Christian history.)

And yes, I’m fully aware that I just used a three-point system in which every sentence started with the same letter. Pray for me.