Community through focus, not through a boundary.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. ” I John 1:7

Normally, I’m a little averse to quoting a single passage of scripture and then reflecting on it. In many cases, it can lead to some pretty awful violence against the meaning of a passage. In this case, though, I think I’m justified.

In the middle of John’s diatribe on the need for people to live in keeping with the call of Jesus Christ on their lives, he puts in a very (seemingly) odd sentence; the one noted above.

I think both the sentence, and its placement in I John are important. The central message of the passage is that we follow Jesus in all we do. We cannot claim to be in unity with Jesus, and then walk in darkness, but at the same time, we cannot pretend we have no sin. Instead, we are called to confess and repent of our sins, and as a result get cleansed from all unrighteousness.

In all of that, John makes the statement that if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.

From what I’ve been learning in my classes, this is counter-intuitive. Many people would claim that the main thing we need to do is to be intentional in the Church about “building community”. That we are called as a people to build accepting places where people feel free and accepted and loved. In that context, they claim, we can build the kingdom of God.

While I am sympathetic to the idea, I honestly think that such is a fools errand, and I think the scripture leads me to that conclusion (we’ll see more of this at some later point when I finally deal with the non-egalitarian nature of love, as it’s reflected in Christ’s quote of the Shema Israel). Most clearly, this is taught from the above text.

My contention: Community is not built, it just happens.

Now, this does NOT mean that there isn’t work involved in the proper functioning of a healthy community, but that the point of that work is not the community itself, the community is a side effect to the seeking of the primary goal. This is why I disagree wo vehemently with people who talk about “The Kingdom of God” as the ultimate goal. It’s not. The goal is the glory of the King, and as we seek that glory for the king, we become part of the kingdom.

As it says above, as we walk in the light, the effect is that we have fellowship one with another. It does not say we have fellowship one with another so that we may walk in the light. Thus the work in building a Christian community lies not in how well we build a community, but in how well we build Christians. It is how we manage to edify one another, and build each other up in following God and avoiding the “deceitfulness of sin” (see Hebrews 3:12-13), that makes us community, as we become closer in our seeking after Jesus.

This isn’t surprising. Think about a good dating relationship. We don’t maintain a good relationship by focussing on the relationship itself, but by focussing on the people we love, and their good. My (as of yet non-existant) girlfriend shouldn’t particularly impressed if I talk about how valuable our relationship is unless it’s valuable because I find HER valuable. The point isn’t the relationship, the relationship is an effect of the point.

This is in stark contrast to the old adage that one can be “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”. Indeed, at least as far as community is concerned, we are earthly good in precise relation to how “heavenly” (Godward) minded we are. It is only as we are Godly minded that we develop Christian community properly, and as we fail in community, it is because we have somehow been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin to not walk in the light. God promises as we walk in the light we have fellowship with one another. So if we have no fellowship with one another, some of us are simply not following Christ.

This brings me to my title. The question is not whether or not we meet a boundary, but whether or not we swear fealty to a king. Lamin Sanneh in a short book (of which I cannot remember the title) points out just this point. We are Christian insofar as we are aimed at Christ. Not in how many points of doctrine we agree on. Indeed, someone can be aimed at God, though very far away from Him, and be more Christian than someone who adheres to many of the doctrines, but whose heart is aimed away from God.

This does not mean that doctrine is unimportant. On the contrary, it is vital. This is how we tell if we’re aimed at God, as it is God’s revelation in Scripture that shows us what it is we are aimed for. Namely God, and specifically the God we see incarnated in Jesus Christ. Yet the question is not whether we hold to the doctrines, but whether we hold to the God that those doctrines describe. We love the doctrine because we love the God they describe.

So then the question of where our hearts are is inestimably important both for eternity, and for our lives here. It is MOST important for eternal reasons, as it is God that is of ultimate importance, but if we do not see God as ultimately important, we will find even our temporal goal of community is unattainable. This is why we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (note: not just the Kingdom of God). All the other goals come from that one, not vice versa.

This is why, in the more mundane facets of reality, Churches must be made up of primarily believers. Why marriages must be between believers, why the closest friendships should be between believers. In each case, the lack of believers means that the Churches, the marriages, and the friendships are doomed to failure. It’s why if we love our friends, we MUST tell them about Jesus and pray that they come to faith (as its only through belief that our friendship has any chance of lasting). It’s why Churches must have both preaching for conversion and church discipline, as in order for the church to survive, people in it must see and savour Jesus above all else. It’s why we should seek to marry believers (if we marry), as it is only through Jesus that a marriage can thrive properly, as it is through Christ that we have fellowship one with another.

Indeed, as with all things, our relationships as Christians are dependant on our relationship with Jesus


Friday of False Hopes (The First Day)

In the last 10 minutes of Good Friday, I felt I should actually put up some reflections on what I’ve been thinking about.

Many people comment on the death of Christ as for our sins, some even as an archetype of obedience to God; but my sins were not all that got nailed to that Cross on the first Good Friday. Remember, a week previous to this, we had crowds shouting Hosanna about the Jesus we see today on a cross. What also dies there were the false messainic hopes of Jesus’ followers. As if the riding of Jesus into Jerusalem would signal the beginning of the Rule of Jesus and the end to hardships. They had a false view of the messiah, as sometimes I do.

Often I bemoan the problems in my own life. I think about how I’m still single, and I go to a seminary that’s extremely liberal, and all that stuff. I wait for Jesus to come riding into the Jerusalem of my life and make everything grand in the way I think it should be.

Jesus does make all things right, but I forget that the call of Jesus is both one to suffering on a cross, and a call to defeat the powers of sin, death, and evil in my own life and in the world. In a world that seeks to kill God at every turn, what should be surprising me is that my adversities are so laughably light while I seek to follow the Lord.

So today, as the Lord says “it is finished”, I pray that I can remember to put to death all the false hopes that can get in the way of the one true hope, that will be revealed in glory on the third day.

discernment, repentance, sin

I was out to lunch

A couple of days ago I vented on an argument I had with a friend. After speaking to a mentor of mine, and reflecting a little on the scriptures, I came to the conclusion that I was out of line. I think often times I have a pharisee complex when it comes to other people. This is surprising, since I have my own abiding sins, ones that I believe should be met with far less patience than a possible lie by implication.

reflecting on 1 John 5:16-17, I remembered why some sin did not lead to death. The difference is a hardness of heart towards our lord, as (surprise, surprise), our lives and righteousness are in Jesus, not in us. Thus when I correct another concerning sin, especially unasked, it has to be something that seems likely to lead them from Jesus. Do I still think a lie by implication is wrong? Yes. But I think it’s beholden on me to pray for my friend on that one rather than open a can on him. Not that sin is minor, but some sin is better dealt with by a gentle word from the Holy Spirit as opposed to an open assault by a friend.

I pray that God will give me discernment on this in future.


Trying Times?

Click on the title, it’ll bring you to what I think is a very good article.

It got me to thinking, though. Perhaps one of the difficulties with the Church is (surprise, surprise) me. I talk a good talk when it comes to the centrality of Christ in preaching and Christian discourse, but how often is my life discernibly centered on Christ? I don;t mean to those outside, but when I look in the mirror on my own life (the scriptures), do I see someone recognizably seized of the Lord of the universe?

If we are ever to silence the naysayers and skeptics about the truth of Jesus Christ, the reality of a loving, powerful and just God, and the need to repent and believe, people like me need to live with Christ as highest in our affections. The result will be that I would be so transformed by God that people would know the reality of it all.

The problem is that that transformation is an act of God. Into my life, to rule my life; Come Lord Jesus come!


Arrogance and judgment

Arrogance is a bad thing.

So when a friend of mine (if he is still a friend) accused me of it last evening, I have to say that I was, and remain, troubled. Arrogance keeps people from seeing the value of Jesus because they’re too wrapped up in the false gods they create for themselves (and may even name “Jesus”). It’s one of the ways by which people ignore God for the sake of their own intelligence, ability, good looks, or whatever. It can leave people looking not to Jesus, but to each other or themselves.

I need prayer on this one, though, as I still don’t honestly see the arrogance in what I said and did (I’ve reread the transcript). The problem comes down to my being “judgmental”. Now, I can go off on a rant here, but I’ll try not to, instead I’ll look at a few pertinent scriptures and try to come to an understanding of what judgment is.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12

This seems rather clear. Now, what I said to my friend was that he should probably agree with the definition of a given action of the Church he is performing an action in, or else he seems to be saying something he does not believe, and is thus lying. So for example, if I were to be ordained as an Anglican priest, I would be implicitly agreeing to the doctrine of the Church I am choosing to be ordained in. Thus I would be less than honest were I to teach against that doctrine immediately after getting ordained.

The accusation of lying is a major thing, and can easily be seen as fitting as “speaking evil” against my brother. Also, it seems that if this is the case, I am judging him, and thus speaking against the law. I do not think that this is the situation I was in, because I spoke directly to the person involved, with only the intention of dissuading the course of action if that was what he meant. Indeed, if my understanding was incorrect, or my reasoning about why this was a lie was wrong, I believe I’d simply back off. That said, if I begin to believe myself somehow superior to my friend due to this difference of understanding, I could see how I would be then arrogant and judgmental. After all, the most common way I, as a sinful person, make myself feel better is by thinking evil of those who are around me, thus puffing myself up. I think that is what James is here writing about.

What James is not writing about is the question of discernment, rebuke or correction, all of which are admonished on the Church, and on specific believers (see 1 Cor 5:11-6:8, Luke 17:3, Hebrews 3:13). I will readily admit that I am not in authority, so I do not have the right to demand a course of action (though I believe I have a duty to express concern about a course of action if it seems dangerous). This must be done carefully, however, as the temptation for me to sin is here very very great .

That said, there is a very important series of verses that may bear on the situation:

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life–to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. 1 John 5:16-17

Here, I think is the point at which I may have been most in error. That said, I do think that willful lying with a church decision, may be close to a “sin that leads to death”. This is of a different order than say, a lie done in love for the benefit of another(still sin, still wrong, but probably not leading to death), or say failing to give money to someone who asks (which can show a lack of love, but still not leading to death in itself).

The difference is that the former willful sin seems to be primarily for the benefit of the person sinning, not for the benefit of anyone else. It seems designed to state acceptance of things they do not accept, and in so doing leave the door open for other similar actions. If it is not wrong to imply agreement to what you do not agree, you can continue parsing your own definitions with little or no reference to those who are outside of your parsing, to the end that you think you never lie, while you’re leading many others to think you believe things you do not believe.

This is especially pertinent as we are promised tribulations as believers in Jesus Christ. The world hated him, and if we follow Him, they will hate us. If we have a method of redefining things in our heads, we can avoid tribulation and suffering simply by choosing to redefine things. This does not give glory to Jesus. We can give the impression that the promises and practices we do as a Church are bereft of independent meaning, and thus cause others to ignore Jesus (who is the meaning of all we do in the Church).

Am I out to lunch here?