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Simply Church: Prayer

April 5, 2012 1 comment

This is a no brainer. Everyone knows that prayer is inseparable from church. I’m guessing they do at least. It doesn’t really make sense to be God’s people and not pray. If you think differently, I’d love to discuss that with you in the comment section below, but I’m assuming we all pretty much agree on that. I’d like to briefly discuss some reasons why I believe that prayer is important.*

When we speak to God, whether we are explaining to him why we’re frustrated, thanking him for things in our lives, asking him to move in our lives, the lives of others, and in the world, or consciously reading the beautiful words of a well constructed liturgical prayer, we are made more aware that He is there. One of the most basic beliefs in following Jesus is that God is alive in the world. It’s also one of the easiest (for me) to forget. More importantly, living in the reality of the constant presence of a loving, powerful, beautiful, and righteous Father can be very influential on how we think, feel, and live. Speaking to God and listening for His voice presupposes an awareness of His presence.

Asking God to move in the world is important because it connects us with God’s heart for the world. When we request God’s will be done in our lives or in the lives of others, we are acknowledging that in some way God’s will is not being done and that God’s desire is that things change. Praying for things to be made right unites us with God in purpose and desire. I believe that becoming unified with God in our desire for the world will increase our participation in His redemption of it. If our hearts our open, our requests for God to rectify something in the world may result in Him saying, “Okay, I’d love to. Here’s what you should do…” The more we speak to God and open ourselves to Him, the more easy it will be to discern His voice.

Prayers of gratitude can help us to be humble and joyful. When we are recognizing and thanking God for al the good He has done for us, we are recognizing our place before Him. We recognize everything good in our lives is from Him and without Him, we are, quite literally, nothing. We have not only our existence to thank Him for, but also every good thing. Appreciating His provision that we do not deserve eliminates pride. Taking time to credit God for all the good He has done and is doing can fill us with a grateful joy at the wonder of all He has given us.

There’s a reason Jesus told his followers to pray for their persecutors, not only is prayer for them what love looks like, but praying for others has a way of increasing love for them. Prayer works with enemies. I’ve found the effect to be much greater with friends. My love for people increases when I am actively praying for them. I care more about their lives and well being, I’m more engaged in conversation, I think more about their other relationships, and I’m more in tune to their subtle to communication. Because I’ve prayed for them, I’ve become deeply invested in their heart and I’m more active in looking after that investment (selfish selflessness?).

Not only can the loving act of prayer increase our love for each other, but praying together brings us closer together. Our focus shifts off ourselves and each other, and we are united in our asking, knocking, and seeking. Looking to God with one another provides perspective for our relationships. It’s amazing how little theological differences seem to matter when you are holding someone’s hand and together are thanking God for His provision and asking Him for His kingdom to come. Praying together provides a shared experience of God which reminds us of His image in one another and keeps us focused on why we are in community in the first place.

The primary reason to pray is that it’s effective. Prayer is not merely uttering some syllables that an omnipresent God inevitably hears. Prayer does things. When we thank God, we are actually doing something: expressing gratitude. When we speak words of praise to God, we aren’t just saying things, we are worshipping Him. When we ask God to do something, it’s not as if God just hears the request and is going to do whatever He’s going to do regardless of what we ask of Him. Our voiced supplications mean something to Him and have an impact on how, where, and when He chooses to move in the world.

Why do you think prayer is important for the church?
* Perhaps a series is in the future.

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Categories: Simply Church

Simply Church: Authority

March 6, 2012 1 comment

There’s no way around the necessity of authority in the church. There is, admittedly, a part of me wants to perform some rad, 10.0 deserving, theological tricks and stunts that show authority in the church to be superfluous. Those familiar with the blog know that I can’t do this. Although I often have unique perspectives which surely are wrong sometimes, I at least always try to be true to Scripture even if I fail in that regard. Authority is inextricable from a Jesus community.

This topic may also benefit from a family perspective. In my family, there are a lot of different roles invested with different types of authority. Greg is the authority on money. Jessica will figure out what to do when people are hanging out together and everyone else will go along with it. Jenn will use her power to keep the peace and seek the maintaining of relationships. I suppose I’m the one looked to for a cogent perspective on Scripture and politics, and if there’s a problem I’m going to bring it to the surface. Graci keeps things fun. Jared… I’m not quite sure what his role is, but he’s one of the first people I test out new perspectives on because he has a solid BS detector. The point is that in a nuclear family roles of authority often arise naturally. Church authority often does the same.

Paul is an example of someone who has a lot of authority in the New Testament. Based upon Paul’s letters as a whole, it seems to me that Paul does not think primarily as himself being one with authority. Rather Paul believes his message about Jesus is from God and therefore that message and its implications for life together as a family is authoritative. As any prophet or apostle would, Paul believes his role is to make sure that the people who are supposed to be the embodied proclaimers of this message are embodying the message well. His unyielding insistence that believers listen to his words is not the result of his belief in his own authority, but his belief in the authority of the gospel he proclaims.

The work Paul did in proclaiming the gospel around the world and starting churches through this proclamation gave him authority over churches. In 2 Corinthians, Paul indicates that his authority is from God given to him for building up the church in Corinth because Paul started the church in Corinth. Paul’s actual authority over Corinth, while given by God, is only effectual insofar as Corinth chooses to submit to Paul’s authority. Thus, although the authority is from God, it only works because of a mutual understanding between Paul and Corinth that he is an authority on certain topics. Regarding Paul, this organically grown authority characterizes many of his relationships with local churches across the Roman empire. Churches looked to Paul as an authority to help them solve their disputes and answer their questions and so Paul became the authority. Most of Paul’s letters to churches (all?) are a response to a query to Paul, from the church.

In Acts 6, there is a group of seven that are given authority over an important element within the Jesus community, the distribution of food. I love the way that they are given authority. The twelve tell all of those who follow Jesus to pick out seven men who are full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, and have a strong reputation. Basically, the people who were going to be subject to those in authority chose people to be in charge of food distribution that they already deeply respected, whose relationship with Jesus they trusted, and who they trusted to make wise decisions. Everyone was pleased with this manner of choosing authority. I submit this process is a very natural way of formalizing authority.

In some of the epistles, we find descriptions of a similar way of assigning authority. A simplified paraphrase of the requirements for overseers in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 is: “You know those followers who have been around for a while, no one has anything bad to say about, make good decisions, know Scripture well, are full of kindness, and everyone already has respect for? Yeah, those would be good choices for overseers.” Paul describes people who are already thinking, acting, and living like overseers should live and then says that these are the people who should have overseer authority.

The question I always ask is: If these people are already people who teach the word and stand up to those with false doctrines, if they are already people worthy of emulating, if they are already people who have respect in the community and are looked to as an authority, why does their need to be a formalization of authority? If a spade is a spade and most people pretty much understand it’s a spade, why do we need to call it that?

Formalizing roles helps maintain the integrity of the community. If there is no people set to decide what is the gospel and what isn’t or what the Jesus community should and shouldn’t be doing, then everyone has an equal say. If everyone has an equal say and everyone thinks something different, then no real decisions about anything will be made. If everyone in the community votes on something, then we are in danger of a mob-ruled Jesus community rather than a gospel-ruled gathering. When new believers enter the community, they don’t have to try to figure out who is the implicit authority regarding preaching or food or pastoring or prophesying because these people have been given explicit authority. It is recognized authority that allows the church can grow as fast as it wants while retaining its central purpose and focus. Making roles explicit and attributing amounts and areas of authority to those roles allows a community to function much more efficiently by maintaining consistency during growth, solving family problems quickly, and keeping the direction of the family consistent.

All authority in the church is deferential in nature. The Messiah is the head and we are the body. My elbow and shoulder largely determine where my hand is at all times, but it is my head that determines what the elbow and shoulder do. The elbow and shoulder have, in a sense, directing authority over the hand, but all three of them work together as peers to accomplish the purposes that the head determines.

If you want to read some interpretations that paint authority in a less positive light, see: Paul’s Conciliatory Ways With The Jerusalem Powers and “It would not be right for us… to wait on tables”

Simply Church: World Rectification

February 19, 2012 Leave a comment

We are a family with a mission. Our family has been charged with caring for creation, and because creation has been messed up, we have been charged with the rectification of creation. We don’t just exist because we happen to be born from the same parents, we exist because Love invited us in and we wanted that Love to consume our lives. When love consumes us, we must express it. A part of this expression is rectifying what has gone wrong with the world. Setting things right is one of our purposes for existing.

I want to reiterate that the first purpose of the family, and by far the most important, is to be formed into the likeness of our older brother Jesus who is the idyllic human reflection of our Dad. Our primary goal as a family is to be an incubator for Dad’s transforming love. Our secondary goal is inseparably connected to the first, we love God by becoming like Him, and in becoming like Him we are filled with love for the world that reaches out to invite others into our family. These are solutions to the two real problems in the world, which are: All of humanity has not been reconciled to their true Father and those that are reconciled have not yet grown up to be like Him. Everything else is symptomatic.*

Treating symptoms of sin’s disease is still worthwhile, honorable, an act of love, and a reflection of our Father. Ultimately though, if we are not bringing people into the family and strengthening the family, we aren’t really solving the problems. I think that while we treat symptoms out of love, not motivated merely by the desire for converts, we need to keep in mind that there is nothing more loving than the reparation of a broken relationship with Dad because this brokenness is the . I’m not trying to undermine the importance of treating symptoms as this manner of love expression is beautiful and there is great reward in heaven for expressing it. I do want to make sure we are primarily focused on healing the disease even while we are treating the symptoms.

In Scripture, helping the poor is one of the most important ways we make the world right. Throughout both Testaments are injunctions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. In the U.S., I’m sure Christians give a lot of money to other people to do these things. However, I think that the further we are from the actual feeding, clothing, and sheltering, the less beneficial it is for the kingdom of God. Mass provisions of food in a mess hall, cardboard boxes full of free clothing, and mattresses on a floor are great because of their efficiency, but their impact in bringing more people into the family is diminished because the personal expression of love is diluted. It is one thing to put a scoop of mashed potatoes on someone’s plate, it is quite another to invite them to your dinner table in your home and engage them in conversation. The more intimately involved we are in helping the poor, the more our Father is put on display to those we are helping.

In many nations and in many cultures, oppression against certain groups of people is a serious problem. Often this oppression is based upon something like: socioeconomic classes, ethnicities, races, gender, religion, and perhaps sexuality. I believe that the response of the church to oppression should be twofold. We should first act to publically love the oppressed, declaring to them and to the oppressive government or culture that these people bear God’s image and should be treated with that dignity. Second, we should publically reveal oppression, denounce it, make clear its absurdity, and teach a different way. Through both of these actions, we are being God’s prophets to the world.

When humanity was first created God told them to find a name for the animals and take care of the world. The redeemed family of God is also called to be the caretakers of the earth and the animals. Paul describes creation as groaning in eagerness, longing for the family of God to be fully transformed into the likeness of our Father in the glory of our resurrected bodies. Creation itself was subjected to the Fall when we were subjected to it. When we are in freedom and glory, creation’s freedom from bondage to corruption also ends because its caretakers are redeemed in full. In the meantime, we are to be caretakers over whatever creation is under our rule. Additionally, I believe that the church can also function as a prophet with regards to the world’s treatment of creation. Where the environment is being irreparably damaged, where animals are being pointlessly destroyed or cruelly treated, where orcas are subjugated to a lifetime of forced labor by their human enslavers, the prophets of God’s people should be speaking out as God’s voice to humanity.

More important than rectifying these things in the world, we should make sure that these things are not a part of our family. Let’s make sure that our family is not ignoring the poor or treating them dishonorably, creating outcasts, oppressing others, or destroying the creation God wants to redeem. May being adopted into God’s family mean that there is no black nor white, Arab nor Asian, slave nor free, male nor female, rich nor poor, and may it not matter if one was gay or straight, Muslim or Jew, for those of all pats are equally welcome to be God’s children. Insofar as our family is free of these problems, the solution to these problems is simple, we adopt as many people into our family as we can. The more brothers and sisters we have, the more the world is set right.

*I’m still not sure if this is hyperbole or true. Thoughts?

Simply Church: Meals

February 13, 2012 5 comments

There was a time when eating together was the norm for a family. When I was younger, almost every day my family would sit down at the dinner table and eat supper together.* Mealtime was when everyone stopped whatever they were doing, gathered together, prayed, shared a meal, and talked. Conversations weren’t always pleasant, sometimes they were uncomfortable, sometimes angry, but these mealtimes did much more to unify and solve problems in the family than create them. Meals are the perfect event for a family gathering because everyone in the family has to eat and the meal creates an environment well-suited for the conversation work of the kingdom to take place.

Jesus does a lot of his work over meals. He asks and answers questions when talking with the lawyers. He subverts ceremonial washing practices and gives a lesson about what it really means to be clean. He demonstrates in no uncertain terms the value of the sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Through dinners with different crowds Jesus demonstrates the indiscriminate magnanimous love God has for the sinful religious rejects and the sinful religious elite. In making a meal, Jesus does the miraculous that everyone may eat of the food of his teaching with full stomachs. Forgiveness happens at the table. Transformation, redemption, and the rectifying of wrongs happen because of conversations with Jesus at the table. The whole celebration of the Egypt Exodus is reworked and recentered at the last supper.** Jesus does lots of cool things during meals.

The gathering of believers likes to eat together a lot too. In the beginning of Acts, while new believers are entering into the Messianic kingdom by the thousands, the church not only were devoted to learning from the apostles how to live in and bring this kingdom of the risen Messiah, but also to “fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.”*** Obviously the teachings were central to the lives of the believers together, but so were the meals. And at these meals, as we see in subsequent chapters, great care was taken to make sure that no one went hungry. No one lets their siblings go without food.

Paul provides an interesting picture in 1 Corinthians 11 of the gathering of the Church in Corinth. He says,

“when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, when you come together as a church… there are divisions among you… When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.”

Paul assumes that when the church gathers together in the name of Messiah Jesus, they are eating together. Not only are they eating together, but by eating with one another in the name of the risen Lord, they are eating the Lord’s Supper. Paul goes on to heavily criticize the church because when they are eating what they presume to be the Lord’s Supper, each is eating their own meal, leaving the poor hungry and the rich drunk. Paul then goes on to explain a lot about what the Lord’s supper means and how to consume it, then says, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat…” Again, the underlying assumption is that eating together in the name of Christ is eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord.

In most church gatherings, we would never have anything approximating this problem while having the Lord’s Supper. There is not a situation where one person would eat to excess while another goes hungry, because no one eats anything substantial. The hungry would be hungry with no one knowing, because when they receive the Lord’s Supper, they only get a tiny piece of bread and a sip of juice. Our celebration of the Lord’s supper provides an equally insignificant amount of food for everyone, which doesn’t seem to be what Paul is imagining.

I have never gathered together with believers and remembered the body broken and blood shed during a meal with them. I have often taken the Lord’s Supper, but it was always a private experience of reflection, prayer, and remembrance of Jesus that occurred in a room full of people with some worship music in the background. Of course these private moments with the Risen One can be beautiful, intimate, and transforming. These moments, however, not what the Lord’s Supper was when Jesus exemplified it and explained it to His disciples, and the earliest followers of Jesus did not practice it like we did.

I don’t think we have to practice it the same way.**** However, we are missing something because we don’t gather together for a meal in the name of Jesus very often. Meals have the potential to be a place where a church functions as the church. In the joy and satisfaction of eating and drinking, much of the kingdom work of conversation can be done. Meals are an activity everyone can do together, uniting one another, making sure the hungry are fed, and are a potential conversation catalyzer.

In my life, because I have not thought about meals with other believers as the gathering of the church in the name of the Lord Jesus, I have replaced meals. I think that our desire to have these intimate moments and engage in the kingdom work of conversation has led to a preponderance of Christians going to coffee shops to gather in the name of Jesus. I don’t think I have ever met a believer in Christ at a coffee shop without talking about what the Risen Lord is doing in their lives. In my life, most of the beautiful moments of God’s power working through his people has happened during one of my conversation catalyzers: coffee shops, bars, and smoking. I believe that places and situations that invite open conversation with believers and allow the exercising of spiritual gifts are central to our lives as a community.

If we do not gather together regularly to share a meal in the name of Jesus, here is the question: What can we do to create space and an environment in our regular gatherings that stimulates transformative conversations with our brothers and sisters?
*Then sports and other commitments happened and the whole eating together thing went to shit. Obviously, football > family.

** Is this term, “last supper,” for the Passover feast with the disciples biblical? Because it doesn’t feel right. It might have been Jesus’ last meal before He was crucified, but is He not with us whenever we gather together in His name and share food?]

*** I haven’t researched this, but based upon imagery in Luke regarding the Lord’s supper as well as the meal where Jesus is revealed after the road to Emmaus, it would seem that the “breaking of bread” imagery is a way of talking about the redefined Passover meal. It certainly is an image indicating eating with others in the presence of the risen Messiah.

**** I do think that eating together is a wonderful way to remember what Jesus did and a kingdom act anticipating the marriage supper of the Lamb when all of God’s children will feast together.

Simply Church: Conversation

February 6, 2012 1 comment

This should go without saying, but I still think it needs to be said. Deliberate, open, and Jesus centered conversations are an absolutely necessary part of a church. I believe that these conversations among brothers and sisters, including Jesus and Dad, are central to life in Christ. Conversation is central to expanding the family, strengthening the love in the family, and helping the family look more like our older brother (who is the spitting image of our Father).

Dialogue about the Scriptures very often brings far more understanding than a Sunday morning monologue. Sunday morning monologues can be wonderful, informative, and encouraging, but it is through dialogue that we sort out what we really believe about something. More importantly, it is through discussion that we figure out how the Scriptures should affect the way we interact with the world. Community conversations concerning how to respond to Scriptures are frequently the beginning of actions that build, strengthen, and expand the family.

Open and prayerful discussions about our lives, struggles, confusions, frustrations, sins, and questions is one of the most powerful tools of transformation that the Spirit uses to make us like Dad. God uses Scripture to help us deal with these things, He uses His direct presence in our lives, and He uses his body, the church, to bring us direction and help in our times of need. God’s Spirit often works through conversation between believers to mend our hearts and transform us into His likeness.

Conversation is one of the most important ways to love each other toward YHWH. Encouraging, exhorting, admonishing, supporting, helping, confessing teaching, prophesying, preaching, healing, forgiving, mercy showing, praying, celebrating, and the like all happen in the context of a conversation and are all essential for believers to exercise. Having conversations surrounding these things is not something that should just be done because it’s beneficial for us and our siblings, but also because making the most of our conversations is an act of obedience.

Intimate discussions about big questions, personal struggles, how to interpret Scripture and what to do about that interpretation, and the wounds of our souls do not happen enough in community. There are very few people that make them happen. I barely make them happen. We have many opportunities and we seldom take full advantage of them. And usually, it is some form of fear that holds us back. Letting fear hold us back makes no sense for a child of God, for far more than fear holds us back, love drives us forward. Be driven by this love to actively engage your siblings in these conversations because we can’t be the body of Jesus without them.

How can you make more of your conversations? What would help you pursue others through conversation?

Simply Church: Mission

January 26, 2012 4 comments

There is a lot to say about the mission of the church family in the world. My friend @nate_ray probably has much more to say on this than I do. Again I’m going to limit my focus and zoom in on the mission of the church from a family perspective.

Our family is full of Love. Our Father is Love itself. He has breathed Himself into us, and now we are full of love. Our Father’s love is so big though. He loves to pour out His love on His children. He loves his children loving each other and watching them grow up to look more and more like Him. But it’s not enough for Him. Our Dad wants His family to grow. There’s enough love for everyone.

His first son, Jesus, charged his disciples, who were both his friends and his brothers, to go into the world and teach people to honor YHWH their Father they way that Jesus honored the Father. Jesus makes it clear elsewhere that those who do the will of his Father are his brothers and thereby also have YHWH as their Dad (this is also quite clear in the Jewish tradition that those of the covenant who live by the covenant have YHWH as their Father). Jesus tells us to go out and help people from all nations live and act in a way that makes them sons and daughters of YHWH.

Our mission as a church is to invite people into the family. Because of the great love we have from our Father and for each other, we want the family to expand. A family that has YHWH as their Father will want to and pursue expansion. The beautiful part of what our older brother has done is that he has already taken care of all of the adoption papers for everyone, making a way for all to become a part of the family. We literally can invite anyone into our family. Our Dad will lovingly adopt them because our older brother Jesus will vouch for them. And if Dad wants them, who are we to reject them? The only response is to embrace them as if they are both long lost and brand new siblings. They belong here as much as we do, and they always have.

Sometimes people reject being in the family. Sometimes people reject the family because they’d rather be independent and live in their own house with their own rules. Sometimes people reject the family because the family is dysfunctional. In our world, sometimes the family looks more like a fascist government than an incubator of love. The family can be closed off rather than invitational, or the family may become very particular about who it invites to become a part of it. The outside perception of the family is often that this family is replete with judgmental hypocrites rather than transforming lovers. Whether or not people choose to be adopted by Dad, we should at least have a family that is appealing to those without one.

Creating a family worth being in is one of the reasons why being like Dad is so important. We have to get rid of those areas in our lives, minds, hearts, and souls that run contrary to who our Father is and replace them with attributes that reflect him. Getting rid of those areas is not just for self betterment. We’re not that focused on ourselves. We work out our salvation because that’s what it means to love. The more like Jesus and Dad we are, the better we are at being in relationship. Sin keeps us from loving Dad well, loving each other well, and loving the world into adoption well. One of the reasons sin in our family is so unacceptable is because we then display to the world a family that they don’t really want to join.

When this family is reflecting its Father, it’s difficult to imagine others not wanting to be adopted. This family is where the kingdom of heaven reigns on earth, where what is wrong with the world is set right and where what is right with the world is amplified. In YHWH’s new covenant family… The wounded find healing. The homeless find home. The friendless find friends. The mourning find a shoulder to cry on. The hopeless find hope. The loveless love. The hungry food. The dirty are cleansed. The sinful are transformed. The broken are put back together. The lame walk. The blind see. The slave is freed. The joyful have brothers and sisters to rejoice with. Race, socioeconomic status, country of origin, biological family history, past sins, present issues, gender, and everything else are irrelevant. All who would give up the way of their old family to put on the way of YHWH’s family are welcome to join us and discover life that is truly life. This is the good news that we proclaim to expand the family.

The Church, the Gospel, and abuse of the pulpit

January 22, 2012 1 comment

The following is written by John Weirick. John is a physically distant and electronically close friend. He is a lover of Jesus, leader of men, communicator of the gospel, and, as displayed here, a wonderful exegete of the culture. You can find his website in my blogroll to the right.

Atlanta, Georgia’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, according to its website, is “built on the solid rock of Jesus Christ,” and has long been an environment fostering the social justice movement. Boasting its great history as a leading site of Civil Rights events and coordination, Ebenezer Baptist was even pastored by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s.

It’s not surprising that this was the location hosting senior White House adviser, Valerie Jarrett, on the anniversary of Dr. King’s birth. It was reported that Jarrett praised Dr. King’s work as essential to the possibility of Barack Obama ascending to the Oval Office. Many may also remember that then-Senator Obama manned the pulpit in 2008 prior to reaching the presidency.

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“It felt appropriate to have her here,” said Rev. Raphael Warnock. Ebenezer is several weeks into a voter registration drive, which will continue until November elections, providing attendees the opportunity to register in the lobby before leaving the church facilities.

Jarrett spoke before Warnock’s sermon, and garnered the audience’s applause with two remarks in particular:

“We all sleep a little better at night knowing Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants are not plotting a terrorist attack against the United States.”

“Teachers and firefighters and policemen, whose jobs are now in jeopardy because Congress, well let me be specific, because the Republicans in Congress…”

More thoughts on news stories.    More thoughts on the Gospel.

Warnock’s sermon continued the politically charged theme, leaking tones of his liberation theological bent, even calling out Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich:

“Mr. Gingrich, let there be welfare reform, and let it begin with you…He is playing an old game that’s part of the southern strategy…I think he’s relying on old logic of scapegoating and race baiting.”

I am deeply disturbed, and I am not alone.

As we’ve joined Jeremiah on his thoughtful and concerned exposition of what the Church of Jesus should look like, this is no doubt an issue that has broad implications. There is no shortage of discussion material that could be explored here, including the proper relation of politics and the Church, individual Christians involved in politics, government roles, social justice, civil rights, racial tension, liberation theology, and other contentious topics. However, my main concern here is this: how should the Church use the pulpit?

Even setting aside the issue of the “legality” of all but endorsing a political candidate by hosting one of his top advisers and representatives, and speaking against a candidate (threatening non-profit, 501c3 status), this is a bold move by Ebenezer Baptist Church. [IRS: “…Public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.”]

Why did Rev. Warnock surrender the pulpit to such a figure? What did he hope to accomplish with this? Was this an intentional, thoughtful use of people’s time attending the church gathering? How is Jarrett’s celebration of the death of Bin Laden providing the audience meaningful spiritual substance? What perception does this give the public at large about Ebenezer Baptist Church? Or about the Church locally, nationally, or globally? Do we want the world to see the Church in this light, as a forum for more political and socioeconomic divisiveness? Does the Church not project a perception of who God is and what He’s like?

How should Jesus’ Church use the pulpit?

A position of leadership and speaking to a gathered body of people should not be taken lightly, and therefore must be stewarded wisely. The pulpit, as a placement of authority, ultimately belongs to God and not man; we are only borrowing it, but we’ll be held responsible for how it is used.

The intention of the pulpit is to proclaim and celebrate God’s truth in Scripture and the world, to remind us of His heart, to call us out of sin and to repentance, to cast vision for the direction God calls his followers, to instigate believers to live adventurously with God’s Spirit in loving and serving the world, and to bring us back to the centrality of life: while we were still stuck in the mire of sin, Jesus dwelt among us, died to put our sins to death, and resurrected to bring us also back to life in Him. The pulpit is about the Gospel, because without it, truth is incomplete, God is too impersonal, the world too un-navigable, our lives of no culminating significance, and grace too unattainable. The pulpit must be used to re-gather God’s people around their purpose for living, enjoying the Creator and His creation.

Perhaps most importantly, in this instance of opening the pulpit to a high-profile guest, where was Jesus?  Not once was Christ mentioned, nor was God name-dropped; neither was there a semblance of biblical teaching, instruction, or leading of attendees into a holistic, godly life following Jesus. [I realize the nature of news reports is to share only succinct soundbites and the most sensational statements, but there has been no shred of Jesus mentioned in any of the broadcasts or transcripts. I would love to be proven incorrect by hearing that Rev. Warnock actually did preach a sermon about Jesus, although it’s hard to argue that the Gospel would not be muddied by including such flagrant speech against a political figure in his same message.] To give a guest speaker, or even a pastor or leader figure, warranted time on the platform to share a message that is void of Jesus and the Gospel, is at best a disjointed, incomplete message, and at worst a disservice and disgrace to the Church for which Jesus died to redeem.

If we contrast how Jesus used the position of the pulpit (although a physical pulpit may not have been the precise location of his teaching), we see Him steward the platform for spiritual authority with great wisdom, boldness, and substance. In the Gospel accounts, for example, we see Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount and visit synagogues to read Scripture. In preaching a brief message based on the prophet Isaiah’s writings, Jesus’ exegesis of Scripture reveals that He is the fulfillment of it. The redeemer of the oppressed, the giver of sight to the blind; despite the imperfection of the world, He is making all things new. We would do well to rightly divide the word of truth in our stewardship of the pulpit.

Do you see unfitting use of the pulpit? What abuses must be avoided? How can we effectively and faithfully steward places and positions of authority?

John writes more at johnweirick.com and is grateful for the opportunity and friendship provided by Jeremiah.

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