It seems that as the summer wears on, my posts keep becoming sparser! As you've gathered from the past two posts with links, though, I've certainly had my work cut out for me. The womens' bible study has proved immensely rewarding, both to me personally, and (from what I can tell) to others who have found in the Apostle's words the very joy and encouragement that he intended to create by writing the letter (how the Word of God still speaks!). The recording of the third session should be posted fairly soon, once I receive it. Also, I'm going to attempt to compress the other two files a bit so that they don't take forever to download (they'll be mp3s once I make the change).
An update on work in general would make sense, though the last couple weeks have been taken up mostly with sermon & teaching preparations (as you've probably gathered). I've been burying myself in Philippians, which will also prepare me to lead a bible study in the fall, back at school. I attended the two-day Global Leadership Summit (hosted by Willow Creek Church in Chicago) at one of the nearby satellite locations (Crossroads Church in Costa Mesa). I also helped out a bit with Vacation Bible School, mostly with setup and a bit with slides and audio. From what I could tell, God did some amazing things this year in the lives of kids (including using them to heal one of the leaders!). Let's all pray for the good work God has begun in a lot of young lives this past week, a work that we know he'll complete until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)! I've also been doing a good bit of reading (on my beloved Kindle) - just in the past few weeks, I've read The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, The Cost of Discipleship by Deitrich Bonhoeffer, and (re-read) The Mortification of Sin by John Owen. I'm just about to finish Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God by Gordon Fee and to start God Crucified by Richard Bauckham. Read all of them - I highly recommend them!
Someone in Church yesterday asked me if I'd blogged about the recent statements made by Anne Rice (the popular vampire novelist and Roman Catholic) declaring her departure from the Church and organized religion. Though I'm not very familiar with Anne Rice's background or books, I was interested by what Pastor Richard discussed in his sermon, and looked up the pastoral response Mark Driscoll wrote for the Washington Post (found here). I'd recommend reading it - Driscoll makes some good observations (the best, I think, being that the decision of Anne Rice and others to quit the organized church because of their distaste for the people they've found there actually constitutes, in many cases, just another brand of self-righteousness and judgmentalism). At any rate, the following are my thoughts on what has happened.
It is first of all worth pointing out that the phenomenon of Christian hypocrisy within the Church is by no means new – in fact, it is as old as Christianity itself. One need only read the letters of the Apostle Paul to see the kind of state the early church was in: in Corinth you had believers in lawsuits with one another, one believer committing incest, others getting drunk on communion wine and neglecting the poor in the congregation. In Galatia and Philippi you’ve got some believers compelling others to get circumcised in order to ‘complete the deal’ of their Christian religious résumé (and looking down on them if they didn’t). In Colossae there were people holding to a strict asceticism and judging others if they ate certain foods or enjoyed certain kinds of drink. The parallels with modern Christian churches, I think, recommend themselves.
Nevertheless, these problems did not stop Paul from insisting throughout his writings that salvation is a reality experienced within the context of the (Church) community established by the Holy Spirit. His argument against marriage with people of another religious persuasion is made on the basis of the fact that “we are the temple of the living God”, the community among whom God dwells (2 Cor. 6:16-18). His emphasis on the fact that salvation is “in Christ” necessarily leads him to make such statements as “we are members, one of another” (Eph.4:25), and that walking “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” means “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (vv.1-3), all so that “through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God would be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10). To the Philippians Paul urges that discipleship in Christ means “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27), and doing so with the mindset of Jesus who didn’t cling to right or privilege but became a servant for the sake of all (2:3-10). The effect of this proper mindset in the Church is that Christians can “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (v.15), and do so much more effectively than if they remain apart, broken and isolated individuals without peers to build them up in their faith. Of course many within the church consistently fail to live up to this calling. But Pastor Mark makes a great point that Anne Rice is in effect “stereotyping” the Church – she is claiming by her actions (whether she intends to or not) that all Christians are like this, and this is simply not the case. I've spent the summer working in a Church that has consistently demonstrated that it's not.
Anne Rice would do better simply to keep searching, to find a community in which she feels she is welcome, God is honored, and the work of the kingdom is actually being pursued. Whether that search should continue outside the catholic church is a matter she will need to consider for herself. But wherever it takes her, she would do well to realize that God’s purpose in Christ was not merely to save a bunch of island-like individuals by giving each a personal hope for eternal blessedness; rather, it is to create in him a new people of God, one through whom his saving promises to Abraham will be carried forward and the kingdom of God will break into this world forever. Until then, there will always be hypocrites within that company – as Jesus himself said, many people will come to him at the end and yet be rejected because their ‘religion’ was but a cheap veneer to an otherwise unredeemed lifestyle (Matt. 7:21-23!). Meanwhile our task is not to ‘walk out’ on the Church, but to stick it out, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience [because being with other Christians demands it!], bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). Maybe for Anne that could mean gathering Christian friends with whom she is close and enjoying fellowship, prayer, worship, study, and service in the context of a small group. But I would encourage her (and anyone else feeling justifiably annoyed with the Church) at least to consider something like this rather than a total rejection of communal life with believers. The best kinds of spiritual formation can occur in the presence of a deeply beloved brother or sister in Christ.
Finally, I think Driscoll gets it right: "Christians should not be offended by her rejection of Christianity. We should use it as an opportunity to search our own lives to see how we have been vicious, cruel, mean, unloving, and difficult to others, and repent of our own sin without fixating on what we think are her sins. We should also pray for her...and wait for Jesus to keep working on her as he is on us, thanking him that at least our struggles are not as publicly scrutinized as hers."
And while we're doing that, here's a book highly relevant and well-worth reading: Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Speaking of books (yet again), I haven't forgotten about that second part of my book review on Lesslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. That might come a few days after I depart Newport Beach (August 22nd), but God willing, it will come! That's all for now!