People of the Spirit, worshiping Jesus in all places, at all times

Archive for the ‘Foundations’ Category

Reading Scripture and the Hope of the Poor

As a Pentecostal, I grew up in a home that emphasized and practiced daily Bible reading–both individually and as a family. I was taught to read and study the Scriptures in a personal “quiet time with God.” Additionally, my mother read to us aloud from the Bible and taught us hymns, some small bits of catechism, and helped us memorize significant and sometimes extensive portions of Scripture. It was life-shaping and it has been effective in my life, as the Holy Spirit prompts remembrance and understanding from that past in my present day-to-day life. Christians are indeed people shaped by the Scriptures that bear witness to Jesus, the Word of God.

But I’ve overheard in various circles–Pentecostal, reformed, Anglican, Lutheran, and others–that the key to discipleship is daily Bible reading. Now, I understand where this comes from. I even understand that Willow Creek’s internal discipleship study some twenty-odd years ago reinforces the importance of the Scriptures in the Christian life. But I want to challenge the idea that it’s private daily Bible reading which is to be credited for deep roots in following Jesus.

First off, to borrow from something adapted from the Rev’d Dr. Amy Schifrin, STS, “Christianity is a deeply personal, but not private, faith.” It’s never been “me and Jesus”. It’s always been a Body, a nation, a community of saints and sinners gathered by the Holy Spirit and united in the blood of Jesus. We experience individual transformation in the midst of that, but we do so together. We cannot be disciples alone, and we are not intended to experience the grace of Christ alone. Even Saul’s conversion cannot happen apart from the Body. Jesus changed everything for this persecutor of the Church, but he sends Ananias to baptize and lay hands on Him–creating a community into which Saul is received.

Second, it’s never been reading. The Scriptures, all through the history of Israel were read aloud in order to be heard by God’s people. That continued in the synagogues, and the Church adopted the same practice in teaching the Old Testament, as well as reading the “memoirs of the apostles” and the apostolic epistles. The Apostle Paul goes so far as to say that faith comes by hearing in Romans 10. For the benefit of faith and the increase of grace, the Church gathers to hear the Word of God proclaimed by the Scriptures being read aloud, preached, and visible displayed in the Sacraments.

I know there’s going to be pushback, but I want you to consider–for 1500 years, before the invention of the printing press, there was little access to the Scriptures for the common Christian. Are we to suggest that the great saints and our forefathers and foremothers in the faith were weak, or malformed as followers of Jesus? Even if we allow that the medieval era had a great deal of this, the fact is that the Gospel spread throughout the world with people who were hearing Scriptures corporately, and deep discipleship came from that formation. The rich were the ones with access to Scriptures, even after the printing press was invented. And while that has shifted over the years, literacy and economics of owning a Bible continue to challenge.

So let’s return to the roots. As the Church, let’s gather together–in homes, in churches, in public–to hear the Scriptures together. Rich or poor, men and women, of every ethnicity, let’s attend to the proclamation of Jesus and hear Him revealed to us in the Scriptures. Let’s not be alone. Let’s not stifle the hope of the poor by telling them to get a Bible and keep it to reading alone. Let’s enter the community of people under the Scriptures, fro all to hear, and be changed as the Spirit stirs our remembrance of who we are as God’s beloved and sets our feet onto the way of Jesus.

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Keep the Traditions

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth….

The Great Litany begins with a blaring, intoned address to the Almighty God.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world…

It’s staunch orthodoxy refuses to bend to contemporary innovations.

O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful…

It’s movement of penitent supplication and confident faith embraces the totality of Christian life and discipline.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God….

But it continues to draw more and more of me into prayer and intimacy with God. It reshapes my mind, my heart, my body in a way that is oriented toward God, that advocates for my enemies and friends, and somehow lets me pray for the life of the world and the life of the Church at the same time.

Liturgical prayer is anything but dead. I can feel the cloud of witnesses join with me. I know in my bones that my ancestors prayed these same prayers, responding to the officiant’s supplications with “Good Lord, deliver us” and “We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.” In the United States, and in England and Wales, and in Ireland. I know my brothers and sisters pray these prayers– in Nigeria, in Australia, and in other parts of the globe. It’s tremendous. It’s a prayer that is larger than me.

And, oddly, it’s the reality of the life-giving nature of liturgical prayer that helps us guard against our own liturgical eclecticism. As Pentecostals, we should be in tune with the Spirit’s guiding the prayers of the Church through the ages and around the world. And if we are embracing that path, and giving the Spirit room to reshape us, change how we pray, and enter into words that have been handed down from one generation of apostolic faith to the next, then we will find that we are not doing anything strange at all. Instead, we are being formed into the people of Pentecost, devoted to the apostles’ teaching, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. And in that, we will see the release of God’s work among us in great acts of love and stunning signs and wonders — all to authenticate and draw attention to the great love Jesus has shown us.

Review: Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense

I ordered this book at the recommendation of a dear friend. And started it twice. When I was too busy with ordination process details to even think about reading. But somehow an immersion experience in mission here in Germany has opened doors for time to finish it.

All I can say is: wow. Wow, such raw honesty about the absence and presence of God. Wow, such clarity about the questions we get from friends and acquaintances every day about faith and Christianity. Wow, such effective truth-telling about how much we as human beings suck (with our “Human Propensity to F*** things Up” as Spufford puts it). Wow, such compassion and tenderness for fellow human beings in our suffering and being weighed down by the realities of the world.

But above all, WOW. WOW, SUCH GRACE. Such an impressive grasp of the overwhelming, constant, annoying, enjoying, transforming and failure-ignoring forgiveness and love of God brought to us by Jesus. We can breathe fresh Gospel air reading Unapologetic.

But Spufford’s purpose isn’t immediately obvious from the title. So, Christians these days sometimes engage in apologetics: defending the faith. It’s a noble and necessary task. Most apologetics, however, is aimed at the teaching and ideas that we as Christians confess in creeds and affirm in other statements that we hopefully receive from the Scriptures. This book, uniquely, is a defense of Christian sanity–that we are not wrong to feel as we do about God, the world, Jesus and the Church. And he does it masterfully.

Definitely give this one a read.

Hands-On Christianity

The laying on of hands may seem like sentimentalism to the non-Christian outsider, or superstition to the modern thinker, or Roman foolishness to the fundamentalist. But for those who are in the Church catholic–Western, Eastern, Reformational, and Pentecostal–the laying on of hands is a deeply Scriptural, communally significant practice. It is not merely the presence of physical touch in the worship of the community, but an expression of Spirit-empowered anointing intended for the life of the Body of Christ. While many in American evangelicalism happily place hands on those they pray for, and many have even considered that what they are doing is beneficial and biblical, this is quite different from the laying on of hands as practiced by historic Christianity or by Pentecostals. (more…)

Extra Ecclessiam Nulla Salus

My news feed has been ablaze with people talking about church and God and life with Christ, and what’s optional vs. what you have to do.

First off, if this is Christianity in its most foundational concerns, I want out. Clearly, the Gospel doesn’t give us a list of options and preferences or a list of do’s and don’ts. Yes, there is an obedience of faith, but I’m not talking about that yet. In the Gospel– in the faith once for all delivered to the saints– we are confronted by the love of a Father who won’t be denied, the hope-filled sacrifice of a Son who won’t be deterred and the joyful presence of a Spirit who won’t be diminished.

Second, The Triune God draws, calls and adopts each of us by name and makes us a single family–the Church. The goal was never, is never and will never be “Me and Jesus.” Or even “We and Jesus.” It’s always been JESUS. And you can’t be one with him if you aren’t one with his Body.

Third, none of our gifts and spirit-empowered passions and abilities can be made sense of apart from (1) the proclamation of Christ and him crucified, (2) the empowerment and refreshment provided by the Holy Spirit in baptism and the Lord’s Supper and (3) the direction and submission to the authorities that the Holy Spirit has made overseers in the Body of Christ. There are no Cowboy Christians. We are all utterly dependent on the Body, which in turn is utterly dependent on the Head–Jesus Christ, who is present through the Spirit and interceding before the Father.

Freedom’s Song

If you do any serious reading into Pentecostal history and scholarship (Chris Green, Cheryl Bridges Johns, Amos Yong, etc.), you’ll discover that we consider ourselves to be people of both stories and song. We worship when we testify to the work of the Gospel in our midst through testimony: how Jesus has set us free through His once-for-all work on the Cross and has empowered our free worship through the outpouring of His Spirit. But we also sing it out. (more…)

Don’t Preach the Power

It’s one of the easy temptations of Pentecostal experience and theology. It’s easy when you know you’ve been empowered by the Holy Spirit for the ministry of Jesus. It’s easy when the Scriptural promises say “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” It’s easy when you can feel the power in the presence of God. And it’s so compelling…it draws us in. It draws in those who aren’t so sure about the experience. We crave more of the power and we’ll pray, preach or do anything else we’re told by powerful anointed leaders to get it. But that, brothers and sisters, is a false gospel and it is completely opposed to what the Lord was doing in Pentecost. (more…)