Line Dancing and Church Community

Line Dancing is America’s cultural dance. This is my opinion, contrary to all of the square dancing lessons I received (endured) in elementary school. I came to this conclusion as I was watching a school dance. There were several different songs that were played that each had specific moves that most everyone knew. That was when I realized I hadn’t been to a wedding in a really long time, or I would have seen these dances.

It is quintessentially American, as well. In other types of dance, partners are needed. In many types of dance, entire groups are needed. Line dancing is completely individualized. If I know the moves, I can dance without anyone else around. It looks better if there are lots of people around, all doing the same moves at the same time. Yet even if it is just me, I can dance by myself.

My fear is that, in America at least, we have reduced community in the Church to a line dancing mentality. My faith is mine alone, and if there are others around who are doing the same thing it can be better. Nevertheless, I really do not need anyone else to be with me. I can dance by myself with God.

This is not the community Jesus Christ created in the Church. In truth, this does not even reflect community in its most basic form. God is a community of Father, Son, Spirit. Ultimate reality is Community, and when Jesus Christ began the new creation he did so with a community. He founded a Church that would reflect the principles and power of the new creation within the broken pieces of the old one. He founded a Church that would be able to storm the gates of hell. He did not create a bunch of individual believers who would gather together every once in a while. The images of the Church are a body and a temple–unified structures made up of different pieces, but all contributing to the whole together.

Community is essential to the Christian experience. John Wesley once said, “Solitary religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy Solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection.” In other words, we need one another for our own faith and salvation. Without the community, without the social aspect of faith (us being in community with one another), we will be lost. No one can be a Christian by herself or himself. We all need each other in the Church.

Line dancing may be a wonderful American dance, where individuals can get on a dance floor and all be individual together while maintaining their individuality because they really do not need anyone else, but it is a lousy model for Christian community.

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Article XXVIII-Last Things-Judgment

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶129 Last Things–Judgment

God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness in accordance with the gospel and our deeds in this life.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 11:31-32; Acts 10:42; 17:31; Romans 2:15-16; 14:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Hebrews 9:27-28; 10:26-31; 2 Peter 3:7.

I know several people who think the concept of God’s judgment is a bad thing. In fact, they see this as a perfect excuse not to follow God. After all, who wants to be subject to a being that is going to judge us in the end, anyway?

The reality is, though, I would not want to serve a God who did not judge. Think about it. If God did not judge, there would be no difference between Adolf Hitler and Mother Theresa. All of the evil and the hurt in the world would never be resolved. When the rich get richer because of immoral practices and the poor are ever more trapped in death and destruction, our very being cries out for a righteous and impartial judge. When children die of starvation while others scrape nearly-full plates of food into the trash, the world cries out for a judge. When women are abused and subjugated while their perpetrators roam free we cry out for a judge who will be true.

The fact is that we need God as a judge because there is so much that is out of balance, so much that is wrong, so much that is sinful in this world. We are all a part of the world and, try as we might, we can never completely be impartial. We are also implicated in the injustice of the world even when we strive to rise above it. The Good News of God requires him to be a judge, to actually put all things to right in this world what need to be done, to let justice roll down like a mighty river (Amos 5:24), and to bring comfort and peace to all victims of all crime, injustice, oppression, and sin.

Article XXV-Last Things-The Kingdom of God

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶126 Last Things–The Kingdom of God

The kingdom of God is a prominent Bible theme providing Christians with both their tasks and hope. Jesus announced its presence. The kingdom is realized now as God’s reign is established in the hearts and lives of believers.

The church, by its prayers, example and proclamation of the gospel, is the appointed and appropriate instrument of God in building His kingdom.

But the kingdom is also future and is related to the return of Christ when judgment will fall upon the present order. The enemies of Christ will be subdued; the reign of God will be established; a total cosmic renewal which is both material and moral shall occur; and the hope of the redeemed will be fully realized.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 6:10, 19-20; 24:14; Acts 1:8; Romans 8:19-23; 1 Corinthians 15:20-25; Philippians 2:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12; 2 Peter 3:3-10; Revelation 14:6; 21:3-8; 22:1-5, 17.

This Article holds to the theological truth of “Already/Not Yet.” This is the idea that the kingdom of God is already present in the world, having first arrived in the person of Jesus Christ and continued through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church to today, but it is not yet fully formed. In other words, anywhere the will of God is followed and people deny themselves to walk in the ways of the Lord, the kingdom of God is present. Any time a denomination or congregation or even a small group of Christians (or individual) follows the guidance and direction of the Head of the Church (Jesus Christ), the kingdom of God is present.

Yet the reality is that the Church does not perfectly live out the will of God. Beyond the Church, the world is still full of death, decay, and corruption. The kingdom is not fully here, and will not be until Jesus Christ returns and the New Creation is completed.

This is an Article of immense hope, but also an accurate and realistic reflection of the state of the Church and world today.

Article XX-The Church

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶121 The Church

The church is created by God. It is the people of God. Christ Jesus is the Lord and Head. The Holy Spirit is its life and power. It is both divine and human, heavenly and earthly, ideal and imperfect. It is an organism, not an unchanging institution. It exists to fulfill the purposes of God in Christ. It redemptively ministers to persons. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it that it should be holy and without blemish. The church is a fellowship of the redeemed and the redeeming, preaching the Word of God and administering the sacraments according to Christ’s instruction. The Free Methodist Church purposes to be representative of what the church of Jesus Christ should be on earth. It therefore requires specific commitment regarding the faith and life of its members. In its requirements it seeks to honor Christ and obey the written Word of God.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 16:15-18; 18:17; Acts 2:41-47; 9:31; 12:5; 14:23-26; 15:22; 20:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 11:23; 12:28; 16:1; Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:19-22; 3:9-10; 5:22-23; Colossians 1:18; 1 Timothy 3:14-15.

The Church is one of the hardest topics for Protestants to discuss. This Article is no different in that stream of the conversation. We are very good at talking about what the Church does, but we are not so good at talking about what the Church is. There are a few opposites held in tension at the beginning of the Article, but besides that and saying it is a living organism rather than an institution, there is not much about what the Church is.

The problem with this is that Scripture is actually pretty clear about what the Church is. Many of the verses are the ones referenced. The Church is the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Bride of Christ, the pillar and ground of truth, and the fullness of God. Within the history of Christian tradition, the Church has been identified with four distinct adjectives: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.

It is difficult for us to talk about the Church like this because we so often do not see it in reality. We see broken relationships, church splits, unhealthy interactions, and fights over some serious and some not-so-serious issues. It becomes easier to talk about what the Church does, because that is at least attainable by us. We can preach and administer the sacraments. We can be redemptively engaged in our communities. We can have fellowship and restrict actual membership to those who have accepted the truth of the Gospel (whether or not they live out that truth).

This is still one of the burning issues and unresolved theological topics from the last 500 years of the Reformation. Until we can truly affirm what the Church is, and begin to live into that reality, we will come up short.

We are trying. Pray for us.

Article XIV-Salvation-New Life in Christ

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶115 Salvation-New Life in Christ

A new life and a right relationship with God are made possible through the redemptive acts of God in Jesus Christ. God, by His Spirit, acts to impart new life and put people into a relationship with Himself as they repent and their faith responds to His grace. Justification, regeneration, adoption, sanctification and restoration speak significantly to entrance into and continuance in the new life.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. John 1:12-13; 3:3-8; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 8:15-17; Ephesians 2:8-9; Colossians 3:9-10.

This article is about who we are in Christ. It is the lead-in article for the next several that look at the different stages of the Christian life listed in the last sentence. As such, I will deal with those topics more fully in the following posts.

Yet this article is also especially poignant at this time in America. This past weekend there was a murder in Charlottesville, Virginia that was perpetrated by someone who almost certainly is a white supremacist. The current President of the United States seems unwilling to denounce this attitude and outlook. Tensions are rising high. Hate is growing.

And we have an Article that speaks to new life in Christ.

America is a young and diverse country. It is a proud country. It has a proud people. Yet her people are divided. When I was young, I was taught America was a melting pot, where a little from every part of the world came together and made something new. It was not true, but it was what I was taught. I thought it was true, because everyone I knew growing up looked like me, talked like me, and had similar families to my own. Then I began to see other groups within America, each with their own backgrounds. I came to know people my age who grew up with people who looked like them, talked like them, had similar families to them, and they weren’t like me. I began to understand that America was more of a stew pot, with chunks that do not melt together. Now I think the stove top has been left on high, and the pot is starting to boil over.

And we have an Article that speaks to new life in Christ.

Here is the dilemma. For Christians, our identity is supposed to be in Christ, and in Christ alone. We are not White Christians or Black Christians. We are not even American Christians. We are not English-speaking Christians. We are not Republican Christians or Democratic Christians or Independent Christians. We are not even Methodist Christians or Baptist Christians or Eastern Orthodox Christians or Roman Catholic Christians or Non-Denominational Christians. If we are in Christ we are new creations, and our identity is now Christian.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, if we take this teaching from the Bible seriously, no longer do we have a place for any kind of “identity politics” in our lives. I am not defined by my color, ethnicity, political persuasion, denomination, who attracts me, gender, or any of the like. I am Christian. I am a recipient of God’s grace in my life, and by that grace I am growing more into the likeness of Christ every day.

Christ is the original melting pot in which there are no divisions. When we come to faith in Christ, we are all the same new creation. We are all on equal footing before our God, as equal sinners sharing in an equal redemption by him. We still have a diversity of experiences and preferences, but that is what makes the Church so wonderful. It is a place where all of our cultures and contexts meet and are redeemed together–where the fullness of splendor God endowed creation can be on display with love and compassion. The Church is supposed to be the place where heaven and earth meet and human morals, culture, society are elevated to their highest potential.

The fact that we in the Church who call ourselves Christian have settled for less than this in our lives and the lives of our churches is sinful. We need to repent of being just as captive to the identities of this world as those outside of the Church. Moreover, we need to repent for when we have failed to be agents of the Kingdom in bringing peace and reconciliation, salvation and grace, to those around us.

Jesus Christ created a Church out of a very diverse group of people, people who under normal circumstances would literally want to kill each other (zealots and tax collectors, for one unheard of paring). If we as the Church cannot demonstrate that same kind of new identity found only in Christ, if we cannot love in the name of Christ those who go by our same family name of Christian, why would we expect the rest of the world to do what we cannot or will not?

I am not saying that a white supremacist driving his car into a crowd protesting hate is our fault, but I am suggesting that we have done a very poor job of demonstrating in real life that there is a viable option to hating different groups simply because they are different. How are people going to know there is a different way, the Way, if they cannot see it in our own lives?

If we are going to claim the name of Christian for ourselves, we must know that it comes at a high price. This is not usually how we phrase it, reminding ourselves of God’s free grace, yet Jesus was adamant that if we are going to follow him, we must deny ourselves daily. He also said, right after giving us the Lord’s Prayer, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). If we are going to call ourselves Christian, we must remember that we can only do so because we have died with Christ and have been raised to new life. Our previous identity is dead. The new creation is here. “For me, to live is Christ,” said Paul.

As we pray and process what happened this past weekend, as we grieve and get angry at sin, let us remember that we have new life in Christ. That new life is equally shared with ALL CHRISTIANS from EVERY tribe, nation, language, and race upon the earth.

Article XIII-Salvation-Christ’s Sacrifice

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

jesus-between-crucifixion-and-who-was-crucified¶114 Salvation-Christ’s Sacrifice

Christ offered once and for all the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. No other satisfaction for sin is necessary; none other can atone.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Luke 24:46-48; John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Romans 5:8-11; Galatians 2:16; 3:2-3; Ephesians 1:7-8; 2:13; Hebrews 9:11-14, 25-26; 10:8-14.

This Article is a very small statement of something that is at the core of Christian belief and theology. It is only through Jesus Christ that atonement for sin can happen. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only thing in all of history that can provide a way out of the mess of the Fall that we have in creation. Whether someone’s primary concern is guilt over sin or fear over death, Jesus Christ is the only answer to the problem.

Even in Christian circles this seems to be an issue that is not always practically accepted. There are Christian traditions that focus on evangelism to such an extent that people will question your salvation if you are not “out sharing your faith and winning souls to Christ.” Being involved in evangelism is not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

There are Christian traditions that focus on social causes to such an extent that people will question your salvation if you are not “on the side of the poor and marginalized.” God does care for the poor, but protesting unjust actions or actively advancing a social program is not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

There are Christian traditions that focus on fasting and attending multiple services at the church to such an extent that people will question your salvation if you do not “keep to the fast or attend all the services.” Fasting and corporate worship can help one grow closer to God but they are not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

There are Christian traditions that focus on not drinking or smoking or dancing to the point of questioning your salvation if you drink or smoke or dance or go to the movies or read Harry Potter. Any food or drink can be harmful (sugar is worse than much of what we worry about) and any activities can be taken to an extreme and pull us away from our commitment to God, but abstaining from these actions are not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

This Article reminds us of the Good News that the work of salvation has already been accomplished for us. We do not need to earn it or work hard enough to be worthy of it. It is a gift. We have to accept it.

Chapel at Central Christian College


I had the honor and privilege of preaching in Chapel on Wednesday morning this week. This is the service. The sermon begins around fourteen minutes into the service. The prayers and the poems before the sermon were really good as well. If you have time for this service, enjoy!