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 XVII-Salvation-Adoption

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):

¶118 Salvation-Adoption

Adoption is a filial term full of warmth, love, and acceptance. It denotes that by a new relationship in Christ believers have become His wanted children freed from the mastery of both sin and Satan. Believers have the witness of the Spirit that they are children 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. Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 4:4-7; Ephesians 1:5-6; 1 John 3:1-3.

Salvation can mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people, but one of my personal favorites is that I am now a Child of God. In one sense, all human beings are children of God, yet when we enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we become more than a child of God because of physical birth. We become children of God because of an intentional choice on God’s part to redeem us and graft us into his family.

Joseph adopted Jesus as his own son when Mary conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. That was a type of prefiguring our adoption by God as children in a new and bigger family.

There are many people who resent the image of God as a father, mostly because of the poor example of fatherhood in this world. They do not wish to see God in any kind of parental role like this because the only example they have of of a father is one who was hurtful, harmful, abusive, or absent. It is precisely because of instances like this that we need God as Father. God is able to truly love us and give the kind of paternal affection that we miss in this life at times.

Of course for this to be true, that means that God must be actually involved in our lives. When we are adopted into the family of God and we have God as our Father, he is not an absentee Father. He is truly involved in our daily lives and does share his love with us. This may seem far-fetched, especially with all of the evil in the world, but thousands of years of personal experiences can show it to be true. No one will ever be able to quantifiably explain this in raw data. It is seen in the stories of Christians down through the ages and including today.

If you need a Father, if you need a family, God is willing to adopt you as well.

Article XVI-Salvation-Regeneration

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):

¶117 Salvation-Regeneration

Regeneration is a biological term which illustrates that by a new relationship in Christ, one does in fact have a new life and a new spiritual nature capable of faith, love and obedience to Christ Jesus as Lord. The believer is born again and is a new creation. The old life is past; a new life has begun.

¶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. Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 5:24; Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10; Titus 3:4-5; 1 Peter 1:23.

The last Article we had dealt with salvation as justification, which is a legal term and speaks to our guilt of sin and freedom from judgment because of that guilt. This Article deals with salvation as a brand new creation. This is important. Our salvation is not just about moving from guilty to not guilty. That is one, vital aspect, but it is not all there is.

Regeneration reminds us that our salvation is also about moving from death to life. All of creation is dying. Many insightful people have said that the moment we are born we begin to die. The arrow of time for physicists is entropy, the natural process of decay in the universe. Everything and everyone dies. Salvation is the antidote to that seemingly inevitable process.

Because a saving relationship with Jesus Christ involves new creation, we human beings are restored to our immortal selves we were supposed to be. Obviously, this statement can be argued against very vehemently, since all of the Christians who have ever lived still died. Yet we hold by faith this very important concept that without Christ, without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit in our lives because of salvation, we are spiritually dead and condemned. With the regeneration that comes from salvation, we have passed from death to life and even though our bodies still hold the consequences of sin in them, resulting in them either burning out or rusting out and ceasing to function, our spirits have been awakened. Because our spirits are now alive in Christ we will continue on long after our bodies do not, and we will receive a new body that will never perish. Regeneration leads directly to one of our later Articles on resurrection and eternal life.

Practically speaking, this means that if we are in Christ, we do not just revel in the idea that we are now forgiven and not guilty. We also know that we have been given a new life in Christ and we are called to live out that new life by the standards Christ has set. We are called to live as if we truly are citizens of the New Jerusalem here and now. And we are called to live as faithful ambassadors of the King whom we serve.

Article XV-Salvation-Justification

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):

¶116 Salvation-Justification

Justification is a legal term that emphasizes that by a new relationship in Jesus Christ people are in fact accounted righteous, being freed from both the guilt and penalty of their sins.

¶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. Psalm 32:1-2; Acts 10:43; Romans 3:21-26, 28; 4:2-5; 5:8-9; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Philippians 3:9.

Justification is good news. It means that our guilt is gone and our slate has been wiped clean. It means that we have been declared in the right by God. This is by virtue of being in relationship with Christ, not by what we have done or what we have learned.

The age-old adage is actually true when it comes to justification: It is not what you know, but who you know, that counts.

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.

Article XII-Humankind-Good Works

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):

¶113 Humankind-Good Works

Good works are the fruit of faith in Jesus Christ, but works cannot save us from our sins nor from God’s judgment. As expressions of Christian faith and love, our good works performed with reverence and humility are both acceptable and pleasing to God. However, good works do not earn God’s grace.

¶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 5:16; 7:16-20; Romans 3:7-28; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Timothy 1:8-9; Titus 3:5.

In this Article, we try to show the distinction between living a Christian life and how we are saved. Free Methodists stand firmly in the tradition of the Reformation and boldly declare that we are saved by grace alone. Yet we also know that this salvation is for a purpose, and it is to live a holy life in Christ Jesus. Therefore, we also boldly proclaim that our lives ought to exhibit good works because of our faith.

faithworksTo put this very simply, and to try and avoid a lot of debate on the nature of good works and faith, we believe that we need faith in Christ to be saved, but it must be a faith that is strong enough to change the way we live. If we say we have faith but continue to live a life as if we were never brought into contact with God in Christ–never having an experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives–then it really is a faith in words only. If my faith does not prompt me to yield my life to God and allow God to transform me from the inside out into the new creation God wants me to be, then it is not a faith that is worth anything.

John Wesley said essentially the same thing when he said that we are not saved by good works, but neither are we saved without them. Our good works become the result of our saving faith as we are transformed more fully into the image and likeness of Christ.

Article VI-The Holy Spirit-His Relation to 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):

¶107 The Holy Spirit-His Relation to the Church

The Holy Spirit is poured out upon the church by the Father and the Son. He is the church’s life and witnessing power. He bestows the love of God and makes real the lordship of Jesus Christ in the believer so that both His gifts of words and service may achieve the common good and build and increase the church. In relation to the world He is the Spirit of truth, and His instrument is the 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. Acts 5:3-4; Romans 8:14; 1 Corinthians 12:4-7; 2 Peter 1:21.

This Article reminds us that it is only by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we do anything, either individually or together as the Church. Many human organizations can do lots of good in the world and even effect major change in actions and behaviors, yet it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Church can be something more than simply another charitable organization that does good.

Because the Holy Spirit enlivens the Church, the body of believers together become more than they are apart from one another. The Holy Spirit not only creates individual people who are living in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, He also creates a community that is the very presence of God on earth. This may sound way too self-aggrandizing, yet it is what we believe because it is what we have experienced in history. This does not mean that every congregation that calls itself Christian is the presence of God on earth. It is believers who are committed to having Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord that fall into this category together.

As well, there is a check and balance to this whole idea. I know pastors who speak as if they are the mouthpiece of God and that in them, personally, dwells the direct connection to God that the congregation needs to acknowledge, follow, and unify around. Yet the last sentence of this Article gives us the balance needed to combat such spiritual narcissism. The Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture to the whole Church. As such, for something to be obviously from God, it has to be understood through Scripture and it has to be the same message to all of the Church. This means that for the narcissistic pastor, if the decisions are not confirmed in the congregation, the idea is the pastor’s, not God’s. The same Spirit does not speak radically different ideas to different people in the same congregation. This is because the Spirit “makes real the lordship of Jesus Christ”–a lordship that is followed by pastors and laity alike–and He speaks for “the common good” and to “build and increase the church.”

unnamedOne last item from those phrases. It is the role of the Holy Spirit to “build and increase the Church.” Too many times we think it is our job to grow the Church. We try new programs (although we don’t call them programs because we give lip-service to the idea that programs don’t grow the Church), new worship styles, new times, new logos, new advertising, new bulletins, new projectors, new pastors, all in the attempt to “build and increase the church.” Jesus was adamant. Our job is to make disciples. God will grow the church when we are faithful in making disciples. Any time you see a congregation more concerned with growing the church rather than making disciples, you can know that its priorities are misplaced.