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.

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.

Article V-The Holy Spirit-His Work in Salvation

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):

¶106 The Holy Spirit-His Work in Salvation

The Holy Spirit is the administrator of the salvation planned by the Father and provided by the Son’s death, resurrection and ascension. He is the effective agent in our conviction, regeneration, sanctification and glorification. He is our Lord’s ever-present self, indwelling, assuring and enabling the believer.

¶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 16:7-8; Acts 15:8-9; Romans 8:9, 14-16; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; Galatians 4:6.

5-17-12holy-spirit-dove-e1337277838903The Holy Spirit is constantly at work in our lives, if we allow God to be at work in our lives. In fact, we use the word grace as a shorthand term for what we describe in this Article. Grace is nothing short of the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit active in our lives. We say that by grace we are saved, by grace we are born again, by grace we are sanctified. This is all the work of the Holy Spirit within us.

We have access to the Father through the Incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son (another shorthand term for all of this is the Christ event). And we have a relationship with the Son through the Holy Spirit. So it is through the Holy Spirit that we encounter Christ, and it is through Christ that we are brought into relationship with the Father. All three persons of the Trinity are at work in our encounter with God.

Of course, all of this is predicated upon belief. If someone does not believe this is true, there will be no way that person can understand it. All of the language we use about the Trinity and how God is at work in us and in the world is the best language we have to explain the reality we experience in Christ. It will make absolutely no sense to someone who does not believe. This may sound like a way to justify an irrational belief, but in actuality all of our facts are based upon prior beliefs. Why do we trust physics? Because we believe there are certain physical laws in the way the universe exists. Why do we trust biology? Because we believe certain things about life.

A wonderful example of this in the realm of biology is when a person who does not believe in a creator looks at a whale’s fin, a bat’s wing, and a human hand. Because of the similar structure of each of these appendages, something called homologous structures, the conclusion will be that the facts point to a common ancestor in the evolutionary process. When a person who does believe in a creator looks at the same fin, wing, and hand, the conclusion will be that the facts point to a single creator common to all life.

If we believe in the Christian God because of our experience of Him in our lives, Trinity, and how Trinity works, will be the best way we have to describe the facts of the reality of God. If we do not believe, it will sound like nonsense. Although he was writing about a different issue, this is the same sentiment when Paul wrote

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

Article IV-The Holy Spirit-His Person

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

¶105 The Holy Spirit-His Person

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. Proceeding from the Father and the Son, He is one with them, the eternal Godhead, equal in deity, majesty and power. He is God effective in Creation, in life and in the church. The Incarnation and ministry of Jesus Christ were accomplished by the Holy Spirit. He continues to reveal, interpret and glorify the Son.

¶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 28:19; John 4:24; 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:13-15.

This is probably one of the more difficult articles we have seen yet. It is not because we are talking about God, but because we are talking specifically about the Holy Spirit. Father, ok–that sounds like a person. Son, ok–that sounds like a person. The Holy Spirit–sounds like a title of some kind of force, especially since it begins with the.

Another difficulty is in dealing with a pronoun for this person of the Trinity. Since the Son literally became a human man, it is easy to use he as a pronoun. Father, if using this title, is easy, too. (There are lots of people for whom the masculine idea for God is a horrible issue, but that is a different post for a different day). Yet why do we use a masculine pronoun for the Holy Spirit? Actually, most people will bend over backwards doing verbal gymnastics to try and avoid using a pronoun at all for the Spirit. The Hebrew and Greek words (the languages of the Old Testament and the New Testament, respectively) for spirit are both feminine, so in the Bible the pronouns (if they are used) would be feminine. In Syriac Christianity there is a very, very long tradition of referring to the Holy Spirit with feminine pronouns. Since God is neither male nor female, either are appropriate.

Just don’t refer to the Holy Spirit as it.

The Spirit is not a force. The Spirit is not love between the Father and the Son. The Spirit is not the power of God in the world. The Spirit is a person. This person connects us to God. Technically, this person connects us to the Godhead, which is theological language for the three persons of the Holy Trinity together. Below is a funny video trying to explain the Trinity.

Article 1-The Holy Trinity

As we begin this series on the Articles of Religion for the Free Methodist Church, let me give a little background information. First, these doctrinal statements are called Articles of Religion because when Methodism first began as an independent Church in 1784, John Wesley took an abridged version of the Church of England’s doctrinal statements for that new Church. In the Church of England today, they still have their Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. Also, in our official denominational book, the Book of Discipline, these are designated by paragraph numbers, so this first Article is actually ¶101. Finally, at the end of our Articles is one final section that gives Scriptural references for each Article.

For this series, I will give the Article, the Scriptural references, and then some brief commentary.

¶101 The Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, the maker and preserver of all things. And in the unity of this Godhead there are three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are one in eternity, deity and purpose; everlasting, of infinite power, wisdom and goodness.

¶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. Genesis 1:1-2; Exodus 3:13-15; Deuteronomy 6:4; Matthew 28:19; John 1:1-3; 5:19-23; 14:9-11; 15:26; 16:13-15; 2 Corinthians 13:14.

Shield of the Holy Trinity

Shield of the Holy Trinity

By affirming that we believe in the Trinity, we say that we stand in the historic flow of the Church. The doctrine of the Trinity is how the Church, through history, has explained the reality of God’s action in the world and in our lives. This belief sets us apart from Judaism and Islam in our basic and fundamental understanding of who God is. This also distinguishes us from Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses in our belief in God.

The reason why this doctrine must come first in our list is quite simply because Christianity is a relationship with the Living God, and we need to make sure we are talking about the right God. Belief in the Trinity also forms our beliefs in the ultimate reality of the universe. This is because, from before all time and unto the end of all things and beyond, there is a relationship. Our God is not a solitary, lonely being. We claim, with the Bible, that God is love. We can do this because the Father, Son, and Spirit are ever and always in relationship with each other. Before time began there was love. Even in the midst of the world today, there is love. When everything comes crashing down, there will be love. For all eternity, we have the potential to be with love.

Why Gathering as Church is Necessary

Blog Photo- Church AttendanceI recently read an article entitled Is Attending Church Really Necessary for Christians? I got excited about the title and clicked the link. What I found was woefully inadequate for the actual topic. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people feel like this article, though: Jesus is somehow there, and the Bible says we should gather, so it is important. There is so much more to this issue that I felt compelled to write something on it myself.

First, when dealing with the topic of Church, it is very important to remember that Jesus founded a Church. He did not come and create a group of individuals who gather together every once in a while when they feel like it. He was explicit in Matthew 16:18 when he said that the Gates of Hades will not be able to withstand the Church. He did not say that it would not be able to withstand individuals or believers or disciples or apostles, but the Church. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:22-23, “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” And again he writes in 1 Timothy 3:15, “if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”  If the Church is what can overcome the Gates of Hades, and the Church is the fullness of Christ, and the Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth, then there is something absolutely necessary about Church in the life of a Christian.

It is true that Christ is uniquely present in the Church. When the people of God gather to worship, the constituent parts of the Body of Christ are together. Ideally, they are all following the guidance and direction of the Head, Christ. When this happens, the presence of God is among us. This ties in to the injunction in 1 Peter 2:5 that we when we are in Christ we are living stones being put together in the new Temple of the Holy Spirit. No one individual stone can be a full temple in and of itself, and no one Christian can be independent of others.

Part of the reason that Christ is present in Church in a unique way is because it is in the context of corporate worship that we celebrate the sacraments. The presence of God and the grace of God are with us in a very real way through the faithful participation of the people of God in the celebration of the sacraments. Christians may debate how, exactly, Christ shows up when we celebrate Holy Communion, for example, but one thing we cannot deny is that Christ does show up. We have 2000 years of experience to prove that fact.

Perhaps the most important reason the Church as a communal gathering is necessary, though, is because we, as Christians, are supposed to be renewed and transformed into the image and likeness of God. You can see this all throughout the New Testament, but especially in 2 Corinthians 3:18. God is Trinity. God is an eternal communion of three persons. God is eternally in relationship among those three persons. This means that if we are to truly be transformed into the image and likeness of God, and if we are to truly reflect the likeness of God in the world, we must be in community with others. We cannot do this as individual believers who come together only when they feel like it, seeing Church as an optional add-on to their faith-walk with Christ. Our very being as Christians necessitates the fact that we be in community with others who are also being renewed in the image and likeness of Christ.

Jesus also said this in a completely different way on the night in which he was betrayed. In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We can only have love for one another if we are in community and communion with one another. We can only be in community and communion with one another if we gather together on a regular basis. Therefore, if we do not gather corporately as the Church, we can never hope to show the world that we are truly Jesus’ disciples. Not only our very being as Christians in the image and likeness of the Triune God is at stake, but our growth in grace and relationship with Jesus Christ and our mission to the rest of the world is at stake.

All of this rises and falls on the very reality that Jesus created a Church, a community, through which he chose to transform the world.

Revelation 5:6 and Little-Known Christmas Imagery

154Lots of images are well known for Christmas–shepherds, angels, wise men, Mary in blue, baby Jesus in a manger. There is a less well known image of what Christmas means in Revelation:

Then, in between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb, standing as if it had been slain.

This one sentence says quite a bit about who Jesus is. The Lamb is Christ, because he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It had been slain because Jesus was crucified and died, although the Lamb is alive now because he was also raised from the dead.

Then there is the location of the Lamb. The throne is God’s throne. The four living creatures represent creation. The twenty-four elders are representative of Christians and the Church. So…Jesus Christ–who died and was raised again–is in the middle of the way between the throne of God and creation, and he is in the midst of the Church. This makes sense because Jesus is God, he came into creation in the Incarnation, and the Church is the Body of Christ on earth.

This image is packed full of meaning, and it could only exist because of Christmas and the Incarnation.