Monday, June 30, 2008

35. Liberation baby!

After working for the man for almost three years, I am about to be liberated. On July 4th of all days. Work is one of those under explored topics that doesn't receive a lot of attention in the theological world. It is one of those topics that people just assume is a natural part of life and there is not much to be said about it. "Everyone has to go to work, if you don't, you are one of the lucky ones." I hate to say it, but full time ministry is seen as one of those lucky ones. I can say this because I was in full time ministry for over 10 years.

I think this is another one of those gaps that clergy laity creates, that is, the gap between the working class and "the luck ones." Don't get me wrong, full time ministry is definitely work, but it is a different kind of work. It has a totally different dynamic that a 9-5, or even sales. really there is nothing else like it, especially if you are in a majorly dysfunctional church.

That being said, it is still perceived as being a cushy job, and in some ways it is. A theology of work is often passed over because the ones doing the teaching are primarily the full time ministry people. The Sunday school teachers are sort of assigned their materials a lot of the time, or have other topics they like to explore.

So is there anything to say about a theology of work? Or is it just one of things that can pass under the lens of scripture and not really reveal anything? I think the concept of work is at the core of our experience. We spend most of our time at work. (Maybe this is why no one wants to study it!) A large portion of our lives revolve around it. The entire world does it. Most people are jaded about it, or don't like their jobs.

But work is actually linked to the origins of humanity. Genesis 2 and three don't just vaguely mention it, they make it a pivotal theme in humanities purpose. God gave Adam a job, to work the garden. This means work is not a byproduct of the fall. It is in our human design to work, and transform the creation, subdue it etc. However, after the fall, work took on a different flavor. It became tainted by a fallen world,one that became hostile to us. Actually, this negative side of work is rooted in the fall. So what does that tell us about work? Well, if you are in Christ, then work is supposed to be a part of the new creation. We should no longer regard work as apart of the old way of doing things. It has become new.

Some of you are thinking, "Yeah right, there is nothing new about my job! It sucks!" Well, this is precisely where the concept of new creation comes in. First, we are being redeemed from the curse, so it is not necessarily the existence of work that changes, but our attitude and perception of it is being aligned with God's agenda for the world.

I guess what I am trying to say is, no matter what kind of work we are involved with, we are sent into that environment by God to be salt and light. This in and of itself puts a new spin on work. While it does not absolve work of it's cursed flavor, it repositions us to approach work in a new light. And isn't this part of what Paul means in II Cor 5:17 when he says, we no longer see people from a worldly creation.

I am about to become self employed, and I tell you what, this was a hard learned lesson for me to learn in this past 3years working for FedEx. They micromanage your day, it is somewhat monotnous, and you have to be out in all kinds of weather. Not to mentioin it isnot very intellectually engaging. Still, I was forced to process that part of my life through new creation. I would like to say I passed the test with flying colors. The truth is, I bitched and moaned a lot and enjoyed some what cycnical moments through all of it. I am glad that God was in my life through all of it, because I could have easily become a corporate zombie.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

34. Eschatology and the Environment

Just recently I have launched a curb side recycling venture here in Clarksville. I had no idea how much time or money it would cost. Once I get through this start up phase it will be smooth sailing I think, but the birthing process is always costly and at some points painful.

I was initially led to this interest in the environment through my study of eschatology. I do not get into the whole pre-mil, a-mil, post-mil discussions. I sort of thing those miss the point of eschatology. What will happen in the end can be discussed in a broader framework of God's activity and relationship with all of creation. either way you slice the pie, God will step in with fresh creative power and transform our cosmos into a new heavens and a new earth.

So what does that have to do with us today? Participating with God in the world means functioning as a sign or symbol of that very transformation. Our lives and our ministries should foreshadow the coming transformation of the cosmos. This of course includes the transformation of people into the image of God. (Romans 8:28-30) But it also means participating in the management of creation. Being a good steward of the earth is an element of discipleship. It is a moral issue. It is a systemic issue.

We can no longer live under that Platonic notion that spirit is good and material is inferior. God created the spirit and the body. He will redeem both in the end. This also includes the creation at large. Romans 8. I am wrestling with how to capitalize on this recycling venture for the kingdom. There was a great article in the paper that allowed me to point to God and his formative influence on my interests in the environment. IT is this kind of thing that gets me excited because it sort of shatters the perception that Christians are merely concerned about boosting their own kingdoms.

I guess what I am trying to say is, the environment is from God, to ignore it, abuse or misuse it is an assault on our divine purpose as stewards of the earth. Genesis 1-2. Maybe this whole GREEN element can be a great platform for us to step in on what is often seen as a secular issue and show that Christianity truly is Relevant to the issues of the world. Any thoughts out there?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

33. Instituions....

With all this critiquing I am doing on the institution, I want to insert some objective thoughts about them along the way so I do not paint my self as being too short sighted. Withdrawing from the conventional church model and doing this organic church thing has given me the time and opportunity to reflect on all the negative dynamics that institutions can exert on people when it comes to life in general. But specifically, an application was intentionally being made to Kingdom stuff as well. These insights and applications are coming from several sources really.

First, there is my experience in the IC, along with the many experiences of other people I have had the privilege of conversating with along the way. As a person who has been employed by various IC's for 10 years, I have had the opportunity to see the institutional dynamics play themselves out on both ends of the spectrum's. Sort of a front row seat and a back stage pass if you will. Second, there is the book realm. I began to read books like The Social Construction of Reality, The Shaping of Things to Come, The Spider and the Star Fish etc. These books gave me a language to express a lot of the ideas running around in my head. They also served to open up new horizons, while at the same time focusing my attention on key elements of institutions.

Initially, I was all about critiquing the IC and institutions in general. I had the reactionary thing going on with a sort of cynical posture towards anything that smelled of institution. However, the more time I spend thinking about institutions, the more I am beginning to develop a more objective paradigm for the role of institutions in the Kingdom.

The foundations for this objectivity is, ironically enough, provided by the metaphor of The Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is to invade all aspects of life. It is an all encompassing action and presence in the world. Now think about this: Institutions are a reality of life and they are not going any where. They will always be around for a number of reasons. So if the Kingdom is to permeate all of reality, then there has to be something redeemable about institutions. As a neutral entity, they have the potential to be harnessed for Kingdom agendas.

So the real question becomes, how do we realign the institution to serve the needs of the Kingdom? This is a daunting question with many subheadings and footnotes. It is a necessary question none the less. We have to grapple with this if we are to be Kingdom people. We can not afford to withdraw into ideological communes where we mutually reinforce one another's ideas of organic, simple or house church ecclesiologies. We need to grapple with questions of organization, leadership and how these interact with organic systems, simple networks and the like.

My good friend Mickey has perceived God to have been taking us away from the institutional model so we can detox from the funk. He sees God doing this for the specific purpose of relearning what it means to be intimate with God and other people. After this crucial phase, we are ultimately repositioned in relationship to organization, structures, forms etc. Invested with new life from the Spirit, we can approach the "necessary evil" of organization with new eyes and new perspectives.

A sign of this new life can be seen in our struggle to find language to express what we see. We wrestling to find terms, phrases, and metaphors that adequately describe what this new angle we see. Really, what most of us are doing is taking concepts and principles found in sociology and anthropology and baptizing them into Christian dialogue. These concepts have already been plowed in the fields of sociology and anthropology. We just need to go and harvest them.

The institution and organization in general needs to be realigned and re framed from those who are already immersed in the organic model of being the church. It is out of a seasoned cycle of being in this organic environment that fresh, fruitful, and objective dialogue about this whole topic can be engaged. Everyone needs to detox and deconstruct the institutional beast within us. But after this tearing down has been done, we need to check out of the detox facility and re engage this vital topic of organization.

This engagement of organization will need to be in done in conversation with certain disciplines. Theological, ecclesiological, historical, along with anthropological and sociological fields need to be thrown into the mix for a well informed approach. This task will involve networking, a skill many of us are excited about developing and using.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

32. Leadership Issues

I can remember the first time I started having questions about the leadership model of elders. Growing up in the Church of Christ, the elder/deacon model was all I was exposed to, and most of the time it just made sense to do it that way. In my tribe, elders (presbyters), Bishops/Overseers (episcopos) and Shepherds are all the same thing. They are functional words that describe the same position. Employing the "flat" approach to scripture, or should I say, fundamentalist hermeneutic, Titus 1, I Timothy 3, and the book of Acts were thrown together to make a unifying case for the elder model. The only problem with this is that there are some real inconsistencies with this approach.

For one, Cecil hook, in his book Free In Christ, highlights the fact that the two lists in Titus and Timothy are not identical. In Titus it mentions that an elder should have "believing children" but it says nothing about this in I Timothy. Neither one of them had access to each others letters, so we can assume that Timothy allowed men to be elders that did not have believing children while Titus did not. This scenario of the qualifications of elders should throw up some red flags to those who want to rush into a universalized approach to the leadership structure of the church. If the elder model was to be the only model for the church, you would think that there would be a little bit more clear and symmetrical listings of their qualifications throughout scripture.

Second, H. Von Campenhausen, in his book Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power, makes an excellent point when he points to the diversity of models in the NT documents. He notes that Acts, I Peter, James and Revelation mention only elders but not Bishops nor deacons. Philippians mentions Bishops and deacons but not elders. I Corinthians mentions none of it at all. This should spark a curiosity about why, if the elder/deacon model is the only model to be used for the church, is there not a uniform presentation in scripture about it. Why such varied spotting's in the NT?

Third, the 1st century church was thoroughly embedded in a patriarchal society that gravitated towards men for leadership "positions." This is not to say that women did not have leadership positions in the 1st century church. (This is a whole nother discussion) It is merely to say that the presence of patriarchy should immediately caustion us when attempting to take narratives like the book of Acts, and Epistles, which are written with this same historical context, and Pastorals, which are highly contextual and occasional documents, as prescriptive for all times and places. Patriarchy had an enormous effect on the church and the course it took in organizing itself for the long haul.

Fourth, the elder model was recycled from the synagogue. There, men were endowed with dignity and honor by virtue of their age. Some elders were elected to carry specific responsibilites in the synagogue, but not all elders were elected to do this. The average elder enjoyed a certain status of respect and leadership within the community. But it was organically bestowed on him by the community, not through a democratic nomination and election process. Neither was there an official ordination ceremony to induct them into an "office". This would have been so in the church as well.

Fifth, it is interesting that the only place you see lists for qualifications of elders is in Gentile contexts where godliness needed to be spelled out for the new comers into the faith.

The early church adopted the synagogue model of elders in a natural organic way. For them it was a no brainer. Sort of a self organizing dynamic if you will, with certain apostolic impulses operating in the background. If this is true, then we instantly are thrown into the discussion as to wether or not the synagogue model of elders was divine in origin. I tend to think it was a cultural manifestation of the Israelite tradition and served as midwife to the church in the preservation and stabilization of the communities of the 1st century in all their turbulence with persecution and heresy. That being said, the elder model was the seed of hierarchy, as Clement portrays, which rapidly developed in the late 1st century and early 2nd century.

All of this is a dead give away that the discussion of leadership models for the church is not a cut and dry issue. Nort is it purely a matter of uncovering the "original model". We have to give proper attention to the socio-historical-cultural context of both the letters and the 1st century church as whole. There is not a unified voice for leadership structures in the NT. So where does this leave us? That is for the next blog!