The Baffling Church by Carlo Carretto

Crying in Church

How baffling you are, oh, Church, and yet how I love you!

How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you.

I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence.

You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand sanctity.

I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, although not completely.

And were should I go?

From Carlo Carretto, The God Who Comes

The Weekend Wanderer: 26 October 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

PF_10.17.19_rdd_update-00-020“In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace” – How many times have you heard about the decline of Christianity in the US in the past few years? More than you’d like to say, I would expect. There are some voices saying that the statistics speak to many other changes in culture, others the theological truth tells us something else, while other voices say the implications are not all bad. Here is the latest look at the data from the Pew Research Center on religion and public life. The bottom line: Christianity of every stripe is in decline in the US while the religiously unaffiliated (“religious nones”) are on the rise. What does this mean? Well, that is certainly a larger discussion that must take into account the nature of organized religion, shifts in social value of religion, shifts in social engagement as a whole in the US, and honesty about personal engagement within religion.

 

92589“Why We Still Prophesy Hope” – I have been involved here in Milwaukee with efforts to transform the racial divides both in our city and inside the church fellowships here. This type of work involves honest self-assessments, engaging with painful stories, encouraging those different from one another to journey together, and also somehow pointing to real change. It can be exhausting, humbling, and frustrating work at times. It is also hopeful work. Here is Dante Stewart speaking to that from his own journey and story.

 

Screen Shot 2019-10-24 at 9.38.10 AM“Accusing SBC of ‘caving,’ John MacArthur says of Beth Moore: ‘Go home'” – I first encountered the teaching of John MacArthur in probably the worst way possible. After coming to Christ through a charismatic renewal, someone shared MacArthur’s book, Charismatic Chaos, with me in an attempt to fix my “bad” theology of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t work, but it did serve as a strange introduction to a renowned American Bible teacher. Since that time, others I respect helped me to appreciate certain aspects of MacArthur’s expository preaching ministry. Still, I have always struggled with his less than irenic approach to controversial issues. That was confirmed further when, at a celebration of fifty years of ministry, when MacArthur was asked to make word associations with certain theological issues or figures, he responded to “Beth Moore” with “Go home.” You can listen to the whole clip here. I have friends who do not support women in preaching or ordained ministry and we can have a healthy discussion about our differing views, but MacArthur’s sharp words do not seem helpful here. Beth Moore responded via Twitter, and others, such as Kay Warren and SBC President J. D. Greear, have weighed in. In many ways, this is nothing new for MacArthur, as Christianity Today highlighted, “John MacArthur Is No Stranger to Controversy.”

 

8rriw2o“Pilgrims, Priests, and Breaking Bread in an Alpine Monastery” – I’m not alone in thinking that there is not enough silence in our lives. Of course, the lack of external silence is often a reflection of the lack of internal silence in our lives. For me, drawing away from the noise, voices, and busyness regularly helps me to recovery my identity. I often do this in nature, but have at times gathered in spaces set apart for this, such as retreat houses, monasteries, or camps. Every once in awhile it’s refreshing to catch a view of this experience from someone with fresh eyes. Timothy Egan does just that as he relates his encounter with Ignatian spirituality, silence, space, and listening in a visit to the Great St. Bernard Hospice.

 

Columba Stewart“A Monk of the Secular Age” – Speaking of monks, why not read about the life of Columba Stewart, a Benedictine monk who has traversed the world to help save and catalog ancient religious texts. Even finding himself in the midst of war zones, including Iraq, he has worked tirelessly to gather and digitize these texts to preserve them and make them accessible to scholars and the broader world. This reminds us of the historic efforts of monasticism to preserve works that would otherwise be lost, giving us links to earlier eras and societies that have formed the history of thought in ways we should not underestimate.

 

St Lydias Brooklyn“Dinner Church, anyone?” – What is church? How should we live together as church? These questions repeat in discussions again and again. They are not new, but they always bring new answers within the changing context of human culture and social experience. I was talking with a friend over lunch just over a week ago, and we shared our own thoughts about these questions. When I read this article by Michael Frost, I was reminded of some of that discussion, because this very idea had popped up there. I’m not really into pursuing fads in church models, but Frost’s exploration and sharing of examples is thought-provoking. Here’s Frost: “So, what is dinner church? Well, it’s dinner. And church. Scrunched together. But there’s so much more to it than that. Here’s a few dinner churches from around the world to give you a little taste.”

 

Music: Mavis Staples, “You Are Not Alone,” from You Are Not Alone (written by Jeff Tweedy)

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

A Crash Course in Christlike Living (Ephesians 4:17-5:20)

Ephesians

As I continued our series “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity,” last weekend we turned to Ephesians 4:17-5:20 for the following message: “A Crash Course in Christlike Living.” I structured the message around four comparisons that Paul brings to the Ephesians believers around: living holy, living love, living light, and living wisely. Underlying it all is Paul’s call not to grieve the Holy Spirit but to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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Facing Failings in the Character of the Church

Crying in Church

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3)

If, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2, Christ is our peace, who has reconciled us to the Father, then the calling upon us as God’s people is to walk in humility, gentleness, patience, peace, and love with one another. This will happen as we yield to the Holy Spirit, who is the deposit of our salvation and bond of our peace.

Yet you may say, “But, Matt, the church doesn’t look like that. I see pride, fierceness, impatience, discord, and lack of love at times.” I know. I see it too. When we see that in those around us, it should lead us to deeper humility and intercessory prayer on behalf of our local church and the church around the world. It should also lead us into meaningful conversations with others about areas of deficiency from our calling, not in judgment, but in the desire to grow together.

However, if we only see it in everyone else around us, but never in ourselves, it might be good for us to hold these characteristics up against our own lives for consideration. It might be good to ask: “Am I completely humble? Am I gentle? Patient? Am I bearing with others in love? Am I upholding the bond of peace?”

If we answered “yes” to all those questions, then it’s probably time to let the Holy Spirit bring us into a more honest self-assessment. Not any of us will perfectly live out our faith. As Paul says in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” This is not an excuse for sin and brokenness, but it is our reality. The revelation of our shortcomings is painful. Yet, that revelation is also a gift from God to push us back to God in repentance from our own sin and turning in greater reliance upon Him for power to walk worthy of our calling.  It is a return to the heart of justifying faith: “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9).

So let the words of the Apostle lead us into the humility of our human inadequacy and the exaltation of God’s superabundant grace in Christ.

Moving Beyond Church Idealism: Bonhoeffer on the Gift of Disillusionment with the Church

Bonhoeffer

In my sermon this past weekend, “A Crash Course in Church Growth,” I paraphrased some thoughts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together about how disillusionment in the church is a gift from God. I mentioned the need to give thanks for the gift of disillusionment with the church that God gives to us. Here are Bonhoeffer’s original words:

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping it illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily….Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.

[These quotations are taken from John W. Doberstein’s classic translation of Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 26-28.  A more recent translation with thorough annotations and a helpful introduction is found in Volume 5 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.]