Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Driscoll Discipline Conversation- My 2 cents

I read a story on Matthew Paul Turner's blog this week that absolutely made my skin crawl. It concerns a young man named Andrew who was part of Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill Church in Seattle (not to be confused with the church in Michigan that was, until recently, pastored by Rob Bell) who, when faced with a moral crisis, put his trust in his church and was treated horribly, under the pretense that such treatment is in accord with God's will. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 of Turner's posts about Andrew's ordeal and his "excommunication" (seriously, they used that word) from Mars Hill.

Several other bloggers out there have offered some very thoughtful commentary on this particular story, and on the phenomenon of celebrity bully pastors like Driscoll. Chaplain Mike at Internet MonkRachel Held Evans, and a guest poster on Turner's blog named Stephen's contributions to the discussion are excellent.

I want to offer my own take, not on Andrew's particular situation, or individuals like Driscoll or even churches like Mars Hill. Others have already done so in more gracious and thoughtful ways than I would. Instead, I want to take a look at the "biblical basis" for Andrew's excommunication.

As the document in Part 2 on Turner's site says, the model for their actions is Matthew 18:15-18. In this passage, Jesus says

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

I've heard people who are on various places on the theological spectrum quote this passage, and focus in on the "treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector" part as a justification for shunning someone.

Since the words of Jesus are being used here, it follows that the actions of Jesus should tell us how one treats a pagan or a tax collector. How did Jesus treat these folks? Did he shun them and protect himself from them so as to not let their sinfulness infect him, as I've heard this passage applied?


Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors, not to mention prostitutes, thieves, and all other kinds of "undesirables" with love and respect. He didn't just talk to them for the purpose of encouraging them to get their act together.

When he encountered Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10), he didn't even wait for Zacchaeus to say a word before saying that he would dine with him. Zacchaeus' declaration of turning over a new leaf was in response to Jesus love. Grace came first, then repentance. But in the church we've flipped the equation around.

Let's also remember that Jesus' harshest words were reserved for the religious people that thought themselves too pious to associate with the common "sinner". He called them "broods of vipers", among other things. It was the religious people who wanted to exclude everyone they didn't approve of that conspired with the Romans to kill Jesus.

So if you find someone in a place where you think they're harming themselves and others through their sin, if you've talked with them about it and they disagreed, then you talked it through with others and the whole group talked to that person and they still disagreed, what does Jesus say you should do?

Keep loving them anyway. Don't shun them. Don't become so preoccupied with your own sanctity that you throw a relationship away over a disagreement. Love them. Eat with them. Show them that you'll never give up on them. That's what helps people understand that they're forgiven and that they can make a new start.

Perhaps if the church practiced more radically inclusive love and less superiority and exclusion under the guise of "church discipline", the rest of the world wouldn't find us to be at odds with the Christ we worship.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Shameless Self Promotion- 2012 Edition

Lent is approaching and many pastors are thinking about sermon series for Lent. Ministry Matters has published an outline of a series I did a few years ago called "Giving It Up". It began with the idea of people giving certain things up for the 40 days of Lent, and considers things that God wants us to give up permanently.

You can find the article here. If anyone would like the full text of any of the sermons, I'd be happy to send them to you.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Remembering the Real Dr. King

Ever since I've been blogging, I've taken the opportunity on the national holiday remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to point out that as thoroughly as we've sanitized Dr. King in our national consciousness, he still remains as dangerous a figure to the economic and political status quo today as he was in his day.

I've met too many kids who assume King's I Have A Dream speech (as wonderful as it is) somehow instantly ended racism and achieved total equality for all people in America to not make this annual reminder. Particularly with the events of this past year, the things we don't say about Dr. King show how badly we want to make him safe. The Poor People's Campaign he was planning at the time of his murder in 1968 had exactly the same tactics and goals as the current "Occupy Wall Street" movement.

But I also have to acknowledge that the words of a white, upper middle class guy who has never encountered a shred of prejudice or oppression don't carry a lot of weight when I'm trying to make a claim about who Martin Luther King really was. So I think I'll let Dr. King speak for himself.

Below is the audio of his 1967 sermon, "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam". This sermon literally made everybody mad. His enemies found further reason to dislike him. His friends and colleagues in the civil rights movement thought that he was doing grave damage to their cause by taking such an unpopular stance, and said he should just stick to issues of race. But, as he says in this sermon, "I am determined to take the gospel seriously." As a prophet, he couldn't speak up against one type of injustice and remain silent on other types of injustice.

The sermon is over 20 minutes long, but it's worth taking the time to listen. There are so many parallels between Dr. King's time and ours that one finds in this message, but the one that stood out most to me was, "One of the difficulties in speaking out today grows out of the fact that there are those who are seeking to equate dissent with disloyalty."

May we honor the man in whose name we're getting a day off of work and school by being brave enough to speak up against evil and injustice even when, especially when, no one else will stand beside us.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Why We're Baptizing Our Infant Daughter

(Note- this post is a slightly updated reprint of a post I wrote back in 2009, anticipating Kate's baptism.)

Claire is being baptized this coming Sunday. We're very honored to have Rev. Dr. M. Douglas Meeks, a mentor and professor of mine from my seminary days at Vanderbilt, coming to preside at the baptism.

Over the years I've heard the argument more than a few times from my Baptist friends (and from a few Methodists who think they're Baptist) that infant baptism isn't biblical, valid, or anything else remotely good. (Jessica wrote a really great blog post on the subject several years ago)

A cursory glance at the history of the Christian faith presents a different picture, however. In the 4th century St. Augustine (in one of his only major contributions to Christian theology that didn't turn out horribly) helped answer the question of what to do with people who came back into the Orthodox fold from a schismatic group called the Donatists. Augustine determined that the efficacy of baptism lay not in the holiness of the priest performing the sacrament (ex opere operato), but in the holiness of God.

In my own tradition, we view baptism as a sign of prevenient grace (a term Mr. Wesley learned from Jacob Arminius), which is symbolic of God's claim upon us. Claire doesn't understand the concept of God at three months old, but God's love for her and God's claim upon her life are no less real. In the same way she doesn't understand the concept of family, but she's no less a part of our family. Later she will be able to understand and claim for herself what has been true about her before she was even born.

Furthermore, baptizing an infant is an act of the church in which we are making a covenant to raise the child in the faith, provide a Christian example for them to emulate, and support them as they grow in their spiritual life. We are also reaffirming our covenant with one another and dedicating ourselves to emulating the divine life of perichoresis we see in the Holy Trinity.

On the non-theological side, this baptism is very special because I was baptized at Arlington as a baby, and Claire will be wearing the baptismal gown my mother made for me, which was also worn by my brother, Andrew, and Kate at their baptisms.

Look for a recreation of this photo after tomorrow's service:

If you're in the Nashville area, come to Arlington UMC this Sunday at 10am and celebrate with us!

Monday, January 09, 2012

A Little "Tebowing" of my Own

In his first ever NFL playoff game earlier tonight, Denver Broncos' Quarterback Tim Tebow passed for 316 yards, including a very impressive overtime play that beat the heavily favored Steelers.

Because Tebow is a very vocal Christian, some people have taken that statistic as some kind of sign from God, because 1 Timothy 3:16 says
"Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory."

This is kind of neat, but the problem is that some people are assuming that God rigged the game so that Tebow would pass for this exact number of yards to get people to check out this Bible verse.

I have a host of theological problems with this, not least of which is the idea that God gets intimately involved in the details of NFL games, due to Tebow's piety (which I believe is totally genuine and sincere), and yet refuses to lift a finger to stop tens of thousands of children from dying of hunger every single day.

Making that claim is basically saying that God cares very little for the world and is a complete narcissist- an idea that the biblical narrative does not present. You can cherry pick quite a few verses to make God seem very shallow and insecure, and lots of folks have done just that.

My own polemics aside, I'm a Bible nerd and a sports nerd, so I thought I'd follow this line of logic a bit further. There are a number of Quarterbacks in the NFL whose names are also books of the Bible. So I looked on ESPN at their passing yards from each game this season to see what else God may have been trying to tell us through the NFL. Here are some of the more interesting results.

Mark Sanchez- New York Jets
9/11 vs. Dallas Cowboys, 335 yards
Mark 3:35. Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.

Dan Orlovsky- Indianapolis Colts
12/22 vs. Houston Texans, 244 yards
Daniel 2:44. In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.

Matt Hasselbeck- Tennessee Titans
9/25 vs. Denver Broncos, 311 yards
Matthew 3:11. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John Beck- Washington Redskins
10.16 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 117 yards
John 1:17. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John Skelton- Arizona Cardinals
11/13 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 315 yards
John 3:15 ...that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
11/27 vs. St. Louis Rams, 114 yards
John 1:14. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Sam Bradford- St. Louis Rams
11/27 vs. Arizona Cardinals, 203 yards
1 Samuel 2:3. Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.

Matthew Stafford- Detroit Lions
1/1 vs. Green Bay Packers, 520 yards
Matthew 5:20. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Lastly, and this one's my favorite:
Tim Tebow- Denver Broncos
11/17 vs. New York Jets, 104 yards
1 Timothy 1:4. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.

Hmmm... maybe God is trying to say something through Tim Tebow's passing stats...