Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Christianity: Religion or Relationship?

"Christianity is not about religion, it's about relationship." Probably one of the evangelical church's most famous lines. Right up there with WWJD, FROG, etc, etc, (insert your favorite bumper sticker slogan here). Last week, I counted at least 5-10 times that I heard that statement come out of someone's mouth at church (and the person that I know to say it the most was out of town).

The problem with that statement is that I don't exactly find it in the Bible. In fact, some passages seem to contradict that. Take James 1:26-27, for example. It speaks of pure religion. Wait a second - religion can be pure? Pure, as in, holy?

My friend Chris (who hates blogs and will never read this) pointed out that Christianity is not about religion or relationship - it's about Jesus. Very true point - totally accurate. So, the real argument is probably about whether we classify how we follow Jesus as a religion or a relationship.

I recently came across an article online called Is Christianity a Religion? It was written by a Catholic person (still can't find their name) as they were examining the evangelical church's fascination with "it's all about relationship!" theology. The article is a really good perspective from a non-evangelical voice. I don't agree with everything in the article, but some excellent points are raised:
'Yes, God established a rather complex religion, complete with ceremonies, clergy, heirarchy and plenty of "do's and dont's". But He never intended it as a substitute for a relationship with Him. Rather, the ancient Israelite religion was meant to be an expression of their covenant relationship with God. The Lord does not seem to see an innate conflict between "religion" and "relationship".'
An interesting thought - even if it is hard for us in the evangelical church to read through that without the "Gospel of Works!" flag going off in our mind. Let's not forget for a second that legalism is not just works but doing works to gain favor with God. If you do the works out of obedience and love - it's not legalism. In fact, I would submit that you can never observe a person and determine from the outside whether or not they are being legalistic. Whether you are doing some works to gain favor with God, or because you love Him and want to be obedient to Him - you are probably going to do the same actions on the outside. You might grumble and be miserable in your heart if you are just trying to gain favor - but that is easy enough to hide from others.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Social Action For the Common Person

Lately, my wife and I have really been pondering and praying over the issue of social justice. Well, my wife has always been thinking about it, since she is working on a PhD in Community Health Education and all. But lately, I've been noticing that everything I get involved in has something to do with Health Education. Maybe God is trying to tell me something....

I even went to a Community Health Evangelist training session recently. One of the thoughts that really stirred me was the concept of Jesus' vision statement. He had one - the one that He began His ministry with:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19 NIV)
This passage refers to spiritual as well as physical interpretations (even though most sermons I have heard focus on the spiritual interpretation). The big question for me is: how can I do any of this?

The problem being that I work full time in the educational technology field. That is what I feel called to do, but it seems like ministering to the poor has to be your full time vocation. My free weekends are scattered. So, I can't sign up for something that happens every Saturday, because I might have to miss from time to time. My rational brain thinks that there is nothing to be done to help the poor at night, because they have already had dinner.

I wish there was some type of resource that just lists ministries and opportunities in my community that anyone can jump in and serve as they can. Say, I have nothing to do Thursday night, and I look up my city on Thursday night and see where I can minister to the poor. Great idea for a website, but I wonder if it would work.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Problem With The Church Today

Our churches today have a big problem. It doesn't matter if they are modern or traditional, charismatic, emerging, diverging, small, or large - they all have this problem. This problem existed in 50s, as well as in the Reformation, as well as in the time of Paul.

The Church is broken.

Yep. It's busted, messed up, crazy, weird, silly, whack, out of joint, etc. You name it. The Church is just that. And even worse. You probably have no idea how broken it is. I don't mean spiritually broken. I mean it is just not working right.

And that happens to be just the way it needs to be.

You see, the perfect church has no need of God. The church without problems has all of the answers. All of the ducks are in a row. In fact, some of the ducks are probably MIA. There's no need for God. We are going to be in eternal need of fixing. There's no way around it.

That is also part of the adventure. God is calling us to join him in his redemptive work. Oh, yes - those that don't know Him are the ones that need that redemptive work the most. But so are those that already know Him. The great adventure comes in realizing that we all get to join God in his grand plan to fix the brokenness that exists everywhere - including inside of the church. Including inside of us.

It's not always fun. It requires us to sacrifice all, so that we might gain this repair. And we might give up from time to time. But the call is never revoked just because we occasionally lose heart. Or - if you are like me - you lose heart more often that you seem to gain it. Like, every other hour it seems. Thankfully, the One that extends the call never ceases to forgive our weak hearts.

Welcome to the Table

Why "The Beggar's Table"? Because, really - we are all beggars. We are all in a place of great need. We may not need food or clothes or a roof over our heads, but we all need a savior. Something greater than ourselves to answer those deep yearnings of our heart. Even the spiritual greats of our time, like Mother Teresa, recognized their needs.

So, what do I plan on blogging about? We do I believe in? What is my denomination affiliation? Well, join me to find out. I can say that I will blog about God, Jesus, Church, world religions, current events, social justice, and probably post some of my artwork here. But who knows what else I will dive in to.