Is it possible to sin in the Name of Jesus?

Shocking news out of Kamloops. A graveyard containing the bodies of 215 first nations youngsters was discovered on the site of a residential school. What makes things worse is that the school in question was run by people who bear the name of Jesus.

I should clarify that while the news is shocking for the general Canadian population, First Nations peoples are intimately acquainted with stories like this.

For those unaware, residential schools were a part of Canada’s Aboriginal policy. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on Canada’s Residential Schools says it this way:

“For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as ‘cultural genocide.’

“Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.

“In its dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things.”

What makes the Residential school narrative especially troubling is the deep participation of the church — those who bear Jesus’ name — in the whole mess. It causes a guy like me, who identifies as a Jesus follower and who is into theology and mission, to ask what went wrong?

Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin, of one of the key advocates of residential schools, wrote in 1880 about the purpose of residential schools:

“To become civilized they should be taken with the consent of their parents & made to lead a life different from their parents and cause them to forget the customs, habits & language of their ancestors.”

Unfortunately the history of missions is full of stories like this.

What is odd is that the Bible is very clear when it comes to culture and faith. Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 both speak of people from every nation, tribe, people, and language being a part of God’s kingdom. What does that mean in practical terms? When we bear the name of Jesus we attempt to have people meet him on their own terms, using their own language, in their own cultural context, in their own place. And when people from every nation, tribe, people, and language get to heaven their uniqueness is celebrated!

The rest of the New Testament is a study in contextualization as people from various cultures and places found ways — through the guidance of the Holy Spirit — to embed Jesus into their own contexts.[1]

I will make a bold statement: If your theology states that someone needs to abandon their own cultural identity — and to subsequently adopt a new cultural identity — in order for them to follow Christ, then your theology has no connection to Jesus.

Having said all of that, even if we weren’t physically present during these atrocities, we are still complicit in them because people bearing Jesus’ name did these things. Don’t we also bear Jesus name?

“I pray Lord that I would see where I am wrong in the things I do today. Forgive me for those things I have done in your name that misrepresent who you are. Lord heal our land.”

Image by Leesa Epp.

1. See Dean Flemming’s Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission for more on this.

What is the Good News? Certainly not this!

I first came across Bill’s story quite by chance doing some surfing through Wikipedia. It interested me a little but not enough to research any furhter. Then I came across this post on Anthony Bradley’s blog and got another perspective.

Reading this made me emotional. I was sad as I read Bill’s story. But when I got to his description of his parents’ religion I got angry. Let’s see what you think:

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, my parents are fundamentalist Christians who kicked me out of their house and cut me off financially when I was 19 because I refused to attend seven hours of church a week.

They live in a black and white reality they’ve constructed for themselves. They partition the world into good and evil and survive by hating everything they fear or misunderstand and calling it love. They don’t understand that good and decent people exist all around us, “saved” or not, and that evil and cruel people occupy a large percentage of their church. They take advantage of people looking for hope by teaching them to practice the same hatred they practice.

A random example:

“I am personally convinced that if a Muslim truly believes and obeys the Koran, he will be a terrorist.” – George Zeller, August 24, 2010.

If you choose to follow a religion where, for example, devout Catholics who are trying to be good people are all going to Hell but child molestors go to Heaven (as long as they were “saved” at some point), that’s your choice, but it’s fucked up. Maybe a God who operates by those rules does exist. If so, fuck Him.

Their church was always more important than the members of their family and they happily sacrificed whatever necessary in order to satisfy their contrived beliefs about who they should be.

I grew up in a house where love was proxied through a God I could never believe in. A house where the love of music with any sort of a beat was literally beaten out of me. A house full of hatred and intolerance, run by two people who were experts at appearing kind and warm when others were around. Parents who tell an eight year old that his grandmother is going to Hell because she’s Catholic. Parents who claim not to be racist but then talk about the horrors of miscegenation. I could list hundreds of other examples, but it’s tiring.

 

What right do these people have in calling themselves followers of Jesus? Then I was reminded of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day who seemed to get it really wrong even though they so badly thought they (and only they) were getting it right. How does the good news get messed up so badly?

Here is the post in full over at Anthony Bradley’s blog:

Bill Zeller’s Painful Suicide Note–Sexual Abuse & PTSD + A Conservative Christian Home = Suicide – The Institute.

It does lead me to ask myself, however: How am I getting it wrong in my presentation of the good news? What are you doing right?

Questions Regarding Milk vs Meat

Sometimes the Bible talks about spirituality in terms of food. The idea is this: new Christians, like babies, need milk. Eventually, however, as they mature, they need meat. Take, for example, the following verses:

  • I Corinthians 3:2: I gave you milk to drink. I didn’t give you solid food because you weren’t ready for it. Even now you aren’t ready for it
  • Hebrews 5:12-14 By now you should be teachers. Instead, you still need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food. All those who live on milk lack the experience to talk about what is right. They are still babies. However, solid food is for mature people, whose minds are trained by practice to know the difference between good and evil.
  • I Peter 2:2: Desire God’s pure word as newborn babies desire milk. Then you will grow in your salvation.

Here is my question: When do we start feeding ourselves?

When a baby grows old enough to start eating meat, they put it into their mouths themselves. Is it the same with disciples? Do we eventually start feeding ourselves?

A few more questions: Is is proper to say “I’m not being fed by Sunday-morning sermons”? Is that what sermons are for? Erwin McManus made the statement: “My job isn’t to feed the Christians, so they can feed the sheep. My job is to make them hungry so they can feed themselves.” Does McManus accurately reflect the truths of milk vs meat?

So what if I am not being fed? Does that mean I need to feed myself — that I have graduated to the next level of maturity where I find my own food and feed others?

Does anyone have any answers for me?

Building the Kingdom: Essentials vs Non-Essentials (Part 2)

A few months ago I wrote about the concept of Essentials vs Non-Essentials. At the end I expressed frustration about not having enough time in class for closure on the issues raised. Yesterday we had that closure in class.

The issues related to Essentials and Non-Essentials are quite often fought out in the issues on the periphery of our belief. That is, the battles waged in this area in our churches are primarily fought over non-essential practices as opposed to essential beliefs. The class did  an assignment  that called on them to list their core beliefs as disciples of Christ — that is the things that are absolutely essential to their life as Christians, the kinds of things that if they were not there would cause them to walk away from the group. I was mildly amused to see that the issues they considered to be core were almost exclusively theological in nature: Who is Jesus? What is the Church? Ordinances. etc. There was very little practice listed.

Which led us to the discussion of core beliefs and core practices. Of course, we all need to have core beliefs. But I just can’t survive on core beliefs. At some point those core beliefs need to come out — I need to show them in my actions.

For example, I remember watching a show called Venture on Canadian TV about 20 years ago. One episode hightlighted a new company that had developed a machine for turning garbage into potable water. The scene has stuck in my mind forever of the inventor of the machine holding a glass of water that had come from his machine. He proudly declared the water to be safe to drink. However, when asked by those present to prove his beliefs with action — in other words to drink the water — he refused saying, “I prefer wine.” Guess what? I have never heard of that machine again. Why? Because even though the inventor’s core belief was that the water was pure, his core practices did not include actually drinking the water himself!

Of course, I am not saying that everybody’s practices needs to be the same but that we find unity in the beliefs we share together. One issue that has come up in our faith community lately is how the practices that older Christians have relate to the practices that young Christians have. If we focus on the practices themselves, we will be divided. But if we focus on the core beliefs we can be unified and support a variety of legitimate core practices.

As a Theology teacher this truth strikes home for me. I must reexamine not my beliefs, but my practices so that my beliefs will be proved true in the things that I do.

How about you? Do your practices align with your beliefs?

The Smallest Functional Church in the World

Interesting link came up in my Google Alerts today. I have a standing search going for articles including the words “functional church.” It is an effort to see how churches view the concept of being functional. It is also a search to see if the word “functional” adequately describes the church as God’s mission to the world.

This article describes the “smallest functional church in the world.” It consists of a structure built in an American cemetery that has room for one pastor and two congregants. It is in the typical white-picket-fence-with-a-cross-on-the-peak style. Interestingly enough, the “church” under discussion does not appear to have even the marks of the church, much less act in a functional way – at least function as this blog defines it.

The article does not say, however, if there are actually people who are involved in this church. I guess the questions that remain to be answered are: Is God’s kingdom truly represented here? Is the church a part of God’s mission to the world? Is the Good News of Jesus proclaimed? Have people there truly experienced God? Is the community served?

It appears that “functional church” for the builder means that you can get a couple of people inside and feel good because it looks like a church. Unfortunately, that is how a lot of us think of church. As long as there are people in the pews and it looks like a church everything is ok. What is missing, however, is the whole idea of making disciples of all nations. The story would be better perhaps if the hook was, Hey-look-at-this-tiny-church-building-that-houses-a-true-community-of-faith-that-is-able-to-engage-society-in-a-meaningful-way, or something like that.

What do you think? Does this article describe a church that is truly functional?

Do you want God to "keep the balance"? I Don’t.

Just watching Avatar on DVD at home with the family the other night when the line jumped out at me. Near the end of the show, when Jake Sulley is questioning himself and his quest to free Pandora of the “Skypeople,” he asks Eywa to help him. His girlfriend Neytiri replies, “Eywa doesn’t take sides, she keeps the balance.”

I’m not sure about you but I want a God who does take sides — one who chooses the side of good over evil, who chooses right over wrong. Because a God who chooses to keep the balance makes sure that there is just as much evil in the world as there is good.
For an example of a God choosing right over wrong, take a look at the story of Jesus.

Villar, Politics, & the Church

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the President of the Senate of the Republic of the Philippines, Senator Manny Villar.” It was strange to hear those words coming out of my mouth. In fact the whole situation was a little bit of a surprise for me. As the producer for this year’s Baptist Conference of the Philippines Biennial Assembly, it was my job to ensure the program ran smoothly. I spent the time running back and forth making sure everything was working well. The first night, as expected, we had a few program changes, due in part to the anticipated late arrival of the keynote speaker, the aforementioned Senator Villar. Rev. Gary Harrison, VP of BGC-US, another of our speakers, graciously agreed to preach his message early, just to accommodate the Senator’s busy schedule. Of course, as the producer, the big question for me was, “When the Senator arrives, do we get him to wait or do somehow signal the other speaker to wrap things up so that the Senator could have his shot?”

A variety of discussions ensued with a variety of participant’s. In the back of my mind I was thinking that we shouldn’t be to eager to stop the preacher just for a politician to take his place. Others shared the same viewpoint and so the Senator waited for about 15 minutes. Of course, as my colleague Rene pointed out, “Politicians never show disappointment in public.”

So it was up to me. I should point out that my role at the Assembly did not include any public role. In fact, I was just wearing jeans and a t-shirt when the message came to introduce the Senator!

I must admit I was impressed with the Senator’s speech (although for the life of me I couldn’t get the image of him dressed in his leather suit, singing, “Manny Villar para sa Senador” to the tune of an old Tom Jones song, out of my head.). Either he or his speechwriter understood the issues of Transformation enough so that he said all the right things in the right order. Perhaps much more boldly than I might but then that is not a bad thing.

Afterward it was very interesting. As he was leaving he began (as politicians do) to shake hands with the assembled host. I have in my mind this image of pastors scrambling down to the aisle just so they could shake his hand.

Having said all of that, this phenomena brings several questions and or observations to my mind:

Firstly, it seems to me that in situations like this, the question running through everyone’s mind is, “How can he help us.” There is, as Rene once again pointed out, a certain star quality to having a famous politician grace our circles, even circles as politically neutral as a church gathering (said with my tongue firmly in my cheek!) We all want to meet the famous person and more importantly perhaps have them join our church. But to what end?

The second thing it makes me ask is, “Why isn’t it the same way with the political world?” Why are our leaders not as rabidly excited when we are given the opportunity to speak in the public arena? Why are they not beating down our doors looking for our support so that they can craft their programs accordingly?

Could it be that we have become so rabidly anti-political in our churches, scared to say even the slightest world in support of one candidate or another? Could it be that when issues come up, we as a church have either ignored it or over-spiritualised it so that our answers become meaningless? Case in point, a local Baptist minister in Canada saying, when asked about a horrible child-abuse ring that had just been uncovered in his town, “I think they are demon possessed!” How is that answer relevent to the issue facing that town – namely that of pain, betrayal, distrust, anger, cries for justice?

The church needs to get its voice back! We need to speak out on the issues that are shaping our societies. We need to bring not only the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ into the world, but also the message of the truth of who God is and how he wants us to act.

Mike Fast welcomes feedback on any of the articles he writes. Please leave your comments below.