Church and Crisis Today: How Philippine Religious Consciousness can better inform how the rest of the world does church?

So, let’s talk about the church. What does church really mean? When it comes down to the idea of how we respond to COVID we have to realize that we’re talking about different aspects to church. We can look at the church as both gathered and scattered. Sometimes the church gathers together and sometimes the church is scattered and spread apart. Sometimes the church has both gathered and scattered aspects existing simultaneously. For example, sometimes a church has a Sunday-morning gathering, a weekly small group – known by various names including cell church, small group, Bible study, the life group, discipleship group, and more – as well as members who spend most of their time in their respective physical communities as well as their workplaces, homes, and selected third spaces. Sometimes the concept is explained using cells with single shell churches meeting Sunday mornings but multiple cell churches meeting anytime throughout the week. What all of this means is that there are multiple ways of understanding the concept of church.

But perhaps the most traditional model is the single cell model of a church that gathers on a Sunday morning in what is often called a congregation. This is actually not a traditional Philippine way of worship. Spain’s introduction of the concept of church to the Philippines involved a lot of reengineering of Philippine society. Spain used a colonial system called reducciones where they would gather scattered people into communities, called Poblacion or plaza complex in the Philippines. Here you have the church, the municipal Hall, and the market with people living in the surrounding blocks. The distance that you could be away from the church was restricted by the sound of the church bell. This is called baja de campana, or under the bell. If you could hear that bell ringing that would call you to mass then you were baja de campana. This identified you as a person submissive to the system. While the term baja de campana isn’t used as much today, this concept is still seen in the Parokya or parish where the church bell and mass are broadcast to the community on loudspeakers.

A New Normal, 500 Years Ago!

While this is normal in the Philippines today, 500 years ago it was a new normal. Prior to this, people lived wherever was convenient to them: Fishermen lived near their favorite fishing cove and farmers lived near their fields.

Spain came in and brought their system for not only colonization but also for evangelization, because the two are not much different.[1] Today we have other issues coming in, including public health concerns such as the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. These issues are creating a new normal that governs how society operates. Because of the public health crisis, we have developed this idea of virtual or online or live stream churches, whether these are services that we’re broadcasting, whether it’s praise and worship, that we’re broadcasting, whether it’s a new way of doing church online, or whether we’re just doing the same thing and recording it and broadcasting it, whether we’re using Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube, Vimeo, or other things, and there’s a variety of other ways to interact where does this fit this virtual online church? Is this the church gathered? Is gathering a part of this online community when we’re gathered together on zoom? Is that a gathering? When we’re all watching doing a watch party together? Is that gathering? Is that scattered? Because the church can be gathered scattered? Is this cell a single cell or is it multiple cell? How does this all interact and work with each other? What does it all do?

Then you get to COVID-19 times where people can’t gather together. And we love to gather together. And it’s the gathering together in a sense that it’s the community of believers, in a sense, makes up the church, but we’ve conflated that with the facility within which we gather.

And so, when it comes to the point of gathering together, not being able to gather together for COVID, all of a sudden, the discussion goes to “Oh, well it’s religious persecution,” or some other kind of an issue. As if the only way that we know how to connect with God is inside a church building. But if we look at biblical and church histories of the way people have gathered, we realize that that’s not entirely the case.

It just means that our way of doing things may go through changes, just like the change from walking in the garden, to having to build an altar, to having to go to a tabernacle, to then having to go to a temple, to then doing a synagogue or a church. It’s just part of the transition and there’s been lots of “new normal” over time.

Philippine Religious Consciousnesses and Crisis Today.

Religious Space.

There’s no concept of religious space in the Philippines system because all space is religious space. This helps us particularly when we talk about issues of issues of religious liberty. Do I have the right to practice my religion and if the government tells me not to meet together, does that mean I’m not being able to practice that? these issues are sort of put aside, because there is really no specifically religious space. We’re used to worshiping in a church, but quite often in society, you’ll see a variety of different religious spaces that are used. You know, whether it’s a procession, where you’re going down the street and so the street becomes a religious space as you bring your as you bring your statue around the community. Even there’s what’s called the pabasa. During Holy Week. When the, the story of Jesus passion is, is, is, is sung in various parts of the community and so these homes and these different places become religious space because of the usage. There’s even the Stations of the Cross where religious spaces are temporarily set up in various parts of the community as people go around and pray as they remember Jesus’ passion. So religious space in the sense of here’s where we do religious activities and this space we don’t is not a concept that exists in the Philippines.

The first point we need to remember as we as we try to create a theology of crisis is that any space can be religious space — we don’t need to be fixated on a church building.

Church Leadership and the Filipino Family.

I guess the second point is that typically the pastor is seen as being in charge of the church. They provide leadership there, but what about inside the home? Who is the one who provides leadership there? It certainly isn’t the pastor.

As the story goes, the pastor visited a home at lunch time. In an effort to honour him they mother invited him in to eat. She had prepared a fish for lunch and the kids worriedly watched the pastor through the window as he tucked in to the meal. All of a sudden one of the kids yells, “Mom, he flipped the fish over!”

While the pastor may be a visitor to the house really the leadership of the home is provided by the father and the mother. And this leadership extends not simply to who feeds the kids and who does the laundry but it goes beyond that. Ultimately it is Who sets the rules? and Who shapes the future for the family? It’s the parents.

One way forward in the midst of crisis is to encourage, train, and empower parents to be the spiritual leaders of their families.

Dambana, or the family altar.

The third aspect would be the idea of dambanaDambana is a is an old Filipino word that talks about a place where you encounter the divine, you know whether this is whether this is a space like a, like a building, whether this is an altar. But, but typically within a house, you know a lot of houses have the altar inside their house so there’s this religious space inside the house, that is that is devoted towards the worship of God and the connection proper connection and relationship with God. Quite often, of course in Filipino homes you’ll have a, you’ll have a, an image that’s that is in that spot, but you’ll also notice in many homes you’ll have other religious artifacts such as Bibles and other things that are there. And these are these are just to remind everybody that God is always present with us. And so within, within each house you have this religious space.

We can use these concepts. As we move towards developing a theology of crisis, a theology of lockdown a theology of pandemic. Rather than trying to find theological reasons for convincing the government to let us reopen our church buildings, we can help encourage and empower families to be responsible for their own spiritual development inside of their homes. During this time, and maybe this will expand them beyond that into the time after the pandemic whatever it will look like.

Notes:

1 Vince Rafael talks about this at length in his Contracting Colonialism.

Image by Varun Gaba on Unsplash.

Of monuments and unmarked graves: Is it right to commemorate those responsible for the residential school system while ignoring its victims?

There have been many calls over the past years to either remove statues/honours or preserve them. Most recently in Canada these include people connected to the Indian Residential School System, including statues of Sir John A. MacDonald, the university named after Egerton Ryerson, and the honorary degree given to Bishop John O’Grady by the University of British Columbia. Those on social media who oppose removing memorials see them as a part of history that shouldn’t be changed.

How can we navigate issues like this? One good place to start is by understanding the difference between the Past and History — and no, they aren’t the same thing.

The events of the Past are unchangeable. The past rolls on continuously and inexorably. But there is no DVR or VHS for the past. The only thing that can be changed is the future. As Jose Rizal said, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” [“Whoever doesn’t know how to look to where they came from will not arrive where they are going.”]

History, on the other hand, is different from the Past. History is the interpretation of the events of the past. Because it is interpretation it is subject to change and reassessment.

Now let’s apply these ideas to statues. Is a statue the past or is it history? It’s history because it is the commemoration of a person deemed significant in the past. As Charlottetown, PEI, Coun. Greg Rivard says, “I don’t think removing a statue erases any history. A statue is symbolic of something, and I don’t think right now that the statue is symbolic of the right things.”

What about a grave? Is a grave the past or is it history? Graves are the past. This is because in most cases, actual people are buried in a grave. There are of course many types of grave. There are marked graves, complete with gravestone and epitaph. There are commemorative graves — for example the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — where the person buried within is unknown but is representative all those who died for their countries but remain unidentified. Then there are mass graves or unmarked graves. Mass graves generally hold the bodies of those who have died in a tragedy.

Now what about when the victims of those memorialised and commemorated with statues are buried in unmarked graves? In May 2021, the unmarked graves of 215 First Nations children, whose deaths were undocumented, were discovered on the grounds of a former Residential School in Kamloops, BC. It doesn’t seem right to continue to commemorate or memorialise those responsible for the residential school system when these children have been abandoned and forgotten does it?

But it is one thing for this to be socially reprehensible. We also need to ask what the Bible says about stuff like this. I can think of two ideas in the Bible that apply here.

The Bible has a high regard for children:

Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are an inheritance from the Lord. They are a reward from him.”

Jesus had a high regard for children, even when society seemingly didn’t. We see this a couple of times, including Mark 10:13-16 that says, “Some people brought little children to Jesus to have him hold them. But the disciples told the people not to do that. When Jesus saw this, he became irritated. He told them, “Don’t stop the children from coming to me. Children like these are part of God’s kingdom. I can guarantee this truth: Whoever doesn’t receive God’s kingdom as a little child receives it will never enter it.” Jesus put his arms around the children and blessed them by placing his hands on them.”

Matthew 18:2-5 says, “I can guarantee this truth: Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me.”

Caring for widows, orphans, and foreigners is important to God:

James 1:27 says, “Pure, unstained religion, according to God our Father, is to take care of orphans and widows when they suffer and to remain uncorrupted by this world.”

The Bible even has harsh words for those who don’t treat children appropriately:

“These little ones believe in me. It would be best for the person who causes one of them to lose faith to be drowned in the sea with a large stone hung around his neck” (Matthew 18:6).

A millstone around the neck certainly isn’t commemoration is it?

Feedback is always welcome!

Image by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

What issues confront me as I seek to pastor my online community (that sometimes may be a mob) even when I am also a part of the mob?

Engaging society is sometimes like pouring coffee into a series of cups stacked on top of each other. Even though the coffee will sometimes spill over onto the floor, some of it will make it to its intended place. How can I, as a pastor, help make sure that the “coffee” ends up in the right place? How can I keep the from spilling the coffee?

I have written about how my friend Dwayne Harms helped shape my belief that I am the pastor of more than my church; I am also the pastor of my community. That has shaped my engagement on the internet as well. My internet experience pre-dates social media! In the days before Web 2.0 I enjoyed engaging others on email lists. But the downside of all of that fun has been that for years I have struggled to find balance on how to engage on the internet.

Now at this point I do need to give a shout out to my mother who exemplifies what it means to be a justice warrior. She has never shied away from personally intervening in situations that are unjust. She is a good model! I get my sense of justice and injustice from her.

Carey Nieuwhof’s latest post on “How to Pastor a Mob” gives some good advice. I should point out that the “mob” Nieuwhof is referring to is primarily the vast, unknown world of the internet — the world that focusses on hot topics and the latest crazes and proceeds largely like a bull in a china shop. Of course sometimes the world of the mob collides with the worlds that I live in. This is what makes things more difficult.

One thing I have done is to unfollow (or unfriend) when reading posts that consistently cause stress. That has made my online experience more enjoyable. I guess my fear is that I may become someone who others want to unfollow/unfriend! How do I avoid that?

Here are a couple of points Carey makes that I found helpful:

“So what do you? How do you respond? The line I’ve tried to follow, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, is to be what I hope to see. In other words, if you hope to see people behaving reasonably, be reasonable.”

This, of course, is easier said than done! Sometimes I don’t want to be reasonable. Sometimes I don’t want to be calm, cool, and collected. But I will tell you one thing, my day goes better when I do respond in a reasonable way.

So how to do it? I sometimes write down my desired reply and read it over before carefully deleting it. I then try to write a more reasonable response. Often it takes prayer and even a day’s thought before the proper response comes to mind.

Of course, those of you who know me and who may follow me on social media know that my response is unfortunately not always this measured.

“There are also times I’ve tried to win over irate people online. I find I can’t. I can usually diffuse a situation in real life. On the internet? Almost a 0% success rate. So I no longer try. I’ve also tried to discuss things online with people who have extreme and public views on subjects. Trying to change their minds is like trying to move a 10 ton block of steel with your baby finger. Not only does the steel not budge, you now have a broken finger. The best way to react to angry, extreme views is to be what you hope to see.”

This is perhaps harder than the first issue I talked about because as a pastor one of my roles is what is called marturia, or truth telling. It is very hard for me to see some untruths without seeking to correct the errors that I see. There are two problems with this. First, it would be impossible for me to be able to correct all the errors out there, which means I need to learn which errors I am going to focus on. The second problem is even harder because it means that I need to recognise that the error may often be from my end.

And that’s the real issue isn’t it? Sometimes I am a part of the mob.

What issues confront you as you seek to pastor your community (that sometimes may be a mob)? In what areas are you also a part of the mob?

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.

Do I pastor a church or a community?

Photo by Mauro Mora on Unsplash.

Several diverse ideas helped shape the approach I take to pastoring.

A key Bible story for me is the story of the Father and his two sons (often called the Prodigal son) that is found in Luke 15:11-32. One of the key parts of the story for me is the fact that there are only three characters, which for me means that in God’s perspective all people are a part of his family. Some — like the prodigal — leave the family and then return, while others — like the older brother — appear to initially have everything together but then end up outside at the end of the story. Note that the father extends every effort to welcome both sons back home. This has shaped how I feel God views everyone in the world — they are all his children who he wants to return home.

Dwayne Harms was a friend I had growing up who ended up being a pastor at Midale Baptist Church in Saskatchewan, Canada. I had a chance to visit him after he had been there for a few years and he said something that has stuck with me since then. He talked about how being the Baptist pastor in a small town meant that he was more than just the Baptist pastor, he was the town’s pastor. This has also helped shape my philosophy of the church and it’s connection with the community.

David Fitch a few years ago said, “There is no dividing line between the church and the world. The church may precede the world today, yet it is only living today what the world itself is ultimately called to in the future. The church in essence bleeds into the world ever calling it to its true destiny. As a foretaste of the renewal of all creation, the church cannot be discontinuous with creation. It cannot be discontinuous with the world because the church is in the process of becoming that very world renewed in Christ. Neither can it merely blend into the world for then all Mission and renewal is lost. Its presence will be in, among and for the world even as it will be distinct from the world. This is what it means to take on the incarnational nature of Christ. It is this very incarnational nature that requires the church to be a discerning community which at times both refuses conformity with the world while at other times joining in (with what God is already at work doing).”

All of this helped me when my wife and I moved to Pingkian (a small community in Metro Manila). I must admit that it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t simply a pastor with Metro Manila Bible Community or Pingkian Family Worship but that I was in fact the pastor of Pingkian! It has certainly shaped the way that I interact with the people who live around me.

If it’s true that we pastor communities like we pastor churches, what does that look like?

What is church for?

Enjoyed this video from Seth Godin regarding school. Take a look.

I have a similar question: What is church for?

We debate about what church is? Some would say, “A church is a big building that sits on the corner of our street.” Others would counter by saying, “No. It’s not a building. A church a group of people who gather together to worship God.” Actually both are true, if you look at the dictionary definition of “church” so there is no need for us to argue over that one anymore 🙂

But have you ever thought about what church is for? Can an understanding of why we do church help us in defining it? Millard Erickson talks about two aspects of defining church in his Christian Theology (Chapter 49). One is the essence of the church or the church’s nature. We use biblical and philosophical ways to answer this. The other is empirical. This is the church as it is lived out in the world. I think that perhaps we have focussed too much on trying to find the church’s essence that we have neglected its functionality.

Godin’s argument is that once we understand what school is for, we will be able to adapt/change what we are doing now so that we can actually meet our goal. I would argue the same for church. If we don’t know why we do church on Sunday (or whatever other day you do it — the concept is the same, just a different schedule 🙂 then how will we know we are meeting our goal?

 

So, how would you answer the question, “What is church for?” Do you agree with your answers?

I Claim this place in the name of …

New Chinese passport map of disputed area.

New Chinese passport. The dotted line in the lower right corner shows the disputed area that China is claiming.

Have you ever thought about the idea of laying claim. I remember as a child looking at pictures of early European explorers visiting “new” lands and, after planting a cross or a flag, claiming that place in the name of the king (or queen or whoever). Now before you get offended remember that I share both European and First Nations blood 🙂

Recently you may have read one of the following articles regarding China’s new passports. Apparently the show a map that includes disputed portions of the “South China Sea” as being a part of China. As you can guess, various countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the USA have made their opinions known. That’s because they also have claims in the area. It is a problem that has been brewing over many years but has recently come to a head. Time will tell how this will be resolved.

I began to think about the church and about missions. Do we lay claim to things that don’t belong to us? I wonder what people in the 10/40 Window think about all the maps of their countries that have been distributed over the years? I wonder what “Manila Ben” or whoever Saddleback named their target audience thinks when s/he sees the various effigies of who they are and how to “reach” them?

The concept of “claiming” implies concepts like good and bad, right and wrong, good and evil. Those doing the claiming always come out on the good side, while those who are claimed are always on the wrong side. But is this really the way missions works? Can any of us claim to be perfectly and totally connected to God? Aren’t we all on a journey?

Are we making unfair claims upon the people of the world? Do we have any other choice? Do those people then have the right to make a similar claim upon us?

What do you think?

Impact or Engagement: What does the Church do?

Impact is a word that excites me particularly as I think about how the relates to society. I teach about the church having impact, about the church doing its role of influencing society to become more and more like the Kingdom of God each day. I have often thought of a nail as a good example of this:

If a nail wants to be used effectively – it if wants to fulfill it’s function – it needs to find a hammer to impact it and drive it into some wood. Impact is essential to the functionality of a nail.

But impact is also a one-way street. Getting back to the nail and the hammer, when the hammer impacts a nail, the nail’s only participation is to be hit repeatedly on the head. The nail really has no impact on the hammer (unless of course you believe the warning label that says the head may shatter – see the Mythbusters episode to see how this really works out).

Another word excites me too. It is “engagement.” Engagement is a better word because it is not a one-way street. It is two or more parties working together for a common goal. It is not simply dependent upon one party to do all the driving – both parties participate.

So when it comes to the church what is the best word to use? Do we say that the church needs to have impact and be the driving force behind any change or transformation in society or does the church engage society, working together toward a common goal?

Here are a couple of verses to help us in our thoughts:

Matthew 5:13-16 – “You are salt for the earth. But if salt loses its taste, how will it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. “You are light for the world. A city cannot be hidden when it is located on a hill. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket. Instead, everyone who lights a lamp puts it on a lamp stand. Then its light shines on everyone in the house. In the same way let your light shine in front of people. Then they will see the good that you do and praise your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16 seems to imply that there is some part that we have – we are salt and light – in societal transformation.

Romans 8:19-22 – All creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal who his children are. Creation was subjected to frustration but not by its own choice. The one who subjected it to frustration did so in the hope that it would also be set free from slavery to decay in order to share the glorious freedom that the children of God will have. We know that all creation has been groaning with the pains of childbirth up to the present time.

One the other hand, Romans 8:19-22 seems to imply that creation wants to participate in something – it is not just waiting to be used but wants to be part of the solution (but also knowing that it depends upon God to redeem it).

So what about you? Which concept is the best depiction of the church’s role in society? Impact or participation?

Anthony Bradley’s Functional church made practical –> On “loving the city” long-term

Functional church anyone? This guy (Anthony Bradley) has got the idea right. But not just the idea, the practice that goes with it! He doesn’t care about forms and appearances but is solely concerned with church engaging society. I like it a lot (even if it is scary).

A functional church really has to get down to this level — the behind-the-scenes-not-pretty-but-really-where-the-problem-is kind of stuff.

It’s one thing to set up a place to get together and talk but it is quite another to take a stand and try to root out some really issues.

Here is the link to the article:

On “loving the city” long-term (in contrast to well-intentioned hipster, neo-paternalistic versions) – The Institute.

What things would you add to the list?

Here’s How 1 Church Defines Functionality

Of course in a blog entitled “The Functional Church Blog” it might be a good idea to add real-life examples of churches that are acting in functional ways. One of those churches is locally known as Hope Christian Fellowship Transformational Ministries (HCFTM). Here’s how this church defines functionality. They think that it is so important that they decided to add these four points to their statement of faith.

1. Proclamation is HCFTM’s way of declaring the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people. We declare Jesus as Lord and Saviour of our community and we recognise His central role in transforming the world through intentional evangelism, communicated effectively in a culturally-relevant way by people who have themselves experienced the transforming power of God.

2. Service is HCFTM’s way of showing the love of God to people both inside and outside of our faith community though acts of mercy, relief rehab and development. We will be engaging in educational ministry services such as establishing schools of all levels. We will be delivering free medical-dental clinics. We will be conducting livelihood programs for the poor of our communities.

3. Truth-telling is HCFTM’s way of being God’s prophetic voice by engaging society with biblical truth through participation in public advocacy, social justice, value transformation, promotion of freedom, engagement in the public square, involvement in market places, and the transformation of public perception through education, evangelism, church planting, intercessory prayer, and discipleship.

4. Community-building is HCFTM’s way of revealing the joys of the kingdom of God to people outside of our faith community through active participation with like-minded faith communities, active cooperation with like-minded groups, and active accountability in both the religious and secular world. All this is typified with the Christian attitude of unity in matters essential, liberty in matters non-essential, and charity in all other matters.

Basically HCF is saying that without these 4 functions, a church is not doing what it is supposed to do. Do you agree? What would you add? What would you subtract?

 

Can a Church be Functional without a Building?

It shouldn’t surprise you that I have a Google Alert set up for the term ‘Functional Church.’ I just like to see how the term is used in general on the web & try to gain some insights on how to improve on the concept.

All sorts of results come in. Some of them are expected and relate to the ministry & mission of the church. Others are less expected such as the job offers from Falls Church, VA that include the word ‘functional’ somewhere in the text. The most telling, however, was the one that referred to the smallest ”functional church’ in the world (which I have also written about here) somewhere in the American Midwest that has room for the preacher & 2 guests. For them functionality is defined by the usability of the structure for a typical Sunday-morning service.

It got me to thinking: Is it possible to be a functional church without a building to meet in or is the meeting place an essential part of a functional church?

I have been involved in all kinds of churches. The first church I pastored had no facility of our own. Rather we rented from a local school. We always perceived that something was missing because of that. We tried to develop programs to bring people into that facility each Sunday. The church I’m presently involved with is 2000m2 sitting on prime real estate on one of the most strategic corners in one of the largest cities in the world. We are presently trying to develop cell groups to bring the church into the community. It seems like we always want what we don’t have. Go figure.

My friend David Drake expressed this tension in his struggles on how to balance the two. I can’t find the exact quote now but in essence he said that while he loved small groups he found that people were more interested in the Sunday event. This he attributed to the fact that we are all anticipating the time when every nation under heaven will worship God together in heaven. What he is saying is that we naturally crave the corporate meeting & that’s a good thing.

So how do I wrap this all up. Part of me wants to say that the meeting place is secondary and that as long as we do ministry/mission right we are ok. But then Dave’s idea creeps in & says, ‘But we naturally crave the corporate thing. Go for it!’ Seems to me he has a point.

So now we come to you. What do you think? Please leave a comment below.