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.

Church, modified.

Church.

It doesn’t matter what you add to the word or how you modify it, it still means the same basic thing.

  • Underground church is a church that remains as hidden as possible due to persecution.
  • Local Church is a church in one community.
  • House church is a church that meets in someone’s house (or office, or third place).
  • Universal church is the church that has existed, exists today, and will exist in the future.
  • Indigenous church is a church that is contextualized to a certain society.
  • Persecuted church is a church that is being persecuted by another religion or by the government.
  • Mega Church is a really big church.
  • Cell Church is a really small church.
  • Online church is the online portion of a local church, whether live or prerecorded.
  • Virtual church is where every aspect of the church exists in the virtual world.
  • Live-streamed church is when a church broadcasts it’s Sunday morning services live online.
  • In-person church is when people gather for face-to-face meetings.
  • Church at home is when families worship at home.

But guess what? It’s all still church.

So what does that mean?

We should continue to be the church regardless of which modifier we pick.

  • We should continue to proclaim the good news the Jesus is our king.
  • We should live out the values of the Kingdom of God.
  • We should love God and love our neighbour.
  • We should bear witness to the truth.

How will you be the church today?

Feedback is always welcome!

Image by Skull Kat on Unsplash.

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 should be my place in the church’s pecking order?

My wife and I have spent the past week on a farm and one incident reminded me of the common saying, “Pecking order.” There were a bunch of eggs in the incubator waiting to be hatched and our arrival at the farm was the due date. One by one the little chicks pecked their way out of their shells and began the next phase of their lives. Which is when we noticed an interesting occurrence. Those chicks who hatched first began to peck at the chicks born later. This is the famous pecking order that determines who gets to peck whom?

It’s the most basic form of relationship and while I can’t begin to try to understand the way a chick’s mind works it does illustrate the way some relationships are oriented around power and domination.

Sometimes the same thing happens when people come to faith. Those who come to faith first set the rules for the next who come to faith. There are countless examples in the Bible, perhaps the most famous being the Pharisees and the prodigal son’s older brother.

Acts 15 is a great example of how the pecking order was challenged and a new way of relationship was hatched. Apparently some of the early Jesus followers decided that non-Jews also needed Jesus and so they began to proclaim Jesus to others. The first stage was Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, who was a Jewish proselyte. Others, however, went further and began to talk about Jesus with people with an entirely different worldview. This of course created turmoil in the early church as people accused both Peter and these other Jesus followers — now called “Christians” — of violating God’s laws.

Peter’s rebuttal is simple: The same Holy Spirit that guides us also guides these new Jesus followers.

The result was the order issued by the early church leaders that is recorded in Acts 15 that outlines how these new Jesus followers could be folded into the church.

This was a reversal of the pecking order concept where the old timers get to set the rules. Now the newcomers could create their own rules. In fact, it was the very rules themselves that lost their ability to shape culture. Rather, the Holy Spirit would somehow intervene in the lives of these others and help them to reshape their own cultures for Jesus.

Jesus says, “Be the one who gets pecked. It’s ok to be pecked because I have been pecked, too.”

So what other pecking orders exist within the church? What does the Bible have to say about these pecking orders?

Intergenerational pecking orders. But Jesus said in Matthew 19, “Don’t stop children from coming to me!” and also a few verses earlier in Matthew 18, “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.” What does this mean? Sometimes people whose faith is fresher have a better approach to faith.

Favourite Bible Translation pecking orders. It is interesting that most of these debates are about English translations of the Bible, even though English is not one of the original languages. It doesn’t make sense if we are happy accepting other language translations but are only happy with one English one. What is important is that God says in Isaiah 55, “My word … will not come back to me without results.” What does this mean? God’s word works.

Favourite preacher pecking orders. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 — “some of you say, ‘I follow Paul’ and others say, ‘I follow Apollos,'” — talks about the teamwork involved in church ministry. What does this mean? Be a team player when it comes to church. Listen to a variety of voices. Engage in conversations rather than monologues.

Theological pecking orders. People love to fight about theology. I can remember to this day some of the theological arguments that I had more than 30 years ago — and I loved debating because I knew that I was right! That is the problem with theological debates because the goal is to find out who is right and who is wrong. The bible advises us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). What does this mean? Be prepared for the reality that you may not always be right!

Hermeneutical pecking orders. Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation and for many years one hermeneutical system has reigned supreme: the grammatical-historical method. The problem is that this isn’t necessarily the default hermeneutical system used either in the Bible (eg. take a look at how Peter interprets scripture in at the end of 1 Peter 3) nor in various parts of the world. What does this mean? Sometimes other people know how to make sense of things too. It’s best to dialogue with them rather than condemn them.

Where is your place in the pecking order? How can I embrace being pecked rather than pecking others?

Note: A few days later I happened to see all the chicks huddled together because it was cold. I guess a common problem is more important than pecking each other! Is that why persecution sometimes makes the church stronger?

What does the Bible say about Gathering?

Many times during the pandemic, especially when church gatherings are being restricted, people resisting restrictions quote Hebrews 10:25, that reads, “Do not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing,” as a defense that church gatherings should not be restricted. 

An initial appropriate counter to this argument is Matthew 18:20, that reads, “Where two or three are gathered, there am I in their midst.” This is the only verse in the Bible that sets a number to the assembly.[1] While this verse does apply a number to the concept of gathering, it does lead to several questions. What if you are alone? Does that mean that God isn’t “in your midst”? Not at all. The Bible also has examples of God meeting people who are alone, including Hagar in the desert (Genesis 21), Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28), Moses in the desert (Exodus 3:1-4:17) and on the mountain (Deuteronomy 34), and Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kings 19).

It does raise the question however of what exactly the gathering is. Has gathering always been the same? Is there a mandated “biblical gathering model” that can be universally applied to all settings and situations? Can the Bible help us in understanding what exactly gathering is?

What follows is my rather lengthy attempt to answer these questions. I approach it from the perspective of how the Bible conceptualises religious or holy space. I will then talk a little bit about some post-biblical historical conceptualisations of the same. For those who have neither time nor desire to read such a long approach, here is the TL;DR version: Both the Bible and church history describe multiple examples of religious or holy space, some good and some bad, none of which are prescribed for us today.

The Worship of God and Holy Space.

One important aspect of understanding church gathered and scattered is to look at how people in the past have used space to meet God. Perhaps the strongest resistance to change is seen in the simple statement, “We haven’t done it that way before.” It implies that our own experience represents the whole of knowledge. This of course isn’t true but does lead us to ask how this relates to issues of church gathered and church scattered? How does history prove or disprove what we have or have not done before? Holy spaces have changed over the course of the history of the world. As described in the Bible, we see varying forms of what holy space is, depending on the situation or the time.

Positive examples of Holy Space.

There is a wide variety of positive holy spaces in the Bible. These are places where people approach God through means the Bible approves of. 

Garden of Eden. At the very beginning of the Bible, sacred space was in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve lived.[2] God would come down in the cool of the day, and they would talk together. So, there was direct conversation with God in this holy space, in this sacred space of the garden, which represented the entire world. And so, there is no need to have any special place where that would happen. In the age of innocence, the space and the time were the same. The cool of the day in the space of the Garden of Eden, God would talk to his people. 

Sacrifices and Altars. As humans became slaves to sin, we see that there was a new way of interacting with God, we see the story of Cain and Abel, and were they brought “offerings” to the LORD.[3] And so, it seems that these sacrifices were offerings of the produce of the land, whether it was flora or fauna, to God. It would appear that at this point there’s some kind of burning involved. These happened on altars, but it wasn’t simply the use of an altar, it seems that there is also the proper use of an altar because God accepts Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. This implies that is seems to be more than simply the place where the offering is given – there seems to be some kind of an attitude that gets developed through the offering of sacrifice.[4] Prior to the flood, the process of “offering” isn’t clearly explained, but after the flood we are introduced to the word “altar” and this word is used 338 times in the Old Testament. As the story progresses, you see these sacrifices happen on altars as the key ways that humans interact with God. In fact, The Bible tells us that only some of the animals came to Noah’s ark two-by-two. The rest came in sevens – and these were the clean animals that Noah and his family would subsequently use in sacrifices and offerings after they were saved. Abraham interacted with God through altars. Wherever he and his descendants Isaac and Jacob went they would set up an altar to God. That makes altars a kind of a very specific religious space. 

“You are standing on holy ground.” Moses is in the wilderness herding sheep, he sees a burning bush that isn’t consumed by fire. When he approaches, God says to him, “Take your sandals off because you’re standing on his holy ground.” Perhaps this is reminiscent of the Garden of Eden where the ground the earth and everything God created was holy. This event, however, appears to be a one off – there are no further accounts of encountering God at burning bushes. 

The Land of Goshen. When the children of Israel first arrive in Egypt, they are given the Land of Goshen, which becomes their religious space (Genesis 46:3-4; 47:27). Eventually during the Egyptian captivity, the people call out to God and God hears their voice, and he answers their plea for help. And he comes down and frees them from the land of slavery, and brings them into the land of promise. And while they’re on the journey, they go to several other holy spaces. 

Holy Mountains. Mountains are also key religious spaces in the Bible. There’s Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb, which is a holy space.[5] Moses had several encounters with God on this mountain including the burning bush[6] and receiving the decalogue.[7] It was on Mount Carmel that Elijah and the people of Israel had their encounter with Yahweh and the prophets of Baal were defeated.[8] The ultimate example of a holy mountain is talked about in both the story of Abraham and the story of Jesus. Richardson (2005) notes that Moriah, the mountain where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac,[9] as the same mountain where both Solomon’s Temple was constructed[10] and where Jesus was crucified.[11]Mount Zion is also a key mountain especially with regard to God’s kingdom extending to all peoples of the earth. Mount Zion is in many ways a virtual space, sometimes identified with Jerusalem,[12] sometimes with heaven,[13] and sometimes with the place where God encounters the nations.[14]

The Tabernacle. The tabernacle is a portable holy space that the children of Israel carry with them wherever they go. Within this holy space we see a variety of spaces each with a reducing number of authorized users. In addition to the tent spaces there was also a special place between the cherubim on top of the ark of the convent. This was called the mercy seat and was where there was an interaction where people were reconciled to God, through the blood of the sacrifice. 

The Temple. The Temple was the permanent dwelling place for God, planned by David and built by Solomon on the Temple Mount. And this, this becomes a place of connection between the Jewish people and God. There were in fact a series of temples, each rebuilt after the destruction of the previous temple. There were also a series of tools and implements that were used inside the Temple.  

Jesus and Holy Space. Jesus does some of his teaching in the temple, but he also teaches in other holy spaces. He preaches on a mountain, he preaches in people’s homes, and he teaches in a new place called the synagogue. Eventually Jesus returns to heaven. The people of God continue to worship in the temple, they gather in the temple for prayer, even as they live in community together outside of the Temple. Ultimately the Romans attack and the temple is destroyed so that it is no longer a place of worship for Jews nor for Christians. 

Synagogue and ekklesia. The Jews focus their space on synagogues, and Christians focus their space on the church. Synagogues appear to be gatherings of God followers, in small communities, that are apparently spread throughout the Roman world. The diaspora of Jews throughout the Roman world meant that they couldn’t bring the temple with them so, the synagogue is created as a way for them to connect to God in an appropriate way. In many ways churches are the same. Both of these terms mean basically the same thing in Greek, it’s just that there is this agreed upon idea that Jews call their gathering a space “synagogue” and Christians call theirs a “church,” but in Greek the meaning for both words is essentially the same. Related to church and synagogue are “The Church that meets in their home.”[15]

Negative examples of Holy Space.

We also need to point out some other religious spaces that are not good examples. There are times where people seek God through means that the Bible disapproves of.

The Tower of Babel.[16] The Tower of Babel introduces a different kind of sacred space, one that wants to usurp God’s position as the ruler of the universe, almost as if to say if the tower is built then humans be able to reach to the heavens, the dwelling place of God, and then become like God. Even God himself says, “What can these people not do?” So, then he talks about messing with their language, and that’s where the different languages come out.

Under every spreading tree and on every hilltop.[17] Even though the people of Israel had the tabernacle as a center for worship, we discover that the people are constantly trying to create their own holy spaces for themselves. “Under every spreading tree, and on every high Hill” becomes a way to describe holy spaces where people worship God in inappropriate ways. We also see Gideon and Micah and the idols that they set up, complete with Levites to oversee the proper use of worship. 

Jeroboam’s Golden Calves. Jeroboam sets up two golden calves in Israel, after Israel seceded from Judah during Rehoboam’s reign. Jeroboam doesn’t want to maintain any connection with worship at Jerusalem because that would undermine his authority. Ultimately two events happen to destroy this second holy place: Assyria comes and carries the 10 tribes off into permanent captivity and Josiah destroys the two calves. 

Historical Religious Spaces.

Now we move on from biblical understandings of holy space and move into other historical expressions of the same. 

Christendom. The time of Constantine saw a change in Christian religious space. Whereas before the church was in a largely persecuted state and had to hide out in places such as the catacombs in Rome, now the church experienced official sanction. This allowed for the construction of church buildings, perhaps the most famous of which is the Hagia Sophia. Throughout this time the church transitioned from a group that met in homes to what we have today where churches largely meet in specially constructed facilities called churches. This has resulted in a theology where our worship is largely centered on a building; we’re used to “going to church.” In the Philippine context, you have churches that were also built as a kind of fortress, to protect the priests and members from harm.

The persecuted church. Christendom is not always the norm for how churches gather. There are vast areas of the Christian world where Jesus’ followers are not allowed to gather. In Iran, for example, you have Christians who have never met with another Christians because of the danger of doing so. If they haven’t experienced any sense of corporate worship at all does that mean they’re not church? Does that mean not a part of the family of God? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. 

A theology of Church Scattered.

We have seen that from the beginning of time that people have been able to approach God in a wide variety of ways – there is no universal system for doing so. That directly addresses present-day concerns about churches have to forego face-to-face gatherings because of the pandemic. We need to develop an alternative theology of church that will assist us in moving forward into the new normal. We will begin with defining the concept of church and then move into a discussion of the functions that the church is designed to perform. 


[1]  Some see this verse as applying only to situations of church discipline. However, I would argue that the proximity of the word ekklesia in the surrounding verses also allows its application to other church activities as well. What is interesting is that at least one church that is opposed to the restrictions bases their argument partially on the fact that they need to practice church discipline. 

[2] This story is found in Genesis 2-3. 

[3] Genesis 4:3-16. 

[4] It should be pointed out that there are no clear reasons given in the biblical account for why Abel’s offering was accepted while Cain’s was not. 

[5] See for example, John Calvin (1847-50) Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 3: Harmony of the Law, Part I, tr. by John King https://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/calvin/cc03/cc03006.htm (retrieved Feb 11, 2021). 

[6] See Exodus 3. 

[7] See Deuteronomy 4:10, 4:15, 5:2, 9:8, 18:16, 28:69; Psalms 106:19; Malachi 4:4. 

[8] See 1 Kings 18:16-45. 

[9] See Genesis 22:2. 

[10] See 2 Chronicles 3:1

[11] Richardson says, “Where was Golgotha—The Place of the Skull—located? Just outside the wall of Jerusalem and within, at the most, 1,600 meters of the tip of Mount Moriah. King Solomon, centuries earlier, had erected the first Jewish Temple on Mount Moriah, probably to commemorate the exact spot where Abraham stretched Isaac upon that pile of wood (see Gen. 22:1-19). It was there that Yahweh placed Himself under oath to fulfill both lines of the Abrahamic Covenant” (p. 147).

[12] See 1 Kings 8:1-2; 2 Chronicles 5:2. 

[13] See Hebrews 12:22-23; Revelation 14:1. 

[14] See Psalm 9:11; Isaiah 2:3, 14:32; Micah 4:2. 

[15] References to churches meeting in homes can be found in Acts 1:13; Romans 16:3,5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15. 

[16] This story can be found in Genesis 11:1-9. 

[17] References to these places can be found in passages such as Deuteronomy 12:1–4; 1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 16:2-4, 20, 17:10; Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah 2:20, 3:2, 17:2. 

Image by @vladhilitanu

What makes virtual meetings more like face-to-face meetings? The “Seen Zone”

Do you know what the “seen zone” is? 

The “seen zone” is a way for virtual gatherings to approximate face-to-face gatherings.

Facebook has a feature on their messenger app that allows people to see if messages have been sent, received, and read. Simply by looking at the small circle under your message on the right side of the screen will tell you this. An empty circle means the message is sending, a clear blue circle with a checkmark means that the message has been sent to the Facebook server, a filled-in blue circle means the message has been delivered to the intended recipient, and a circle with a tiny profile pic means that your message has been seen by the intended recipient(s). 

Maybe you haven’t even noticed these small circles but they do teach us an important lesson about gathering and community. 

What is a simple and helpful tool takes on special meaning among certain demographics. Because, you see, what happens after a message has been seen is also important. If the message has been seen but there is no immediate reply forthcoming the sender is now in what is called the “seen zone.” Depending on the seriousness of the conversation this can either fill you with joy — ala “They saw my message” — to anger  — ala “Why haven’t they replied yet?”

While this may be annoying — sometimes after all you want to remain anonymous — it is a way for virtual conversations to imitate face-to-face conversations more closely. After all, keeping a message in the “seen zone” is akin to not talking to someone in a face-to-face gathering. In either case, the social implications can be huge. 

What aspects of virtual interaction make you feel more comfortable? Less comfortable? What make you feel like gathering has happened?

Image Source: https://www.techlicious.com/tip/how-to-tell-if-your-facebook-messages-have-been-read/

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?

Church is no longer an “everyday word.”

The Greeks used an everyday word to describe when they gathered together as Christians. We use a religious word to describe the same thing. And that fact has a tremendous impact upon how each of us understands the concept.

The funny thing is is that it is the same word: “Church.”

I spend a lot of my time trying to define this word for leaders in the Christian movement. We look at how it is used in the Bible; we look at what it meant in the original Greek; we study how it has been used through the ages since the 1st century; and so on and so forth. And when we come to a conclusion we proclaim it from the hilltops: I know what “church” means! (Of course, there is the corollary that if I know what it means then you probably don’t. So you need me to tell you. Good on me!)

But what if we couldn’t use that word? What if it was not available in my heart language? What if my culture had no concept of that word? What would I do then? How could I describe the body of Christ without the word “church”?

Is it possible?

Want to take a shot?

How would you describe the concept of church without using the word “church”?

Would you be willing to give up the word in favour of your new one?

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?