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.

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.

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.

Nightmares vs Daydreams: Which do you think are more dangerous?

People often said when I was younger that I lived in a dream world — and that was true. I did spend a lot of time dreaming of an imaginary world. It is strange, however, that daydreams are often thought of as being a trivial waste of time. “It’s better,” they say, “to live in the real world.” What is also interesting is that we often think of nightmares as dangerous We worry about nightmares. We try to stop nightmares. We even make movies about them that frighten us into even more nightmares!

In reality, we should really spend more time concentrating on daydreams. Nightmares, after all, only last for a few brief moments. It’s the dreams that we have while awake that are truly dangerous because we can dream them for a lifetime, and in the end make them come true. 

As TE Lawrence says, 

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

Here are my daydreams:

  • I dream of a world where the rule and leadership of Jesus makes the world a better place. A place where the poor hear good news, where prisoners are made free, where the blind can see, where the oppressed are set free, and where the Lord looks with favour on all people. 
  • I dream of a world where the values of the world are the values of God’s kingdom. 
  • I dream of a world where we love each other like we love ourselves. This is best expressed by the Tagalog word kapwa, or “shared being.” 
  • I dream of a world where the truths we shape is the Truth that is revealed to everyone by God, applied to our own cultural and local contexts. 

It is easy to dream such dreams. It is harder to make these dreams come true. But as the old saying goes, “Begin with the end is sight.” 

Keep on daydreaming!

Photo by Jonathan Mabey 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.

My most memorable preaching experience was a dialogue.

https://unsplash.com/@mlightbody

Just reading Carey Nieuwhof’s blog on The Future of Preaching and Reaching the Unchurched.

One point brought me back to the most memorable preaching experience I ever had.

3. Limited format. A sermon is a monologue and rarely more.”

I was visiting a small church in Northwestern Ontario (I think it was Upper Falls Baptist in Vermillion Bay). I was basically on a tour of BGC Canada churches across Canada, which meant this was not the first time I had preached this particular sermon. I got started into the message and asked my first (rhetorical) question, prepared to answer it myself and then continue. To my surprise a woman in the congregation spoke up with her answer! I was taken aback at first but then I realised that it was ok to do things differently. We continued the sermon in dialogue format with the various members of the congregation engaging with what I was saying. It was great!

Which brings us to another point Nieuwhof makes,

“Without intentionally doing this, most of us who preach self-censor what we say and do on Sundays. There is a silent but prevalent belief that certain things are ‘acceptable’ for a Sunday morning format and some things are not.”

Not every congregation appreciates the give and take nature of a dialogic sermon — for some it appears disrespectful. I wonder if it’s time to change this attitude?

What was your most memorable preaching experience? Have you even tried preaching in dialogue form rather than monologue?

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?

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?

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?

 

Truthtelling: The Ethics of Negotiation

“Is it ethical for a police hostage negotiator to promise to the hostage taker whatever his demands are, even if there is no intent to meet those demands?” I was shocked to hear this question from a Senator investigating the Manila Hostage Crisis. “What if,” the senator went on, “the hostage taker appears to have some mental issues and we need to save the hostages. Shouldn’t we just lie to him so that he lets the hostages go? Then we can arrest him and say, ‘Sorry, we did it for your own good’” (paraphrased).

It reminds me of a story I heard about comparative religion during my University days in Saskatoon. Two boys are in a house playing. The father, who is outside, sees that the house is on fire. He yells to his boys to get out of the house so they will be saved. One boy runs out immediately. The other, however, is enjoying playing so much that he ignores his father’s call. Finally, in desperation, the Father, appealing to his son’s love for fun calls out, “Come outside! There is a parade passing by!” Of course the boy runs out and is saved from the fire. What disturbs me about the story is the lie.

A lie is the opposite of trust. Why did the boy trust the father enough to come out when he said there was a parade? Because of trust. I can assure you, however, that once the boy realized his father had lied to him, a little bit of that trust was gone. Next time, the father wouldn’t be so lucky.

It goes the same for hostage negotiations. In reality, you are not just negotiating for the current crisis, you are also building trust for the next crises that come along. Otherwise, why will any subsequent hostage-taker even bother talking to negotiators?