Hearing the Music!

Post Christianity

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This week a young man walked into a Jewish synagogue and opened fire. Yet another atrocity committed against image bearers of God, apparently motivated by hatred against a particular people group, joining other such crimes in our nation as well as many around the world. As we grieve this senseless loss of life we also take time to reflect for, in this case, the alleged shooter was one of our tribe, the son of an Orthodox Presbyterian elder. How does this happen? How does a young man who knows the truths of scripture, has a solid theological underpinning, and a supportive family end up in this position? There are plenty of avenues for soul searching: the nature of our discipleship with young people, are we communities that allow hatred to get a foothold, have we somehow misled people into thinking theology is more important than actually following the way of Jesus? All of these questions and others deserve consideration. But part of the answer lies simply in the post-Christian nature of our culture of which it's characteristics will continue to allow for these types of seemingly incongruous acts.
 
Some of you have picked up on my use of the term “post-Christian” recently; a term that has been used to describe the cultural moment that we in the West live in. I thought I'd take a moment to flesh it out here, since understanding the characteristics of post-Christianity will help us better understand how to live as followers of Jesus in this day and age, and perhaps how to better understand events like that which took place this week.

One way to understand post-Christianity is to define it against pre-Christianity and Christianity as we use these terms to describe a culture. A pre-Christian culture is one in which Christianity or its ideas are not known. Think of unreached people groups who have no exposure to Christianity or Christian values. They obviously don’t know Jesus as their Savior, and we would not be surprised to see them inhabiting some values that are completely contrary to Christian values. For example, revenge and murder may be the route to tribal ascendancy. This may be held in honor, whereas forgiveness and gentleness may be despised.  

A Christian culture would be a culture in which the existence of God is accepted and Jesus is known as Lord and Savior. Values such as in the Ten Commandments are held in high esteem: truth, respect for authority, sexual fidelity, etc…  While some may debate the actual extent to which Europe and America have ever actually been Christian cultures, there is certainly a sense in which we can look back and see the impact of Christianity on our culture and recognize that we have been shaped by belief in God and an adherence to his revealed Word. During a Christian era the values of Christianity are respected and the culture is populated by many followers of Jesus.

This leads us to a place to better understand our current Post-Christianity. It is period where the influence of Christianity has waned or has fallen off dramatically. The authority of God’s revelation is no longer given the prominence it once had in a Christian culture. However, contrary to a pre-Christian culture, remnants of Christianity in the collective conscious exist that are valued, though often in an incomplete or even sub-Christian way. The result is that people have a notion of “God”, and they may even call themselves “Christians”, but the Being they are ascribing worship to is very different than the God who reveals himself in the scriptures. This is how a radical ecumenism develops in which one can go to a synagogue, a mosque, or a church and “worship" equally. Or, one can be a holder of sound Biblical theology but also radically hate those different from themselves. Post-Christianity wreaks havoc on the left as well as on the right.

So what does this mean for Christ Church:

  1. We need to accept the fact that as Jesus followers we are no longer in the majority. That means we cannot assume that people accept our values nor should we be surprised when otherwise “good people” act in ways that are very contrary to God’s word.
  2. Increasingly the thing that will define a Jesus follower is their willingness to surrender to the authority of God’s Word. In a post-Christian society many people use Christian words and may even describe themselves as Christians, but they do not surrender themselves to the totality of God’s Word. The result is a sort of DIY, cobbled-together spirituality that picks and chooses acceptable Biblical values. People may crusade for justice and mercy while living morally profligate lives without even batting an eye. Others may stand for orthodoxy and be strong morally but, as we have seen this week, be very comfortable with an anti-Semitism or other extreme alt-right ideologies. Of course we all have blind spots in our lives, but the difference is an unwillingness to look at the scriptures and shape one's life to the Word, and rather insist that God's Word needs to conform to us.
  3. Not all who use the name “Christian” are truly following Jesus. As mentioned above, many people take on the term "Christian" because it is in the culture, they are not Muslim or Mormon, and they have cobbled together a spirituality by that term. Unfortunately this is true of churches as well as individuals. It is shocking how many churches have moved away, both explicitly and implicitly, from the authority of God’s Word. It has been said that folks in this camp want kingdom values but they don’t want a king.
  4. We hold out an ongoing invitation to believe and belong. Using the language of our sermon series, we hold out to all the invitation to get to know the God of the scriptures: a God who sees, hears, and knows. A God who rescues and redeems. We continue to surrender to Him in all things, and in so doing we find a place to belong within the fellowship of His people.

 

Photo by Lorenzo Colombo on Unsplash

To Believe and Belong

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“It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them. Their words seemed to confirm what growing up as a woman and a person of color already taught me: that I belonged in margins and spaces, valid only as a minor character in their lives and stories.”

The above quote comes from Kelly Marie Tran, an actress best known for her work as Rose Tico in The Last Jedi (New York Times, August 21, 2018.) I highlight it here because it captures so well the twin two cores that mark us as humans, namely our need for a story to believe and a place to belong. What we believe at our core provides meaning for our life; it tells us who we are and what our purpose is. One of the key markers of our present cultural moment is the lack of purpose in the lives of so many. In contrast, the invitation to be a Jesus follower, through an ongoing belief in his finished work, provides ultimate meaning and purpose for those that choose to walk that path. 

Corresponding with the invitation to believe is the invitation to belong to the community of Jesus’ followers. Again, this cultural moment is characterized by intense loneliness and isolation. We are separated and grouped as people only to be discarded. But Jesus says you are mine and extends the invitation to belong to the body of Christ, in real, authentic ways.

Interestingly, the story of God’s people in the Exodus is also a story of belief and belonging. The Exodus is a journey of redemption from slavery to freedom. But it is a journey that is fraught with questions. Will we believe the God of our fathers over the power of our overlords and their gods which seem all to real? Will we believe enough to follow into unseen places, even if it means losing the only home we have? The story of the Exodus is a story of all God’s people as we see first hand how he turns turns our belief, often emanating weakly from the dark places of life, into glorious belonging as he reminds us that we are His own! 

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ Exodus 19:4–6a

I am excited to start this journey together.

 

A Never Ending Supply

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What if you had a never ending supply of money, energy, entertainment, friends, or whatever you might need! What kind of confidence would you have as you engage life? What kind of perseverance would you be able to employ?   

Isaiah 58:11 promises just this sort of never ending supply for God’s people: And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Did you hear those claims? Continually; a spring of water, whose waters do not fail! These bold, audacious claims are promises that our living God makes to his people. What is even more striking is the placement of these promises in the broader context of Isaiah 58. These promises are given in response to the call to "pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted (v.10)”,  which itself is part of the broader call to" loose the bonds of wickedness (v. 6)”. The picture that is painted for us is that of a vessel being upended and poured out, but the waters don’t end, they keep flowing!

I need to sink my roots deep into these promises! Family, work, health, world events, my own sin patterns, etc…  all these conspire to leave me empty. Only by resting in the finished work of Christ do I realize that He has created in me a spring whose waters will never fail. On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37–38)

This week we welcome Karl and Debbie Dortzbach to Christ Church as  part of our Missions focus. Karl and Debbie have a deep love for the Lord and have served faithfully in service of the Kingdom for many years now.   It is a privilege to host them and to glean from the unique perspective that God has afforded them.

 

Photo by Samara Doole on Unsplash

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