The plan is that I will be retiring from Houston Baptist University in a few weeks. This is not retirement to a rocking chair, but more like retirement to church ministry: I plan to be very involved in church ministry, including formation programs for clergy, I will do some limited teaching for theological institutions, and, of course, I have writing and editing project, but with respect to HBU and with respect to funding it will be retirement. I am already quite excited about this new phase of life, this new adventure.
It is very clear from John 17 that Jesus intended his church to be one. Indeed, that is also a theme in Paul. There is not to be a Jewish-Christian people of God and a Gentile-Christian people of God, but one people of God, for all barriers have been removed (see, among other places, Eph 2). But Jesus made it clear that this unity is to be observable. In fact, this unity will indicate to “the world” that God really sent Jesus and will lead to the world believing. If they cannot see it, they cannot believe it. Therefore our thousands of denominations are not just a scandal, but an offense against the spreading of the good news. Yet, granted that this is true, what is someone to do about it? Let me suggest three hopeful signs that even when we may feel helpless, God is at work doing himself what we have not managed to do (indeed, what we have often messed up).
The minor election cycle (i.e. the two-yearly) is barely over and the major one (four-yearly) has started ramping up so that we have something to think about for the next two years. Just after the election I happened to be driving across the city with news radio on to alert me to traffic problems to avoid. It was interesting to hear both Republican and Democrats speaking about their plans to “get something done” in the next Congress, as well as to learn that those Democrats and Republicans were elected with the lowest percentage voter turnout since the early 1940’s. Each side was talking about its priorities and, not surprisingly, there was no mention of themes that had been big during the election especially when addressing religious groups: abortion and/or reproductive rights, marriage, whether defense of or equality of, moral issues of any type.
Last Friday was, of course, Independence Day. I live on the edge of a small city in Texas, so eidola (images) were as much in evidence as Herms on the streets of ancient Corinth. Every railing and awning in the city park was festooned with red, white, and blue, the hillocks were painted with patriotic slogans and pictures, and along the streets many homes put out their own eidolon while the city supplied them for the streets along which the solemn procession would take. But what type of worship is taking place? What is there to celebrate anyway? That is indeed the question.
I missed HBU graduation yesterday, for before I had realized the implications of the new calendar (perhaps before it was published) I had agreed to teach in an intensive bi-vocational clergy training program, the Iona School for Ministry. So I spent the day talking about the Gospel of John while students I loved were graduating. In our Department of Theology we saw students I know graduate from each of our programs, both MATS and BA, and even from the MABL program that used to be ours, but now is part of the new Department of Classics and Biblical Languages (it has moved up higher!). Each is a unique individual with differing gifts. most have bi-vocational experience (working and being involved in ministry while studying). This may be the shape of much of the church to come in that most churches are small and the bi-vocational minister or, even better, team of ministers, may be their best mode of existence. This is particularly true of churches that are pastorally strong and that because of that tend to stay small. (In my experience large church pastors tend to be leaders, communicators, and vision casters more than pastors, although there is usually someone pastoral on the staff.) And this is the way that churches start, so maybe some of this crew of graduates may end up as church planters. And, of course, some may go on to the new scholars who replace their professors who are growing older. Happy is the retiree who sees a former student doing a good job in the position he or she has vacated. Finally, some may lean harder on their “secular” vocational side and become “marketplace ministers” – serving God by thinking and living Christianly within a working situation that is not explicitly Christian. As I reflected on each of the graduates, I was thankful for the astounding range of possibilities the had to do good for Jesus the Anointed One and his Church.
We are just past the middle of Lent, a customary observance that I did not grow up with, but which I now heartily embrace. I admit that people look a bit strangely at one when one talks about fasting. It has not been a major theme in evangelical talk, nor one that plays well. But it is certainly important. What have I learned?
I am teaching Old Testament Survey this term, and when I teach that course I always note that one reason to learn Old Testament is to have a background for reading English literature, which can refer to Old Testament terms and concepts. One text we will study in a couple weeks is Leviticus 16, the Day of Atonement. The one term I have to explain there is “scapegoat,” since it is so well often used in the English language, even if it might not be included in the translation they are using. I was thinking about that when a blog that I follow referred to this blog post: http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/02/04/ive-been-divorced-four-times-but-homosexuals-are-the-ones-destroying-marriage/Foc.
Despite this being the Advent season when the candles of
love, joy, and peace have been lighted on our Advent wreaths (for those who
have such things), we realize have been taught to think, not just with a
sincere heart in a single direction, e.g. loving all, whether they are friendly
or hostile towards us, but in divided-heart polarities, such as, “You are
either for us or against us,” or “You are either Republican or Democrat” or
“You are either our ally or our enemy,” or “You either go to my church or are
against the ways of God.” Some people think more easily in these black-white
polarities than others, some fight against them harder than others, but the public
dialogue in our anxious society tends to be colored by these stark
“either-or’s.” There is no need to dig deeper, to check sources, to look for
nuances. There is no need to discover what unifies us since we prefer to focus
on what divides.
The evangelical movement has always prided itself, as has Protestantism in general in the past, on being Bible-based. The group I grew up in eschewed any creed or doctrinal statement, saying that we just believed the Bible. Other groups have doctrinal statements, but they are studded with Bible verses to show that they are Bible-based. But who says? Which person or group arbitrates what the Bible “really teaches”? After all, for many of the founders of the USA it endorsed slaveholding, and for those on the Mayflower it endorsed the genocide of the indigenous peoples. For one denomination it “proves” that one should organize a church this way, and for another that way. Evangelicals are notoriously fractious with church and denominational splits not uncommon. Continue reading
The drums of war are beating, the President has asked Congress for support of military action, the Congress is debating. It is 1990, it is 2003, it is 2013. The President is Republican, the President is Democrat. The story in one form or another goes back decades, sometimes with congressional votes involved and sometimes without (e.g. the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when I was in high school). Every President I can remember has been involved in such conflicts, overtly or covertly. We in this USA are a non-partisan warring nation. In these crises and conflicts the President speaks, the Congress speaks, various lobby groups speak, and to some degree the public speaks (if they bother to contact with Senator or Representative), but who speaks for the Church? Who speaks from the perspective of the King of Kings?