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Posts Tagged ‘institutional church’

Paul is certainly confident as a prototype for believers: become like me, follow me, imitate me. Paul was a zealot before he met Christ and he was certainly one afterward. I could no more imitate him than I can imitate Christ. Ah, there’s the difference. . .

Galatians 4:12
I plead with you, brothers, become like me, . . .
I Corinthians 4:16
Therefore I urge you to imitate me.
I Corinthians 11:1
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Philippians 3:17
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

To follow Paul is an outside/in method while following Christ is an inside/out endeavor.

Despite the freedoms Paul articulates as a follower of Jesus, having been a Pharisee for many years, he still had a very law-based mentality and world view. He was an administrator, an organizer. He could see how things would work out best. He loved his churches and he loved his people, but he did get frustrated. He was impatient. He continually aimed for perfection (Christ) and condemned himself often (not in a bad way, just as a confession) for missing the mark. He knew he was less than perfect and only Christ within made up the difference. Nonetheless, it was Paul who set up the churches with structure. He was an academic. He laid out the reasons for everything he said. He was a man of logic and reason. I’d say a good portion of our modern day churches have evolved out of the teachings and interpretations of Paul.

But when Jesus calls us to “follow him,” I think he is drawing us to the Kingdom. It is Jesus who consistently lays out the paradoxes of internal following. Everything is the opposite of what we would think: turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, going the extra mile, meekness is victor, weakness is strength and so on.

For Jesus it is not really “become LIKE me,” it’s become ME.

This is much more mysterious. When Jesus taught about “eating his flesh and drinking his blood,” a lot of disciples fled. This entire teaching on Jesus being the “bread of life” terrified most of his followers. [John 6:41-66] They fled because they understood, not because it was beyond them. Every time Jesus spoke bluntly about his intentions, there was an uproar.

With Jesus, what seems impossible is possible; what is lost can be found; what dies can be raised up.

In the face of these kinds of truths, do the outer trappings really matter: Robes or no robes, dunking or sprinkling, wine or grape juice, men or women, buildings or no buildings, and so on.

“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” [John 14:20]

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Of the people in my world, few are under the rigors or traditions of Jewish law. Instead, we have allowed ourselves to be directed by the laws of modernity, culture, and the man-made rules and traditions of the institutionalized church.

Galatians 4:1a, 2-3, 4a, 5
What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, . . . He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, . . . to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

When John the Baptist and Jesus shook up the Jewish people by announcing the long-awaited Messiah and the fulfillment of the ultimate promises that went back as far as Abraham, people freaked. They understood the implications of a Messiah in their world. They understood the law would be superseded by whatever He brought along. They understood there was an inheritance involved.

We don’t.

By “putting on Christ,” I am no longer just female or American or middle class. I am the seed of Abraham because Christ is the seed. [Gal 3:26-29]

It reminds me of the sad stories of wealthy men and women passing their money, their companies, their knowledge, and all their worldly goods to their descendants but it’s all destroyed or lost. The inheritance was full of promise but it was unrealized.

I feel like a modern day prodigal, wasting away the gifts of the Christ. I am a slave instead to my lifestyle, my debt, and my self-image. I am perpetuating 20th century goals and dreams to my children.

What does it really look like to wear Christ in the world?

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Back in the day, freedom in Christ for a gentile meant “no circumcision required.” That was huge. But what about today? Unlike the first century, most of us are gentile believers. Are we demanding that new believers conform to a standard of our own devising?

Galatians 2:4
This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.

Jesus had made it pretty plain during his three year ministry that his primary focus was the Jews. Those who followed him initially understood that the long-awaited Messiah was turning their laws, their norms, and their world upside down. He was transforming their structures.

But the gentiles who accepted Christ were different. They weren’t really transforming what they believed before, they were walking away from it. Following Christ was making something new.

I have a friend who has been a Christian all of her life. Every time the doors were open, she would say, her family would be at church. They were committed, active, and devoted to Jesus and the work of the church. Most, if not all, of her friends were in the church. She understood evangelism as primarily the work of bringing others to faith in Christ and therefore into the body life a church. They had committees, choirs, youth groups, singles groups, fellowship suppers, and holiday traditions. The church folks were loving and friendly. Come into our life, follow us as we follow Christ.

There is nothing particularly wrong with this picture until someone doesn’t quite fit into the mold. Or when someone asks, “is this all there is?”

Was Jesus different on the days he went to the Temple from the days he spent with prostitutes and tax collectors? Did he say, don’t forget to go to Temple on Saturday so you can start following all the laws and rules?

When Paul taught the Galatians, the Corinthians, and all the others throughout Asia, the message was simple: Christ crucified for the sake of all sin and resurrected in power of the Holy Spirit. We are all covered by his act of sacrifice if we accept the Truth of who He is. We are free to be new, to be in relationship with God, to follow a new way, to witness to others about the power of this transformation.

The key to growth as a Christian is fellowship. There’s no doubt about that. But, is the institutional church still that venue? Is passing the peace or saying hello to one another during the obligatory greeting time fellowship? It’s pretty easy to attend a mega-church and greet ten to twenty people, but really, unless I make a leap and start attending a smaller venue, I could be home watching a tele-preacher.

There is nothing more wonderful than to share in the worship and faith of God with people you know. Isn’t that why we have celebrations at home and invite our families and friends? It’s more fun, it’s more meaningful.

Am I getting off the subject of freedom in Christ? Not really. In Paul’s day, the freedom included the breaking of the long-held tradition of circumcision. Perhaps the new freedom in today’s world is to transform what it means to participate in the Body of Christ.

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