Monday, May 20, 2013

Restoring the Spirit of Christianity


"Why would you risk your life so that others may survive? Because they would have done it for me...."

"In the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, we give bonuses to those who sacrifice others so that we may gain."

"Wouldn't you like to work in an organization where other people you may or may not know would be willing to sacrifice themselves so that you may survive?"--Simon Sinek

Laying down your life for someone you love is the height of nobility, but what are Christians to do when the military and business (government) are virtually all that are taught and glorified in our culture? Are we to view "church" as only "personal?" An equal, separate compartment of our lives in addition to all the other compartments such as military and business?

What if the focus of our restoration worldview was not restoring a man-made retrofitted worship pattern, or even a Jesus-Superman, but the spirit of Christianity--the fruit of the Spirit around the Lord's Dinner Table (Acts 20:7; Gal. 5:23ff)?

A people viewed as non-authoritarians who use persuasion toward the people of all nations and who "love their enemies" (Matt. 5:43-48), rather than being known as a nationalist group of people who approve global domination through demonizing and killing one's enemies along with the innocent and/or leaders who seek to profit off workers through control of a mandated treasury?

What if we restored the spirit of "the last being first and the first being last" (Matt. 20:16) as opposed to exalting one man in a pulpit or a few as a representative board of directors who are obeyed for "unity?" What if Christianity became everyone, everyday doing that which we now support a few doing as a public spokesman for congregations on certain days at certain times, and a few as representatives (not examples) who decide for us?

What if there were no separate official "leadership" as we have been taught that there "must" be and individuals were 100% responsible for their own actions? What if we could not say, "That authority figure told me to do it, so it's no longer my responsibility and that's the end of it?"

If we combined our work lives with our religious lives (physical with the spiritual, sacred with the secular) and authority was based on each person's responsible example--not representative positions of responsibility that only a few can occupy "for" the rest, then I believe this would move us toward less competition, or rivalry, which Paul says is a "work of the flesh" (Gal. 5:20) and more toward restoring the spirit of Christianity.

I believe that for the most part church organization and structure in the West are copying the world in military authority, business, and image of Jesus. I believe that if we made the changes suggested by the questions above, then we could not find congruency with our lives and religion, so that is why we now compartmentalize--in order to justify "this" part of life and "that" part of life which in reality contradict each other when we claim to follow only Christ as Lord.

I believe that "today" is always the day for churches to look inwardly. To look in the spiritual mirror and come to the Lord's Table, and "if our enemy hungers...feed him, if he is thirsty...give him something to drink." Churches unmixed with the primary elements of the military and business--rivalry, separate leadership, and treasuries--can lead by example as John, Jesus, and Paul state:

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters" (1 John 3:16).

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you..." (Matt. 5:43)

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:

“It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:17-21).


SIBLINGS WITHOUT RIVALRY

Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish in their book, Siblings Without Rivalry, write:

"Imagine a world in which children grow up in homes where hurting isn't allowed; where children are taught to express their anger at each other sanely and safely; where each child is valued as an individual, not in relation to the others; where cooperation, rather than competition is the norm; where no one is trapped in a role; where children have the daily experience and guidance in resolving their differences."--Siblings Without Rivalry.

Yeah right.

But before we dismiss this as pie in the sky, New Age Psychobabble, consider what Paul wrote in his letters to the communities of Christ:

"Now the works of the flesh are evident...hatred, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions.... I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:19-21, ESV).

"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 'In your anger do not sin:' Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry....Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen....Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Eph. 4:25-32).

In Siblings Without Rivalry, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish give insight into problematic human behaviors between brothers and sisters within nuclear families that I believe also has application in churches of Christ.

After all, how many times does Paul use the term "brothers and sisters" in his letters? He uses the phrase 10 times in Galatians alone:

A footnote in the NIV 2011 states,

"The Greek word for brothers and sisters (adelphoi) refers here to believers, both men and women, as part of God’s family; also in verse 11; and in 3:15; 4:12, 28, 31; 5:11, 13; 6:1, 18."

Since this is the case, then I believe my application of Faber & Mazlish's book is valid.

GOD'S GRACE PROVIDES AN EQUALITY OF GIFTS FOR SERVING

After introducing the futility of trying to avoid rivalry, hostility, suppressed feelings of anger, and jealousies among "brothers and sisters"--all of which are in Galatians 5:20--the authors write speaking as one person throughout the book:
"One of the happiest days of my life was the day I gave up the 'good friends' dream and replaced it with a more realistic goal....Instead of worrying about [siblings] becoming friends, I began to think about how to equip them with the attitudes and skills they'd need for all their caring relationships. There was so much for them to know. I didn't want them hung up all their lives about who was right and wrong. I wanted them to be able to move past that kind of thinking and learn how to really listen to each other, how to respect the differences between them, how to find ways to resolve those differences."
I agree.

Instead of using the coded language of "doctrine" with all its assumed connotations about "keeping the commands of God pertaining to the worship hour"--focusing on genuine relationships seems to be Paul's concerns in his letters and "what he taught everywhere in every church" (1 Cor. 4:16-17):

Paul writes:
"Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church."
Integrity was Paul's emphasis, not worship. He understood how much it mattered in his relationships in the church.

Reading the New Testament from a relationships-behavioral viewpoint, instead of an institutional worship viewpoint, reminded me of Ephesians 4:1-16 & Romans 12:1-8, where Paul wrote similar sentiments:
"I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit [think 'behavioral fruits' here, Gal. 5:22] through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

"But to each one of us
grace has been given as Christ apportioned it....So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people [notice that this was the authors insight above] for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."

"Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Eph. 4:1ff--16).

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Rom. 12:1-2).
There are no roles of power some Christians "have" or possess over others. There are no positions where some Christians get paid out of a mandatory church treasury and others don't for the same "service." We are all given grace to function. We all have functions to build up and to mature the body of Christ--equally.

The "greatest in rank" are the ones who serve the most by humble example.

Notice that an equality among all provided by God's grace--not man's expediency--is Paul's continued theme in Romans 12:3ff:

"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."

"We have different gifts [not positions of power, sp] according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully."

The word for "lead" here (ESV, NIV) is the word that is translated "rule" in the KJV, ASV in 1 Tim. 3:5 and 1 Tim. 5:17. It is 'proistemi' that I have written about in "Taking Care of God's Church: 1 Timothy 3:5. A link to it is below.

The NIV 2011 has a footnote for 'proistemi' in Romans 12:8 that states "or to provide for." Again, the idea is "taking care of" others. In New Testament context, this is most likely the home owners who provided places to meet for the meal and fellowship. Today's 'small groups' host/hostess 'lead' in this way on Sunday nights by welcoming Christians into their homes for meals and fellowship.

Notice that Paul's list of circumstantial, providential, and personality gifts are equal. No hierarchy of importance exists among them. (The list in Eph. 4:11ff is chronological--not hierarchical).

These are all "natural" and circumstantial/providential/personality gifts given by our "Supernatural" God. They are based on humble service--not western military rank. They are about serving others, not controlling and limiting them through imaginary positions of power that cause rivalries among equals.

Returning to Faber & Mazlish's book:

FEELINGS ARE GOOD AND NOT TO BE SUPPRESSED

Chapter Two presents an interesting illustration of how it must feel for established siblings to accept new siblings.

In order to help adults better understand, the authors ask how a husband (or wife) would feel if his wife/husband brought home another husband or wife. Imagine how daily conversations would play out. Imagine when s/he brought him/her home that everyone just started saying how cute and adorable s/he was!  How, everyday, there was just something new and exciting about the new member of the family! How would you would feel if your spouse said, "I can love you both equally." You get the point.

There are feelings that must be acknowledged if relationships are to mature. They cannot be avoided. And they are not solved by ranking some Christians over others, giving them mythological, military authority and demanding that all submit or be considered traitors to Christ.

In their group discussions, which serves as the basis for the book, the authors reveal the feelings of some who participated in the group in the above situation:
"I want this new person out of my house!"

To which your spouse answers:

"I can't do that. We are a family now. Don't put me in this position. You know I love you both equally. If that's how you feel, then please keep it to yourself."

This naturally leads to what many in the group said about how they would then feel in this situation:

"The real me is unacceptable....I must be a bad person [to feel this way]. I have to pretend to be happy with the situation in order to keep the little bit of love that's left to me. There's no one to talk to, no one cares."
This is often the approach of "top-down church"--If you don't like it, then you can just leave! But where do children of God go? Can they really be kicked out of the church by a few representative siblings?

I have addressed the role of elders as those who are to "take care of"--not rule--the church and that a consensus of the "whole church decides"--not an oligarchy of a few Christians in these two blog posts:

Taking Care of God's Church: 1 Timothy 3:5

Leadership in the Church: Consensus & How It Works

One of the major problems I have with the doctrinal, controlling, organizational, institutional view of the church of Christ, is not acknowledging that these behavioral realities are really what Paul was addressing in his letters and NOT "pattern worship" controlled through the "roles" of an oligarchy/hierarchy of elders and the clerical position of 'gospel preacher.' These few Christians should not be viewed through the American government worldview as "representatives with authority" instead they are mature examples who show that each person is responsible for his own actions.

It is the static, ranked positions interpretation that prevents the Scriptural, behavioral matters from being addressed. 'Power positions' among Christians (legal decision making, authoritative advice, pulling rank, etc.) which belongs to Christ alone (Matt. 28:18; 23:8ff) is detrimental to the growth of the kingdom in the hearts of men. The kingdom of God is not the maintenance of public buildings of pattern worship all over the world. 

Children of God need to mature by making decisions within their God-given abilities, not remain dependent on elders their entire lives. If you have a problem, DON'T "take it to the elders" to decide "for you."Obey Jesus instead:

Jesus said,
"If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault [to the elders?], just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two [ranked elders?] others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the [elders?] church; and if they refuse to listen even to the [elders?] church..."
No. Jesus said courageously go to the person first. Then you, not the elders, take others with you. Then you--not the elders take it before the church. This is consensus--not oligarchy.

Children in a family are equal--not ranked and are not to be forced into roles.

If there is "delegated" authority, it is delegated to all of the body, not a few parts of the body.

UNIQUELY EQUAL

Like the authors of the book, I also do not want to be misunderstood about what I mean by "equal."

I, too, am saying, like the authors and Paul above, that we are uniquely equal--as individual parts of a body.

We have separate but equal functions--not various dysfunctional, power positions to keep one another in check like the MAN-CREATED United States Government.

When a few Christians are delegated authority based on position, not function, then others are not allowed to function, grow and mature. Competition for the static position ensues instead of mutual function and maturity. Destroying or "biting and devouring one another" results--not love (Gal. 5:12).

This is Paul's message in his letters.

But it is not what we have today in the "corporate church."

When negative feelings and disagreements are addressed among equals, then peace may result. But often, as the authors state:

"It is a common practice to deal with another person's 'unreasonable' emotions with denial, logic, advice or reassurance." When siblings feelings are invalidated, then it causes them to be confused about the reality of their feelings and to question his/her own heart/thoughts.

This weakens people.

It does not "equip" them or "build them up."

Also, Paul addresses relational concerns in 1 Cor. 1:10ff--not pattern worship:
"I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you."
What we have called "preacher-itus" only projects what we do today back on the Bible and sustains functional inequality based on static positions of supposed, delegated power. Paul was condemning the Greek oratorical professional status of men. (Read 1 Corinthians chps. 1--3 straight through). He said that he and Apollos were nothing, but God had made the Corinthians to grow and for them to stop glorying in men. We validate what Paul condemned.

We have made the 'gospel preacher' the focal point of our assemblies and livelihood in the churches. Everything revolves around this 'professional Christian.' He is the linchpin that cannot be removed from the institutional church model.

When a few Christians deny other Christians their God given freedoms because of 'unequal positions' in the church, and when people are kept quiet, then rivalries for those 'positions' are created by those few and those who support them. Relationships suffer and "keeping the commands of God to be righteous" loses its intended meaning.

----------------------------------
All bold emphasis mine, sp.




Monday, May 6, 2013

Confirmation Bias & Overconfidence in Pattern Worship

Rembrandt's Apostle Paul
According to the dictionary,

"Overconfidence refers to a biased way of looking at a situation. When you are overconfident, you misjudge your opinion, beliefs or abilities and you have more confidence than you should given the objective parameters of the situation."

"Overconfidence can cause a person to experience problems because s/he may not prepare properly for a situation or may get into a dangerous situation that s/he is not equipped to handle."

In a previous blog post found here, I suggested assembling for edification (worship) to eat the Lord's Supper which includes discussion (preaching) and singing based on the first century context of the Christian banquet or evening meal. Assembling for the Lord's meal would naturally invite additional prayers as well.

These are four of the commonly viewed "five acts of worship pattern" among churches of Christ. The fifth act is "giving" which I have addressed in another blog post found here. (In 1 Cor. 16:1-4, Paul actually commands private "collections" to be accumulated "at home" stewarded by families, not treasuries controlled by elders and preachers or men's business meetings).

As I seek to understand better why the status quo remains difficult to influence, I came across a few insights given by Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Kahneman's documented behaviors are convincing as to why people reject truth and remain the same.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Some Solutions to Control & Being Controlled

The following article is an excerpt I edited written by Gayle Hoone.

I recommend the book on the right by Larry Deason (d.), because it helped me to recognize the freedom that Christ gives to those who obey Him directly and not through other men.


He gives a list in the back of the "free" versus the "not-yet-free" that I found to be very true about interpreting Christianity through legalism.

Here is a link to a free .pdf copy:

http://www.tanglewoodcofc.org/wordpress/wp-content/pdf/Set%20Free%20Stay%20Free.pdf

CONTROLLING OTHERS

Gayle Hoone writes:

"Control is akin to being in bondage: oppressed and burdened to that which controls. The person or thing that controls attempts to dominate thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and actions of others."

"Control tells us what, when, where, and how, but not why. The why of control is 'Because, I said so!'... Control gives a false sense of power, but there is never enough power. So, when false power wears off control mandates more..."

"Control in this article is non-abusive. It’s mental and emotional, such as: mind games and manipulation, ridicule and embarrassment, intimidation and subtle pressures. It can develop into withholding affection from a loved one, becoming distant and aloof."

"The word control means: to curb, moderate, contain, to govern, regulate, order, limit, to handle or manipulate or bait; to ride, nag, tantalize, taunt, tease, command, dominate, and master something or someone."

"If we are controlling we try to diminish another’s thoughts, and restrict their feelings. Covertly, we will lead and override the other person’s behaviors. The objective is to regulate and limit those around us, so we will not feel out-of-control inside."