Sunday, April 29, 2007

No Title for This One

This blog may be controversial to some, namely pastors. The reason is that pastors, in Americanized Christianity come in two breeds. The first type is that of the humble co-participant in ministry with believers. You know, the one with a spiritual gift to be used like everyone else. The other is the pastor who is head of the corporation. The power broker. The one who uses his gift, not solely as an edifying factor for the body of Christ, but also or, worse, instead, to be the dictator, the one in charge, "the buck stops here" guy. These are the untouchable, unreachable ones that are entitleld to everything because they have the word "reverend" or "pastor" in front of their name. I understand, however, that those people, enter the ministry that has been established before they got there. It's already set up to be that way in one sense. I write this as a "pastor in exile" if you will. I was one of those guys. Having been ordained for fifteen years previously, my observations are first hand and having read Matthew 23 and understanding the words of Jesus, I'm not sure how I missed this point all those years. I love pastors and I love pastoring. Let's begin.

They called me "pastor" when they saw me in the store or in the hall at church. The mail from my denomination was addressed to me as "reverend". Conveyed upon me and countless other clergy across the country was this sense of separateness or of being above others. There was a sense of being "extra special" to people that was conveyed upon me. During one special speaker's sermon, he uttered the words, "I believe that God has a special place in heaven for pastors. I really believe that." The Bible never says that, however it does say that God is no respector of persons. It's kind of hard to walk humbly sometimes when people are referring to you as "reverend". I know pastors that insist on being referred to as "reverend" by their subordinates in the office. I therefore ask, what is in a human being to be revered? What makes us want to be revered? Why do we even expect it?

When Jesus was with his disciples one day, he taught them a lesson and he used the religious leaders of his day as an example. He shared how everything they did was for show. He told them that they live for notoriety and honor. They liked the attention. Jesus went on to tell them to live by what they taught, BUT, do not follow their example.

If we were to look to the book of Matthew chapter 23, we'll find some astonishing words to Jesus' disciples and followers in this case. He told them, "Don't let anyone call you 'Rabbi' for you only have one teacher, and all of you are on the same level as brothers and sisters. And don't address anyone here on earth as 'Father,' for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. And don't let anyone call you 'Master,' for there is only one master, the Messiah.

The biblical fact is that ALL BELIEVERS are ON THE SAME LEVEL. The instituted hierarchies of religious organizations are in place to serve only one group of people...those at the head of the hierarchy.

The fact is that, as Jesus said, all believers are on the same level. The kingdom of God is displayed magnificently when people of all spiritual gifts band together and use them. Jesus chastised his followers for "jockeying" for position to be at Jesus' left and right hand in the Kingdom.

Americanized Christianity exalts, idolizes and celebrates "great pastors". We buy their books even though some of them aren't even great writers. We watch them on TV. We can get their stuff anywhere. But in Jesus' definition that is not greatness. I think he says it best in Matthew 23 when he said, "The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

CNN Asks, "What is a Christian?"

What is a Christian?

It's been around over 2000 years and North America doesn't know the answer to that question. On Wednesday, April 4, 2007 Anderson Cooper's news show on CNN aired a program asking that question. Video clips of people praying, clapping, singing, being prayed for and falling over ran while the voice over baited the viewers and asked, "What is a Christian?" I must admit I was intrigued.

I'm not writing so much to prove what a Christian is. I am, however asking two other essential questions. 1. Why doesn't America know yet? 2. By what means do the people answering the question measure or what standard are they using?

Addressing the first question is important given the history of the nation and it's current post-modern climate. The U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the writings of early presidents all have a certain harmony. From the Puritans that landed on the shores of New England to the last president who raised his hand and said, " help me God", these historical snapshots, like bookends, indicate that religion, God, yes, Christianity has and is there. Yet after all of that, America is still wondering what a Christian is?

I'm of the opinion that you can't always believe what you see on TV so why would a person look to a television show to find out. The issue here is of fundamentals. America is confused about what a Christian is, hence the CNN documentary about it. They've see the shows. They've been to the churches. Americans have watched the televangelists. All of them give a different message. All of them leave a different taste in their mouths.

So, what is a Christian one may ask? In Americanized religion it's anything you want it to be. What is a disciple? Ah, now there's a question that needs answering. Jesus said to go and make disciples. Radical, adamant followers of the teachings of Jesus. People who have a "Jesus agenda" and not their own. People who model and live out the mandates of Christ and not a religious organization's "vision" or purpose.

Now, hold on. Some people may be of the mindset that I am anti-church or anit-organized religion. I am not that at all. I am suggesting that we've had a couple of centuries to show people what Christianity is. I merely suggest that if America is asking us, the church, what a Christian is, to quote Ricky Ricardo, "we have some 'splaining to do."