September 28, 2014

Examining the origins debate, part 2

This is part 2 in a series of posts exploring Gerald Rau's book Mapping the Origins Debate. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1.

In this post we'll overview Rau's six origins models. They fall into two groups: evolutionary models (of which there are four) and creationary models (of which there are two). We'll note points of agreement and disagreement, due to multiple factors that will become more evident as we proceed through the series.

Evolutionary models

If the origins debate is to be productive, a key issue has to do with agreeing on what is meant by key terms. One such term is "evolution," which is used in various ways, sometimes referring to a philosophy as much as a process. That philosophy is naturalism, "the conviction that everything can be explained by natural causes" alone, an idea closely related to materialism, "the idea that there is no reality apart from the material world" (p42).

Rau points out that not all proponents of evolution accept naturalism/materialism--a fact often overlooked by proponents of the creationary models (described below). Rau's analysis also points out that many Christians (who embrace theism and reject naturalism) accept evolution as a process that God used in creating/developing the universe. These nuances of meaning are often overlooked (quite unhelpfully) in origins debates. The parties in the debate would be well served by reading Rau's book, as he is careful to note how the term "evolution" is used in different ways in the four evolutionary models. Here is a summary of each:

1. Naturalistic evolution (NE)

NE is the model most closely aligned with what many people think of when they say "evolution," having in mind the philosophy of naturalism/materialism. The NE model, being fully grounded in that philosophy, propounds these key ideas/ideals:
  • There is no supernatural (the atheistic position promoted by Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett) or, there is nothing that can be known about the supernatural (the agnostic position promoted by Stephen Jay Gould).
  • Therefore, evidence from the natural world (empirical evidence) is the only basis for knowledge. Anything else is either pure falsehood (the atheistic view) or mere speculation that cannot be confirmed by evidence in nature (the agnostic position).

2. Nonteleological evolution (NTE)

NTE allows for the supernatural, but "posits that there is no intervention of the supernatural after the foundation of the universe" (p43). This is a fundamentally deistic viewpoint as reflected in the term nonteleological, which conveys the idea "that although the universe was created with the ability to evolve, there was no specific end or direction (telos) in mind at the beginning" (p44). Thus NTE is essentially identical to NE in how it interprets scientific evidence with the exception of the origin of the universe. NTE seeks only naturalistic causes for the development of the universe after the point of beginning. NTE is grounded in these key ideas:
  • The supernatural exists but whatever that force is, it has no plan for the universe and thus does not intervene in its development.
  • Only natural forces have brought about the universe's development since its supernatural beginning, thus naturalistic explanations are sufficient to explain that development.

3. Planned evolution (PE)

According to PE, "God had a definite plan in mind, which was set into motion at the moment of creation." Proponents of this view "typically employ an interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis in which the creation story is treated as an ancient genre wherein the emphasis is placed on the actor rather than the action, on God as Creator rather than on the process of creation" (p45).

PE acknowledges that "God has the capacity to intervene in nature but does not need to do so because of the perfection of the original creation" (p45). Proponents of this veiws believe that a "fully gifted creation" was able to bring forth through natural, evolutionary processes, all that we see in the universe today, including humankind. PE has gained prominence as a form of "theistic evolution" through the work of Francis Collins and his BioLogos Foundation.

Scientifically, PE is essentially equivalent to NE and NTE, "since God does not regularly intervene in the development of life or species, and therefore natural processes are thought to be sufficient to explain the evidence. The difference lies in the fact that PE asserts the mechanisms for change were built into creation and established for the specific purpose of bringing about God's plan of creating a sentient being who could worship him (p46).

PE is grounded in these key ideas:
  • God created the universe with a plan and created it perfectly to bring that plan to fruition without further intervention.
  • The natural laws and processes created by God are sufficient to account for all natural events since the moment of creation. Therefore, science can always find natural explanations for natural phenomena.

4. Directed evolution (DE)

DE and PE have a shared perspective on interpreting Genesis, though "proponents of DE are more likely to view Adam and Eve as single individuals who are the progenitors of the entire human race. [DE] asserts that God not only brought the universe into being but continues to act in it, not only in the lives of individuals in response to prayer but also in creative events, to bring about his plans. In many cases this does not involve superseding natural law as much as direction of low probability events, hence the name of the model" (pp46-47). 

DE views science and religion as "interacting domains of knowledge," therefore "at least some questions [concerning the origin and development of the universe] are best addressed  using evidence from both domains" (p47). The evidence that is found in Scripture has to do with the existence of a deity who intervenes from time to time in miraculous ways. The evidence for all other aspects of development is to be found through science, in natural mechanisms. 

Proponents of DE include Michael Behe, the well-known advocate of "Intelligent Design" (ID)--a philosophy that seeks to harmonize the ideas of creation and evolution. For more about ID, see The Discovery Institute website.

The DE model is grounded in these key ideas:
  • God has a predetermined purpose for the world, and the Bible shows that he intervenes in the natural world as necessary to advance that purpose.
  • Noting the miracles recorded in the Bible where God intervenes occasionally in redemptive history, it's reasonable to think that he has (and is) intervening in natural history. This would be true particularly with respect to low-probability events that seem to be directed toward a particular goal.

Creationary models

Rau also presents two "creationary" origins models: old-earth creation (OEC) and young-earth creation (YEC). Both assert that "empirical evidence of direct creative acts" can be found in the natural world (the book of nature). They also assert that "the Bible explains not only the purpose of creation but also something about its mechanism" (p48).

As we explore the creationary models we should remember that two of the evolutionary models (PE and DE) share with OEC and YEC the belief that the Bible and the book of nature are both important revelations of God and his creative activity. Moreover, these revelations, when properly interpreted, will not conflict. But why then the differences between PE, DE, OEC and YEC? The answer has largely to do with how the Bible (particularly the first chapters of Genesis) is interpreted. Those who reply, "well, I don't interpret the Bible, I take it literally" are ducking this issue, for the very act of reading Scripture is an interpretive act as the reader assigns meaning to the words (for more about this issue, click here to read an earlier Surprising God post).

1. Old-earth creation (OEC)

OEC agrees with DE "that science and religion are interacting domains of knowledge" though OEC asserts that the Genesis account has "explicit scientific value" (p49). Over the years, several OEC models have been advanced, including progressive creation, day-age creation and various "gap theories." The most well-known defender of OEC today is Hugh Ross and his Reasons to Believe organization.

The OEC model is grounded in these key ideas:
  • God chooses to reveal himself through the Bible and creation, both clearly disclosing his existence, identity and creative activity.
  • In harmonizing the evidence of science with the testimony of Scripture, we must find the most straightforward interpretations. That includes harmonizing the biblical statement that God created in six days with the empirical evidence that the universe and earth appear to be billions of years old. 

2. Young-earth creation (YEC)

Advocates of YEC refer to it as "scientific creation." Its detractors tend to refer to it (rather mockingly) as "creationism." According to YEC, "where evidence from another domain, particularly natural science, appears to conflict with what the Bible says, it is the latter that comes out on top" (p50). This idea is based on a particular way of interpreting Scripture, the first chapters of Genesis in particular. This approach to the subject, of course, creates strong animosity between YEC and NE and thus the current "creation vs. evolution" debate, which is mostly a debate between atheistic or agnostic proponents of NE and conservative Christian proponents of YEC. In short, YEC and NE are polar opposites, "the former claiming that the Bible overrules scientific evidence, the latter that scientific evidence disproves the Bible." 

Christian YEC advocates believe that the Bible teaches that God created the world and everything in it in six literal 24-hour days about six (some say ten) thousand years ago. For them, any other idea is tantamount to "reinterpreting the Word of God on the basis of the fallible theories of sinful people" (p51, quoting Ken Ham, perhaps the most well-known proponent of YEC through his Answers in Genesis organization with its creation museum in Ohio). 

The YEC model is grounded in these key ideas:
  • Each word of the Bible, as the inerrant Word of God, must be understood in accord with its normal, common meaning, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary from within the Bible itself.
  • When the Bible says that God created everything in six days, it means six sequential 24-hour days. When it says he created each kind of animal, or that he created man (male and female), it means each was created separately and fully formed. That being so, all scientific evidence must be interpreted in a way that is consistent with these presuppositions which are grounded in a particular interpretation of Scripture.
Next time we'll look at what each model has to say concerning the origin of the universe.

September 22, 2014

Examining the origins debate, part 1

This is part 1 in a series of posts exploring Gerald Rau's book Mapping the Origins Debate. For other posts in the series, click a number: 2.

What does this topic have to do with incarnational, Trinitarian theology? Principally this: the Triune God, who created the cosmos, now sustains it moment by moment. As noted in Scripture, "In him [God], we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). There is no distant, uninvolved, deistic God here.

The Triune God revealed to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ is one who has been and continues to be involved with his creation in the most intimate, personal way. However, in his grace, God does not, through his involvement, dictate all that happens to his creation as though he was a puppeteer manipulating his marionette. Rather, in love and for love (real relationship), God grants his creation (humankind included) freedom to develop--or in the words of science (which need unpacking), freedom to evolve. This freedom to be and to become does not exist apart from God, and thus is said by theologians to be "contingent freedom" (more about that in later posts as this series unfolds).

Gerald Rau
Unfortunately, the origins debate (often more a war than a respectful debate), tends unhelpfully and unnecessarily to pit science against religion (or perhaps better said, science against theism). At times, it also pits one group of Christians against another. Sorting through the issues in the debate is a huge undertaking--too big for a blog like this. Nevertheless, I will endeavor to sort through the primary issues in a series that will draw from Gerald Rau's helpful book, Mapping the Origins Debate, Six Models of the Beginning of Everything (InterVarsity, 2012). I particularly appreciate Rau's humility and, to the extent possible, his objectivity. Note how Rau concludes the book:
Wars are costly and take resources away from other things [that] time and money and lives could be better spent on... Unfortunately, they seem to be inevitable, a result of our sinful hubris that leads us to believe that we are right and others are wrong, rather than admitting that the truth is beyond our ability to grasp. Doubtless in the end the whole truth will prove far more complex than we can conceive at the moment... [Therefore], let us strive for humility and charity in our dealings with our brothers and sisters (and even those we do not consider family) who hold a different understanding of the issue than we do, realizing that we all see as "through a glass, darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12 KJV) until we see face to face (p190).
I hope that this post, and ones that follow on this topic, will reflect the same reserve and humility. There was a time when I felt quite confident that I had the whole origins thing buttoned down. But the more I learned from Scripture and from science, the more I came to realize that the issue is complex and I know far less about both topics than I had assumed. Rau does us all a favor by mapping out six basic positions (he calls them "models") in the ongoing origins debate. With an admirable even-handedness, he compares and contrasts the six models, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each, all the while looking for common ground.

A key concept in Rau's book is to recognize that each model is framed/influenced by a particular worldview (philosophy/perspective) leading to and grounded in certain presuppositions that influence how people view/interpret the relevant data (be it data in Scripture or from the natural world via science). Rau explains it this way:
The fundamental thesis of this book is that although everyone has access to the same evidence, the presuppositions implicit in a person' philosophy determine the perspective from which he or she views the data, leading to different logical conclusions about which explanation [of the data] best fits the evidence (p20). 
This concept comes to the fore most significantly when facing the reality that the universe exists, thus raising this fundamental question: Is the universe eternal (i.e. has it always existed) or did it at some point in time come into existence? Rau frames the question this way:
Something external to the universe must have been present--either another source of the matter and energy it comprises or something with the ability to create matter and energy. Put more simply, there are only two logical choices for what is eternal--natural or supernatural (p20).
Related to these two positions are various worldviews with certain deeply held presuppositions. No one in this debate is exempt from this dynamic. Those who hold a naturalistic worldview, "must of necessity postulate a way for matter and energy to be eternally self-existent" (p22). Those who hold a theistic worldview, may have various views of science, depending on how they believe God interacts with the world, and thus the origins debate often pits one Christian group against another, particularly when it comes to interpreting the early chapters of the book of Genesis.

Unfortunately, the origins debate often is framed as science vs. religion, or evolution vs. creation (as though these concepts are hopelessly at odds). But the debate is far more complex than that and there are certainly more than the two positions that fall at the polar extremes of the debate (the ones that often get the most press!).

To some extent, the polarization we see in the debate arises because "science" is a particularly difficult word/concept to define. "There are many types of science, each with its own methods and techniques... [as a result] it is hard to delineate where science ends and some other way of knowing begins" (p23). Moreover, it often is not fully appreciated that the scientific method, by its very nature, necessarily involves three components: presupposition, evidence and logic. Different fields of science utilize different types of evidence with a logic that is specific to that type. For example, historical science studies non-repeatable physical events (including origins). This field is quite different from fields of science that study ongoing events. But in all fields of science, inferences must be made in order to interpret the evidence deemed relevant. These inferences necessarily rely on either deductive or inductive logic.

Inferences arising from deductive logic are either valid or invalid, while those arising from inductive logic are either strong or weak (see the decision tree above). Inferences related to origins, necessarily are inductive, and thus cannot be absolute--that is, they cannot be shown to be true or false (in an absolute sense). No one was present at creation (using a biblical term) or at the big bang (using a scientific term). Looking at the evidence for this non-repeatable event, we use inductive reasoning to infer what occurred. Those inferences are, necessarily, shaped by our presuppositions--this is true for scientists and for theologians.

Contrary to what I just said, there was a time when it was claimed that science uses only evidence and logic in its work and was thus free from any presuppositions. That claim now is understood by most to be false. "Science cannot be done without some philosophical assumptions or presuppositions" (p26). But lest we religious types get all smug about this, we must admit that we too bring to the debate our own set of presuppositions. The point is that when it comes to the topic of origins, pure objectivity (reasoning apart from any presuppositions) is simply not possible for naturalists or for theists. We all approach the topic with the perspective of a particular theory, and doing so affects both our data collection and our interpretation of the data.

Rau admits that one of the presuppositions of his book (a presupposition that I happen to share with him, holding as I so degrees in Christian Studies, Environmental Science and Psychology, it that "ultimately there is a unity of knowledge--a reality that can be known--but we [must] use multiple approaches to seek that knowledge" (p27, italics added). I would add that I find Rau's perspective in line with an incarnational, Trinitarian theological viewpoint, for it speaks to the real, dynamic relationship, grounded in freedom, that God has with his creation. However, I acknowledge that this position, itself, cannot be "proven" in a direct way. Rather it is inferred from available evidence, and for me, that evidence comes both from the book of revealed knowledge (Holy Scripture) and from the book of nature (science)--both which tell us important things about the ground of all reality, which is the Triune God himself--Father, Son and Spirit.

As we proceed in this series on the origins debate, we'll see that Rau maps out and then carefully examines six explanatory origins models: 1) naturalistic evolution 2) nonteleologial evolution 3) planned evolution 4) directed evolution 5) old-earth creation, and 6) young-earth creation. Next time we'll begin to define and then explore each one. I hope you'll find this series illuminating, and that you'll come to more fully appreciate the issues involved, no matter which model you personally embrace.

September 15, 2014

The practice of confession

For other posts in this series on the book Life Together, click a number: 1234567, 8.

This is the ninth and concluding post in a series examining Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic book on Christian community. His focus in the last chapter is the practice of confession within the church.

Scripture admonishes followers of Christ to "Confess your faults one to another" (James 5:16 KJV). But as Bonhoeffer notes, many Christians neglect this instruction to their detriment: "He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone," and this despite being together with others in worship, prayer and fellowship. Without confession as part of the practice of the community, its fellowship "permits no one to be a sinner... everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship." The result is people gathered together, yet living alone "in lies and hypocrisy" (p110).

Confession leads to truth and liberation

This unfortunate situation compromises the truth and grace of the gospel, which confronts us and then receives us and forgives us as we truly are: sinners! In that there is true liberation. And so Christian community without confession leads to people who are not being truly liberated--people who are wearing masks to conceal truth, rather than being open about the reality of their sin and finding liberation in Jesus Christ who "gave his followers the authority to hear the confession of sin and to forgive sin in his name" (p111). On this point, Bonhoeffer quotes Jesus' instructions to his followers; "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John 20:23 KJV).

Many Protestants are uncomfortable on this point. Can a human forgive sin? Isn't that the purview of God alone? In one sense, yes it is. Sin is against God and God is the one who forgives sin. But Jesus' point (and Bonhoeffer's with him) is that our Lord has given to the church the calling to be conduits of God's forgiveness. And thus the church is called to declare God's forgiveness to people. Make no mistake, doing so represents administering great power and authority--great grace. When a Christian brother stands before another Christian brother who is confessing their sin, he is doing so in Christ's stead, and in Christ's stead he declares the liberating truth of God's forgiveness in Christ. Something very profound, very powerful is occurring here.

As grace-filled brothers receive the confessions of their brothers, they are extending God's word of forgiveness. And as this occurs, the community becomes a place of truth--of openness--of mercy--of real healing. In such a community a person need not hide from the truth of their own sin. They can dare to be the sinner that they actually are. They can begin to see Christ more clearly for who he actually is--a brother who is there to forgive and to help. And they also begin to see other members of the community as brothers who are there to help in Christ's stead. 
[Such a brother] hears the confession of our sins in Christ's stead and he forgives our sins in Christ's name. He keeps the secret of our confession as God keeps it. When I go to my brother to confess, I am going to God. So in the Christian community when the call to brotherly confession and forgiveness goes forth it is a call to the great grace of God in the church" (p112).
Through confession of sin, one brother to another, there is true and profound breakthrough to authentic Christian community, and true transformation of individuals. Sin likes darkness, but when it is brought into the light through confession, strongholds that enslave people in sin are broken: "God breaks gates of brass and bars of iron" (Psa 107:16).

This is a breakthrough person-to-person and also a breakthrough to the humility of the Cross. One of the great sins that holds us enslaved to other sins is pride. But confession demands, and yields humility. In confession we die to self--we let go of self-protective false pride. Bonhoeffer comments:
In confession we break through to the true fellowship of the Cross of Jesus Christ, in confession we affirm and accept our cross. IN the deep mental and physical pain of humiliation before a brother--which means before God--we experience the Cross of Jesus as our rescue and salvation. The old man dies, but it is God who had conqured him. Now we share in the resurrection of Christ and eternal life (p114).
And so through the death to self-protective self that real confession is, we enter into new life. In short, "confession is conversion...Christ has made a new beginning with us...Confession is discipleship" (p115). On this point, Bonhoeffer quotes Proverbs: "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). He then notes that "What happened to us in baptism is bestowed upon us anew in confession" (p115).

Why confess to a person?

Some might respond to Bonhoeffer's plea for brother-to-brother confession with this though: "I confess to God, not to people" But Bonhoeffer notes that our confessions to God often are merely confessions to ourselves, and as a result we are living in self-forgiveness rather than in real forgiveness, and so the cycle of sin continues. But when we confess to a brother, we can be certain that we are not merely confessing to ourselves, but to God, represented to us by our brother. 
A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light... Our brother has been given me that even here and now I may be made certain through him of the reality of God in His judgment and His grace (p116).

Who should hear confession?

Who is qualified to hear a confession of another? Do they need to be a trained psychologist? Bonhoeffer says no. The primary qualification is that such a person lives "beneath the Cross of Jesus: that they be a person who is deeply aware that they too are a sinner saved by grace. Such a person is non-judgmental. Such a person loves the other brother with the merciful love of God that leads through the death of the sinner to the life of the child of God" (p119).

Bonhoeffer also notes that in a Christian community, one person should not serve as the confessor for all the others. When that is the case, there is a danger that the work will become routine and thus an empty sham. Worse yet, there is the danger that it will become a source of spiritual domination.

Confession leading to Communion

Bonhoeffer concludes the book by noting the importance of confession preceding reception of holy Communion. "It is the command of Jesus that none should come to the altar with a heart that is unreconciled to his brother" (p121). It is thus appropriate (even vital) that in the worship services of the community, prayers of confession together with a declaration of forgiveness in Jesus name precede the receiving of the Lord's Supper. But even more importantly, the church that regularly practices confession person-to-person, will find at the Lord's Table true Christian community. Bonhoeffer comments:
Here [at the Lord's Table] the community has reached its goal. Here joy in Christ and his community is complete. The life of Christians together under the Word has reached its perfection in the sacrament" (p122).
Here is a sample order of service that would fulfill Bonhoeffer's goal for the community to begin with confession and proceed to a declaration of forgiveness followed by communion.

Call to Confession. The text here was written by Dr. Gary Deddo.
As we enter now into a time when we are renewed by God’s grace,
Let us remember that, the one who died, the one who was raised for us and our salvation, is our living Lord. His ministry did not end on the Cross. Raised from the dead and ascended to the Father, He remains our high priest, continually interceding for us. He remains the one and only mediator between God and humanity.  
Even here and now, this Sunday morning, he serves as our Great Worship Leader. As his adopted brothers and sisters, He takes us into the very presence of God our heavenly Father. Because of him we can approach the throne of grace boldly as we offer our confession. 
Even in our time of confession, he leads us, serving as our gracious and faithful high priest. He is ready to receive our confessions, sanctify them, and lift them up to our heavenly Father. And day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year he more and more enables us by his Spirit to share more completely in the perfect confession he makes in our place and on our behalf as our Great Substitute who lives now and forever to make intercessions for us.
Please join me in the prayer of confession shown in your bulletin [or on screen, etc]
Prayer of Confession. This is recited aloud and in unison by the congregation. The following sample prayer is quoted from the Episcopal Church, Book of Common Prayer.
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.
Declaration of forgiveness followed by Communion. The worship leader begins by declaring God's forgiveness--typically in prayer like this example adapted from the Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God have mercy on us,
forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ,
strengthen us in all goodness,
and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life.
Communion is then served with an appropriate invitation and with prayers of consecration/blessing.

September 8, 2014

Ministries of the Word and authority

For other posts in this series on the book Life Together, click a number: 123456, 7, 9.

The previous post in this series noted Bonhoeffer's call for the practice of meekness as essential to the health of a faith community. He goes on to discuss the related practices of listening to one another (Christians, particularly Christian leaders, too often speak before listening, p97), helping one another, and bearing one another's burdens--including one another's sins though the practice of unconditional forgiveness (p102).

The Ministry of the Word

When these ministries of grace are in place, "the ultimate and highest service can also be rendered, namely, the ministry of the Word of God to others." Because this ministry is often abused within the church, Bonhoeffer gives this warning:
[Speaking the Word is] that unique situation in which one person bears witness in human words to another person, bespeaking the whole consolation of God, the admonition, the kindness, and the severity of God. The speaking of that Word is beset with infinite perils. If it is not accompanied by worthy listening, how can it really be the right word for the other person? If it is contradicted by one's own lack of active helpfulness, how can it be a convincing and sincere word? If it issues, not from a spirit of bearing and forbearing, but from impatience and the desire to force its acceptance how can it be the liberating healing word? (pp103-104)
Ironically, as we listen, serve and bear with one another, few words will likely be needed. Indeed, the discipline of holding one's tongue often is what is needed most. Bonhoeffer comments: "[Having] a profound distrust of everything that is merely verbal often [appropriately] causes a person's word to a brother to be suppressed" (p104). But doing so is hard for preachers, who are professional speakers! It's also hard for those who are inclined to dominate verbally.

The Ministry of Authority

With those thoughts in mind, Bonhoeffer goes on to address the topic of authority within the church. He begins with a quote from Jesus, the living Word of God who bore all the authority of the universe: "Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister" (Mark 10:43, KJV). He then goes on to make a lengthy and vital comment:
Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent upon brotherly service. Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out. Every cult of personality that emphasizes the distinguished qualities, virtues, and talents of another person, even thought these be an altogether spiritual nature, is worldly and has no place in the Christian community, indeed, it poisons the Christian community. The desire we so often hear expressed today for "episcopal figures," "p[priestly men," "authoritative personalities" springs frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive. There is nothing that so sharply contradicts such a desire as the New Testament itself in its description of a bishop (1 Tim. 3:1ff). One finds there nothing whatsoever with respect to worldly charm and the brilliant attributes of a spiritual personality. The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the Church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry. In the man himself there is nothing to admire.  
...Genuine authority realizes that it can exist only in the service of Him who alone has authority. Genuine authority knows that it is bound in the strictest sense by the saying of Jesus: "One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren" (Matthew 23:8, KJV). The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren... The church will place its confidence only in the simple servant of the Word of Jesus Christ because it knows that then it will be guided, not according to human wisdom and human conceit, but by the word of the Good Shepherd. 
The question of trust, which is so closely related to that of authority, is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents which he possesses. Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, who himself is a brother among brothers submitted to the authority of the Word (pp108-109).
 May all of us who bear authority within the body of Christ heed these words of wisdom!

September 1, 2014

Preparing for Advent and Christmas

He will come again in glory
It's now September, which means that Advent, followed by Christmas, is not far away. It's likely that those who lead the church in worship are already preparing. This post may be of help. 

The Advent/Christmas season celebrates (in this order), the future, present and past "comings" of the incarnate Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ ("advent" from Latin "adventus," means "coming"). These celebrations begin a new cycle in the church's annual worship calendar in much of Western Christianity.

For an incarnational, Trinitarian perspective on the meaning of this important season, together with other resources to help with preparation, click here. (Note: the first Sunday of Advent in 2014 is November 30).

Remaining flesh, the man Jesus comes to us now through the Spirit 
Through the Incarnation, the Son of God came to us in the flesh