Sunday, August 26, 2007

on membership

My church in Baton Rouge, Sojourn, apparently decided recently that they(I was not present when this call was made) should like to be know now not as members of Sojourn, but rather as missionaries.

Alas, I'm not going to go with this.

I can understand where they're coming from of course. It's not so much from a desire to be trendy or distinctive. Rather, this fits well enough in with the church's design, from the beginning, to focus on service and meeting needs. Also, there's a bit of a taboo amongst the more disenchanted of the former conservative-Christian crowd surrounding the idea of 'church membership', given the over emphasis on it by various groups, even though, as Lewis points out, "the very word membership is of Christian origin." I understand, but I'm still not going with it.

So I though I'd take this chance to explain(partly, at least) why the concept of membership is so important to me personally, and of course, I believe, so important for all believers, though perhaps unbeknownst to them.

Membership is indeed a Christian term, at least in origin, having taken on a broader, secular meaning today. It comes from, among other places, Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth in chapter 12, amdist a discussion on spiritual gifts. The apostle concludes there: Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (:27) The Greek word here translated "members" is melos, translated into Latin as membra, which literally means 'limbs' and is, of course, where we get the English word member from. Paul is not talking here about 'members' as we think of them today, names on a roll or something to that effect, but of parts of a body; he is trying to explain to the Corinthians that they are somehow the actual body of Christ.

Now the idea of two things(here, Christ and the Church) having one and the same body is not new to the scriptures. We first see it in Genesis 2, most noteably in verse 24: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. The language in 1 Corinthians 12, as well as that in Ephesians and the imagery of the end of Revelation, all point towards this idea of marriage between Christ and the Church, the two becoming one flesh. This also reflects the Old Testament idea of the marriage of Yahweh and Israel, probably seen best in Hosea.

So the title of member serves both
1) to identify one with Christ, being a member of His body. And
2) to remind of our relation to Christ: we are "the Bride, the wife of the Lamb"(Rev. 21:9).

I think the problem that we have with the idea of membership today grows from two roots.

First, again, because of the emphasis often placed on 'church membership' in evangelicalism today, especially well seen in the SBC. The constant counting of heads and even aiming simply to bring people to events rather than make disciples of folks are leaving many younger Christians jaded.
But this is only a branch root off of the second, deeper issue: we have forgotten what it is we are members of.
The church is the Body of Christ, and it is this body that we are members of. This is forgotten, I'm afraid, by some at every level. The point of being a church member is not that you are now apart of First United Methodist or First West or Sojourn, or anything so silly. You are a member of the Body of Christ, a citizen of the Kingdom of God. This is what membership entails.

So we must put the issue to rest both as ministers and as church-goers(a stranger term itself). As ministers we must focus on the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, on God's will done, and on making disciples. Likewise as the members we must recall what it is we are a part of, and lay aside every weight of association and angst that will hinder God's Kingdom here on earth.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Father Stephen on "practical atheism"

Father Stephen of Glory to God for All Things has been writing a series of posts concerning the ideas of one-story and two-universes(you may need to read the initial post here to follow all of his terminology).
His latest post in this vein has proven especially interesting, touching on the topic of practical atheism, or, as he chooses to call it, Christian atheism. This topic was also touched on a few months ago by my brother on Gloria Deo, focusing there on some comments made by Stanley Hauerwas. Check out the links if you're interested; I personally find the topic a little chilling, but supremely important.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Harry Potter at the altar

Chris Tilling posted a link to this article over on his blog, Chrisendom. J. K. Rowling is finally, without risk of giving away the ending, talking about the religious undertones and motifs of the Potter books, especially the most recent and final Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
I just have two thoughts: 1) of course there are Christian symbols and messages throughout the stories. That's been evident from the end of book one, and no, this is not why I read these books. 2) If a bunch of conservative Christian-Harry Haters start whistling a different tune in the near future, I will completely cease to care what they think on any topic. They've had their chance to give Harry & co. the green light. To wait until something raises up the Christian flag to love it is, even if we're talking about literature or ideas, incongruent with scripture. See Paul's actions in Acts 17(a chapter many evangelicals need to take another look at, I think), or maybe just give his admonishment to "test all things, hold to what is good"(1 Thess. 5) a try sometime.

A quick warning to readers, though: don't read this article if you've not finished the Potter series and are worried about spoilers. Not that I'm really afraid there are many such people left on the planet now, but there, I said it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Richard Foster's suggested studying

There is a fine chapter in Foster's Celebration of Discipline under the 'Inner Disciplines' category on the discipline of study. Foster goes to great lengths to point out that there are both verbal and nonverbal "books" to be studied in life, and that relationships and nature(among other things) have as much to teach us as any piece of literature. However, he does not undermind the teaching potential of the "verbal" books by any means, and goes so far as to make a sort of list of literature that he finds apt for studying. He begins, of course, by listing the Bible. What followed was a small library of Christian classics:

The Confessions of St. Augustine
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis
The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
The Little Flowers of St.Francis by Brother Ugolino
Pensées by Pascal
Table Talks, Martin Luther
Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin
The Journal of George Fox
Journal of John Wesley
A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law
A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly
The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Revelations of Divine Love, Juliana of Norwich
Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales
The Journal of John Woolman

Foster then goes on to mention several "men and women from many walks of life... thinkers [who] have unusual perception into the human predicament" whom he would also commend for studying. Among them:

Lao-tse
Zarathustra
Shakespeare
Milton
Cervantes
Dante
Tolstoy
Dostoevski
Dag Hammarskjöld

I really found the authors tacked on to the end of the list refreshing. I was also glad to see that fiction was not omitted from the list, as it has a unique ability to speak to us on many of the most relevent 'non-fiction' happenings of life.
Foster concludes by exhorting us to not fret over the books we've not read; the list, he says, is only to give the reader a glimpse of the works out there that can help you on your journey and that the point "is not reading many books, but experiencing what we do read."

Celebration of Discipline itself is a fine read, and that is probably not least because of Richard Foster's extensive reliance not only on scripture but also on the works of many great writers and thinkers out there. At times Foster may seem a bit, well, ridiculous in his teachings, but that is probably a product more of the eyes molded by society and culture with which he is read than the weaknesses in his ideas. I'd certainly suggest Celebration of Discipline to anyone whose is curious about the spiritual disciplines and not afraid of where that curiosity may take them.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Review: The Bourne Ultimatum

I had planned on reviewing most of the big summer flicks on here for everyone's reading pleasure, but a few got away from me (most disturbingly, Live Free or Die Hard).
This weekend the summer's last real blockbuster hit, and I wasn't going to let it slip by.

The Bourne Ultimatum, in case you didn't know, is the third film in the Bourne franchise, starring Matt Damon. It's also one of a ridiculous number of threequels out this summer(Spider-Man 3, Shrek 3, POTC 3, to name a few).
Now, all to often, the pattern with franchises works as such: we open with a solid film. The sequel is decent, but lacks the pizazz--or whatever you'd call it--of the original. If they make it to three, well it's usually clinging to straws. And don't watch four.
A case study: the Batman films. Batman is good. Batman Returns is alright. Batman Forever and... the other one... not so much.
Need another example? The Matrix. Nuff' said.
There are noteable exceptions to this: The Empire Strikes Back and Aliens are argueably better than their predecessors, or at least bring something new and good to the table; T2 simply is better than The Terminator; rumor has it that The Godfather Part II surpasses the original, but I have yet to get that far in the series.

So how does the Bourne series stand up against this looming precedent?
I loved the first film. The Bourne Supremacy I wasn't so impressed with. Perhaps it deserves a re-watch, but my first reaction wasn't so enthusiastic. Then we have part three, and frankly, I'm impressed. This is a SOLID action flick, and maybe the strongest film in the franchise.
Why is it so good? A few thoughts:
1) the third installment manages to show you 'how deep the rabbit hole really goes', without making the trip either mind-boggling or boring. We dig deeper and deeper into Bourne's identity and past with Ultimatum, yet it is as exciting as the first time around.
2) this movie doesn't give you a chance to be bored. Really. Your adrenaline will not stop pumping long enough for you to find plot holes or yawn. The action sequences are intense, realistic, and near-constant.
3) the movie doesn't randomly kill important people. Am I the only person who was bothered by the second film's first five minutes?
4) lastly, this movie reminds us that Jason Bourne is a bad man. He manages to rack up what is probably the film industry's largest non-lethal body count ever. This man is what everyone growing up reading Batman comics aspires to.

So as it turns out, this is a great film to wrap up the summer blockbuster season(I'm not really counting Rush Hour 3). It's fun, engaging, and, don't worry, just as fresh as The Bourne Identity was those few years ago.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Wright on Space, Time, and Sacraments

N.T. Wright spoke in a seminar at Calvin College in January on the topic Space, Time, and Sacraments, and it is a brilliant lecture. The link is to the Calvin website, where audio and video recordings of the lecture are available. I highly recommend this, and thank brother Daniel for commending it to me.

You'll need to set aside a chunk of time for this one. The lecture is broken into two parts, both of which are about an hour long, as well as two accompanying Q&A sessions, the first 20 minutes, the second 45. Calvin also offers an audio excerpt from part 1 of the lecture for anyone curious.

Make sure to listen to at least the first Q&A also, as it seemed to me to add a lot to the talk, and really shows how sharp Bishop Wright is, I think.