June 18th, 2015
They had gathered for a simple prayer meeting–maybe like the ones we gather for each month.
Then something monstrous, inconceivable, unconscionable.
And a church, a city, and nation are pulled back into a torrent of fear. And recrimination, which only raises the potential for it happening again.
Some argue that times are better, that things have on the whole vastly improved. That we are less violent than we have ever been, less of many things that make life intolerable.
Moments like this one–only the most recent instance that sends countless reeling–would seem to challenge that thesis. (This wasn’t even the only incident of horror today.)
What will end something like this? What can pre-empt it, even diminish its incidence?
We’ll hear the boilerplate answers in the days to come. And while many of those ideas, few of which will ever see the light of day, would quite reasonably have an impact, the nature of the problem–the insidious complexity of it–would seem to require something which no man, no party, no principle, and no protocol can manufacture.
Something has to go deep within all of us so that we might cherish each one of us.
I hesitate to mention the following even in the same breath for fear of equating it with the former. But on the last night of our denomination’s General Assembly last week, some of those who were there at the PCA’s founding (many have since died) made an unprecedented, unqualified, and resounding confession.
You can read a record of the entirety of the evening, and what led up to it here (and I surely recommend that you do), but in response to a resolution calling for confession and repentance of our denomination on inadequate attention to the cause of civil rights, one founding father of our denomination approached one of the available floor mics. Dr. Jim Baird, former pastor of First Presbyterian, Jackson, MS, stood before all the presbyters to acknowledge his essential indifference, at the founding in 1973, to the issue literally at the back door of his church and most churches in the south. He and those who helped establish the PCA did not perpetrate injustice, but, by his own confession, did little to dislodge its presence and pervasiveness. At the core of what once again seems to have reared its ugly head this morning–respect, dignity, and justice for those who share a different origin–is the very issue that Dr. Baird and others that evening saw fit to reprove themselves for neglecting.
That and a couple other items of note will form the introduction to this Sunday’s sermon from Acts 2:1-13. Within that mysterious passage is an answer to what must go deep within, and what has the only power to change us all.
So that we see each other as we are Seen.
We started that new series last Sunday, but you and “it” weren’t, so to speak, properly introduced. Why a series on the book of Acts?
The introduction to the last Sunday’s sermon is really an introduction to the whole motivation for studying the earliest account of the early church. Just as Paul admonishes Timothy to “watch his life and doctrine,” the church of every age must regularly assess its own character, inspecting it for fidelity to its identity and mission lest it become encumbered with distorted priorities. The Reformed Tradition likes to take credit for its axiomatic “semper reformanda” (always reforming), but no church true to its name would fail to revise its efforts (though not its foundational doctrine) as the need calls.
Except that it would seem that the church has failed to do just that–on innumerable occasions, and with grave consequences. Case in point: see above.
In this present moment, when studies like the Pew Foundation’s we referenced Sunday indicate an increasing perception of the church’s irrelevance to modern life, those entrusted with leadership have to at least ask whether current practice has served to contribute to that perception. The Gospel will always be off-putting to some. But there are off-putting ways that are in fact more misrepresentation of the Gospel than fidelity to it. It is where the Gospel has become obscured by priorities that have an appearance of centrality that the church must reform itself. Not for the sake of attracting new faces, but for the sake of being the community which, by the Spirit’s help, becomes inherently attractive for what it incarnates and declares.
Derrick Peterson, a voice I’ve only been recently introduced to at agreatercourage.blogspot.com, is one of many trying to put the Pew study in perspective. While alarmism may be inappropriate, he agrees that reformation is in order. But he locates the headwaters of this torrential problem in a far more distant setting than just the last several decades. Going back all the way to the Civil War, Peterson identifies one pivotal way in which the church ceded its own authority, thereby inviting the kind of marginalization it’s now reeling from. Moreover, he argues it has been the church’s uncritical adoption of certain American forms of thinking that, in this country at least, has made itself vulnerable to the kinds of criticisms and cynical dismissals it’s now experiencing.
At the end of his piece Peterson acknowledges:
we need now to take the time–not necessarily to bemoan the emerging lack of spirituality–but to take a hard look at ourselves and our churches, and ask where we ourselves have inadvertently often created the very things we now dislike.
Listening to Acts afresh may help us–yes, even us at CtK–to discover where we’ve been, at least on some small scale, a party to our own demise. While at the same time it might help us recover a more pristine sense of our identity and mission even as we view it through the lens of a church who struggled to make sense of its moment as we are of ours.
Meanwhile, the claims of the church’s death-spiral may be greatly exaggerated in light of stories, old and new, of people seeing past the Body’s necrotic parts, and finding its Head to be worth sacrificing significant social capital for. We mentioned Sunday C.S. Lewis’ conversion, occasioned by the strong influence of those like Tolkien. To say that many of his contemporaries found his religious shift surprising would be vast understatement.
Though this scene may be faulted for some excess in dramatic effect, I suppose the re-creation of the literary duo’s theological sparring along Addison’s Walk retains enough truth to warrant your 9 minutes here. An article at Salon.com perhaps does better in documenting how Lewis came to faith under the influence of Tolkien and others.
And as for the other more contemporary figure who’s recently made public profession of faith, here’s the article I mentioned by
Anne Ana Marie Cox: Why I’m Coming Out Christian. (caveat emptor: Ms. Cox can dish out an obscenity at times unpredictably.) Compared to Lewis it might mean even more for someone like Ms. Cox to be so outspoken about her new-found faith. Where Lewis might’ve received dismissive chuckles, the op-ed writer for the Washington Post has likely experienced nothing short of derision. But just like the response of the early church in its earliest encounters with persecution, Ms. Cox demonstrates an inner joy that enables her to face such criticism with poise. By her Twitter feed she also appears to have an insatiable appreciation for cats. And I always say you can never trust someone who doesn’t like cats.
We have the distinct privilege to convene an Ordination Service this Sunday for our newly-elected Ruling Elder, Mark Kull. Our voting last Sunday during 2nd hour registered decisive support for his role as a shepherd of CtK. Mark joins Doug Pollock, Jim Akovenko, and Hugh Comer as the Ruling Elders for CtK. Mark will be giving special focus to the development and oversight of our, we pray, soon-to-form “Mercy Cohort” (“MC”), formerly called the “DC.” (We’re all about acronyms here.) Mark’s aptitude in outreach and skills in organizational development set him apart for leadership in coordinating and fostering mercy effort within and without CtK. We’re grateful to God for the addition of Mark to our Session. Pray for Mark and Rachel as he is ordained and installed this Sunday during worship.
Two quick items of note:
- We’ve alluded to it over the last several months. We’ve been experimenting with it behind the scenes ever since. Now we’re ready to introduce it to the whole congregation. We’re talking about The City, an online tool for helping us overcome the challenges of being spread out so far across the Metroplex. We’ll get a presentation on its functionality from Jonathan Raikes on June 28th during 2nd hour. You can read more about that here.
- Also on June 28th, it’s been a while, but it’s time to get together! Summertime exerts some sort of moral imperative to grill out. So from 6-8p that night we’ll have the fire on and the kiddie pool inflated in the backyard. Bring your own grilling specialty for yourself and a side dish for everyone as we enjoy the summer together at the Lafferty’s (6968 Capella Park Ave, Dallas 75236).
Finally pray for
- Charleston, S.C. and Emanuel Methodist Church
- the PCA as it begins the harder work of imagining what true repentance looks like coming out of its Assembly
- Mark Kull, both in the loss of his father Glenn, and also in his impending ordination to service