Monthly Archives: September 2012

5 year-olds and 33 year-olds: we’re all the same

First the 33 year-old’s story:

Yesterday was our church’s first go at our developing corporate gathering.  When I arrived home following the service I spent the rest of the evening — we meet at night — going over what had just happened.  All I could think about was the stuff that I wish I’d done differently or not at all, and none of this thinking stopped when I awoke this morning.   Unfortunately throughout today that evaluating and critiquing turned into an overwhelming sense of I’m-in-way-over-my-head which subsequently turned into worry: worry about my (in)abilities, the future of this church, and the potential for my messing the whole thing up.

And now the 5 year-old’s story:

My son is battling anxiety and worry these days and it’s tied to his starting and going to kindergarten (and living in five homes and participating in five churches in his five years of life).  This evening he was convinced that he remembered his teacher saying that she would not be at school tomorrow and that because of this he would have a substitute teacher.  He was not at all excited about the prospect of this change to an already hard new part of his life.  So his evening, along with mine, was filled with worry.

Then came my son’s bedtime.  He got into bed and I laid down beside him.  We talked about his worry and then we prayed and asked Jesus to help him, be with him tomorrow at school, and speak to him throughout the day with words of comfort and encouragement.  He said he was still worried and I replied with, “we’re not going to worry anymore; we’re going to trust Jesus; he’ll take care of you.”  Of course, at no point during this conversation did I connect the dots to my own worry.  I believe that this is called irony.

Then I grabbed his Bible, flipped it open, and began to read the story.  The story tonight was from Matthew 6 — a little diddy ’bout some birds and flowers.  As I read the story and heard the words coming out of my mouth, I realized then that know-it-all-preacher-daddy needed to wake up, hear the birds, and smell the flowers.

It seemed that Jesus had the same message for both father and son tonight.

Not becoming Catholic: Forming a love for the church

A few years ago I went through an internal crisis: I wrestled with the idea of becoming Roman Catholic.  (I’m not sure if I’d call this a fad, but I know that my experience is not out of the ordinary.)  I was taking a theology class at Regent College in Vancouver with Hans Boersma.  Hans attended a Reformed church but had immersed himself in the writings and thought of traditions outside of his own.  He had us reading all sorts of great stuff written by the Fathers and Orthodox and Catholic theologians.  At the same time I was taking a church history course at ACTS Seminary with Bruce Guenther.  As providence would have it, it seemed that each week’s class at each respective school overlapped.  For example, while reading St. Basil’s works on the Holy Spirit with Hans at Regent I’d be discussing St. Basil’s life with Bruce at ACTS.  I was drawn into a world with which I had little experience.

Cue the personal ecclesiological whirlwind.

Having grown up in the C&MA (Evangelical Protestant) I was not often exposed to other traditions of the faith.  In fact, I implicitly grew up with a distrust of others, especially those crazy Catholics (sarcasm).  I’d never even heard of the Orthodox Church.  More to the point, I grew up thinking that the church was a nice idea (it provided food on our table because my parents were pastors) and a beneficial place to hang out, but I never thought that it was much beyond that.  My faith was personal.  It was about me and Jesus (after all, Jesus was my personal saviour).  The idea that being a part of the church was somehow essential to my faith, and that the church could exist in other shapes and forms outside of my own tradition, had not crossed my mind.

However, as I began to read people like St. Cyprian of Carthage, Gregory the Great, J.M.R. Tillard, and Henri De Lubac my eyes began to open to the wonder, hope, essential nature, and wideness of the Church (which is kind of odd since each of the previously mentioned guys would likely consider me, a rebellious Protestant, a distant ecclesial cousin).  I felt that I needed to repent of my myopic understanding of Christ’s Body.  I felt drawn into the Tradition (a living entity which I’d never heard of before).  I felt sacramentally and corporately deprived.  And so wanting to run back to the mother ship I considered leaving my Evangelical Protestant home and becoming Roman Catholic.  As I shared this internal crisis with some of my peers and friends I received a variety of responses but mostly looks of “are you crazy?”  Yet it was an internal struggle that kept me awake at night.  I felt lost in the world of church and needing a new home.

However, as I prayed, read D.H. Williams’ book, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants, reflected on my fondness for the tradition in which I was a part, and talked with my mentors and family, I realized that the Spirit wasn’t asking me to leave the C&MA.  Instead, I felt that the Spirit was asking me to re-embrace my tradition and to bring my new found appreciation for the Church, the corporate, and traditions outside of my own, to my tribe’s table.  There is a beautiful freedom that comes with being in the C&MA.  What I realized was that I had the ability to bring C&MA people into contact with other traditions in a way that most of those other traditions would never be capable of doing.  I don’t know too many Orthodox churches that can fashion a corporate gathering to reflect, for example, a Pentecostal-style service (nor would they likely want to).  Whereas I, especially as a church planter, have a wonderful freedom to experiment with all sorts of traditions, rituals, and rites.  For me, it’s a fantastic denominational asset.

I find myself now more in love with the C&MA than before, but with a passion to speak some sacramental and corporate theology into our discussion.  I am completely convinced of the essential nature of the Church, her mission, and the Christian’s role a part of her; the us is equally as important as (if not more important than) the me.  I am also now a lover of Catholic and Orthodox theological discussions.  I think that every Protestant Evangelical pastor should spend some time reading Pope Benedict’s Encyclical Letter, Spe Salvi, the Roman Catholic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and some Vladimir Lossky (Orthodox theologian).

I leave you with J.M.R. Tillard’s response to the question, “What is the local church?” from his book, I Believe, Despite Everything.

It is only to be understood in the function of God’s visitation made in Jesus Christ.  It is the human space — with all the realism of its history, its problems, its projects, its culture, its joys, and its pains — linking its inhabitants in a community of destiny and where the Gospel has taken root.  In it the visitation of Christ continues.  The Church of God is the communion of all these local churches.  Already present in God, in its head, the resurrected Christ, it thus takes form in the flesh of the people and in the realism of the human condition.

Opportunity to discuss:
Have any of you ever read Williams’ book, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants?  If so, what did the book mean to you?  Do you agree with Williams’ “fall paradigm”?  Have you seen or experienced the “fall paradigm” in action?
Do  you go crazy when you read theology texts that only have citations dating back to the Reformation?
Have you ever wrestled with going Roman Catholic?  What was your journey like?  Did you go through with it or stay put?
Have you wrestled with the false-dichotomy between the local church and universal Church?  How do you respond to people who say, “I’m a part of the universal church but not the local church?”  How can we help people understand the inappropriateness of the dichotomy in way that draws them into the hope and experience of the local body of Jesus?

A first of many firsts

One of my favourite verses in Eugene Peterson’s The Message is John 1:14.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.

Our upstart church is just about to embark on an experiment.  We’re test-running a venue for our group.  The venue is a restaurant/pub.  We have our own room for our gathering, but we are very much in view and within earshot of “the neighbourhood.”  This is our attempt at trying to wrestle with the idea of being an incarnational church — of trying to live out John 1:14.  I’ll keep you posted on this trial run.

In the meantime, here’s a story from today — a first of many firsts for me, I’d imagine.

I just finished explaining The Lord’s Supper/Communion/The Table/Eucharist to the owner of the restaurant/pub.  You see, we’re buying and consuming their food and beverages while we meet in their establishment.  Because of this arrangement I didn’t want to assume that I could show up with a small loaf of bread and glass of grape-juice.  And so I asked the owner if she could provide these things for us, which then led to a discussion about the meaning of “these things.”  It was a first for me — having to try and explain these things to a restaurant owner — and it was certainly a first for her.  She has no idea what she’s gotten herself into.  Maybe we don’t either.

But what really struck me is this: during my conversation all I could think of was John 1:14.  Here we are — the church, the presence of Jesus — moving into the neighbourhood and talking about things where these kinds of conversations don’t normally take place.  We certainly don’t have it all figured out and we have much to learn, but I’m excited about this.  I’m excited about figuring out how to move into the neighbourhood and ride the coattails of the ever-present and active Spirit of Redemption.  And I’m also excited about many more firsts.