A week of thankfulness: Church heritage

I was raised in the church of Christ (big C, little C). And I’m thankful. I’ve gone from “Hebrew of Hebrews” to cynical college student to one who has made his faith his own. I’ve seen the good, I’ve seen the bad, and I’ve been a part of both. Today, I’m thankful.

I’ve written before about how growing up in the Johnson St. church shaped my faith. I was blessed to attend Abilene Christian University at a special time, studying under some amazing men. I’ve been a part of other congregations that have impacted me: the Highland church in Abilene, the 37th and Atlantic church in Long Beach (as we called it then), the University church in Abilene, the Alto Alberdi church in Córdoba, and the church in Stockdale, Texas. Each of them has contributed to making me who I am.

A few years ago, I wrote an article for Chris Gallagher’s blog. I posted it here, but it seems appropriate to post these thoughts again:

I love the church in her ideal state:

  • The unblemished, purified Bride of Christ, waiting to meet her Bridegroom
  • The new Jerusalem, descending from heaven as God’s dwelling in the midst of His people
  • The body of Christ, growing up into the very image of the One who bought her with His blood
  • The earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of God

I love the church in her flawed reality:

  • The congregation whose off-key singing makes a strong argument for instrumental music
  • The brothers who check off the five acts of worship on their scoresheet each week
  • The new Christian who discovers that word he’s always used isn’t as appropriate as he thought it was
  • The free spirits who launch into anything and everything without considering the ramifications

I love the church at her very best:

  • People opening their homes to strangers because they share the same Savior
  • Christians giving sacrificially so that others may learn about Jesus
  • Widows and teenagers and bank presidents dressing up as biblical characters to entertain and teach at Vacation Bible School
  • Believers gathering to praise and worship God even though that very thing could land them in jail

I love the church at her absolute worst:

  • Members fighting over personal issues, masking them behind alleged doctrinal differences
  • Christians falling into the very same sins that plague the people around them
  • Leaders giving into the human temptations of power and position, lording their authority over those around them
  • Longtime churchgoers who continue to feed on spiritual baby food, whining and crying when they don’t get their way

I love the church in the world today:

  • The family of God, loving one another as children of the same Father
  • Strangers and aliens, pilgriming together to the Promised Land on the other side of Jordan
  • Royal priests, heavenly ambassadors, holding out the Word of God to an unbelieving humanity
  • Faithful witnesses, enduring ridicule and shame for the sake of the Name

I love the church in all her manifestations, in all her glory and all her failings, because all of those things represent who I am as a Christian. I am a sinner, and I am forgiven. I am flawed, and I am perfection waiting to happen. I am human, and I am supernatural, a holy temple of God.

I am the church. My place in the Kingdom of God is an inseparable part of who I am. When I criticize her, I am really criticizing me, for her flaws are merely a reflection of the human condition of which she is made. When I praise her, I am praising my God, for her goodness is only a reflection of His.

I love the church. As it has been. As it is. As it someday will be.

*****

I am thankful for my church heritage.

What do we do with Christmas?

I grew up in a Church of Christ. But it wasn’t one of those churches of Christ. That is, it wasn’t until I got to college that I came to hear a lot of the traditional CofC arguments. Like opposition to Christmas. I mean, I had heard some rumblings, but I grew up in a house that celebrated Christmas. My mom was a music teacher, my music teacher at school, and we sang Christmas songs and had a Christmas concert every year. At home, we put up a Christmas tree, Christmas lights, the whole works. There was even a tiny little nativity scene.

When I got to college, I learned that the churches of Christ cover a broad spectrum. And that some of the people along that spectrum opposed every mention of Christmas, every hint of a celebration of that pagan holiday. While I didn’t come to embrace their views, I did learn why they felt as they did.

One of my best friends at ACU was from the Assembly of God, and she liked to kid me about some typical beliefs of my fellowship. Once I was helping her move and was unpacking a large nativity scene. “For those of us who celebrate the Lord’s birthday,” she said with a laugh. “Tell me when it is, and I might celebrate it,” I shot back.

So I found myself in the middle: not ready to condemn Christmas as thoroughly pagan, not ready to embrace it as “the Lord’s birthday.” And to this day, I walk through a winter no man’s land, not ready to join either camp.

I want to discuss this a bit more, but I’d like to hear your thoughts. What do we do with Christmas?

When mistruths go viral…

featherThe story was making the rounds of the Internet. Probably still is. One of the latest versions carried the subject line “MUSLIMS ATTACK CHURCH OF CHRIST IN LUBBOCK.” That’s the kind of story that will get people’s attention. Images of robed Middle Easterners bursting into a church building in the heart of the Bible Belt. Religious persecution. A hint of what is sure to come with all that is going on in the U.S. today.

There were three minor problems with the account of this incident:

  1. The attack didn’t happen in Lubbock.
  2. It wasn’t a church of Christ that was attacked.
  3. The attackers weren’t Muslim.

What actually happened was three convicts decided to disrupt a church service in a prison. It wasn’t a religious act, nor a political one. It was the act of a few prison malcontents; hardly an unusual happening. It scared some of the Christians and they jumped to conclusions about those that interfered with the assembly.

There is an e-mail going around written by Wayne Horton with an accurate account of what happened. It reads, in part:

I got this email last week. The prison about which they speak is the Price Daniel Unit in Snyder. I was there in the late 90s as their Chaplain. I am the one who recruited the men who go there form Greenlawn. They are good men. But they made a mistake.  The guys who did that were NOT MUSLIM. They were three guys from medium custody and they just came to cause trouble.  It frightened the Green Lawn guys  because they’d never seen that behavior before.
The Greenlawn elder who wrote the email has apologized to the prison officials and the Muslim prison community. I repeat these guys were not Muslims.
There is so much fear among Christians of the Muslims, this is not going to help. Please contact everyone you’ve sent this to and tell them the truth. Call Greenlawn and speak to Jack Cummings. He will tell you it was NOT muslims.
A Volunteer is the safest person on a prison compound. This was just a bad-acting medium custody trouble-maker. Every other inmate in that Chapel would have protected Jack and the other volunteers.
Now, in case anybody wants to accuse me of trying to protect Muslims, I’m not.  I believe – same as you – that it is by the name of Jesus ONLY that men are saved and no muslim has trusted Jesus so no Muslim is saved.
We just don’t need any more animosity between us.  We need to be able to talk and study honestly with them.

My guess is that it won’t be passed around nearly as much as the inaccurate story. People rarely put the same effort into spreading the truth as they do in spreading mistruth.

So here’s my suggestion. If you received this story or if you receive it in the next few days, contact the person who sent it and ask them if they’ve read the corrected version. If not, share it with them and ask them to send it to whomever sent them the misleading one. And ask them to send the correction to everyone they sent the false story to.

I don’t have any illusions of actually stopping this story. It will probably show up in sermons and blogs for years to come. But maybe, just maybe, we can remind people to be responsible with what they forward. If you discover its not true, I think you have a moral obligation to send out a retraction/correction. As Christians, we need to stand for truth.

First steps toward becoming a bilingual congregation

plansSo how would a non-Hispanic church move toward becoming bilingual? Some would argue that the first step is to hire someone from Latin America, set aside an unused room in the building and let them go to work. I’m not convinced.

The first step, I think, is for the congregation to make a conscious decision that they are willing to do what it takes to mix different languages and cultures. Some congregations, to be honest, aren’t willing to make that sacrifice. I think that many, however, are willing to do some things now to prepare for the future.

Next, the members need to become more aware of their Hispanic neighbors. Meet them, look for opportunities to form relationships, become aware of the make up of the Hispanic community where they live. Are they mainly immigrants? Is there a large concentration from a certain country? (We used to be able to assume they were mainly Mexicans here in Texas; that’s not always true today) Are you dealing with a Hispanic community mainly composed of long-term residents or have most of them moved to your area recently?

These questions help the congregation know if the outreach will be done primarily in English or in Spanish, if the community needs ESL classes and GED classes and citizenship courses, etc. It will also help, when it comes time to find someone to lead the outreach, determine the profile of the person you need. Bringing a preacher from Nicaragua may not be the best choice for a community made up of long-time U.S. residents. A Spaniard may not be the best for reaching a Puerto Rican community. Those sorts of things need to be considered.

Next week I’ll talk some about some of the decisions I think a congregation needs to make when moving toward being a multi-language, multi-culture body. For now, I’d like to hear some of your thoughts.

What’s in a (church) name?

made_at_wwwtxt2piccomThose of you on Facebook may have noticed a new quiz going around: “How Church of Christ Are You?” Written tongue in cheek, it got me to thinking about the name we use on the sign in front of our buildings. That led me, of all places, to the Bible. I compiled a short list of descriptions and/or names of the church in the New Testament. There are others, like body of Christ, bride of Christ, etc. But here’s some that sound like church names:

Church of God (Acts 20:28; 1Cor 1:2; 10:32; 11:16, 22; 15:9; 2Cor 1:1; Gal 1:13; 1Th 2:14; 2Th 1:4)
Church of the living God (1Tim 3:15)
Church of the firstborn (Heb 12:23)
Churches of God (1Cor 11:16)
Churches of Christ (Rom 16:16)
Churches of the saints (1Cor 14:33)

Those, of course, are descriptions, not names. The only term I could think of that is used as a name is:

The Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22)

Can you think of others to add to my list?