Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Brian McLaren

The Self-Policing Church

I don’t know why it continues to amaze me, but it does: God is concerned with purity. He hates sin and will not tolerate the arrogance and abomination of sinners in his assembly. Of course, this makes sense, given that he himself is “holy, holy, holy“; altogether separate, pure, and entirely other from us.

As I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy again the past few days it has hit me that over and over again God demands purity in his people because he is pure. But more than that, he demands that his people maintain a standard of purity and holiness as well, because of their relation to him who is pure! They are to be a people holy, even as he is holy, because they are to be a nation of priests: witnesses of him to the world.

The repetition of this theme throughout Deuteronomy (the Mosaic “farewell discourse” as the people of God prepare to enter the promised land) is astounding. What is even more astounding is that they are to “police” themselves! See here for some examples.

So that was then, what about now? If this was how the people of the OT were to handle sin and impurity, what about the people of the NT? Afterall, the OT is “copies” and “shadows” of the real things. The Church, in the NT is the true “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for (God’s) own possession” (1 Peter 2.9).

This idea of being a people and nation for God in the NT–just as in the OT–is used to exhort God’s people to increased purity and holiness of life! That’s why Peter continues: “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul…”

This is more than an individualistic call to a righteous life. It’s a call to consider the fact that we are a people who are to represent God collectively, as a nation! When our members begin to make mockery of the God we are to glorify by the way that they live, we are to purge the guilt of that sin from our midst.

Obviously that was easier to do, theoretically, when they people of God were a physical nation, but it is no less important now. For the church to be effective in glorifying the God of holiness by remaining pure, she must be “self-policing.”

Where it seems many in our day have trouble with this is this notion that the Christian “ought never judge.” The problem here is mistaking a concern for the glory of God’s name in the purity of his people with a self-righteous pride. The solution, it would seem, is for Christians concerned with the glory of Christ and the purity of his bride to remain humble “gate-keepers” and for all Christians to be open to loving correction.

In a culture that says no-one is allowed to correct anyone, this would be light and salt indeed.

And in a western-world where it seems that much of Christendom has nothing else to do, other than to re-discover old heresies abandoned in the purification of the church in days of persecution in the past, this means we must police our own doctrine as well. It would be absurd to think that God is this concerned with his glory in the way that we live, because it represents him, but that he won’t care if we teach (or “discuss” or “humbly question”) the wrong things about him.

A father is embarassed when his boys misbehave at school. He’s also embarassed when they describe him to their teacher as a guy who “looks just like us… only more girly.”

Glorifying God as his chosen, holy nation, means acting like him and describing him as accurately as possible in all circumstances. To this end, the church must be “self-policing,” watching our life and doctrine closely.

A Tale of Two Churches — Part 1

Rielly’s comments to my last outbreak of praise of Christ’s church got me to thinking. Do I love the ‘C’hurch or the ‘c’hurch? Which is it that holds my affections? As I’ve reflected on the reasons why so many people seem so eager to ‘re-invent’ church these days, I’ve discovered that I have much in common with them.

My first exposure to church was through my childhood. Raised in a ‘Sunday school’ generation, I spent years hearing stories of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Samson, Gideon, et al. Typically these stories were truncated, leaving out the real point of the story. To think… it wasn’t until I got to Bible College that I realized that David and Goliath really wasn’t about David and Goliath!

The church I grew up in was ineffective in reaching its surrounding area. It was made up of older people who had known each other a long time. They liked to sing the good old hymns, keep up with whose kids are getting married, and whose arthritis is kicking up this week. The preacher had to make sure the service was done by 12 noon, even if it started late, and there’d be trouble if he wasn’t.

I can remember, the only two times excitement I saw out of anyone there was when they made it legal for stores to open on Sunday (how could a ‘Christian nation’ turn its back on the ‘Sabbath ‘like that?) and when I played with the lights in the hallway one time (this wasted electricity, I quickly learned).

A dear old man I know spent years in the church serving in any number of roles of leadership and in various capacities on countless committees. He’s not even a believer. You think anyone ever took the time to ask him about his soul? Why would anyone expect any spiritual life out of a church that willingly and carelessly puts unregenerate people in roles of leadership?

Well, that same old man now has cancer and is facing death. He’s terribly afraid of it, and he’s in denial that it will ever even happen to him. He outright rejects the faith. But he still goes to that church and week after week people still say hi, ask how the chemo’s going, and what about his grandkids. Like that’s important.

That’s the ‘church’ I grew up with. If I had never left that church, I never would have heard the gospel. Funny how that works. I hold that pastor and that church responsible for the blood of countless souls who have come faithfully, week after week after week, never hearing the gospel, and never having anyone inquire into the state of their soul.

If anyone has reason to ‘go emergent’ and bash the church, it’s me. But I won’t. I love Christ’s church. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that church can be done so as to violently oppose the cause of Christ’s kingdom, or it can work to vigorously advance the cause of Christ’s kingdom. Simply put, ‘church’ has to be redeemed.

But that is for part two.

Frame’s Generous Orthodoxy

There is considerable overlap between McLaren’s concerns and mine. I too would like to see less doctrinal wrangling in the church and more love. Like McLaren, I think it’s important to learn from traditions other than our own (43-67) and in controversy to be both more winsome to those who disagree with us and harder on ourselves. I like McLaren’s way of putting it, that in theological dialogue we have the unfortunate tendency to compare our opponents’ worst with our best (136, 140). And I have argued, like McLaren (105-114), for a missional concept of the church…

So begins John Frame’s review of Brian McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy. You can read the rest of it here.

Misunderstanding McLaren (or, Conversing About the Journey of a Man and the Interpretation of That Journey)

Justin Taylor did this better back in July. I recommend reading that post over mine.

That being said, I couldn’t help but notice some serious irony the past few days as I’ve been reading. As Taylor noted, it seems that whenever emergent-types are criticized, they respond with (a) “you hurt my feelings,” and / or (b) “you don’t understand us.”

Brian McLaren is no exception.

The article I read yesterday is a case in point. McLaren has been critiqued over and over again. His response: “You don’t understand us.”

Thus, his solution (at least in part) is the article cited above. In that article he “tells his faith story” so that he will let us all see “the real man,” in hopes that we will be able to contextualize his writing and understand what he is trying to communicate.

The irony of it all is simply this: It’s typically the argument of these pomo post-propositional guys that we should employ a reader-oriented hermeneutic (to Scripture and otherwise).

So… in reality, the message isn’t determined by McLaren as he writes, but by us as we read and interpret. Really, then, he’s misunderstood himself, I suppose, if I think he’s said something he doesn’t think he said. Boy, does that suck. Ah well. He’s fallible anyway (aren’t we all?), so who’s to say with certainty that he knew what he wanted to say in the first place?

I guess now he knows how the biblical authors would feel, were they alive to be subjected to the types of interpretations he and his cronies come up with.

© 2022 Julian Freeman

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑