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Monthly Archives: October 2008

Some cities are known God’s work within them.  For example, Azusa Street in Los Angeles was the geographical center of the birth of Pentecostalism.  For another example, read this article about the number of notable churches in Minneapolis, MN.  I’ve wanted to visit Minneapolis to explore the churches there for a while, especially Solomon’s Porch, Woodland Hills Community Church, and (though the article overlooks it) Church of All Nations, pastored by Jin Kim.  In the article above, the director of one ministry says Minneapolis has gone through a “quiet revival”, with a thousand new churches in the city in the past twelve years.  God is up to something there.

And God’s up to something here.  Last Saturday, at The Upper Room’s first prayer service, one person recalled that for years people have said that Pittsburgh would one day be known “more for God than for steel.”  And, there’s been a boom of church planting:  Open Door, Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community, a Vietnamese congregation, and our newly born Upper Room.  And that’s only the Presbyterian churches!   Among the Methodists, there’s Eighth Ave. Place in Homestead, pastored by my friend Keith.   A few months ago I found out about plans for two more new churches in Pittsburgh: East End Ecclesia and another called Lifestone and yet another targeting Millvale

There are a couple ways to look at what’s happening:  (1) Everyone’s jumping on a church-planting bandwagon and jumping into competition; or  (2) the Holy Spirit is stirring up something new in Pittsburgh and we can all work together in the work of expanding the Kingdom of God.  I prefer option 2.  What if Pittsburgh is going to be the site of another quiet (or not-so-quiet) revival?  If Minneapolis can handle a thousand new churches in twelve years, then there’s still lots of room for new communities of Christians to spring up in Pittsburgh.  What if in a few years people will be writing articles about the city once known for steel but now known for its transformation into a city of disciples of Jesus? 

If you want to join us at The Upper Room’s next prayer service – and come pray for God to move in Pittsburgh – come join us at 2:00 pm on November 15th at Pittsburgh Mennonite Church (4005 Murray Ave.).  I’m excited to see what the Spirit’s going to do in the future of Pittsburgh . . .

As a part of Blog Action Day, I wanted to put up a quick post about poverty. A good number of the posts going up in support of Blog Action Day right now are related to the economy and bailout bill.  As a pastor, I’ll admit that I have little training in economics.   So, I’ll offer a perspective based on stewardship.  All possessions we have are gifts from God which we are called to use not for our own purposes but for God’s.  That’s why a Christian can’t stand idly by while the wealthy and privileged misuse the gifts with which they’ve been entrusted, rather than using them to care for those who are in need.  Instead, Christians are called to be in fellowship with the poor and to deliberately embrace simplicity so that they can participate in God’s mission – and this means that we proclaim a message diametrically opposed to the greed and economic exploitation of the reigning economy.

In today’s daily lectionary, the Gospel passage is from Luke 9, where Jesus sends out the Twelve on their first “mission trip”.  In verse 3 Jesus “told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.'”  He sends them out dependent, stripped of their own strength and resources, and in solidarity with the poor.  We may not like it, but apostolic poverty was a part of the original missionary commission.  Paul certainly embraced it.  On Sunday, I preached at Beechview Presbyterian Church about Paul’s own imitation of Christ in his willingness to suffer. To listen to the full sermon on 1 Corinthians 4:9-16, click here to download an mp3.

This is not to say that all Christians are called to sell all their possessions (though some may be!).  But it is to say that as Christians we are called to embrace simplicity and that such simplicity can actually empower mission.  And the first place that mission would be empowered by such a persepctive is here at home:  As we seek to fight poverty in our cities, how many more resources could be made available by the practice of simplicity?  How would Christians respond to (or be affected by) the current economic crisis if we believed in stewardship and simplicity?  Would we be able to speak with a more credible voice to the rest of the world if we were faithful stewards of our finances? How much more bold could we be in taking risks for the Kingdom, confident that God will provide however much is needed?   The laborers are worthy of their wages (Luke 10:7), though those wages may be only our daily bread (Luke 10:8).

This post is a part of Blog Action Day

After The Upper Room’s gathering this past Thursday, a few of us sat around talking theology.  Soon the topic turned to the question of who make take communion in our worship gatherings.  One person pointed out that she didn’t like the requirement in the Book of Order that only those who have been baptized can come to the table (W-2.4011).  Another person countered that one should not receive the nourishment of the community (Lord’s Supper) without having properly entered the community (Baptism).  Thus the conversation began to feel like the proverbial question about the chicken and the egg: which comes first? 

I think it is a good question, and here are the several reasons why: 

(1) In a post-Christendom context, few people understand the meaning of baptism.  The unchurched and dechurched have no understanding of the theological logic behind the Book of Order’s requirement, and thus are more likely to be offended by it than curious: What do you mean I’m not welcome to eat that bread?  To such a question we then have to choose how we respond:  No, you’re not welcome – get out.  OR  Well, let me first explain why baptism is important . . .  I think we need to answer by explaining baptism, and we need to learn how to do this well.

(2) Our logic about this, as Presbyterians at least, is inconsistent.    We baptize infants as a sign of God’s unconditional prevenient grace, but don’t think that same prevenient grace can apply to The Lord’s Supper.  In a good number of cases, we are not faithful in calling these baptized infants to confirmation as they grow older.  So we end up with a whole bunch of baptized unbelievers.  They meet our Book of Order’s requirement to take communion, but haven’t consciously chosen to follow Jesus.  On the flip side, because people come to faith more often through para-church ministries, or youth groups, or personal evangelism, than through worship services in institutional churches, we end up with a bunch of people who are unbaptized believers.  They have the faith to come to the table, but don’t meet the requirement.  Interestingly, while reading Moltmann again today, I realized that his logic is also inconsistent, but in a reversal of the Presbyterian illogic.  For Moltmann infant baptism cannot be justified theologically (Church in the Power of the Spiritp. 239, see 236-242), but the invitation to the Lord’s Supper should be “an invitation which is as open as the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross” because “it is the Lord’s supper, not something organized by a church or denomination” (pages 246 and 244).  In that logic, an explicit confession of faith is necessary for baptism, but not for communion.  What would it look like to have a consistent logic about one’s profession of faith and the reception of the sacraments?

(3) In a missionary context, a case can be made for emphasizing adult baptism:  it’s dangerous to risk producing more baptized unbelievers, perpetuating Christendom in a post-Christendom world.  But can the same case be made for restricting communion to those baptized?  If we learn from the early church here, who celebrated communion behind closed doors and locked out those not yet baptized, we might be able to make that case.  They were living in a missionary context.  They knew the love of the open outstretched arms of Christ on the cross.  But they believed the Supper needed to be treated as sacred, a time for those who have been united with Christ in baptism to be nourished by partaking in his body and blood. 

While I sympathize with Moltmann, I don’t think the open table is an appropriate missiological step.  Might raising the bar for our understanding of both baptism and the Lord’s Supper be better?  I think it might create more dedicated disciples, who then practice mission more faithfully, leading to both stronger discipleship and more engaged evangelism.  To do so requires more than the Book of Order, though – it requires that all followers of Jesus become more faithful, educated, and dedicated in their discipleship.

On Thursday night our group began a discussion of the “priesthood of all believers”, and what this means for a new congregation.  In the emerging church movement, there’s a general reaction against hierarchy in the church.  Doug Pagitt has called the priesthood of all believers the “unfunded mandate of the Reformation.”  Similarly, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch write, “From Pentecostals to the Orthodox Church, from Baptists to Episcopalians and Presbyterians, the hierarchical model seems to be universal.  For how much longer can the church ignore Paul’s radical dissolution of the traditional distinctions between priests and laity, between officials and ordinary members, between holy men and common people?”[1] 

 

Frost and Hirsch have shaped much of my view of mission and ministry, but Thursday’s discussion pointed out that they may be weak on this question. For one, Paul didn’t dismiss leadership or authority in the early church.  What if instead of idealizing Acts 2:42-47, we instead took a look at how the leaders and elders of a maturing church handles real problems at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15?  Notice a few things: (1) Paul goes to the elders (v. 2) to mediate the argument about the inclusion of Gentiles. In doing so, he acknowledges the authority the elders have. (2) The elders listen to the testimony of those who are not elders (v. 12) before making their decision.  (3) James and Peter speak with special authority as leaders among the elders (v.7 and v. 13).  (4) But the final decision is made by all together – “the apostles and the elders, with the whole church” (v. 22), under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (v.28).  There’s neither a top-down nor bottom-up view of hierarchy here.  Instead we find picture of church governance in which recognizes the authority of elders, but also requires that in making decisions those elders be attentive what the Spirit is doing in and through the lives those who are not in similar positions of leadership in the Church. 

 

So, how do we embrace a more balanced view of leadership in church, neither completely top-down, nor completely flat? The more important thing for us to think about with regard to the “priesthood of all believers” is not a question of who exercises authority within the church, but how all believers participate in the work of the Kingdom of God.  All of us, whether pastors or elders or church-members, are called to be first and foremost disciples.  As Matt pointed out to the group, Hebrews 9 is the root of the priesthood of all believers.  There the picture is given of Christ consecrating the altar in the heavenly temple (v.11-14) so that we as his followers can offer up sacrifices to God of our whole lives placed on that altar.  Every part of our life is dedicated to God as a living sacrifice.  This means that as we grow in discipleship, we offer up the whole of our lives for the kingdom.  Our jobs, our lives at home and with family, our shopping, our recreation  – every aspect of life is turned over to God to be done according to his will and for the sake of his Kingdom.  Our responsibility as “priests” is to participate in that action of turning over every aspect of life to Christ.  And this inevitably leads to our calling as missionaries, which flows directly out of our discipleship.  If we turn over every aspect of life to God as a living sacrifice, we find ourselves participating in God’s mission of redeeming the world in surprising ways: making conscious choices to protect the environment as stewards of God’s creation, bearing witness to Christ in the friendships and relationships we build, blowing whistles on unjust business practices where we work, interceding in prayer for our enemies as well as those we love, supporting business that pay their employees a fair wage rather than using sweat-shop labor, giving to the poor rather than turning a blind-eye, etc.   

 

As a “royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” let us never lose sight of the reason that all disciples of Christ are a part of that priesthood: “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

 

[1] The Shaping of Things to Come (Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson  2003) p. 21