Monday, December 25, 2006

ecclesiological musing

first off, i would like to wish everyone a merry christmas and a happy
festivus for the rest of us.

for the past five days i've been visiting family and friends throughout oklahoma* and texas. by and large, my trip has been excellent. i've spent a good deal of time with family, found a long out-of-print baseball novel by mark winegardner and have reconnected with a number of old friends.**

it was one of the latter connections*** that sparked a suspicion that has been burning within me ever since. here's what happened: late last week i had a 'bucks breakfast with a friend that had recently left his position at a mega-church in a distant state for a number of reasons (principle among which was to honor his mother and father and, perhaps, find respite from the non-stop intensity of congregational church ministry). throughout our conversation, my friend spoke about his transition as "leaving the ministry." this term did not sit right with me from the outset since, as i reminded my friend, "any life of discipleship is a commitment to serve or minister to others. there's no getting around this commitment we made." my friend readily agreed with my assertion, yet throughout the conversation he continued to fall back into the pattern of speaking of his transition as though it was a disassociation from his calling. so that was the experience which sparked my suspicions.

the second experience took place last night at a beautiful christmas eve service here in amarillo. in the midst of a beautiful sermon concerning the rupture of the incarnation the preacher noted that the world is not any less dark or filled with war than it was at the time of the Savior's birth. however, he opined, "we know that Jesus did not come to put an end to war, but to save individual hearts and souls from sin." now, i realize that Jesus himself told us that we would hear of "wars and rumours of wars" until the time eternal breaks into the present time. moreover, i know he pleaded with communities full of broken individuals who were "weary and burdened" to come to Him and find rest. however, i do not think that the redemption that Jesus offers communities and the individuals involved in those communities is merely a bloody solution for individual sin. rather, i think that Jesus has redeemed communities of disciples so that we can rage against the darkness of war, poverty and oppression. one only need think of the Christ-infused, non-violent war that martin luther king lead against american apartheid or the, perhaps Christ-inspired, salt campaign that ghandi led against the british, to realize that such revolutions are possible.

anyway, this is a long winded way of saying that i suspect that evangelicalism throughout the south is laboring under an incipient gnosticism that is threatening to dull the reconciling and revolutionary power of the gospel.**** i fear that if we who are followers of Christ fail to work for, incite and experience reconciliation with one another and the re-creation of our communities now, we will never be able to fully enter into the impending fullness of the Kingdom of God that southern churches constantly proclaim.

so that's what i'm thinking about on the day we celebrate the long-awaited incarnation of Jesus Christ. i'd love to hear your response to and reflections upon these assertions.*****

* did you know that next year oklahoma is going to celebrate its centennial? i'm sure that will inspire raucous celebrations throughout the five indian nations that once called oklahoma their own. as i've noted before, in order to take the land oklahoma sits on away from a people group you have to be really intent on screwing them.
** including,
this guy, whom i met for lunch at the mcdonald's over the highway in vinita, ok. glamorous.
*** not for this guy that i mentioned above, but that other guy i see from time to time.
**** for the record, i know that i am not the only one to make such observations about the south, but i've never seen the docetic (i.e., the dualistic form of gnosticism that seeks to completely bifurcate the spiritual truth from the fleshly reality) influence as clearly as i have on this trip. moreover, just to let you know that i'm not simply bashing upon my homeland, i'll freely admit that their are other historic christian heresies such as arianism that seem to blight the region i currently call home.
***** please note that they are, in fact, assertions about what i have observed in this particular place during this particular time. they are not in any way intended as accusations concerning a region and churches that i dearly love.


Anonymous said...

Gnosticism? Gee that's a term which came my direction. I was accused of being Gnostic because I thought we might have a better way of reaching Neo-Pagans, and this was treated as some "secret." So, in what way do you mean "incipient gnosticism?" Are you talking about the view of human flesh, and natural things being so evil as to not be redeemable, and therefore we let them languish in their corruption only being concerned for the redemption of the "soul?"

If that is your assertion of Gnosticism in evangelicalism, I find myself saying yes, I do agree, and I see it too.

g13 said...

by incipient gnosticism, i meant that the flesh/spirit bi-furcations that seem to lie at the heart of gnosticism are often evident within much of southern evangelicalism.

from my perspective, the pastor's comment that "Jesus did not come to end wars, but to save individual hearts and souls from sin," provided adequate evidence of my assertion.

i probably shouldn't be talking about gnosticism at all, since my knowledge of it is so cursory. instead of accusing others of inadequate theology i should probably be working on conceiving and incarnating a more holistic and embodied expression of the christian faith. as a side note, i think that the impetus for a more holistic theology and mission is one of the emergent conversations greatest contributions to evangelicalism and the church at large.

i would also like to add that the accusation that you mentioned was absolute bullshit. of course, it was brought by a "bishop" who had a hard time distinguishing statements of theology from approaches to missiology, so we probably should not be surprised.