Saturday, 7 February 2015

Who forms whom?

and don't think
Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting.

I am concerned for the church, and I don't think I am the only one. In part my concern is based on my basic assumption about the purpose or task of the church. Let me restate my understanding once more.

The churches task as the people of God is to provide access to truth and so opportunities for the worship and praise of God and the education and forming of His people for the life of caring for each other and others in response to God's love. I see these two task in light of the two commandments -- to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to become the kind of people who will love people as ourselves.

These tasks were properly more easily undertaken in the past when many elements in the structure of our social structure and culture were formed and informed by the teaching of the church. In the time of the reformation, certainly shortly thereafter, much of the best music and art was inspired by the Christian faith and found its way in the homes and schools who were supported by Christian principles. The Christian ethos went out from the church and permeated society. But that is no longer the case. There are profound changes that have shaken the Church as our culture has moved away from its Judeo-Christian foundation.

We no longer can view the changes of the social fabric that surrounds us as harmless or neutral. Culture has the power to rearrange our values and lives, even when they are mediated to us through the benefits that the modern world bestows on us. The Charter of Rights is a case in point. While the Charter has greatly enhanced many of our relationships and spread its larges across Canada, it also has brought with it an almost inevitable naturalism and an ethic that equates humans as the source of truth. The Charter nor technology per se does not assault the gospel, but I see a correlation with what can be said of "human rights" apart from God. Something that can also be said of many others facets of culture that are similar laden with values. Certainly, we need to acknowledge that Church even at its best has to grow and to learn, has to push on, but loosing faith's theological core has lead to less fidelity of our faith. Perhaps we have to go so far to say that among us there is less interest for truth as truth seams to divide us. David F. Wells suggest that there is "less seriousness, less depth, and less capacity to speak the Word of God to our own generation in a way that offers an alternative to what it already thinks." The world has stop listening, in part we were not listening to them, their fears and concerns, yet we are listening to them in an even more profound way. We can see that among us of faith, who have been "emptied of their metaphysical substance" and are more "attuned to experience and to appearances, not to thought and character." In a time in which "feeling is believing." rather than "thinking is believing," we often don't ask enough hard questions or the right kind of questions about the foundation of what we are doing as denomination, as church or as individual.
We need to put back together what we have in isolation from each other

What also concerns me is whether our local leadership or denominational leaders have thought thoroughly enough about the worship of the church and culture to be different enough in contemporary society to make a difference. But the same is true with us as parents, for all of us, including our children, are more influenced by the shifts of thinking within the fabric of our society as we like to admit.  One hope, however, I have, the promise of Christ that he will built his church.

The Scripture, the history of the Church, training, my own experiences and faith convinced me that the vitality and faithfulness of our personal and cooperative Christian life and our effectiveness as witness to the world around us depends on the character that is forming in us. What do we have to do to best reach out to this society without watering it down that essential character building, called discipleship?

My major concern for the church has to do with our disengagement with school and society. On one hand we have organizations that engages the government with concerns of law and ethics, but at the same time I noticed an intellectual disengagement of churches with what goes on around them and how that may influence them. Changes in the school system and curriculum to name the most subtle but pervasive challenge for the church in their task of faith formation in the children. Part of the problem is that parents have disengaged themselves intellectually and are more concerns with behaviour and good grades at school than faith. Parents spent hours and thousands of dollars for children to attend sport events and have little time to reflect. Our society has become addicted to the sensory over-stimulation be it through TV or life events to a degree that many do not find time or even enjoyment in reading a book that forces us to think. That affects our worship in all its forms, and here I am not talking simply about Sunday morning. But worships character forming effect is so subtle and barely noticed, and although congregational worship creates a great impact on the hearts and minds and lives of the individual member, it is not enough. Faith formation is happening daily. In one way or the other, we are disciples of someone or something. Indeed, that we worship together both reveals and forms our identity as interdependent persons and should identify us as body of Christ, confirming to society what we worship individually.

For Jesus, spiritual formation and aka discipleship was not a program or a Bible study course, it was first and foremost a relationship between him and his followers. But not just a casual relationship, but the closest relationship possible with all its consequences. One of which is the challenge to our loyalties. When Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were looking for him, he used that encounter to teach an important truth about discipleship – that it is to be relational, like a family.
He replied to him,  “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)

Some suggest even that these discipleship relationships were to replace blood family, but certainly they were to function with the same level of love, respect, trust and commitment but also with a character of love not found elsewhere.
What we as parents, pastors, elders need to realize that the dumbing down of morals, ethics even thinking within our society has not necessarily stopped at the door of the church and that it forces the Church to ask critical questions about its life and worship. What about our ministries to people in a world that rejects ultimate truth, our ability to remain faithful witness in post-Christendom times. In what do we, too, lack the foundation and focus necessary for forming the intellect and faith of our children and ourselves?

What I have noticed is that worship services are shorter today than ever, some pieces of music from the front, a well presented short reflection, perhaps a prayer one more song. They are tailored to the audience and the preferences of the leadership. It seams to me that even our faith formation has been disrupted by our schedule, short attention span, lack of concentration, personal preferences and we seek rather instant sensory gratification than simplicity.

So the question is, what resources does the Christian faith provide for renewing and sustaining churches in a culture that is foreign to the gospel and yet we need to reach out beyond ourselves to persons of that culture?

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