Saturday, May 23, 2015

Church -- the invisible in the visible.

You might say that Pentecost was an event. Something happened that caught the attention of the people in Jerusalem (Acts 2).  The Spirit opened the doors and the windows and got things going.  And here we are, today, centuries later, wondering what actually the church is.  Is it people or a building, a community or an institution?

I've been reading a book entitled Karl Barth's Christological Ecclesiology(Cascade, 2013).  It's a scholarly work that helps us understand the development of Barth's understanding of the church. As I was reading I encountered a chapter entitled "The Origin of the Church as the Fellowship of the Spirit." Those who have read Barth know that his is a dialectical theology, in which he seeks balance between two seemingly opposite points. Thus, for Barth the church is both visible and invisible. In exploring this dialectic, Barth avers that church is event. As Kimlyn Bender, author of this book suggests, for Barth "the real church is not to be sought apart from, nor even behind, its historical manifestation, but only within its historical form. Only by looking at what is seen, the visible church even in the midst of its imperfection and sin, do we perceive (by faith!) that which cannot be seen, the invisible power of the church" (p. 171).  I quote here from Bender, who summarizes Barth, because there is the belief held by many that the only church we need to engage is that which is invisible. But, according to Bender we cannot engage that church without engaging the historical manifestation. Choosing one pole over the other leads either to the heresy of docetism or that of the Ebionites.

The church may be a human institution on one level, but it is also a church that is created and empowered by the Spirit.  Here's a quote from Barth:

It is clear however, that to see and understand that which is effected by God, the Church, in its true reality, we have not to lose sight even momentarily or incidentally of the occurrence of the divine operation, and therefore concretely of the divine work of upbuilding the community by Jesus Christ. The Church is, of course, a human, earthly-historical construct, whose history involves from the very first, and always well involve, human action. But it is this human construct, the christian Church, because and as God is at work in it by His Holy Spirit. [CD IV.2, 617, quoted in Bender, note 18, p. 172].

So, as we celebrate Pentecost let us remember that the Spirit has come to empower a church to bear witness to the Gospel.  It will do so in visible form, even if the Spirit is not always visible!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Children and Gifts - Excerpt from Unfettered Spirit

Note:  With Pentecost on the horizon, and in light of a conversation with Bruce Epperly earlier this week focusing on the Spirit and Ministry, I wanted to share a few paragraphs from a section of my book dealing with children and gifts. 


When the disciples sought to push the children away, Jesus asked that they be brought to him. To such persons as these, belonged the kingdom of God (Mk 10:13-16; Mt. 19:13-15; Lk. 18:15-17). Children are often spoken of as the future of the church, but they’re more than the future, they’re gifted members of the body whose place in the body needs to be recognized.

Congregations have a responsibility to provide spiritual nurture and care to children, and to pass on to them the traditions of the faith. Churches, whatever the form and timing of their baptismal practices, face the issue of when a child truly becomes a member of the community in their own right and not simply as an extension of their family. Is it at Baptism or Confirmation (depending on tradition)? If so, then children in believer baptism communities find themselves in a different situation than those in infant-baptism communities.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pentecost and Ministry - A Conversation

Pentecost is at hand. Jesus has ascended (Acts 1) and the people of God are waiting to know what comes next. Are we open to what God is about to do? If the Spirit is unfettered and the story of Acts is transforming, what does that mean for us today. Could we be entering a New Great Awakening as Diana Butler Bass (Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening) suggests? These are the kinds of questions that Bruce Epperly and I talked about in an Energion Google Hangout.  Bruce and I speak specifically to our more liberal and progressive Christian compatriots who struggle with the idea of the Spirit and spiritual experience.

Our conversation centers on two books that deal with these issues.  The first is Bruce's book Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel and my book Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening, both of which come from Energion Publications.  So, as we move toward the coming of the Spirit, may this conversation prove to be a blessing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Rightist Critics of Pope Francis -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Pope Francis and I don't see eye to eye on everything, but overall I'm a fan. He has given attention to poverty, climate change, violence and war. He is truly pro-life in the broadest sense of the word.  He does have his detractors, both within and without the Roman Catholic Church.  His fiercest critics might be right wing Catholics who dislike his political and economic positions. They disdain his outreach to persons like Gustavo Gutierrez and many on the right want him to "stay out of politics." He's been accused by politicians of not knowing his Bible, because most assuredly Jesus didn't tell us to help the poor. Well, enough of my introduction. Martin Marty takes a look at the Rightist critique and what it means for the church.  Take a read, won't you? 

Rightist Critics of Pope Francis 
By MARTIN E. MARTY   MAY 18, 2015
Cliff Kincaid, Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism       Screenshot: YouTube video
NOTESightings has a new comment policy. When you email a comment to, if you would like it to be added to the article archived on the Marty Center's website, please provide your full name in the body of the email and indicate in the subject line: POST COMMENT TO [title of Sightings piece].

Pope Francis enjoys universal acclaim. Almost.

While the pontiff is building bridges to Communists in Cuba, nuns who had been under suspicion, Muslims, Jews, Protestants and even people outside the faith, two dissenting groups stand out: Catholics on the Left, in whose eyes he is not moving fast enough with respect to church laws, policies, and theology to effect the changes which they regard as urgent, and Catholics on the Right, who are displeased by almost everything this pope says and does.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Passing the Baton - Lectionary reflection for Pentecost Sunday (Year B)

John15:26-27; 16:4b-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

 15:26 “When the Advocate[a] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.  
            16:4b  “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate[a] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about[b] sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.  
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

                In a relay race, each member of the team has a purpose. The goal is, of course, to win the race, and winning requires team work. While it’s important to have fast runners, it’s also important that the four runners have the ability to pass the baton effectively from one to the next. If the baton is dropped or the runners aren’t in sync requiring the next runner to delay or slow their motion so as to get the baton passed, then it’s likely the race will be lost. Since most races are decided by a few hundredths of a second there is no room for error.