Martin Luther: What does it mean to have a god?

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People talking today about the 10 commandments often loosely quote* the reformer Martin Luther saying, breaking any of the commandments is always a result of breaking the first – i.e. in other words, idolatry – or trusting in and worshiping someone or something other than the personal God who gave Israel the 10 commandments.

Background to the 10 Commandments

The first time the 10 commandments appear in the Bible is when God gave them to Moses. Israel had just dramatically escaped 400 years of slavery in Egypt. The introduction to the first commandment mentions this, even though it is often left out.

Continue reading “Martin Luther: What does it mean to have a god?”

Tell it to the church

sheepandgoatsMatthew 18:15-20 has a summary of the traditional process referred to by Christians as a method for addressing and disciplining one another when they sin. The method outlined starts with an individual, one on one approach and then as/if/when escalation occurs it moves the discussion into a more public sphere.

Generally it follows the trajectory of:
1. You see a wrong doing and approach the person privately
2. If, after private consultation, the wrong doing continues, you have another consultation, this time with witnesses
3. If, the matter continues after this, a public action takes place

It is a relatively simple approach that combines privacy, sensitivity and common sense. Many commercial managers and community conflict mediators follow a similar method. For instance a company performance management model follows this almost exactly: An employee will receive a warning, then a meeting with HR, then they are dismissed.

The stated intention is not to shame or discriminate against an individual for lack of conformity. Sadly though many managers have used the “three-strikes” approach to justify removal of unwanted employees and even sadder, many Churches have used the approach to excommunicate unsavory parishioners.

However the aim is a restoration. When restoration fails, the result is that the person is released (or dismissed!) from any organization when they, through their actions, show they no longer want to belong or be identified with their company or, in the case of the Christian, their church.

The summary given in Matthew’s gospel isn’t a detailed process and it doesn’t cover every possible aspect or scenario. The context indicates the inevitability of people straying and stumbling (vv.6-14) and the necessity that forgiving each other plays in identifying each other as co-recipients of God’s forgiveness (vv.21-35). But it doesn’t specify the exact detail, timing and process to follow in every single case.

The emphasis (of vv.18-20 in particular and the broader context of vv.6-35) centres more upon the identification and association of people with the “Father in heaven.” The conduct and association of God’s people, the Church, should reflect and represent the “Father” as though he, himself, is endorsing their actions. If something or someone is not reflecting this ethic, they are dissociating themselves with both the people of the Church and the “Father in heaven.”

For this reason there is a heavy burden for the people of the Church in how they relate to each other as representatives of God. Being harsh and unforgiving presents a view that God is spiteful, hateful and intolerant. Being indiscriminately accommodating presents a God that is unjust and lacking integrity. e.g. Consider the racism promoted in some parts of the USA that were or are sponsored by Churches or the involvement of Church organizations in the Stolen Generations of Australia’s past. Or on the other extreme, the Church choosing not to intervene in domestic violence or prosecute child abusers on the grounds of being “forgiving.”

In any of those examples, a Matthew 18 approach is insufficient. There are plenty of other Bible passages (and indeed civil laws!) that make it clear that no tolerance ought to be given to abusers. The Church ought not let Matthew 18 justify inaction when a woman or child is being hurt. (Or many other instances of “sin” that are too often excused in the name of “forgiveness.”)

The Matthew 18 passage doesn’t go into any detail or make any recommendation of how, where or when (precisely) you “tell it to the church”. The overall context of the chapter is public association, identification and reflection of the ethic of God the Father, and indicates, for the sake of transparency and integrity, the Church is told in an open forum. There may, of course, be instances, where for the sake of sensitivity towards a victim, that an announcement be handled tactfully. However, the church ought not be reluctant exposing an offender for the sake of their own corporate embarrassment.

Especially in the case of violence, abuse, harassment, intimidation and bullying where an offender has previously been warned off. Tell it to the Church and … well … if they don’t listen or act … maybe identifying with God the Father is not their priority. The church is not a kids petting zoo, get out of Dodge.

Pastor Fired by Church

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Re-posted from 2011: Charles Stone introduces his book, ‘Five Ministry Killers and How to Kill Them‘ with a story of how a Church fired their Pastor. As I started the first paragraph, I thought it was a fictional parable used to kick off the main topic of the book.

I read a little further and started to feel a little awkward. Some of the issues were a little too close to home for me. Then, the surprise (for me anyway!). The pastor is a real person and Stone is talking about real struggles that defeat many men and women who are in Christian Ministry.

The pastor in question, faced difficulties with power struggles, salary controversies and questions about his leadership style. His visitation policy was considered questionable and he was accused of “not loving the people.” Why? Because he made a decision to concentrate on his strengths and gifts in preaching and teaching instead of following a routine visiting program.

After some time, one particular man lead a bullying campaign that would eventually see the pastor fired from his job. The pastor made a decision to introduce changes in the Church policy about the expectations of the character of those that wanted to become Church members. He was called to question for this stance. He was threatened with losing his job. He stood his ground and they fired him.

Stone closes off this account of the pastor, “Jonathan”, as follows:

Ten years later, because Jonathan had so graciously responded to his critics and his dismissal, one of his main detractors admitted that pride, self-sufficiency, ambition, and vanity had caused the contention. The pastor’s handling of his ministry crisis left such and impression that eventually the church publicly repented of their actions, exactly 150 years after they sent him packing.

Who was Jonathan? Jonathan Edwards, arguably America’s greatest theologian.

Dear Pastor friend, if it happened to Edwards, chances are you will face similar challenges. Are you ready to meet them with a godly, gospel oriented approach?

Dear Church Member friend, if you have a Pastor that has different ideas about leadership style and ministry emphasis are you able to model gospel oriented flexibility and serve alongside him for God’s glory?

Related Articles:

Ed Stetzer – Church Leadership Book Interview: Charles Stone on 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them

Check out this recent post by Don – a supplement to the comment he made on the original post from 2011.
Firing Your Pastor

Ministry is

saving-friend-battle-of-verdunIn a recent discussion around the formation and shape of Christian ministry there was a reflection exercise. In-part, the reflection considered how, if at all, Biblical patterns informed present day ministry practice. The term, “Ministry” can be quite ambiguous and is not simple to define.

Bible passages that stand out to me, (along with many others you could probably mention) are Aaron’s act as described in Numbers 16:47-48. Paul’s description of himself to the Church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 4:7-12), Jesus summary commission recorded in the fourth gospel (John 20:21) and Paul’s commission from God in Acts 26:17-18.

My “reflection” on these is a free-verse composition.

I love you, he said.
Here is everything I have. It’s yours.
I hate you, I replied.
I don’t want what you have.
I will burn it, despise it and destroy all you are.
My pain is too great. I cannot bear it.
I want to die and end it all.
Let me, take it from you, he said.
But why? I replied
It’s worthless, broken and full of shame.
Let me take it from you and give mine instead.
And then he died.
In brokenness, shame and indignity.
I am still broken.
I am NOT destroyed.
I AM re-made.
I have a treasure now he gave me.
Yet. It’s not for me.
It’s for all the broken people I can see.
I can love them. With his love.
Though they hate me.
Their pain is too great and they cannot bear it too.
I can take it from them.
They can be remade.
Because I can die for them.
Death can work in me and life will work in them.
I stand. Between the living and the dead.
He stood for me.

 What is ministry? It’s not heroic. It’s not taken for granted. It is something to live up to … and then die for.

After the Sydney siege, please be a messenger of peace

In the wake of the Sydney siege in Martin Place and continuing to be prayerfully sensitive about how to respond and move forward, I have noticed some comments by “christians” protesting the presence of Muslims and refugees in our community. These comments, often, come from a reaction of fear and confusion. But some are nothing more than racist rants and are not in any way representative of Jesus Christ, Christianity or the grace and compassion that ought to characterise Christian people. This is not an occasion to slander refugees or target Muslims in our society as though they are all terrorists. Such behaviour is beyond ridiculous and infantile. Please stop it.

In the first few hours of the siege yesterday I was concerned about the association of the gunman with Islam and why Islamic leaders had not been given an opportunity to decry his actions as outrageous evil. However, they did do exactly that later in the day. Why it didn’t happen earlier, I cannot say. However, were I in their place I would have been extremely tenuous about how to respond in a sensitive and compassionate way. No reasonable person of any faith or ideology could support or condone what was happening.

I am appalled by the tragedy. I am so sorry for the hostages and their families particularly those who were killed. I say that as an Australian man and yes, also as a Christian. However disgusted and angry I may be that this occurred in my home city, I cannot respond to terror, horror and inhumanity with words, threats or actions of violence and abuse. Peace engenders peace. If I want to pursue and develop peace in my community among my neighbours there is no place for vile hatred that perpetuates racism and discrimination. That means extending peace, friendship and hospitality to all regardless of their religion, irreligion or come what may.

The gospel of Jesus is a message of peace. We celebrate that great message every Christmas when we rehearse the announcement of the angels at his birth:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14 NIV

Peace comes to all recipients of God’s good will or favour. The followers of Jesus are ambassadors of peace; not strife, not hatred, not bigotry, not disdain, not animosity; but peace.

You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. Acts 10:36

That offer of peace extends to everyone, believer, unbeliever, anywhere in-between.

He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Ephesians 2:17

We are to model peace and offer peace to all, without exception.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Luke 10:5-6

To offer peace does not mean you agree with or endorse the views, opinions, or beliefs of the other person. An offer of peace does not mean that you agree with their religions, philosophies or ideals, or that you accept their position as equal alternatives to Jesus as the only way to the Father.

It does mean that you will seek to serve, love and support any and all: Christian, Non-christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, or otherwise.

You can do that and repudiate the evils perpetuated in the name of various ideologies and religions. You can do that and be friendly and hospitable to Muslim neighbours and repudiate stupid racist jokes, name calling and other abuse or mistreatment (particularly of Muslim women wearing head coverings). You can do that and welcome and support refugees without maligning or misjudging their motives on account of one who happened to have an evil agenda.

To that end, I join with many others throughout Sydney who have offered to ride with or stand with Muslim friends, neighbours and coworkers and oppose any mistreatment or hatred. Some of you may not be comfortable entering a Christian Church building, but I extend an invitation to you to join us this Sunday for a Christmas lunch. (post edited in 2015 – comment for details on address)

I’ll ride with you.

I’ll pray with (and for) you.

I’ll welcome you.

In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Photo on 16-12-2014 at 10.10 am #2