Dilemma

I recently joined the staff of the Korean Presbyterian Church I’ve been attending for more than a year. It is a strange feeling being somehow “official” although I honestly know about as much about the inner workings of the church as I did when I first came there. Ironically, I’ve never actually joined the church, nor even am I an adherent to Calvinist theology or Presbyterianism. It is a mystery indeed.

Nevertheless, I am on staff with the responsibility of preaching occasionally and teaching Bible study for the soon-to-be-renamed English Ministry of the church which, mercifully, does not include the youth group. I am not quite sure what I’ve gotten myself into in accepting this assignment, but even more, I’m not sure that they know what they’ve gotten themselves into. Here’s what I mean.

Moksanim and I decided that we really needed to focus on the doctrine of church; ecclesiology. He wanted some guidance for the congregation in what it means to actually be the church and suggested Ephesians, but left it for me to decide. I decided upon Acts; the book that most fully describes the establishment and expansion of the early church. So far so good, right?

Right, until of course you consider the fact that the book of Acts is full of signs, wonders, miracles, prophecies, powerful prayers, and of course people being saved left and right along with a great deal of speaking in tongues and baptisms, none of which things give me the slightest hesitation, but quite honestly aren’t exactly standard fare in the Presbyterian church.

The challenge for me lies not in teaching around these nearly ubiquitous occurrences or somehow steering our discussion so that such issues are defused. It is rather that part of me would like nothing more than to see a great outpouring of the Spirit in a Pentecost kind of way, or at least a genuine hunger for God’s Spirit to be stoked in our EM. I am struck more and more by the seeming lack of any spiritual fervor in the congregation and more attention given to the technical proficiency and musical excellence of the praise team than whether or not people worship in Spirit and Truth.

I personally get excited when I worship, or rather when I consider and reflect on the Lord, worship springs up in me almost despite myself. I find it difficult to understand people who seem to have no such experience, appreciation or depth of feeling for God and who yet claim to be Christian. It is not that I believe that a Christian commitment or worship can be measured solely by a person’s outward or even inward emotional responses, but one would think that there would be something there.

There have been times after worship “concludes” (meaning we stop singing) and the guy comes up to take offering and give announcements. Sometimes I imagine what might happen if I just kept on worshipping; just stayed on stage with hands lifted and tears streaming (though I don’t typically cry in worship). Actually I know what would happen; everyone would continue to sit there looking bored out of their minds and then the announcement guy would come up as if we’d just finished taking an exam and he was assigned to read out the scores, but less enthusiastically.

Anyways, back to my point. What a neat corner I’ve managed to paint myself into by choosing to study and teach the book of Acts for I cannot with integrity avoid the issues or skirt them, especially when the church needs so much to be renewed, changed and transformed by the power of the Spirit. On the other hand, I would never want to through my teaching sow seeds of disharmony nor cause people to stumble.

But lest I complicate things too much, allow me to make it clear my chief concern is that many people in our congregation may not even be saved, nor really even know what it is to be saved. There may be little evidence of the Spirit’s work because the Spirit simply may not be present. That is the dirty open secret that no one will discuss. And because the ecclesiology of the church is so focused on the work of the Spirit through the word, it sometimes seems as if the expectation is that people can be preached or taught into the kingdom. All the while the Spirit of God is relegated to a subordinate role of somehow drawing the people that God has already decided will be saved, but we can’t know who those elect are, since it is a mystery hidden in God or whatever. In the meanwhile we expect people who may or may not be saved to somehow show forth the light of God to dying world and to be witnesses. Or something like that; I know I’ve got it all screwed up some kind of way.

Anyway, that’s the strangeness of it.

Advertisements

For such a time as this: the salvation of the American church

What is it the “plain gospel?” It’s the kind of question that keeps missiologists, pastors, theologians, seminarians and online pontificators busy. While this question has as many answers as it does inquisitors, I ask it primarily in the matrix of Christian faith and culture.

As a historic fact we acknowledge that a large body of what has come down to us in the Christian tradition was formed in the context of the evangelization of Europe. It took significant work to translate a Middle Eastern desert Messiah into the context of a hill and dale European world. The questions that are answered by the systematic theologians studied around the world are the questions largely of European believers in a European context addressing European realities. This is not to suggest that our systematic theologies are somehow untrue, but simply that they may be inadequate to the task of carrying the “plain gospel” to the ends of the earth.

As the locus of the church shifts significantly from North and West to East and South, believers in other parts of the world are unlikely to remain content regurgitating what they’ve received as gospel truth. Despite the fervor with which we defend our systems, Calvinism, Arminianism, and every other –ism is not the gospel, and frankly are not the only authentic ways of understanding or even conceptualizing the gospel. Whatever view we hold, we ought to hold with a healthy dose of humility. God in his grace has made us joint heirs with Christ, and that is something of which none can boast.

In any event, I believe that ethnic minority Christians have a unique opportunity to do theology in a new way. As people who are both thoroughly Americanized but also distinctly “other” there may be some unique theological purposes that God wants to work out through our communities. How this might take place I do not know. In Europe the revitalization of European Christianity is in the hands of those who are not of European extraction. And if we would be honest, despite all the shifting of deck chairs in Evangelicalism, there are not markedly more people following Jesus – especially among White Americans.

Non-White students now comprise fully 40% of students involved in groups like InterVarsity. It may well be that we, like Esther, have been called for such a time as this; that the salvation of the American church lies with us. This revitalization cannot happen however if we simply continue to unthinkingly parrot the systems, ways of being church, and worship structures that have dominated the American landscape.