The Joint

Today we celebrated the festival of the resurrection. It is, or at least should be, the most holy and high holiday of the year, much more important than the festival of the incarnation (Christmas). In preparation for the day, I read a couple of books in defense of the Christian faith and also read through the four gospel accounts. As is customary our church had a combined service in which all segments of the church participated; children, youth, English congregation, and KM. I briefly debated whether I should participate in the service or if I should take the opportunity to visit a church out of my own Black Pentecostal tradition (i.e. my father’s church). I decided, after praying and experiencing the Lord’s conviction, to go to my church – the Korean Presbyterian one.

The service was, of course, longer than is typical; nearly three hours altogether, with 3 sermons, two performances by the youth, and a full fledged cantata orchestrated by the KM choir. My upbringing in the Pentecostal church put me in better stead than many of my co-parishioners from the English speaking congregation who were unable to endure such a lengthy service. Did I mention we also celebrated the Lord’s Supper and had a baptism?

As I sat in worship singing along to the cantata in my broken Korean watching as a silent video of “The Passion of the Christ” played on the overhead, I had ample time to reflect on such question as the evidence of the resurrection. As I sang, and read the English translation, as I took my bread and cup, bowed my head in prayer, celebrated the baptism (though I disagree with the method) of new Christians, I had lots of time to allow what I experienced to sink in.

It is Christ that is the center of the resurrection event. Perhaps that is why “Easter” has never quite caught on as a holiday – we are decidedly on the sidelines in the celebration of Jesus being raised from the dead. There are no gifts given, no special songs, and no customary foods. There is merely the reality that a man, once dead, was made alive again by the power of God. That truth, that sacred reality is what made it possible nay even enjoyable to worship with these Korean folks. I marveled that in English, in Korean, in Twi, in French, in Swahili, in Farsi, in languages unknown to me – the Lord Jesus Christ is praised. I marveled that this day, above all other days, is a day that levels the field – placing us all at the foot of the cross and yet also elevates each of us, making us more truly man, more authentically woman, more fully Black, more completely Chinese than any other day. Today is a day of grace, wherein God demonstrates his mercy and exonerates his son, forever banishing the fearful specter of death, hell, and the grave.

What does this have to do with my decision to go to the Korean church instead of my Dad’s church? Simply this; the resurrection is the thing that even makes it possible for me to have that choice. For all the failings of “the church” in general and of my church specifically, it is the creation of this special day. Despite the complaint of our generation about how often out of touch or irrelevant the church can be, the wonderful gift of God is that we can be the church, and that I am indeed family with these Korean believers and with believers all over the world. In no other place or way is such a thing possible. Indeed, had I been anywhere else in the world on this day and see that this gospel, this obscure faith that by all human measurements should have been snuffed out, started as it was by illiterate men and poor women, is not a gospel confined to a people, a language or a place. I thought to myself, the privilege of being called a son of God is worth the very minor inconvenience of worshipping in a language not my own.

This realization makes me wonder if the bridge between generations in the Asian American Church can be built by beginning at the ground floor of our joint inheritance as sons of God and heirs of the promise. Unfortunately, I suspect that many are much more ready to build those bridges outside of the community rather than within it.

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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.