You should all be aware of two events that will be taking place at some of our local Universities and Colleges in the very near future. If you can, be there! They both prove to be great events:
I want to direct you over the the Evangelical Mennonite Conference’s website to view the results of their latest poll and then discuss the results back over here on the blog. The poll asked the following question:
“Of common church service elements that allow for congregational participation, what is most meaningful to you?”
As a starter for our discussion here, I want to ask the question, “why do you think it is that only 13% of people voted for scripture reading?”
At the recent EMC New Leaders Orientation, Ron Penner spoke about the distinctive critique that Anabaptists have with the Apostles creed. While most if not all of what is in the creed is still accepted by Anabaptists as authoritative, Ron noted that among the core elements included such as Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, at least one critical element is missing: namely, that Jesus lived. Of course this is assumed in the creed, but the fact that the 30 years or so leading up to Christ’s death on the cross does not occupy at least some portion of the creed is of some concern for Anabaptists who emphasize the importance of discipleship.
I was really struck by this critique and, while it did not change my mind on the necessary authority of the Apostle’s Creed, it did provide some helpful perspective for me on another issue that has arisen for me this Christmas, and that is how to understand the meaning of Christmas as it relates to the atonement (Christ’s death for our life; Christ’s faithfulness replacing our unfaithfulness). Recently, I heard one preacher make a comment (and I am paraphrasing somewhat): “Do you want to know the meaning of Christmas? It is that God sent Jesus to die for our sins.” I don’t know how anyone else feels about this statement, but it strikes me that the same problem Ron Penner identified in the Apostles Creed is evident in the preacher’s interpretation of the meaning of Christmas. Why did Jesus come to earth? Was it simply to pay a cosmic debt owed to God? Surely if death was all that was required, then God could have found a more direct way of paying off his own wrath.
However, what if we took a different approach? What if, in fact, the life of Jesus, starting in infancy, moving throughout adolescence and into adulthood, mattered precisely because God’s way of making the world “right” again was not through conforming to a sacrificial system of payment and debt, but rather by expressing Himself as the source of all love. The whole logic (or illogic) of grace, for example, is precisely that payment and debt are not factor’s in God’s decision to love us: God loves us so much, that even when what is owed him (reciprocal love) is not given to him, he keeps on loving. Is this not what Jesus’ life exemplifies?
Now, I am not trying to throw out all notions of substitutionary atonement, but I am trying to ask how we could begin to think, especially at this time of the year, that perhaps Jesus came to live and not just to die. And I think this is important for our discipleship because it implies that the way we live as the Church matters for how we understand grace to be imparted throughout time and within our communities.
What do you think?
In a previous post, I had quoted Rowan Williams on the value of keeping the Church’s engagement with her scriptures and traditions a difficult affair. Once the scriptures become tamed by our ideologies or once our traditions just become repetitive practices that keep us comfortable and secured in our discipleship (a contradiction in terms if there ever was one), we lose the risky and uncomfortable demands that the Gospel makes on us. Keeping this in mind, I have been pondering what it might mean to “hold” to a Statement of Faith within a particular Church tradition. For if Williams is right (and I think he is), then “holding” to a statement of faith cannot mean accepting it without the tiresome and difficult work of engaging in its many statements, always questioning its meaning in order to better seek understanding. Indeed, for if “holding” means accepting uncritically or without actual engagement with those statements, then it cannot be faith, can it? As Karl Barth said: “The truth comes…in the faith in which we begin to know, and cease, and begin again.” (Church Dogmatics, Vol. I.1, p.14)
Now, The ConneXion is a church that has membership in the Evangelical Mennonite Conference. Some of you may have taken the time to read the EMC’s Statement of Faith, but probably many of us have not. In light of the above reflection, I encourage you to take a look at it, but also to take a look at a document that the EMC Board of Leadership and Outreach shaped with the help of EMC pastors and writers, for I think that this is precisely the kind of engagement with the statement of faith that we need to sustain. Take a look and let others know what you think.