A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The godless culture

I recently heard a Christian comment on how our (American) culture is not conducive to spending long amounts of time in silent prayer (which, of course, every good Christian must do). This observation strikes me as quite obvious; but aside from the transparent nature of this "insight," the question in my mind is this: why have Christians been so quick to blame their culture for their own spiritual deadness? For example, if a Christian is not spending time in meditation and prayer, whose fault is that? Is it the culture's fault? Is the surrounding culture to blame?

I say this: stop playing the victim. The fact of the matter is that if you claim to be someone who "loves Jesus" but find it hard to "spend time with him," then maybe you don't really love Jesus. This might be a tough pill to swallow, but consider: If I'm excited about someone, then I will want to spend time with them. If I am not excited about someone, then I will not want to spend time with them; I'd rather do some other things that are more exciting.

Placing blame on culture (or "the world" as the religious type likes to call it) is one characteristic of a narcissistic Christian: a Christian who believes, deep down, that all things revolve around their own "spiritual life." A narcissistic Christian resents culture because culture gets in the way of their "pursuit of God." Most narcissistic Christians wind up barricading themselves from their culture in many different ways (perhaps with the exception being that they still have nice corporate jobs where they can take "worldly" money and live in the world's suburbs!). But is isolation the answer? Did Christ call us to a purity that comes from disengaging from anything "worldly"?

Perhaps such a narcissistic Christian is really just a narcissist who hijacked Christ and put him to good religious use.

To the Christian narcissist I make a small suggestion: you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake who was created in the image of God to be better than everyone else. Get over yourself! There is more to life than your own trivial spirituality. I'm serious: you are not all that important.

57 comments:

Emily said...

Good thoughts, good points. I need to swallow some of this.

daniel said...

Good questions Jon.

chris van allsburg said...

Jon, good post.
Question (say like Dwight Schrute):
How would this idea of us recognizing that we are not at all important work with the deep love the Father has for individuals?

byw--got fired yesterday. i'm so happy! really i am. see my blob for upcoming story.

daniel said...

Well, maybe part of the problem is that there is still a distinction in this approach between "my time" and "time with God".

It's like, before getting married, you take time to visit your love interest. You have your time when you are going about your business, but you make an effort and interrupt your schedule because of your love for this person in your life.

But after marriage, well, you just share the same time, sleep in the same bed, eat the same food, look after the same kids, do the same things, and work towards the same goals - in short, you become one.

I believe as we enter into covenant relationship with God, as we give Him our hearts, give Him our lives, or whatever terminology you prefer, we move from being interested in God to something along the lines of marriage.

I believe God wants us to associate with him to the extent that we are one with him all the time.

Of course, in any marriage there are times a person tries to revert to their individuality and claim some time to themselves and the right to conduct their own activities seperate from their life partner. I'm kind of doing that by being part of this blog (although time to time I ask my wife for advice). And maybe this is not so unhealthy.

Aspects of our relationship with God as Christians could also be seen in this way, i.e. a struggle to give up our selfish ways, with times when we try assert our right to do things our own way and be lord of ourselves - except we know that wherever we go, he is there with us. He is always pursuing us.

And one reaches a stage where there is nothing more desirable than truly living for God, because of His love. This finds expression in so many ways.

Maybe "quiet time" is overrated as a bench mark. Maybe we should choose other ways to measure our maturity in relationship with God - like the extent to which we are experiencing His power, or seeing His purpose fulfilled in our lives etc. Each person could rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal what areas need attention and where they need to grow. I think it's a very valid question to ask oneself: "Does my life reflect that I really love Jesus with all my heart?"

It's the first and greatest commandment after all.

daniel said...

Extra thought: Jesus only did what the he saw the Father doing, and said what he heard the Father saying - but he still drew away regularly from the crowds to pray.

Prayer is so crucial. I know I'm lacking in that department.

We do have a problem with time in our modern world. We have so many appliances to save us time, and less time than ever.

daniel said...

A meditation on 3 John 8

By Andy Johnson

We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.3 John 8

"Our love for the gospel is most clear when we delight to see it prosper—and to help it prosper—when other people will be viewed as the human agents of its success."

Found this quote online. OK I'll hush for a while.

chris van allsburg said...

I put a post on my experience with getting fired from a large corporation. It's posted today.

It's called,

Freeeeeeedooooooommmmmmm!!!!!!

Emily said...

Dan--

I really appreciate your comparison of marriage and a relationship w/ God. Your wording really helps in visualizing it, fleshing it out.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel: Maybe "quiet time" is overrated as a bench mark. Maybe we should choose other ways to measure our maturity in relationship with God - like the extent to which we are experiencing His power, or seeing His purpose fulfilled in our lives etc. Each person could rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal what areas need attention and where they need to grow. I think it's a very valid question to ask oneself: "Does my life reflect that I really love Jesus with all my heart?"

I agree.

My purpose in this post was to try to cut through some of the lame ways in which we blame our culture for our own personal failures. The result is to then condemn the culture and separate ourselves from it. But this isolation denies us the opportunity to really interact with others who are within the culture, except to kind of preach at them from a distance.

Terms like "prayer life" and "devotions" and "quiet time", etc. get so overused that they become trivial. As such, our spirituality becomes trivial, too. We put God in a box called "time with God." Then when our "culture" causes us to miss our "time with God" then we blame the culture.

I think your comment, Daniel, reveals even more layers at which we mask our own self-interest and hide it away in religiosity.

Here's a thought: Maybe God would rather see us in the culture and sinning than to see us withdraw from culture and live a "pure" life.

I think God wants us on the front lines, even if that necessitates that we sin and fail. The disciples fled from Jesus in the Garden, but at least they were following after him during his darkest hours. Christians who barricade themselves from "the world" just strike me as whimps, and it kinds of irritates me.

Melody said...

Terms like "prayer life" and "devotions" and "quiet time", etc. get so overused that they become trivial.

Well, they're kind of the wrong idea. Not that we don't need quiet time with God sometimes...but I think Daniel's right...talking to God should just be part of life all day long.

Instead we teach people to put God in a box and take him out in the morning or evening and before meals.

Here's a thought: Maybe God would rather see us in the culture and sinning than to see us withdraw from culture and live a "pure" life.

God values purity and hates sin...so, I just find your thought absurd.

Also a commonly used excuse among those who don't want to be told not to mess around, "Well sure I'm living with my boyfriend, but I think God would rather me minister to my boyfriend and his friends in sin than live a pure life and not talk to them!"

Is there not a third option?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: Well, they're kind of the wrong idea. Not that we don't need quiet time with God sometimes...but I think Daniel's right...talking to God should just be part of life all day long.

Who told you that "talking to God" was an important thing to do???

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: God values purity and hates sin...so, I just find your thought absurd.

I was sure that you would, but absurdity is not a charge against the truth of something. For example, it is also absurd to suggest that one person can take the place of another person and be punished in their place. That flies in the face of justice: The soul who sins shall die.

Melody said...

I was sure that you would, but absurdity is not a charge against the truth of something.

2 Timothy 2:22 "Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart."

Matthew 5:8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God."

Phillipians 2: 14-16 "Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain."

1 Peter 1:22 "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart"

Can we not pursue purity and be in the world?

Little good as I think it does to be pure and barricade ourselves inside the church, where do you see good in abandoning purity and being in the world?

Where do you see the Bible advocating such a life?

Melody said...

I always forget to click the "email follow up comments to..." box. Always.

Emily said...

This is how I see time with God, etc...

It is important to be in tune w/ God, listen for Him throughout the day and talk w/ Him (i.e. Jon's post & Dan's comparison to marriage), but I also think it important to set some time aside where it is just God and me, no other activities, distractions, people around. It's the two together.

Jon... So marriage is a big mistake? Or is it something that should be taken seriously?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: Can we not pursue purity and be in the world?

Sure. Give it a shot.

M: Little good as I think it does to be pure and barricade ourselves inside the church, where do you see good in abandoning purity and being in the world?

Where do you see the Bible advocating such a life?


It is just extremely rare to find a Christian that is serious about both. Extremely rare. The one seems to invalidate the other. For example, if I am serious about purity, I will matter of factly start to get upset at the world b/c it is being in the world that makes me impure. Yet, if I am in the world, the desires of the flesh are aroused and inflamed. There is a lot that triggers desire in the world. It is sort of like taking a kid into an empty candy store and telling the kid to sit tight for a few hours and not to eat or touch the candy. The kid has a double whammy working against him: 1) he likes candy and 2) the fact that he is told he can't eat it makes it all the more desirable.

So, a Christian in the world is like the poor kid in the candy store.

chris van allsburg said...

I've had some good devotions lately. And they haven't been in the morning. My wife has been gracious enough, amidst her taking care of a home and 2 children to allow me the respite of running.

I go no less than 20 minutes. The night is cold and silent, and the snow kisses my face. After the run, I walk and pray and ask each touch of my face from the crystaline designs to be kisses from the holy spirit and from my loving heavenly father. Intimacy at its finest.

Jon, I still wonder what you think the relationship is between the fact of our unimportance due to God's deserving of all glory, praise and honor, and the Father's great love for us.
thanks.

thanks.

Melody said...

It is sort of like taking a kid into an empty candy store and telling the kid to sit tight for a few hours and not to eat or touch the candy.

Flawed analogy - God doesn't leave us.

So, a Christian in the world is like the poor kid in the candy store.

My bad, I forgot God doesn't call us to do hard things.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

You're the one who left God out of the discussion. This is the first time you mentioned him.

Inserting God brings up the question: in your opinion, how does God fit into the equation?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Chris: How would this idea of us recognizing that we are not at all important work with the deep love the Father has for individuals?

I still wonder what you think the relationship is between the fact of our unimportance due to God's deserving of all glory, praise and honor, and the Father's great love for us.
thanks.


My problem is with Christians who start to throw stones at the world and condemn the world for messing with their delicate spirituality. To them I say: get over yourself. It would be better to engage the world and fail/sin than to cultivate a self-righteous attitude of judgmentalism. From my experiences, Chris, Christians develop a God-loves-me theology merely because they love themselves. That is, God loving them is merely a cover for the fact that they love themselves and think they are better than others. So, we have many people drawn to our churches who are not surprised at all that God would love them!

A passage of interest in this context is the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

My response to your question, Chris, is to pose a query to you: How does the love of God fit in to this parable? Does God love the Pharisee? Does God love both people the same? Or, is God's love perhaps not the point of the parable?

Melody said...

You're the one who left God out of the discussion. This is the first time you mentioned him.

The whole basis of my objection was that God calls us to pursue purity and flee sin!

Inserting God brings up the question: in your opinion, how does God fit into the equation?

Fit in? No God, no equation. It wouldn't even be an issue.

Emily said...

I had SNL on the other night just for background noise as I was doing something else and the musical guest was Mr. Kanye West. (It might have been a rerun.) Part of his lyrics went something like... "Thank you God that I'm number 1. You made me great. Yeah!" (my pathetic paraphrase)

Kenji said...

Jon,
I have been refraining from posting because I felt that while your understanding of the permeation of culture is too limited (can we really live completely separate from our culture?), your over-all thoughts in your initial post were good.

However, since then you have mentioned some things that have brought more serious questions to mind.

1) How do you understand the placement of the tree in the garden of Eden? Was God acting as the person bringing the kid into the candy store?

2) You also have previously posted that you would rather we be more comfortable with having tension in Scriptural exegesis. This being the case, would you consider that God has called us to both "be holy in all your conduct" (I Pet 1:15, 16) as well as for us to be in the world (Joh 17:18; Phi 2:15) Even the famed passage in Rom 12:2 while telling us to not be conformed to the world does not tell us to not be in the world.

It may be a challenge, one which we will often fail, but that is why the Christian life is about growing in faith and holiness. Living in our world is a struggle, and so it should be for those who associate with Christ (seeing as the world is the enemy of Christ).

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: The whole basis of my objection was that God calls us to pursue purity and flee sin!

But from my perspective that's still no big deal. So what??? God calls us to flee sin and live pure. How is that any different from Allah, for goodness sake??!!?! If the Bible God is just the guy who tells me to do the right thing, then I'd probably rather have Allah, because he has a big old Koran with all kinds of specific directives on how to handle all kind of different situations - a lot more laws and rules than the Christian Bible.

In my opinion, your position thus far still amounts to little more than God letting us loose in a candy store.

Melody said...

But from my perspective that's still no big deal. So what??? God calls us to flee sin and live pure. How is that any different from Allah, for goodness sake??!!?!

You'll have to excuse me, I didn't know you were hovering between Christianity and Islam.

In my opinion, your position thus far still amounts to little more than God letting us loose in a candy store.

Only if you're going to unaccountably choose to ignore the parts of the Bible where it talks about God's great faithfulness and how His children can rely on Him for grace and strength.

daniel said...

It seems to me like the passion of many Christians for home schooling their kids also fits into this discussion.

Melody said...

"It seems to me like the passion of many Christians for home schooling their kids also fits into this discussion"

This would only be true if the public education system were not in shambles. As things stand, homeschooling is for anyone who wishes to give their children a superior education and instill them with a love of learning, or for those who believe that the government will use it's education system to churn out the mindless minions it wishes to populate corporate work places, not merely for parents who believe that their children are incapable of making moral choices without an eagle eye upon them at all times.

chris van allsburg said...

Jon wrote, "My response to your question, Chris, is to pose a query to you: How does the love of God fit in to this parable? Does God love the Pharisee? Does God love both people the same? Or, is God's love perhaps not the point of the parable?"

Well, this post is about our unimportance, and I'm trying to get a response on how the fact of God's real, deep love for individuals relates to our inimportance. I'm not getting it. But, I will say that many of us think too highly of ourselves, and this is our nature. Garden of Eden.

Jon, I think the point of the parable is what Luke tells us:

"To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:"

Lots to be said about this parable: historical context = tax collectors were considered traitors of the Jews to the Romans. Pharisees were generally held in high esteem as the guardians of Scripture and orthodoxy. After 2 exhiles, the Pharisees or hasidim "righteous ones" were not about to bow to wood and stone. But, we know they had other idols.

I think the point of the parable for people not to look down on others because of their sin.

I say this because the saints in the OT Joseph and Mary and Zechariah and Elizebeth were declared righteous for obeying God's commands. They were righteous, like Noah, Abraham and even David! In Ps 18 and 24 David speaks of his OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS.

This "proper self-righteousness" is best understood in the context of a covenant relationship to God wherein humility is at the core. The Pharisees had the former law-keeping without the latter, which is to be a priori after all. Law-keeping without humility is no law-keeping after all.

The tax collector, on the other hand, correctly recognized the depravity of his sin and in beating his chest and not daring to glance heavenward, had an obvious, keen awareness of God's inapproachableness and his glory and holiness. His righteousness comes from his humility before God.

And that is the key difference between the righteous and the wicked in the Psalms especially: the righteous man confesses his sins "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." The wicked man, however, does not. He does not obey the commandments of the Lord, even though he keeps the decalogue perfectly, he fails ultimately and even at the 1st, because he has no humility.

A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, thou wilt not despise. I think this verse of Psalm sums up the parable well.

I'd still like your thoughts and I'm also wondering if you are shocked and shagrinned at my taking up teaching. Your opinion is coveted.

Sincerely,

Chris.

chris van allsburg said...

btw everybody--

I'm really having a good time collecting my severence and consequent unemployment benefits! Just relaxing. Thank God for this respite!

There are many in my church who plan to give me side jobs to earn extra cash while we wait for our house to sell. Prayers are desired. Thanks!

daniel said...

Jon said:Who told you that "talking to God" was an important thing to do???

As a consequence of the recent Jonah thread, I read the book of Job. I was hoping for a more nuanced understanding of good and evil.

It is interesting to note as a synopsis that the majority of the book Job is people talking about God (Job, his three friends and the younger character).

At the end, when God speaks, He is saying "Where were you when I was making the universe? How is it you think you have so much to say about me?"

I believe talking to God is far better than talking about God for the reason that by talking to God we can learn more about who He is, whereas by talking about Him we tend to make things up and substitute our ideas for the truth.

Talking to God can only ever be in response to Him speaking to us. Although He does respond to our cry, and He does answer our call.

There is delicacy to this conversation with God, and much grace. What an awesome reality to converse with the living God!

Too much talking about God leads to the empty kind of quarraling we read about in Job. When God speaks, and we listen, truth is revealed to our hearts bringing peace and clarity.

samlcarr said...

I'm jumping in here at the deep end and way too late, but one thought is that we often assume that our or 'the Christian" approach to culture is synonymous with what Jesus himself said and did.
I think this is a false assumption for Jesus contrasted his own interaction with 'the world' with John the Baptist's withour denigrating either as being out of tune with the gospel.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam,

For you, no time is EVER too late!

I might add to your comment that "the world" in the Gospel of John does not refer to those outside the religious institution; rather, "the world" refers to those who rejected the Word made flesh. As we read through the Gospel of John narrative, we find that those who rejected the Word's revelation most adamantly were the religious leaders. I think this is instructive, b/c it implies that spiritual truth often gets perverted by the very people who make great boasts about preserving spiritual truth and religion.

From my readings of the Gospel of John (and the other Gospels, as well), I take far more seriously the suggestion that the world is not "outside" the church; instead, the real threat is from within. The world is us.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ken: How do you understand the placement of the tree in the garden of Eden? Was God acting as the person bringing the kid into the candy store?

Yes. I think there are more complexities to be discussed, but I think that from the text, we can safely blame God for putting Adam/Eve in something of a no win situation.

That's just my opinion, though. Some suggest that if Adam/Eve had passed the obedience test they would have had it made and humanity would have lived in a paradise w/ God forever. There were two trees: tree of knowledge and tree of life. The tree of life was banned after the disobedience.

samlcarr said...

"the world" refers to those who rejected the Word made flesh
As you remark, it is a central theme in all of the gospels and particularly dwelt upon by John.

There is little doubt in my mind that a lot of the NT teaching on morality is the result of law abiding Jews trying to fit-in to Greek/Roman culture and finding things rather discomfitting.

If we come back to Jesus and ask what his standards for righteousness are, then that has much more to do with in how much fairness and self sacrifice we arwilling to live our lives and very little to do with what the church has defined as 'the world'.

In other words 'righteousness' is defined by e.g. the Sermon on the Mount's call to love God, and others, as much as and even more than we love our own little selves.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Yes, Sam!

It is also interesting that in John's Gospel we are urged to obey Jesus' commands; but what commands are ever mentioned in the entire book??? The only one I can find is in John 15: Love one another.

In 15:10 there is an implication that the "commands" of Jesus can also be reduced down to a love relationship (something of a mystical concept here, I believe) with the Son.

"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love"

And, of course, Jesus summed up the law and the prophets by simply suggesting that we love God and each other.

chris van allsburg said...

"Yes. I think there are more complexities to be discussed, but I think that from the text, we can safely blame God for putting Adam/Eve in something of a no win situation."

Do you believe Adam and Eve had no choice in the matter?

samlcarr said...

Chris and Kenji, my own understanding of the Genesis account is still changing a lot but has been pushed into rather complex territory by a post at OST by John Doyle (of Ktismatics fame). The issues raised by and in the text itself are simply not simple!

Jonathan Erdman said...

I believe Adam/Eve had choice, but the question is: what is "choice"?

It seems as though they made an informed and deliberate decision, weighing various matters and allowing themselves the opportunity to consider how cool it would be to eat such a nice looking fruit and to have the knowledge that God has.

In the end they disobeyed. But I've always wondered why so many conservatives still believe that God created "perfect" people. Perfect people don't disobey.

chris van allsburg said...

definitions... adam and eve's natures

perfect, or
holy & happy

maybe there's a diff.

it's the mystery of sin & the eternal decree of the only wise god.

jon, you are apparently very dissatisfied with the church, or at least your current setting.

why don't you try something with more intellectual history like episcopal or anglican or catholic or reformed?

chris van allsburg said...

or lutheran?

Melody said...

In the end they disobeyed. But I've always wondered why so many conservatives still believe that God created "perfect" people. Perfect people don't disobey.

Well technically all the bible says is that "it was good"

but I suppose conservatives are making the distinction between perfect, which is alterable, and impeccable, which is not.

i.e. Adam and Eve were made without flaw, but that doesn't mean they couldn't gain flaws, where as Jesus could not sin.

why don't you try something with more intellectual history like episcopal or anglican or catholic or reformed?

If he liked where he was, what would he blog about?

samlcarr said...

Melody, that's a really fine rhetorical question (riposte?). Bravo, or touche or...

Jonathan Erdman said...

Chris,

Intellectual stimulation would be nice, but there is something more fundamental that is missing from American churches, and that is the sense of belonging. Caring for one another, in my opinion, is the essence and core of the body of Christ. As far as I can see, all American churches are pretty much the same in that they are concerned with everything except each other.

Melody thinks I want to star a cult!

samlcarr said...

Even more fundamentally and in line with your "worldly" thrust is that Jesus own interpretation of the "law of love" was directed not to others of the same culture or even faith. We are commanded to love our neihbors (period), and that is something that we do not "literally" want to do.

Melody said...

Melody thinks I want to star a cult!

Note that he does not deny that this is true.

chris van allsburg said...

Melody--true true!why don't you try something with more intellectual history like episcopal or anglican or catholic or reformed?

If he liked where he was, what would he blog about?

Jon, my denomination has benevolence in almost every area of the earth where poverty and suffering exist.

In addition, at church dinner last night, I had many people tell me about work they could give me to earn some extra $ while we wait to sell our house and move (hopefully by mid-June).

That's care.

Maybe if you want us to care for each other more, you could set up a prayer request section on this blog and we could pray for each other. That would be a great service and creat more belonging.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Chris,

I think those are wonderful things...I really do....but they still keep us at a certain distance.

Let's say that I (or you or any other believer) was involved in an illicit sexual relationship. Who would know? Who would be able to look into my eyes and know that something was up??? Or better yet, who is there to help me figure out my life and my faith prior to falling into sin. Where are those in the body of Christ who "encourage one another daily" such that they understand the soul of a person; not just the prayer requests but the person themselves.

I spend a good deal of time with negative and satirical critiques of the American church, but my positive vision is to see believers connected with each other like family. Believers who know you better than you know yourself. Believers who can encourage as well as challenge on a soul to soul level because they have complete access to who you are and there is absolute honesty, safety, and grace. These are not just places to say "how are you doing spiritually" but connections that address the whole person.

Melody said...

Who would be able to look into my eyes and know that something was up???

What? I missed where the Bible says we should be able to do this.

Nothing in the NT says we should be able to understand the "soul of the person"

samlcarr said...

Melody, I do think I disagree with you here. The NT vision that Paul in particular fleshes out for us in his letters is quite frightening in the intensity of relationship and mutual understanding/involvement that it calls for. Ideas like being "one body" in Christ and together the body of Christ itself hardly correspond to how we in practice "do" church.

John speaks of Jesus as the true vine and being one in him and that is also very similar in thrust.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Don't go there Melody! That's not going to help your case!!!

Melody: Nothing in the NT says we should be able to understand the "soul of the person"

Nothing in the NT says that we should have church buildings, big budgets, business meetings, coffee, sunday schools, worship bands, and a myriad of "programs" and "ministries." In fact, there is nothing in the NT that mandates preaching. As I understand it, when the NT speaks of "preaching" it seems to imply a dialog not a monolog; that is, the "preacher" is interacting. Yet you would be damned in most conservative churches if you suggested that preaching was not one of the primary functions of the church.

Sam: John speaks of Jesus as the true vine and being one in him and that is also very similar in thrust.

Right. And don't forget that oneness with the Father and Son is parallel with our oneness with each other. "That they may be one as we are one." So, according to the Gospel of John, the intimacy in the body of Christ should mirror the intimacy and closeness of the Godhead.

Melody Question: Is there intimacy in the Godhead? Or is it just a Sunday morning type of relationship where they hook up once or twice a week for a service and to plan out the next ministry or program?

Melody said...

Don't go there Melody! That's not going to help your case!!!

Your concern is heartwarming.

Nothing in the NT says that we should have church buildings, big budgets, business meetings, coffee, sunday schools, worship bands, and a myriad of "programs" and "ministries."

No problem, if someone said the church wasn't real if it didn't have those things I'd roll my eyes at them too.

Yet you would be damned in most conservative churches if you suggested that preaching was not one of the primary functions of the church.

You think? Maybe...but most people don't even like the sermon. I think they'd be willing to get rid of that after they'd had time to think it over.

Sam: John speaks of Jesus as the true vine and being one in him and that is also very similar in thrust.

Jon: Right. And don't forget that oneness with the Father and Son is parallel with our oneness with each other. "That they may be one as we are one."


Hyperbol?




Right, I've got nothing. I mean, aside from emphatic dislike for the idea. That's stuck around.

samlcarr said...

Jesus has seen and experienced with his own disciples the lack of oneness and inherent one-upmanship that is our nature, yet he asks the Father and the Holy Spirit to make us one. It is in spite of our tendencies not to properly come together.

Perhaps what makes you uncomfortable (I'm guessing here) as it does me, is the idea of losing one's own identity, uniqueness, individuality and independence, but I don't think Jesus ever tried to force anyone, including his disciples into one mold. So, the oneness is a voluntary one that does not subsume a person's uniqueness but manages to build upon it nonetheless?

It seems to me that what we generally tolerate as church is a mere caricature of what Jesus and Paul wanted us to really do together.

Or at the other extreme, it can turn into cult (which Jonathan can probably tell us a lot more about) where all those negatives would come into force and in the name of oneness we would become just cogs in a oneness machine.

Melody said...

I'm not worried about uniqueness or idenity.

God gives us our uniqueness and our idenity so I feel pretty secure about both.
Individuality is just an extension of those - to me at least.

ktismatics said...

"my positive vision is to see believers connected with each other like family. Believers who know you better than you know yourself. Believers who can encourage as well as challenge on a soul to soul level because they have complete access to who you are and there is absolute honesty, safety, and grace. These are not just places to say "how are you doing spiritually" but connections that address the whole person."

Not to belabor the point, Erdman -- well yes actually, belaboring my point, here's this from Paul:

Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide. You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections. Now in a like exchange -- I speak as to children -- open wide to us also. Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. "Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord. "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. "And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one. I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together. (2 Cor. 6:11 - 7:3)

Do you agree with what Paul says here? How do you interpret "unbeliever"? Is your positive vision a closed fellowship? Closed to whom? Open to whom?

samlcarr said...

Ktismatics, you specifically asked for the Erdmanian take but I've also worried this bone a lot and have a few off-the-wall thoughts on this.
First, the definition of believer, from Jesus' own teaching is one who follows Jesus own teachings. This teaching is in fact secular. In other words, anyone who hears and responds in kind is automatically a 'believer' and that whole thing in turn boils down to praxis which flows coherently from within. imo anyone who practices is a believer.

I happen to believe that Paul was a self-taught expert in Jesus' teaching of "the kingdom". So I think that the Corinthian passage, being an epistle, is missing this context. Paul is decrying here the Corinthians' own lack of praxis and that lack indicates to Paul that they have been tainted by "the world" meaning all who reject Jesus' kingdom way and that way is what Paul specifically alludes to in his closing contrasting comment:

"beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one."

The question that is begged here is that of whether a call to 'be separate' is an inherent part of being the body of Christ. Here I think the conclusion is that those who do not practice (as obviously applies to the 'worldly' Corinthians) have no business preaching, are not yet effectively a part of 'the body' and of course make the worst possible ambassadors of the kingdom of God, so there may be no other alternative than to pull out of the world, for the world's sake more than for the nonpracticing believer's sake. But here I think I may be stretching as far as this passage is concerned!

samlcarr said...

Just incidentally Jon, I am still wondering what YOUR answer is to Ktismatics rather astute and very pointed question ? ? ?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Yes, Sam. I have been pondering for a while, but I have nothing that I am really satisfied with yet.

Here is what I do have.

First, in 2 Corinthians, Paul is not only concerned with not being "bound" to nonbelievers but is also emphasizing the role of the believer as a part of a community that presents itself as ambassadors of reconciliation:

"So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor 5 NIV)

So, on the one hand, Paul wants us to be ambassadors, which implies working with nonbelievers. On the other hand, Paul speaks of separation for the purpose of holiness.

Maybe the separation was from nonbelievers who were causing division within the church or false teachers.

I like you idea, Sam, but I agree that it is an exegetical stretch and probably not what Paul had in mind. Of course, that does not mean it is not a reasonable recontextualization to our current context.

Perhaps there will always be a tension between being separate and being a minister of reconciliation. Maybe a good deal of this just requires a good sense and (as a Christian I would add) a good sense of the voice of the Spirit.