“… When I came home, I thought about walking over to the neighbor to tell him about the 50% off going out of business sale. But I knew his reaction would be a shrugging of his shoulders and a rhetorical statement like, “what are you gonna do? The ‘big box’ store idea will always overrun the small store.” I wondered for a few days if the ‘big box’ theory had credibility…”
‘The American Church is broken!’ It's a statement I continue to repeat. The ‘Church’ was never meant to be an hour on Sunday where good people gather to sit and watch. The aim was never an hour of ritualistic music, education and “felt need” programming. The ‘Church’ was to be a collection of individuals who came together to share ALL aspects of life - the good, the bad, the easy and the hard.
So what happened?
The young Church started strong. The Book of Acts describes a group of individuals alive and committed to a cause larger than any one person. However, it wouldn't take long for the movement to drift. It would move from messy relationships to predictable patterns. It really isn't surprising since humanity always longs for the comfort of predictability. The Church, is after all, the people who gather. The patterns would become rules. Rules would become rituals. Rituals would become cultural laws. The state would step in to establish the penalties for diversion from the new norm. Slowly the Church would acquiesce more and more to governmental intervention. It would start with societal leaders hoping to assist and eventually slide into what author, professor, and church leader Dr. David Fitch would term, The Great Giveaway. The American Church would giveaway it's soul by choosing to believe the sharing of the. Good New of Jesus could be accomplished without combining words and deeds. As a result, much of the American Church has become nothing more than a solicitor of religious goods and services where the highest quality product garners the greatest audience.
For this reason, I believe the American word ‘Church’ has moved from a cultural positive to a negative.’Church’ has come to represent attendance, buildings and cash. As a result, the larger a Church becomes, the less it seems to embody the original design. Many within the establishment have recognized this and stopped using the word Church in favor of: ministry, Ecclesia, fellowship, community or mission. However, even these seem over used.
Hugh Halter has coined the phrase ‘incarnational community’ in his book, The Tangible Kingdom. While this term is better than ‘Church’ for several reasons (reflects our role, Christ's action and our willingness to come together) it still sounds and feels like Christian insider language. I've reviewed the synonyms, tried to be cool by investigating the Greek and even attempted to describe it succinctly but the result was not ideal. So I've decided to answer the question, ‘What is Renew?’ by proclaiming:
Renew is a gathering of people who come together ‘to discover a life worth living’ as an alternative to Sunday morning Church. Better yet, Renew is an alternative to Church for the ‘none, done and undone’ of our world.
I’ve wrestled with the western idea of church for years. What Christ ordained with His follower Peter seems to have been warped by 2000 years of oversight by publicans and modern day Pharisees. The western church is broken. The statistics don’t lie. The western church has declining attendance, overburdening debt, little ability to reach the community and a reputation of ignorance, irrelevancy and hypocrisy.
I heard a speaker recently ask the question: "Do you have faith or do you have doubt in search of experience?" What a great question. Do I believe in a worldview or am I still in search of proof that what I believe is true in all circumstances?
What do you have faith in?
We all have faith in something because having faith is natural. If a person does not have faith in God, they will have faith in something else that takes the place of God. They may have faith in themselves and their abilities. They may have faith in their government. They may have faith in the economy. They may have faith in an industry. They may have faith in science and/or technology. They may have faith in certain individuals. They may have faith in nature. But whatever it is, they will have faith. To be without faith is to be without a philosophy of life. That is, who, what, how and why of our existence.
Faith is critical in every philosophy. When developing a philosophy, we must be extremely careful to base our case on the most truthful assumptions—otherwise, should one of the assumptions prove to be untrue (as it appears the assumptions of the theory of evolution will be), the whole philosophy will crumble. If evolution crumbles, Marxism and Humanism are intellectually dead.
Christian philosophy: many hold it to be the most rational of all worldviews, and it requires no more faith than any other philosophy. Indeed, we could argue that it takes a great deal more faith to believe in the spontaneous generation of Darwinian evolution or the randomness of all nature (i.e., that the universe happened by accident) than it does to accept the Christian doctrine of Creator. http://www.allaboutworldview.org/christian-philosophy.htm
Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–1872) who lived over 150 years ago wrote in his book, Faith and the Future the following definition of faith:
FAITH requires an aim capable of embracing life as a whole, of concentrating all its manifestations, of directing its various modes of activity, or of repressing them all in favor of one alone. It requires an earnest, unalterable conviction that that aim will be realized; a profound belief in a mission and the obligation to fulfill it; and the consciousness of a supreme power watching over the path of the faithful towards its accomplishment. These elements are indispensable to faith; and where any one of these is wanting, we shall have sects, schools, political parties, but no faith,—no constant hourly sacrifice for the sake of a great religious idea.
Giuseppe's definition has four indispensable elements of faith. They are:
An aim im capable of embracing life as a whole - An all consuming goal of life
We have come to understand our lives and the lives of those around us being interconnected by our relationship with the Creator as well as the creation. We have faith, because we have come to see our Lord everything surrounding us. A good example of this comes from an often circulated story from the US civil war. Abraham Lincoln was meeting with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln was not a church-goer but was a man of deep, if at times unorthodox, faith. At one point one of the ministers said, “Mr President, let us pray that God is on our side”. Lincoln’s response showed far greater insight, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.” Lincoln reminded those ministers that religion is not a tool by which we get God to do what we want but an invitation to open ourselves to being and doing what God wants.
Our role in this life is to embrace all of what God is doing among us and then get involved. Henry Blackaby coined the phrase, “Look for where God is at work and get involved.” It should never be the other way around.
2) Conviction that the aim will be realized - Certainty of the outcome
Faith requires a trust our understanding of what is taking place in the world around us is in fact the one and only truth. When we understand this to be true, no amount of persuasion will create doubt in the outcome.
In the year 156 an 86 year old man was brought before a Roman official and asked to renounce his atheism. He was no atheist by our standards. Rather he was the devout Christian bishop Polycarp. To the Romans however he was an atheist, for he refused to worship the emperor as a god along with the other gods of Rome.
Polycarp knew denial would mean a painful death – either being thrown into the arena with a wild animal or burned alive on a pyre. Three times he was questioned, three times invited to renounce his “atheism”, but no renunciation of Christ would he make. “Swear and I release; curse Christ” urged the Roman official, to which Polycarp replied “Eighty-six years have I served him (Christ), and he has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Polycarp was not spared. A pyre was built and he was burned alive, but his words echo down through time to us: “Eighty-six years have I served him (Christ), and he has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Source: Based on a text from Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers cited in A New Eusebius. Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337.
3) Belief in the mission
Belief in the mission is critical to sustaining one's faith. We know Jesus has commanded us to love one another, to share the good news with the world and live in ways which help others come to recognize Him in this life. Our faith is strengthened when we recognize the paradox of faith that happens when we are willing to follow through and then take action. When we follow through in this manner, our faith builds as much as, if not more than the person we share with because it reinforces our convictions as others experience Christ for the first time.
John Burke offers the Good News in his book, Unshockable Love in a way most in our society can hear. He says, “Love, adoption, security, stress free loving, burden free responsibility, joy from within, soulful peace, worth, value and guidance from His ever present Spirit leading us into overflowing Life, and forgiveness from all sin and freedom from all condemnation too! That’s the life in God’s kingdom we invite people into! We’re not selling fire insurance to keep people out of hell; we’re inviting people into a life with God as his children, and of course none of his children will be cast out.You can’t overcommunciate God’s goodness.” (p.156)
4) Consciousness of God’s oversight - We understand the outcome is already determined by God for the furtherment of his kingdom.
The final element of faith is being conscious of God’s role in the process. Many times people will speak of God’s goodness and still worry or try to control the outcome by more and more activity. However, real faith culminates in a person’s ability to rest in the Lord’s goodness.
During the deepest, darkest days of apartheid when the government tried to shut down opposition by canceling a political rally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that he would hold a church service instead. St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa was filled with worshippers. Outside the cathedral hundreds of police gathered, a show of force intended to intimidate. As Tutu was preaching they entered the Cathedral, armed, and lined the walls. They took out notebooks and recorded Tutu’s words. But Tutu would not be intimidated. He preached against the evils of apartheid, declaring it could not endure. At one extraordinary point he addressed the police directly and said,
“You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you’ve already lost, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!”
With that the congregation erupted in dance and song. The police didn’t know what to do. Their attempts at intimidation had failed, overcome by the archbishop’s confidence that God and goodness would triumph over evil. It was but a matter of time.
Source: reported in Jim Wallis, God’s Politics
Many marvel at the Archbishop's boldness but He had faith. He knew the outcome was certain. He had knew the history of God’s movement in the world. He had read the hall of fame of faith in Hebrews 11. He didn’t just read it passively. He read it assertively.
The writer of Hebrews uses the written queue “By Faith” to encourage the reader to live like those who have come before us. Just say the words, “BY FAITH!” and feel the power.
The scripture begins: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it, the people of Old received their commendation.
“BY FAITH!” we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen is not made out of things that are visible.”
It’ is here that the author proceeds to summarize those who have had a persistent hope in the promises of God.
“BY FAITH!” Abe gave an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord
“BY FAITH!” God lifted Enoch out of this life
“BY FAITH!” Noah at the ripe old age of 600, built a boat in a desert, listened to His neighbors scoff, His wife shrug, His son in laws doubt and the world cry out. He feared the Lord.
“BY FAITH!” Abram and Sarah were faithful. Abram saved lot and tithed to the priest Melchizedek. He packed up his family and moved to where God said to go, he led his son to the altar of sacrifice, He became the first 100 year old father of a newborn. He obeyed God.
“BY FAITH!” Sarah gave herself freely to another man to save her husband, gave him another wife when she thought she was infertile and bore him a son at the age of 90 to begin the process of fulfilling God’s promise of descendants to numerous to count.
“BY FAITH!” Isaac invoke blessings on his Sons
“BY FAITH!” Jacob who on his deathbed blessed his grandsons.
“BY FAITH!” Joseph did not become bitter towards his brothers, resent his captors or give up on God’s promise to return the people of Israel to Canaan.
“BY FAITH!” Moses stuttered his way to rescue a nation. He convinced a slave nation to put blood over their doors, to follow him into a parted red sea and stay committed to follow a cloud for over 40 years.
“BY FAITH!” Rahab, a prostitute, risked her life by housing spies, helping them to escape and overturn the power in Jericho to the God of Jehovah.
“BY FAITH!” Naaman was healed by jumping in a river of leprosy
“BY FAITH!” Elijah who took on the baal priests and who would eventually be taken to heaven
“BY FAITH!” All our OT heroes declared their understanding of the life to come by their actions and pronouncements in the here and now. However, it didn’t stop there.
“BY FAITH!” All but one of the original disciples said yes to Jesus and all but two died martyrs deaths.
“BY FAITH!” The Widow gave out of her poverty or need
“BY FAITH!” Zacchaeus went all in and gave away his fortune and was redeemed
“BY FAITH!” the disciples had holed up in Jerusalem for almost 50 days waiting and praying on the Lord. Then one day, boom, the Holy Spirit comes in power and authority. The neighbors are drawn and the disciples all begin to speak in new languages
“BY FAITH!” The Philippians church supported Paul in his efforts to evangelize the world
“BY FAITH!” Paul, Silas, Timothy, Barnabas, and even Apollos lived in a way that the world took notice. They didn’t have the scriptures we have or the biblical knowledge but they had the experiential knowledge. They had the opportunity to test God and to experience God through Jesus Christ before having committed to the cause.
So where does that leave us? Do you wonder about your faith? Do you have a confidence in things unseen? Would you wait on the Lord an hour, a day, 50 days, a year or 40 years for Him to come and bless you with His presence? Would you be so bold to test the Lord by committing to a one year practice of being obediently generous?
Dr. Martin Luther King JR once said, "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
Faith, like trust, is prominent throughout the New Testament associated with hopeful things:
Faith is the substance of things hoped for (Heb 11:1)
Faith is a sister to joy (1 Pet 1:8) & hope (1 Pet 1 :21)
Faith is the secret to victory over the world (1 John 5:5)
Faith removes shame and failure our of life & fills us with confidence(1 Pet 2:6; Heb 10:22; Rom 9:33)
Faith begets patience & content (2 Thess 1:4; Rev 2:19; 13:10)
Faith unlocks the future & us perfect assurance in it (2 Tim 1:12)
Faith speaks of rest & removal of our burdens (Heb 4:3; Matt 11:28)
So I’ll ask again, "What do you have faith in knowing the benefits of trusting God with your life?"
©2016 Robert Butler
Is poverty or wealth more physically or spiritually dangerous?
If we were to look solely at the environmental statistics, many would say it's physically more dangerous because accessing food, shelter, clothing, education, safe communities and healthcare can take its toll on people. However, statistics don’t often tell the whole story.
Renew is a spiritual movement to discover a live worth living. It’s built on the premise that two core relationships (God and others) help us experience, educate and serve so we can connect to a purpose greater than ourselves. We gather to experience those aspects of life where words fail us. We are striving to make this time unique so that it informs our worldview.