Friday, July 27, 2012

The Cultural Captivity of the Church

Dr. Roger Gilbert

Many years ago I read the phrase, “The cultural captivity of the church.” I immediately realized that there was a lot of truth in the statement. Across the years I have become increasingly aware that this is a far more complex condition than I could have ever imagined. One of the reasons that cultural captivity of the church is so complex is that all of us who make up the institutional church are products of our own culture. To add to the complexity, there is a diversity of cultures within even one church.

What is the cultural captivity of the church? One story I remember from the 1960’s helps define it. A young man in a Baptist church heard God’s strong call to be a missionary. He made his commitment, pursued his training, applied to the Foreign Mission Board, was appointed a missionary to Africa and served there faithfully. Through the years many individuals became Christians through his ministry. One of those young converts was a bright student who received a scholarship to pursue his education in an American university. The young man was very excited about this opportunity and very grateful to the missionary who had brought the message of Christ to his people. One of his dreams for his time in America was to go to the missionary’s home church and thank the church for the influence they had had on the missionary, resulting in his taking the gospel to Africa. His dream came true in that he was able to go to the missionary’s home church. He was profoundly shocked and disappointed, however, when he was met at the front door of the church and told he could not enter because his skin was black! How strange that the dominant perspective of the congregation could not see the contradiction between sending missionaries to Africa and prohibiting Africans from entering to worship. They were not servants of Christ but captives of their culture. Similar contradictions can often be seen in attitudes and positions supported by local churches, denominations and individual Christians.

If we are honest with ourselves, there is probably a bit of cultural captivity in each of us, myself included. Rather than majoring on finding this fault in others, a healthy stance might be to pursue discovering for ourselves the mind of Christ and see how we reflect or contradict the values of Christ. The Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:5 wrote, "Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus." It is difficult to separate ourselves from our own cultural perspectives but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we can begin to see through new eyes. Through a thoughtful and reflective study of the New Testament, especially the four Gospels, we begin to discover the fuller qualities of the “mind of Christ.” While this is not a quick fix but rather a life-long endeavor, it might well be the beginning of being set free from the cultural captivity of the Church.

Roger Gilbert is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Mount Airy, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Announcer.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Going Into All the World...On the Corner

By Dr. Dennis Herman

As missionaries for fourteen years, my wife and I lived and worked in three different countries. We took pretty literally the great commission, "...Going into all the world, make disciples and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit..."

On a recent walk around the block at our home in Raleigh, I passed the school bus stop. A quick glance revealed at least three and maybe four continents of the world represented by the students awaiting the Wake County bus. As I walked farther and entered the supermarket on the corner of Creedmoor and Stonehenge, I saw employees and shoppers from other lands, and heard accents and even languages I did not recognize. I felt at home when I finally heard someone speaking Spanish! I can sometimes understand Spanish better than heavily accented English.

My walk reminded me that not always do we have to go anywhere beyond our own neighborhoods to encounter the world. I often wonder what those folks from other countries think when I try to strike up a conversation with them, or even when I don't try to strike up a conversation with them. I wonder what difference a smile and a nod make, or if these strangers in our midst are used to being ignored and seen through as if they did not exist.

Common courtesy nudges me to be friendly and acknowledge those I see and associate with ever so casually. And the Great Commission reminds me that "in my going," to the corner of my neighborhood or the corners of the earth, I am to be about the work of discipleship. That first step may be just a smile, a greeting, or an invitation to conversation. That's how “mission work" begins, a simple greeting and acknowledgment of the God made creation we call a "person." Maybe our courteous gestures may lead to a conversation or a friendship. It’s worth the effort!

Dennis Herman is the interim pastor at Oxford Baptist Church in Oxford, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Forecaster.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Denying Our Denial

By Dr. Guy Sayles

We’ve all heard, “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.” As worn-out as that cliché’ surely is, it still serves to remind us of one of the most common dances we use to two-step around the truth about ourselves and the world—the denial dance.

You can pretend not to know that eating ice cream every night and donuts most mornings will eventually make you heavier. The suit comes back from the dry cleaner, you try to fasten the pants, discover that you can’t and then complain that whatever new process they’re using these days shrinks your clothes. The bathroom scales must be going bad; there’s no way we’ve packed on five pounds in a month. Avoid mirrors. Refuse to look at any pictures of yourself. It’s a kind of denial.

Denial happens when you refuse to acknowledge the increasing distance between you and someone you love. Deafen your ears to the weary strain in his voice and the yearning for tenderness in his words. Turn your eyes away from the lines of worry on her face and the dull sadness and dim resignation in her eyes. Tell yourself you’ve done nothing wrong. Fail to notice how your life orbits, more and more, around your own ego. Force yourself to forget how your harsh words have shoved him away or how your unrealistic and unrelenting expectations have pushed her into isolation.

Overlook his earlier and extra drinks.

Never make the appointment to follow-up on the tests the doctor ordered.

Tell yourself that it doesn’t mean anything that your daughter spends a lot of time in the bathroom after each meal and that she’s lost a lot of weight in the last year.

Denial is what you do when you fold up the progress report and stuff it in the bottom of your book bag without looking at it, don’t mention it to your parents, and are grateful the school doesn’t email grades directly to mom or dad. Denial is the dance you do when you discount the memo from your boss which mentions how she hopes you can pick up the pace on that project she assigned you, since you missed the deadline for the first review. “No big deal,” you tell yourself, “when we talked about it, she understood how complicated is and how busy I’ve been. She was nice. If she was really upset, she wouldn’t have been so nice.” Denial is what you do when you don’t open the letter from the IRS and don’t return phone calls from the bank which holds your mortgage.

Denial is something we all do, and it hurts us all. It short-circuits growth, robs us of joy, and interferes with freedom. One of the great uses of Lent could be for us to deny our denial and come to terms with the truth. What would happen to us and in us if we considered giving up some of our illusions about ourselves and the pride which keeps those illusions in place. What if we stopped the charade, took off the mask, and put down our pretensions?

Jesus said: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” What if we let ourselves experience the rush of freedom which comes to us when we risk seeing, hearing and feeling the truth? What if we slowed down enough to listen, really listen, to what life, the Spirit, and our hearts are saying to us? What if we asked people we trust to hold up a mirror to our lives and help us see who we are, here and now, in all our possibility and pain, with all our potential and problems? What if we resolved that, whatever the cost, we’re going to hear the truth spoken to us in love and allow it to liberate us for life as it was meant to be?

Guy Sayles is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Asheville, NC. This article was originally posted on his blog, From the Intersection.

Friday, July 6, 2012

At the Areopagus in Athens

Parthenon under restoration
by Rev. Laura Barclay

The last stop I’ll mention is Athens, Greece, where a depressed economy and overpopulation were evident in the anarchist graffiti and crowded streets throughout the city. Atop the acropolis, the Parthenon and other buildings, including the Temple of Nike were undergoing restoration. Walking around the Parthenon, our guide Greg, pointed out the very first theater ever created where plays like Oedipus and Antigone would have been performed.

Location where Socrates was tried

In the rubble of the agora, or marketplace, our guide located the area where the philosopher Socrates would have taught his students, as well as where he was tried and sentenced to death. Socrates was devoted to logic and was a critic of the state. He was tried for corrupting the youth with his ideas and chose death over exile and ingested hemlock.

Areopagus where Paul preached

On the hill called the Areopagus, rising above the agora, noted speakers would address the public. Paul preached to the Athenians, and began a very respectful interfaith dialogue, noting that they were wise because they even had a temple to an unknown God. Paul claimed to be there to discuss the unknown God. Paul was well received, and even though his ideas were not as popular there as other locations, he was treated well and engaged in positive dialogue.

At the end of the week, I couldn’t help but feel that I was much closer to the roots of my faith, having walked where Peter, Paul, John, and Mary had reportedly walked. Readings from the Bible and history books became real as I imagined Paul engaging the crowds, Peter at his crucifixion, Mary in hiding mourning the loss of her son Jesus, John starting a fledgling community of faith, Socrates refusing to compromise his convictions, gladiators and animals fighting and dying in droves for the entertainment of the mob, and people walking, surviving and living as they’ve done for centuries, connecting us in a long chain events.
If you ever have the chance to make history become real, tangible, interesting, and relatable, please take the opportunity! I will never read Paul’s letters the same way, gaze upon a picture of Mary without thinking of her after life the death of her child, watch movies like “Gladiator” without thinking of the real tyranny of the emperors who played with lives like toys, or think of the Vatican without thinking of the countless Christians martyred before all the beautiful columns and marble were laid.

Where would you like to visit and make history more real and personal to you? Why that particular location? Whose footsteps would you want to follow while you are there?