Monday, October 27, 2008

Judgementalism of the Church

There is another thing that is bugging me which I must get off my chest.

I recently read a blog in which a number of people engaged in some rather harsh criticism of Laidlaw College, its direction, its past and its decision making.

I have to say that I was not surprised but deeply saddened by much of what I read (not all). What I read there stands in continuity with something that is to me, an outstanding feature of contemporary western Christianity. That is, people of God who assume the right and authority (on what basis I am not sure) who stand in judgement over churches, Christian organisations and other Christian workers. I hear it continually of the church. Pentecostals abuse the mainstream church. Christian theologians slam contemporary worship, the emerging church, tradition etc. Micro-church advocates slam the mega church and churches devoted to growth.

I am appalled by the continuous criticism given out by critics, theologians, pastors, lay people etc of others. I wonder, what gives anyone the right and authority to stand in judgement over each other? Where there is such judgement, doesn't the heart of the Gospel call us to do so with great love; for we know in part, we prophesy in part, but the greatest of these is love!

I spend one semester every year teaching from the book of 1 Corinthians. As I read 1 Corinthians I read about a group of immature Christians who have been converted 3-5 years previously, and who have failed to fully understand the implications of the cross. They are proud and arrogant, divided and factional, judgemental, angry, negative, immoral and destructive in the way in which they are relating to Paul and each other. They are prepared to see others fall from faith in pursuit of their way of thinking.

Paul spends the first four chapters challenging their lack of humility on the basis that they do not fully understand what it means to be 'in Christ'. They have failed to realise that a cruciform life in not merely reliance on the cross for salvation, but a way of life. It is a way of life that involves servanthood on behalf of others, love, loving action from the motive of love for the good of others. He refuses to be judged by them, not even judging himself, but trusting that Christ will do the judging. At this time, his life will be laid bare and he will be saved and receive whatever reward he deserves. He honours other Christians and Christian workers; even those like Apollos that the immature Corinthians are favouring over him.

I think the contemporary Christian scene in NZ needs to take up the cruciform life. Instead of dishonouring each other with our judgementalism, we should work constructively with love, encouragement, strengthening and comfort and build each other up! It is amazing how the impossible becomes possible when bridges of love are built. We continually reinforce the walls between us with our harsh criticism, instead of breaking them down with love. We speak at each other, past each other, and little changes. We forget that it is by our fruit that we are to be perceived and judged. Didn't Jesus say, many would stand before him and say they have done awesome things in his name, yet they will be rejected because 'they never knew him'. The context speaks of fruit!

I really don't get the criticism of BCNZ. I was a student there in the early 1990's and I had the most brilliant education. It was not dualistic; contrary to that criticism. Some of the lecturers had a different eschatology to the amillenial perspectives which are really becoming popular, but they were awesome men and women of God, academics of calibre, who deserve to be honoured in Christ. Some didn't have doctorates, but a doctorate does not make a great teacher, mark my words. More theological damage has been done in the last 250 years by people with doctorates than by those without them! They were people who put people first; always available, always praying, alway reading the Word, always loving. Perhaps they did not have time to be the most academically qualified and published people because they had their priorities right; love first, all else second.

I now have a doctorate in theology, am developing a publishing record and seeking to live out that legacy for Christ. This is to a huge degree due to these men and women. How any one can say Merv Coates, David Crawley, Shiela Pritchard, Bill Osborne, Ian Kemp, David Stewart, John Hitchen, Bob Glenn, Max Liddle, Tony Plews, Barry Tetley, Stuart Lange, John Roxborough and Chris Marshall are anything but jewels in the crown of the work of God in this nation? I will never understand anything less than honour for them. Chris Marshall inspired me, I love him, he is a legend. He was no dualist; through the rubric of the Kingdom trying to heal me of my dualism! He taught me what it means to be a man of God in a place like BCNZ/Laidlaw.

Since my day, others such as Brian Hathaway, Hudson Deane, Gordon Stewart, Nicola HG, David Mulholland, Phil Church, Jacqui Lloyd, Tim Meadowcroft and others have come and (some) gone and they are wonderful people I honour in the Lord. Now there is a new bunch, Meredith Wheeler, Rod Thompson, Martin Sutherland. These people are pastors, theologians; men and women of God who I am privileged to be named alongside!

Going further back I will never ever forget hearing J. Sanders speak at College in his 90's. What a legend. If I am half the man now that he was at 90, I will be a man who can stand before my Lord with honour. Not to mention others like Robert Laidlaw and the Kemps!

I for one do not stand in judgement over the church, other Christians, this college and other colleges (whether it be Life Leadership, Southern Cross or Carey etc). This does not mean that I will not think, critique and challenge. But I will seek to do so with love, grace, gentleness, encouragement; seeing the good in what is done and working constructively for transformation. These are our brothers and sisters and we are a team!

One lecturer in particular came under severe scrutiny or at least his appointment was scrutinised; his name is Rev Dr Rod Thompson. I want to say to anyone who stumbles on this blog...he is a wonderful man. He embodies 1 Cor 13 and the spirit that Paul appeals for. He is a great thinker. He is a great husband and father. He is always warm and encouraging. He is an inspiring leader. He is influencing many to think think think; but to do so in love. He is not judgemental. He is engaging. So he doesn't have a doctorate in those things that some value. So! His strengths are enormous and I consider it a huge honour to work with him and under him as the head of theology. He releases us to be 'us', he challenges, he inspires. Through Compass, he has been hugely influential in changing the dualistic mind-sets of a generation of Kiwi Christians.

I urge us all to spend a long time reading 1 Corinthians and consider how the letter flows to 1 Cor 13, Paul's antedote to the syncretism of the Corinthians; and I believe, the challenge we need to hear (we need to read 1 Cor 15 on resurrection as well!).

It is great to think, challenge and critique; but the way in which we do so is what counts. Though I am the world's greatest pastor, philosophical theologian, NT scholar (hehehe, there's a joke), genius, sportsman or whatever our claim may be ... whatever my glorious list of credentials and ideas on the way the world should be... without love I am nothing, achieve nothing and gain nothing. We are called to work with what we have got for the Kingdom and seek humility.

Have a read of Phil 1:27-2:16 again and again and again noting the call for love to make Paul's joy complete as well! Consider Christ, who went to the cross in service and love. Consider his words that it is by love that we are seen to be his disciples! Let us learn what it means to love.

One more thing. We are in a perilous state and time in this nation. The church is under extreme challenge at all points. We MUST come together in love, honour each other, work together, gently correct each other, seek to do better knowing that our best is always enough for the Lord, and work to see God's reign extended. The key is the Spirit, it is love, it is the fruit of the Spirit.

I believe we need a new reformation; not of structures, but of love. 'Maranatha!' Lord, come, bring your grace to us, fill us with it, cause us to take up our towels and wash each other's feet; cause us to be one as you are one in your triuneness! Come, fill us Spirit of God with love!'

4 comments:

Philip and Briar said...

Good job Mark! I think it is an ideal to aspire to but will never be realized until Jesus' return.

Fi S said...

Mark, you've done a great job in talking about who we need to be. It's all too easy to stand on the outside and look in, make (often wrong) judgement calls, which are way off the mark.

What saddens me is when people make claims without checking out the facts first, and as a result hurts and scars others. Why is it that the church is often the most guilty of this?

Do you think that when people stand aside and make these calls it's out of jelousy and/or pride? I reckon so, we are constantly comparing ourselves to someone/somthing/some organisation to see who meets the standard. That I think is the downfall when we fail to see what Jesus has done for the church, to bring us as one, to reconcile the World with each other and with God, to understand that God has placed a unique brilliance in each part that serves a specific purpose.

I can totally agree with you, without love, without understanding just what the love means, and how it has been embodied through the sacrifice of Christ we are lost, we are nothing.

Diane said...

We live in China so not involved with 'the stuff' that comes in focus from time to time. Both the good and the mediocre. Just want to say we have cause every day to thank our God for BCNZ in all it's facets. God added to us almost without measure in the 3 years we were there. The staff gave us their all and taught us not only the Theology of the Kingdom but demonstrated it every day we were there. We were discipled.Diane Brittenden

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