Our Familial Bond with the Church is Now Unceasing

allsaintsSome wonderful reflections from my friend Seraphim about the intercession of the Saints:

 

Our Familial Bond with the Church is Now Unceasing

By Seraphim Hamilton

James Jordan’s aversion to the intercession of the Saints truly does perplex me, since many of his own interpretive insights provide a foundation for the practice of the intercession of the Saints. His arguments are essentially two:
1. It’s talking to the dead, it’s necromancy.
2. We have to go through Jesus to get to the Saints, but the practice of prayer to the Saints reverses this order, where we have to go to the Saints to get to Jesus.

As for #1, this is nothing more than a pejorative that I can’t imagine him applying consistently. The Lord says plainly in John 11:26 that anyone who lives and believes in Him will never die. As is often true of the Johannine literature, the Revelation of St. John provides an expansion on this theme first articulated in John’s Gospel. Revelation 20 gives us two deaths and two resurrections. The second death is the resurrection of the unjust. For them, their bodily resurrection is as good as death, since they are eternally burned up by the Glory of God, condemned to the moat surrounding the New Jerusalem (which is the New Heavens and New Earth). If you follow the thought consistently, the first resurrection is actually the death of the Christian. This is how Christ’s words are fulfilled. When the possession of the Earth begins (with the destruction of Jerusalem, just as the possession of the land began with the destruction of Jericho), Daniel 7 is fulfilled, thrones are set up in Heaven, and those who die in Christ are enthroned to serve in a royal-priestly ministry for a (symbolic, indicating the whole Church Age) thousand years. That alone refutes the idea that the intercession of the Saints is necromancy.

2. This is what really undoes Jordan’s whole argument, and it’s building on what I said in response to #1. Throughout the Old Testament, the essence of the prophetic ministry is intercession. Take a look at Genesis 20. God is speaking directly to Abimelech. Yet God tells Abimelech that He will heal him WHEN ABRAHAM INTERCEDES. As God says, “Abraham is a prophet, and he will pray for you.” That particular ministry of intercession appears again and again. Exodus 8:30-31 has Egypt released from plagues at the intercession of the Prophet Moses. The plague departs from Israel at the intercession of Moses in Numbers 11:2. They’re released from the plague of Serpents at the intercession of Moses in Numbers 21:7. A child is raised by the intercession of the Prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 4:33. The Lord orders Jeremiah to cut off his ministry of intercession in Jeremiah 7, 11, and elsewhere.

The point is that the prophet, by his very nature, is an intercessor before God. This is true even when God is speaking directly to the person whom the prophet prays for. Abimelech only got Abraham to intercede because God told Abraham to intercede! The reason why the prophet is an intercessor is because he is filled with the Spirit. In Ezekiel 1, Ezekiel is filled with the Glory of God (the Altar-Fire) at his call to the prophetic ministry. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah is called to be a prophet when he is glorified by the coal from the altar touching his lips. And that the call to prophethood typically happens in the Heavenly Council indicates that the prophet is an intercessor in virtue of the fact that he is seated in the Heavenly Council. Amos 3:7 says this directly- the business of the council is the business of the prophet.

But because this happens before the resurrection of Jesus, the ministry of the prophet is impermanent. They, like everyone else, go to Sheol to await the death and resurrection of Christ. When that happens, Pentecost follows. And Pentecost means that EVERYONE acquires this prophetic ministry. Take a look at Joel 2, quoted by Peter in the Book of Acts with reference to Pentecost:

(Joel 2:28) “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.

This itself is an allusion to Numbers 11-12, which confirms our understanding of the passage as extending the prophetic ministry to the whole people:

(Numbers 11:29) But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”

(Numbers 12:6) And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.

In the dry bones vision, Ezekiel sees what happened to him in Ezekiel 1 happening to the whole of the people of Israel. Got puts His Spirit on the whole people, and they rise from the dead. That ultimately runs back to Genesis 2:7, where God brings Adam up from the dust by breathing the Spirit into Him. It is fulfilled, of course, in the resurrection of Jesus (which IS the restoration of Israel from exile, back to Paradise) and the Outpouring of the Spirit.

All of this comes together when you wrap the threads provided above into one theological rope. The vocation of prayerful intercession belongs to the prophet because the prophet sits in the Heavenly Council via his union with God’s Spirit. It follows that a deeper union with the Spirit implies a more significant seat on the Council, and that ministry of prayerful intercession and Spirit-filling is tied together explicitly in Romans 8, where the Spirit prays for the world IN US according to God’s will.

And in Revelation 20, we have a confirmation that Christian death implies, not an ejection from the Council (as it did in the old covenant, since Christ had not risen), but a magnification of one’s Seat on the Council. The New Heavens and the New Earth is being prepared in Heaven, even before the day when Heaven and Earth are united fully. Christ sits as Head of the Council, but the Saints are permanently enthroned in a triple heavenly ministry. And as Hebrews 11 says, we are surrounded by a great CLOUD of witnesses. St. Paul uses the word “cloud” because the Heavenly Council is seen when the prophet enters into God’s Glory-Cloud. That means that access to God NECESSARILY IMPLIES our access to the Council. And that means, per the whole witness of Scripture, that we can request intercession from the council members, not because we don’t have access to God, but because our familial bond with the Church is now unceasing, and that is the joy of the new covenant.

Millennials Need Worship that’s Been Around for Millennia

DSC01969Thom Rainer, the current CEO of the Southern Baptist LifeWay story chain, recently wrote about what type of worship the so-called “Millennials” like. He defines a Millennial as anyone born between 1980 and 2000, essentially those who grew up watching the rise of the internet and technology, or the pre-9/11 generation. The entire article is very much worth the read and I believe he is accurate. All of it is summarized by one statement toward the end:

And you will hear Millennials speak less and less about worship style. Their focus is on theologically rich music, authenticity, and quality that reflects adequate preparation in time and prayer.

In other words, what young people want is a real worship experience, something that really strikes at the heart. The above statement is really unpacked earlier in the article, where Rainer states,

  1. They desire the music to have rich content. They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths. It is no accident that the hymnody of Keith and Kristyn Getty has taken the Millennials by storm. Their music reflects those deep and rich theological truths.
  2. The Millennials desire authenticity in a worship service. They can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.
  3. This large generation does want a quality worship service. But that quality is a reflection of the authenticity noted above, and adequate preparation of the worship leaders both spiritually and in time of preparation. In that sense, quality worship services are possible for churches of all sizes.

Again, I don’t think Rainer is wrong in his assessment of what young people are looking for in worship. A lot of us Millennials were raised in very superficial environments; the message we received in music was so filtered and pacified that any deep message was quickly lost. When we first sang the stanza, “This is the air I breathe” we might have felt something, but ultimately it became another motion, a temporary fix on our search for the ultimate high. Worship in the 90s really came across as one emotional experience leading to another. Somehow that experience turned into a genre and in the 2000s we were pummeled with numerous “worship bands.”

Yet, we live in a very cynical and Nietzschean society. Everything is doubted, everything seems to have an illicit motive behind it. We view worship bands as simply trying to get one over on Christians and make a buck, or use their popularity to slingshot themselves into “secular” stardom. The preacher doesn’t really care about people coming to Christ so much as he cares about increasing revenue. Justified or not, these are stereotypes that exist among young people when viewing the church. What it means, however, is that we are perpetually suspicious of reality, always looking for the man behind the curtain; we want the authentic, but are often too cynical to appreciate authenticity when encountered. In a way, our experiences of the past shape our expectations of the present and our dismal hope for the future. Thom Rainer certainly has his finger on the pulse of the problem and I do believe he has found the proper solution…kind of.  Continue reading

A Church for All Generations: Why the Church Can’t Tailor Itself to Any Particular Age Demographic

Church_All_Generations_0I believe my friend Gabe Martini says it like this, “The Church doesn’t exist to cater to your felt needs; it exists to show you how stupid your felt needs are.”

I’m parapharsing, but something like that. Same goes for this article featured here. Although I don’t really find, not in my study and research of our generation, that Millennials want big bands, big stage, and big lights. In fact, I think more than that that Robert Webber’s assessment is that they are highly liturgical and looking for the opposite. See “The Younger Evangelicals” for more on that.

Nonetheless, I don’t think catering to any should occur, which is a lot of what Gabe’s point is for me. I’ve been on a kick about multi-generational communities in my own personal thinking lately. A community zoned into one generation or demographic and is made up of entirely that particular one is unhealthy and will self implode. I found this article to have some relevancy that would be great to share. Enjoy:

A Church for All Generations: Why the Church Can’t Tailor Itself to Any Particular Age Demographic

We’ve all read the nauseating statistics that disparage Millennials in regards to church. The list fails to surprise us anymore: Millennials go to church less, pray less, value the Bible less. I’m ready to move on from all this data toward a new church response.

The common line of the previous response creates church in the Millennials image. What do they value, believe, desire? Let’s use that to draw them in. Church is so desperate to reach this unchurched generation they develop a large band with loud music, buy new sound systems, promote twentysomethings to elder positions, create college-centered ministries—whatever it takes to crack the Millennial’s secret code.

What is church and whom does it exist for? Catering to this Millennial group creates a service smorgasbord where one can pick and choose his or her way across the church buffet line, like shops in a strip mall where all the needs of the customers are met in one visit. Church is a school centered on people just their age. Or church is a concert marketing itself so Millennials will attend.

The Church often sends a subtle, dangerous message that it exists only to meet all Millennials’ needs.

When the Church has extended all its resources to indulge one generation, they’ll leave the next behind. What happens when Millennials’ hair turns gray and the Church realizes it must reach out to the next generation instead?

All of this stands in direct contradiction with the picture God has given for how He intends the bride of his Son to operate. On numerous occassions Paul uses the imagery of a body to teach us what the Church should look like, such as in Ephesians 1:22-23: “And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.”

Church isn’t first a building, institution or club. Church is a body comprising people, interactions and relationships. Church is a people.

CONTINUE READING HERE! 

Church History Doesn’t Begin at the Reformation: Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology [A Review]

ImageScott Emery over at Storied Community as graciously allowed for his recent book review to be posted here! Make sure to go check out his page too!

Church History Doesn’t Begin at the Reformation: Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology [A Review]

I grew up in a rather conservative, Protestant, Evangelical (notice the capital “E”) church world. We took our cues predominantly from within the Fundamentalist movement of the late 19th/early 20th century, as we were its heirs. History wasn’t really a factor because it was mainly known as Tradition – again, take note of the capital “T” as it is typically indicative of all things Catholic within the aforementioned world. And when I say Catholic, I mean blasphemous. As in anti-Christ. As in world power pictured in the book of Revelation. There was no room for capital “T” within the capital “E.”

Church History 1 and 2 were classes I took while in Bible college and they, as far as I can recall, took a similar trajectory to the church world I grew up in. Basically, Jesus was born, died, resurrected and then the Holy Spirit started the church through particular acts of power. But don’t worry that stuff doesn’t happen any more. Wink, wink.

Fast forward from Jesus to the Reformation when Luther and Calvin took the world by storm. We left the heavy hand of the Catholic Church and now we are what we are today.

Not only was the gap between Jesus and the Reformation overlooked, it was so egregiously forgotten that there was not even a mention of the church fathers and mothers – the forebears of Eastern Orthodox Church and its theology. (And…shhh…the Church as a whole.) Thankfully, while in seminary, I was introduced to what has come to be known as the Patristic age.

And my world was changed.

This is why I am thankful for this little book by an amazing theologian, Andrew Louth:Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology. I had read some of Louth’s work while in seminary and was caught up in the lucidity and potency of his writing. This work continues in the same vein.

Within the pages of this book, he takes on the gamut of topics usually rendered by history as the spectrum of theology. Beginning with God (theology proper) and culminating with “the last things and eternal life” (eschatology), Louth gives us the Eastern Orthodox vantage point tying them all together.

Yet throughout the book, he is also cautious to remind us that these are the understandings of Eastern Orthodoxy mediated through his own experience. He doesn’t pretend to speak for all of Eastern Orthodoxy – for there is no inherent monolith – which makes room for the readers’ questions and personal inquiry. History is well represented, but it represented through a medium of humility allowing us to wrestle with the material being presented. “What we should hear from the chorus of the Fathers is a rich harmony, not a thin unison.” It is to this harmony that we are asked to participate.

What I loved about this book is its insistence on understanding through experience and prayer. These aren’t bifurcated realities; rather, they are one and the same: we live our lives as a prayer. Louth states,

An introduction to Eastern Orthodox theology, as I understand it, may well involve learning various facts and dates, terminology and concepts, but at its heart it is an understanding to a way of life. (p. 3)

And elsewhere,

The only knowledge that counts, the only theology that is truly Orthodox, is participation in God’s movement in love towards us in creation and Incarnation by our response of love. (p. 122)

And again,

First, the mysteries of theology are mediated by a prayer, not by a creed or treatise: we only understand by participating ourselves in prayer. Second, all that follows is seen in terms of engagement with God, flowing from prayer: accepting God’s gifts and using them, even more, imitating in our movement towards God, his movement towards us, so that the Word’s kenosis, self-emptying, calls forth our self-emptying…” (p. 123)

Thus, Louth encourages us, as has the history of the Church because of Jesus himself, to find our bearings in prayer. In an effort to aid in this, Louth has peppered the book with liturgical prayers. Many of these are breath-taking in their theological depth and candor. For those of us bereft of Tradition and liturgy, these prayers bring us into the heart of what both joy and sorrow look like; what petition and repentance can sound like; how both immanence and transcendence are found in Jesus. I found myself praying these prayers, not simply reading them off of a page.

For those of us who have grown up in Protestant saturated worlds, there will be plenty of material to truly wonder about. For instance, Eastern Orthodoxy’s place for Mary the mother of Jesus, their thoughts and uses of icons, and the thread of universalism found within their eschatology [NOTE: Orthodoxy actually condemns universalism and it was done so at a Church council]. How have these things been viewed throughout history? What did the early church say that has been carried through by the Orthodox?

All in all, I would certainly recommend this book. The clarity, thoroughness, and emphasis on prayerful participation make it well worth getting. In addition, I would particularly encourage those seeking a more historical approach to their Christianity, along with those who have perhaps grown tired of the pallid or historical short-sightedness common within much of the Protestant body to pick up a copy. The historical gold found within these pages is a much needed introduction – and, hopefully, encouragement to continue – to the vast wisdom and love given to us by those from the early centuries of the Church.

Millennial Myths and the Real Reasons People Leave the Church

download (1)Millennial Myths and the Real Reasons People Leave the Church

BY SHANE RAYNOR

Attention Christian bloggers and columnists. I have a favor to ask. Could you please stop speaking of young people as if they’re a homogeneous group with a single opinion on every issue?

I’ve been guilty of it too. Christian writers are notorious for using Barna surveys and Pew polls as licenses to paint various groups of people with broad brushes. Readers of Rachel Held Evans’ blog, for example, probably have a good chance of coming away from her site thinking that nearly all millennials are progressive on creationism/evolution, homosexuality, and other issues. (To be fair, Rachel usually includes some kind of disclaimer about exceptions and about some of the trends applying to other generations. But those points often seem to get lost in the discussion.)

The fact is, millennials disagree among themselves on theology, religious practice, and controversial issues as much as any other age group. That’s been my observation anyway. The big difference I see is that younger people tend to feel less of a need to persuade those who disagree with them, and they’re less likely to break fellowship over a disagreement. I’m not sure if it’s because of their age (meaning they’ll change as they get older) or if it’s distinctive of Gen-Y and will remain a defining characteristic throughout their lives, but there certainly seems to be more of a “live and let live, think and let think” attitude among this generation. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re of one mind on much of anything.

Besides, if churches with more conservative, traditional views on sexuality, creation/evolution, and Biblical inerrancy are really such a turnoff to the millennial masses, then why aren’t liberal mainline congregations teeming with young adults?

CONTINUE READING HERE FOR THE ANSWER

5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church

articleGreat article over at Barna that I felt offered something of substance and good insights:

5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church

Everyone has an opinion about why Millennials are leaving the church. It’s a controversial topic, one that Barna Group’s researchers have been examining for a decade.

The topic was reignited this summer when blogger and author Rachel Held Evans wrote a piece about why Millennials leave church. Her editorial struck a nerve, sparking response pieces all across the web and generating more than 100,000 social media reactions in the first week alone.

Yet whatever one’s personal view of the reasons behind Millennials staying or going, one thing is clear: the relationship between Millennials and the Church is shifting. Barna Group’s researchers have been examining Millennials’ faith development since the generation was in its teen years—that is, for about a decade. During that time, the firm has conducted 27,140 interviews with members of the Millennial generation in more than 200 studies.

And while Barna Group’s research has previously highlighted what’s not working to keep Millennials at church, the research also illuminates what is working—and what churches can do to engage these young adults.

The Harsh Realities of Millennial Faith

But first, the concerns of Millennials leaving the Church must be understood.

Parents and leaders have long been concerned about the faith development of the generation born between 1984 and 2002—and for good reason. First, Barna research shows nearly six in ten (59%) of these young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away from either their faith or from the institutional church at some point in their first decade of adult life. Second, the unchurched segment among Millennials has increased in the last decade, from 44% to 52%, mirroring a larger cultural trend away from churchgoing among the nation’s population.

Third, when asked what has helped their faith grow, “church” does not make even the top 10 factors. Instead, the most common drivers of spiritual growth, as identified by Millennials themselves, are prayer, family and friends, the Bible, having children, and their relationship with Jesus.

Culture: Acceleration and Complexity

Still, not all is doom and gloom when it comes to faith among Millennials. In contrast to the widespread religious disillusionment marked among so many of their peers, millions of Christian Millennials remain deeply committed and active in their faith.

About one-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds are practicing Christians, meaning they attend church at least once a month and strongly affirm that their religious faith is very important in their life. A majority of Millennials claim to pray each week, one-quarter say they’ve read the Bible or attended a religious small group this week, and one in seven have volunteered at a church in the past seven days.

These spiritual practices are notable, says David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, because the broader cultural trends have not been particularly friendly to faith.

“Millennials are rethinking most of the institutions that arbitrate life, from marriage and media, to government and church,” says Kinnaman, the author of You Lost Me and unChristian who has spent the last 20 months speaking nationally about the challenges facing today’s Millennials. “They have grown up in a culture and among peers who are often neutral or resistant to the gospel. And life feels accelerated compared with 15 years ago—the ubiquity of information makes it harder for many to find meaning in institutions that feel out of step with the times. Millennials often describe church, for instance, as ‘not relevant’ or say that attending worship services ‘feels like a boring duty.’

“Furthermore, many young Americans say life seems complicated—that it’s hard to know how to live with the onslaught of information, worldviews and options they are faced with every day. One of the specific criticisms young adults frequently make about Christianity is that it does not offer deep, thoughtful or challenging answers to life in a complex culture.”

But this criticism is also a sign of hope, Kinnaman suggests, since it means Millennials are craving depth—a need the Church is uniquely poised to meet. In this respect, the research points to five ways faith communities can build deeper, more lasting connections with Millennials.

1.    Make room for meaningful relationships.

The first factor that will engage Millennials at church is as simple as it is integral: relationships. When comparing twentysomethings who remained active in their faith beyond high school and twentysomethings who dropped out of church, the Barna study uncovered a significant difference between the two. Those who stay were twice as likely to have a close personal friendship with an adult inside the church (59% of those who stayed report such a friendship versus 31% among those who are no longer active). The same pattern is evident among more intentional relationships such as mentoring—28% of Millennials who stay had an adult mentor at the church other than their pastor, compared to 11% of dropouts who say the same.

Kinnaman is quick to point out the limitations of such a study: “It’s important for anyone who uses research to realize correlation does not equal causation.

“Yet, among those who remain active, this much is clear: the most positive church experiences among Millennials are relational. This stands true from the inverse angle as well: Seven out of 10 Millennials who dropped out of church did not have a close friendship with an adult and nearly nine out of ten never had a mentor at the church.

“The implication is that huge proportions of churchgoing teenagers do not feel relationally accepted in church. This kind of information should be a wake-up call to ministry leaders as well as to churched adults of the necessity of becoming friends with the next generation of believers.”

5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church

CONTINUE READING HERE