Author Archives: ifaqtheology

About ifaqtheology

Professor of Religion, Pepperdine University Specialties: Systematic Theology, Christianity and Culture Author of: God, Freedom & Human Dignity: Embracing God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered World (IVP, 2013)

Sexual Harassment and the Morality of Consent

In recent weeks charges and denials of sexual harassment and assault filled the headlines and the “breaking news” interruptions. And if the accused party cannot plausibly deny that the incident happened, the issue then turns on “consent.” Was the incident consensual or not? If the act possesses a consent-like quality, that is, some form of silence or non-resistance, a further question arises: what is true consent? Must you say “yes” out loud in answer to an explicit request? Must you sign a letter of consent? Is later regret a sign of original non-consent? And how soon must the regretting party express doubts about their true consent? Hours? Days? Weeks? Years? These questions and distinctions could be multiplied to the point of absurdity. But I am interested in a more foundational issue.

Mutual consent and legal liability seem to be the highest moral standards contemporary society expects in personal interactions, especially when it comes to sex. Many people can’t think of another reason to judge an action wrong. Whatever self-destructive consequences an act may have for the consenting parties, all that matters is mutual consent. It is assumed that mutual consent removes the possibility of moral objection to an act because (1) there is no higher moral law that consent cannot override. Consent is itself the highest moral law because people have the right to do whatever they want with their souls and bodies; and (2) the mutually consenting action of two or more parties can be isolated from all other people.

[Both of these presuppositions are false to the point of absurdity. See note at the end of this essay for further thoughts on why.]

Don’t misunderstand me. It is a good thing that our society has not sunk to the point that it condones nonconsensual sexual violence and other forms abuse. But there is much more to morality than consent. And Christianity calls us to a much higher standard.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13: 8-10).

Like you I am appalled at the abusive behavior of politicians, media moguls, and business executives that has recently come to light. However I am concerned that many people will take the whole affair simply as a warning to be more careful in their seductions and adulteries. But I urge us to attend to the root problem of such behavior. It’s not failure to get consent. It’s rejection of the God-originated, Jesus-modeled, and Spirit-inspired love that gladly and spontaneously fulfills the law. It puts other people’s needs above its own. It thinks always not of ways to seduce but of ways to bless others. It views power as the opportunity to serve others, not abuse them.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor. 13:4-7).

I hope you will teach your children a higher morality than mutual consent. You will have to do this yourself, by your example and words. And your children will need to see it practiced in a community of Jesus’ disciples. Contemporary society and its educational institutions will not do it for you. Mutual consent is as high a morality as it can imagine.

For an in-depth study of how consent replaced Christian morality in contemporary society see my essay from June 2014:

https://ifaqtheology.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/consenting-adults-body-soul-and-sex-4/

 

Advertisements

Eight Things You CANNOT do with 248.5 Billion Dollars

I just read that the combined net worth of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos is greater than the net worth of the poorer half of the population of the United States. These three men possess as much 160 million Americans, that is, $248,500,000,000. Should we be outraged at the injustice? Or, do we have to fight our temptation to envy? Do we resent them or admire them? Do we feel sorry for the poorer half of the nation, or do we make moral heroes of them? All of these and more are possible reactions. But I had another thought this morning.

Sometimes I think of what I could do with Gates-level wealth. I dream of the good I could do and, I admitted it, of the stuff I could buy, the fame I could have, and the influence I could exert. But not today. Today, I thought of all the things I COULD NOT do with $248,500,000,000. Here are my top eight things we cannot buy with any amount of money, not necessarily in order of priority:

  1. We cannot acquire the love of another person. Love must be freely given. If you want to be loved, you must love, love with no expectation of having that love returned. Attempt to purchase it and it will turn to dust at your touch.
  2. We cannot become good people. Virtue is acquired through God’s grace, reason, practice, and humility. Virtue consists in power over oneself to direct the self single-mindedly toward the highest good. It’s not for sale.
  3. We cannot buy God’s approval or sway his judgment. God does not judge as human beings judge. God knows and judges according to truth, and the standard by which he judges is his own perfect justice and love. In relation to God, all we can say is “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Receiving God’s approval should be our supreme desire. And you can’t order it from Amazon.com.
  4. You cannot buy an education. You can buy a teacher’s time, computers, and libraries of books. You may avoid having to spend your time working. You can afford to attend an expensive university. But rich or poor, learning is acquired by study. You can’t get it by writing a check.
  5. We cannot buy health. Being able to purchase excellent medical care is an advantage, for sure. But everyone dies, and cold viruses, cancer, heart decease, and genetic disorders do not distinguish rich from poor. Accidents do not check the financial position of their victims. We need other resources to deal with sickness and death: courage and faith and love. And you can’t charge them to your platinum VISA card.
  6. No amount of money can buy happiness, peace, or joy. In these states of mind we have a sense of fullness, of having everything we need, of wanting nothing beyond what we have. But no finite thing can establish these states as permanent. True and lasting happiness, peace and joy must be grounded in the knowledge of possessing and being possessed by the infinite source of everything good, God. And God is as close to you as your heartbeat. The one who has God has everything, but the one who lacks God will sooner or later find everything else worthless. And God’s purchase price cannot be translated into Dollars, Euros, or Pounds Sterling.
  7. You cannot change the past or buy forgiveness. Only God can work all things, bad and good, for good. Only God can forgive sin and heal sin’s evil consequences. You cannot absolve yourself of your sins; nor can you erase the memory of your guilt. The ghost of regret is immune to bribery.
  8. Banishing anxiety about the future is not within our power. Whatever safeguards you put into place, you cannot exorcize the specter of what could be. The possibilities for evil are as rich as our imaginations, or even greater. There is only one ground of hope, the faithful Creator. And there is only one way to benefit from this Ground, to surrender all hope in yourself and to trust God in life and in death. God’s reliability bears no relationship to our net worth, and trust is not a financial transaction.

I could have turned these eight points around and written about

“Eight Supremely Valuable Things You Can Enjoy Right Now Free of Charge.”

You can love and be loved.

You can become a good person.

You can enjoy God’s approval.

You can learn about God and God’s creation.

You can appreciate the health you have.

You can experience happiness, peace, and joy.

You can experience God’s forgiveness.

You can let go anxiety about the future.

At what price, you say? We don’t have to give up anything of real value. Quite the contrary, we get to trade in our worthless stuff, our pain, sadness, disappointment, despair, self-deception, pride, shame, and fear…. God will take those worthless things in exchange for things valuable beyond reckoning.

Perhaps envying, resenting or vilifying the rich or pitying, praising, or excusing the poor—understandable though they are—are not the most Christian, or even the most rational, responses to economic disparity. Perhaps we ought to learn to make our judgments according to the value system determined by God’s economy.

Ron Highfield’s Amazon author page:

https://www.amazon.com/Ron-Highfield/e/B001JS5TK8/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

 

The Devil’s Mirror

Mirrors enable us to see indirectly what we cannot see directly. Without a mirror we cannot see our faces or backs the way we can see our feet or hands. But mirrors can be deceptive. Have you ever visited a house of mirrors? Some make your middle look fat, others make it look thin, and some exaggerate your facial features in grotesque ways. But even the best mirror deceives by making your right appear to be left and your left to be right.

Not all mirrors are made of glass and silver. Looking into a mirror places an image of your body in front of you. But why do we want to see this image? Because we want to know how we appear to others and exert some control over the image others form of us. And why do we care how others view us? Because we know that people never view an image without evaluating it as good, bad, ugly, beautiful, etc. Just as a physical mirror reflects our physical image, the eye of the other reflects a judgment about our worth as a person. And just as we rely on physical mirrors to reveal our physical appearance, we rely on the eyes of others to reveal our worth. For we can no more evaluate our worth without the judgments of others than we can see our faces without a mirror.

Why do we depend on the eye of the other to show us our worth? Can’t we just assert our value against all external judgments? The answer is simple: worth is a relative concept. It’s always a judgment about someone’s worth to someone else, and I cannot make myself worth something to someone else by asserting it. That judgment must be made by another. Sensing your own worth, then, is identical to sensing your worth to someone else. And this is why we are obsessed with how others view us, with what they think of us. We want these “mirrors” to show us what we wish to see, because our sense of worth depends on it.

But we also make value judgments about others, and this is another way we attempt to secure a good opinion of ourselves. We cannot simply assert our worth independently of the taken-for-granted order of rank and value in our society. Hence we despise those “below” us and envy those “above” us. We give others “the look” that condemns or we ourselves feel the deflating glance of judging eyes. And correspondingly, our mood swings from pride to shame depending on which group we are viewing. And there is no escape.

Entering a room full of people is like walking into a hall of mirrors. Each one distorts reality in a different way, and none reflects only the truth. The eye of the other is the devil’s mirror. It either shows you what you want to see or confronts you with what you fear. It never tells the truth.

The Book of James speaks of the word of God as the perfect mirror (James 1:23-25). If you look into it you will see yourself as God sees you. Paul speaks of Jesus Christ as the perfect image of God (Col. 1:15), the image into which we are being transformed (Col. 3:10). And in 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says this:

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Jesus is God’s mirror. It doesn’t mere reflect what is there. It changes you into its beautiful image! And what do we see when we look at him? We see that our true worth is measured by how much God loves us and that his love is limitless. God does not judge by human standards. We see that our destiny is to be recreated into the image of the Image of God.

From now on, when you enter society’s hall of mirrors or when you are tempted to glance into the devil’s mirror, turn away. Look instead into God’s mirror to see your true, glorious face.

Announcing: my book Christianity–Is it Really True? has been revised, given a new cover, and reprinted by Sulis International Publishing Company. It’s ideal for book clubs and discussion groups:

https://www.amazon.com/Christianity-Really-True-Responsible-Post-Christian/dp/1946849146/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&qid=1508256928&sr=8-1&keywords=christianity+is+it+really+true&linkCode=sl1&tag=sulisinc-20&linkId=20db7d08b1265fe02819840ac483c640

 

 

Is it Okay for Good People to Hate Really Bad People?

I’ve known preachers to preach the same sermon twice within a short period, short enough that the rerun sounded very familiar. When asked why they preached the sermon again, the preacher may well reply, “You’ve not yet repented of the sin I preached against last time.” Well, that is what I am doing in this post. Since January 20th, 2017 (Let the reader understand.), I’ve heard brothers and sisters who in other settings seemed to be peacemaking and loving disciples of Jesus erupt in anger, use abusive speech, and melt in despair over what they describe as the dawning of a new Dark Age. This new era is characterized, they say, by hatred of the poor, weak, and wounded. So, these good people are angry.

I am not writing to dispute those who believe we’ve regressed to an age of barbarism. For argument’s sake I grant it. And I’m not addressing those who don’t claim to be disciples of Jesus. They don’t know better. My argument is with those Christian people who act and speak as though they believe this new situation requires that they “fight fire with fire.” I want to remind us that Jesus fought the world-dominating powers with suffering and death on a cross. Is it right then for his would-be disciples to react to unrighteous anger in what they think is righteous anger, to reply to unjust hatred with just hatred. Righteous anger? Just hatred? What absurd notions! Can there be such a thing as twisted straightness or peaceful violence or unhappy joy? Those are the thoughts of Saul of Tarsus as he persecuted the church and of Torquemada as he tortured the Jews of Spain. Saul didn’t realize that those who persecute “blasphemers” thereby become blasphemers, and it never entered Torquemada’s mind that those who torture “heretics” thereby make themselves into heretics. In exactly the same way, if we hate those we think hate the poor, weak, and wounded, we transform ourselves into haters.

So, I want to reblog a post from last year (“The Logic of Hate”) to encourage us…

to bless when cursed

to overcome evil with good

and

to believe in the power of a cross-shaped life.

 

“The Logic of Hate

Hate, hate, and more hate! Hate crimes! Hate speech! Hate looks! Hate thoughts! Television commentators, college administrators, columnists, political pundits, and political officials have a lot to say these days about hatred. However, as far as I can discern very little of it is grounded in any serious moral philosophy, much less in a thoughtful application of the original and most radical prohibition against hatred and hate speech, that is, Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. So, as we continue our thoughts about the Christian way of life let’s think carefully about hatred.

Keep in mind Jesus’ words from Matthew, Chapter 5, as we think about hate and hate speech:

 

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell…“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:21-22; 43-48).

 

Who is My Enemy?

In verses 21-22, Jesus deals with what our culture calls hate, hate crimes, and hate speech. Most murderers are motivated by hatred, and Jesus addresses the motive as well as the act. But he makes a surprising move. Rather than saying “Don’t hate your brother or sister” he says “Don’t be angry” with them. We might make a plausible denial of hatred but we can hardly deny that we get angry with others. Jesus severely condemns even mild insults like “raca,” which means something like “idiot!”  And he warns that calling someone a “fool” places one in danger of divine judgment.

In verses 43-48, Jesus speaks about hate and love. It is human nature to think we can love some people and hate others. But Jesus teaches that it is never permissible to hate. Who is your enemy? The enemy is here defined relatively. Your enemy is anyone you think wishes you harm or refuses to give what you think you are due. Of course, the person you think wishes you harm or will not give you what you think you deserve may not actually wish you harm or intentionally withhold what you are due. But that makes no difference. Whatever the truth of the matter, Jesus commands that we love our enemies.

 

What is Hate?

What is hate? Let’s begin where Jesus began, with anger. Anger is an emotional response to insult.  In anger we desire revenge for the disrespect others show us. Anger feels a lot like fear, and sometimes it accompanies it. But they are not the same emotion. Fear precedes and anger follows a damaging act. We fear something that threatens to harm us. When we suddenly feel that we might fall from a great height or when a huge dog charges us, teeth bared, we become afraid. But when a human being moves to harm us the threat is accompanied by a sense of outrage. Human beings know they ought to respect our dignity.

If we think we have been insulted repeatedly by a person or if we can’t get a past insult out of our minds, anger becomes habitual. In a moment of anger we desire revenge, but hatred, as constant desire for revenge, becomes obsessed with imagining and plotting ways to get even. Hatred is anger that has taken root and come to dominate other motives. In its poisonous imagination it magnifies, distorts, and deepens the insult to the point that taking revenge becomes a sacred duty to oneself…and sometimes a duty to God. For the person consumed by hatred, taking revenge feels like the only way to find release from self-destructive emotions.

 

Jesus and Your Enemy

But Jesus says to love your enemy. And your enemy is anyone you think wishes you ill. And to wish someone ill is to hate them. Your enemy is the one you think hates you. Now don’t miss this: the “enemy” Jesus says to love is precisely the person you think hates you, that is, the hater. Jesus warns us not to insult anyone, not even the one who hates. But in contemporary culture it has become acceptable to target people who “hate” us and others as long as we think their hatred arises from irrational prejudices. Such “haters” deserve anger and insult from “good” people, that is, the non-haters. Labeling “haters” with insulting and damning names and pronouncing severe judgments on them is a duty, rational, holy, and good. The logic of hatred is subtle indeed! For it was precisely this logic that Jesus exposed when he rejected the rule “Love your neighbor but hate your enemy.”  The enemies you are duty bound to love are the irrational haters. There is no other kind! And if we rage in anger and hurl insults at those people, we have become “irrational haters” ourselves. The logic of hatred is this: You are like what you hate! Jesus’ answer is this: “Love your enemies.”

BOOK NOTE:

Be sure to take a look at my new book, Four Views on Women and Church Leadership. It’s concise and practical. Read it. Recommend it. We’ve sold around 500 copies since July 01, the best record of any of my books. Its style, method, and conclusions are different from any other book on the subject. It’s usefulness is not limited to the narrow issue stated in the title. Here is what Doug Jacoby of “INTERNATIONAL TEACHING MINISTRY DOUG OF JACOBY” said:

“I recommend that anyone with leadership responsibility in the church, Christian women and men, get hold of a copy and prepare for their thinking to be challenged. Mine was. And after reading Four Views I ordered 200 copies!”

Amazon.com link to Four Views on Women and Ministry

 

 

Succeeding at Success

A few weeks ago I spoke about the “little voice” in the back of our minds that never lets us rest carefree. As soon as we feel ourselves relaxing that very feeling triggers the thought that we ought to be doing something. What keeps the “little voice” awake? What drives the back and forth process between relaxation and anxiety? Is there a state of mind in which our emotions are blended together in a stable harmony? And what unifying force can order the mind toward such peace?

I suspect that the “little voice” means well. Perhaps it is trying to help us toward that perfect balance. But its guidance is only as good as its knowledge and its prodding is only as healthy as its habits. And its ability to succeed depends on its image of success. So, today let’s examine the concept of success.

What is Success?

In general, success is the state of having achieved a goal. Human beings are future-oriented, goal-setting beings. We act to achieve goals. But there are many things we could do and many good things that clamor for our attention. As beings with reason and knowledge, we are able to ignore this myriad of alternative possibilities by selecting and ranking goals. Otherwise, we would become paralyzed into inaction or driven to exhaustion by fear of missing out. Since life demands that we work toward many goals, some serially and others simultaneously, we need a unifying principle to order our goals into a harmonious whole. Some goals seem much more important than others. Some can be achieved quickly and easily while others take longer to reach and require much effort and patience. Some goals are specific, and success is easily measured. Digging up a small stump in my front yard, which I did this morning, took about 10 minutes. Mission accomplished! Training to enter a profession takes longer, but when you graduate and are granted a license, you have succeeded. But why spend 10 minutes working in my yard, and why spend 10 years working toward a professional credential? These goals must be ordered as means toward some even more comprehensive end or they would not seem worthwhile. Achieving them would seem empty and meaningless.

Success at What?

The logic of ends and means leads ultimately to the necessity setting a whole-life goal aimed at the greatest good we can imagine. This one goal becomes the unifying principle that enables us to rank and order all other goals in a meaningful way. The worth of every other goal is measured by its usefulness as a means toward achieving our whole-life goal. But the two-fold problem with most whole-life goals is that (1) they are stated so generally that it’s difficult to imaging actually achieving them, and (2), given their generality, they don’t give us much guidance for what to do on a daily basis. If your whole-life goal is happiness or pleasure or fame or respect or independence, you can never arrive at the destination. And how do these goals impart the wisdom you need to keep on track toward the ultimate destination? This is the soil in which the “little voice” thrives. It sprouts up in the fertile plane between our whole-life goal and our daily lives. It whispers, “Are you sure that what you are doing today is the best way to achieve your whole-life goal? Don’t get too excited about removing that stump and earning that professional credential, because you’re no closer to achieving your whole-life goal.”

God and the “Little Voice”

Is there a whole-life goal that is comprehensive, important, and compelling enough to order all our goal-seeking activity into a harmonious whole but is also specific, achievable, and effective in guiding our daily activity? Is there a supreme end that closes the space where the “little voice” rules? Yes, I believe there is. And you won’t be surprised when I echo the Bible and the entire Christian tradition by saying that God is the greatest good and the chief end of human life. I am sure many will say, “Amen!” to this. But sometimes we’re a bit unclear about how making God our whole-life goal deals with the two-fold problem and the little voice. Unlike other whole-life goals, such as happiness, respect, and fame, God is not a general principle or subjective condition. God is a living reality who knows himself perfectly; God knows exactly what he wills and what he does. God knows exactly what he wants us to do and become. Hence doing God’s will, pleasing God, and living with God forever are specific goals—as specific as removing a tree stump or graduating from graduate school—not vague, unmeasurable generalities. And God knows what he wants us to do each step of the way toward achieving our final goal. The “little voice” thrives on generalities and uncertainties. God does not struggle with the “little voice.”

Succeeding at Success

But is our chief end of pleasing God and living with him forever achievable? If “God” were a general principle like happiness or fame or respect, the answer would be no. Achieving subjective states like happiness—even if that were possible—depends on our own power, and it can be thwarted by unfortunate circumstances. But God is not an abstraction. God is alive, and the achievability of our chief end is grounded in his power and love, not in our power and wisdom. In setting our whole-life goal as becoming and doing what God wills and living with him forever, we are merely accepting his grace and affirming what God has promised to give us. Our success is not in doubt because God’s success is not in doubt. The “little voice” cannot convincingly argue that God might not succeed.

Guideposts Along Road to Success

What about specific guidance for our daily lives, in the big and little decisions we must make? Even if the “little voice” cannot threaten us with ultimate failure, perhaps it can still annoy us with questions about the wisdom of the daily decisions we make. “Is it really best to spend your time reading a book? Perhaps you should have spent more time in prayer this morning? Do you really think you need that new computer?” And on and on it goes. As I said above, achieving our final goal is possible and certain only with God’s power and love. In the same way, God’s power and love alone—not our wisdom—grounds our hope of making the decisions and accomplishing the goals that will lead us to eternal success. If the end is not in doubt, neither are the means. Once again, the “little voice” is robbed of its plausibility. It cannot threaten us with the possibility that our lack of wisdom or the likelihood of making mistakes may lead us irretrievably astray. Trusting in our own power and wisdom, gives the “little voice” its power and plausibility. Trusting in God silences the voice, because then its only option is to question God, and that is not plausible.

Ron Highfield

Author Page at Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/author/ron.highfield

Is Your “Church” a Parachurch Organization?

Question: What if we thought we attended church every Sunday morning when in fact we attended a meeting of a parachurch organization?

Many good Christian works are accomplished by parachurch organizations. My wife and I contribute financially to many of them, and she serves on the board of one such institution. Examples of parachurch organizations are: Christian schools, colleges and universities, mission and service organizations, community Bible study organizations, hospitals, different kinds of fellowships and support groups, campus ministries, apologetic organizations, and Christian homeless shelters. The list is endless. Much of the good work Christians do in the world is done through these organizations. And that is good.

So what is a parachurch organization? It is para to the church, which means it exists “alongside” the church. As an institution, it does not claim to be the church. But it sympathizes with and supports the church’s mission, and the people that constitute its membership are Christians and in some way participate in church itself. Its mission and many of its activities overlap with the mission and activities of the church. That’s what makes it related to the church in a “para” way.

What marks the difference between a parachurch institution and the church? The differences are marked by how parachurch organizations are constituted, what they add to the church’s organization and mission, and by what they cannot do in their own names. Parachurch institutions are created by Christians for ministries about which they are passionate. They are usually organized as legal entities with non-profit status, establishing thereby a relationship with the federal, state, and local governments. Their missions are usually narrowed to one type of good work, education, evangelism, apologetics, healthcare, homeless shelters, etc. But there are also some things parachurch organizations do not do in their own names. For example, you do not become a member of a parachurch institution by confessing Jesus as the risen Lord and submitting to baptism.

What is the church? The church is the people of God and the body of Christ. It is constituted on the divine side by the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ through the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Faith is created through the preaching of the gospel and the working of the Spirit, and those who believe respond with repentance, confession, and baptism. The church’s mission is to speak, live, and embody the gospel of Jesus Christ in a covenant community. It witnesses in the present age to the reality of the coming reign of God. As a people, as the body of Christ, as a covenant community it exists in the world as a visible unity of many. And from the beginning, this necessitated meeting together to participate in the spiritual realities—one God, one Lord, one Spirit—that have the power to maintain the scattered people as one. When the church gathers, it listens to the words of Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles. It remembers the death and resurrection of Jesus by sharing in the Lord’s Supper. The community invokes God in prayer, and everyone is encouraged to live a life worthy of the gospel.

The church’s essence and mission are very simple, and accomplishing its mission requires few of the things we’ve come to associate with churches. It does not need money, land, or property. It does not need clergy or employees of any kind. Nor does it need scores of tired volunteers the “make things happen” on Sunday morning. It does not need accountants, bank accounts, or receptionists. It does not need a stage, a worship ministry, or microphones. It does not need to exist as a non-profit corporation. It need not have any legal entanglement with the state. Nothing in its constitution or mission requires any of these things.

But most of the “churches” we attend have all of these unnecessary things. Indeed we cannot imagine a “real” church without them. They have huge budgets, large staffs, and expensive properties, which force them to organize themselves like businesses. To fund this enterprise, church leaders need to spend lots of energy on financial matters, planning, accounting, and fund raising. Staff must be managed and paid. Because their meeting places are designed to accommodate over a hundred people—and some a thousand or more—many of these churches are staged-centered and focus on the few people running the show. This creates a celebrity atmosphere where importance and visibility are identified. There is little sense of the unity of the many or intimacy of community or accountability. In analogy to a concert or political rally or a lecture hall, the unity is created by focusing on the speaker or singer. The meeting includes people who are present for a variety of reasons. Many feel like strangers, and some suffer silently for years without anyone else knowing their struggles. And all these extras were added on the supposition that—even if not necessary—they would be helpful in carrying out the mission of the church. But hasn’t it turned out to be the opposite? Doesn’t this stuff get in the way? Hasn’t the means eclipsed the end?

Perhaps the churches we attend every Sunday are really parachurch organizations? They are devoted no doubt to good works and activities that overlap with the church’s mission. They are founded, funded, and for the most part populated by Christian people. They include some activities essential to the church, and the church is present somewhere in all the busyness. But they are not just the church, not simply the church. And because they are not simply the church, the essence of the church is obscured and its essential mission is neglected.

As I said at the beginning, many parachurch organizations serve the mission of the church in admirable ways. I do not reject the legitimacy of parachurch churches. So, I shall be attending a parachurch church this Sunday…but I do so with some uneasiness…because I long for the simple church, stripped of unnecessary baggage, devoted single-mindedly to the original mission.

Challenge: Make a list of the things your church is, has, and does that are not essential to the church Jesus founded and the mission he gave, things that if you removed them the church would still exist. Next ask yourself which ones of those things cause the essence of the church to shine forth and help it accomplish its mission and which ones obscure its essence and hinder its mission. After you’ve done that why not work in your church to reduce the number and significance of things that keep your parachurch church from being simply the church?

Ron Highfield

Author Page at Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/author/ron.highfield

 

Two Hundred Reasons to Celebrate Four Years of Ifaqtheology

On August 08, 2013, I made the first post to Ifaqtheology. Since that time, I’ve written and posted over 200 theological essays for this blog. That works out to about 180,000 words. I’ve published many of these essays in revised form in four books, which I’ve listed below. You can find them on Amazon.com.

  1. The Thoughtful Christian Life (2014)
  2. Christianity–Is It Really True? (2015)
  3. A Course In Christianity (2016)
  4. Four Views on Women in Church Leadership (2017)

Thank you for reading these essays and sharing them with others. And thank you for your thoughtful comments on the blog and on Facebook.

I look forward to writting another 200 essays for this blog. If even only one of them proves helpful to another person, I will consider it worth my time.

Ron Highfield