Tag Archives: ecclesiology

A Spirituality of Depth and Fruitfulness (Part Four)

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

It is not possible to experience depth and fruitfulness in our Christian lives without daily engagement with God through the Scriptures and prayer.  However, this does not mean that the Christian faith is just about “me and Jesus.”  Jesus’ call to abide in him was originally given to a group of his followers.  Jesus expects us to remain (collectively) in him.  How?  He tells us in verse 12: “12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

This command is a powerfully clarifying one within a society and culture that holds out many definitions of love to us.  Jesus makes it clear that he and his example are what love looks like. 

What does this command lead us into as followers of Jesus?

  1. It leads us into a commitment to a local church. While it’s a popular option to make faith nothing more than a personal matter, a Christian cannot follow Jesus alone. Jesus calls us to love other members of his body.  The local church is the arena of learning with and from each other how to love each other well.  It’s not without its headaches and hardships, but we cannot jettison meaningful commitment to a local group of Christians while also expecting depth and fruitfulness in our Christian walk.
  2. It leads us into greater spiritual maturity. This process of learning to love one another in the same self-giving, sacrificial, courageous, and generous way Jesus modeled takes time. We’ll have to learn patience.  We’ll have to learn to forgive others and bear each other’s immaturities and fault lines.  We’ll have to be prepared to be hurt as we enter into relationships that require vulnerability.  Perhaps most challenging of all, we’ll need to abandon a transactional view of relationships (i.e. “what’s in this for me?”) and adopt a covenantal expression of love (“how can I give and serve without strings attached?”).  Being meaningfully engaged in a local church isn’t easy, but it’s critical for any Christian.  As we obey this command Jesus will honour our commitment and bless us with depth of character and spiritual maturity that can be cultivated in no other way.
  3. It will lead us back into communion with Christ. To love others as Jesus loves us, we’ll need to return to the gospels again and again and discover how to love like Jesus. But more so, we’ll have to return to Jesus in prayer again and again as we come to see all of the ways we fail to love each other well.  We will learn very quickly that one cannot build genuine Christian community without building intimacy with Jesus.


Note: This reflection first appeared in the January 26th edition of the Nelson Star News.


How To Invite Someone To Church

Even as our culture moves a  post-Christian direction, it’s not uncommon for Christmas and Easter church services to be the largest of the year.  These services continue to draw seekers and skeptics who are haunted by the suspicion that modern secularism is not the end-all and be-all; that there must be a deeper reality and truer story that holds the promise to change our lives and world for the better.

That deeper reality and story, of course, is the gospel of Jesus.

However, for many people (myself included), helping people connect to that message is no easy task.  Where do we start?

With Easter Sunday around the corner, may I make a humble suggestion?  Invite them to church this Sunday.

Granted, this idea is neither flashy nor innovative, but this Sunday may be the best and easiest Sunday to invite friends, family, and neighbours to.  Many people are still open to attending a church service, especially around the Christmas and Easter holidays.  And unless your church really pulls an epic Easter fail, the truth and power of Jesus’ resurrection will take centre stage!

Some people hesitate when it comes to inviting their friends to church.  Me too.  I find that questions and doubts can shut  down the invite before it has a chance to even be considered.

  • How will they react to the invitation?  Will they be weirded out? Will it affect our relationship going forward?
  • What will they think of our church?   Will they “get it”?
  • Will the service fall flat?  Will the music and/or message sucks? (and I ask this as the message-giver!)

While well-intended in their sensitivity, these questions often plant doubts that keep us from ever extending an invite.  By focusing on the what if’s, we actually remove faith in God’s leading and power. Instead, we localize our faith and trust in our ability to “deliver the goods.”  Our confidence gets rooted in whether we can extend the perfect invite to the perfect service with the perfect music and perfect message at the perfect church.

I hope the issue with this line of thinking is obvious: there are no perfect any of those things. And that’s OK.  Our imperfect invites, imperfect services, imperfect music, imperfect messages–our imperfect churches–are not an obstacle for God.  The hope we offer people is not our perfection, but Jesus‘!  Not only that, but God delights in using our weakness as a conduit of His power and glory (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:9).

So this year I’m challenging myself (and you!) to invite one friend, family member, or neighbour to church this Sunday.  Your invite will be an act of faith (who knows how they will respond?…), but when it’s done relying on God’s resources and not our own, great things can happen.

How To Invite Your Friend To Church

Ready to take the plunge and invite someone?  Here are a few simple ways to invite them to church:

1. Email or Text.  Today I invited two people to our Sunday service via a short text message:

Hi _________, I’m not sure if you’d be interested, but I wanted to extend an invite to our church’s Easter morning service this Sunday. It starts at 10am at Nelson Covenant Church.  No pressure, just wanted you to know that there was an open invite.  If you have any questions about the service or our church, let me know. 🙂

2. Phone call.  This is more personal than an email or text, but may put people on the spot depending on what they are doing at the time of the call.  You’ll have to judge based on the nature of the relationship.

3. Face-to-Face.  This is the most personal approach, but like a phone call, picking a context that doesn’t feel like you’re cornering someone is probably important.  If an opportunity arises, however, this is ideal.  It allows you to fully express yourself (i.e. tone, body language, etc.) to the person which helps people feel your care and warmth.

You’ve got four days until Easter Sunday.  Take the initiative and invite someone to join you at church this Sunday.  Worst case scenario: they say “no thanks.”  Best case scenario: they say “Yes!”, not just to joining you on Sunday, but ultimately to Jesus and his gospel.


Preparing for Mid-Winter: “Covenant Principles”

Next week I will be attending the Evangelical Covenant Church’s mid-winter conference in Chicago.  Part of my conference experience includes taking a course in the history of the Covenant church.  Our class has been assigned a number of pre-course readings and we were also required to give a brief presentation on one of the readings.

I’ve chosen to present on the essay “Covenant Principles” by Theodore T. Anderson.  Written as part of a fiftieth anniversary volume entitled Covenant Memories, 1885-1935, the essay explores the principles upon which the entire Covenant movement is founded.  I know the history and foundations of movements tend to be dry reading, but Covenant Principles is anything but.  It’s short, punch, and powerfully prophetic.  You could publish it today and it would serve as a clarion call to Christians young and old to reassess their guiding principles as disciples of Jesus.

Anderson is engaging and his theological vision is rich with insight.  His aim is to succinctly “define the Covenant biblically, theologically, and ecclesiologically.”*

He begins by stating the two truths that must be held in creative tension for all movements to establish themselves, sustain themselves, and bear ongoing fruit for the kingdom of God:

  • “Living movements are not static, but adapt themselves to new conditions.”

  • Convictions are indispensable for the survival and growth of any movement. Without them we are colorless and powerless. They are not like the shell of the turtle, which bars him from contact with others, but rather resemble the bones of the human body, which, though not directly visible, give form and strength to the entire being.”

Anderson then outlines the five Covenant principles which would serve as the bedrock for the (then) future of the Covenant church:

  1. The supremacy of the Bible

“The question constantly raised in pioneer days was, What do the Scriptures say? There may have been a tinge of ridicule in the epithet läsare, or “reader,” sometimes translated “readerists,” but the title was abundantly deserved. To our trailblazers, the Bible was the Supreme Court from which there could be no appeal. It is not by chance that the constitutions of our churches almost invariably begin with a statement that the Bible is recognized as the only adequate standard for faith and conduct, for individual Christians and for groups of believers.”

  1. The necessity of spiritual life

“Spiritual life demands more than intellectual assent to the claims of Christ. An academic orthodoxy unrelated to life is a perilous thing. To know the truth and fail to obey it is fatal both morally and spiritually. It is scarcely accurate, however, to say that it is life and not doctrine that characterizes the believer. The two are not mutually exclusive. Doctrine may exist without spiritual life, but not spiritual life without doctrine. Our faith is not a leap in the dark, but is built on incontrovertible facts. That Christ died is history. That he died for our sins is doctrine.”

“A personal and vital relationship to Christ as the Savior is the clamant need. This means to know and love and trust and obey him. That is the heart of the Christian life. It is a sunny reality that puts a new halo on every activity. The Bible describes it as a new birth, a new creation, a resurrection from the dead. It is a partaking of the divine nature.”

“Believing in a clear line of demarcation between life and death, we also believe in winning men to this life in Christ. Evangelism is our birthright. The very nature of the Christian life demands sharing it with others. The effort we make, in word and deed, to present Christ to other people is a fairly accurate index of how much he means to us. A Christ-centered message alone meets the need of the human heart. Gladstone was right when he stated that the greatest service any human being can render to another is to win him for the Lord. We have lost our vision if that ambition is dimmed.”

  1. Belief in the unity of all true Christians

“A spiritual home for all believers is the ideal of the Christian Church. In the apostolic days, the book of Acts tells us, those were added to the Church who were saved. The Bible does not recognize a divided church. Dissensions and cliques are foreign to its spirit. The letters of Paul abound in references to “all the brethren,” “all the saints.” On the basis of the Scriptures, we believe that the Church should accept all whom Christ has accepted. If we are to be together in heaven, we should be together here.”

“This means admitting into the Church all who are recognized as believers and barring from active church membership all others. Minor differences regarding issues on which true Christians disagree must not divide us. Unity and uniformity are not synonymous. The right of private interpretation is recognized. We know in part and prophesy in part. No claim to omniscience in drawing this line of demarcation is offered. Even the first Christian Church had an Ananias and a Sapphira. We do believe, however, that a spiritual experience is unfailingly manifested in a personal profession of faith and a consistent Christian life. When Christ on a visit to Tyre and Sidon entered into a house, the gospel narrative tells us, he could not be hid. Neither can the believer, who is a partaker of his nature, be concealed. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

  1. The independence of the local church

“We are congregational in organization. There is no centralized authority exercised over the churches.”

“In all fairness, it must be admitted that the autonomy of the local church entails problems that sometimes become acute. Occasionally there are crises in a church that could be relieved by definite aid from some higher authority. Serious dissensions and injustices could possibly be obviated at times if our organization were not so loose. The tragedy of having churches without pastors and pastors without churches, often resulting in irreparable loss to both, could possibly be avoided. But we believe that the merits of the congregational system outweigh the handicaps. The advantages accruing to a firmer organization can be secured in ways that do not conflict with scriptural precedents. The perils involved in an ecclesiastical bureaucracy are greater than any practical advantages inherent in it.”

  1. The urgency of the missionary task

“Mission Friends, or friends of missions, was the name applied to our fathers from the earliest days, and it was no misnomer. No narrow vision or limited perspective controlled them. They recalled that Christ declared that he was the light, not of Palestine or Sweden or America only, but of the world. That the gospel of the grace of God is a universal message was a reality to them.”

“The missionary enterprise is not optional, to be accepted or rejected at will by the believers. It is a mandate from the Lord. Our own spiritual life demands this expression, as does the hopeless condition of a Christless world. A church without a missionary vision is a dying church. An individual Christian devoid of missionary zeal is living a dwindling spiritual life.”

“He who has forgotten or evaded his God-given obligations to his fellowmen is living on a diminishing spiritual capital. His inner life inevitably becomes stunted and impoverished.”

“Fighting the good fight of faith is not merely defensive, but preeminently offensive. This was the conviction of our fathers. They were neither near-sighted nor far-sighted. They saw the whitening fields both at home and abroad. Alaska, which some denominations term “home missions” because it belongs to the United States, became our first foreign missionary field. China, with its uncounted millions and latent influence in the Far East and the world, soon claimed our hearts. In the midst of our jubilee year, despite financial distress in all our churches, we are advancing into the continent of Africa. By the grace of God and the support of his people, we are advancing and not retrenching.”


*All quotes taken from the essay “Covenant Principles” found in the book Covenant Roots: Sources and Affirmations.


I Don’t Connect With My Family Through Family Meals. I Connect With Them Elsewhere.

The following is written in response to this recent post by Donald Miller.

I’ve got a confession. I don’t connect with my family by eating with them. Not at all.

I know I’m nearly alone in this but it’s true. I was finally able to admit this recently when I sat down to (yet another) family dinner that had, perhaps, the most delicious spread of food I’ve ever had. I loved the food. But I loved it more for the how it tasted than for how it opened up space for me to connect to Heather and our children. As far as connecting with them goes, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.

I used to feel guilty about this.  But to be honest, I experience an intimacy with my family that I consider strong and healthy.

It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy when I sit down to eat with them. In fact, I can count on one hand the number family dinners I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t find “breaking bread” with my family particularly meaningful or stimulating. Like most men, I find that a family meal can be somewhat long and difficult to get through.

I’m fine with this, though. I’ve studied psychology and family dynamics long enough to know family meals aren’t for everybody. There’s an entire demographic of people who simply don’t find this mode of connection gratifying. You can put food in front of them all day long, do your best to instigate conversation, but they’re simply not going to get into it.

Research suggest there are three learning styles, auditory (hearing) visual (seeing) and kinesthetic (doing) and I’m a kinesthetic learner. Of course families have all kinds of ways of connecting, but if you want to attend a “family meal” every day, you best be an auditory learner. There’s not much on offer for kinesthetic or visual learners.

How do I find intimacy with my family if not through a traditional family meal?

The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with my family by working. I literally feel an intimacy with them when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my family and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow. It’s thrilling and I couldn’t be more grateful he’s given me an outlet through which I can both serve him while feeling connected to my family!

So, do I attend any family meals? Not often, to be honest.  Like I said, it’s not how I connect with my family.

But I also believe “family” is all around us, not to be confined to specific expressions of solidarity and commitment.

I’m fine with where I’ve landed and finally experiencing some forward momentum in my faith. I build intimacy with my family every day through my work. It’s a blast.


A Cautionary Tale: Tony Jones’ Demand for a Schism

On November 22nd Emergent Christianity leader Tony Jones boldly declared that it’s time for a schism within the Protestant church.  If you don’t know who Tony Jones is, he’s a prominent figure within the Emergent Christian tribe.  He’s very smart and thoughtful and always provides an interesting perspective to the mix.  Don’t know what a “schism” is?  It’s when you willfully and intentionally break off (i.e. divorce) from a group on the grounds that you hold beliefs that are so radically opposed to each other that fellowship is simply not possible.

In his post he wrote the following:

The time has come for a schism regarding the issue of women in the church. Those of us who know that women should be accorded full participation in every aspect of church life need to visibly and forcefully separate ourselves from those who do not. Their subjugation of women is anti-Christian, and it should be tolerated no longer.

That means:

  • If you attend a church that does not let women preach or hold positions of ecclesial authority, you need to leave that church.
  • If you work for a ministry that does not affirm women in ecclesial leadership, you need to leave that ministry.
  • If you write for a publishing house that also prints books by “complementarians,” you need to take your books to another publishing house.
  • If you speak at conferences, you need to withdraw from all events that do not affirm women as speakers, teachers, and leaders.

That is, we who believe in the full equality of women need to break fellowship with those who do not.

**deep breath***

Ok, I need to be honest and say that the following thoughts are neither carefully thought out or overly prepared/edited.  I don’t have time to carefully address everything I’d like to within Tony’s post (or the Emergent church more broadly speaking).  So I’m going to throw down some visceral reactions and hope they are helpful as a word (or two) of caution.

Big Picture: I get that Tony Jones is passionate about the issue of women and church leadership.  It’s a very important issue.  It’s so important, I can’t imagine anyone (regardless of where they fall on the egalitarian/complementarian spectrum) being dispassionate about it.  However, it’s genuinely sad to see someone’s passion override common sense and basic Christian charity towards their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Here are some scattered thoughts and reactions:

1.  I’ve done my homework on the egalitarian/complementarian debate, and while I hold to strong egalitarian convictions, issuing a clarion call for schism (i.e. an intentional act of division) from churches and other Christians who don’t not hold the same conviction is shamefully short-sighted, self-serving, and ungracious.  Doubly so when you throw around terms like “misogyny” and “subjugation” which are words that do nothing but build upon a caricature of the complementarian position.

2.  If you’re going to call for a schism from a large section of the church, you better know what and who you’re dividing from.

“Having grown up in a church that ordained women, allowed women to lead, and had women preachers, it is honestly shocking to me to continue to run into so-called “complementarians.” I don’t meet them in real life — I just see them in the blogosphere, on Facebook and Twitter. And friends of mine like Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey assure me that they exist.”

Let’s divide from a group of people who I have little to no contact with relationally, simply because their views strike me as “obviously” dumb and anchored in hate and ignorance.  Talk about an unwise and totally uncharitable posture towards other Christians who hold differing convictions to you.

3. Be very wary of anyone who upholds a core value of Jesus, only to immediately sidestep its radical and difficult implication.

“I very much take Jesus’ prayer for unity in the Fourth Gospel seriously…But…”  

Many people reading  Tony’s post would have been justified in closing the tab on their browser after that second sentence.  Especially after the rest of the post shows no willingness to work towards unity with complementarians.

4.  Think (deeply) before you declare.

“I don’t know what a schism looks like in the 21st century.”

Don’t call for a schism when you haven’t thought through what–exactly–you’re inviting people into.  If you don’t have a handle on the shape a schism would/should take, then don’t call for one, because you evidently haven’t thought through any systemic ramifications.  That’s immature and reactionary, not mature and visionary.  Throughout Tony’s post I was haunted by the wisdom of Richard Rohr: ” It’s so much easier to be over and against something than to be in love with something.”

5.  When you disagree with the convictions of another Christian, don’t resort to caricatures of their position that demean, dismiss, or ridicule.  Tony Jones’s post is laced with language (e.g. “subjugation,” “mysogony,” “archaic”) that is designed to frame the entire complementarian camp as anti-women and hate-fueled.  It’s profoundly disappointing to see a thoughtful leader like Tony Jones resort to that kind of tactic.  Then again, if he would have actually listened to the best arguments from complementarians (and maybe spent more time in dialogue with them–see point #2!), he’d realize most complementarians are neither anti-woman nor driven by hate.

**deep breathe**

Let me reiterate: I do not agree with the biblical convictions complementarians reach.  I am, like Tony Jones, passionate about my convictions.  However, I do believe that I can hold to my convictions passionately while extending respect and grace to those Christians–male and female–who hold to the complementarian position due to their desire to love and honour God.  I don’t think that is too much to expect from other Christian leaders.  It’s certain what I would have expected from Tony Jones.

For more thoughtful and robust reactions to Tony’s call for schism (and his subsequent back track), check out the following:

“Are your really calling for schism Tony Jones?” by Billy Kangas

“Tony Jones’ curious call for schism” by David Hayward

“This schism was cancelled” by John Mark Reynolds