Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Church And The World

What is supposed to be the connection between the church and the world?

The church is to be a community providing an example of justice and righteousness-- "You are a city on a hill"

The church is to be a prophet, explaining to the world of God’s blessing and punishment and how to obtain God’s blessing through Jesus’ life and teaching-- "I have not come to judge the world, but that the world might be saved"

The church is to be involved in the world, displaying God’s love and forgiveness to the marginalized and hopeless. "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

(Posted on Christians For Social Justice on MySpace)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Unrequested Counsel for a Seminary Student

I wrote this to a seminary student who was offended by a remark I made that it was a heresy for the church to require pastors to attend seminary. Unfortunately, he never left me an email or anything for me to contact him back. So I am going to inflict my letter on you. Hopefully somebody gets something out of it.

Dear Adam:

I am sorry if you were offended at my comments about the requirements for seminary. It is not that I think a seminary is a bad place to be, I just think that there is much in it that shouldn’t be requirements for ministry. Yet most denominations require seminary for their pastors to be ordained. In fact, for some denominations, a seminary education almost guarantees you a place in ministry. This situation causes many of us—whether in or out of pastoral ministry—to think more highly of those who are educated than the Bible says we ought.

It says in Scripture that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” In other words, we often get an education to prove our self worth. This is why we get degrees and want to get good grades, to prove that we have accomplished our tasks of learning and obtaining knowledge. But that is not the basis of ministry. The basis of ministry is self-sacrifice, the giving of who we are into people’s needs, action based on compassion.

This does not mean that an education is wrong. It’s fine. It is especially helpful in our society when people respect those who have knowledge. But we must set aside the unspoken assumptions about this education: that seminary will prepare us to do ministry, which is based on love, not knowledge. An education is an aide for some, but it is not a requirement for a ministry of love. Knowledge is an assistant in preaching and in understanding both doctrine and the history of doctrine. But this is all background, not the real thing.

When I was striving after my degrees in order to be ready for ministry, there are certain things that I wish someone would have told me, to put things in perspective, as I was in my studies. Some of them I learned in school, some of them I learned later. I am going to share them with you now, even though you didn’t ask. Perhaps they will be helpful to you, perhaps not. But since I’ve been a pastor for some ten years, I’ve learned some stuff and yet I still remember what it was to be a student. So, here’s the advice that I would give myself as a divinity student:

a. It’s all about Jesus. The history of doctrine and the various arguments about Bible passages is significant, but if we lose sight of Jesus—His life, His ministry, His death and resurrection, all for us to imitate—then we have lost what is most important. In the midst of our discussions about the rapture or the nature of the soul, we must not get distracted from the One whom we are to serve and the One whom we are to be. Ministry isn’t about knowing about Jesus, but living Him out.

b. My knowledge is as apt to be a distraction as a boon. Just as the man with a hammer sees every problem as a nail, so the man with book knowledge assumes every problem can be fixed with facts. This is rarely true. If we were engineers or mechanics, then the facts are all important. But when working with people, it is most important that we communicate the truth, not have it. And to communicate we need to listen more than talk. We need to know the one to whom we are communicating, and only then will we succeed in communicating successfully. Thus, we must know people more than we know facts. Facts are easy, people are hard.

c. The end of our schooling is the beginning of our education. Part of a seminary education is to help us understand the gospel in a deep way. However, the best that seminary does is give us the tools to learn. It is the Spirit that leads us, after the schooling, to use our skills learned to understand the Truths that will be significant for us. Graduation is our entrance into the School of the Spirit.

d. Ministry is not based on what we know, how much money we have or the position we hold. Ministry is sourced by the Spirit of Jesus. Note that when Jesus was preparing for ministry, he didn’t go to school, but to the wilderness. The only knowledge he obtained is how to trust the Lord. To heal others, he did not need theology, but dependence. This does not mean that He did not have knowledge, as He did. But the key to his ministry was power and knowledge from the Father, not the power or knowledge from humanity.

e. The goal of education is not good grades or even graduation. It is to learn what Jesus wants us to learn. This may mean that Jesus will want us to not spend so much time on grades as people. Or He may want us to share the time of learning with those in need we could assist. The time of learning is in God’s hands, not the educators.

f. Seminaries are based on the Platonic model of universities. The assumption in that model is that if one has knowledge, then one will act on that knowledge. However, we know that the Pharisees had knowledge, but the didn’t act rightly on that knowledge. Jesus’ method of education is based on some teaching and some modeling. Most seminaries give an opportunity for practicum, but it may be difficult to find a model. Look for someone to model yourself after, who is already doing the ministry you think you might do—and so this would likely not be a professor. Ask if you could spend time with them, just observing. This may seem weird, but it is how we learn, by imitation, not conceptually.

g. Remember this: our time in seminary does not make us ministers. And a true minister is not a professional. There are people who have never had a college class who will be better ministers in some ways than we will ever be. We must remain humble, not seeking the better salary, not seeking recognition, not seeking the larger church, but instead only seeking the will of God. We need to remember that Jesus will laud the ministers without titles, without a salary, without glory, without any recognition whatsoever, but have been faithful, than the ministers who have all of that. So let us seek the praise of Jesus, not the things of the world.

h. A minister is not just a servant, but a slave. The term Jesus uses for his most honored leaders is slave, the least, the insignificant. So Jesus’ plan for us, if we are truly to obtain His greatness in ministry, is to do the dirtiest tasks, hang with the nastiest people, live in the worst parts of town in order to accomplish the greatest work. We may never get anything for it—in fact, our only reward may be rejection by all whom we hold important in our lives—but it is what Jesus seeks for us that is most important. Perhaps we will also get a good salary, perhaps we will also get a large church. SOMEBODY’S got to do those ministries. But even if we do, we must remain real—still hang with the lowly, still do the nasty tasks. Still be the slave.

In order to make our time in seminary preparation for our life in Jesus, we must keep our mind on the goal—being like Jesus at all times, even while we are learning. Pray that we will be Jesus, not just learn about Him.

If you’re still reading, Adam, thanks for listening. Hope I didn’t offend you more, but I hope that you can get something from what I have learned.

May the Lord grant you to obtain and make peace,

Steve Kimes

Real Education

I believe some conservative Christians oppose high education for the exact same reason they oppose public schooling: FEAR
College campuses do challenge traditional values and tend to lean heavily left-ward. All you need to do is sit through an orientation session at a college (even in a fairly conservative area) and you soon will discover that you aren't in Kansas anymore. You learn about tolerance for "alternative" lifestyles, how not to get date raped and where to get free condoms. I wish I still had a copy of the "stop the hate" week events.
There are pressures present on a college campus that you might not find anywhere else. I do not believe that a Christian is not called to cower in fear, but is to confront the culture. It does seem that a whole lot of children raised in a church setting abandon their religion in the four years they were on a college campus.
Before anyone becomes confused about where I stand, I believe that going to college is an excellent opportunity to learn about other people. I take the same stance on college as I do with public schooling: I think it is a good option that will help build a person's perspective. College doesn't create the weak faith, but it does expose weak faith.

To a certain degree I agree that we should never avoid education because of fear. We are not supposed to separate from the world, or be naive of the world. Yes, we are to be innocent as doves, but also as shrewd as serpants. We cannot truly minister to the world unless we know the world.

But we need to know the world from God's perspective. This is why I do not send my children to public school during grade school. I don't believe that they are established well enough in the worldview of Jesus to be handed over to the world for their education. When it is time, when they understand what we believe and why we live how we do, and also are able to make choices on their own based on what is real and not just because of social pressure, then I send them to school.

As far as college goes, it isn't necessary, but I would encourage my children to go if they wanted or needed to in order to do what God wants them to do.
-Steve K

However, I do wonder if all this sheltering and protecting children is effective for preserving faith... what kind of faith can't stand up to any testing? Is it real faith or just an illusion of faith? Can faith really be preserved?

I for one am not convinced that indoctrinating our children and keeping them isolated from the world will produce any signficant difference in results. True, by keeping them close to home with good social pressure we might be able to get them to appear right on the outside... but is that our goal?

Kinda like the Prodical son vs. the son who stayed home... did the son at home develop as a person by being isolated from harmful influences? Who's faith became greater as that story progressed?

I agree that there is no cause for sheltering our children. However, we also shouldn't thrust our children out into a world of hostility without training or an example.

I homeschool my children in the context of a household and a church where there are drug addicts, mental illness, people threatening my life, deaths, AIDS, conflict-- as well as laughter, hope, prayer and recovery from addiction. So they see my wife and I deal with all of these issues. This is their true schooling, more than Bible studies and math problems.

So I agree. If homeschooling is "sheltering" children from the world, then it is not a full education. But if homeschooling is integrated with exposure to the real world and a Christian response to it, then it is far better than sending a six-year-old to public school and saying, "Okay, now go and deal with it" How can they know unless they are taught?
Steve K

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Fear and Racism

It is a basic principle for all creatures to fear that which is the same size or bigger than them, but different.

I have some pretty large rats in my backyard, and a cat. If the cat sees a rat, he will just let it pass by without even flinching, because they are about the same size. While the cat is made to attack creatures, they are only those that are smaller than them.

But then my cat saw an advantage. The rat was focused on something else for a while, ignoring the cat. So the cat saw that he had the upper hand and attacked the rat, wounding it, playing with it and then killing it.

Difference and equal power equates fear.
Fear leads to anxiety
Anxiety seeks advantage over fear.
Anxiety attacts the object of fear.

Those of other race not only look different, but more importantly, they hold to different mores and cultural presuppositions than one. Because those of other race have a population that could potentially harm one’s own race, and it is different, the other race is an object of fear. "They might insist that we follow their ways."-- this translates into core racist language "They have taken over our cities"; "They have conspired to control us economically."; "They will blemish our civilization." These are all statements of anxiety.

Those in fear/anxiety will then seek an advantage-- economically, militarily, politically, etc-- to make themselves "bigger". Once they feel safe, they will attack that which caused them fear. This is primarily to give them and their society freedom from the anxiety they have been feeling. Once the object of anxiety is completely subdued or destroyed, then the original society can feel safe.

This is the pattern you can find in Nazi Germany, in Israel/Palestine and in Rwanda.

If we want to be rid of racial/cultural/social prejudice, we need to create opportunities for open relationship between the opposing groups. In familiarity and relationship, fear disappears. Once both sides recognize the other as humans with needs and desires like them, there is the possibility to compromise for the sake of peace for both sides.