Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Are We Lowering The Bar Of Discipleship?

Author's note: I have re-titled this post and corrected a couple of phrases in the post to better reflect my intent based on my blog friend JMG's initial comment.

This past weekend my family rented a remote cabin owned and operated by a Mennonite family. It was wonderful not having television or internet access. I looked through some of the books supplied with the cabin. They had several books about the Amish and Mennonite faith. One of these books, 20 Most Asked Questions about the Amish and Mennonites by Merle and Phyllis Good, caught my interest. It was a well written book and dealt honestly with these two groups. They are people that truly love God and show this with their lives, yet they are not different than any other Christian group in that they are human and fail to live perfectly. One thing I liked about this short book was it provided a quick background on the emergence of the Amish and Mennonite faith. They stem from the Anabaptist reformation in the first quarter of 16th century Europe which had broken away from the original reformation led by Martin Luther. They specifically date their emergence to Jan. 21, 1525 in Zurich, Switzerland.

The suffering servanthood of Christ is their base model. Their first attempt at a statement of faith was 2 years after the movement began and is referred to as the Schleitheim Confession of Faith. “1) The one and only God has revealed Himself as existing eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; 2) The Bible is the authoritative Word of God, and the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament; 3) God has created and continues to sustain all things; 4) Humankind is sinful, needs atonement through the Lord Jesus Christ and is free to choose or reject salvation by grace through faith (children are in the kingdom of God until old enough to decide); 5) The church is the visible expression of those who voluntarily commit themselves to a life of holiness and love, open to each other’s counsel and discipline; and 6) Christ will personally return to judge the world, raise the dead, and usher in the glorious future of the kingdom of God.” [pg 16]

That is almost word for word many sermons I have heard preached in the Church of Christ. And so many of our group think we are so unique. Maybe our eyes aren’t as open as we like to think. Well, enough good-natured poking at my group. The point of this post was not this snippet of Christian history. I read a few passages in the book that caused me to ponder some of culture’s progressive or modern approaches to Christianity.

Does anyone ever join them? Does anyone ever leave? We know of no group within the highly diverse Mennonite-Amish family which “outsiders” cannot join. The only question is whether the applicant is truly willing to meet the group’s requirements of Christian discipleship. The greater the requirements for membership in the group, the fewer the members who join from the larger society. Conversely, the more relaxed the requirements, the more “outsiders” who join the fellowship (unless the expectations become so low that there’s no reason to join). [pg 22]

What may a fellowship require? From the beginning, this question concerned the Mennonites. On this point they broke with the reformers, and the Amish broke from them. Is it worthwhile to belong to a fellowship where there are no standards of belief and conduct? If the church members have a right to establish expectations of each other, how are those standards agreed upon, taught, and actually enforced? And should members, who fall short of the standards, be asked to withdraw from membership? [pg 22-24]

The ban and shunning: In a society where freedom of any sort is set on a romantic pedestal, requirements of commitment can appear cruel. To an Old Order person, however, lack of commitment and standards seems cruel and heartless. The early Anabaptists believed that the New Testament taught the church to discipline its members; that if after long, loving counsel a member in sin refused to repent, that person should be excommunicated from the fellowship until he did repent. Otherwise the fellowship would eventually have no standards. The purpose of excommunicating a sinful member is to bring that member back into the fellowship. It is not an attempt to harm or ruin the individual. The actual number of members excommunicated by these groups is very small. [pg 24-25]

The point of my blog is not to raise a discussion on excommunication, banning, or shunning. These passages made me wonder if our more modern attempts at reaching a wider audience are inadvertently lowering the bar of expectations of Christian discipleship down the value of our faith. Are Community Churches, in letting go of some of the restrictions of their prior affiliation, reducing accountability and discipleship in the process? Even for churches such as the one I attend which has retained its Church of Christ affiliation, wrestles with such a question regularly.

Does the phrase, “no pain, no gain” have merit in considering our understanding of Christ and discipleship? I do not believe that suffering in and of itself has much merit. But suffering is a part of the Christian life and we must be prepared to handle it with Holiness. Discipline is the root of discipleship. Can we have the faith of Christ and live His example without discipline? Are we absolving ourselves of such discipline in our modern Christian community?

Are we preaching, and much more importantly, teaching, instructing, and nurturing the kind of discipleship related in one the earliest accounts of Anabaptist martyrdom. They were a group heavily persecuted by both the Church of Rome and the Reformers. Dirk Willems, a Dutch Anabaptist in the late 1560’s, was chased by sheriff who wanted to arrest him because of his faith. Willems crossed the ice of a river safely; the sheriff fell in. Willems went back and helped his persecutor to safety. The sheriff promptly arrested Willems who was then burned at the stake in 1569. [pg 30]

In addition, do we promote accountability? Do modern, wider-audience church methods allow for real, intimate Christian communities that build deep, interactive relationships? This is the most important question. Because without a relationship, you cannot ask for accountability and you certainly cannot have individual acceptance of accountability. Without accountability buy-in and without relationships, you cannot provide loving discipline. People will not allow themselves to be held accountable or accept discipline from others that they do not know, trust, respective, or love.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Amazing, just absolutely Amazing!

Update: Shan Foster was named SEC Player of the Year

I have sat here and tried to describe what I saw Shan Foster do last night, Senior night, at Memorial Gym--to literally snatch victory from the jaws of defeat -- to the tune of nine times. Nine straight 3's to send the game to overtime and win in overtime, after going 0-6 before the nine.

I cannot describe it. It was so emotional because his effort transcended a mere sporting activity. The most amazing part was how God was glorified. Shan is an devout Christian young man who gives God all the credit and Shan did it very publicly last night. The coach even alluded to the affect that Shan has had on him personally. God works in mysterious ways, and maybe this is one of them.

The best I can do is post a link here to the Vandy site where anyone curious can watch video, listen to comments, and read an article on this incredible feat. My favorite is the Miss. St. coach's post-game comments on what Shan did. The Miss. St. coach is a class act.

So I will leave you with the links and a quote from an article on the game.

"This is the first game I hit nine 3s. To hit nine in a row, that blows my mind," Foster said. "I mean there's a big difference between hitting nine in shooting practice with Red (Alex Gordon) when we're challenging each other and hitting nine in a row with the other team trying with everything in them to stop you from shooting the ball ...
that amazed me. That was crazy.

My teammates did a great job of finding me when I was open. God took care of the rest. Some of those shots, I was amazed. I was deep on a lot of them," Foster said, shaking his head. "I put it up there, and the Lord took care of the rest. That's the only way I can describe it."

Foster Lights Up Mississippi St. in Overtime Thriller

Monday, March 03, 2008

How Flat Is Flat?

This is not inspirational, but I laughed out loud when I read it. It was too good not to share.

Coach Don Haskins on growing up in Enid, Oklahoma:

"...and boy, was it flat. You could go bowling outside. It was the kind of place you could sit on your front porch and watch your dog run away--for three days. You could stand on top of a can of soup and see Colorado."