Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Healthy church life

The Australian National Church Life Survey published an interesting list of 12 core qualities of healthy churches.

Faith and Worship
1. An Alive and growing faith
2. Vital and nurturing worship
Our Life Together
3. Growth in belonging and involvement
4. An active concern for those on the fringe of church life
5. Care for young people
Community Connections
6. A focus beyond ourselves
7. Serving the wider community
8. Discussing faith and inviting others to church
9. Integrating newcomers
Vision and Purpose
10. A clear owned vision for the future
11. Openness to new possibilities
12. Empowering and inspiring leadership

How does your church/ecclesia rate against this list?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Bishop of Durham makes news on heaven-going

There is an interesting interview with N.T. "Tom" Wright, Bishop of Durham, in the Feb 7 2008 issue of Time magazine. The article is available online.

The article has some interesting stuff, including the following:
It therefore comes as something of a shock that Wright doesn't believe in heaven — at least, not in the way that millions of Christians understand the term. In his new book, Surprised by Hope (HarperOne), Wright quotes a children's book by California first lady Maria Shriver called What's Heaven, which describes it as "a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talk... If you're good throughout your life, then you get to go [there]... When your life is finished here on earth, God sends angels down to take you heaven to be with him." That, says Wright is a good example of "what not to say." The Biblical truth, he continues, "is very, very different".
While Wright apparently believes in an "intermediate state" between death and the resurrection, he emphasizes that the teaching of the New testament is primarily about resurrection and a renewed earth.

Wright says that people deny the idea of bodily resurrection when they talk about their "souls going to Heaven." He says:
If people think "my physical body doesn't matter very much," then who cares what I do with it? And if people think that our world, our cosmos, doesn't matter much, who cares what we do with that? Much of "traditional" Christianity gives the impression that God has these rather arbitrary rules about how you have to behave, and if you disobey them you go to hell, rather than to heaven. What the New Testament really says is God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he returns to fulfil the plan, you won't be going up there to him, he'll be coming down here.
This article may interest a lot of people reading this blog, especially those from an Abrahamic Faith or Christadelphian background. It has been said that Tom Wright's views on Christology are closer to Abrahamic Faith and Christadelphian ideas than the views of most trinitarians. Now it seems the Bishop of Durham may also be somewhat closer to Abrahamic Faith and Christadelphian thinking on the resurrection and the Age to Come than he is to many people in his own communion.

Wright ends the interview with these words:
In almost all cases, when I've explained this to people, there's a sense of excitement and a sense of, "Why haven't we been told this before?"
Those final words reminded me of the title of Greg Deuble's excellent book "They Never Told Me THIS in Church!"

I'm wondering if there is a really positive way of talking about life-after-death without being confrontational, yet arousing people's interest in something they've never heard before. I mean, the popular Christadelphian approach to the subject ("the churches are wrong", "Christendom is astray", "you don't go to heaven when you die", "you're loved ones are nowhere", "we're right and you're wrong") can be more than a little off-putting for some people - which I guess is why people are staying away from Christadelphian lectures in their droves. And then with many Christadelphians comes this little rider: "and if you don't get this right there is no hope of salvation for you".

A Christadelphian friend of mine recently put it this way: "The teachings unique to Christadelphians are important and true and should be stated - but to use them to condemn other Christians is completely opposite to their intention and continues the division we have been guilty of." (Although I should let my friend know that most of the doctrines he thinks are "unique to Christadelphians" are also held by many others - there is very little which is "unique").

Surely there is a way to positively teach about subjects like life-after-death, the oneness of God, and the humanity of Jesus without judging people who disagree as non-christian and beyond the pale. Perhaps the Bishop of Durham will ultimately succeed where Christadelphians have failed.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Why are some churches so appalling?

I was shocked to read last week that a radical American church planned to picket Heath Ledger's memorial service because of his portrayal of a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain.

Members of the church (which I won't name - they don't deserve any publicity) said Ledger is now in hell. These so-called Christians have shown absolutely no respect for a family that’s coping with a terrible loss. They are insensitive, uncaring and totally devoid of any sympathy for grieving friends and family. It's Christians like these who make a lot of people question whether there really is a God. Who would want to believe in a God who has followers like this? One journalist wrote:

"Further comment feels unnecessary, other than perhaps to wonder whether the "church" will ever realise that their continued existence is the most eloquent argument against the existence of any deity. And then to accept the answer would be a no."

The appallingly sordid bad taste of a group of people who bring shame on the whole body of Christ is a shocking reminder that people will judge Christianity by what they see - Christians! And in this instance what they see even makes other Christians sick.

John wrote that "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:8). If these so-called Christians don't know how to show love, respect and kindness to a family which has just suffered a tragic loss then they have demonstrated to us all that they don't know God.