MW Cook

an ex-evangelical doing a year of living christianly

Tag: church

Nearing the End

I thought I’d have done a lot more for this year of living christianly. I wanted to read the entire Bible, join a local church, and post regular blogs and videos about religion and spirituality and scripture.

I didn’t.

I couldn’t finish the Bible. This is partly because it took a long time for morning devotions to become a habit. Also, scripture is to be lingered over, not devoured. Bible reading isn’t like studying for a test, it’s like a homeowner going through storage, seeking treasures old and new.

Church was difficult. I was always on the outside, even though I’d sing louder than most. Our local evangelical church worked homophobia into every sermon (they will know we are Christians by our sexual conservatism!). And I was on the outside in progressive churches because they never sang songs I knew. In either case, I couldn’t take communion, which I’ve always understood to be the chief meeting of the Church.

My posts about religion, spirituality, and scripture were irregular. I found myself in a middling space, seeing the profound flaws and injustices of religion, along with the beatific and life-changing powers of religious spirituality. This has been hard to write about.

So here I am, my year of living christianly nearly over, and I’m no closer to believing in the crucial aspects of the Christian religion: the existence of a personal God and the resurrection of His son, Jesus Christ. These doctrines are the crux that bar my way back.

But I am not done with this old-time religion. Morning devotions have turned into something powerful for me, and I’ll keep them. I realize that I’ll probably never be done with The Book. And in the new year, I’ll have more to say about it.

Sermons and Stuff

People often get surprised when they find out I’m a preacher.  They get even more surprised when they find out I mostly preach in evangelical fundamentalist churches.  I remember one man, when he found out I was a preacher, asked “So, you part of the Church of the Universe or something?”

Yes.  Yes, I am.

I enjoy preaching and the wicked-cool opportunity it gives me to throw ideas about love around.  And, since I didn’t have much else to say this morning, I figured I’d give you a link to the last two sermons I preached, both of them on the favourite passage of weddings: First Corinthians 13.  Love, baby.  It’s all about love.

What is Love? Pt. 1

What is Love? Pt. 2

Hope it makes you want to love more.  If it doesn’t, then one of us missed the point.

Kierkegaard on Christian Scholarship

“The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

― Søren Kierkegaard, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

New Testament Gathering Principles

    Dr. Zaius, you silly orangutan.

Three monkeys

     I preach sometimes. I grew up in a nifty restorationist denomination that was formed in an attempt to get back to ‘New Testament Gathering Principles’. The founders figured that the organized church had drifted pretty far from the pattern of being Christ’s body that he had originally laid down. Sounds good, eh?

     I decided to preach on New Testament gathering principles last week. If you drop by in one of the churches from my denomination there’s a chance you’ll hear a sermon with this title. It’s pretty popular. I can’t count how many of them I heard growing up. Usually they’re about how we need to say ‘assembly’ instead of ‘church’ or how women aren’t allowed to talk or lead or go around without doilies on their head. I wanted to get a bit closer to the core in my sermon, though. Here’s some gathering principles I shared:

  • Famous for Love – John 13:34-35; 15:12. A quick Google search shows that the top four adjectives for describing evangelicals are ‘Insane,’ ‘Crazy,’ ‘Dangerous,’ and ‘Scary.’ Jesus said that people would know we were with him if we were famous for love.
  • Devoted to the Apostle’s Teaching – Acts 2:42. What did they teach? The same stuff that Jesus taught. Love. More love. Lots of love. The kind of love that leads you to die for strangers and enemies. Devoted to that.
  • Community – Acts 2:44-46; 4:32. No, not the wildly funny TV show. Living with such a sense of unity that we share everything we have. No private property. Like having a wildly big family. Most churches are clubs that meet on Sunday. The pattern was a community of people who lived and loved together all the time.
  • Productive, Risky Social Action – Acts 4:34. People quote Jesus in saying that the poor will always be with us as an excuse not to help eliminate poverty. It’s a good thing Jesus is still alive, otherwise I think he’d be turning over in his grave to hear such talk. The first followers eliminated poverty amongst their circles. It was risky, but it worked. Good pattern.
  • Making Disciples – Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:47. Not converts. Jesus never tried to get the Samaritan woman to convert to Judaism. His call was never convert. It was follow. Repent. Walk. Move. He didn’t come so that our theological statements could be more logically consistent than a Muslim’s. He came to reproduce.

     My people left the Anglican church because their leaders were more concerned with robes and ceremonies than they were with the things that Jesus said. I hope that we can always be moving in a restorationist direction, or else we’ll find ourselves, like Dr. Zaius, pushing truth away because it comes in a different box than we’re used to

New Media

Hey folks! I don’t have anything to say today so I’ll just point you over to the new website my home church of Ridgeville Bible Chapel. It’s even got a few of my sermons up there, if you are so inclined.

Peace!

New Testament

The denomination I grew up in is fond of calling its churches New Testament Assemblies. The idea is that our churches follow more closely after the pattern that the New Testament Church followed. We point to the book of Acts where it talks about the four ‘meetings of the assembly’ (2:42) and other passages like it. We try to take our cues from the early church and the early writings. We are so obsessed, in fact, with the idea of an ideal New Testament Church, that we go into towns where there are already evangelical churches and plant our own because Baptists and Pentecostals are not so nearly New Testament as we are.

But I had a realization the other day. We, also, are not nearly as New Testament as we think we are.

Here are some interesting characteristics of the church in the time of the New Testament that I don’t quite think we are pulling off:

  • They hung out every day (2:46).
  • They sold their possessions and gave to the poor (2:45, 4:34-35).
  • They performed miracles (5:12).
  • They had no private property but held everything in common (2:44, 4:32).
  • They had no building set aside for ‘church’.
  • The church spent its money on the needy (4:35).
  • They risked and lost their lives to help other.
  • It’s interesting how we don’t do most of this. But I think that the most interesting thing is that, by and large, we don’t think these things should be done at all. Which is a shame, really, because it seems like a wonderful system. So wonderful, in fact, that I think this is why the early church grew by the multitudes (5:14) while the modern church … doesn’t.

    Things I Wonder

    Sometimes I just sit there and I wonder.

  • I wonder what would happen if the Church today made a point of sharing all their resources and living in close quarters like the Church did when the Spirit and the Apostles were running the show. Would things be better?
  • I wonder what would happen if the Church stopped spending 75% of its money on buildings, pastors and insurance and spent it on fighting destitution like the early Church did. Would we really wipe out poverty like the economists say we would?
  • I wonder what would happen if missionaries dropped their titles and benefits and tried making disciples instead of converts. Would more people start following Jesus?
  • I wonder what would happen if I really did sell everything superfluous and gave it to the poor. Would my life really be permanently hindered for lack of things?
  • I wonder what would happen if I tried to embrace Paul as he says “You are saved by faith alone” and James when he said “You are not saved by faith alone.” Would my brain explode?
  • I wonder what would happen if we sold the church building and used the money to save starving kids. Would we still get together on Sundays?
  • I wonder if we stopped being missionaries, and starting just living in strange countries and, while there, spread love and Jesus around. Would that be enough?
  • I wonder if the many things I own are good for me, or bad. Would Jesus have bought all the toys in my house?
  • I wonder what would happen if I tried to live out the Sermon on the Mount instead of trying to explain why it couldn’t possibly mean what it seems to mean. Would that be so bad?
  • I wonder what would happen if I stopped wondering and put these things to the test. Would I win?