Category Archives: Church Life

don’t convert culture

In both West and East it is vital for us to learn to distinguish between Scripture and culture, and between those things in culture which are inherently evil and must therefore be renounced for Christ’s sake and those things which are good or indifferent and may therefore be retained, even transformed and enriched.

In the West, according to the authors of God’s Lively People (Fontana 1971),
‘our congregations demand from every new member not only a conversion but also a change in culture. He has to abandon some of his contemporary beliefs and to accept the older patterns prevalent among the majority of the congregation. The new Christian has to learn the old hymns and to appreciate them. He has to learn the language of the pulpit. He has to share in some conservative political opinions. He has to dress a bit oldfashioned… In brief, he has to step back two generations and undergo what one may call a painful cultural circumcision’ (p.206).

Similarly Bishop David Sheppard writes that ‘few are able to be as objective as the shop steward who said that churches require you to do a crash course in middle-class behaviour, rather than to learn Christian maturity’ (Built as a City, p. 50).

John Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World, p. 122-123.

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the matter of vocation

Consider what the realistic outworkings of ‘mission’ are likely to be.

I begin with vocation, by which I mean a Christian’s life-work. We often given the impression that if a young Christian man is really keen for Christ, he will undoubtedly become a foreign missionary, that if he is not quite as keen as that he will stay at home and become a pastor, that if he lacks the dedication to be a pastor, he will no doubt serve as a doctor or teacher, while those who end up in social work or the media or (worst of all) in politics are not far removed from serious backsliding! It seems to me urgent to gain a truer perspective in this matter of vocation. Jesus Christ calls all his disciples to ‘ministry’, that is, to service. He himself is the Servant par excellence, and he calls us to be servants too. This much then is certain: if we are Christians we must spend our lives in the service of God and man. The only difference between us lies in the nature of the service we are called to render. Some are indeed called to be missionaries, evangelists or pastors, and others to the great professions of law, education, medicine and the social sciences. But others are called to commerce, to industry and farming, to accountancy and banking, to local government or parliament, and to the mass media, while there are still many girls who find their vocation in home-making and parenthood without pursuing an independent career as well. In all these spheres, and many others besides, it is possible for Christians to interpret their lifework christianly, and to see it neither as a necessary evil (necessary, that is, for survival), nor even as a useful place in which to evangelize or make money for evangelism, but as their Christian vocation, as the way Christ has called them to spend their lives in his service. Further, a part of their calling will be to seek to maintain Christ’s standards of justice, righteousness, honesty, human dignity and compassion in a society which no longer accepts them.

John Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World, pp. 31-32.

Note: This book was written in 1975, and some of his language may seem out of step with our current norms. Please consider the intent behind his words, not his choice of words, which were culturally acceptable at the time they were written.


we are not to make men beleive

It is not our work to make men believe; that is the work of the Holy Spirit.

D. L. Moody, How to Study the Bible: Updated Edition, page 13


faith determines all life choices

Even if you are not a secular person, the secular age can “thin out” (secularize) faith until it is seen as simply one more choice in life – along with job, recreation, hobbies, politics – rather than as the comprehensive framework that determines all life choices.

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, page 3


confidence in our own intellect

Charles Taylor explains why modern people are far more likely to lose their faith over suffering than those in times past. He says it is because, culturally, our belief and confidence in the powers of our own intellect have changed. Ancient people did not assume that the human mind had enough wisdom to sin in judgment on how an infinite God was disposing of things. In it only in modern times that we get “the certainty that we have all the elements we need to carry out a trial of God.” Only when this background belief in the sufficiency of our own reason shifted did the presence of evil in the world seem to be an argument against the existence of God.

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, pages 37.


empty religion, empty churches

Some years ago I spoke to a man who had been a minister in a liberal, mainline denomination in Manhattan for four decades. He told me that when he had been trained for ministry in the early 1960s, he was confidently told by his teachers that the only religion that would survive in the future was the most mild, modern kind that did not believe in miracles or the deity of Christ or a literal, bodily resurrection. But when I spoke to him he was nearing retirement, and he observed that most of his generation of ministers presided over empty church sanctuaries and dwindling, aging congregations. “Ironically,” he observed, “they can only keep the doors open by renting them out to growing, vibrant churches that believe all the doctrines they were told would soon be obsolete.”

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, pages 24-26.


how do you follow jesus

The people in your life aren’t expecting you to articulate every nuance of what you believe. In fact, most of them aren’t even asking, “How do you follow Jesus?” Rather, they are asking, “How do you follow Jesus?’

You can answer the first question in an e-mail. Or in a book. But you can only answer the second question by living your life in front of them. By waking up again tomorrow and making choice after gritty choice to take Jesus up on his invitation to follow him.

Jason Mitchell, No Easy Jesus, p.199


when we practice, we change

As we have explored these tough choices (earlier chapters in this book, the purpose hasn’t been to convince you to agree in principle with any of them. The purpose is to promote action. Agreeing in principle allows us to remain as passive spectators to the life that Jesus is inviting us into. The call of the real Jesus is for us to move and participate in these new ways of living.

Jason Mitchell, No Easy Jesus, p.184

In a 2004 article titled “Live More Musically,” journalist Andy Crouch explores the differences between purchasing music and practicing music, which he compares to “playing a CD [or] playing a fugue.” One of his main points is that we experience different levels of satisfaction with music we’ve learned to play through long hours of sacrifice than with music we’ve merely purchased.

[T]he music we purchase delivers almost all of its satisfaction up front. In other words, we’ll never be happier with a product we’ve purchased than when we use it for the first time. After that, our satisfaction level tends to go down.

But when we learn to play a musical instrument, the satisfaction curve moves in the opposite direction. During the early stages, there is little enjoyment. (Not just for us, but even more so for those who have to endure our attempts to blow air through a brass instrument or draw a bow across strings.) But if we make the choice to grit it out and keep practicing, in time something beautiful will happen. What at first were discordant noises will eventually become distinguishable notes. And those notes will eventually become phrases, melody, music.

“But when we practice, we change.”

Jason Mitchell, No Easy Jesus, p.188-9


put flesh and blood on Jesus

Nothing puts flesh and blood on Jesus in our world more than loving others for who they are, not just loving who we want them to be.

Isn’t that the plot of the gospel? God’s relentless love towards us is demonstrated by his sacrifice while we were still an absolute mess. The apostle Paul says that Christ died for us “while we were still sinners.” He freely gave his love for us even though we wanted nothing to do with him. There were no conditions to his love, no fine print. And even if there were never any change in our lives, not even an ounce of acknowledgment of his love, he would still love us the same way.

We need to ask ourselves a difficult question: Can we, will we, walk the same path as Jesus and love the people around us while they are still sinners? If we’re serious about following Jesus by loving others, it means loving the people around us for who they are today, not just loving who we want them to become someday.

Jason Mitchell, No Easy Jesus, p.172


compassion requires reaction

Compassion requires reaction.

That’s what the world needs – our presence as well as our prayers. People who are struggling and in need aren’t looking for pity. They’re looking for care and concern that act on their behalf – for people who will not only pray from a distance, but who will also be willing to draw so close to them that our shirts might get stained.

Jason Mitchell, No Easy Jesus, p. 66