Thursday, August 31, 2017

Marketplace Ponderings - 2

The Workplace, The Worship Place

Most of us compartmentalize our lives, we build firewalls to keep work separate from family, and worship separate from work. It is as if we live in a huge building in which each room represents a different facet of life, and most of these facets do not have connecting doors – we must go out of one room and go down the corridor to get to the next room. We live like this because we have been taught to live like this; it helps us manage our lives, it helps us avoid complications, it helps us wall-off stress – but it also causes internal and relational fragmentation, we become people with many masks – do people really know us? Do we really know ourselves?

The Biblical view of life is holistic, Biblical life is seen as an integrated whole which is grounded in God; God is the hub of the wheel and the life centered in God begins with worship. As the sun gives light and life to the earth, God gives light and life to all aspects of our lives…if we will let Him. God created humanity for relationship, and though we have marred that relationship through rebellion and sin, through Jesus Christ God our Father has restored us to Himself. The desire of God for us hasn’t changed since we were created, He wants relationship, He wants to spend not only eternity with us, He wants to spend today with us, and this brings us to worship for worship is the center of our relationship to God. When we worship God we acknowledge Him as our Creator, as our Father, and as our source of life. When we worship we give ourselves to God, loving Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and body.

But here’s the thing, if we live compartmentalized lives then we isolate worship to our Sunday morning experience and we risk closing God off from other areas of life, including our vocational life, including life in the workplace. For those of us who are married it is analogous to saying, “I’m married when I’m home and when I’m not home I’m not married,” for we are living as if we are saying, “I am a worshipping Christian when I’m with the church and when I’m not with the church I’m not a Christian who worships.” Just as our spouses do not want our hearts just some of the time, neither does God. Jesus makes it clear in John 4:23 – 24 that we can worship God anywhere, that our worship is not limited to certain places. This does not mean that places cannot be special, it means wherever we are we can worship.

Worship can take many forms, as our Sunday morning gatherings demonstrate. We are a diverse people and we have diverse ways to express our devotion to God and our love for Him. Paul writes in Colossians 3:17 that “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father though Him.” So while we may not take a hymnal to work and sing, we can dedicate our workdays to God and offer our words and deeds to Him in the name of Jesus – whether or not those around us know what we are doing.  In fact, later in Colossians Paul writes, “Servants…whatever you do, do it heartily as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.”

In other words, our work is to be our worship, and a form of our worship is to be the excellence of our work. Our work product ought to be worthy of God; this includes our integrity, honesty, craftsmanship, attention to detail, and all the other things that go into what we do in daily life. When we serve others we are to do it as serving Christ; when others are served by us it is to be as if Christ were serving them.

The foundation of every day should be our worship, and all things that we build on the foundation should be consonant with worship, they should be true to worship, acceptable to God as an offering and as a testimony to others.

Have you thought about worship at work before reading this? Do you give thanks to God when you are at work? What are the challenges to that? How can you meet those challenges? Is the quality of your work worthy to be offered to God? Do you realize that you are serving Christ at work? How does He look at your work? If others were to realize that your work is an offering to God, how would they view the quality of your offering – would they consider it excellent or just enough to get by?

“Lord Jesus, help me to worship you at work, to be thankful to you, to do the best I can at what I do so that you will be pleased and also that the quality of my work will be a testimony to you. Help me to learn to offer myself to you every day and throughout the day.”

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Church: Reflections – 4

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34- 35).

“This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12).

If God is love (1 John 4:8), then ought we not to expect that love is to be the distinguishing mark of the disciples of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? How is the world to identify the people who follow Jesus? When the people of Jesus love one another as Jesus loves them. This is a love with form and substance, a love of definition – it is defined by John thusly, “By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

What is the nature of the church? It is the nature of God, and deep within the nature of God (speaking as a child of his Father, in a limited fashion) is love – for John writes, “God is love.” This is so much so that Jesus says that this is how His people will be identified.

I think this is too simple for us, which is to say that I think Jesus is too simple for us; we are too sophisticated for Jesus (I speak as a fool of course!). I do not think that Jesus understands that love is not enough to hold us together, love is not enough to attract others – we need more than the nature of God, more than His love. Can this really be? In a world with such tragedy and pain, how have we become convinced that there must be more to distinguish us than loving one another as Jesus Christ loves us? How have we been seduced to think that the nature of the Trinity is not sufficient for the life of the church?

How often do we try to be something we are not, and fail to recognize who we already are in the Trinity? Before someone says “Yes but,” I will reiterate that this love has definition, it is not nebulous. Jesus says (John 15:9 – 10), “As the Father loved me, I also have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” As we love we obey and as we obey we love; as we obey we love and as we love we obey. As we draw closer to the Trinity and closer to each other, love and obedience draw closer to one another until they meet and are joined together as to be indistinguishable – merged into the life of Christ, the koinonia of the Trinity where love and obedience are one in One.  

This leads to another mark of identification, “And the glory which you gave me I have given them, that they may be one just as we are one: I in them, and you in me; that they may be perfected into one, so that the world may know that you sent me, and have loved them as you have loved me” (John 17:22 – 23). Again we come to the nature of God, for God is one. Is it any wonder that God’s people are called to be perfected into one? Our unity in Christ is essential for a credible witness to the world. How childish we can be with our divisions, how petulant, how arrogant (I speak from experience, perhaps you have been spared), how shortsighted.

I do not have an answer for the present state of division in the church, but it seems to me that recognizing it is a start toward wholeness. With all charity, I do think that as long as believers first identify themselves with a denomination (or non-denomination) or doctrinal tradition before they identify themselves as followers of Christ that there is little hope. I have pastored many fine people who thought of themselves as Congregationalists, or Baptists, or Presbyterians, or “other” before thinking of themselves (if at all) as Christians and members of the Body of Christ. I have found this true of pastors as well, and if pastors think like this we should not be surprised that entire congregations think like this.

Is it too much to say that if I find men and women professing Jesus as Lord and loving one another as Jesus loves us that I have found the church? Again, this is a profession and a love with definition – but it is Biblical definition, not my definition. Do we have enough patience with one another to allow one another to grow in Christ?

In Matthew 15:10 – 20 the disciples do not understand what Jesus is teaching about defilement, that it isn’t what we eat that defiles us but rather what comes from the heart and mouth that pollute us. Peter doesn’t understand and asks for an explanation. Later in the New Testament, after Peter has received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter is troubled at the thought of eating unclean meat (Acts Chapter 10), and even after the Lord speaks to Peter about there being no unclean food or unclean people, Peter still feels he needs to explain his presence to the Gentiles gathered in the house of Cornelius. Then sometime after his visit to Cornelius, while Peter is visiting Antioch (Galatians Chapter 2) he falls into the trap of acting as if some people are unclean to the point of not eating with them. My point is that Peter was in a process of maturation, a process which at Antioch revealed hypocrisy – this is the Peter who preached at Pentecost, the Peter who would die for his Lord Jesus. It took years for Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 15 to work itself out in Peter. Would we have given Peter enough room and patience for him to grow in Christ and in fellowship with us?

If Peter needed others to be patient with him how much more do I need others to be patient with me? If Peter had blind spots, what are my blind spots? A danger of overlaying the Biblical teaching of the mark of the Christian with other benchmarks is that our focus becomes the other benchmarks and we are blinded to Biblical teaching. I don’t think we can easily free ourselves from this propensity to complicate the simplicity of the teaching of Jesus Christ. The NT epistles speak to the fact that we are a people in a process of maturation, sometimes we find ourselves within the teaching and practice of the Bible and sometimes we don’t – we often seem to think that we know more than we do, we think that we know what “arrival” at maturation looks like when, as far as I can observe, we haven’t arrived yet – so how can we really know. The Biblical idea of “pilgrimage” can help us think about this – we are helping each other along the path of life in Christ.

Loving one another in unity in Christ – love and unity are intrinsic in the nature of God; they are the nature of the church.  Do I focus on this? Do I believe this?

My observation is that when God’s people meet each other outside the confines of their denominational or doctrinally distinctive wineskins that they often forget what they are “supposed to be” and naturally think and act and love as they are in Christ. It is analogous to children with different skin colors and accents and dress meeting and playing with each other on a playground – their natures as children are manifested – it is the adults who all too often look at the differences, the adults who will not eat with one another, marry with one another, enjoy friendship with one another.

My understanding of all of this is limited, I am on pilgrimage. I would like to learn to love others as Jesus loves me, as He loves you. I would like to be perfected into one with my brothers and sisters. I know less today than I did decades ago, but maybe what I know is more important – maybe loving one another isn’t really all that simplistic, maybe living in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3) really is worth pursuing with all my soul – I want to be like Jesus, to know Him, to touch Him, to love Him and be loved by Him…and in Him I want to love others and…yes…be loved by them in Christ.

What is the nature of the Church?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 101

“Other Christians stand before us as the sign of God’s truth and grace. They have been given to us to help us. Another Christian hears our confession of sin in Christ’s place, forgives our sins in Christ’s name. Another Christian keeps the secret of our confession as God’s keeps it. When I go to another believer to confess, I am going to God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 88. [Italics mine].

If you are reading this without its context you will miss its richness. What went before it is important, and what comes after it speaks to “a breakthrough to community” – (page 89). Many Christians reading Bonhoeffer’s words will fight them, stumble over them, run from them, and refuse to engage them thoughtfully. Others will see nothing but “risk” in them; risk of betrayal, risk of the strong dominating the weak, risk of manipulation, risk of dissension, risk of hurt, risk of pain, risk of losing authority, risk of misunderstanding.

Let me frankly say that there is the risk of losing all in the pursuit of God and of life together; and I suppose I should say that if we are not willing to lose all that we’d better stay home in the confines of our enclosed souls. Jesus tells us that if we are to follow Him that we must take up our cross and deny ourselves and that if we seek to save our lives that we will lose them, but that if we lose them for His sake and the Gospel’s that we will save them (Mark 8:34 – 38). Paul wrote that he considered everything worth losing for the sake of knowing Jesus – he counted all that he had lost dung (Phil. 3:7 – 11). Those that “play it safe” will lose, those that “risk it all” will find safety in Christ.

We tend to guard the status quo and engage in risk management rather than pursuing God and the Gospel. There will be pain in the pursuit of God in Christ and in life together, but there is also pain in continuing to live within enclosed souls with calloused walls of protection.

We face the temptation of one minute insisting that all Scripture is inspired by God and yet functionally, if not doctrinally, explaining away a verse here or a passage there. Bonhoeffer reads John 20:21 – 23 and he believes it to the point that he trusts it and writes about it and seeks to practice it. Jesus sends us as the Father sent Him, He says “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and He says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.”

We can say, “This can’t be, how can this be? Because I don’t understand it I won’t believe it or practice it.” Or we can say, “I don’t understand it but I will seek to practice it in obedience to Christ and in life together with my brothers and sisters.” Who understands the Atonement? We may touch the Atonement as we are touched by the Atonement, but how can we ever understand the Atonement – its height, its depth, its breath, its length?

Again, context in this passage is critical, not only immediate context but the context of the entire book. Consider all that Bonhoeffer has written prior to this passage, and then consider it again. I think I can say that unless we are committed to living under the Word of Christ that Bonhoeffer’s teaching in this passage cannot be practiced – for we cannot trust one another unless we are submitted to the Word of God. If I were teaching Life Together in a group I would say, “Let’s go back to the beginning, to Chapter One, and review how we arrived here. Then let’s review if we are practicing what we learned prior to arriving here.” Only then, I think, can we consider moving forward in practicing this final chapter.

The church, the people of God, ought to be the safest place on earth. If we are the safest place on earth then we ought to be that place where we can confess our sins to one another – brother to brother, sister to sister, parishioner to pastor or elder with appropriate and wise safeguards.

This can be misunderstood in many ways, not the least of which is that our present society is awash with the idea that public disclosure of emotional and psychological pain is to be applauded and encouraged; people are not only encouraged to air their “dirty laundry” in public but they are encouraged to dirty their laundry so they can air it in public. Bonhoeffer is not talking about dirty laundry, he is talking about sin; we confess our sins not to garner attention but to seek forgiveness; a guilty person ought not to expect accolades for committing a crime. Sin is hideous – Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins; we are not considering therapy, we are considering life and death and the Cross of Christ. No sin is trivial – what we may consider a trivial sin is a sin for which Christ died, a sin which separates from God – there is no trivial sin; to trivialize sin is to trivialize the Cross of Christ and the love and mercy of God.

On page 90 Bonhoeffer is clear that he is not talking about confession before the entire congregation but rather between two Christians (we’ll explore this in a future post). Bonhoeffer sees confession as a breakthrough to community (page 89), a breakthrough to the cross (page 90), and a breakthrough to new life (page 91). This is unfamiliar ground for most of us and it is natural that we may be leery of walking on it – we may liken it to a minefield knowing that things can go wrong; we will take out time traversing this ground – Bonhoeffer took time in describing what he saw; we will do our best to understand what he saw, why it was important to him, and whether it has Biblical foundations.

How important is confession to one another for Bonhoeffer? It is the last theme of his book, the last extended vision he is sharing, it is that which leads to the Lord’s Supper where he writes, “Here the community has reached its goal…The life together of Christians under the Word has reached its fulfillment in the sacrament (page 97).”

Friday, August 25, 2017

Reflections on Romans 4:1 – 5:11: (1)

I have found much comfort in this passage during this season of life; a season of much looking back, a season of sometimes seeing myself as I was rather than as I thought I was. Seeing one’s selfishness and egocentricity and sin is not pleasant, acknowledging one’s blindness is difficult. If I was that person then, who am I now? One can only continually seek and trust the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus – what I was then outside Christ I am still outside Christ; but also who I was then inside Christ I am now inside Christ. Ah! The tension of the already-not yet; can there be any doubt that we desperately need Jesus?

Paul has spent the first three chapters of Romans demonstrating that, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (3:23). As he drives home this universal truth he does it in the context of justification by faith:

“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” (3:21 – 24).

Throughout the first three chapters Paul is not only addressing the church in Rome as a whole, but he also specifically addresses Gentiles and Jews. This begins in 1:16 - 17:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ ”

In Chapter Two Paul turns to the Jews in the congregation and deals with judgmental attitudes toward Gentiles, but later in Chapter Eleven Paul will have a word for the Gentiles regarding judgmental attitudes toward Jews. Paul is an equal opportunity preacher.

In Romans 3:29 Paul writes, “Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also…”

We come to Romans Chapter 4:1 – 5:11 against this backdrop, with its four movements that conclude the first section of Romans (1:1 – 5:11): Abraham – David – Abraham – Concluding Crescendo. Note that the second section of Romans (5:12 – 8:39) also has a Concluding Crescendo – one which is well known to many Christians (I recall the thrill of reading Romans 8:31 – 39 for the first time and then reading it aloud to a friend of mine who was also coming to know Jesus).

Up until Chapter Four Paul has quoted many Old Testament passages, but he has not evoked Abraham. He has mustered OT passages to demonstrate that we have all sinned, that none of us are righteous. Could it be that there were still some Jews thinking, “Well, what he is saying may be true for some people, but it isn’t for me, for I am a descendant of Abraham and I carry the sign of circumcision. Paul’s argument may seem airtight but it isn’t, because I am circumcised just as Abraham was.”

Paul is saving the best for last when he begins Chapter Four with, “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something of which to boast, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.”

In other words, “Oh, by the way, if you are thinking that Abraham was justified by what he did (circumcision) rather than by who he believed and trusted (God), let me point something out – that ain’t so! Abraham believed first and was justified.” (Paul picks this line of thought up again in verse 9).

This reminds me of Jesus in Matthew 5:17 – 20; right after affirming the Law and the Prophets, which must have pleased the Pharisees, He says, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Bummer for the Pharisees.

The first movement of Romans 4:1 – 5:11 portrays Abraham believing God and receiving God’s gift of justification and acceptance and relationship. Abraham didn’t earn it, he couldn’t earn it – and neither can I, and neither can you.

And so when I look back and see myself as I was, and see things which appall me about myself, I am driven to the Cross and the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, I am driven to Romans 4, and I am amazed that just as Abraham believed God so I can believe God…and so you too can believe God. God doesn’t ask us to measure up because He knows we can’t – but He does ask us to believe Him, to trust Him, to confess our sins and turn to Him and live for Him by His enabling grace. God in Christ has broken down every barrier to a relationship with Him – if there are barriers today it is because we have built them, not God. As Paul writes Romans 4:1 – 5:11 he will lead us into not only the forgiveness of God, but also the love of God, the love that brought about the forgiveness; and the love of God that is in the Concluding Crescendo of 4:1 – 5:11 will be amplified in the Great Concluding Crescendo of 8:31 – 39.

This passage is of great comfort to me; I hope you find comfort in it too.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Marketplace Ponderings – 1

Have you ever wondered what it was like for the twelve disciples to live with Jesus for the three years of his public ministry? Think of the things that they watched him confront; seeming uncertainty, betrayal, opposition, slander, needy people, acclamation, success, apparent failure...the list could go on and on, because it is a list that portrays life. I can envision that each new encounter brought with it a new opportunity for learning and growing for the disciples.

The marketplace holds similar opportunities for learning and growing in Christ. Just as it is to be a place where we are to bless others, it is also to be a place where we experience growth in our relationship with our heavenly Father.

What better place to learn to trust in the certainty of Christ, than in the uncertainty of the workplace?

What better place to learn to rest in the peace of Christ, than in the pressures of the workplace?

What better place to settle the issue of the lordship of Christ, than in an arena where money and power are too often king?

I doubt that I would have an inkling of my own vanity and pride, were it not for the workplace – what about you?

Whatever may be occurring on the surface of our work experiences, there are underlying spiritual issues in which our Lord Jesus desires partner with us. Two questions that I have found helpful over the years are: "Lord, how can I be a blessing in this situation?" and, "How do you desire to mold me into your image through this experience?" Since Christ is with us, we have the same opportunity as the twelve did to learn from him on a daily basis.

Considering the amount of time that most of us spend at work, if we are not enjoying a progressive relationship with God at work, then we have cut Him out of a substantial portion of our lives. We have also lost a wonderful relational opportunity to learn from Him.

Since our heavenly Father already knows every detail of our lives, we can confidently incorporate Him into our careers, assured in His desire for relationship with us, (Psalm 139). Paul writes that, "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," are to be found in Christ, (Colossians 2:3). Who wouldn't want to have all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge to assist her or him in negotiating the complexities of the marketplace?

However, I'm not really talking about a resource, I'm talking about a relationship. This is not about pragmatic utility, for there are times when it is our calling to "lose", as our culture defines loss. Life is not to be about ourselves, but about Christ and others. We have a higher destiny and purpose than seeking to acquire the highest position, wealth, or the most toys. Positions and resources are simply things given in trust to the Christian to be used for Christ's glory and the benefit of others.

The Lord Jesus desires us to know Him in the midst of life, including life in the marketplace. He desires us to know the same intimacy that the disciples knew who lived with Him those three years (John 17). The marketplace can be a place of relationship with our God; a place where we are transformed into His image.

Do you think about Jesus Christ being with you in your vocation? What are the challenges you face in centering your vocation in Christ?  Do you have a sense of His will and purpose for your vocation?

“Lord Jesus, please give me a sense of your presence at work. Help me to know that you have a purpose for me in my vocation that goes beyond a paycheck and a position. Help me to give my challenges to you and to look to you for wisdom and understanding.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Church: Reflections – 3

“…and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Acts Chapter Two

Throughout the Upper Room Discourse in John Chapters 13 – 17 Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit coming to live within His people. After His resurrection He says to His people, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49, see also Acts 1:4 – 8). Throughout the New Testament we read of the Holy Spirit in the people of God, He is, if you will, the biosphere of the church; the church lives within the Holy Spirit…and the Holy Spirit lives within the church. God is one with His people and His people are one with God.

The people of God are people of the Holy Spirit. What does this mean? For some of us it appears to more conceptual and theoretical than holistically experiential. For others the focus seems to be on feelings and having certain palpable experiences. Excitement can be a litmus test for some, contemplation for others.

Do we need the Holy Spirit to have a church? To be a church? Can we “do” church without the Holy Spirit? From a pragmatic perspective what is our answer? How do we actually live? How do our congregations actually function? What would an unbiased observer conclude?

How does our experience today with the Holy Spirit compare with what we see in the New Testament? The coming of the Holy Spirit into the people of God was a cosmic line of demarcation in Biblical history, in human history – it was a watershed event. Is this evident in our lives today? Once again, do we really need the Holy Spirit to “do” church? How reliant are we on the Holy Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit a hallmark of our congregations?

If religious people did not recognize Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, is it possible that Christian religious people do not recognize the Holy Spirit today?

I am not speaking about miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit, though I believe we could be asking questions about those as well; I am speaking of whether or not we are dependent on, and obedient to, the Holy Spirit in our churches. I am addressing both those who believe in the present-day “gifts” of the Spirit and those who do not – I am writing about how we actually live and relate to God and to one another.

I am asking, in part, whether we are so good at making things happen that pragmatically we can function quite fine apart from reliance on the Holy Spirit. I am asking whether or not it has been so long since God’s people were people of the Holy Spirit that we no longer have a context within which to understand who the Holy Spirit is and who we are in Him. Is the Holy Spirit of any importance, other than as a rather archaic doctrine?

My questions are not about what we say we believe, they are about how we actually live. Could it be that our denominational (and nondenominational) “natures” define and determine who we are? What is our core identity? What are the headwaters of congregational and religious life?

For those of us who emphasize the Holy Spirit, what does this look like? Are we submitting to the Holy Spirit or are we deluding ourselves into thinking and acting that if we do this the Holy Spirit will do that? Has our relationship with God become a quid pro quo relationship? If it has, and I think among some of us that we come dangerously close, then perhaps we ought to take a step back and reconsider what we are thinking and doing. Drawing crowds and creating excitement is not the same as being a people submitting to the Holy Spirit, is not the same as the Holy Spirit doing a deep work of grace in the people of Jesus Christ; it is not the same as Jesus being revealed in and through His people. Could it be that at times we approach paganism?

Well, this is a bigger ocean than I can comprehend, and I write all of this in charity and as one who has fallen into, I imagine, all the traps of trying to do it myself, trying to make it happen. When I write of approaching paganism I write as one who has come perilously close – the idea of quid pro quo frightens me. Just because my “doctrine” was right didn’t mean my actions were.

We can be assured of one thing, that the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus Christ. The revelation of Jesus Christ to His people results in His people building each other up and witnessing to the world, sharing the Gospel. Why then do we look at witnessing as a marketing problem? Why then do we tend to rely on prepackaged programs to drive church activities and relationships? (I am not saying teaching programs have no place, any more than I’m saying writing a book or a blog has no place. I trust that the Holy Spirit can use a program just as I trust the Holy Spirit can use a book or a blog – I am talking about the engine under the hood).

Are we honest enough to look at the Bible and compare what we see in Scripture in both teaching and experience with our present thinking and experience without making excuses should our present experience and thinking not measure up? Most of us, if not all of us, tend to look at this question and respond, “Yes…but.” I understand this, we are the products of our individual and collective experience. Perhaps one of the tragedies in all this is that not only do people need one another, but different traditions need one another, for traditions, by their very existence, are products of different emphases; if we are going to emphasize some things we must de-emphasize others. Ah, but then we must listen to one another and ask questions and seek to understand…it is a hard thing to listen and not talk, to seek to understand rather than seek to convince.

Just some thoughts…

What is the nature of the church? Does it matter?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 100

“…in that community [the community of faith] Christ made the other Christian to be grace for us. Now each stands in Christ’s place. In the presence of another Christian I no longer need to pretend…Christ became our brother in order to help us; through Christ other Christians have become Christ for us in the power and authority of Christ’s commandment. Other Christians stand before us as the sign of God’s truth and grace.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 88. [Italics mine].

Bonhoeffer prefaces the above with John 20:23, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

I am not sure that the above can be understood apart from John Chapters 13 – 17; or perhaps I should say “touched” apart from Chapters 13 – 17, for I don’t know that they can be understood. I am also aware that our experience informs our approach to the above, especially our bad and painful experiences. Some of us used to think that we could not know God intimately but that an approach to God required a human mediator; others of us have trusted others and been hurt; others have been raised with prejudices against other Christian traditions that cause us to instinctively react against certain ideas without considering possible Biblical foundations. Were the “I” of today to meet the “I” of decades ago the “I” of decades ago would label the “I” of today a heretic, for the “I” of decades ago was a narrow-minded self-righteous religious bigot. This was fostered, I believe, by an insecurity born of not knowing the reality of the Atonement, of justification by faith in Jesus Christ. My bigotry was sustained by my insecurity.

If there is a central mystery to John 13 – 17 it is, to me, the mystery of the koinonia of the Trinity in redeemed humanity and the koinonia of redeemed humanity in the Trinity. This is, necessarily, a “we” experience, just as the “we” of the Trinity is shrouded in the mystery of God is One; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am drawn to Christ, we are drawn to Christ; I live in Christ, we live in Christ; Christ lives in me, Christ lives in us.

And so we have Christ sending us into the world as the Father sent Him into the world; we have Christ telling us that we can forgive and retain sins. James (James 5:19 – 20) writes those who turn wanderers from the truth back to the truth “will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” John writes (1 John 5:16), “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death…” I am quoting verses I don’t understand, I may have touched them but I do not understand them. I have a sense that I have probably been touched by them more than I have touched them because I can’t imagine being where I am (wherever that is!) without the patient intercessory prayers of others. I should be a castaway, yet I am not – others must have prayed for me, others must be praying for me…I would be a fool to think otherwise. If nothing else, what James and John write in their letters should remind us that there is a lot we don’t know – rather than explain it away let’s admit there is much we don’t know.

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). This is a statement of reality – the Head is not apart from the body, Christ and His people are a unity. We then are the presence of Christ to others, and others are the presence of Christ to us – to see this in some measure is to be careful how we treat one another, how we think of one another, how we pray for one another. To make merchandise of this is to profane it, to embark on a trajectory that exalts “self” and seeks to usurp the Head of the body.

Bonhoeffer writes above that, “In the presence of another Christian I no longer need to pretend.” But what is our experience? Pretending is often what is socially expected, whether explicitly or implicitly communicated. After all, we’re talking about “church” and there are certain ways we are expected to behave “in church” and with other Christians – we have images to live up to, decorum to maintain, masks to wear.

When we gather I do think that we need to be sensitive to one another, for not all things are edifying in a large group that may be necessary and desirable in a small group or with close friends or with those to whom we are accountable. We can learn from Paul’s desire that “all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). As we love and pray for one another we can acknowledge that we are all in the process of being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29) and that includes God working deeply within us about some things that may be best shared with only a few. I also think that there are some things best shared only among other brothers or only among other sisters. Let us keep in mind Bonhoeffer’s warning in the previous chapter that, “Other persons have their own secrets that may not be violated without the infliction of great harm. Nor can they divulge them without destroying themselves” (pages 81 – 82).

Pretending has to do with trying to make people think that I am someone I am not. I am not perfect, so let’s get that out of the way as soon as we can. I do not know everything, so let’s burst that balloon right away. I have not lived a perfect life, so while I will not delve into the past I will tell you that I have great remorse over many things and am thankful that Christ has forgiven me. I am still tempted, pray that I will flee to Christ and my brothers for help. I still sin – please pray for me and affirm the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

If we could see the glory of Christ in those around us we would know that we are surrounded by grace and mercy, and if those around us will acknowledge that they are the presence of Christ to us then we will find ourselves in a safe place, a healing place, a place of redemption. God is in His holy Temple, but does His holy Temple know it? 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Where is the Cross?

It is one thing for the Cross to be on a hill,
Calvary, Golgotha, call it what you will.
It is outside the city, placed between two thieves,
Rooted in history, in time and space,
This I believe.

But there is yet another place
Where I must behold the Cross,
Where it must work the work of Christ
To which I must submit, and in Him I must die,
So that in Him I shall live.

That place is in my heart, in my soul and in my life;
O Lord Jesus do Your work,
Let me know no life apart
From You and from Your Cross,
Planted in my heart, forever in my heart.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

An Anchor of the Soul

“In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, guaranteed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:17 – 20).

The recipients of the letter we call Hebrews knew what it was to live and suffer in uncertain times (Hebrews 10:32 – 34); in this way they were much like the people who constituted the seven churches to which the book of Revelation was written. Both Hebrews and Revelation have a particular focus on the transcendent and the unseen. They are both enigmatic, being enigmatic they draw us out of ourselves, above our circumstances, and they point us to Jesus. In Hebrews Jesus comes to us and then we come to Him. He, who is higher than the angels, comes to us; and then He draws us to Himself as we seek Him and His City. As we journey on our pilgrimage we have the assurance that Jesus is making intercession for us. As we journey we learn to live in the Holy of Holies together. We are on earth to be sure, but we are also in the heavens – and as our days become brighter and brighter the veil between the heavens and the earth becomes thinner and thinner, the river before us becomes narrower and narrower.

In the midst of uncertain times the people to whom Hebrews was written had taken refuge in Jesus, and in taking refuge in Jesus they found strong encouragement – they also found a hope that was an anchor of the soul. In Chapter 12 the readers of Hebrews are encouraged to keep looking at Jesus, the Author and Finisher of their faith. Later in Chapter 12 the readers are reminded of the transcendent community to which they belong, a transcendence that remains when all things in the heavens and on earth are shaken. In uncertain times these believers had an anchor of the soul.

An anchor keeps a ship in one position, keeping a ship from drifting away and from being damaged. For an anchor to work it must not only be dropped, it must be embedded in the sea bed – if the anchor is not embedded it will not work.

In our own uncertain times, are our anchors embedded in Jesus Christ and in the certain hope that we have in Him? If they are not we will find ourselves are the mercy of the storms of current events, at the mercy of trends, at the mercy of fear and anxiety – and all of these things have no mercy, they are ruthless and will destroy us. Awareness of what is around us is not the same as becoming subject to what is around us.

The souls of men today are without godly definition, they are shaped and molded on a daily basis by what they see and hear, they assume the flavor of the latest story that is “trending”, of popular “culture”, of religious charlatanism. When some souls do drop anchor they do not ensure that their anchors are embedded in the hope we have in Jesus, they will not take time, they are in a hurry, they want to move on to the next latest and greatest teaching or doctrine or movement.

We ought not to ignore the pain and suffering of those around us, we ought not to ignore inequity and injustice. But we need to remember again and again that unless our anchors are embedded in Jesus Christ that we will become participants in the storm and unable to rescue others. In order for us to rescue others clinging to the wreckage of false hopes and shattered expectations we must be a light-ship that is firmly anchored so that not only others can swim to us, but more importantly so that we can launch lifeboats into the storm to rescue others and so that those lifeboats will have a safe ship, firmly anchored, to return to.

Is my soul anchored in the hope which I have in Jesus Christ? What about yours?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Church: Reflections – 2

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” Acts 2:1-4.

“…and that day there were added about three thousand souls.” Acts 2:41b.

“And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:47b.

Prior to the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts Chapter Two there had been many assemblies of God’s people over the centuries. Under the Law that Yahweh gave to Moses the people of God were to observe feasts and holy days throughout the year, assembling before the Tabernacle of Moses, and later assembling at the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. During the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple the people assembled at various times. During the Intertestamental Period the people assembled in Jerusalem as well as in synagogues throughout the region. During the time Jesus walked the earth people continued to assemble in Jerusalem and in synagogues; Jesus and his disciples went to many of these assemblies. Yet, the assembly of Acts Chapter Two was different from every assembly of worshippers that had preceded it – what was the difference, what was the distinction?

When the Tabernacle of Moses was dedicated God’s Presence filled the Tabernacle but not the people. When the Temple of Solomon was dedicated God’s Presence filled the Temple, but not the people. In Acts Chapter Two God’s Presence did not fill the Temple in Jerusalem, He filled the people – “…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” A New Reality came into existence on the Day of Pentecost, a New Temple appeared on earth – not a temple made with wood and animal skills and metals, nor a temple made with stone, but a living breathing Temple of people filled with the Holy Spirit.

We often think of a temple as a place where people go to worship, but originally a temple was the place where a god, or gods, or the True and Living God, lived. People went to temples to worship because that is where the gods lived. This is an important distinction – temples were where gods lived and therefore people went to temples to worship. People did not go to temples to worship hoping that gods would come to meet them, they went to temples to meet the gods who were already there.

With this background, think what must have been going through the minds of Paul’s readers when they read, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple (or sanctuary) in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19 – 22).

Here is a radical reorientation of worship, of relationship with Deity, of identity, and of relationship with others – whether Jew or Greek. That which was once outside is now inside, and not just inside “me” but rather inside “us”. Jesus says (John 14:16 – 17), “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” Prior to Pentecost the Holy Spirit was with Peter, James, and John; on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled Peter, James, and John and from that day forth lived in them.

As Peter says (Acts 2:33, 38, 39), “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He [Jesus] has poured forth this which you both see and hear….Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

Acts Chapter Two shows the birth of a Living Temple, a People, and it shows that others were being added to this Temple, to this People (verses 41 and 47). Paul writes (1 Cor. 12:12 – 13), “For even as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

No longer must people go to special geographical places to meet God, for God now lives within His people and they meet God within one another. Collectively they are the Temple of God, and as the life of Christ flows through His Body His people respond to Him and they serve both Him and one another. Note that the manifestation of God dwelling within His people, of His people being filled with the Holy Spirit, was that the people were together; together in the Word of God, together breaking bread, together in prayer, together in meeting the needs of one another (Acts 2:42 – 47; 4:32 – 35). (Just because we don’t go to Jerusalem anymore doesn’t mean that we don’t still assemble – if we don’t assemble we can’t be together).

It has been said that the Book of the Acts of the Apostles could just as easily, and perhaps more appropriately, be titled the Book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit. In the pages of Acts we see the Holy Spirit animating the People of God; the Holy Spirit is inspiring, directing, encouraging, comforting, and warning God’s People. The People of God are not separate and apart from God, they are the dwelling place of God; they are also the Body of Christ, not separate and apart from the Head; they are also the Bride of Christ, not separate and apart from the Bridegroom.

There is an essential unity of God and His people which is the fulfillment (in an already-not yet sense) of Jesus’ prayer, “…that they may all be one; even as You, Father are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in us…I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected into one…” (John 17). The nature of God lives within the people of God; this, after all, is what the new birth is all about – we were dead in trespasses and sins without the life of God, we have been raised to life in Jesus Christ and now the life of God lives within us (Ephesians 2) – we live by the life of God.

What is the nature of the Church? The nature of the Church is Jesus Christ – we are not of the world, our nature is not of the world, we do not belong to the world, nor to ourselves, we belong to God in Christ. The Biblical Church is filled with the Holy Spirit, this is the nature of the Church – the Spirit of God, the life of God, worshipping God in Spirit and Truth (John 4). Since the Church begins with the filling of the Holy Spirit, how can we understand the Church if we do not begin at the beginning? The Holy Spirit is present at the creation of the world (Genesis 1:1 – 2) and the Holy Spirit is present at the birth of the Church – the difference is that while the Holy Spirit does not live within nature, He lives within God’s people.

If we consider that many Christians know little, if anything, about the Holy Spirit; if we consider that many Christians do not experience being led by the Spirit of God as a way of life (Paul writes, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God”); if we consider that many Christians have no awareness of God dwelling within His people – then we must conclude that much of the church does not know its true nature and identity. This leads to the question, “How can we think about what we do and how we do it if we do not know who we are? If we do not know our true nature, if the indwelling Trinity (John 14:16 – 24) is not at the core of our thinking, feeling, and soul – then how can we possibly live as the people God has called us to be, live as the People we are?

Outward conformity to Biblical precepts and commandments is not the same as obedience to Christ that springs from relationship empowered by the Holy Spirit. Mimicking a religious pattern, even a pattern with Biblical elements, is not the same as organically living in the image of Christ. I am reminded of a quote that goes something like (I can’t recall who said it), “There are those who have a life they never live, and then there are those who try to live a life they do not have.”

What is the nature of the Church?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

1 John 3:1-3, A Meditation (VII)

“See how great a love[1] the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and we such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

Looking for Jesus, hoping for Jesus, having our eyes fixed on Jesus, looking toward that Day when we will know Jesus as He knows us – “everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

Our hope is to know Jesus better today than we did yesterday. What more can we possibly hope for? Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” We cannot purify our own hearts, but Jesus Christ can as we behold Him.

We know that we did not create ourselves. We know that the world is not as it should be. We know that we are not as we should be. Those who know Christ are aware that they were once dead in trespasses and sins, and hopefully they have a sense that while the “already” is indeed true, that the “not yet” is also true. What better thing can we do than to seek Him who seeks us? To look for Him who looks for us? To fix our eyes on Him (Hebrews 12:1 – 2) who is able and desiring to transform us into His image?

We look to be improved and transformed by earthly things, forgetting that it is foolish, having begun in the Spirit to seek perfection by the flesh (Galatians 3:1 – 3). Our souls are being molded for eternity in Christ, should we not seek the eternal? Do we have difficulties within us? Do we wrestle with our imperfections? Do we have fears? Jesus knows everything within us, Jesus knows us and He loves us with a love that transcends our comprehension – and if we would only learn to fix our eyes on Jesus, on the things above (Colossians 3:1 – 4), knowing that in Jesus Christ are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3) – this Jesus whom we crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).

Is this too simple for us? This idea of having our hope in Jesus, our eyes fixed on Jesus? We are not talking about an idea, a philosophy, an image, a literary figure – we are speaking of the resurrected Son of God who created all things and in whom all things are held together (Colossians 1:15 – 18). We are talking about God coming to earth, and not just coming onto the earth, but coming into humanity in Bethlehem, the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us. Think of it, the Creator of the universe, of all that we see and all that we cannot see, the Almighty, the All-knowing – God of very God came into humanity because He loves us, because He loves you.

Can there be any doubt that He desires to transform you, His beloved, into His own image? He says, “Look to Me and be transformed. Put your hope in Me and allow Me to purify you.” Do we not think that a relationship with the Living God is transformational? Why divert our attention to anyone other than Jesus? To anything other than His Word? We are little and His is big. We are weak but He is strong. When our legs become tired He will carry us, when our hearts are weak He will strengthen us. When we put this house of flesh off He will clothe us with inconceivable glory.

Can there be a purer thought than Jesus? Can there be a greater hope than Jesus? Can there be a greater joy than His appearing in our lives? Can there be a sweeter sound than the voice of His Word? Can there be a more refreshing breeze than that of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus yearns for a wedding Day. Oh my, “what a Day that will be when my Jesus I shall see, when I look upon His face, the One who saved me by His grace” (lyrics by Jim Hill).

Simplistic? Think about it. How can yearning for Jesus be simplistic? How can knowing Jesus be simplistic? Have we so overeducated ourselves as to blind ourselves to the reality of the ever-present Christ in His people? Have we so overloaded ourselves with therapeutic deism that we have lost the transformational reality of Jesus Christ in His people? Do we have so much noise in our lives that we cannot hear the Gentle Shepherd calling to us? Does Jesus walk among us and we not know it? Do we talk so much that we do not listen? Do we look at ourselves rather than at the Cross?

Are we too religiously busy for Jesus? Are we so enamored with religion that we do not know Him and fail to count everything else but garbage, waste, disgusting sewage? (Philippians 3:1 – 14). Do we seek the thrills of ecstasy? Do we seek the intellectual satisfaction of theology? What is our litmus test? What is our benchmark for Christian legitimacy? Our mode of baptism? Our mode of the Lord’s Supper? The type of building we meet in? Our polity? The way our services should start, progress and end? Where do we find our validation?

There can be no validation other than that which comes from Jesus, no justification other than that which comes from Jesus, no transformation and sanctification other than that which comes from Jesus; no hope, no glory, no lasting peace of mind, no joy unspeakable and full of glory – there can be nothing of lasting value unless it comes from Jesus Christ.

Simple? We will not think Jesus simple on that Day when He is unveiled in all of His Father’s glory – we will fall to our faces and every knee will bow and every tongue confess (Philippians 2:5 – 11).

“But of Him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption that, as it is written, He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30 – 31).

“And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

[1] Or, “what kind of love”

Monday, August 14, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 99

The final chapter of Life Together is titled Confession and the Lord’s Supper. Bonhoeffer beings the chapter quoting from James 5:16, “Confess your sins to one another.”

While there is much in this chapter that I agree with and that I think critical for life together, this again is one of those passages that I would like to talk to Bonhoeffer about to better understand what he was thinking, and to challenge some of his terminology and (what I think) are his assumptions about other Christians.

“Those who remain alone with their evil are left utterly alone. It is possible that Christians may remain lonely in spite of daily worship together, prayer together, and all their community through service – that the final breakthrough to community does not occur precisely because they enjoy community with one another as pious believers, but not with one another as those lacking piety, as sinners. For the pious community permits no one to be a sinner. Hence all have to conceal their sins from themselves and from the community…So we remain alone with our sin, trapped in lies and hypocrisy, for we are in fact sinners.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), pages 87.

As I will explore later in these reflections, I think, as does Bonhoeffer, that confessing our sins one to another is needful. I think there are times when we need to hear a brother say to us, “Your sins are forgiven.” There are times we need to be affirmed in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ – there is something about actually hearing words of forgiveness spoken aloud; not just from an elder to a congregation, but from a brother to a brother, or from a sister to a sister. There are also times when we need to confess our sins to our brother (or to a trusted group of brothers); there are times we need to verbalize what we have thought, what we have done; we need to hear ourselves say the words aloud to a brother, to expose the sin; then once we have said the words to our brother we can hear the words of forgiveness from our brother in Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer is right when he says that we can “remain alone with our sin, trapped in lies and hypocrisy.”

When appropriate, we ought also to verbalize temptations we encounter. Persistent temptation, when unveiled verbally, is often defeated for it can no longer hide, it can no longer dig its tentacles deep into the soil of our souls. The longer a particular temptation persists, the greater likelihood it will gain a foothold within us, and when we give temptation a foothold we are more likely to succumb to it – better to tell a brother and expose the temptation, better to unveil it so that the light of Christ and His Word can do its work of deliverance. Better to have a brother stand with us than stand alone and possibly be defeated.

Bonhoeffer fails to distinguish who we were before knowing Christ and who we are since coming into a relationship with Jesus; in this he, as many others, uses the language of man and not the language of God’s Word. This demonstrates how powerfully we are influenced by religious tradition, even those traditions that have a high view of Scripture. When he writes, “…we are in fact sinners” he uses the language of man and not the language of the Bible, he works within an extra-Biblical construct. As I have written more than once, the word the New Testament uses to refer to Christians more than any other word is “saints”, used as I recall over 80 times. We have the freedom to confess our sins to one another not because we are sinners, but rather because we are saints.

Sinners (in the Biblical sense) confessing sins to one another means little, if anything, because sinners need Jesus Christ and new life in Him. Saints confessing their sins to one another means much because as the children of God they are exposing things in their lives which do not belong there, and they have assurance of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:5 – 2:2 was written to saints, not sinners.

Sinners cannot experience life together in the Biblical sense of the term because they are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1ff); only saints can experience life together and it is that very life that frees them to confess their sins and disclose their temptations to one another.

I am not sure how Bonhoeffer uses the term “pious” in this passage. I am not an expert on Bonhoeffer. However, based on what I have read elsewhere in his writings I tend to think that he is referring to the pietistic element of the church in Germany. If this is the way he is using the term then Bonhoeffer is mistaken. Pietism is often misunderstood, and while we can certainly point to elements of pietism that are off-balance and perhaps even extreme, we can do the same with any Christian tradition. If those critical of pietism were to use the same yardstick to measure other Christian traditions, including their own, I suspect they would be a little more thoughtful about their criticisms. One of the great renewals of the Lutheran Church in Germany came about through pietism. If nothing else, pietism, whether we see it in Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, has often been used to breathe new life into moribund churches.

There is a seldom-seen contradiction when many of those critical of pietism, or even of the charismatic movement, accuse those groups of being overly informed by experience; when these very critics themselves often succumb to experience when they insist that Christians are sinners – since they cannot base their insistence on express and explicit Biblical teaching and terminology, they must base it on experience; “we sin so we must still be sinners.” Well, if we are going to base life on natural observation and experience then empirical evidence might suggest the death of Jesus Christ means nothing…we believe something we can’t see and we believe something that experience often contradicts.

If God’s Word is authoritative in our understanding of the Atonement, then let us submit to that same Word as it teaches us that one result of the Atonement is that those who come to know Christ are no longer sinners but saints. Who has the courage to believe?

Bonhoeffer is also mistaken when he argues that pietism fosters hypocrisy; while I cannot argue that there may not be some group within the pietistic tradition that may do so, the pietistic traditions and people with whom I am familiar often have a heightened sense of sin and unworthiness, especially of ego and self. It seems to me that all traditions face the danger of hypocrisy, we can find hypocrisy throughout various traditions and the average congregation; the average congregation knows little of what Bonhoeffer describes in life together whether that congregation is in a pietistic tradition or not.

I think the beginning of this chapter unfortunate in the above aspects and I think Bonhoeffer’s attitude toward pietism (if indeed this is what he is referring to) is most unfortunate. Consider, “Many Christians would be unimaginably horrified if a real sinner were suddenly to turn up among the pious” (page 87). What is the purpose of such a statement?

As you will see, there is much in this chapter that is important for life together, much that we do not practice, much that we need; saints do sin and when they sin confession is critical, including (when appropriate) confession to one another. Saints are tempted, and revealing the temptation to another brother can be the means by which the temptation is dispelled.

We were not born with masks, but as we grew to adulthood we were taught to wear masks; having worn masks for so long it can be difficult to remove them, it can be frightening. Perhaps sometimes we need to say to a friend, “Will you please help me get this off? And once it is off, please still love me and accept me in Jesus Christ.”