Restoration and “plan” (2)

Certain church groups’ historical underpinnings are blueprint-oriented:  they emphasize divine “plan” and “pattern” they find in scripture.  Such orientations are certainly not entirely off-base, yet they are frequently overemphasized.

For the last century or so, a Restoration Movement hermeneutical ideal (command, example, necessary inference) has been manifest in the desire of church leaders to convince outsiders that God has a scriptural blueprint or plan for everything.  This desire, while in most cases pure-hearted, only goes so far.  And it seems to shove the grace of God as shown in Jesus’ incarnation into a back seat, while men’s interpretation of scripture may be driving the car.

In the following letter, written nearly two decades ago, I attempted to say something that highlighted Jesus more than a supposed, legal “plan.”

==============

Christian Chronicle
Oklahoma City, OK

6/29/95

RE: Restoring the Plan

To the Editor:

Thanks to Stafford North for inviting us (through his “Thoughts” column in the July Chronicle) to look anew at the first century with a view toward Restoration. While my application of the principle of restoration seems somewhat different from his, the call to look at the foundation is a good one.

Let us all understand that when the earliest Christians “began to practice what was revealed,” that Revelation was in the person of Jesus the Messiah‑‑communicated personally and then through His specially inspired men‑‑since the New Testament scriptures had not been written. The “plan” for salvation, therefore, if God would ever have expressed it in such a term, is this: divine grace expressed through Jesus.  Any other plan purported to suffice for our sin is blasphemous, and if we attempt to mandate mechanisms of our own design, Satan will laugh as he sees groups of initially well‑intentioned, Restoration‑oriented men and women on the descent into creedalized, sectarian Christianity.

In the Gospel Advocate (5/11/33), G.C. Brewer reviewed K.C. Moser’s The Way of Salvation with these comments:

“In the minds of some the divine has been completely ruled out and salvation made a matter of human achievement‑‑except that the ‘plan’ was divinely given.  The gospel was made a system of divine laws for human beings to obey and thus save themselves sans grace, sans mercy, sans everything spiritual and divine‑‑except that the ‘plan’ was in mercy given. Mercy to expect man of his own unaided strength to save himself by meeting the demands of a system of perfect divine laws.”

moserbookBrewer continued, “Such teaching as that makes ‘void the grace of God’ (Gal. 2:21) . . . and counts his blood an unholy thing‑‑except as it is reached by a perfect obedience, and then it is not needed.

Jesus is our Cornerstone, our Life-Bread, and the Center and Soul of the sphere of Christians’ existence. Jesus is the Word.  He is the Way.  He is the Plan.  May our relentless clinging be a holding to the Lord.

Sincerely,

Brian Casey

Advertisements

Spectatorism and entertainment in the worship gathering

Caveat lector:  I had planned to post this 18-year-old letter now, anyway, but the topic has become a bit more significant since some correspondence with some siblings to my north.  I hope they’ll find continued encouragement in these thoughts on corporate worship — thoughts I believe are still valid and applicable today, or I wouldn’t repost them here.

Not all is lost, but a lot does tend to be discouraging.  I, for one, am pretty discouraged by the current state of corporate worship in churches I’ve been associated with.  But I am perpetually, irrevocably drawn to the goals and Object of worship.  This I cannot change.

=============

Christian Chronicle
Oklahoma City, OK
6/5/95

To the Editor:

A letter in the June Chronicle called attention to a movement in corporate worship that aims at “entertainment and self-gratification” rather than at the adoration of God.  I suppose the writer refers to a somewhat enigmatic movement of believers on his ideological “left,” but I find it significant that Christians on both sides of this issue could be described with the above phrasing.

In some congregations, change agents may rush to “connect with people” and resultantly neglect the true Object of worship, forgetting that it is He, first and foremost, that we should connect with.  In other churches, the culprit can be passive spectatorism, along with a time-clock mentality which ignores the meaning of worship activities and is satisfied with merely sitting through them.  Some who wish to ban changes may be belying the desire for pacification and self-gratification and may be appeasing self by keeping things the way they want them.

Truly, any person or any church characterized by attention to self is misguided!

As Bailey McBride pointed out in “Worship Must Be a Communion,” awareness of God’s greatness and majesty should permeate our assemblies.  Thank you, Bailey, for a most thoughtful article.

Sincerely,

Brian Casey

Voices: unhelpful language

Being a language person can make one appear obsessive or annoying.  Being a language person is also a state of being, i.e., it’s not exactly a choice one makes, and it’s difficult to mask or deny or move away from said state.  18 years ago, I wrote the following to the Christian Chronicle (based in Oklahoma City), and I still think such language matters are significant.

================

4/5/95

To the Editor:

I would like to make two language-related suggestions toward a more appropriate understanding of what God intended in the sphere of corporate worship:

(1) Migrate from using the term “worship service” since this term tends to obscure the two distinct aspects of Christian activity, relegating what should be a dynamic and transforming occurrence to the realms of ritual ceremonies like “graduation services” and “funeral services.”  Also, since “worship services” typically contain much that is not actually worship, and rightly so, the meaning of true worship is often lost.

(2) Realize that the phrase “in spirit and in truth” refers primarily to the spiritual realm and to true, actual worship, not to attitude and to supposed doctrinal correctness (though attitude and sound theology will certainly come into play).  Jesus likely made no intentional reference here to the truth that resides in the words of the sacred writings.

[ . . . ]

Sincerely,

Brian Casey

================

#1 above is a nearly universal concern; most protestant churches and believers should be able to grasp and heed.  On the other hand, not all readers’ backgrounds will allow for immediate understanding of the issues behind #2; it is a more provincial concern.

In particular, the Church of Christ (over the Christian Church and far over the Disciples of Christ) has a history of stressing “doctrinal correctness.”  While the interest in being “right” and following God’s desires certainly stems from good intentions, in my estimation, it is not always pure-hearted — and in fact can result in misguided actions and off-base emphases.

One instance of such misapplication is in the area of worship and the assembly or gathering.  It is entirely right to be concerned with what God wants and doesn’t want when the church (or an individual, for that matter) worships or edifies.  It is, however, off-base to think that Jesus’ articulation “spirit and truth” in John 4 speaks of “doing things right.”  For one thing, in John, Jesus is manifest as truth, and any John words about truth should be considered in that light.  Moreover, from a simply linguistic standpoint, to do things “in truth” is to do them truly or genuinely or authentically, and it should not logically be presumed that doing something “in truth” equates to doing it with strict adherence to a body of understood protocols. 

Jesus’ thought seems to be more about being genuine and real than “correct.”

For more on worship John 4 and worship, please click here:  A Paramount Worship Text:  John 4

Voices: political (non-)involvement and spiritual life

Below are two letters to the editor of a monthly Christian newspaper — dated nearly one and two decades ago, respectively — in which I asserted a basic principle I still hold as true.  Although life’s emphases often do change over time, this one has not, for me.

==================

Dear Editor:

In response to the “Christians in Politics” spread in the April Chronicle, I noted that A. Campbell’s view (“that Christians should be involved in shaping public policy”) was conjoined with his belief in the future reign of Jesus on earth.  I deduced, perhaps unfairly, that at least some who believe disciples should be politically active also seem to have a physical, or at least institutional, concept of the Kingdom, whereas Jesus’ own notion of the Kingdom was quite the opposite.

Though I affirm each believer’s right to express his opinion, I admit some dismay that in this article, political activism seemed to be juxtaposed with spiritual “aliveness” and the non-sectarian practice of working alongside those of other denominational heritages. Personally, I believe I stand on solid Biblical ground in avoiding political involvement, yet I consider myself spiritually alive and am an avowed, vocal non-sectarian!

Though it may “separate the men from the boys,” this world’s evil will not triumph.  We need to abandon our earth-oriented fears in the decisive, ultimate victory of Jesus and in His eternal, spiritual kingdom.  When we are in tune with the transcendent God and His enduring rule, we will possess the essential life-elements which will allow us to act as true salt and light in this world, bringing souls into relationship with our only Captain and King–God. Remember, “No soldier engaged in active duty gets involved with civilian affairs — he wants to please his commanding officer” (II Tim. 2: 4).  Let’s keep our focus on the battle and on our Commander!

Brian Casey (4/94)

==================

To the Editorial Committee:

Thank you for expressing the opinion that Christians should participate in the political process and be part of an “informed electorate.”  As one who attempts (albeit weakly) to center his thinking and ministering around the eternal Kingship of God and not on governmental systems of this world, I find a decided non sequitur in your suggestion that since “the government under which we live is participatory, then it is logical that Paul’s and Peter’s teachings direct us to participate.”

On the contrary, it seems clear to me that in such passages as Romans 13:1-7, the Christian is assumed to be separate from government and politics:  note the third-person pronouns “it” and “he” that refer to government and its agents.  Paul certainly tells us to submit but does not seem to assume any meshing of the believer with civil government.

By the time anyone reads this letter, the national election will be history; I hope by these words to influence the post-election thinking of my fellow sincere brothers and sisters.  Like most Bible-believers, I am deeply concerned about certain trends in our country, but the direction any country takes is not material to the faithfulness of God’s people.  Our primary goals must not be related to this life.

Long live the King of the New Israel!  I thank Him for the privileges of living in the United States while eagerly anticipating the fullness of His Kingdom — God’s reign among His people, and our spiritual residence in His eternal habitation.  May we trust in our God regardless of the situations of our secondary, earthly citizenship (2 Timothy 2:4).

Brian Casey (10/04)

==================

Postlude

Recently, a cause of great concern has been in the news.  Yes, I am troubled — not so much over the present, economic and political specifics as over the long-term consequences for society.  I am concerned that it will be increasingly difficult to raise children with a sense of what is right and what is wrong . . . what is normal and what is abnormal.  We’re not talking about merely private behaviors (that I consider aberrant and destructive) here.  We’re talking about the very public, purposeful shifting of societal mores and norms over a period of years and decades.

A ESPN news show on 6/30/13 featured a person who was out to wage war, from all possible angles, against what he feels is “anti-gay bias” in sports.  If his “program” works in even small measure, I’m concerned for my son as he progresses through public schools, Little League baseball, and more.  A few years ago, a professional colleague mentioned that his then-20-year-old son had surprised him by registering acceptance of those who practice things that clearly run counter to biblically based morality.  It’s going to be harder for today’s children to discern rightly.

With that said, I remind myself and you that, no matter the political cause du jour (or du coeur), it is good to remember that they are all time-bound causes.  Teaching my son right from wrong is important, but the conservative cadre of causes is not, relatively speaking.  I prefer not to be wrapped up in an ephemeral cause or counter-cause, or a party, or a political philosophy.

Rather, the more I am wrapped up in Kingdom causes, the less I will worry about earth-bound ones.  This is not to say that earthly things are of no importance — far from it.  It is to say that eternal, Kingdom business helps to put temporal, earthly causes in perspective.

Voices: sure, elders can meet, but … (991)

Editor, Christian Chronicle
Oklahoma City, OK 73136-1100

To the Editor:

I appreciate the intent of the article in the July issue entitled “Principles for Conducting Elders’ Meetings.”  Many good thoughts were expressed — the need for proper, kind-spirited conduct among brothers (particularly elders) and encouragement to focus on spiritual shepherding rather than wasting time on trivialities, to name two. It was well said, too, that an elder is not a tyrant, nor an arbitrary dictator.

I do question, however, the basic assumption of the article:  though communication about certain matters is often needed and appropriate, the human invention called the “elders’ meeting” has often been misused — it is a servant-become-master.

Are there not shepherds who can and will lead and guide by powerful, kind, consistent, godly example rather than through a means (the meeting) by which they actually function more as behind-closed-doors directors?  Must the local Elders make decisions in order to carry out their God-intended roles?  Should they?

There was no “exclusion of the eldership” clause in Jesus’ directive not to lord it over each other. In other words, elders have no privilege (or curse!) of being masters over other brothers and sisters simply because of their function. (Note the absence of the term “position.”) I find pitifully little implication that in the first century there was any collective functioning of elders. Yet we have created the word “eldership” and have assumed that operation should be corporate rather than individual. Just some food for thought…

Sincerely and for Him,

Brian Casey

============================

The above letter was written nearly 25 years ago. I would say the same thing today.  

If there are any elders reading this:  on the way to your elders’ meeting tomorrow or Tuesday night or whenever, please consider how you might encourage all the elders at your church to put more eggs in their individual shepherding “baskets,” perhaps meeting as a corporate executive board less often and freeing up more time to become more personally involved in lives.

============================

P.S.  I’m not much of a holiday guy.  Although Easter is particularly well attested and important (much more so than Christmas) to most Christians, and although I generally have some extra feelings and passions at this time of year, I don’t necessarily think Easter Sunday deserves much more attention than any other Sunday.  Still, for those who have read this post with disappointment, wanting something more directly about Jesus, I offer this link to a worthwhile post I’ve read:  The Right Charge.