THEOLOGY & Can the church be both holy and sinful?

by Brian P. Flanagan, America: The Jesuit Review, 10/22/18 and author of Stumbling in Holiness: Sin and Sanctity in the Church (Liturgical Press, 2018).

The Holy and Sinful Church

Catholics in earlier centuries, while maintaining faith in the holiness of the church affirmed in our creeds, were willing to name its failings, including those of its members, its leaders and its communities as a whole. In the midst of the Pelagian controversies of the fifth century, for example, the Council of Carthage in 418 (attended by St. Augustine) taught that when Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, all Christians—without exception—had to ask God “to forgive us our trespasses” in their own voice and not on behalf of some other people, as though they were sinless themselves.

… when Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, all Christians—without exception—had to ask God “to forgive us our trespasses” in their own voice and not on behalf of some other people, as though they were sinless themselves.

Christians did not hesitate to call out the sinfulness of their leaders, as in the quote attributed variously (though likely erroneously) to St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom and others that “the road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring bishops.” Even cardinals were not exempt; according to one medieval folk tradition, a cardinal’s soul was released from purgatory only when his galero, the wide-brimmed red hat hung from the ceiling of the cardinal’s church after his death, finally rotted enough to fall to the floor.

Why, then, in recent years have Catholics been so hesitant to speak clearly and candidly about the church as sinful? For a few reasons—some praiseworthy, some problematic. The first is our firm belief in the holiness of the church. On the surface, it seems that ecclesial sanctity and sinfulness are mutually exclusive—and, in important ways, that is true. The participation in the life of God that we call “holiness” precludes sin, and in the fullness of life that we can look forward to in the reign of God we will be freed from every stain of sin and every shadow of death.

Yet, as St. Augustine taught so well, in our current time between the ascension of Christ and his return in glory, the church is always a “corpus permixtum,” a mixed body of saints and sinners, including serious sinners who remain part of the church even in a limited way. The struggle for greater transparency to God’s grace and greater freedom from sin also goes on in each one of us who prays the Our Father daily; each of us is aware of our need for forgiveness to live a more holy and free way of life. That experience of the church as a mixed body and of ourselves as sinners who are already holy yet still saints-in-progress is part of the reality of a holy and sinful church.

… the church is always a “corpus permixtum,”  – St. Augustine

Read more at … Can the church be both holy and sinful?

THEOLOGY & American Views of the Afterlife & Sin

by Bob Smietana, Facts and Trends, LifeWay, 9/28/16.

Findings of a new survey of American views on Christian theology from Nashville-based LifeWay Research (include) …Evangelical believers say hell is for real. Other Americans aren’t so sure.

2016-heavenEighty-four percent of those who hold evangelical beliefs say hell is a place of eternal judgment, where God sends all people who do not personally trust in Jesus Christ. Only 30 percent of Americans who don’t have evangelical beliefs hold that view.

Overall, fewer than half (40 percent) of Americans say those who don’t believe in Jesus will go to hell.

Many evangelical believers say everybody goes to heaven. They also believe that only those who trust Jesus as their Savior are saved.

Two-thirds of those with evangelical beliefs (64 percent) say heaven is a place where all people will ultimately be reunited with their loved ones. That’s slightly higher than Americans in general (60 percent).

By definition, all those with evangelical beliefs affirm that only people who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation. Overall, about half of Americans (54 percent) say only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone receive eternal salvation.

Everybody sins but it’s no big deal.

2016-sinAmericans admit they aren’t perfect. But they give each other the benefit of the doubt. Two-thirds (65 percent) agree that everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature. More than half (57 percent) say it would be fair for God to show His wrath against sin. But that wrath seems to be reserved only for the worst sinners.

Three-quarters (74 percent) of Americans disagree with the idea that even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation. That includes almost two-thirds (62 percent) who strongly disagree…

Read more at … http://factsandtrends.net/2016/09/27/what-do-americans-believe-about-god-new-study-explores-our-theology/#.V-ulH_D3aaM

CULTURE & Christ: 3 Lessons to Consider

by Bob Whitesel, excerpted with permission from Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press, 2006, pp. 55-57).

Lesson 1: Carefully investigate and examine elements of a culture.

Since modern culture is constantly adjusting and metamorphosing, the task of translating the Good News without surrendering its truth or disfiguring it is paramount and ongoing. This arduous task begins with thorough and careful examination of a culture. Anthropologist Paul Hiebert described culture as, “an integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas and products characteristic of a society.”(1) Scrutiny of such an elaborate system is not for an immature Christian, since it requires investigating and evaluating a culture without being tainted by its more sordid elements.

However, a failure by Christian communicators to sufficiently investigate modern culture can make us look irrelevant. In an earlier book I interviewed Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, California. Larry told me the phenomenal growth of the church was in part because he regularly studies modern culture by perusing secular business, entertainment, and lifestyle magazines. “If I don’t understand the business world, when a businessperson talks to me about his or her world, its like were using two different dictionaries.”(2) The use of disparate dictionaries can also dilute an exchange of ideas with the young culture.

Therefore stay current with today’s youth culture by cautiously scrutinizing their books, music, movies, music videos, computer games, web-sites, web-blogs, etc.. While the truths of the Good News must never be sacrificed nor altered, connecting and contrasting it with today’s youth culture can make it more comprehensible.

Lesson 2: Discriminate and sift elements of a culture.

There is a tension between Christ and culture that must be examined. Richard Niebuhr in his classic treatise Christ and Culture suggested that there are several ways to look at Christ’s interaction with culture.(3)

One is “Christ against culture” a view embraced by the early church father Tertullian. In this view culture is seen as evil, thus requiring Christians to withdraw and insulate themselves, resulting in a monastic response. Charles Kraft exposes three fallacies in this view, demonstrating it is not in keeping Paul’s view that “nothing is unclean of itself” (Romans 14:14).(4)

Another view Niebuhr called “Christ Above Culture” which he divided into sub-categories.(5)  “Christ Above Culture in Synthesis” was held by Thomas Aquinas and views Jesus as the restorer of institutions of true society. This view believes that Christianity will one day totally transform culture, perhaps into a millennial peace. In another sub-category, “Christ Above Culture in Paradox,” Christ is seen above but in such tension with culture that a messy, muddled relationship results. Martin Luther grappled with this perspective, as did modern writer Mike Yaconelli who called this “messy spirituality.”(6)

However, a more valid sub-category may be “Christ Above but Transformer of Culture.” Embraced by Augustine, John Calvin, and John Wesley this view sees culture as corrupt but convertible.(7)  Kraft built upon this his position called “Christ above but working through culture,” explaining that “God chooses the cultural milieu in which humans are immersed as the arena of his interaction with people.”(8) Eddie Gibbs further elaborates that “such an approach represents a deliberate self-limiting on the part of God in order to speak in understandable terms and with perceived relevance on the part of the hearer. He acts redemptively with regard to culture, which includes judgment on some elements, but also affirmation in other areas, and a transformation of the whole.”(9)

If the “Christ above but working through culture” truly defines the tension and nexus between Christ and culture, then the job of the Christian communicator becomes challenging if not precarious. Therefore, our strategy must not conclude simply with step 1, investigating and examining culture, but also must continue through step 2, sifting and judging its elements. Here the prudent communicator must make qualitative judgments based upon Scripture, ethics, personal belief and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Lesson 3: Reject or affirm elements of culture.

The end result of this examination or sifting, must be a rejection of elements in conflict with Christ, but also an affirmation of those elements that are not so. I found that leaders of the organic church usually sift carefully through the movies, television shows, music, games, online resources and literature of young people. And they routinely explain in their sermons how God judges some aspects of postmodern culture, accepts other elements such as an emphasis on helping the needy, and has as a goal the transformation of the whole.(10)

The Christian communicator wishing to make the Good News relevant today must carefully examine the media barrage engulfing young people, understand its messages, while at the same time sifting elements that are opposed to Christ and identifying touchstones that can make connections with unchurched peopled. Freeway’s use of comedic film clips to underscore or juxtaposition God’s Word and contemporary culture has helped this organic congregation connect the Good News to unchurched young people.

Footnotes:

1. Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1983), p. 25.
2. Bob Whitesel, Growth By Accident, Death By Planning, op. cit., p. 26.
3. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1951). A second view is beyond the scope of our discussion. Labeled by Niebuhr “Christ of culture,” it was embraced by early Gnostic heretics. They interpreted Christ through cultural trends, rejecting any claims of Christ that conflicted with their culture. Counter to this, Isaiah 55:8 reminds us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, or our ways his ways.
4. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1979), pp. 105-106.
5. Kraft, ibid., pp. 108-115 sees five subdivisions of the “Christ Above Culture” position. However, for this discussion only three are required. The reader seeking more exhaustive insights will benefit from a careful exploration of Kraft’s work.
6. Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002). Yaconelli’s viewpoint has been popular among postmodern Christians, And, before his untimely death, Yaconelli was in demand as a lecturer. Young people often saw in his perspective one more in keeping with their untidy journey towards discipleship. To understand the angst and anxiety many young people sense today between their Christian understanding and their vacillating demeanor, see Yaconelli’s insightful volume.
7. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, p. 113.
8. ibid., p. 114.
9. Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, (Grand Rapids, Mich,: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 92.
10. In my travels through the organic church, I found it’s leaders usually approached the rejection or affirmation of cultural elements in a circumspect and serious manner. Whether it was the “discothèque clubbers” of England who had to decide at what point youthful fashions became lewd, or the film clips that Freeway employed to illustrate a point; young organic leaders typically see the rejection of base elements of culture as not only required, but judicious.

FAILURE & What Often Causes Great Leaders to Fall #David #ORGANIXbook

by Bob Whitesel, 10/20/14

Let’s look at a great man of God at one of his lowest points. David was king of all Israel. A major player in Near Eastern politics, David commanded the greatest kingdom Israel was ever to know in ancient times. And David was a man especially sensitive to God, who the Bible calls “a man after God’s own heart.”

But this doesn’t mean David wasn’t immune to stumbling and making a colossal error. Let’s read the story and see if we can see where David started his subtle slide into sin.

“In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.” 2 Samuel 11:1-5

Did you notice the story started out by saying that this happened “in the spring, at the time when kings go off to war…?” Knowledge of ancient warfare throws light on the story. Spring was the usual time for campaigning, and the king always led his men. But we find David idling away in the palace, dodging his duties. And then when he sees Bathsheba, he seems to think as the king he ought to have anything he desires. And later when she conceives, he will resort to murder and eventually a cover-up to hide his sin.

How did such a spiritually dynamic man (he wrote many of the Psalms) fall so far … so fast? There are many factors, but perhaps one is that he started with little sins and then graduated slowly to bigger and bigger sins. First it was just the small sin of not doing his duty (to lead his men), then it was the sin of covetousness (thinking he could have whatever he wanted), then it was adultery (probably thinking “hey, we’re in love… it must be okay”), and so on and so on.

Let this story be a reminder to all of us that the slope into sin is slippery. And once we start sinning (or sliding) it is hard to stop. Decide to stop sin in its tracks when it first appears. Be at the right place, at the right time and avoid even little sins that can lead us down a slippery slope toward sins we never imagined.

ETHICS & Night owls unethical in the morning, early birds unethical at night says new research

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “When a person has low energy, that person is more likely to act unethically reveals new research reported in the Harvard Business Review. Read this research and then watch yourself and be aware of the times when such behavior is more likely.

For my students, I give them two extra credit questions based upon this research:

1)  Knowing this, what will you do about protecting yourself from such ethical lapses?

2)  And, what will do to help others avoid this misstep?

Low Energy, Low Ethics Chart

by Christopher M. Barnes, Brian Gunia and Sunita Sah | 8:00 AM June 23, 2014

Employees face many temptations to behave unethically at work. Resisting those temptations requires energy and effort. But the energy that is essential to exert self-control waxes and wanes. And when that energy is low, people are more likely to behave unethically. This opens up the possibility that even within the same day, a given person could be ethical at one point in time and unethical at another point in time.

Over the past few years, management and psychology research has uncovered something interesting: both energy and ethics vary over time. In contrast to the assumption that good people typically do good things, and bad people do bad things, there is mounting evidence that good people can be unethical and bad people can be ethical, depending on the pressures of the moment. For example, people who didn’t sleep well the previous night can often act unethically, even if they aren’t unethical people.

Our research started from this idea. Drawing from recent research indicating that people can become more unethical as the day wears on, we asked whether this plays out the same way for people who show different patterns of energy during the course of a day. Fatigue researchers have discovered that alertness and energy follow a predictable daily cycle that is aligned with the circadian process. However, different people may be shifted in their circadian rhythms. Some people are “larks” or “morning people” in that their circadian rhythm is shifted earlier in the day. They are most easily detected by their natural tendency to wake early in the morning. Others are “owls” or “evening people” and they are shifted in the opposite direction. Larks tend to get up early, and owls tend to stay up late.

…A more detailed description will be provided later this year in our forthcoming article in the journal Psychological Science.

The important organizational takeaway from these findings is that individual may be more likely to act unethically when they are “mismatched” –that is, making a decision at the wrong time of day for their own chronotype. Managers should try to learn the chronotype (lark, owl, or in between) of their subordinates and make sure to respect it when deciding how to structure their work. Managers who ask a lark to make ethics-testing decisions at night, or an owl to make such decisions in the morning, run the risk of encouraging rather than discouraging unethical behavior.

Similarly, people who control their own work schedules should structure their work with their chronotype in mind. Many of us are tempted to squeeze in that extra hour of work. If we’re a morning person squeezing it in at night, though, we create a situation in which resisting temptation may be harder than ever. Owls who schedule extra hours for themselves early in the morning face the same issue.

Read more at … http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/06/morning-people-are-less-ethical-at-night/