Saturday, April 11, 2015

Same-Sex vs. The Bible: What Would Jesus Do?

I had a great conversation yesterday with my good friend Pat Murdock who is now heading a project with the America Bible Society. Pat is helping to build a new Discovery Center for ABS that will document the important place the Bible had in the founding of the United States of America. The Discovery Center is planned only a short distance from where the Declaration of Independence was signed. 

An even larger Bible Museum is also planned for Washington D.C., opening in 2017. 

Today, we are living in a time when many are considering the Bible a relic fit for a museum. The culturally enlightened tell us we must change our thinking, especially as it relates to important cultural issues such as same-sex. They reason we have advanced beyond the antiquated thinking of the Apostle Paul and the Biblical idea that homosexuality is a sin. 

We are on an intensifying cultural collision course over this issue of Same-Sex vs the Bible. 

Writing in a recent New York Times article,"Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana,"Frank Bruni informs us on this intensification. Mr. Bruni writes about Mitchell Gold, “a prominent furniture maker and gay philanthropist, who founded an advocacy group, Faith in America, to mitigate the damage done to L.G.B.T. people by what it calls ‘religion-based bigotry.’” Bruni states, “Gold told me that church leaders must be made ‘to take homosexuality off the sin list.’”

On the Faith in America website, they post: 

 “The term “traditional marriage” is a term employed by anti-gay religious groups and individuals to promote bigotry, prejudice, hostility and discrimination toward gay and lesbian citizens.
The term is used to justify a social injustice both in terms of denying gay and lesbian individuals equal treatment guaranteed by our Constitution and also denying them human dignity. The use of the term is an action that promotes constitutional unfairness and human indignity and therefore one which is morally wrong.

If a person of faith agrees that a practice that promotes looking upon a segment of society as inferior, unworthy and undeserving of that which we find as good in our lives, the use of the term “traditional marriage” therefore also must be sinful.”

Bruni reasons, “the New Testament, like the Old Testament, outlines bad and good behaviors that almost everyone deems archaic and irrelevant today. Why deem the descriptions of homosexual behavior any differently?” Bruni’s argument is that we should reject the Bible because it speaks about what is accepted as "bad and good behaviors," which has changed across the millennium (i.e slavery, women’s rights, etc.) and rationalizes that since understanding about the Bible has changed it is time to change again with respect to same-sex. But Bruni misses the point, as do many Christians. 

The problem here is obvious. Those who would champion sex-sex, and make the arguments that Bruni, Gold and many others are making, start from a worldview that centers on humans as primary to the cosmic equation.  Where we begin in our epistemology makes all the difference in the world and statements such as what “we find as good in our lives” clearly betrays where this advocacy is coming from__ defining truth as rooted in self. Of course, that is nothing new (See Genesis 3). 

The challenge that needs to be acknowledged today is that “Same-sex vs the Bible” is an unwinnable ‘culture war.’ Same-sex advocates are defining truth from a position that starts with what they find acceptable and the Bible starts with God. There can be no reconciling these two worldviews rather, as we have observed for a generation, only an intensification to silence those who would start with the Bible. 

What may be new for us who desire to start with God, however, is to rethink what an active, sacrificial and missional love looks like in our cultural context. The Bible speaks in unique cultural contexts far different than today but the narrative of Scripture tells us “God is love” in every context. 

We won’t change the minds of those who start with self as defining truth but neither are we called to. That's not our mission. We can however think better about what it means to start with God, through Jesus Christ, in ways that make him better known for his supreme sacrifice on behalf of everyone – including the L.G.B.T. community. 

Only the Holy Spirit can convict the world of sin. Our assignment is to represent him well, in a spirit of love and truth. What that looks like needs to be prayerfully recalibrated today so that we do not erect barriers for anyone toward a worldview transformation__ in Christ. 

We can ask the question, “what would Jesus do about same-sex issues of the 21st Century?”  and then try to argue from the Bible. But the better question to ask is “what did Jesus do?” When we begin with God we see that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). This is the epitome of sacrificial love for the purpose that the world would know and believe. 

If we are focusing on our understanding of the Bible as foremost in our cultural context, and not the reconciling, redeeming and restorative love message it communicates, through Christ, we are indeed missing the mark. We must change the narrative from “Same-sex vs the Bible” to “Jesus for everyone..." for God so loved the world. Let us discover this truth as it is critical for the culture change we seek and central to the Bible's message. 

I think that is what Jesus would do.How about you?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Toward Multiplying Healthier Churches

Multiplication is NOT Enough! 

Cell multiplication in our bodies is always occurring, life requires reproduction, but it is not always a healthy thing. Have you ever battled cancer? I have for eight years. 

Cancer is a distortion of normally healthy cells that for often unknown reasons mutate and multiply. Our bodies can reproduce unhealthy cells at an amazing rate, making us gravely ill quickly. If allowed to continue for too long this multiplication will lead to our death. 

Standard medical protocols attempt to destroy cancer cells by bombarding them with chemotherapy and radiation. Have you ever had a loved one go through chemo? You know the deadly effects it has even on healthy cells. If the treatment is not stopped at some point it will end your life too. 

Fortunately, chemo and radiation do have a good track record of success, as damaging and painful as these treatments can be, when the cancer is detected early. Healthy growth can follow. 

Likewise, church multiplication, or church growth, is not always healthy growth. 

Like cancer cells reproduce after their kind, unhealthy churches can and often have reproduced after their kind. Error and unbiblcal attitudes can easily creep in, multiply and mutate distorting biblically sound theology, Christology and missiology. 

This is especially prone to occur when the leaders of churches, the pastors, are untrained or under-trained. Church multiplication is not enough. Health matters! 

That reality came into sharp focus recently in a conversation with Pastor Roli, while I was recently in Manila. Pastor Roli is a pastoral trainer in the Philippines who understands what happens when pastors are not trained properly. He is not a fan of multiplication of churches for the sake of multiplication. Rather he shared with me a guiding principle: “don't multiply without maturity otherwise you are multiplying immaturity."

Pastor Roli invests up to three years in a new pastor to train and equip them for healthy ministry. The only problem is that there are not a sufficient number of Pastor Rolis. The Philippines does have one of the best national pastoral training models in the world but there remains many untrained or under-trained pastors. The Philippines is not alone. 

Current statistics tell us that there is a global challenge and opportunity: 

There are between 2.2 million and 3.4 million pastors in the world today. 

Only 5% of these pastors are formally trained and 85% are considered under-trained. 

Current training, both formal and informal, can meet only 10% of the current demand. 

The question worth asking then is with so many untrained and under-trained pastors in the world today what are we multiplying in our church planting movements? Is the answer, “unhealthy pastors who lead unhealthy churches?”  With new church starts failing at a rate of up to 70% can there be any doubt there is a problem.  

Further, the challenge grows exponentially every day as 50,000 newly baptized believers enter the Kingdom__ creating a need for 1,000 new pastors per day!

It would seem that we need to refocus some effort on not only church multiplication methods but church health methods that multiply healthy pastors and churches. The urgency of the need requires the important role of pastoral trainers to be revisited and mission efforts to be recalibrated accordingly. 

Toward that end, pastoral trainers globally are coming together for an historic gathering in Bangkok Thailand, June 15-22nd for the Global Proclamation Congress for Pastoral Trainers. Convened by RREACH, together with our partners – World Evangelical Alliance, Lausanne Movement, Training of Pastors International Coalition, International Council for Evangelical Theological Educators, Global Alliance for Church Multiplication – this first of its kind gathering seeks to further connect, unite and strengthen pastoral trainers into a global community for the better delivery of pastoral training to where it is most needed. 

The task is too big to do alone but together, collaboratively, we can see more health in the global body of Christ. It must start with better trained pastors as pastoral health affects church health and church health affects societal health. 

When I found out I had cancer, I needed to focus on how I treated my body and on getting and staying as healthy as possible. Likewise, it is time Evangelical leaders focus on healthier churches.

Pastor Roli, who leads a network of 32,000 churches in the Philippines, pleaded, “please don’t multiply without health.” Closer to home, Pastor Rick Warren, one of the pioneers of the church growth movement recently wrote, “Church health is the key to church growth. All living things grow if they’re healthy.”1  

The vision for the 2016 GProCongress is to accelerate church health worldwide. Learn more at