Different kingdoms

When fellow Christians speak of the separation of church and state I find it’s necessary to tease out what they mean by that.

Do they mean church should only be overseeing the personal dimensions of life while the state overseeing the political dimensions of life, as in a two kingdoms model? Or do they see separation in more counter cultural terms, and seek to exercise power differently to the powerful, as in a rival kingdoms model? In other words, is the state a type of Jerusalem that we should feel at home in or a type of Babylon that we should feel like exiles in?

Personally I lean towards the latter. The kingship of Jesus is not limited to one dimension of life. Jesus is Lord of all dimensions of life. Jesus is the king of kings, or president of presidents if you will. I see it this way: we are to be loyal to the state only to the extent that it doesn’t conflict with higher loyalties … and we can be assured that at some point those loyalties will come into conflict. At that point we will have to choose between two kings. We can’t follow both at the same time all the time.

Why did Paul say women should be silent in gatherings?

1 Corinthians 14 is often used as a prooftext against women in Christian leadership, but consider this: Paul does not accuse the women of TEACHING PRESUMPTIVELY, rather, he accuses the women of ENQUIRING DISRUPTIVELY. His desire seems to be for speakers to be able to speak without unnecessary interruption. This is the same concern he voices immediately prior with respect to those prophesying or speaking in tongues. One at a time! And at this point it should be noted that Paul has no problem with women prophesying just a little way back in 1 Corinthians 11. No, back there his only concern is head coverings. As long as it’s orderly he doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. Common thread: talking over the top of one another is not consistent with loving one another. And you know that loving one another is the key theme of this entire letter.

The Lady chosen by our Lord

mother-of-jesus-christI have been considering the ways in which Christianity can legitimately be said to have both a Lady and a Lord. The Second Epistle of John opens with an address to “To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth”. From the context it would seem that the Lady in question is the Church; that John sees us her as our Holy Mother. This echoes other allusions in scripture to the Church as the bride of Christ and to Israel as the wife of God. It is following such allusions that the prophets spoke of Israel’s idolatry as covenant adultery and that Isaiah could declare, “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you”. In truth this is not so far removed from Jewish mystical speculation about Malkuth and Shekinah. And it’s not so hard to see how the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Mother Church and the presence of Christ in the womb or arms of Mary could become conflated in Christian iconography.

Why you won’t find a church in the New Testament

Max Conlon-One-tribe-One-mob
“One Tribe, One Mob” by Australian aboriginal artist Max Conlon

Did you know the word “Church” is derived from the Greek word kyriakon, not ekklesia as is commonly supposed, and that they have very different meanings? Kyriakon doma means “House of the Lord” and refers to a place of worship. Ekklesia means “the called out” and refers to an assembly of people. Ekklesia is found in the New Testament. Kyriakon doma is not. So you wont find a church in the New Testament (translated correctly) but you will find many gatherings.

How the church messed up with Aboriginal Australians

Hope Beyond the Window by Jacqui Stewart

This image by Jacqui Stewart is entitled “Hope Beyond the Window”. As an Australian Christian I find it very confronting. Here is an interpretation of the image that Jacqui passed on through her blog:

‘The above piece of work depicts the scene of half-caste Aboriginal children sitting in front of the church they were taken too after being ‘stolen’ from their parents. In first looking at this representation, it may be misinterpreted as a seemingly peaceful scene. Images of green trees, leaves blowing in the wind and the children sitting in an almost structured fashion. The church in the distance looks well established; something probably constructed by White settlers. It is hard to tell, but it may be built using bricks. The sky is blue with minimal clouds evident, giving us the impression that it was a nice clear day when this artwork was created.

Due to the topic of this essay, and perhaps even the title of the artwork itself, it is evident that this is not a depiction of a happy occurrence. The children dressed in white sitting calmly on the ground are children that have been stolen from their parents without choice. The children are sitting there calmly because they have been told. The church is where the children are being taught the Western way of life and how a White settlers’ way of living is considered ‘better’ than those of Aborigines.

In delving deeper into analysing this piece of art, some features became more clear that would otherwise perhaps go unnoticed. There were multiple hidden symbols that represent particular ideas that the artist may have been trying to convey when creating this piece of work.

One feature is that the children were always dressed in white. All children wore the exact same dress-like clothing. One may consider this to be the uniform of the particular camp or church that they were taken too. The artist may have been trying to convey the idea that the Aboriginal half-casts were now being taught the White settlers’ way of living, their culture, and their beliefs. In other words, the Aboriginal children were being taught how to become white, hence the symbolism of the all white clothing against the dark skin.

Another idea that the artist may have been trying to get the viewer to see was one of hope. The layout of this painting alone gives this feeling to the viewer about the children sitting in the foreground. To show someone or something belonging to something else, for example, these children belonging to the church, the technique of proximity would be used. The further things are apart from each other, the lesser of a relationship exists between the objects. In looking at this image, the children are seated quite far away from the church, suggesting that although they were taken to this church to be a part of something, they don’t actually belong to the church or the White settlers’. The wide-open spaces surrounding the children and the church indicate space. Then there is also the space between the children and the church itself. This space indicates room to move; in particular, room to move away, or escape from the church. This suggests that there is hope for the children, and that they may not need to spend their future being forced to do something against their will. They had a choice in the matter, and a chance to set them free.’

What if church was more intuitive friendly?

intuitionSociologists have frequently observed that, for post-moderns, self identity is actively constructed and cultural association is actively chosen. That is, for post-moderns, identity and association are more matters of taste than tradition.

Few, however, have taken the next step and asked: where do these differences in taste come from? So I would like to offer this observation, based on my experience with different subcultures: a significant factor is personality type.

This has led to a further observation, that the personality trait that most predisposes people to isolation within, and alienation from, traditional church is intuition. In effect, intuitives are a “least reached people group” in post-modern contexts.

Which leads me to a final question: What if church was more intuitive friendly? What might it look like?

To glean the beginnings of an answer I would suggest first looking at the difference between Sensing (S) and Intuition (N) as defined in Myers Briggs tests. “Sensing and Intuition are two ways to take in information. Sensing (S) indicates a preference for more practical attention to facts and details. Intuition (N) indicates a preference for more abstract attention to patterns and possibilities.” People with an intuition preference are more interested in the “big picture” than “small details”, more interested with “innovation” than “tradition”, more interested in the relationship between facts than the facts in isolation (see diagram).

What would this look like in practice? What are some examples? As a person who is highly intuitive myself I would offer these: a preference for big picture analysis of the Bible over the cherry picking of isolated memory verses, a preference for contextual interpretation over reductionist interpretation, an openness to exploring theology from difference perspectives, a concern over the double standards that emerge when evangelical ethical teachings are examined in parallel, a preference for mind maps over bullet points, an openness to imagination and creativity in worship, an openness to dreams and heightened awareness of the unconscious, a preference for open community over restrictive community.

These are just a few examples to get the creative juices flowing. I would love to hear if you have more examples to ad.

Godless Gatherings: Churches for Atheists

Fascinating video. Don’t you think? I hear folks like this are being dubbed as “New, New Atheists”. I find myself asking, “How can this expand our understanding of the religious impulse?”, “What exactly is emerging here?”, and “How might this co-option of church style prompt further evolution in Christianity and our understanding of Christian community distinctiveness, particularly in contemporary and post-contemporary evangelical quarters”. What a world we live in eh? Western Buddhists, Eastern Christians, post-institutional Evangelicals and now church-planting Atheists. What can I say? It looks paradoxical at first glance, but does that just mean we need to expand our imagination?

Two Streams of Civil Religion

American-cross I’ve been rethinking my understanding of civil religion. Until now, I know I’ve tended to speak of civil religion, particularly American civil religion, like it’s some monolythic entity. But in thinking through some unrelated issues I had one of those “Doh!” moments when I realized how one dimensional that was. It’s clear to me now that there are at least two streams I should be speaking of.

Stream 1: The Theocratic Nationalism of the Right

For me, this was the more obvious stream of civil religion. Wherever we hear people speaking of America as a “Christian Nation”, as if the land itself has been baptised, wherever we see Jesus wrapped in a national flag, as if he’s some kind of national mascot, that’s theocratic nationalism. In many ways it represents the deification of fighting for “freedom” and a denial of Christ’s universality. Tending towards legalism, Theocratic Nationalism is the civil religion of the patriarchal state.

Stream 2: The Deistic Universalism of the Left

For me, this was the less obvious stream of civil religion. But it’s there. Wherever we hear people promoting the therapeutic deity of the lowest common denominator, the “undemanding” god that’s for everyone and anyone, the domesticated god that no one could find offensive, that’s deistic universalism. In many ways it represents the deification of fighting for “equality” and a denial of Christ’s uniqueness. Tending towards licence, Deistic Universalism is the civil religion of the nanny state.

What we need is more Uncivil Religion

By this I mean a Christianity that views citizenship as secondary to discipleship. Uncivil religion refuses to water down it’s worship and witness of Jesus as the one and only Messiah. It accepts the untamed Messiah won’t be for all citizens. It’s prepared to betray the nanny state agenda. Uncivil religion refuses to water down it’s worship and witness of Jesus as self-sacrificing and stranger-loving. It accepts untamed Messiah won’t be for all citizens. It’s prepared to betray the patriarchal state agenda. In short, it espouses a Christ-centric agenda over a citizen-centric agenda.

For more on Civil Religion see:

Christian Art | Political

Intuitives for Jesus, Unite!

I was just reading Christianity Today’s book review of Introverts in the church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, which you’ll find under the heading of Introverts for Jesus, Unite!

Now, as an introvert I’m only too happy to see personality differences being recognized. But as someone who’s been researching personality types in new religious movements for many years, I have to say, I think Adam S. McHugh’s has picked the wrong type pair. Because my researches have led me to conclude the intuitive – sensor gap is far more significant.

Many years ago I conducted a number of informal spot poles amongst emerging church folk and invariably found 80% were intuitives, that only 20% or less were sensors. This gave me pause for thought, given you’d expect the figure to be 30% in the general population. Moreover, more recent studies have found that people drawn to mysticism tend to be intuitives. And you know, the deeper I looked the more clear it became to me that the emerging church in many respects represented a revolt of intuitive Christians against suffocatingly sensor Christian institutions.

But this personality type split is not healthy, not healthy at all in my opinion. Balanced community requires both sensors and intuitives. The problem is intuitives are not feeling respected. This is a challenge for sensors but also intuitive Christians as well. As an intuitive Christian myself, I have found discipleship of intuitives is very different to discipleship of sensors. Christians need to learn to adapt discipleship to the needs of different types.