Thursday, November 16, 2017

church in pauline thinking

I am taking a class in New Testament studies and today the students were asked to pick a topic derived from the apostle Paul's thirteen letters (to churches and individuals). I decided to write on "Paul's view of the church" (or, at least, my perception of Paul's view of the church--ha!). I wanted to share my response with you because I am convinced the church of today needs to rethink what it really means to be the church. I hope you find my nerdy musings interesting and maybe helpful! -Troy

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The Apostle Paul's View of the Church
by Troy Cady

The word “church” predates Pauline usage but Paul creatively redefines it for followers of Jesus.[i] Simply speaking, it means “assembly.” In the history of Israel before the emergence of synagogues, it especially meant an assembly where all Israel gathered to hear and honor the Word of God being promulgated (as we see in the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai), and for special national festivals such as Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost).[ii] Matthew records Jesus using the word “church” and in one instance it carries the same sense of “assembly” but it also decentralizes the notion as it references synagogues, which are located in various places.[iii]

Paul’s use of the word “church” draws on this motif: it is a decentralized phenomenon (churches, plural) even as it is a cosmic, heavenly reality (church, singular).[iv] This latter sense carries with it the idea that all believers, everywhere, in every time are “assembled” before God, with Christ, our Head, as Lord and exemplar of the church’s pattern of living (a cruciform life with one another and for the world).

For example, in Romans 16 Paul refers to “all the churches [plural] of the Gentiles” (v. 3b) and to “the church that meets at [Priscilla and Aquila’s] house.” (v. 3a) But in Ephesians Paul uses the word church in a more cosmic sense. The church is his body, “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (1:22) and the church (everyone assembled before God, not just a particular church gathering) makes known “to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” the “wisdom of God.” (3:10)[v]

Integral to Paul’s view of church is the coming together of both Jews and Gentiles. Biblical scholar Michael Gorman refers to Paul’s view of church as a “multicultural community.”[vi] This is a key element in Paul’s teaching because it is connected with the eschatological hopes of Israel; namely, when Messiah comes, both Jew and Gentile will be gathered together in his kingdom. Indeed, this is what God had in mind all along: that the Jews would be a light to the Gentiles and all nations would be gathered to the God of Israel. Paul believes that in Jesus this eschatological vision is inaugurated and is coming to fruition. It is happening now, but it is still growing and will reach its fulfillment in the future.

As the Gentiles are not heirs of the Mosaic Law, this begs the question as to how Jew and Gentile will come together in this new assembly. In a typical Jewish assembly (such as in synagogue), the people of God came together to pray, hear the Scripture and be taught what it meant. Gentile God-fearers could participate in this up to a point. If they wanted to be full participants, however, they needed to be circumcised and begin observing certain “boundary markers” that distinguished Jew from Gentile (such as adhering to dietary restrictions and laws of cleanliness). In Paul’s reinterpretation of church for the new community, Paul teaches that Gentiles do not need to observe these Jewish “boundary markers” to be full participants of the new assembly. Instead, the Law of God is written on our hearts by the Spirit, who indwells all those who believe in Jesus. The Spirit of Christ crucified constitutes the new Law by which the people “walk.”

Paul references the role of the Spirit in the church through comparing the church to the temple. To the Jews of Paul’s day, the temple was the locus of God’s presence, but Paul teaches that the new locus of God’s presence is in those who confess faith in Jesus. I Corinthians 3:16 highlights this and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians makes it clear that both Jew and Gentile (whom God has “made one” by destroying “the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”- 2:14) are being “built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (2:22)

This new temple indwelt by God’s Spirit serves as the center of life in Christ’s cosmic kingdom. Thus, the church consists of new citizens of a new kingdom being built by God, the kingdom of heaven. Paul’s view of church in that sense represents a kind of “historical chiasm” wherein the people of God:

a- assemble at the Temple in Israel, governed by God’s Law given through Moses
            b- assemble in synagogues, governed by God’s Law given through Moses
            b’- assemble in homes[vii], a household of faith governed by a New Law given by the Spirit
a’- assemble before God in heaven, new citizens of a new kingdom being built by the Spirit

The new kingdom takes its shape in cruciform love, according to Paul. The church is a sign and foretaste of the kingdom as God’s people embody the self-emptying humility of their Lord Jesus Christ.

With that as a basis, I hasten to note that Paul’s mission as an apostle was to “create a vast network”[viii] of churches formed by the Spirit of Christ crucified. In Pauline literature we often see Paul referring to this entire network as “the church” (singular). If Gorman is correct that Paul’s mission was to create a network of churches, we must ask the question: for whom does the church exist? God, itself, others or “all of the above”?

In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, R.Y.K. Fung asserts: “The image of the church as the body of Christ looks inward…and upward…but not outward.”[ix] While this may be strictly true as Paul writes letters to various churches to address matters of internal import, it ignores the apostolic basis of the church. Indeed, the notion of an “apostolic church” bears out the paradox of a church that exists for its own edification and for the glory of Christ while at the same time owing its existence to Paul’s obedience as an apostle to be a missionary to the Gentiles. The church is a community of “called out ones” (literally), but the church without the apostles (“sent ones”, literally) would not exist. A church that is apostolic is by definition a “called out community” of those who have been “sent out.” The church is sent. If she is not sent, she cannot exist.

For that reason, in contrast to Fung, I assert that Paul does view the church as an “outwardly-minded” assembly. The church does need to be concerned with how we live out our faith in the world, not just how we live when we are assembled in a particular place on a particular day with other believers. Indeed, the church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas (notice: in Christian community) to establish more churches. In that regard, Paul, Barnabas (and others) embodied the church even as they started more churches. Without that outwardly-minded emphasis, there would be no church. Indeed, this outwardly-minded thrust is predicated on God the Father sending his Son to inaugurate his church of “sent ones.” This is the very point that scholars who promote a “missional” view of the church are trying to make and it has paradigm-shifting implications for churches (and the church) today who yet possess a mindset marked by Christendom. This missional sense of biblical teaching (including Paul’s teaching) sorely needs to be recovered. In that regard, Fung needs to revise his understanding of Paul, I feel.

It is true that when the church assembles (in someone’s home or in another place) it is for the building up of those who believe in Jesus—but it is not true that the church does not concern itself with the relationship between the church and the world. Indeed, in I Corinthians 14, as Paul is addressing dysfunction in the assembly in Corinth, he notes a sensitivity to unbelievers by pointing out that, it is better for the church (and the world) if an unbeliever can understand what is being said in the assembly. (I Cor. 14:24-25)

I propose that Paul views the church as both a witness to one another and to the world that Jesus is the Messiah—and we are to pattern our lives after Messiah’s life by the power of the Spirit in offering ourselves up as a cruciform people (for one another and for the sake of the world).



Notes:


[i] Josephus and Philo use the word ekklesia in connection with assemblies (religious or political) prior to the time of Jesus and the apostolic era. See P.T. O’Brien. “Church” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 124.
[ii] Of significance here is the LXX usage of the word ekklesia in reference to Israel “assembled to hear the Word of God on Mt. Sinai, or later on Mt. Zion where all Israel was required to assemble three times a year.” Ibid., 124.
[iii] Matthew 18:17- “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” Biblical scholars note that in this text Jesus is speaking of "church" in reference to the synagogue.
[iv] For instance, in Galatians Paul says that he used to “persecute the church of God.” We know that Paul is not just talking about one church in this instance because we know he traveled all over doing this. Acts tells us he went “from house to house,” dragging off men and women and putting them in prison. In this reference, Paul views the church (singular) as the network of churches (plural).
[v] In a synagogue setting, the “wisdom of God” was made known through reading Torah and the Prophets; then, a teacher would offer an interpretation for the congregation. Paul draws on this tradition and applies it on a cosmic scale. The heavenly church makes known the wisdom of God to heavenly powers. The prophetic and teaching gifts especially come to mind here.
[vi] Michael J. Gorman. Apostle of the Crucified Lord, 41.
[vii] Or, wherever, really. Anywhere the people of God can gather.
[viii] Ibid., 41.
[ix] R.Y.K. Fung. “Body of Christ” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 81.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

blessed are those who listen

Blessed are those who hear as God hears.
Blessed are those who hear the weeping of broken hearts,
the groans of loneliness,
and the grief of loss.
Blessed are those who hear the pleas of the helpless,
the requests of the poor,
the outcry of the harassed and violated.
Blessed are those who listen closely to creation coughing
and heed her cry to be healed.
Blessed are those who hear the story behind the belief,
who close their own mouth to listen to the heart of another,
who see not through the cracked lens of judgement,
but behold with eyes of compassion and understanding.

Blessed are you, Lord, for you hear every voice
and see beyond the surface
to the very heart of it all.
Blessed are you, Lord, for you are
the Deep calling to deep.

Blessed are those who hear God’s voice
and respond simply, “Here I am, Lord; here I am.”

In that spirit today, Lord, I give you
this offering: my eyes, my ears,
my available presence, my entire being,
open and receptive—
body, soul and spirit.

Amen.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

clarity and mystery

Meaning is discovered more in mystery than in clarity. Too often, the quest for clarity short circuits the hard work of being truly present…paying attention to God's right-now presence. One of the clearest teachings about God throughout history is that God is mysterious. Christians, of course, acknowledge that the clearest representation of God we will ever behold is in the person of Jesus, but notice: even Jesus is a mystery. We are still wondering today what the heck many of his parables mean, what his death signifies and in what manner he honored both grace and truth. This mystery constitutes for the Christian the very core meaning of our faith. Indeed, without mystery, faith is superfluous.

My experience suggests to me, however, that mystery is something that makes us all very uncomfortable. We like to be in control. We cherish our certainties. These days this addiction to clarity is apparent to me in the form of ideological polarization. Such polarization dehumanizes, however, because it lends itself to gross generalization.

When we generalize on issues we take as “given,” it short circuits real listening to God and others. We are prone to generalize especially when the matter concerns some great controversy in which society is embroiled. We ask: “Are you in or are you out?”—knowing full well that one person’s out is another person’s in. We demand declarations that will settle the matter once and for all—and thereby foment division, prejudice and hatred.

Many of us feel pressured to form opinions along binary lines, and we are pressured to form these opinions in a timely fashion (which, in our society, means: quickly—or you’re too late).

Most opinions we form are derived from experience, but once we form them, we tend to turn them into ideologies—and thereby limit our experience of realities that do not fit the framework of our opinions.

Ironically, love (which is messy by nature) carries its own kind of clarity. Love recognizes truth in an instant, but the fact is: loving truth cannot be described adequately (with complete clarity) were all the poets and all the philosophers of all the ages to combine their gifts in the attempt to do so.

May we learn to live in love. May we befriend mystery.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

broken

Lord Jesus,
You have carried the weight of our accursed sorrows
on your blessed shoulders.
God of beauty, you became ugly and disfigured
when we beat you.
Perfect Son of Man, you were pierced.
Whole and holy one, you were crushed because of our sin.

Why did you do it?
Couldn’t there have been another way to save us?
Couldn’t there have been another way?

Yes, Lord, we hear you:
There is no other way with you but the way of love.
There is no other way.
You were broken because of your great love for us.

So I offer you my unending gratitude today—
I give you my life.
Thank you for your indescribable love.
It’s a mystery to me, that you,
Son of God, would be broken for someone like me.

And I pray: if this is what brokenness does…
break us, Lord. Break our hard hearts.
Break our take-me-seriously wisdom by
the laughter of your foolishness.
Break our pride. Break our inactive comfort;
break our active self-sufficiency.
Break our selfishness.
Break our prayerlessness.
Break our suspicion and hatred.
Break our disdain for others.
Break our division within and without;
make us whole and make us one.
May we be broken as you were broken;
may we be broken according to the
measure of your love for us.
Break us.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

#metoo

I am a white man. And I am troubled. I’m troubled by the number of times I hear other white men say things like: “I stand with my black brothers and sisters in the fight against racism but I’m personally not aware of any time I’ve treated people of color disrespectfully.”

or

“I can’t think of any time I’ve ever treated women in demeaning ways and I want to go on record that sexual harassment is wrong.”

If you are a white man and you are reading this, I can assure you that your lack of awareness does not mean you haven’t treated others in prejudicial, discriminatory or demeaning ways. It just means you aren’t aware that you’ve done it.

When thousands of black people cry out about injustice, it’s unlikely the source of oppression only comes from “those other white people.”

“I’m not one of those, am I?”  Surely not!

When thousands of women say #metoo and #notOK, reason dictates there are more than a few “other” men who have put them down. If the cause of the problem were only “those other people” we wouldn’t have a problem because when we hear outcries like #metoo EVERYONE thinks it’s because of “those other people.”

I want to share with you now a few stories about how I've contributed to the problem. It's not easy for me to do this, but I feel it's the right thing to do so I'm going to do it anyway. As I share, I want to invite other white men to join me in this confession. The only way we will make progress in this is if we all are willing to own that we are part of the problem. If we keep denying it, nothing will change. 

I am sorry to say that I’m guilty of putting people of color in my “less than” box sometimes. I see a black man on the street and I instantly think he might be up to no good. I wonder about my Muslim neighbors and fail to say something when I hear someone speak jokingly about my Jewish neighbors. I fail to consider that my Asian friends are subject to stereotypes and I am ignorant of basic cultural differences between my Japanese, Korean and Chinese friends.

These are my friends, mind you. You can see: I need to be a better friend. I’m part of the problem, I have to admit.

Another story: some months ago, I worked with a group of older adults in a series of “listening sessions.” They wanted to engage in a process of group discernment and I facilitated some collaborative exercises to help them do that. As it turned out, the two leaders were both women and there was only one other man in the group.

As time went on, the two leaders of this group and I spoke about next steps for the group. One of the ideas we talked about was the possibility of having the group be part of a ministry I lead.

I was so thrilled at the possibility of partnering with this group of wonderful people that the next time we met, I acted as if it was a done deal. I’m ashamed to say I played my “man card” by assertively leading the group down a particular path without making space for the whole group to have their voices heard.

(I’ve done this many other times, too, and I have to admit it is an abuse of the inherent power I have as a man, however subtle it might be.)  

Thankfully, all the women in that group were strong and confident; they put me in my place—and it was humiliating at first. One of them said, “I don’t want another man telling me what I need to do.”

Ouch!

But true.

What could I do but just listen and ask forgiveness? Thankfully, they forgave me. See how strong these women were? I'm still humbled by it even as I write this.

As it turns out, the group has continued without me and they are doing really well, I’m happy to say. But I’m saddened that I was the cause of those moments of (needless) friction. The irony is: I was meeting with the group to empower the two women who had a vision to bless many people and, because of my presumption, I hurt them by asserting my male power and privilege. I’m glad they would have none of that nonsense.

Men (especially white men), I want to say something. We are part of the problem, all of us. No progress will be made if we keep saying, “I don’t think I’ve ever hurt anyone that way.”

You have. Trust me. The most dangerous thing in this instance is to be unaware of it and to do nothing to change it in yourself. It’s easy for white men to ignore it because…after all, we have the power.

Intrinsic to power is an interesting irony. There is nothing quite so invigorating as power and, at the same time, there is nothing quite so numbing as power.

It’s invigorating when you feel the power but it’s numbing because, pretty soon, people with power get used to it and take it for granted. Eventually, we forget we have the power...so when someone treats us like we are abusing our power we think, “Who me?”

White men: If you’re in doubt, let me clear it up for you.

You have the power.

The fact that you don’t have to think about it means you also have privilege. Think of privilege as a foundation of the best soil to grow the strongest trees. The tree has nothing to do with the quality of the soil, but it benefits from it immensely. The same tree planted in poor soil will languish by comparison—not because the tree itself is defective but because the soil in which the tree is planted puts that particular tree (or group of trees) at a profound disadvantage.

Now, watch how the trees planted in the good soil say to the trees planted in the poor soil, “Just look at us and learn from us! We’ll show you how to flourish like we do! See all the fruit we bear. Aren’t we just so wonderful?”

But the trees planted in the poor soil, try as they might, cannot flourish like the trees in the good soil. So then the trees in the good soil say, “What’s wrong with you? You have all the same opportunities we do but just look at you…you’re getting nowhere fast! Look: you have sun and rain just like we do. How come our fruit is so much better than yours?”

And the trees in the poor soil say, “It’s because of the soil. We can’t help it. We’re trying our hardest, honest. Can’t you see?”

But the trees in the good soil just say: “Nonsense. You have just as good a place to grow as we do. You just don’t take advantage of all the special opportunities you have. What’s wrong with you? Stop complaining! You’re just making us miserable.”

The trees in the good soil can’t understand because they are not planted in the poor soil. They can’t even imagine what it is like to be one of those “other” trees. And they take for granted the good soil that supports them.

But the trees who have been denied access to the rich land have grown weary of the inequity. They are so weary they are angry and they can’t help but cry out, “Wake up! Look at us! We will not go down without a fight! We will not be silent and accept our ‘lot’ in life anymore! We will speak up, we will rise up and with God’s help we will overcome.”

White men: can’t you hear the cry? What if, instead of turning a deaf ear to the cry, we used our power to minister healing?

What if the NFL owners led the way and asked EVERYONE on their team to kneel solemnly when the national anthem is played? The players could bow their heads and put their hands over their hearts—all of them!—to show respect for the ideals represented in the flag but also to mourn and pay attention to the fact that we do not always live up to those ideals. Kneeling could be a sign that we all want the situation to change. Just think: if people of every color knelt we would all be kneeling together, in solidarity.

Can’t you see? Because of the courage of the men who have been kneeling we have the opportunity not to divide but to join them in their protest? What would there be to divide us anymore? 

If white men would kneel, they would be saying to their fellow men of color: “We see you and we will not leave you in this agony. We see you in the midst of the battlefield; we see that you have been wounded and we will rush to your side to carry you to a place where you can live life to the fullest. We’ve got your back, brothers.”

What if our leaders (both political and organizational) paid attention to the outcry and said, “Let’s join them. Let’s listen.” Would that be so hard? What do we think will happen?

Too often I hear people saying, “I could get on board with this if I just knew what it was the ‘kneelers’ wanted.”

But in order to know what “they” want, you have to get close enough to "them" to find out. You have to kneel with them and then listen. Ask them. Work with them. And if it seems fuzzy, stay with them. Remember: they’ve been wounded. They might not make sense to you, but that doesn’t mean that what they have to say isn’t worth hearing. It just means we need to listen that much harder.

Men: when women say #metoo and you say: “Golly, I can’t think of anything I’ve done to hurt women”—that hurts. It hurts—even if you say in the same breath: “Amen, sister! I’m with you in this protest!”

It’s not enough to say Amen when you are oblivious to the ways you’ve contributed to the problem. It’s hypocrisy and it’s time to take responsibility for the culture of fear we’ve created. We’ve all done it. Not just “those other guys.” We’ve ALL done it; that’s why there are so many crying out. If you don’t know that you’ve done it, ask for light to see, because…trust me, you’ve done it.

Now it’s time to do a different doing. Now it’s time to change. 

Pray for humility and strength. You'll need it.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

the One Who is Smeared

The One Who is Smeared
a prayer by Troy Cady

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Lord Jesus, I bless You;
I proclaim you as Christ, the Anointed One,
the blessed One, the chosen King.
I bless You because the tears that cover my face
run down to touch Your feet
and You welcome them.

I cry at Your feet
because You carry in Your very self
the oil of gladness
and I have nowhere else to turn.
I have smeared You with my tears
because You, Christ, are smeared with healing oil.
You wash away the salt of my sorrow
and cover me with the fragrant perfume of Your joy.

I bless You, Lord,
and I call You Christ,
the Anointed One.

I give you my life as an expression of my gratitude
for all that You are and all that You have done.

Now loosen my tongue by the power of Your Spirit.
Loosen my tongue to tell others about You,
Jesus, the Christ, the One covered in love,
the One whose whole Being is smeared
thick with gladness, Blessing without end.
And cover my hands in Your healing oil,
to Bless, to restore the beauty of a sin-smeared world
by the generous anointing of Your grace.

I pray this in the Name of the Jesus,
the Christ, the Blessed One.
Amen.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

the God who sees, hears and touches

Father, 
Thank you for sending your Son
so we could see you with no veil between us,
hear you through no interpreter,
and touch you with no fear.

Thank you for sending your Son
who assures us that
you see us in love,
you hear us when we cry out,
and your touch is our healing.

How can we ever repay you for so great a gift?
Take our hearts, take our lives, take everything;
you have won us by your grace.

And I pray in faith
that you would fill us
with the power of the Holy Spirit
to make us more like Jesus,
to see everyone the way you see them, in love;
to listen in empathy
without adding empty platitudes;
to come close to those we pass every week,
to come so close to them that we will
be able to touch them with your touch
which changes everything,
to embrace them with your love
which makes us whole.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen.