25 February 2009

of ironic reading choices, sacred cows, and my hope for a streamlined church

Back when I was a missionary in Africa, I happened across an interesting book. It was called Revolution in World Mission and it (roughly) advocated the end of the practice of missions as we currently participate in favor of an entirely new system.

The irony is that the new system basically would have me train some local people to do what I was doing and then I would go home. Local people would be missionaries in their own lands. The system of sending strangers off for long stints in foreign lands would be curbed considerably.

And I bought into this idea. It helped me to realize that I was a cultural novelty with a limited shelf-life. Eventually, the reality would set in that a local person, given the time and resources that I had, would be able to be much more effective in the mission than I would.

All of which meant that I could no longer be a missionary in Africa. And I loved being a missionary in Africa. And a book I picked up while serving in a place that I loved advised me to stop serving in the place that I loved so that others might do it better than me. Ugh.

The point of the story is that in order to advance an ideal that resonates deeply, we often have to kill the sacred cows that stand in the way of that ideal.

I typically yearn for a leaner, meaner, more efficient church. And yet, when I look at the list of programs, I rarely see one that deserves to be cut. Is efficiency, then, my sacred cow? Maybe the Kingdom doesn't need my stremlining ideas as much as it needs a unified voice? .

Or maybe the real question is whether we trust in the value of the ideal more than our own will - only when the ideal outweighs the cow will the ideal win out...



  1. If I'm not mistaken, the walrus is Paul and the cow represents pride. In that case, there is no concrete answer, just a balance to strive for. Prayers to be prayed. Grace to be allowed and answers to come. The will to follow this narrow path of mediation in all things is directly in line with choosing life and truth. A solid and resounding "yes" that says we must choose our resposes carefully each passing moment and thereby do not resolve to base absolutes in our decision making. It's our right and responsibility to balance these choices between our will and ideals to the best of our ability. I am the eggman, coo-coo-ka-choo.

  2. I think we Americans have a few sacred cows.

    One is the American Christian culture. Some missionaries think that bringing the gospel to the unreached means converting everyone to the American "version" of Christianity, or even a certain missionary's specific "brand" of American Christianity. When we go into a different culture, we are not there to "Americanize" it--we are there to let the Holy Spirit change it!

    Another "sacred cow" that kind of smells like the previous one is our penchant for "labeling" ourselves. We're not just Christians; we're compelled to label ourselves fundamental, or charismatic, or Reformed, or Protestant, or Orthodox, or Pentecostal, or Baptist, or conservative... Why not just be "Bible believing" and a "Christ follower"? This labeling serves to help us "feel better" about ourselves because we have somewhere to "belong." What happens is we isolate and become self-righteous, thinking we have a corner on God's truth while "everyone else" is "deceived." And if everyone else is "less spiritual," God's word says that loving fellow believers--not our "labeling" of and separation from them--will show all men that we are Christ's disciples.

    I believe in the Bible and I rely on God's grace to follow His leading...when did THAT become "not enough"?

  3. Nicole. On one hand I LOVE what you're saying. On another, it's missing something. In some variety labels are critical for communication. There are a lot of sects or even cults that would frighten you who would check the box next to "believe the Bible" and "fan of god's grace," yet fall far short of the Gospel.

    I realize you're speaking within an assumed context of all Judeo-Christian, generally Bible-based followers of Yeshua. Granting that, perhaps there's a synthesis point here...?

    Is the issue labels or how labels are applied? Distinction: I'm not in full agreement with every aspect of Calvinism, but you may be - yet we're both Christ-followers. We're still cool because we're one in the Body, yet different in our convictions or understanding of certain facets. we can worship, learn and serve alongside each other pretty well. Now, if the leader of our assembly chooses sides and teaches from that conviction/perspective - how do you answer the question, "is that assembly of believers Calvinist or not?"

    The big question is not that it's wrong to have positions but dangerous to allow position to destroy communion among the saints, unity in the Body, solidarity under Christ.

  4. Robert Lobkovich said, "Is the issue labels or how labels are applied? ...The big question is not that it's wrong to have positions but dangerous to allow position to destroy communion among the saints, unity in the Body, solidarity under Christ."

    Rob, I believe it is truly an issue of how labels are applied. If we allow our doctrinal positions to amputate the body of Christ into factions, we're not following Christ.

  5. You follow Paul, I'll follow Apollos and we'll call it good then. :)

    I like the imagery of Christian Amputees. Indeed, that is how much of Christendom is operating...and has been for centuries.

    Have you experienced many communities in which diverse doctrinal positions have co-existed well?

    The last church I attended had the maxim of "major on the majors, minor on the minors" when it came to doctrine. Worked fairly well.

    There is a lot of hubris tied to the present pretzel-effect on Christian community from our differences. Historical abuses of authority has yielded a Church world greatly devoid of any authority other than self and a democracy that is more partisan than the US Gov't in many ways!

    Going back to your original comment, Vincent Donavan wrote a great book called "Christianity Rediscovered." It's the story of a Catholic priest doing missionary work in Tanzania among the Masai. He wrestles with how to carry the Gospel of Christ without also carrying western cultural ideals - how to make Masai Christians without necessarily making them Romans or Americans in the process. Fascinating study he documents. I think you'd really enjoy it. :)