Should we treat the church like our favorite restaurant?
Only if you are working in the kitchen!

(Sorry! I am having trouble getting the video to show up on RSS feeds and iPhones. I will try to correct the problem, but until then you can view the 4 minute video on my blog or at vimeo.)

Thanks to Robyn Vining, Tony Templeton, Sarah DePriest, the Impact Community, and The Original Pancake House for their crucial roles in this video!
(Filmed August 2009 at The Original Pancake House in Brookfield, WI.)

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963.

This month the Impact Community is doing a series called “Conversations.” It is series designed to foster better relationships between the mainstream white evangelical church and four different marginalized people groups. Each week will include an apology letter from the church to that community.

This week we discussed the immigrant community. This is our apology.

Dear Immigrant Community,

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not every day you hear those words from me.

But I wanted to start there.

I’m sorry.

I have forgotten so much. I’ve forgotten that scripture is full of stories of immigrants.

I’ve forgotten the repeated commands to extend hospitality to the stranger, show mercy to the foreigner, and ensure justice for the alien.

I’ve forgotten the central principle of actively loving my neighbor, and that neighbor means you. I have forgotten that God has created and redeemed all people, not just people who look, talk, and act like me!

I’m sorry for forgetting.

I’m sorry that in forget these realities, I’ve neglected you.

I’m sorry for thinking ill of you and treating you as less than human.

I am sorry that I have not shown you hospitality. My lack of action reveals the truth of my selfish state. I revel in the courageous stories of how our ancestors came here, yet I ignore your courageous stories. I surround myself with pleasures and comforts, and ignore your plight.

I’m sorry for being a bad, non-loving neighbor.

I am sorry that I often think the worst of you. I make assumptions about you – why you’re here, how you got here, and what’s going to happen because you’re here.

My assumptions are often dark and jaded and down-right hateful. These thoughts have little or even nothing to do with the reality of who you are.

I’m sorry for the times I have made things more difficult for you. I’m sorry for the times I have joined in the slander against you. Sorry that I have allowed, and even advocated for, unreasonable obstacles to be placed in front of you.

I’m sorry for having permitted and even participated in, acts of discrimination against you.

For these things I am sorry. You deserve better! Jesus’ name deserves better.

Will you please forgive me?

Signed – The Church

(Letter by Jim Vining and Sarah DePriest)

Our pastoral staff had lunch with N.T. Wright (Yes, I like my job!).

Scott Arbeiter asked the Bishop of Durham what blind spots he observes in the American Evangelical Church.

As a good historian, Bishop Wright responded to the question by naming two periods of American history: The 1770s and 1860s.

The 1770s

Americans not only revolted against the British government,  they also rejected the Anglican Bishop’s authority over the Church. This may seem natural to Americans, but Wright noted two unhealthy trends in American Evangelicalism which he traces back, at least in part, to those events.

1.   Isolation of Our Faith from the Global and Historic Church. Wright believes that church unity must transcend place and time. He sees much of American Evangelicalism indifferent to the church outside of itself.

2.   Isolation of Our Faith from Our Public Life. Wright notes the tremendous influence of the Enlightenment upon the founding of America. This philosophy drives the idea that we can separate religion from institutions.

The 1860s

The Civil War has left a profound divide in American culture, and the Evangelical Church is not immune. Wright sees the Mason-Dixon divide as one of the roots of the culture war in modern America. He identifies two ways that this has harmed the American Church.

1.   Limitation of Our Church Unity. Wright believes that Church unity is a centerpiece of the scriptures. However, the American church is almost as divided as the rest of the nation in our ongoing culture wars.

2.   Limitation of Our Practice, Proclamation, and Discernment of Truth. Many Americans are so entrenched in their side in the culture war that they are not able to identify reality. Christians on the Left and Right often place a higher value on their team’s position than the teachings of scripture.

I have spent some time prayerfully thinking about this friendly critique and it’s implications for me, our congregation and the movement. It seems profound and urgent to me.

What do you think?

Where is this an accurate description of American Evangelicalism, and the American Church in general?

What can we do to (W)right the ship?

Below are Notes from N.T. Wright’s Chapel Address at Wheaton College on April 16, 2010

Six Verses in Ephesians to Shape us for the Future

1:10 – God’s plan was to gather together all things in heaven and earth under Jesus.  There is no dichotomy between heaven and earth, no split level living. Jesus enables us to live the life of heaven and earth as a reality here and now.

2:10 – We are God’s art work. God created us to bearing fruit, to be co-creators in this world. God gives each of us  a calling to bring to the world unique thing(s) that only we can do. We are each playing a real role in heaven and earth.

3:10 – The Church is called to be a diverse and counter-cultural community so that the wisdom of God might be known by the principalities and powers of the world. The very existence of the Church testifies that Jesus is the true Lord.

4:15 – The Church is called to hold to the truth in love, growing up into one, connected with the head, Jesus. This is  not about us. We are growing together with the Church, under the authority in into the likeness of Jesus.

5:14 – The resurrection of Jesus displays the power of God to change our way of life.  We do not have to live the old way of life. There is hope for a new way of life because of heaven and earth’s union in Jesus.

6:13 – We must put on the full armor of God. This is a battle. The powers do not want to submit to the just and righteous rule of Jesus. We are to live out the way of God’s Kingdom in the face of powers’ resistance to the true King.

Should you run away from a church that is involved in social justice?

A popular media figure recently pleaded with people to do just that.

But, what do the scriptures say?

Here are just a few of the many scriptures that speak to God’s thoughts on faith and justice:

Isaiah 58

6 “This is the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke.

7 It is to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.

Micah 6

8 He has shown all you people what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Matthew 25

40 “Jesus will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

45 “Jesus will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

James 1

27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Should you run away from a church that is involved in social justice?


In fact, I believe that the scriptures call us to the opposite action.

You should run away from your church if it is NOT involved in social justice.

The God revealed in the bible is not interested in any faith that does not include justice and mercy for the poor, oppressed and marginalized.

Candle Darkness

After reading my last post, some people wondered why I stayed involved with vocational ministry in a local church context.

The answer to that question is rooted in large part to my belief that Jesus has great plans for the Church.

I believe that Jesus desires for the Church to change the World.

In Matthew 16 Jesus took his followers to the darkest place in their culture to cast his vision for the Church. Caesarea Phillipi carried with it deep historical, spiritual and moral baggage. It was the stronghold for the fertility god cult. That place was characterized by false belief, greed, injustice, immorality, and oppression.

No good religious person would have gone to that dark place.

The Rabbi Jesus went there. He took his followers there to give the founding words of his Church.

In this dark setting Jesus was identified as the Messiah, the fulfillment of God’s promise to rescue us from darkness. He then made two promises about the messiah movement that would follow him.

Jesus Promises to Build His Church in the Midst of Darkness

The setting of the story was crucial:

The Landscape of CP was dominated by a large cliff. This cliff became the backdrop for the fertility god worship.

Ornate niches were carved into the cliff

Idols were placed on the niches to observe the rituals of the cult

This cliff became known as the Rock of the Gods.

Jesus said “On this rock I will build my Church” with the Rock of the Gods dominating their setting.

Perhaps Jesus was saying “EVEN HERE, In the darkest, most broken place, most unclean place, I will start my Movement.”

Jesus was not only willing to go to the dark places, He said it was a perfect place to build his Movement!

Jesus Promises the Victory of His Church over Darkness

Once again the setting was crucial:

The cliff in Caesarea Philippi had a large cave with a large spring flowing out of it.

In the ancient world water was believed to be sent from the gods.

This water came out of a mysterious bottomless cave in a massive cliff.

The cave became known as the entry way to the underworld, or the “gates to Hades.”

Jesus said that “the gates of hell will not prevail against” his Church with the Gates of Hades nearby them.

Jesus stated that his Church would be on the offense against the darkness, and the defensive structures of the darkness would not be able to hold back this movement of light.

Jesus intends for His Church to bring hope, grace, peace, justice, truth and healing to the darkest places of the world!

In the midst of painful experiences and disappointments in the church, this story of a Church that will change the World has kept me engaged in vocational ministry.

At times I actually experience this type of movement.

At times I work for what is promised and hoped for, in spite of what I actually see.