The following is audio and text from the teaching given by Leah on November 8, 2015. Feel free to listen online, download, or read. This teaching is the fifth in our fall series, "Sailing the Blue Ocean."
When I was growing up, I had some spiritual experiences that the church my family attended at the time had no categories for. I remember sitting in my parents Presbyterian church as a young child, probably seven or so, during the Christmas Eve service. And during the sermon, which was a message on the wonder of God’s choice of a young, poor girl to be the highly favored one who would become mother of Jesus, I was profoundly moved. Chills were running through my body. Tears would not stop flowing. I felt a presence I could not understand, a love that was beyond description, that was flowing over me, and all I could do was cry. And so I did. I cried through much of the Christmas Eve service and my parents were a bit alarmed. What’s wrong with her? It’s Christmas. It’s about to be Santa time. Why won’t she stop crying?
And as I tried to answer something like “God just loves us so much” I became aware that what I was experiencing wasn’t something my parents or anyone in their church knew what to do with. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was bewildering. People didn’t usually cry in my parents church. They played handbells or sang in the choir. They read prayers. They stood to sing the hymns. If they were lucky, they heard a sermon that didn’t put them to sleep, but gave them some helpful food for thought to take with them for the week. And they were great at bringing meals to the single mom and showing up to build the house for Habitat for Humanity. But crying during church? It didn’t happen.
Fast forward a decade or so, and I had long since given up on my parents’ church being a place where I would find spiritual fulfillment, but as I prayed sincerely for the first time in my life that God would show me where to go to college, and I walked Northwestern’s campus, once again, I felt the chills. I felt the profound presence. I didn’t have any language for it, but I knew it was divine. And the first time I found myself during my freshman year in a little small group of followers of Jesus who were singing simple love songs to Jesus and inviting his Holy Spirit to come, I was undone. My soul was opened up. I sat in a room full of strangers and could not stop the tears. But there, everyone regarded me with a sort of knowing look. Crying in worship for them was totally normal.
I had found it, the thing my spirit had been yearning for. I discovered a personal connection to Jesus for the first time. I discovered life in the gospels for the first time; I’d never really read them. I discovered this thing called the Holy Spirit and I was jazzed. God was moving and he moved through his people, and he talked to them in all kinds of ways, and we could perceive his presence and we could receive direction from him, and it was all 100% new and exciting. And in my young, presumptuous late teens, I totally judged the churches I grew up in. They’re dead. They’re not really worshiping the living Jesus. They’re just social gatherings of people that are increasingly irrelevant; people who come because they were conditioned culturally to do it, but they don’t have a real, life-sustaining faith. For that, you needed to be in a a church like mine. A church that takes the Bible seriously, and makes lots of space for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be at work.
I was in the honeymoon of newly found faith and spiritually hungry, so when I had an opening in my class schedule, I found myself signing up for a class that sounded intriguing: Christian mysticism. Now honestly, I didn’t know what to expect of a whole class of readings from Catholic Nuns and Monks that were centuries old. In my young judgementalism, if presbyterian churches were boring and dead, Catholic ones were probably even more so. But as I read the writings of these mystics, describing the powerful, supernatural, intimate experiences of ecstasy they were having of Jesus, the flames of my young charismatic faith were totally stoked. The readings resonated in amazing ways. The experiences of God I was having were not new; some people had been having them for a long, long time and the words they wrote about them enriched and grew my own understanding of faith. Perhaps the Catholics were on to something after all.
Well, I start with these stories, because today we are looking at the fifth Blue Ocean distinctive, which is stated like this: Our approach to other churches is ECUMENICAL/ CONVERGENT. Now Dave told me last week, the word might change - slashes are never great - but the words chosen here do communicate the spirit of the endeavor. Our distinctive this week deals with the question of where is Blue Ocean located on the map of Christianity. How is it related to other churches? And what should our posture toward other churches be?
To help get us into this topic I want to start with a very, very brief, thumbnail sketch of the last 2000 plus years of church history. Don’t worry; I’m just gonna hit a few highlights. The first 300 years of the church, Christians were under great persecution throughout the Roman Empire, with many, many suffering as martyrs. But in 313 AD, Emperor Constantine confessed conversion to the faith, and Christianity became a state-established religion. There was now one church and the Bishop of Rome, which came to be known as the Pope, grew to be the position of greatest authority. In 1054 the church divided between East and West in an event called the Great Schism. The division was over a number of issues, particularly the question of the Pope’s supremacy. Now we had the Eastern Orthodox church in the East and the Roman Catholic Church in the West.
By the 16th century the Catholic church had become quite corrupt incorporating non-Biblical practices and teaching them as important Christian truth, particularly evidenced by the sale of indulgences to pay for projects like St. John’s Basilica. With these sales, Christians were taught they could buy souls of their loved ones who had died out of suffering in purgatory. Reform began to take place as Bibles began to be translated into the languages of the people and the invention of the printing press made it possible for people to read it themselves. In 1513 Martin Luther nailed his 93 theses critiquing the Pope and those working for him in Rome, to the door of his church in Wittenburg, and the Protestant Reformation was officially launched.
In the centuries that followed, a number of reformers came on the scene starting new movements of churches, and different European countries adopted different state-based churches. Germans became Lutheran. English became Anglicans. And Puritans sailed for the New World where they hoped to find religious freedom. Most of the American Colonies each came to have their own expression of Christianity, and each was fueled by a desire to get out from under the religious oppression they’d experienced in Western Europe. From early on, revivalism also played a role in shaping religious life in North America. The first Great Awakening took place in the mid 18th century, a precursor to the American Revolution. And then, filled with inspiration and religious fervor, but also a diversity of views between all the different colonies, when the founders of the United States set about forming their own government, for the first time in Western society, they established a nation that did not have a particular established state-adopted religion. This was a new phenomenon which allowed for the increasing religious pluralism the immigrant-fueled United States would see.
In the years that would follow, revivalism returned. The Second Great Awakening took place from 1800 to 1840 and fueled the 19th century abolition movement, as well as other social reforms. Both the first and Second Awakenings fueled the rise of evangelical faith. And in the early part of the 20th century, an event in Los Angeles known as the Azusa Street revival gave birth to pentecostalism and the modern charismatic movements. Which roughly brings us to the middle of the 20th century, which is where we’re gonna stop and examine the landscape a bit.
In her book, The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle, the religious historian writes that by the 1960s, religious scholars and historians across the board were largely beginning to adopt a picture that they used to help themselves understand the modern Christian church, and the picture looked something like this. It was called the quadrilateral, and as you can see it has four quadrants. Each of the quadrants name a core value or approach to Christian faith that’s the primary thing that churches in that quadrant are concerned with. Now this is not exclusive, all of these churches across the quadrilateral for example would call the Bible a foundational book, for example, but the categories help describe the priorities and primary concerns and identities that different Christian communities have formed. So here are the four categories as Phyllis and others have presented them.
In the upper left we have “Liturgicals”. This would include primarily Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches. In the upper right are the “Social Justice Christian” churches. Here Mainline denominations such as Episcoplaians, some presbyterians, United Church of Christ, and United Methodists are in view, as well as most of the traditionally black churches. Going clockwise, in the lower right we have what she calls “Conservatives”. Evangelicals is another appropriate term here, it’s those for whom the Bible is the ultimate authority and a primary concern is right Biblical doctrine, usually fairly narrow readings of it. This quadrant includes some Evangelical denominations as well as a lot of non-denominational evangelical churches. And finally in the lower left quadrant, we have what Phyllis called Renewalists, meaning Pentecostals and other more charismatic, supernatural, Holy Spirit experience-centered groups.
Phyllis also makes clear that the arrangement of the four is not arbitrary. The top two quadrants both share primary concerns with what theologians call orthopraxis, or “right practice”. How you perform your faith, the outward signs related to it, what behavior your faith in Jesus fuels, is primary. So on the liturgical side, how you perform ritual is very important. How you treat the bread and the cup in the Eucharist is of real significance. On the social justice side, bringing food for the food pantry, working the Habitat build, showing up at the Black Lives Matter demonstration, these are especially important activities because this is where faith in Jesus is lived out in practical ways.
While the top two quadrants are concerned with orthopraxis, the bottom half of the quadrilateral is more concerned with orthodoxy, or “right belief”. For the conservatives, whose origins often lie in Fundamentalism, though the term has fallen out of favor, right understanding of the Bible, right belief about how the Bible is handled and how it informs our faith, is of primary importance. And for the Renewalists, it’s right belief about the spiritual gifts. Many believe if you don’t speak in tongues, you’re not really a christian because you don’t show evidence, as they understand it, of having been “baptized in the Spirit”.
Now, as Phyllis points out, increasing urbanization and diversity in the late 20th century meant different people were interacting with one another and the lines between these groups began to blur. The Vineyard, from which all of us Blue Ocean pastors come in some way, began in the late 20th century, and positioned itself as a group in the “radical middle” between charismatic faith and evangelicalism. And there have been other border blurs as well. In the late 20th century there began to be charismatic Catholics and more conservative evangelical branches of mainline denominations. But by the end of the 20th century, this was more or less the picture of the church.
Of course, another more entertaining way we could capture the flavor of each quadrant is with a set of good, old fashioned light bulb jokes. I’ve changed the names from particular denominations to reflect the greater categories. We’ll work in reverse order.
How many renewalists does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. One to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.
How many conservatives does it take to change a light bulb? THE BIBLE DOES *NOT* SAY *ANYTHING* ABOUT LIGHT BULBS!!!!
How many social justice Christians does it take? Undetermined. Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved -- you can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. Churchwide lighting service is planned for Sunday, November 21st. Bring bulb of your choice and a covered dish.
What about liturgicals? How many does it take? None. They use only candles.
So, looking at the chart, you can see on paper why some of my early experiences of faith were so confusing. They seemed to defy the categories. I was raised solidly in the Social Justice quadrant, but I was having experiences more in line with the charismatic one. Then in college I came to personal faith in this bottom half of the quadrilateral, but took classes where I was studying the liturgical quadrant and found a lot of similarities. It was kinda confusing, but seeing this picture, the dissonance of those experiences makes sense. And yet, we have to ask, as helpful as it is to have a portrait of the landscape, where is Jesus in all of this?
On the night before he died, John’s account of Jesus’ life talks about Jesus praying that his believers would “all be one.” He said it this way in John 17, starting in verse 20. “My prayer is not for them alone.” (meaning his twelve disciples) “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. …Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Paul, in his letters to the early churches picked up on this theme, and regularly gave a vision of unity. We’re gonna look today at one of the passages he wrote on this theme. Now, if you’re like me, you may have heard this passage read or preached on a fair amount, but personally, every time I’ve heard it studied, it was always understood in the context of the local faith community. Today, as we look at this passage, I want to invite you to hear it afresh, and this time, to keep the history and the portrait of the church I’ve just presented in mind.
“4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
So in this passage, Paul was talking to the church in Corinth about the gifts of the Spirit, the gifts that God, by his Holy Spirit was giving members of his church, so that they might participate in the work of Jesus on earth. But though this counsel was originally given in this letter to a particular church, I think it is fair to say that Paul imagines its application to go beyond that small, local faith community. In other letters to other churches, he employs the same metaphor of the church as Christ’s body; it’s clearly an image he finds important in understanding the church in general, not just a particular church. Now I think that it is not incorrect to hear Paul’s words and think of how they apply in our local context, but I think we miss part of the point if we stop there.
Of course, I don’t know how Paul would feel to see all the twists and turns that the church would take in the two millennia that followed his writing, he certainly couldn’t have predicted all the ways that would play out. But I do think the truth in what he’s communicating is just as potent and powerful, if not more so, when we look at the greater landscape of the church today. Paul’s counsel is just as needed and relevant today to the Church Universal, as it was then to the local congregation. So as we consider our relationship to the Wider Church, I want to draw on a few important points that Paul seems to be making here.
The first point is that the Spirit gives a diverse variety of gifts to the church, and all of the gifts are equally valuable, like different parts of a body. The picture here is not of uniformity; it’s of great diversity. “To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.” Paul makes it clear that all members of the body should not look the same, and that the body benefits from the fact that they don’t. The body is stronger, more capable, more fruitful, because of it’s diversity of gifts.
So how might keeping this in mind affect the ways we think about churches and the people in them who come from a different quadrant of Christian practice than where we might locate ourselves? What if instead of looking at Jesus followers in other quadrants with suspicion or a focus on what we think they’re missing in their practice, we turned and noticed what they’re doing well? We noticed what gifts they bring to the greater body? Perhaps in what ways we might benefit from those gifts, even learn from them?
The second point I see Paul making is that Jesus holds all of the parts together. Though there is not uniformity, there is unity in the Spirit. Paul makes it clear - we share one baptism, however different we look from one another. Our baptism into the community of Jesus makes us one. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Through our shared experience of baptism, we become united by the Spirit into one body. The individual body parts may look nothing alike - an ear and an eye look nothing alike, but they are part of the same body. It is the parts working together, being held together, that allow all of them to function well. The eye and the ear accomplish different things, but they help make one another more effective. When they work together, they can accomplish more then if they try to operate in isolation. Again, if we keep this in mind, how might that change the way we think about our connection to other Christian traditions and the churches therein?
Finally, the third point I want to draw out from what Paul is saying here is this: the individual members do not have the power to determine who is in the body. “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” Belonging comes by way of the Spirit from Jesus alone. As much as churches have spent millennia fighting, at times, about who’s in and who’s out and which churches are the true ones and which one’s aren’t, Paul’s words remind us that, ultimately, we don’t have the power to decide that. We don’t get to say “we don’t belong” of ourselves because we look different than the quadrant next to us, and we also don’t get to say “you don’t belong” to other followers of Jesus because they look different than us.
So as we consider the words from Paul to the Corinthians and think through where we, as a Blue Ocean church, are located on the landscape of the church and how we think through our interactions with the total picture, I want to consider one last version of this graphic. This is what Phyllis and others have noted has begun to take place more and more, particularly in the first part of the 21st century.
As you can see, now we have the quadrants, as well as the blurred borders, but we also have a center that has emerged; a nexus place between the different quadrants, where rather than remaining stationary within the confines of the quadrants, individuals and churches are starting to circle all around the quadrilateral. They go in and out of all four quadrants, weaving around and around, incorporating practices from each quadrant, and increasingly rubbing shoulders with a diverse crew of folks who are doing the same thing, though coming from many different places. As these folks cross-pollinate more and more through increasingly more and more urban life, through workplaces, through social media, the center begins to take on an identity of its own. It begins to have an energy that like, centripetal force, has the power to affect things around it, and pull others near. And as we consider Blue Ocean’s approach to the quadrilateral, this is where we find ourselves located. Here, in this centered-set kind of sphere, where Jesus is holding together all of the gifts of the parts of his church, and we can receive the gifts that all of our brothers and sisters are bringing, and we can work alongside all of our brothers and sisters, and we can offer our own gifts to the greater body. Rather than hulling up in a corner of the quadrilateral and looking at another part of it as a body part that doesn’t belong, I think in Haven we want to press toward the center where we can experience the richness of diversity and unity in the spirit. It’s that powerful dynamic tension that Paul so beautifully described. And so this is what we mean when we say for our fifth Blue Ocean distinctive, we want our posture toward other churches to be ecumenical and convergent.
We want to live in the place of convergence where we get to experience the best of all of the body. Sure, we will likely bring in our own biases and practices that favor our heritage, but more and more, we want to grow in inclusivity and diversity. Because ultimately this is not just about being cool and hip; we don’t go after the center because we want to be the most appealing post-modern church around. We go after the center because we believe that was Jesus intention for us. We believe he is uniquely present there. We hear his prayer that his followers would all be one, and we think all means all.
Paul’s message to the church in Corinth didn’t end with his thoughts on spiritual gifts. 1st Corinthians 12 was the set-up for the chapter followed. This is probably one of the most famous passages that Paul wrote, which has been quoted innumerable times since. After encouraging the Corinthians to embrace and care for the various parts of the body, even the ones that seemed unpresentable or less honorable, Paul reached his climax when he said this:
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Paul wasn’t writing a wedding sermon when he penned 1st Corinthians 13. He was beckoning the church to live out it’s call to be a different kind of community. All of the gifts each person bring, all the biblical knowledge, all the prophetic supernatural power, all of the ritual, all of the justice efforts, they only reflect a portion of who Jesus is. They only show him in part. And ultimately these things will pass away, but hope faith and love will remain. Paul understands that the greatest power the church, truthfully the hope of the nations, is the demonstration of love. Paul is calling for an alternative community. A community that is not known for it’s divisiveness. A community that is not known for it’s competitiveness. A community of people that are not self-serving, are not are not dishonoring of others, do not keep a record of wrongs. Jesus said it this way in that same discourse on the night he was betrayed in John, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
So how do we get started? What’s the practical invitation to us as individual Jesus followers in this baby Blue Ocean church? What’s the invitation to us as a community? I want to offer a few tips as we close on how we might grow in this kind of convergent/ecumenical spirit. First, I think we need to start by each of us considering our own personal heritage, and how it has informed our practice of faith. Can you locate yourself on our map, or can you trace your own journey? What about the journey of those who have come before you? Your family? The other influences in your life? How does your location or your history inform your perspective on right beliefs and right practices? We're going to take time in worship to reflect on that, and if it’s not clear to you, to invite God to clarify it.
The second step, I think is confessing any judgements you have about other parts of Jesus’ body to Jesus, and asking him to help you lay them down. What are the ways you have dismissed other parts of Jesus’ church, either consciously or unconsciously? What are the ways you’ve passed judgement on other believers for practicing Jesus centered-faith in a way that’s different from you. Acknowledge that to God. It also might be helpful to actually name it and acknowledge it to another human being, someone who is safe, and can receive your confession without judgement themselves, and assure you of God’s gracious mercy and forgiveness toward you.
Finally, I think the third step we can take is to look for ways to try and incorporate the strengths and gifts from another part of Jesus’ body into your own journey of faith. This isn’t gonna happen overnight, and you don’t need to think about completely overhauling your own walk of faith. But what would it mean for you to experiment with a new prayer practice, perhaps something that comes form the more liturgical quadrant? Or perhaps read a book on faith rooted justice work? Or if you’ve never been much of a regular Bible reader, maybe try some daily Bible reading throughout the season of Advent this year, a rather evangelical practice? Or if you’d like to try asking Jesus for a prayer language, seeing what that’s like to “pray in tongues”, perhaps one of us who has some experience praying that way could pray for you and give you some coaching. It’s likely we’ll always have the things we’re most comfortable with, personally, and as a community, as well. But we don’t want to let our own habits and customs get in the way of missing out on much of the good that comes when the whole body works together.
So today, as we end, I want to end doing something that’s a little out of character for our style of church. We’re gonna confess the Apostles Prayer together, and pray the Lord’s Prayer. These are beliefs and words that have been spoken and prayed in some form by Christians from likely nearly every gathering of believers the world has known. These words and this prayer stand in the center place, along with the communion meal we will soon take together, and they remind us that at the center of Jesus-centered faith is a story and ultimately a person who is powerful enough to unite the deepest of divisions. Please join me.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.