We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Manhattan Declaration

Although I have yet to read the complete document, what I have heard seems positive. I have seen the typical reactions: conservative right labeling it as anti-christian and the liberal left, well basically ignoring it. The majority in the center – Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians – at least seem to be entering into a dialogue over this. That can only be a good thing.

Here are a few posts that I found interesting:

The ultra-conservatives booed it down, mainly because of the presence of the Catholics and Orthodox or assuming it was a statement about the gospel. Steve Camp called it the “New Downgrade and John MacArthur rejected it as he did the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document. The liberals tended to shy away from it also.

I read it through with my American wife. The reason we didn’t sign it … has more to do with not knowing how our vote will be used in the long tail of American politics.
Andrew Jones

“The church is being redefined before our very eyes. Soon it will be just a faint memory of what God had truly designed it to be; like an old faded picture on a wall.” -Author Unknown
SJ Camp

In his response to the declaration, Jonathan Merritt, a younger evangelical in age as well as spirit, wrote in The Washington Post, “Older evangelicals have been largely silent on these issues and in similar fashion this declaration has relegated them to little more than a footnote.”
Brian McLaren

Finally, because of the above points and because this is from a widespread group of Christian leaders, because I respect those who have signed it and those who drafted it, because it is ecumenical both on the basis of the great tradition and on the basis of shared moral values, because they have overtly claimed this is not just a partisan statement — and there are folks from both sides of the political spectrum on their list — and because they are not claiming these moral statements about abortion and marriage are the only central moral issues of our day, I hereby publicly endorse The Manhattan Declaration.
I hope you will join me or at least join us in a conversation.
Scot McKnight

I believe that in order to understand were we are, we should look at were we have been. In relation to Christianity, I want to take a quick look at our elder religion – Judaism.

The Past

There is no way to sum up ancient Judaism, so bear with me as I pretend to do just that. Judaism was a religion based on rules or law. Not just the Ten Commandments, which is almost like a bible story summary of the law, but a total of 613 laws that observant Jews need[ed] to observe. This number could easily be grasped, its the multitude of interpretations and applications that these laws may imply that is overwhelming.

The philosophers of their day – the scribes and priests – were kept busy interpreting and applying these laws within the human culture that they found themselves in. What was produced as a result was a hedge of protection around the Torah law. Many of the Traditions of the elders in the Christian scriptures are the result of many years of making new laws in order to prevent breaking the law of God.

The prophets, however, had to regularly remind God’s people that is was less about the sacrifices, the religious practices and legally following the Law and more about having a contrite heart, seeking justice and showing mercy. In this Jesus was not much different than many prophets that preceded him.

The Present

Ignoring the fact that Christianity so often falls back into one form of adhering to the law or another, I propose that we have fallen back into this err to “Make a hedge for the Torah”. Our hedge is not to prevent us from breaking a law of God but to prevent us from believing something wrong about God.

The religion that is based on Jesus has become a religion based on right belief. This is, in my opinion, just as far off as the religion of right actions based on Law. In both cases, the religion does not save us. Jesus did not come to bring us another religion. He was born into Judaism and to his dying day he was a practitioner of that religion.

It was not until Paul came on the scene that the faith of Christ and faith in Christ was recognized as being legitimate outside of the religion of Christ. The goal is not to be better practitioners of a particular religion, but to have faith and/or live by faith.

In the context of Christianity, this faith was successfully lived out in diversity for the first 200-300 years. It was after Constantine made Christianity acceptable, and it became tied to the empire of Rome, that orthodoxy became our Law. Prior to this, though there were differences and disagreements, for the most part these differences were accepted within the Greek concept of free speech.

With the merging of Christianity [the religion] to the Empire, the emperors  mandated councils meant to unify the Jesus religion in order to maintain control and manipulate the increasing influence that this religion was gaining. The result was the creeds of our religion. The result was also a birth of violence – for the first time, military might was acceptable within Christianity. And shortly after the birth of the creeds and orthodoxy came the first christian to be murdered by another christian due to being a heretic. The result was also the birth of a new empire – Christendom!

It will be argued that this development was only the Holy Spirit leading Christ’s Church into all truth. If this is true, then we may be right to hedge ourselves in using doctrines and theologies to keep us safely inside of Orthodoxy.

The counter argument, however, could be that maybe, just maybe, the narrow path that Jesus spoke of, includes our faith. Maybe the wide way that leads to destruction is Christendom, the empire of the religion of Christianity. Maybe this new empire’s Law is Orthodoxy. Maybe God says ‘To hell with your orthodoxy, I desire mercy and justice.’

Could it be that before our faith got all tangled up in religion and becoming an empire, God was glorified in a unity that dwelt in a diversity. If we asked the Holy Spirit what the greatest orthodoxy was, would he would answer something like: “Jesus is Lord. And the second is like it, that he atoned for our sins. Everything else is philosophical details.”

Today’s rant is not brought to you by yours truely. I have two rants to share with you: one from a well respected blogger and the second comes from an even more respected mother, wife and children’s minister. The first is rant is an the Annual Halloween Rant by the Internet Monk. Please take your time reading his post. I wait for you.

Done? Good wasn’t it.

Here is another rant that was part of the children’s program at my church from a few years back.

It’s funny, everyone seemed to like this presentation that was given to the whole church, but just this week I was having coffee with someone from my church who said that maybe we need to take a stand on Halloween. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking above getting inline with these rants either!

This is a touchy subject and Paul dealt with it in 1 Corinthians 8:

Now concerning [Halloween], we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. Therefore concerning [Halloween], we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, [considers Halloween evil]; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But [Halloween] will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we [abstain from Halloween], nor the better if we [participate]. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple [attending a pagan Halloween service], will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to [participate in Halloween]? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if [Halloween] causes my brother to stumble, I will never [participate in Halloween] again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.

Elsewhere he says in Romans 14:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may [participate in Halloween], but he who is weak [thinks it is evil]. The one who [participates] is not to regard with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not [participates] is not to judge the one who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who [participates in Halloween], does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who does not, for the Lord he does not [participate], and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Both these letters were written to communities where people held opposing views and therefore the one thing that we can conclude is that discussing these issues is not what could be classified as causing a weaker brother to stumble. Paul called them weaker brothers. He makes it pretty clear where maturity and strong faith lays and were weak faith lays. He was also not afraid to enter into dialogue with the whole body [not just the clergy]. I will come out and say that those that fear Halloween or think that it is evil have the weaker faith and I will not let them speak evil of what is for me a good thing.

That said, we must be careful to not judge or condemn our brothers. These verses make it clear to me that I can participate and voice my opinions and not be guilty of judgment or condemnation. Paul is talking about eating meat in  1 Corinthians 8 but doesn’t say: “For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, eating meat, will not his conscience…” rather it says: “For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience…”. This to me talks about provoking the weak, not just living out our faith by eating meat.

So, there is a place for the rants. There is a place for speaking out for what is good and not letting that good be spoken as evil. There is a place to speak out and bring into light the fear that is in the weak. Paul had no problem with this. Finally, we are also not to stop eating meat or participating in Halloween, however, we do not want to do any of this in a provoking manner, puffed up in our knowledge. We need to tread these waters lightly, walking in love.

Here is ten practical things for celebrating Halloween.

Finally, let’s listen to the Great Pumpkin as he gives his Halloween toast.

This year, at onething’09, our theme is: “What is the Spirit Saying to the Church?” As those who love Jesus, we are all desperate to hear what He is saying, and then to obey it. At this four-day conference Lou Engle, Misty Edwards, Allen Hood, Dwayne Roberts, Mark Anderson, myself, and others will be teaching on what we believe the Spirit is saying.

There is an answer to the confusion and deception that is coming from some of those associated with the Emerging Church. We believe the Spirit is raising up what we refer to as the “Praying Church”—a church that loves the truth and has unwavering allegiance to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is raising up such congregations that will do outreach and works of justice that flow from a foundation of prayer and deep relationship with Jesus. This “Praying Church” movement is resisting the false church, which is emerging in our nation today, especially among young adults.

Comment from Alex on this post

As one who is finding myself more and more associating myself with the Emerging Church, I take exception with the idea that the conservative type Christianity has the truth. Let me say that as a progressive Christian, I can say with just as much passion that we “who love Jesus, we are all desperate to hear what He is saying, and then to obey it.” It just happens that what the two camps are hearing from God are often different, even opposing. Theoretically, I could say in response:

There is an answer to the confusion and deception that is coming from some of those associated with the Praying Church. We believe the Spirit is raising up what we refer to as the “Emerging Church”—a church that loves the truth and has unwavering allegiance to Jesus.

More and more I am feeling like I am being pushed into a corner to ‘get with the conservative program’. Implied in the above IHOP quote, is that their camp is the one that loves Jesus and has the desire to be obedient and those of us that are emerging are the deceived false church. I am starting to develop thinking that God is more glorifies in the multitude of belief sets. Worship of God cannot be complete in any one camp. Not the Eastern Orthodox nor the Catholic. Not the Protestants nor the Anabaptists. Not the Calvinists nor the Armenians. Not the Charismatics nor the Cessationists. Not the Liberals nor the Conservatives. Not even the Emergents nor the Praying Church. I am starting to think that complete worship of God will come in an open environment when we recognize that  all the above camps, and all the camps that were left out make up the Body of Christ.

I pledge to recognize all camps as legitimate expressions of the image of God. Who will join me?

For unbelievers, I think the big questions of our time have to do with pain/evil and justice.

  1. Why wouldn’t god, if he were a good god, create a world, if it was in her power, that was good? Or even just better?
    • millions of people (including babies and children) slaughtered at the hands of the Nazis.
    • god ordered the genocide of the nations in the promised land (including babies and children).
  2. How could a good god create a system that will send the majority, half, some or even just one person to an eternity of suffering?
  3. If god cannot forgive us without first being appeased by the blood of Jesus, why/how does he expect us to forgive our enemies?

All too often the answer is either:

  • because of mankind’s sin, or
  • god’s ways are bigger than our ways

There are many more such questions that are being asked that are not answered by the typical rhetoric that flows out of the mouths of much Christendom’s theology. These answers have become unsatisfactory to me let alone to a non-believer.

As a believer, on top of these questions, my one question is:

  • How do we reconcile all the different and often opposing beliefs and theologies that are found in the different christian narratives? (Coptic, Orthodox[eastern and oriental], Catholic, Protestant, Anabaptist, emergent, evangelical, charismatic, conservative, liberal, …)

If I could be so bold as to say that I feel that god is leading me away from the pat answers and beliefs of the tribe I find myself among (conservative, charismatic evangelicals – I may even call my tribe fundamentalists). I hear from the throne of authority of my tribe, on any given Sunday, things that god is doing and saying in our midst; and more often than not these very things are the opposite of what she has been saying to me.

So, the question I feel that is worth asking is, how are we to deal with the seemingly incongruentcy of all our diverse beliefs and theologies?

Some of these posts were first put on Facebook as notes and  part 1 of ‘What should ‘Church’ look like’  created quite the stir with over 500 comments.

Its funny, of all my posts, that one seemed to me to be the least controversial. Maybe I’ve just wrestled over this issue with God so much that it became mundane to me. Or, maybe this is an issue that strikes at a chord of disillusionment many are feeling in the Body today. Even though my other writings deal with similar disillusionment, this topic is in your face. We experience it every week, we can put a face to it.

Every where I look, I see all kinds of people that are struggling with a disillusionment. There are:

Some of these people are hurt and bitter, with or without cause. Though this bitterness is not good or even right, there are probably more people where they came from that are remaining in their situation and in their bitterness. From what I have read, those that remove themselves from the source of their hurt, find healing.

Just as often though, there is a disillusionment and the desire to walk in something that they see in their bible but that is hampered by the machine. And most notable to me is that the people that are leaving to try something new, were leaders in the old thing. (Could be that we are just hearing from leaders because they are, well, leaders).

I look at this movement and see hope. I see the hand of God doing something new in our day. Others may look at this and see the enemy. What ever side we fall on, we need to recognize that these people are still apart of the Body. We need to love on them, embrace them, and even include them. To say that God cannot be active in their midst because:
a) they do not have the same leadership structure or
b) are doing something out of hurt
is to:
a) dismiss all churches that do not have our leadership structure. I belong to a church that have elders that rule over the congregation. There are other denominations that have popes and some that have elders that influence but the congregation votes (by majority or by consensus)
and b) heaping judgment on pain.

As I am on the side line cheering these fore runners on, part of me is envious. I think that these people will be remembered by history as the unnamed heroes of the second great reform. Often I feel the desire to jump ship and follow after them; but I have hope that change can come to the old guard. Like the first reformation, there are those who are inside the institution working for reformation and those that separate themselves. I pray that we will not make martyrs of those that choose, by choice or by accident, to walk away and live in what God is leading them into.

I believe that this new reformation will be marked by a desire for unity. The global community and flood of information make it easy for us to see our enemy’s side of things. And though we may never come to an agreement with them, we will see that they are real human beings and not just those witches in some other city. Once we know them as human, it becomes easier to pray for them and bless them rather than burn them at the stake.

The other thing I see happening in this move, is that all forms of hierarchy are being destroyed. In my reading of the New Testament, it is very clear that we are all brothers and sisters and that Jesus alone is the head. Sure there are elders and deacons that are recognized in the Body, but these are not offices and do not hold authority over others. They are examples, guides and even helpers on our joint journey.

Lastly, I think there will also be more recognition of the Spirit’s influence in every believe. God can distribute gifts, ministries, effects [1 Cor 12] as he desires to a gathering of 100, 1000 or even 10. He can even give some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. There are some that believe this can only happen by the blessing of the pope while others believe it needs the blessing of the elders. I believe, more often then not, God’s gifts go unrecognized by anyone but Him and possible the recipient.