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The Nonsense of Christmas Pt. 1 – The Idolarty of the Physical Family against the Spiritual Family

Shel: For years I have made mention that the church is a spiritual family - which trumps and also protects the physical family at the same time.

Your marriage, your children, your physical (dna, adoption, etc.) family is stronger when it is not the center - but Jesus is. In some ways our family is our "first ministry" but in other ways if that is not checked by Jesus being our "first ministry" it is actually in danger of becoming an idol.

Ben Witherington III is writing a great little reminder on his blog:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2014/12/06/the-nonsense-of-christmas-part-one/

The Nonsense of Christmas— Part One December 6, 2014 by Ben Witherington

Risking the possibility that I might be called Scrooge, I am going to muster up my courage and hope that it might be useful to do some demythologizing of Christmas. Christmas today is of course a time off from work where one tends to spend time with one’s birth family or extended birth family, having done far too much shopping, and then far too much eating, while spending time with those who are supposed to be our loved ones, and sometimes are.

That is what normally happens for many folks, though the boomerang effect of that approach is that: 1) those who have no family; or 2) those who have had abusive families; or 3) those who really don’t like or get along with their families, or 4) those (now a majority in the U.S) who are single and have no mate to celebrate Christmas with, find Christmas to be the most intolerable time of year. It is the time of year when you are reminded once again that broken relationships or no intimate relationships have ruled your past, and continue to haunt you. There is no Christmas cheer for those sorts of folks at Christmas, quite the opposite. But what if it is the case that we have made Christmas what it is not? What if Christmas is really not about over-spending and over-celebrating and over-eating with one’s physical family? What if Christmas is really about something else.

What if Christmas really is about the Incarnation, and the beginnings of the story of the family of faith, rather than the reaffirming of the stories about physical families? What if Christmas is not about sharing the offspring you have had in the last year but about sharing the Offspring which Mary had long ago? What if Christmas is meant to focus on Christ and indeed in a Godward direction in general? What if Christmas is primarily about celebratory worship and not primarily about physical family reunions? I would venture to say that if we celebrated the birth of Christ in a way that did indeed focus on what the NT says that is all about, then people who often feel alone, or lonely, or left out or reminded of past family failures would not need to feel those ways any more.

If the body of Christ really was a family, then physical family problems and dysfunctionality, while not disappearing, could take a back seat to the celebration of the forever family of the Lord. In other words, the nonsense that Christmas has evolved into— a time when we give ourselves all sorts of lavish gifts and hardly give Jesus and his people the time of day, except maybe on Christmas Eve, is not what Christmas is really all about. We will say more about this in our next post.

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BWIII: Five Factors which Changed Church History

Five Factors which Changed Church History
by Ben Witherington III
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2014/12/04/five-factors-which-changed-church-history/

Scholars have often debated why it is that the church of Constantine’s period looks so very different in various respects from the earliest church. What were the factors which led to the change or transformation of the early Christian movement, so that by the time we get to Constantine and thereafter the roles of men and women in the church have changed, and indeed the church becomes much more like an OT institution than one like what we find in the letters in the NT itself? While it would be possible to mention many factors which led to significant changes in the church, it is possible to isolate five major ones.

Firstly, there is the obvious fact that the church became increasingly and overwhelmingly an entity populated by Gentiles. Yes, there were Jewish Christians still in the broad stream of the Christian movement well into the early Middle Ages, but their numbers gradually dwindled, one might almost say withered, in the heat of rising anti-Semitism in the church. Let’s be clear that already in the first century A.D. we have clear evidence that Romans showed anti-Semitic tendencies of various sorts, and Jews were often ridiculed in the Roman writings of Juvenal and others. As the church became increasingly Gentile in character, this attitude carried over into the church, and grew like a cancer within the church. Even church fathers like Chrysostom, who otherwise had many virtues, reflected this strong rising tide, and tendency to blame Jews for a lot of things— not least for the death of Jesus. Obviously, the earliest followers of Jesus were all Jews— Peter, James, John, Paul and so on. By the time we get to Constantine in the fourth century just the opposite is the case. And with this sea change, came the rising tide of anti-Semitism.

Secondly, there is the loss of what I will call horizontal eschatology, which is replaced by, at least by emphasis if not in toto, by a vertical eschatology. What I mean by this is that after several of the prophetic and eschatological movements in 2nd century Christianity, the vibrant sense of the possible imminent return of Christ was lost. It was not as if the church abandoned a belief in the Second Coming of Christ, but it ceased to be a guiding hermeneutic which led folk to sit lightly with the institutions of this world— governments, marriage, economic institutions (including slavery), and so on. This was in turn replaced by a focus on dying and going to heaven. Now this change is not really very surprising in an increasingly Gentile Church because the Greco-Roman world associated afterlife with something that happened in another world, the Underworld, or the fields of Elysium in a few cases. The Greco-Roman world did not believe in resurrection of the dead, nor other eschatological ideas like the return of a savior figure to transform space and time.

Thirdly, along with these two changes came the resurgence of patriarchy, not only as the model for normal family life, but also as the hierarchial structure that would dominate church life as well. Whereas, in the first and second centuries we see efforts to change patriarchy within the physical family structure, and to affirm that roles in the church should be determined by calling and gifting and not by gender, already in the second century in various contexts women were increasingly being prevented from playing important roles in the church, and they eventually heard the cry ‘get thee to a nunnery’, so that they could only exercise leadership roles in relationship to other women. This stands in contrast to what we find in the NT where we have women teachers, preachers, deacons, prophetesses, and even an apostle (Junia), and we continue to see some evidence of this in the second century (see the Acts of Paul and Thecla). But we should not talk about this development without turning now to the fourth one— the arising of strong asceticism.

Fourthly, whatever the sociological roots of the rise of asceticism as an ideal for those wanting to be truly holy, truly sanctified, the theological roots can be traced to a defective theology of the goodness of human sexuality, and human sexual expression. In part this reflects the loss of a theology of creation which affirms the goodness of being male and female, the goodness of the one flesh union they can share, and the importance of the creation order mandate— ‘be fruitful and multiply’. When the ascetical and even Gnostic tendencies reared their ugly heads in church history, suggesting that after all matter/physicality/physical expressions like intercourse are tainted whereas only ‘spirit’ is good, we are off to the races with a belief that sex is an unholy activity, a necessary evil at best, and marriage in the main is just a remedy for concupiscence. None of this comports with the Biblical theology of creation and of family and of the joys of parenting. Even when the latter was affirmed as a limited good, it was seen as a ‘less holy’ calling than being a eunuch for the Lord, remaining celibate for the sake of the kingdom.

Fifthly, the last factor may seem an odd development in light of the loss of a positive OT theology of creation, but it is nonetheless a real one. I am referring to the hermeneutical move that led to the reinterpreting of NT ministry and roles and holy days in light of OT institutions. Whereas, in the first century church there were no priests, except Christ the heavenly high priest and the priesthood of all believers, by the time we get to the medieval church ministers have become a class of priests, and this, based on Leviticus, meant males only. There was furthermore the reinterpretation of the Lord’s Supper as in itself a ‘sacrifice of the mass’, the reinterpretation of churches as temples, the reinterpretation of the Lord’s day as the Sabbath, and so on. This OT hermeneutic, applied to NT institutions and practices was to guide both the Catholic and the Orthodox traditions from the early Middle Ages until now! Even now. But frankly, this whole approach bears little resemblance to what happened in house churches in the first century A.D. where the only sacrifices were those of self (Rom. 12.1-2) and of praise (see Heb. 13).

Let me be clear that it is historically inaccurate to blame Constantine for these changes. Patriarchy, loss of horizontal eschatology, the dominance of Gentiles in the church coupled with the rise of anti-Semitism, the rise of asceticism, and the OT hermeneutic had already changed the early Christian movement from a movement to a religion like many another Greco-Roman religion, the heart of which was priests, temples, and sacrifices. Constantine simply allowed the underground church to be an above ground legitimate enterprise. He did not determine its character, which had already been largely formed.

None of this, and I do mean none of this, was good news for women and their roles in the church, unless they were content to be involved in the growing monastic movement. What is clear is that the radical tendencies in earliest Christianity, including the leveling effect of pronouncements like Gal. 3.28, had been sublimated, denied, buried, reinterpreted as a part of the resurgency of patriarchy in the Christian movement and the rise of a two track model of holiness (there are the ‘saints’ who are uber-holy, not least because they don’t engage in sexual activities, and then there are the plain old ordinary Christians— a distinction the NT knows nothing of).

Of course there are many more factors we could list to provide an explanation for why the fourth century church looked so different from the first century church, but these, in my view are the most obvious and salient factors. And yet there was hope— because with the canonization of the Bible, including a specific 27 book NT canon, there was enshrined a revolutionary potential involving both women and men, that like a ticking time bomb might explode at any time, and lead to one church reformation after another, after another, as the church realized that it had strayed far from the original vision of Christ and his apostles.

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Where Am I? #Canadianisms #Turronno #westenders

Getting to know the "lay of the land" has been part of my learning in these early weeks/months here in Toronto (locals usually say: Turronno).

This is a pretty good resource - http://www.torontoneighbourhoods.net

My area in particular are the neighbourhoods around High Park (our version of Central Park - or a greatly multiplied McKennan Park for you SuFusians).

The particular hoods are all the West End http://www.torontoneighbourhoods.net/neighbourhoods/west-end

and the Southeast Parts of Etobicoke (said: e(short e - as in "eh?")-tow-bey-co) http://www.torontoneighbourhoods.net/neighbourhoods/etobicoke

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‘World Religions: Sikhs, Seventh Day Adventists & Mennonites’ an Interfaith Special Will be Broadcast Sunday December 14th 2014

Just an FYI:

via press release:

“WORLD RELIGIONS: SIKHS, SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS, & MENNONITES,” AN INTERFAITH SPECIAL,

WILL BE BROADCAST SUNDAY, DEC. 14, 2014

ON THE CBS TELEVISION NETWORK

WORLD RELIGIONS: SIKHS, SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS, & MENNONITES, a CBS Interfaith Special, looks at three faiths and asks them to share with us their beliefs, traditions, histories and modern voice. This special broadcast will be on the CBS Television Network Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014 (check local listings).

On the program, we interview Simran Jeet Singh, who is a Sikh and a PhD candidate at Columbia University’s Department of Religion, about the tenets of the Sikh tradition, which originated more than 500 years ago in South Asia, in a region called Punjab. Singh also talks to us about common misconceptions and how this sometimes leads to discriminatory practices in the U.S. The show features services at the Sikh Cultural Society in Queens, N.Y.

Also featured on the broadcast is John L. Ruth, a Mennonite who is a descendent of the first early Mennonite settlers in the U.S. who settled in Pennsylvania in the 1600s. With the Mennonite tradition dating back all the way to 16th century Europe, we also speak with Joel Alderfer and Forrest Moyer of the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, Pa.

Finally, we spend time in Silver Spring, Md., with Ella Smith Simmons, Vice President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, a Protestant denomination that began in America in the mid-1800s, and ask her about what it means to live as an Adventist today. We also hear from Dr. Bill Knott, editor of the Adventist Review and Adventist World, about how the religion was first founded. Also interviewed is Richard Duerksen, Assistant to the President for Maranatha Volunteers International. He shares his reflections on the faith and the mission work his organization is doing all over the world.

John P. Blessington is the executive producer and Liz Kineke is the producer. In creating the topics and content of this Cultural & Religious Documentary CBS seeks input from the National Council of Churches, the Interfaith Broadcast Commission, and from clergy, scholars and other representatives of each of the religions presented within a program.

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#Ferguson

A friend's wife, Osheta Moore (TC and Osheta) wrote this I would like to share about #ferguson. Her thoughts are rooted at a level and life experience that I do not have...

So I've been tossing and turning all night over the ‪#‎Ferguson‬ decision. So many people have said so many things- some helpful, some not so much. We all come to this thorny topic of race with our own baggage and insecurities. So, instead of clutching indulgently to fear, anger, bitterness, or hatred, today I want make space in my heart to have the grace to hear the best in others as they process this verdict. I want to practice creating back stories for those spewing hatred so that I can easily move to forgiveness. I want to study Jesus closely to see how I can listen well and speak truth winsomely. I want my words to add to the advancement of shalom and not give into the vortex of hate. Please pray for the family of Michael Brown and the people of #Ferguson. Pray for black mamas like me who keep peering into her boys' room in the middle of the night and wondering, 'what if, Lord? What if?' Please pray for God to show you how you can practice racial reconciliation right in your context. This is when we can rise to the occasion- people of the Prince of Peace. Let us model enemy love well and let us lean into our Kingdom identity of agents of shalom. Let us be radiant lights of love in the midst of this oppressive darkness.

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The Church Year – Christ the King Sunday!!

I was raised ignoring the churchyear. When we planted out last church we intentionally introduced (in a pragmatic "p" pentecostal-evangelical-anabaptist way of course) the church year calendar.

It is a treasure to remind us of the in-breaking kingdom. When removed from the state-church meld context it's beautiful teaching tool.

This Sunday we end (Nov 23rd) the Western Church Year (I am resisting geek out on the slight differences in reckoning from East/West).

The Sunday is called Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday! I love this -would celebrate it in the past. It's the last Sunday - reminding us that Jesus is the Omega - as the first Sunday of Advent reminds us God is at work in getting us ready to receive him in Jesus.

Jesus is the all and all of the church year calendar. Jesus forms it, shapes it, and weaves it. Here is a calendar that was recommended by Brian Zhand: http://www.thechristiancalendar.com/index.htm I have not personally checked it out - but I encourage you to check it out.

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David Kraft: Proper Balance in Policy Creation and Risk Taking Leadership

Dave Kraft was on Mars Hill (yes THAT Mars Hill) church leadership team some years ago. The district and several other congregations in the area were part of an event we hosted with him. He always has some great article I will share will a few here:

Less Policy-Making And More Conversations
http://davekraft.squarespace.com/posts/2014/11/22/less-policy-making-and-more-conversations.html

and http://davekraft.squarespace.com/posts/2014/11/20/leaders-are-risk-takers.html

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