Friday, January 23, 2004

Collective Discernment and Individual Freedom
We are still growing into a new practice of community which is different from what many of us have experienced in the past. I think that it can be described as Collective Discernment and Individual Freedom. In many churches, the reality is that a few people make decisions which everyone in the larger group is expected to adopt. These are usually program-driven organizations which tend to want everyone doing the same things at the same time and in the same way. People are told to support the programs. Regimented activity is seen as helpful. It might be for some, but probably not for everyone.

The way we are trying to live as a community is with the recognition that the Spirit works in different ways in each Christian. There is no “everyone-must-be-doing-this” type of program structure. In a general way we talk about everyone growing up into the image of Christ, but we realize that there are many paths to that goal. Therefore, we have the freedom for anyone to do whatever God is calling that individual to do. If someone wants to have a Bible study with people in their neighborhood on Wednesday nights, there is no program that says “no, you must do what the others are doing on Wednesday nights.” Talking about not having “membership” does not mean that we are uncommitted to Christ or His Church, or sharing our lives together, but rather that a person does not “join” Disciples’ Fellowship as if joining an institution. A person does not join and then have to participate in required programs or duties to the organization. We share a common life in Christ in which we encourage and help one another without quenching the Spirit’s work in each believer.

For the really large directional matters, we do act collectively – and we do that through collective discernment of the God’s leading. We discuss and listen, and in our group discussion try to hear what God is saying to His people. We acknowledge the direction God is leading, but we allow individual freedom for each to be a slave to Christ - rather than being slaves to the programs of a church.

Some times it is easier to allow a church to do our spiritual thinking for us - don’t make me discern what God’s Spirit wants me to do, just give me a system of programs to follow. Organizing some ministry is not a bad thing, but making participation in that program the definitive mark of faithfulness is mistakenly thinking that God’s Spirit does the same work in each one of us, in the same way and at the same time. If I have an idea of what “we should be doing”, maybe it is actually an idea of what I should be doing. If others join with me that will be great, but maybe God is telling me what I need to be doing.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of wanting to control others. I might say I have an idea about what everyone needs to do to serve the poor. The reality is that I can do that and invite others to join me. I can’t say that everyone must serve the poor according to my plan. I can’t even say that everyone has to serve these poor. What I can say is that we all need to serve others and bring glory to God. Some may do that by serving the poor, others might serve unwed mothers, others the people in their apartment building, others mothers of pre-school children, others college students away from home, and on and on. I can say we all need to be involved in Christian relationships, but I cannot say everyone must be involved in our program of small groups. Even as we organize small groups, we should not say that believers must participate, but that these groups provide one way to grow up into Christ. We may recommend, but can never require.

Every Christian who is part of the Disciples’ Fellowship community is free to do anything to serve God. We simply recognize that God may be working in other ways in the lives of our brothers and sisters. We will not impose anything except the rule to love another. Our practice of Collective Discernment and Individual Freedom is based on a recognition of how God’s Spirit works collectively and individually.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

At our worship gatherings we don't take up a collection . . which sometimes raises questions. Here is my reply to an individual who was wondering why:

. . . I want to address the concerns you raise about giving, because I agree with what you say. Perhaps I can clarify our intentions and actions.

The main reason we chose to stop taking up a collection (not to stop giving!) was because visitors, especially some of the people we are trying to reach, often have a view that churches are all out to get your money. These individuals are turned off by extravagant buildings, inflated salaries, preachers who drive expensive cars and wear expensive jewelry, and have a skeptical outlook on churches in general. We want these visitors to see that we are not simply trying to fleece the flock. This is not a church that thinks constantly about money. Money is not that important. It seems that Jesus says the pagans are the ones who have material things foremost on their minds (Matt. 6:32-33).

I also believe that too many churches teach that you must give to that particular congregation. I believe that a more biblically correct teaching would be that we give, but I will require no one, not even one who regularly worships with us, to have to put their giving into "our" work. That is the “institutional” focus of church that I want to get away from, and develop a more “Jesus focus”. We want to make it clear that we preach commitment and discipleship to Jesus, not to our church. I want no one to make loyalty commitments to Disciples' Fellowship – but to Christ and the church which is universal and spiritual. I’ve seen too many people confuse supporting their congregation with being true to Christ. That seems to me to be dangerous. I could use harsher language . . .

Our choice had to do with visitors primarily. Visitors who are poor and have little, and who do not yet understand a Christian view of giving, would not understand about our giving. Rather than make those visitors feel uncomfortable before they have learned, I would rather teach them about giving and not let the collection plate get between them and coming to worship with us. Because we are concerned with teaching about a proper view toward our possessions, we made the decision to incorporate a prayer of thankfulness in each worship time to express our conviction that everything comes from God and that we are to be thankful. We are simply trying to make giving truly a “free-will offering”.

Passing the plate helps teach our children about giving, but not passing it won’t mean that our children don’t learn about giving. Real teaching about giving is going to have to take place more than when the plate comes around. So I don’t think that not passing a plate each week means giving is unimportant to us or that teaching it is unimportant. I believe there are simply other ways to give and teach about giving.

When it comes to giving, I do not believe that I should teach any of the following:

1) If one gives one will always receive back, especially in terms of what was given (Sometimes the blessing is treasure in heaven when the gift was some thing or action on earth).

2) The reason we give is so that we will receive (this is only greed and treating God as the best investment).

3) God’s blessings are contingent or dependent on our actions – that God only blesses after we give or do what is right, etc.

4) God promises anything more than daily bread – which is a lot less than any of us enjoy.

5) If one is a good Christian then one will prosper in this world.

My theology of giving can be simply stated as “we give because God gives.” God gives without receiving or expecting to receive. To be like God, we are not only givers but those who give without hoping for repayment, from God or anyone else. That God does often lavish us with blessings, not because we gave so well but even when our best giving is so poor, is a testimony to his grace.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Okay . . . everyone seems as stumped as I am. While I don't have an easy answer, I think the question I posed has something to do with knowing ourselves, and being brutally honest about our motives. If I do that . . and have a good grip on what faith is, maybe I can tell the difference.

Monday, January 05, 2004

When is it faith, and when is it recklessness? That is a question a good friend asked recently in a group where we were talking about opportunities. That is a very good question. How do we determine when we are acting in apparent recklessness because of faith, and when we are simply being reckless and excusing it as faith?