For spiritual warfare, see artists and poets

Better hold on to your hats: According to a Christian radio station in California, the end of the world–Judgment Day–will be next Saturday, May 21.

With the onslaught of last month’s tornadoes, I can understand why people might fear the end of the world.  Even my father, who called to check on me and my family’s well being, opined that the storm was a sign of the times.

For many Christians, this apocalyptic prediction brings to mind a struggle between good and evil, immorality versus faithful piety.  For others, it means stocking up on food to weather a tribulation fraught with antichrists, oppressive governments, and bedlam en mass.

For the most radical among us, war is the first thing that comes to mind: The Left Behind fictional books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, for instance, tell of a small band of Christians who form a militia group to fight against a hostile government.

Chuck Colson, one-time Nixon adviser turned prison preacher, has established a $1,000 per student price tag program, the Centurion Project, to combat the secularism juggernaut, invoking the ancient centurions who defended the Roman empire.

Such militaristic fanfare is based on the graphic images found in the book of Revelation.  In the book, written by a Christian in exile who foretells the downfall of the Roman empire and civilization as we know it, angels unleash plagues upon society.  God’s wrath ignites a slaughter in which “blood flowed … as high as the horse’s bridle” (14:29).  God exiles Satan into an abyss of eternal fire.

Yet, the book of Revelation is not primarily about war for war’s sake; rather, it is a book of worship designed to assure a persecuted community that God is still in charge of all creation.  God will bring justice to empires that abuse the balance of power over the oppressed and marginalized.

Revelation does give us snapshots of what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen in the spiritual realm (the Greek word for revelation also means unveiling).  Much of this includes the ongoing conflicts between good and evil, angels and demons.  But the book also asks Christians to respond, not in fearful violence, but in proclamation and worship.

Nowhere in Revelation do God’s people take up arms.  Instead, they “patiently endure” and “conquer” evil by bearing testimony to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  God’s people are not called warriors; they are called witnesses (the same Greek word for martyrs).

Revelation points out that worship and proclamation are a declaration of war against evil and injustice: In Revelation 15:2-3, for instance, the saints have harps and sing a “new song” reminiscent of the song Moses sang after God saved the Israelite from Egypt.  It seems that musicians and poets, preachers and storytellers, artists and artisans are the very agents that wage subversive rebellion–nonviolent resistance–against the “principalities and powers of this age” (Ephesians 6:2).

Revelation makes clear that we have lived in the end times ever since Jesus rose from the dead.  Satan’s days are numbered, and it’s only a matter of time before Jesus comes back with a “new heaven” and “new earth” in tow.  Christians should not balk in fear and take up arms when doomsday preachers pontificate; rather, they should imitate those saints in Revelation by doing what Christians do best: worship, obey, and preach that repentance is the ultimate answer for end-time salvation.

Call me a skeptic, but I’m sure that we will still be around on May 21.  Instead of hunkering down, start singing a “new song” by supporting Family Promise of Newrock, who will be hosting a benefit concert on that day.  The concert will feature the Chris Coleman band, at the Olde Town Pavilion at 5 PM.  Tickets are $10 at the door.

Biblical scholarship creates conflicts where they often do not exist

A picture on my desk of St. Matthew reminds me that God's Word is inspired and God-breathed.

Writing about the Bible in his latest book After You Believe, popular scholar N. T. Wright notes, “The whole story is the whole story.”  There are plenty of people who would like to slice and dice the Bible into sections; others simply ignore what they don’t like while proof-texting to support their own values.

Many who read the Bible approach it like the media approaches newsworthy stories: They look for conflict, even when no conflict exists.

In fact, the Bible is said to have many conflicts:  Between Old and New Testament, Law and grace, God of wrath and God of love, Jesus and Paul, works and faith.

It is easy for people to believe that such conflicts exist when we don’t really have time to read the Bible in the first place.  As biblical illiteracy rises, it is becomes easy to “pull one over” on the masses.  Yet, when we do take a close look at the Bible and read, as N. T. Wright admonishes, “the whole story,” the conflicts are few and far between.

Take Old and New Testaments.  The assumption is that Jesus, who inaugurated the “New Covenant” with his death and resurrection, wiped away the moral and ethical fabric of the Old Testament.

The Old Testament, so says the argument, is irrelevant.  A close look at Jesus’ ministry, however, proves the opposite.  Jesus did not do away with the Law or the Old Testament in general; rather, Jesus called his followers back to the heart of the Law.  No wonder the New Testament authors emphasize that, in Christ, God continues to etch the Law upon our hearts.

This is ultimately related to the conflict that some see between the God of the Old Testament (wrath) and the God of Jesus Christ (love).  One of my fellow colleagues who writes for the Rockdale Citizen wrote a good article on this subject last week, so I won’t spend much time on this point.

It is important to emphasize that God does not change over time.  God’s purpose is pure and consistent throughout history.  God is one who creates humankind to be in relationship with Him, and everything God does after the Fall of Adam and Eve intends to restore this relationship.

A close reading of the Law–from Exodus to Deuteronomy–shows that God seeks to liberate humanity from their wayward habits.

This also brings us right to St. Paul, who seems to contrast the Law with God’s grace throughout his letters.  Romans, in particular, seems to pit the two against each other, allowing God’s grace to win out.

Again, a closer reading shows that Law and grace are not diametrically opposed to one another, as if God’s Law did not make room for grace.  The Law was established precisely because of God’s grace.  It’s just that humanity managed to use the Law to hinder humans from reconciling with God (that’s why the Pharisees and Sadducees, who had this view of the Law, were so opposed to Jesus’ interpretation of the Law).

A last conflict seems to exist between Jesus and Paul.  We see this within churches today.  Some say that they rely on Paul’s writings and the personal moral code that Paul seems to advocate.  Others rely on Jesus’ sermons and propose a more community-centered, social justice ethic.

Paul and Jesus both care about personal salvation and community morality.  All but three of Paul’s letters, after all, were written to churches, not to individual Christians.  And Jesus speaks to individuals throughout his ministry, such as when he told the Rich Young Ruler to sell all that the ruler had.

My guess is that scholars will keep arguing that conflicts exist in the Bible for as long as they continue to do what they do.  It would benefit all of us, however, if we simply read the Bible for ourselves.

The Four Tenets for Effective Ministry

Every church requires a basic foundation for effective congregational leadership in ministry. At Trinity Baptist Church, the staff abides by four tenets that can apply to almost any church seeking to create an atmosphere for ministerial excellence.

Tenet 1: Professionalism.

Although there is some debate as to whether ministry is a profession, we at Trinity Baptist Church feel that every minister–from the office administrator to the music minister–is to be as professional as possible. This means that every minister has a responsibility to be punctual, well-kept, and thoughtful in all he or she does.

Being professional also applies to boundaries and ethical standards. Boundaries keep ministers from inappropriately relating to the laity or overstepping their authority.

Boundaries also provide opportunities for spiritual and personal growth as a minister schedules his or her time for professional development, recreation, and family time.

Professionalism ultimately establishes a healthy work environment that enriches both the staff and the congregation. When healthy boundaries are established and everyone values healthy lifestyles, the entire church thrives as a whole.

Tenet 2: Confidentiality

One of the primary goals of a minister is to honor the confidentiality that pervades the office of the ministry. Ministers have always functioned in society as Called-Ones in whom others trust. Ministers, therefore, are spiritual stewards and confidants. When ministers break this trust, then the integrity of all of Christ’s Body suffers.

That is why confidentiality is of utmost importance in ministry, and valuing confidentiality is something that honors each person’s pursuit after a holy God. We cannot seek God alone, for we all need encouragement, prayer, and support. If ministers do not value confidentiality, then the road to spiritual maturity can become a lonely one indeed.

Tenet 3: Patience.

We live in a society of urgency and fast service. Our desires and wants must be satisfied right now, this minute. There is no time to waste!

Ministers remind people that God works on a different timeline than do humans. God’s time–holy time–meanders through both the blessings and perils of life, in season and out of season.

Ministers remember that patience is necessary when one’s spiritual growth, healing, grief work, and expectations are at stake.

Patience is also one of the fruits of the Spirit, for “those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:22, 24-25).

Tenet 4: Prayer.

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul encourages his audience to “worry about nothing; instead, pray about everything” (4:6). Ministers must be examples to congregations by seeking God in prayer for all things, be it prayer about life decisions, ministries, or even missions in the church.

I am convinced that God is honored the most in those churches that put prayer ahead of all other endeavors; for without prayer, our programs, and liturgies, and ministries, and relationships ring hollow. Prayer allows that hollow-ness to become hallow-ness, or holy as God is holy.

In all things, Trinity’s staff makes prayer a priority. The staff engages in very few decisions or ministries without first bathing those decisions and ministries in prayer. It is prayer–the act of coming into God’s presence in vulnerable communion–that allows the power of the Spirit to flourish in a church’s midst.

Professionalism, confidentiality, patience, and prayer are four values that allow ministry teams to become all the more effective in their ministries at church. At Trinity Baptist Church, these four foundations are what drive our ministries and establish ethical parameters in our work and worship.