Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pieces in Understanding Something of God

Recent experiences make me think.

 As I think we all know, the concept of truth is constantly debated in our society, and perhaps nowhere is this more intensely the case than when Christianity collides with culture.  At this point the conversations become pretty intense.  Somewhere between the Christian who says, “The Bible says it, and I believe it, and that settles it,” which says virtually nothing to the person who doesn’t believe God has revealed Himself in the words of the Bible, and the non-Christian who says, “There is no such thing as truth,” lies a place for conversation about truth.

As a Christian (please don’t ignore this context and presupposition for my comments), there are two things that seem to me most crucial to keep in mind:  1) because we believe the God we believe in is real, everything hinges on His existence.  If the God of traditional Christianity is a mythical concept used to explain some element of our experience, and not real, then Christianity is simply not true in the sense of fitting with that which is really the case.  If the Christian God is not the sole Creator; if He did not choose a people for Himself; if He did not reveal Himself to Israel; if He did not speak through the prophets; if He did not become incarnate in Christ, so that God Himself became a human being; if He did not send His Spirit to be with those who believe in Jesus as Messiah; if God does not consider those who comprise the church to be His special children; if God does not care whether human beings acknowledge Him as Lord or not;  if God did not inspire in some way the writings we have in the Bible, then we need to openly acknowledge that Christianity is a human invention and not true or representative of truth.  If we do not continue to hold these things as truth, we can call ourselves many things, but we cannot accurately call ourselves Christians in the sense of traditional, historic Christianity, because we have decided that we no longer believe the things that make Christianity what it is. 2) I know of no other way for us to know what we know about God apart from what He has revealed about Himself in historical deeds (often in the ancient past in dealing with Israel, but also in the Christian era), by being with and leading human beings spiritually, by speaking to human beings, by becoming incarnate specifically in the person of Jesus Christ, by indwelling Christians with His Holy Spirit, and by revealing much about Himself and His will for humankind in the teachings of His followers, especially as these are recorded in the pages of the Bible.

I know this is not all that needs to be said about truth, but, if we stand apart from these two basic ideas about His will for humankind, my impression is that we land in a place where ultimately nothing can really be known about the Christian God.  Apart from these two basic ideas, whatever we come up with are at best educated guesses, or theories, or reflections of ourselves in the mirror with no inherent authority regarding what is real.  They are not far from being just speculative opinions or hopeful wishes, with any claim to being authoritative truth being just as valid as any other, meaning that ultimately none are authoritative.  Certainly, if the above two basic principles are not really true, then the twelve non-negotiables that comprise our What We Believe Statement are meaningless, being grounded ultimately in our whims.

Monday, July 6, 2015

When Nuances are Ignored

I occasionally hear someone remark about how much they admire another because the one they admire is so clear, so black and white when it comes to what they believe.  It is as if being crystal clear about what you believe somehow compensates for the deficiencies that exist in the reasons for your belief.  This doesn't work for me.  I don't see much value in speaking or writing for the sake of clarity as if an issue is as clear as black and white, when what is clear is that there really are gray areas to be reflected upon. We can ignore the subtle inconsistencies or deficiencies in an opinion if we wish, or act as though there is a strong yes or no on every issue, but I am not sure it really helps anyone in the name of clarity and with great passion to be less than accurate.  On many important issues there are subtle differences in ways of thinking or not easily seen evidence that make huge differences.  And I find that often people on either side of an issue can end up being the ones unable to recognize subtle differences, or they just ignore them in the name of passion.  My dictionary says that nuance is a noun, not  a verb.  At the very least we should be able to use it as a gerund - nuancing!  We have trouble with nuancing, or making fine distinctions or differentiations or in recognizing subtle variations that distinguish between two similar things.

Now, before someone insists that there is something worse than recognizing gray areas:  making no decision at all or having no opinion, I get that.  But lumping together different perspectives and ignoring slight differences just because it is easier or takes less effort to paint with a broad brush often ultimately causes more problems than stopping to consider the nuances.  You can paint a repaired fender with paint that is only one small tone different in colour from the original, and in some lights it will look just fine.  But the car is going to be moved and different angles of light will eventually show the difference.  Then it just looks like a bad paint job.

The issue I am thinking of today has to do with theological opinions.  Christians often have trouble nuancing when it comes to doctrinal matters, and those who criticize Christians and Christianity tend to lump together anyone who believes, as if a right-winged Calvinist Fundamentalist is the same as a believing educated Methodist professor at Duke.  Options available today regarding how one views the Bible, the concept of revelation, what the church should look like, the ways in which God deals with sin, or how Christians should interact with their world are myriad.  Lumping together someone who believes the Bible with someone else who believes the Bible may be a total mismatch.  Our passions about various issues shouldn't cause us to over look the differences, or we will end up making big mistakes about where people stand on all kinds of very important issues, causing us to respond in ways that simply do not fit, or that are quite unhelpful and unproductive in the long run.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Continuing Reflections on the Restoration Movement in Western Canada, Part 6
In light of the largely autonomous character of the churches of the Stone-Campbell Movement, there is often only a loose connection that exists between the churches of the Movement in any given geographical area.  This fact stems from the initial ethos of the Movement, from the different divisions within the Movement that have occurred over the years, and, in the case of western Canadian a cappella churches, the closing of Western Christian College.

I am of the opinion that the relative autonomy of our churches can be very healthy in some ways; in other ways it is of detriment.  There is something healthy about individual churches being free to operate for themselves, with locally empowered leaders whose authority and service is centered in their own congregations.  A church's finances are controlled by and allocated by local leadership.  Ministry is locally controlled and planned.  And this seems to fit with the function of churches under the Apostles in the New Testament.  But it can be of detriment that our churches share less of a broader cohesive unity than they otherwise could.  They are not as much "part of something bigger" as they could be.  When the Movement began, and for years afterward, there was an identity for those churches which automatically came with being part of the Movement itself, set apart from the rest of Christianity that was not following the teachings of the Campbells, Walter Scott, and Barton Stone.  Those churches and individual Christians who did follow early Stone-Campbell teachings on biblical primitivism and Christian unity became an identifiable union of churches; it gave them a broader identity and purpose.  That we substantially lack this common identity and purpose prevents us from having a cohesive ministry.  The positive aspects of the Movement are not instilled in those new to us, or even our own children, and there is no common voice that can positively impact the ministries of other Christian fellowships around us.

All that to say that with a push from Evan Spencer, who is leading the new Bow Valley multi-site in Mahogany in south Calgary, there is going to be an attempt made to create a closer unity among churches in western Canada that find their historical roots in the Stone-Campbell Movement.  The goals will include 1) unity, fellowship, and encouragement among our churches; 2) cohesion, visioning and purposefulness in ministry; 3) providing a source of cohesive impact by the Stone-Campbell churches on Christianity as practiced in western Canada.

Plans are being formulated concerning how best to proceed.  Two moves most likely to be made here at the beginning are:  1) use the 3 Streams website that is already in existence.  The website was initiated by the group that through Alberta Bible College sponsors the Western Canada Leadership Summit each spring at ABC, but the goal of having the website is to provide connection for Stone-Campbell churches across Canada; 2) have some kind of initial meeting introducing the idea of  cohesion between the Stone-Campbell churches of western Canada, forming a steering committee of interested church representatives.

If you are interested in what is being proposed, please feel free to comment or send to me an email (Kelly@calgarycofc.com).  And you will want to look at the existing 3 Streams website at www.3streams.ca if you have not already.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Continuing Reflections on the Restoration Movement in Western Canada, Part 5

A few months ago I began blogging a bit about Stone-Campbell Movement churches in western Canada.  Continuing the series . . .

 A question that I suppose could simply be ignored by churches that derive from the Stone-Campbell Movement, but one with which I think some (perhaps especially newer) Stone-Campbell Movement churches in western Canada are wrestling is whether or not they want their ministries as churches overtly to reflect this heritage.  Although it is likely that at least some vestiges of this heritage will be present in a church deriving from the Stone-Campbell Movement, is there value in a church continuing intentionally to identify itself with its background, or should certain factors cause our churches essentially to ignore their heritage?  For example, since the very ethos of the Stone-Campbell Movement is oriented toward a non-denominational, autonomous approach to church polity, should whatever influence the larger Movement may have on an individual church be discounted, set aside, or intentionally ignored?  Should whatever special relationships that might exist between churches deriving from the Stone-Campbell Movement be superseded or be lessened in significance by the relationships our churches may have with other Christian fellowships in light of the unity plea that was originally so much at the core of the Stone-Campbell Movement?  Are there elements to being a Stone-Campbell Movement derived church that should actually be overcome, so that it would be a God-honouring, biblical, ministry-advancing move to advance past our Stone-Campbell connections and identities so that we can better become the churches God wants us to be?  Are there other, more vital connections with other groups that our churches could make that would serve the advancement of their ministries above and beyond their connections to other Stone-Campbell churches or institutions or organizations?

On the other hand, if a church chooses to remain overtly reflective of its Stone-Campbell heritage, what exactly does this mean for the way it operates, for the connections it has to other Stone-Campbell Movement churches?  And what will or should these connections look like?

These questions are significant, I think, for several reasons.  First, there currently exists little working connection between some Churches of Christ a cappella and other churches derived from the Stone-Campbell Movement.  There are of course, members of these churches that still have relationships with members from other Stone-Campbell Movement churches, due to past connections, but there are almost no formal larger gatherings, no larger organizational ties, and few common projects on which they are working together.  And this applies to both the connections between Churches of Christ a cappella with other Churches of Christ a cappella and the connections of these churches with churches from the two other major branches of the Movement (Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ).  Given the current situation, will churches in western Canada from the Churches of Christ a cappella in a hundred years have any connection at all between themselves and other Stone-Campbell Movement churches in western Canada?  Will they even care if they do or not?  For some of us, this still matters.  Secondly, waning commitment to a common heritage could mean waning commitment to some institutions/organizations among us.  We have lost Western Christian College.  If there is little sense of connection between us, will we be able to collectively sustain committed support to Alberta Bible College and to the Bible camps that we support?  Third, if there are not overt connections and commitments to the Stone-Campbell Movement present among our churches, will not whatever unique values and positive assets to the Kingdom that characterize the Stone-Campbell heritage not be completely lost on those among us who are younger and those yet unborn?  If there are elements of value in whatever common theology and ecclesiology we share, will these valuable pieces from our heritage be passed on and valued by those who in future generations will become our church leaders?  Or will these valuable pieces from our past be lost so that there is less opportunity for them to positively impact the Kingdom?  Fourth, are we not stronger and more capable when working together with others?  Despite our inherent autonomy, our churches have in the past enjoyed the benefit of working together on some common projects, of being encouraged by our joint gatherings, of feeling like we are identified with something bigger and more impacting than just our individual churches.  Would it not be a shame to lose the benefits of being unified and working together?  Others can no doubt cite other losses that may exist if some or many Stone-Campbell churches slip away from a connection to our heritage. 

In previous posts in this series I made overtures to the value of there being more efforts made toward Stone-Campbell Movement churches connecting with each other.  In the coming days I want to expand on this suggestion.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Seriously Considering Christ and Christianity

As everyone knows, there is a crisis going on in the church which has massive ramifications for the church and, ultimately, for world culture.  Young people, especially, are being challenged to walk away from their families' commitments to Jesus Christ and the church.  They are being told that Christianity is simply not true, that Jesus is not the Son of God and Saviour of the world, and that exclusively to hold to the truth of Christ is intellectually irresponsible or disreputable.  And such claims are coming not just from university departments of philosophy or biology, they often come from inside the church, even from those with lifelong involvement with the church, as some of those previously committed to Christ now significantly question most of what they previously were taught and believed.  This is not just sad, it is tragic, especially when the challenges made to Christianity are so often grounded on less than the most rigorous intellectual, philosophical, historical foundations.

From merely a human perspective, Jesus the Messiah or Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Bar Joseph from Nazareth in Galilee, born about 4 B.C., is the most important, most admired, most followed human being who has ever lived.  The social ethic he taught and exampled is considered the most important, most revolutionary, most widely influential, loftiest social ethic ever conceived.  The social community He created has been the most significant, most influential, most powerful force for good that the world has known.  If the poor, the sick, the lonely, the heartbroken, the unattractive, the outcast, the hurting, the disadvantaged, the imprisoned, the persecuted, the oppressed, the self-destructive, the addictive, the demonized, the evil and the rejected ones have received from someone a blessing, a helping hand, a bed for recovery, a word of encouragement, an opportunity to arise from their misery, or an opportunity for healing, forgiveness, sustenance, grace, and love there is a good chance that the good things that have come their way ultimately have a source associated with Jesus the Jewish Messiah.  The extent to which the evils of humanity that otherwise would have been put upon each other, but which were avoided or overcome by Jesus and those who with genuine commitment have followed Him, is simply incalculable.  About these things there can be no debate.

Some today, and even many Christians, have been compelled to re-evaluate all this, as if maybe what I wrote in the previous paragraph is not empirically true.  They would speak of the Crusades, or the Spanish Inquisition, or colonization, or Constantinianism or American Imperialism or Capitalistic Materialism as if these movements are directly based on who Jesus was and taught, as if Jesus and His true followers were responsible for these tragedies.  I will admit that those who claimed to follow Jesus were to a lesser or greater extent behind such movements; but no one who has carefully read, or even cursorily read, the teachings and example of Jesus in the Bible could ever link together with Jesus such aberrations from true Christianity.  Humans beings who truly and consistently followed His teachings would not, could not perpetrate such sinfulness.  He was entirely non-violent when it comes to military, governmental, institutional, and private action by his followers.  He specifically commanded against violence.  He taught His followers to love everyone, including themselves.  He was accepting of all those who hurt, including those who greatly sin because of their hurt.  He and His closest followers made virtue, kindness, love, goodness, gentleness, humility, peacefulness, patience, meekness, and non-judgmentalism the core of Christian teaching about how to live. These facts about Jesus and Christianity are very easy to verify, and they need to be kept in mind by those threatened by the attacks and unbelief that frequently come against Christ and the church, whether from inside the church or from outside.

So, as one who has carefully investigated these things over the last 40 years, some words of advice.  Don't just accept accusations against Christ and Christianity or accept claims made about the irrationality of belief in God without considering these things at great length and seriously testing their veracity.  Often young people, especially, hear claims made against Christianity or the church and with very little serious investigation accept such claims, or at least allow such claims to colour their view of Christ and the church.  Please don't just accept such claims just because it is considered more socially acceptable to disbelieve or to criticize the church or because you are embarrassed to go against the grain of society in its attack against Christ and the church.  Study history for yourself.  Study ethics for yourself.  Study science and philosophy for yourself.  Read the Bible and evaluate the church, yourself.  And please don't stop after reading one or two or ten books critical of Christianity thinking that such critics have said all that there is to be said.  I weary of hearing about those who have taken a class or two, read a couple of books, listened to a couple of lectures, and have decided that Christianity is not true, or that it is not noble or intellectually defensible.  Often I find the intellectual effort that has been expended in such investigations of Christ and the church to be truly second class; it simply does not measure up to the best of human investigative efforts.  It is shallow and incomplete, and those who conduct their inquiries in this way too often reach conclusions and make statements about Christ and Christianity that have little or no merit whatsoever, simply because they are looking for an easy way to excuse themselves from taking seriously the claims that Christ makes on their lives.  They simply wish to not be uncomfortable in their belief, or they wish to sin and feel better about it, or they are lazy, particularly intellectually, and so do not want to do the hard work on their own of finding out the truth about Christ and Christianity, about Christian history, about the real teachings of Jesus, about what authentic Christianity looks like.  Some have been hurt by Christians, or by the church, or their loved ones have been hurt by Christians or the church, to the point that hearing criticisms of Christianity are psychologically soothing or satisfying, because accepting such criticisms fits with the anger or hurt they already feel toward Christians who have harmed them.  This is understandable and explainable, but to hold against Christianity what has been done to you by sinful Christians is like despising gravity because the contractor who built the deck on your house built it poorly, causing it to fall and injure you or your loved one.  It is like despising rye or wheat or hopps or those who harvest such crops because someone else bought the grain and made from it alcohol, which another person bought, got drunk from, and then he or she drove while drunk and killed your loved one.  It is hardly the fault of the grain or the harvester.  But for some, it is far easier to just believe what an author or professor or the internet or Facebook tell you about Christians and Christianity, because some Christians have made big mistakes, than it is to conduct a long careful investigation, and so many just accept the easy answer.  It is too easy to stay where you are in carrying out your lifestyle of less than noble pursuits, your materialism, your self-centeredness, and to criticize Jesus and His followers, than it is honestly and plainly to be confronted by who Jesus really was and is, by what He really taught, by what He really calls us to.  So, many simply parrot the easy answers they have heard.  Please, don't stop after a half-hearted, lazy, easy quasi-investigative look at Christianity and then settle yourself in unbelief, ignoring the fact that you haven't really put in the effort needed.  Because the decision of whether or not to accept Christ or to remain Christian and connected to the church is so significant in one's life, you owe it to yourself, if to no one else, to honestly read and study for yourself, without cutting corners and without accepting easy answers.  Listen not only to critics of Christ and Christianity, especially as Jesus, the church and Christians are portrayed in contemporary mass media and social media, but give attention, too, to those who have investigated at a profound level both the claims of the critics and the claims of Christ and His followers and have found Christianity not just defensible, but have found it to be a system of belief to which it is worth being faithfully committed for life.  Nothing less will do.  If, in the end, after much careful, serious thinking and investigation you find Christ and Christianity not worth giving your life to, then so be it.  At least you will have reached your conclusion in light of your own honesty and to your own intellectual satisfaction, and not just because those around youwho live in a questionable world with questionable motives, and who themselves may not have been very careful in doing their own searcheshave told you that Christ and Christianity don't deserve your attention or allegiance.  Or, if you should choose Christ, you will not be doing so because you simply adopted your parents' faith or have believed blindly.  You will have a faith that is grounded in what you seriously take to be the truth because you have investigated the question and found that God was quite capable of defending Himself.  You will have seriously considered Christ and Christianity, chosen faith, and you will be Christian because you will have seen that it is the best system of faith the world has known, because it is the only faith system in line with things as they really are.



Friday, January 30, 2015

Continuing Reflections on the Stone-Campbell Movement in Western Canada, Part 4

 If there is any merit in my suggestions in Part 2 that Discipleship, MIssionality, and Church Planting should be central concerns of our churches as we attempt to move forward out of a kind of stagnancy, it makes sense that our churches would understand well both what each of these is really about and how our churches and Movement can best accomplish something with respect to each.  The first part of this – understanding well what each of these areas of ministry is about – is not hard for anyone willing to read a bit, and I don’t know that room here needs to be taken up in describing each of them.  If you would like some help in knowing what you may purchase in order to know something about each of these, email me at Kelly@calgarycofc.com.

The second part concerning how our churches and Movement can best accomplish something with respect to each of these areas of ministry is a bit more difficult to answer.  Let me start, though, by saying that I think the biggest problem is not a lack of understanding but is, rather, in our being significantly distracted away from these basic areas of ministry.  Other foci capture our attention.  We end up spending our time, efforts, and money elsewhere.  We don’t give enough attention to discipleship, but instead focus on the worship experience we have on Sunday mornings.  We spend our money on world missions, which is important, but sometimes it is spent to the detriment of spending money here, where Christianity is perhaps making less headway than it is in some of the mission destinations we support.  We don’t spend enough time thinking about the growth of the Kingdom, planning for how the Kingdom can best impact western Canada through our efforts, because we are exclusively focused on our own church’s efforts, when there is evidence that fostering new church plants is one of the best things any church can do to expand the Kingdom.

Focussed and balanced attention is, then, necessary for us to center ourselves in Discipleship, Missionality and Church Planting.  Here, I will just mention how this could be playing itself out in our churches with respect to discipleship.  Are we as concerned to get our Elders, full-time ministers, and congregants involved in discipleship as we are in making sure our Sunday morning worship is outstanding?  Of course, should our Sunday morning worship not be done at its very best?  Definitely.  In fact, does the Sunday morning experience not also contribute to the discipleship and growth of those who attend?  We certainly want it to.   But I am not sure the Sunday morning experience warrants more attention than our more direct efforts to bring about discipleship in our churches.  Preaching on Sunday morning and our corporate praising of the Lord need to happen at a high level, but giving more attention to one-on-one discipling of each other could be more significant in bringing about genuine growth in the spiritual lives of Christians and in the numerical growth of the church, especially if disciples are created who themselves go about discipling others.  What is it that we most want for each Christian in our churches, that they are 1) blessed by great worship and are moved by a great sermon on Sunday morning, or that they 2) grow in their ability to build faith-fostering relationships with those around them who do not know Jesus, or who know Him at an immature level?  Although we obviously want both, I would say that if I could pick just one, it would be the latter, and that where we see ourselves at present defaulting to the first, there needs to be correction.

BTW, I am fully aware that my perspective on the priority of discipleship is not original and that current trends in ministry across North America lean in this direction.  But, like the sharing of the gospel, the fact that I am not the first to say it doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be said again.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Continuing Reflections on the Restoration Movement in Western Canada, Part 3:

Often the question is raised as to whether or not there is still value in the Restoration plea, a plea that has at its center two major elements:  1) Christian unity and 2) fidelity to the original church.  Perhaps the question is raised because denominational sectarianism has taken such a beating in the last 50 years, that there is seemingly less urgency for us to continue calling for Christians to accept one another or to work together; we now do this on a grand scale.  That said, I think there is still much work to do on the unity front.  Perhaps the question is raised because biblical primitivism – strict fidelity to the original church - just doesn’t seem in our time to be particularly meaningful, or effective, or full of value or even possible.  The conclusion is that other emphases would actually serve the church better.  Perhaps the question is raised because our plea is often viewed as itself being responsible for a great deal of denominational sectarianism, both because we have shortsightedly denied the denominational status of our Movement and its various streams and because we have been sectarian even while denying that we are a denomination. So, some think that not only is restoring the church to its original form not necessary, it is actually a hindrance in our age to the advance of the Kingdom and of the gospel.

Personally, I am not ready to give up on the Restoration Movement, a.k.a. the Stone-Campbell Movement, meaning in this context that I am not wanting to see our plea come to nothing among western Canadian churches affiliated with the Stone-Campbell Movement.  Even in an age in which denominational loyalty is perhaps lower than it has ever been, many Baptists think there are still good reasons to be Baptist.  Many Methodists think there is good reason to remain Methodist.  Many Roman Catholics defend the value of continuing to be RC.  Many Presbyterians remain in their fold.  It would appear that remaining committed to one’s own heritage does not automatically have to be jettisoned as an option, even if we are committed to Christian unity (as so many Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, and Presbyterians are).  For us to think that there is something of value in still being committed to at least some of the things that have made us who we are is not an absurdity.  In fact, for me, remaining committed to many of the principles, values, and doctrinal positions of the Stone-Campbell Movement is of vital importance.   Let me list some.

 In our time I would hope that we would especially be committed to:

1)      The identification of freedom of the will as a theologically rich, necessary, biblical principle.  Religious determinism, especially in the subtle forms it takes in much of Reformed theology, was rejected by the formerly Presbyterian progenitors of our Movement, and for this I am grateful.  In an age when Reformed theology is often identified with orthodoxy, as if this, and only this, position is orthodox, there must be other faithful voices to counter this trend.  Twenty years ago I thought a more Arminian oriented position was winning the day, but things have changed a bit, in an unhelpful direction I would say.  I am glad we consider those with strict Reformed theologies our brothers and sisters, but I don’t find their theology to be particularly defensible, either biblically or intellectually.  I hope we remain committed to an Arminian perspective.
2)      Our sanctification.  Although we have been a bit anemic when it comes to our comprehension and emphasis on the Holy Spirit and His role in creating in us holiness, we have always defended the notion that faith without works is dead.  Christians should live better because they are in Christ.  Yet, when it comes to the need for sanctification, I am not so much thinking that Christians should be sinning less (they should, but that is not my real concern at just this point).  My concern is more that there is something necessary about us having a strong theological commitment to right living, a longing for holiness and Christlikeness, so that whether or not in our actual practice we miss the mark, at least there remains among us a commitment to uphold virtue.  For example, rather than overtly asserting our freedom to drink alcohol or to use the words “what the hell” in conversation (often I find the attitude that accompanies the presence of such things in someone’s life to be surprisingly immature), because we want to separate ourselves from restrictive moralism, I would rather that we continue to teach against drunkenness, to expect and teach a level of respectful, non-judgmental holiness, all the while recognizing the value that exists in Christian freedom.  So, we can without guilt drink alcohol, but the attitude with which one does so needs to be Christ-honouring, mature, with a sober mind, rather than with an immature flaunting of worldliness.  This is a different attitude than one present in the minds of some Christians and their theologies, when they apply the grace of God almost as a permission slip for acting in unholy ways.  We are to be transformed from one level of glory to another, Paul would say, living exemplary lives of holiness.  In this the Spirit wants to work cooperatively in transforming our lives.

3)      Our commitment to biblical, exegetical theology.  At times our biblical rationalism has not been as theologically fruitful as what we might hope.  We unfortunately can be atomistic “prooftexters” dependent upon induction and syllogistic reasoning.  Nonetheless, I am grateful for our commitment to the biblical text and for our desire to ground what we think, do, and say in Scripture.  This has always been a core identifying mark among us, not that it necessarily separates us from others, but it does speak to who we are.  I hope this never changes.

4)      An adherence to certain core biblical doctrines and practices.  The importance of believers’ baptism by immersion, communion each Sunday, autonomous churches, plurality of Elders, the priesthood of all believers, the simplicity of our worship – these are some of the beliefs and practices that for me are distinctly believed by us (at least in the way that we believe and practice them) and which should be maintained among us.  Do they have to look exactly the same in every one of our churches?  Definitely not.  Should an attitude of exclusivity and sectarianism accompany our beliefs and distinct practices?  No.  But we should recognize the great value that there is in so many of the things that make us who we are.  We have a rich tradition, not one to be undervalued or of which we should be ashamed.  There is as much legitimacy, if not more, in our distinctiveness as there is in the distinct traditions that identify our friends in other Christian fellowships.  They may recognize with more appreciation their tradition, and in some cases their traditions may seem more time-honoured, but our distinct practices are at least as biblically defensible as theirs, in my opinion, and as long as we can adequately defend our positions with graciousness and love, we need to believe them and practice them, being grateful for the richness of these beliefs and practices for our lives in Christ.

That’s all for this installment.  I would love to hear from others what they think concerning the value or vacuity of our Restoration plea.  In your opinion, what is there from the RM/S-CM to which we should cling?  What should we count unimportant?