Monday, January 26, 2009

Christ centred or cross centred

Really, it shouldn't matter, should it - whether we say our organisation or church is Christ centred or cross centred? As far as our behaviour and attitude are concerned it shouldn't make any difference at all. But it does. At least in my experience, it does.

I've belonged to a number of Christian and para-church organisations and I've realised that Christians have some very variable ideas about Christ. Not who he is as such. I think we can all agree that he was born about 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. He lived for about 33 years and was crucified. From then on we start to draw apart. Most (I hope most) would agree that he arose from the grave physically and for almost 6 weeks he walked and talked and appeared to people in his physical body - Thomas could place his finger in the nail hole on Jesus' hand. The thing that really muddies the water is when we think about who he is to me and to you.

One of the Christian organisations I was a part of had endless problems in their leadership. People lied to each other and for each other. Some were exceedingly manipulative and conniving. One was a secret alcoholic who kept his wine in a 2 litre lemonade bottle. Control junkies rose to the top and used fair means and foul to maintain their lead. Character assassination was the order of the day. People were ruthless and merciless to each other. You get the picture. Here's the thing though- it was a "Christ centred" organisation. It said so on their publicity material, their web page, their stationery - everything. It was their mantra.

I often wondered what was really wrong, what was at the heart of this Christian organisation that allowed so many people to become indifferent to Biblical values. It began to dawn on me that they were so certain of their rights as God's children and so assured of his forgiveness, no matter what, that they thought it didn't matter how they behaved. Like spoilt children who know that their parents are going to feed them and clothe them and care for them in spite of their worst misbehaviour they depended on God's promised forgiveness. God's hands were legally tied (in their reckoning). Salvation is assured.

They needed to get back to the cross and remember that as well as a symbol of our forgiveness in Christ, it is also a symbol of how much God hates sin and of what that cost him. Dealing with our sin was no walk in the park for Christ. When we leave the cross out of our thinking, we often fall into what some call "cheap grace" or "easy-believe-ism". Is that what Christ died for I wonder? That we would be so confident of our forgiveness and salvation that it would not matter how we lived. That we could lie, cheat, bully, neglect, indulge ourselves, etc. etc. Not in my Bible. The cross reminds us of our inability to save ourselves, our desperate need of his grace and forgiveness, of the horrible cost of sin and the limitless love of God. It humbles me to know that my sin nailed him there and caused his pain and death. It is not something to take for granted and exploit. It is something that brings us all down to the same level - sinners saved by grace alone.

Because of the cross, Jesus is not just another historical figure. He is my friend, but not just my friend. He is my brother, but not just my brother. He is my teacher, but not just my teacher. He is my saviour who was whipped and insulted and nailed to a cross for me. That has to affect how I live.

We have to be cross centred.

Singing in tongues

The first and for a long time, the only women's camp that I attended left me very mixed emotions. Concert night was a scream. Many groups had put a lot of thought and preparation into their acts and by the end of the night our laughing muscles were aching from overuse and tears were streaming down our faces from so much laughter.

What of Bible studies and devotions? Well to be honest, I can't remember anything of significance at all. Maybe that is an indictment of me, but in my defence I have to say that it was a long time ago.

Sticking in my mind is the early morning prayer meeting. I'm not a morning person, but I thought that since I was attending as a chaplain, it would be best to set an example and not be found wanting. Big mistake!

It was a beautiful mild morning. The magpies were singing in the distance and the doves were calling their gentle "doodle doo, doodle doo" from every tree nearby. The air had that gentle, caressing feel about it. An ideal setting to let your mind dwell on the creator and to let go of distracting emotions and thoughts. That is what I was thinking and at first it went according to plan.

Someone started the morning with a short explanation and led us with a short prayer. Other women followed naturally with their own short prayers and it was flowing as it should. Someone near me began to pray in tongues. Someone else followed suit, but sang her prayer in tongues. This seemed to be a cue for others who did this sort of thing to also sing their prayers in tongues and one by one at first, then several at a time and finally, it seemed, most of the group were singing in tongues.

I'm told that this can be very delightful and pleasing to the ear. It wasn't. It was a cacophony. Each new tongue singer seemed to want to be heard above the last and so the volume got louder and louder in a great discordant crescendo. I couldn't think straight with the noise of their "singing" clashing and clanging in my ears. Prayer was no longer a possibility for me in the midst of this clamour, apart from pleading with God to give them all a mild dose of laryngitis. I felt that the morning had been hijacked by the Pentecostals.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-Pentecostal. But I do find that many Pentecostals don't realise how much their exercise of their religious freedom often intrudes on and overrides the religious freedom of those who have a more conservative faith and less demonstrative way of expressing our faith. At the prayer meeting, it seemed obvious to me that the goal of many of the pray-ers was to be the longest and loudest, as though God was a deaf old man. As though he could not hear even the prayers of a normal speaking voice, let alone the unspoken prayers of our hearts.

Theologically speaking, St Paul had quite a lot to say about this when he wrote to the Corinthians about orderly worship. He did say that one must speak at a time and that what is spoken in tongues should be interpreted. After reading 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14, maybe we should ask ourselves:
  • Spiritual gifts, such as tongues, are for the building up of the Church. In what way is my spiritual gift building up the Church, if at all?
  • Am I using my gift to serve others or myself?
  • Are more than 2 or 3 speaking at a single meeting? Paul specified this for a reason.
  • Am I contributing to the orderly nature worship?
  • Am I being loving to those around me now, and in my relationships with others (and God) at other times? If not I'm just a "clanging cymbal" (Paul's words not mine).
  • What would a "stranger" to our meeting learn about God from this?

This was just a spur of the moment idea because it was on my mind when I woke up this morning. I may have left out some important questions. You can let me know.