(In the Life of the Church)
June 15, 2014
(While Josh is away on sabbatical, Craig will be writing the newsletter. Which means you should expect less Harry Potter and more Hank Williams.)
Diversity and Disagreement
I could be accused, probably fairly, of writing about UBC's diversity in an amount that is disproportionate to other distinctive aspects of our congregation. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, it is one of the things I love the most about our community. Conventional wisdom assumes that in order for a church (or any group, for that matter,) to thrive, there needs to be singular vision and belief. The largest, most "successful" (see what I did there?) churches are usually those whose preacher stands up to the pulpit and says "This is what the Bible means. This is what God wants. There is no other way you can see this." He promises either a life of prosperity or pain (which is followed by an eternity of prosperity) if only you will understand and apply all this.
This is not us.
Second, I believe it is only fair for us all to know that there is a wide range of belief on important matters at the FRONT END of our engagement, so that when disagreements arise, we are not shell-shocked. I don't want someone to jump into the life of UBC because they think they know what we all believe, and then some time later hear something and say, dismayed, "Wait, someone here believes THAT?!" It is only fair to make it known at the beginning that yes, whatever "that" is, there is probably at least a few people at UBC, some in leadership, who believes it.
After BJ Parker's sermon on Sunday, our congregation participated in the exercise of theological diversity. Several asked themselves and each other some version of "Wait, someone here believes That?!" There was great conversation being held on many levels around town. One such conversation partner was David Wilhite, who has written the following response to the close of BJ's sermon...
UBC is a place that cherishes diversity and community. On Monday, I sat down with BJ, and – with Craig moderating – we talked through the conclusion of this past Sunday’s sermon. We needed to talk because the summative statement of a provocative (and up to this point, excellent!) sermon on God’s radical love left many ubc-ers with the impression that apostasy – denying Christ – is acceptable, justifiable, and maybe even the best option under certain circumstances. I absolutely defend BJ’s right to explore the radical love of God, a love so audacious that God will forgive even apostasy. However, the church throughout the last two thousand years has sent – with no equivocation – her children forward as martyrs and never approved apostasy in any form. I was concerned about our community condoning a sermon about apostasy as an acceptable option for Christians enduring persecution and torture. So, BJ and I sat down and discussed these issues both in the historical church and today.
At the end of it all, we still disagreed. I don’t think any form of apostasy should be condoned; BJ thinks a sermon should proclaim God’s unending love in a way that challenges all preconceptions about forgiveness and salvation. Even though we still disagreed, we prayed, we hugged (bro-hug, with the back-pats), and we left as closer friends than when we started. ubc remains a community: diverse, flawed people united in Christ.
But now, “What then shall we say to these things?” (Rom. 8:31a). In our meeting, it was BJ who suggested that I write a response for the ubc blog, and so he is to be credited with having such confidence and such humility. I will endeavor here to present the case for proclaiming, not denying Christ, even when undergoing torture or persecution.
I begin with an example:
Sitting in a dungeon in the year 203, Felicity, a slave from North Africa, listened to her tormenters. They insulted her weakness as a woman (she was giving birth to her daughter in the cell), and they laughed at the agony she would have to face the next day when fed to the beasts in the Roman arena. Felicity answered, “Now, I alone suffer what I am suffering, but then there will be Another inside me, who will suffer for me.” Felicity and her fellow martyrs belong to a long line of Christians who believe that following Christ means being a faithful witness, even unto death. Even under horrific torture, any form of denying Christ – even stepping on an image of Christ, as in the example from BJ’s sermon - results in Christ denying you before his Father in heaven (Matt. 10:33). Jesus calls his disciples to “take up their cross” (Matt. 16:24), and “persevere to the end” (Matt. 24:13).
Now, to clarify the question, somewhat… instead of asking, “Is it okay to deny Christ?” (to which obviously, the answer is no), or “Can God forgive apostates?”(to which obviously, the answer is yes), let’s simply remember that Christians should strive to persevere -to the end- in a faithful witness to Christ.
Similarly, some may ask, “What would you do, David?” Or, “What if your family was being tortured?” “What if…?” I can’t say with 100% certainty what I would do. Let’s again change that to “What should I do?” and “What I hope to do,” if ever placed in such a situation: stand faithful to follow Christ as a “witness” (the Greek word for witness gives us our word martyr).
Here is an even more important question: “What will God do?” As BJ contends, God may forgive even the apostate. Unfortunately, we won’t know for sure until the eschaton (the end of the current order and the beginning of the permanent order of things.) The Swiss Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, in his book, Dare We ‘Hope That All Men be Saved’?, boldly concluded that the Christian could hope for and even pray for such things; but he was just as adamant that we can not preach it as certain. What we do know for sure is this: we are called to persevere, even in the most dire and grave of circumstances.
Even more to the point about “What will God do?” is the central message of the church: the Gospel, the Good News, has stipulated that it’s not our works, our ability to endure, our…, well, our anything. The Good News is that God has done the work for us in his Son, and the Spirit of God has been placed in us, who enables us to persevere. We even, according to the martyr Paul, “rejoice…in tribulation [!], knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character hope, and hope does not fail, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit has been given unto us” (Romans 5:3-5).
This is the promise we have as Christians: it’s not up to us (Matthew 10:19); instead, it will be the Spirit of God at work through us (Matthew 10:20). The Spirit of Jesus, who faithfully endured his cross, is at work in the believer, the same Spirit that was in Paul, the same that was in Felicity, who – we are told – entered the arena “rejoicing.” This is the same Spirit that was in Stephen, James, Peter, Blandina, Cyprian, Patrick Hamilton, May Hayman, Bill Wallace, Janani Luwum, Romulo Sauñe, Haik Hovsepianmehr, and countless other martyrs throughout the church’s history. And it is the same Spirit who is at work in our hearts today.
Although it is not from scripture, I think the closing prayer from the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity is appropriate here: “For these new deeds of courage may also witness that one and the same Holy Spirit is always working among us even now, along with God, the Father almighty, and his Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ to whom is glory and endless power for ever and ever. Amen.”...
This, my friends, is church.
LOST and FOUND
Emily would like for you to keep the art projects your kids have been working on this summer at church and bring them back by AUGUST 24TH. On August 31st we will have an Art Gallery featuring these masterpieces. If you have any questions, email email@example.com.
For the next three Sundays, we will have an informal Sunday School group meet in the Rock-n-Roll room. This will primarily be so visitors who do not know that Sunday School is on hiatus will have a place to go and get to know people. We'd love to have as many of you as possible join us for that!
Garage Sale next week!
Monday-Thursday (Friday if needed): 4:00pm-7:00pm, sorting. We need TONS of help!
Saturday: Garage Sale! We've had a decent number of folks sign up to help, but still have a little more than half of the slots to fill. Please sign up for a spot on Sunday!
Monday (the 18th): Garage Sale! Here's how I'm approaching this-- We are going to treat Saturday like it is the ONLY DAY we are hosting the garage sale. Monday, hopefully, will be a much smaller day. We will assess things and let you know next Sunday at church the details of the Monday garage sale.
If you have a concern or an idea for UBC that you’d like to share with someone that is not on staff, feel free to contact one of our leadership team members.
Chair: Jana Parker firstname.lastname@example.org
Kristin Dodson: email@example.com
Kaley Eggers: firstname.lastname@example.org
David Wilhite: email@example.com
Jamie McGregor: firstname.lastname@example.org
Byron Roldan: Byron_Roldan@baylor.edu
Teri Walter: email@example.com
UBC Finance Team
Do you have a question about UBC’s financial affairs? Please feel free to contact any of your finance team members.
Tom Haines: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Taft: email@example.com
Josh McCormick: Josh.McCormick@dwyergroup.com
Chris Kim: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom McCarty: email@example.com
UBC HR Team
If you have concerns about staff and would like contact our human resources team, please feel free to email any of the following members.
Lacy McNamee: Lacy_McNamee@baylor.edu
Callie Schrank: Callie_Schrank@baylor.edu
Jeff Walter: firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Heins: email@example.com