Saturday, July 30, 2011

Does the Church have the right to call itself "the people of God"?

Does the Church have the right to call itself “the people of God”?
Whilst Jesus did not explicitly set out to setup an organised Church, it is highly unlikely that the triune God did not know this might happen. After all, whether we want to understand God as all powerful and all knowing as a Greek philosopher may or whether we believe that God’s power lies in God’s quiet suasions, communion and love, God does see all religions and would have to know that after an event as astounding as the coming of Christ, Christ’s death and resurrection some group of people, some communion would form an organisation.
In other words, even if we don’t think God is all knowing, God must have predicted the coming of the Church.
Now, answering this question, though, walks right into the difficult question of “what is the Church”. Let me offer a relatively simple answer. Any group, or communion of people, who gather together in an organised fashion who believe in the Nicene and Apostolic creeds are the Church. Some of you will not agree with this. Some will conclude that the Nicene and/or the Apostolic creeds are just wrong, incorrect and unbelievable creeds. I am not going to argue with your beliefs.
However, I am not writing to have a dispute about what the word “Church” actually means. 
My definition includes the vast majority of Protestant churches, from the Methodists to the Presbyterian, the Church of England to the Assemblies of God. It includes the Roman Catholic church. It most likely includes many home churches who are not part of these “recognised” churches but who confess their belief in the two creeds I mentioned. It doesn’t include organisations who do not confess the two creeds and it clearly excludes other religious groups.
Again, you may disagree with me and that is fine.
What does the phrase, “the people of God” mean though? Who are these people? In the Old Testament this phrase clearly referred to Israel. In the New Testament, the fledgling Church re-appropriated the phrase to mean the people who believed in Christ and Christians, later, as I am arguing, argued that anyone who confesses to believe the two mentioned creeds are part of “the people of God”.
However, we have to watch out here. There is an implicit “only” in this phrase. We do not hear “one of the people of God” but instead here “the only people of God”. If we are to believe the Old Testament then we must believe that at some point in history, the people of Israel were God’s people. Whether they are now or not is not a debate that I want to entertain now. If we are to believe the New Testament, the people of God are those who have accepted that Christ is the one and only way to salvation.
Can we believe both testaments?
I would say “yes” but I would clarify this further: “Yes, the Church is one of the people of God.” Is it the only people of God? Perhaps and perhaps not. There’s been too much religious wars on that question.
For the moment, I’m happy to leave that question to God to answer.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

OS X Lion

My Experiences
Today I have upgraded my three primary computers to Apple’s OS X Lion. They are a 27” iMac (Intel i7/2.8Ghz, ATI4850), my 15” MacBook Pro (Intel i7 dual core with Intel 330M) and the 15” MacBook Pro (Core 2 Duo with some video card) I use at work. The upgrades themselves have all gone seamlessly; I have lost no data and had no moments of panic, stress or times where I’ve really wanted to revert to the previous operating system. The operating system upgrade is as simple as enter your details in the App Store (correctly!), wait for it to download and then click a few buttons.
After reboot, the installer would claim it would take 30 minutes. All of my installs did seem to keep their progress bar and estimated time of finish mostly correct. It wasn’t so for one of my work colleagues so I may have good computers (all mine are better spec than the one he was upgrading) or I may just be lucky. He went to lunch, for at least 20 minutes, only to come back to have it say it would still take him 30 minutes for install.
That said, I did not suffer this problem at all.
However, the first computer I upgraded was my laptop. Unfortunately, whilst my laptop’s CPU and memory are perfectly fine, it is let down somewhat by its hard drive. It simply cannot keep up with sustained I/O and what I did not, at first realise, was that the upgrade forces Spotlight to reindex everything at the start. This killed my I/O. On the other hand, I was also spectacularly not nice to it in another way - I fired up my Windows VM which then decided to run a full virus scan. This killed my I/O twice. It doesn’t help that even with only 1024MB of memory for the Windows VM, that laptop seems to swap at least the same amount to disk.
I am not sure it is behaving itself.
That said, once the operating system had installed and finished its I/O intensive work and I had stopped the VM from thrashing the hard drive, I got to test the new operating system. My first impressions were:
  • Why can’t I resize the “Mailbox” panel in Mail to the size I want? So what if I want it too small to be useful!
  • Why does Mail have to reindex the mail boxes again? This hasn’t taken too long for me but for my colleague...well, it’s still going!
  • The scrolling goes the WRONG WAY!
  • I have to download a new XCode; but it was for free, thankfully!
  • At work I have two monitors; the one on the laptop and an external. Why oh why does it maximize the application to my laptop monitor when it was originally on my external? How annoying! How dumb!
  • It looks like iTunes; everything looks like everything!
I toyed with going back to the classic view in Mail but I think I am going to keep the new view. I will probably get used to it and it’s not that bad. I certainly like the new way how it shows threads that fit together. Very cool. However, Mail is still Mail. Do you think it would recover from a misconfigured mail server in an account? No. Never mind that I fixed the broken URL I gave just refused to sensibly connect again.
Fixing Mail always revolves quitting Mail and starting it again.
At the start the “wrong way” scrolling truly annoyed me. I switched it back and forth a number of times but I am starting to get used to it. It does make sense, sort of. It’s no worse and no less sensible than the “standard” mode of scrolling, or the “non-natural” way. Given I now use a Magic Trackpad at home on my main computer, it makes sense. I like it.
As for the ability to use lots of gestures. This is kind of cool. Not amazing, in my humble opinion, but it is cool.
That said, I’m somewhat ho-hum about the Mission Control and Launcher. I’m somewhat ho-hum about the full screen ability of all/most apps. I am writing this in Page in full screen and it is useful to be able to quickly get rid of all of that other clutter but is it that useful? I don’t know. Time will tell.
Would I recommend an OS X Lion upgrade? Probably yes. But it’s not necessary yet. If you want to wait for a few more bugs - I am sure there are some - to be ironed out or just want to keep you $39 or so for a while, there can’t be that much harm.
Happy Roaring!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Has God Got to Do With the Church?

When we think of Christianity we think of the church. For some this evokes pictures of architecture, grand cathedrals reaching up to God like the spires of St Peter’s Cathedral in Adelaide. For others this evokes a community of people who come together - often weekly - in whatever worship service to worship God and often to partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Yet others see a more sinister entity, an organisation that has caused untold harm not just in ancient hurts but right up until this day.
But when we think of church do we think of God? How is God involved with the church? How does the grand architecture with spires rising to the sky reflect on God? Is it God who brings church goers together each week to celebrate communion or is it people’s choice? No-one, including the hardest atheists, believe the church should be a sinister entity - yet if God has something to do with the church, how do we reconcile this with the real shortcomings of the historical church and the church in the present?
Jesus overturned the tables in God’s temple, yet God’s church has harboured the worst criminals, people who prayed on the vulnerable, the very people that Jesus says we should champion and minister to!
It would be fruitful to accept the New and Old Testament as they are. What does church mean in their context?
The Old Testament tells the story of God’s people Israel. Christians interpret this as a precursor of the New Testament in which God fulfills God’s promise to humankind - although not in the way that the Jewish interpreters expected! If we take church to mean a group of people who come together to share some type of common religious experience, we can see that the broad concept of this community, or this church, as a people who come together, at a holy place to worship in God’s presence through the mediation of appointed priests.
Do understand that I am talking about the Old Testament church at its pinnacle. Look at any of the prophetic writings and we will quickly see that even in those times, God’s church was often not doing what God wanted it to do. The church in those times strayed, worshipped other gods, got caught up in the act of “being the church” without actually “fulfilling God’s purpose or commands”. In fact, the prophets are generally calling the church and Israel back to faith.
And here is another point. The church in the Old Testament is not separated from the fate of God’s people, Israel. The faithfulness of the church (or temple) and God’s people are one and the same. When evil besets the church, because they have been faithless to God, evil has beset the whole of God’s people and not just the church. Thus, in broad terms, it seems that the Old Testament’s view of church is synonymous with God’s people; whether they “wanted” to be part of God’s church they were part of God’s church and they had little say in this matter.
What does this tell us about God and God’s church though? In the Old Testament, God interacts with the church. In the Pentateuch, the books commonly attributed to Moses, whilst God chooses people such as Eve, Abraham, Sarah and Moses to speak on God’s behalf, God has a definite and imminent presence. God is the God who can say, “Moses! Moses!” whilst “standing” within a burning bush. Later it is not clear whether God interacts so directly. In the prophets, people do not directly witness the presence of God even if it is just His heels and His back, yet they hear God’s prophets who speak on God’s behalf. The prophets do not say “I say...” they say “The Lord says...”
In the Old Testament, God has a lot to do with the church - in fact God is the principle character, sometimes protagonist and sometimes antagonist. In the Old Testament little happens without God having something to do with it, yet God stops at compelling the church to do God’s will by removing people’s free will. Although there are clear demonstrations that God has power over the elements and even the power to harden human hearts, God does not directly force God’s people, synonymous with God’s church, to do God’s bidding.
There are, however, too many examples of God’s interaction even to list - go read the source!
By the time the New Testament has come, the temple is well established even if the people have to cope with their Roman overlords. There is a hierarchy of priests and one’s status within Israel is related to one’s family, whether one is from the priest hood, one’s wealth and so forth. In the New Testament, God does not speak directly through a “third party” but through Jesus “the Christ” or “the Messiah”. The very same Jesus that Christians profess to be the Son of God, God incarnate and a “member” of the Holy Trinity.
If we accept the New Testament at face value, which I have proposed we do, Jesus is clearly critical of the established religion. He is critical of the temple priests and critical of others who set themselves up as interpreters of the law. If we accept that Jesus is “the Messiah” or “the Anointed One”, if we accept that Jesus is “God’s Son incarnate”, then we can see that God still has a lot to do with the church.
In fact, God became incarnate and gave impetus to the disciples who would slowly but surely build one of the world’s most enduring organisations - the Christian church. Jesus’ disciples and those who preached about Jesus afterwards opened up this community and this new church. They opened it up to “Gentiles” (i.e. non-Jews), taking Jesus’ words to spread the news to “all the world” quite literally.
Yet, how did they believe they were doing God’s will? Did they just “decide” that this is what they were going to do? Was it just a human endeavour? It is, of course, true that humans pushed this endeavour forward. We read many of their names in the letters, for example, Paul, Titus, Silvanus, Phoebe and a myriad of others. Yet they all believe they are doing so in Christ’s name and more importantly, it is claimed that they all do so with Christ’s spirit.
Christ’s what? Christ’s spirit. Well, God’s Holy Spirit. Let’s not land ourselves in the filique controversy. But let’s be mindful here because this isn’t as easy a shift as “God spoke through the prophets or, indeed, spoke God’s self”. God, Jesus’ Father, sent the Spirit to guide the apostles and later missionaries. God still does so today. Jesus, God’s Son, promised this spirit but also indicated that none would come to the Father except by him. None other than God can save humanity, thus if Jesus can save humanity Jesus must be that same God. Hence this spirit Jesus talks about is God’s spirit, or to put it in other words, it, too is God.
That sounds like a (particularly bad) explanation of the Doctrine of the Trinity. That’s because it is the Doctrine of the Trinity. We may describe a square as a “thing with four equal sides” which is certainly not a very good description if one is answering an Honors Level maths examination paper but it doesn’t mean we’re not describing a square.
So, it seems that the Trinity, or the Triune God, has appeared in the early church. Again, just as in the Old Testament, the Triune God does not summarily remove the evil and force humans to change their minds. It is true - by the urging of the Spirit, Paul and others berate, write to and lecture the early church on how they should behave (and some of Paul’s berating has caused untold confusion and itself been interpreted in ways Paul probably never expected).
And here we are again.
I think we have our answer.
What does God have to do with the church? God is the church’s main protagonist. Some would argue that by God’s willful refusal to simply “fix” the church (with the wink of a Godly eye perhaps?) that God is the church’s main antagonist. Yet, certainly in the scriptural witness, God is active both in the Old Testament church and the “new” church in the New Testament.
So, the answer, I think is: EVERYTHING!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Reflections on the Meaning of "What the Church Should Do/Be"...

When we make statements such as:

  • the “church” should do...
  • the “church” should be...

Exactly what do we mean? The word “church” seems to have too many meanings and the meaning often depends on the person making the statement. Let’s take a quick - and not necessarily well thought out look - at what these statements might mean uttered by an insider and uttered by an outsider.

Let’s be clear here. We’re talking about Christian churches. There are, no doubt, other bodies that might identify themselves a “church” although with the bad rap that the Christian church has consistently gotten I’m not sure that’s such a wise move; and here I am saying that as a Christian church goer!

So, let’s start from the inside. Most Christians agree that the church should help the poor and needy. Most Christians believe the church should spread God’s word. But what does that mean? Sometimes this is used as a form of criticism, implying that the church doesn’t do enough of what it should be doing, if doing any of it at all. At other times it could be a call, almost a command to the church to actually do whatever it is that we’re supposing it should be doing.

Hence, the first form “should do” could be a gentle encouragement, a command, a criticism. It could even be an explanation and even an apologetic. This innocuous term “should do” turns up in so many forms but I feel its most insidious form is the form of negative criticism.

The issue here is that when you get a bunch of church goers, insiders as it were, all debating what the church should be doing, they paradoxically forget what the church should be doing: being a witness to the kingdom of God, inviting all to a change of heart that they might share in the life of the triune God.

Trust me, when you see church goers all in heated debate with each other they’re not always particularly nice about it. If you sense one person or faction is really throwing metaphorical “brick bats” at the other side you’re probably not seeing things. They very well might be.

Outsiders, I sense, use the two words in the same sense and more for constructive or negative criticism. The problem is that they often fail to identify that although there is “one holy, catholic and apostolic” church they’re not all one denomination. The biggest confusion that I find outsiders committing using these two forms is that they honestly don’t quite know to what they are referring.

Not all churches are mega-churches. Not all church goers like the types of services typified by the Hill Song church. Not all churches enjoy liturgical garb. Some churches seem not to exist for a reason that Jesus might recognise at all. This doesn’t mean one can suddenly turn around and say “The church should do/be...” simply on the basis of that one church or part of a church.

Is this a problem of English usage? Yes and no. Today the word “church” often holds negative connotations for outsiders and even some insiders and the word “should” upsets our individualistic, “I did it my way” enlightened attitude. Given these, it might be somewhat useful to unravel the words and find something less likely to cause an unproductive squabble, rant or rave and something that actually discusses what the church should be or should do in a calm, civilised manner.

Different Ways We Use Church

Different Ways We Use “Church”

When we say “church” we could mean:

  • a church building
  • a church parish we belong to
  • a church denomination within orthodox Christianity
  • a denomination that is not within orthodox Christianity (but still claims to be Christian)
  • a congregation

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Spirtuality Yes / Church No?

Jesus Yes - Church No

I work within the IT industry and specifically as a computer programmer. Although it is always somewhat dubious to “extend” one’s limited perspective “onto” others it seems that many people in the IT industry with whom I work and associate do not accept any of the canonical gospel’s accounts of what Jesus proclaimed.

Consequently, my experience with the people I tend to work with and share a professional life with is a decided “Jesus NO!”

Furthermore, the churches of various denominations have all been embroiled in varying degrees of turmoil. These range from sex scandals that have been covered up through to evangelists who seem more concerned about using donations to fund their own life styles rather than helping the poor, needy and outcast.

Consequently, my experience here with the people I tend to work with and share a professional life with is a decided “Church NO!” and sometimes worse “I wish it never existed.”

Spirituality Yes - Church No

I must say that people within the IT industry seem quite impervious to spirituality and religion including Christianity. Those who are either tend to lie low. This may be because people in the IT industry tend to consider themselves somewhat more rational than others - something I would contend is not actually true - and tend to rely more on some form of scientific method to determine what happens in the world.

This “scientific method” appears to be “any method not involving spirituality or religion.”

That said, if I were to expand into my acquaintances there is some truth to this matter. Understanding “church” as “Christian church” (as opposed to, say a Buddhist Temple), most of my friends do have some form of spiritual beliefs or at least respect the spiritual beliefs of others.

But most of them are quick to point out the church’s shortcomings.

Where do I sit? I’m the odd guy in the IT industry who likes to have a Bible (or two) sitting on his desk, who isn’t afraid to patiently discuss what being Christian means to me with my fellow colleagues and who isn’t of the fundamentalist, bible bashing, I am always right variety.