Thursday, December 8, 2011

my thoughts on Rick Warren's service event: a reactionary piece.

in reponse to Erik Raymond's "What are we saying when we cancel church services in favor of community service?"

Ok, so first off, I know almost nothing about Erik, so I hope that this does not come off as offensive. Love over everything. Also, I am not necessarily gung-ho for Rick Warren either as I admittedly have not read any of his literature; my position about what I’m going to say is strictly in reaction to the blog (?) that Erik posted here -->

First, I would like to commend Rick Warren on his event; 20,000 people is an amazing number of people acting out God’s love.

In answer to Erik’s “the Good”

I agree that this number of people doing good in their community in the name of Christ is an encouraging thing; so, I only want to add to Erik’s comments here. Acts of service is more than simply an idea in Christianity, but it is indeed what Christ acts out in his ministry. As Christians, we are trying to be like Christ; Bottom line. We are not trying to imitate the religion, Christianity, but the man who started the movement. There is a lot to be learned from our Church history, but this goes in positives and negatives (for example, hospitals set up by the beguines versus the “holy” crusades). We need to remember that the formal church is our family history and in order to be effective, we must imitate the successes by following the heart of Christ instead of simply doing church because it’s what we do.

In answer to Erik’s “the Concern”

First I would like to point out the logic behind your initial concern. The way you have set up the dilemma is as follows:

N = Nebraska game is on
W = Wedding
C = Formal Church Service
S = Acts of Service
~ = negation
H = Holy
> = greater than

If N, then ~W
Therefore, N >W
W is H

 So if all this is true, then the following must also be true

C is H
if S, then ~C
Therefore, S > C

The problem with this logic is that it all hinges on one premise: the commonality that weddings and church services are Holy in some way.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that people won’t get the idea that S > C, but I think that this is kind of a Slippery Slope of an idea to ride down since it’s not really based on the necessity of people following this train of thought. One might just as easily say that ~W or N (either you don’t want a weddings or you do want to watch the Nebraska game). It really comes down to just that. Maybe a small group of people will choose to watch the game over having the wedding, but the fact that they still want the wedding eventually is grounds enough to say that N > W is not a deductively necessary conclusion from the first premise (If N, then ~W).

I agree that this is getting exactly at the debate over the mission of the church and I think Erik draws the dichotomy well:

“Are churches primarily called to the ministry of the word and sacrament or the ministry of mercy in the community?”

While I think this is set up well, I think Erik poses a false dichotomy immediately following:

“If the former you prioritize the church gathered. If the latter then this type of thing is easier to do.”

What I mean by this false dichotomy is that there are other options or reactions to the issue that are not being acknowledged here. For example one other reaction might be:

“if the former, you take the word of the gospel to people outside of the formal church and teach them about sacraments in everyday conversation; If the latter then you will drop everything you own materially and devote your life to serving people much like St. Francis did in giving up his birthright.”

What this response poses is a “both/and” approach to the issue. The false dichotomy comes in and says “there are only 2 options”, the both/and comes in and says “but wait, I have a third”. I’m not saying that the both/and is necessarily right; I’m only saying that posing it as a dichotomy, doesn’t really seem to capture the entire issue.

In Christ’s ministry, he often served people and healed them where they were hurting when they were hurting; much like Saddleback Church is doing. He also, however was a pious Jew and made sure to not neglect the traditions that teach us who we are. And finally (and I would say most importantly), Jesus was all about relationships. He didn’t set out to make a religion; if that were the plan, he would have wrote a book or, dare I say it, come as the Messiah that the Jews expected: knight in shining armor, there to slay their oppressors and rule the earthly kingdom of Israel. But this is not Jesus’ method; instead, he starts making friends. That’s it. He goes around and meets people and forms relationships with them and then lets them write about him and tell his story later.

To me, this means that the proper reaction to the question “is the church’s primary calling to word and sacrament or mercy in the community?” is “well, what did Jesus do while he was here?” and the answer to that is “Jesus did both”. So I don’t think we can look at what Rick Warren is doing as flexing between two options, but simply exercising the other arm (pardon the work-out metaphor) or being more Christ-like in action.

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”                -- Heb. 10:25 (KJV)

I looked up the verse Erik gave in Hebrews and initially, I agree that it appears to say “you must have an assembly of Christians formally”. Upon closer inspection, however, the word used in this verse that gets translated as “forsaking” is Egkataleipo (transliteration) in the Greek which is to say abandon, desert or to leave behind. I hardly think that Rick Warren is encouraging his church to abandon meeting formally all together. Furthermore, in this verse, the word translated as “exhorting” is Parakaleo (transliteration) in the Greek which means to summon, to admonish, to beseech,  to instruct, to teach, to console, to encourage and strengthen, to comfort. To me, this sounds like an interesting way to say “be in relationship with each other more and more as we see the big Day approaching”. It is framing the way Christians should act from a context of teaching, comforting, consoling and strengthening, but implies a sense of someone asking for this to be done. I believe in my core that the people being served on the day that Rick Warren cancels “church” will feel comforted, will be encouraged and strengthened and by this, they will learn what it means to be a Christian. I don’t think they will immediately think to the doctrine of what the church’s calling is, though they (unfortunately) may be shocked that a church is doing this; instead I think they will be attracted to Christ the same way that the marginalized were attracted to Him while he was on earth in human form.

I contend that it is, in fact, good for people to see that the church’s priorities include them. I don’t think that Rick Warren’s actions show that the church doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be doing, but that the bottom line is that Christ is all about people. Saturday would work for something like this also, but by doing it on a Sunday and canceling what people think is the entirety of what it means to be the church, Rick Warren is teaching (Heb. 10:25) his congregation and the people that they touch that there is more to Christianity than filling a pew and this is how to do that part also. Many don’t know how to practice acts of service, so what better way to show them, but to use time that they have already blocked off for God to do God’s work.


I want to say to Erik, that I apologize if my response seems offensive; please believe that there could be nothing farther from the truth. Part of the universal church’s beauty comes in her diversity of opinions.  I only wish to point out that the Great Commandment (Love God and then Love people) fits well within the Great Commission (preaching, teaching and making disciples). Teaching someone something doesn’t necessarily mean instructing; I learned most of what I know about cars by working on my own in the garage with my father-in-law. Making disciples, means making Disciples of Christ; to be a disciple of Christ means to be a pupil or adherent to what Christ was all about. What better way to be a pupil of Christ but to imitate him. Again, I think logically, it’s a far jump to say that this one event that Saddleback Church is having is going to sway people’s opinions on what the mission of the church is (hundreds of years of intentional debate hasn’t even accomplished this) and furthermore, I can’t see a single reason why we have to separate a traditional faith (that is, tradition oriented) from a practical faith (that is, one that is out there living what you say you believe).

As I said in the beginning of my response, Love over everything.

The Dread

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