A Community Of Our Own Making

My coffee cup is almost empty. I’ve spent some time reading posts and comments on some of my favorite blogs. My mind has been stirred theologically, pastorally, and in my own humanity. I am considering some changes to the format of my blog, but not all that seriously.

So what does any of this have to do with anything? Community, namely the composition  and nature of community.

Postmodern thinking has helped us consider how we identify our community. Technology has given us the ability to redefine community–or at least redefine the geographic scope of community–in ways that created both perplexing problems and unprecedented opportunities.

For instance, in the time I spent reading a couple of my professor’s blogs this morning, I might have been able to spend with some one else face to face. Geographically, I am a good day’s drive away from the school. In a physical sense I am no longer part of that community. I am physically part of another community, namely the church that I pastor.

Does the “virtual community” augment, or distract from “real community”? (I place these terms in quotes as I am not sure that the distinctions are even close to being valid.)

As I see it, the “virtual community” and the “real community” co-exist symbiotically, albeit it an asymmetrical priority. As I see it, “real” face to face community, the breaking of bread, tangible expressions of communion, must always take priority. At the same time, this “real community” speaks through me to the “virtual community” and the “virtual community” in a sense becomes joined to the “real” for the simple reason that I am shaped and informed by both.

Perhaps, in some sense, the “virtual community” permits the “real community” to taste a little of the restored communion of the promised new creation. Instead of being cut off and in isolation, cast out into a diaspora of sorts, we can extend the circle of communion far beyond geographical limitations.

That said, perhaps the danger of the “virtual community” is that we become satisfied with the extended communion instead of longing for the restoration of communion in the new creation.

Lord, may we never be content with a communion of our own making.

When Words Lose Their Meaning

I have been thinking about words lately. Specifically the words that make up our typical Christian parlance. Words like “worship”, “saved” or phrases like “personal relationship” (isn’t “personal relationship” something of an oxymoron?). We use these words freely in Christian settings, but do we really know what they mean?

I have this growing unease that we have become far more familiar with these terms than we have with the Biblical concepts behind them.

For instance, does our common use of the word “worship” reflect the Biblical concepts of worship? Does singing music that stirs a pleasant reverent emotional state equal Biblical worship? Jesus spoke of worshipping “in spirit and in truth.” Is there a connection between pleasant feelings and worshipping in spirit and in truth? The picture gets even fuzzier when we consider OT worship. (I am foregoing an excursus into the original languages here even though if adds fuel to my unease, but  this post is on “words” not the specifics of the theological implications of the “words.”) The bottom line is this, can the majority of Christians offer a definition of worship that would stand up to the test of being Biblical?

(I concede here that even the term “Biblical” is problematic.)

How about “saved”. Saved from what? Saved for what? It seems that saved has become a coded way of saying things like justified, reconciled and redeemed. That is fine if we understand what is behind the short fomr term “saved,” but again, how well is it understood?

The latest one to trouble me is the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” I have been a Christian long enough to know what this means…at least what it means to me.  Is it strictly speaking Biblical, or is it a derivative concept?  The Pharisees had a relationship with Jesus, albeit rather acrimonious.  So what does “relationship” mean?

Those of you who know me reasonably well will understand that I am not simply stirring the pot or questioning the basics of the Christian faith. I am also not implying a lack of intellect on the part of Christians, far from it. If anything, it is academia that is responsible for pumping out a steady stream of words and phrases that mean something to someone. All I am doing here is stepping back and asking foundational questions.

When words or phrases become overly familiar, we risk teaching the terms rather than the foundational concepts that stand behind the terms. What is worse is that we risk unintentionally creating a Christianity that is divorced from what Jesus taught and the Apostles provided a witness to.

The real and present danger is that of idolatry. If our common knowledge and faith is divorced from its foundations, we have a religion of our own making. Words do matter. What they mean matters even more. If postmodernity has taught us anything, it is that we ought not to presume the meaning of words, especially those with eternal consequences. 


I have been intending to write on lament for some time, but when ever I sat down to write a post on lament, I had the sense that there was something lacking in my understanding. While I thought that I had a grip on historical Biblical lament as found in the Psalms, I needed to break out of the box to complete the conceptual transfer to pastoral ministry.

In this past month I have jumped out of the academic world into pastoral ministry. This first month has been deeply challenging. Specifically (but devoid of details) I have watched people face the loss of a love one. While age catches up with all of us, this individual was younger than I am. The reality of the pain and suffering experienced in this world became poignant if not pungent.

My struggle with lament is this, if Biblical lament such as the Psalmist’s is directly connected with the covenant and rightful covenantal expectations, what is appropriate lament for the Christian?

The Psalmist’s complaint (such as Psalm 44 for one) is not just complaining about life, it is a complaint rooted in  covenantal expectations. This leads to the question, what part of, if any, do these covenantal expectations apply to the Church today? How does this relate to suffering and loss in our context?

The quick answer is that we must turn to the New Covenant. This leads to the next question of what is our rightful expectations under the New Covenant. I do wonder if the common expectations of North American Christian’s really line up with what Jesus promised. A quick read of the Sermon on the Mount casts some doubt in my mind.

Setting aside such broad generalities, allow me to return to a somewhat more specific lament event, the suffering of illness and loss.

The New Covenant does not promise that we will not suffer. Suffering is part of the human experience in this present life. While the sting of death is gone, the reality of it is not. People suffer, be it physically or emotionally. Life is messy and not always pleasant. What the New Covenant does promise is that in the resurrection suffering is no more.

 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (ESV, Revelation 21:3-4)

The Psalmist’s laments would have us acknowledge above all else that God is God and we are not. The laments often look forward to a sure resolution cast in stone, but not necessarily fully realized by the Psalmist. This is the now and not yet that we live in. Yet, God knows a glorious future that He only gives us a teasing glimpse of.

Like the Psalmist, when faced with troubling questions, the unanswered “why”, the “how long” we must turn to God in faith, looking to the ultimate fulfillment of the New Covenant. We ought to join with the Psalmist in his lament and cry out,

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me (Psalm 13:5-6).

Yet the Christian lament goes beyond even a declaration of trust. The closing verses of the book of Revelation provide the final word on lament.

“Come Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

This is the Christian lament.