Since I have published 33 posts this year (since late May), I thought listing the top 10 might be overkill. So instead I give you the top 3 posts of 2011 (not including the Home page (#2) or the About page (#3))
- The Gospel according to Love Wins
- Is Rob Bell a Universalist? (or what does Love Wins actually teach)
- What is Orthodox?
Since all three relate to Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, I thought I would include a link to his farewell letter to Mars Hill Church which was posted a couple of days ago. I will also share a couple of interesting observations from that letter. These observations are not about Mars Hill since I am not part of that community, but rather reflecting on my own ideas about church and community using the letter as a springboard.
[update: Christianity Today posted the top 10 news stories of 2011 and Rob Bell was #1]
One of the main ideas that jumped out of this letter was the need for the church to be a vibrant and active community that focuses on Jesus. About Mars Hill, Bell writes that:
there is an essence to this place, a spirit. that’s how organizations and institutions and movements and causes are: they develop patterns and energies that manifest themselves in fairly consistent ways over time. and you know it the moment you walk through the door. you size a place up, you catch what’s in the air, you read the body language of a place. you’re here because of the essence and spirit of this place. people are welcome here, and they know it. Christ is alive here, healing people and liberating people and giving new life. there is mission here, cause, purpose beyond these walls. and you know it. i know it.
it’s a reverent hum just below the surface of everything we do here. you can taste it, feel it, smell it.
don’t mess with that. protect that, preserve that.
you know what i’m talking about.
I have never been to Mars Hill, but I do know what Bell is talking about. When my wife and I were searching for a church home – before I was even a Christian in fact – we walked into Immanuel Bible Church. I could sense that this place was different. It was buzzing and people seemed excited to be there. It was just as Bell described. Once we settled into our seats I heard God’s Word taught and proclaimed in ways I had never heard before. I wanted to know more and I knew we had found our church home. Sometime later I came to know Christ, but that is a story for another time. Many years later my wife and I found ourselves and our two young children once again looking for a church that we could call home. We had moved from Alexandria and were eager to find a local place where we could connect and serve. After searching for awhile we stumbled across Chantilly Bible Church, where once again we walked through those doors and knew we had found our new home.
Bell continues explaining the challenge Mars Hill – and every church – faces:
i write this to you because of how many of you have been challenged about your participation in the life of this church, often with the accusation: but what do they believe over there at mars hill?
Always a good question to ask – what do they believe at this church? The difference between our first and second search for a church was that during the second one we made sure to read the doctrinal statements for each church we considered online. Because we learned that for all that excitement in the community to mean something – at least something that has eternal meaning – it must be Christ centered and preach the truth.
Here Bell hedges a bit in my opinion:
as if belief, getting the words right, is the highest form of faith.
Jesus came to give us life. a living, breathing, throbbing, pulsating blow your hair back/tingle your spine/roll the windows down and drive fast/experience of God right here, right now.
word taking on flesh and blood.
beware of those who will take the flesh and want to turn it back into words
No argument here – Jesus did come to give us life. And certainly being a disciple of Jesus is more than intellectual assent to a set of facts. It is absolutely about a community that loves and serves others. But the church is also called to be a pillar of truth.
Erik Cooper in a recent post quotes Ravi Zacharias:
“Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live.”
That’s the message I want on my billboard.
Me too. Based on the content of Love Wins and answers that Bell has given in interviews I have to disagree that Jesus is only interested in how we live and that doctrine and orthodoxy is whatever we want to make it out to be. Christianity is based on historical events and definitive beliefs – captured in words – that are as old as the church itself. I guess that would be clear for anyone who has read the top posts.
Because what you believe matters – it defines who you are and how you live. Words and flesh or doctrine and faith lived well – this should not be an either or equation.
Theology must be applied. Knowledge without love is not good (1 Cor 13) but neither is zeal without knowledge (Rom 10:2; Gal 1:14). Going to either extreme can get a church in trouble. To much focus on beliefs and we may end up creating a great doctrinal statement but a lifeless church where love is not lived out. Swing the other way and a focus on actions over beliefs and we may may create a community that loves much but that ultimately leads many away from the kingdom.
The writers of Scripture sought this balance. James contends with someone who says they have faith (doctrine) but fails to live that out. To this person, James challenges them to live out the Christian life by loving others. John warns that a person can have true assurance only if they are loving others, but emphasizes the eternal life as the source of truth. In both cases we expressed the need to have an active faith that is lived out. On the other extreme, Paul warns us in both Colossians and Ephesians that without sound doctrine we are prone to be captivated by empty philosophies and deceitful doctrines. He also warned the Ephesians elders that they must guard against false and destructive doctrines and pass on sound doctrine to others who will in turn teach others. This is essential because (as Hebrews 6 tells us) maturity is based on moving beyond elementary doctrine so that we have the proper foundation to live out a life of faith. That is why Paul’s letters exhibit a common structure. In the first part of a letter he covers doctrine (belief explained) because it is the foundation for the second part (behaviors expected). The clearest example is the letter to the Ephesians.
So the life of the church is building a community where the foundation is sound doctrine and the result is an active life of faith that is evident in love to others.
If it is not, that in part is the fault of the leaders. Which is another big idea in the letter. Bell reminds us that the leaders shape and mold the community and concludes:
so that’s the question you have as a leader, pastor, teacher,
the question you live with day in and day out: “are they getting it?”
The take away here is that as a leader, a pastor, or a teacher we are responsible for helping people “get it”. We need to ask ourselves is what we are doing effective in creating a church environment where people can find Christ, grow together, and mature into disciples. And if you already have that in your church are you actively fostering it to continue, protecting and preserving it so that when new people show up they sense that when they walk in the door.
That is the challenge of 2012 (and every year)- to foster a community where disciples are made.
and a place where truth is taught and love abounds. May God help more churches succeed in these goals.