Saturday, September 22, 2012

Not a Democracy

Have you ever heard someone declare in the context of church governance, "The kingdom of God is not a democracy!" I thought I would unpack that one a bit.

First of all, motive. The situation which typically brings up this say is one in which some people object to a decision by leaders in their church and some others, maybe the leaders themselves, want them to shut up, knuckle down, and toe the line (love that string of idiomatic metaphor phrases.) So what's really meant by "the kingdom of God is not a democracy" really means is "somebody else, somebody merely earthly, that is, is your boss, so deal with it." Motivation seems to point to coercion.

Secondly, how it is true. Because obviously it is true. We have one king, Jesus, who, if you follow Nebuchadnezzar's dream in the book of Daniel, has a kingdom that 1) was not given to him by any man, 2) is an everlasting kingdom (I suspect that is because he's never going to die again) and 3) beats the best, most glorious, and strongest kingdoms man can produce. So yes, it's not a democracy. It's a monarchy with an utterly deserving king as its head.

Thirdly, what's being left out. Our monarchy, the kingdom of God has a feature that is different from every single earthly kingdom ever. That is the ability, nay, the pleasurable obligation of all of the subjects of the kingdom to engage in frequent bi-directional communication with the king himself. It's almost as if people can sometimes experience the kingdom as if it was populated by just two, the king and you. So you can and ought to be ruled by the king here and now, with no go-betweens.

Fourthly,  the inherent error. When people say a thing like "The kingdom of God is not a democracy!" (and you really must include the exclamation mark) what they are envisioning loosely as alternative to democracy is something akin to feudal rule. In a feudal system, the dukes hold their rule as a gift of the king, the earls' holdings are assigned them by the dukes, and the lords and baronets receive their right to own land and rule from the earls. Or something like that. At the bottom of the ladder are serfs. They have no rights. All they receive are orders from the lords above them. For those who wag their finger in your face and decry democracy in the church, you are the serf. Shut up and obey (for there's no other way?) But hold on a minute, whose subjects are we? Not theirs. We have (as I said before) one king, Jesus. So then if everyone can and ought to hear from our Lord, then we have something very much akin to democracy after all. Except that ideally it is not the will of the people being expressed, but rather His will expressed through all his people. That's probably what he meant when he told leaders not to lord it over their people. 

Finally, if they really meant it. If the feudal, hierarchical view of the church implicit in the way this is said, was really the last word in church government, that means that nobody should ever disagree, or should ever have disagreed to the point of parting ways, with any leader in the church. This means that Martin Luther was wrong, Ulrich Zwingli was wrong, John Calvin was wrong and Menno Simons was really wrong. After all, they all disagreed sharply and finally with the Roman Catholic system and their feudal lords, the bishops, the cardinals and the Pope and instead went what they understood to be God's way -- we will obey God rather than men -- away from their rule. But if they are really as wrong as this phrase implies, then those who are against democracy in the church should ultimately undo that wrong and accept spiritual serfdom in a kingdom exactly like one they envision. Needless to say, few ever will.

I like our brother Paul's phrase, "What shall we say, then?" In this case I would say, "Listen to the King." He will not lead us into useless dissension. He will not lead us into quarrels. He will lead us into servanthood. But he will not lead us into servitude. And he will not lead us into prostrating ourselves before our brothers and sisters as if they were more representative of the King than we are ourselves. The kingdom of God is not a democracy, but when his people gather, I believe there should be an element of democracy there, or we are not honouring his relationship with each of our fellow subjects.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

More on Prayer

(INSERTION) I'm somewhat ashamed of this post. I obviously wasn't thinking that clearly. I stand by some of it, but some of it has to be addressed (END INSERTION)

This week I was forwarded an announcement of a prayer conference/seminar that's happening in my area. Now besides the tone of the brochure itself, which was as sad an example of Christian grandstanding and namedropping as I've ever seen (here's the brochure, have a look at the blurb about the speaker. See if you agree with me. It seems to be all about who she's associated with and what "Apostolic" councils she's on) , it's the focus of the whole thing makes me wonder.

The focus of the conference is 'Strategic Prayer.'  Alright, I'm going to have to be careful what I say. I just recently posted a "howto" on praying for healing and some of it has an if not strategic, then at least a tactical element to it. Why would strategic prayer be any different. Well it's just this. Prayer is something we do with our friend, our Father. The strategy would seem to be on his end, not ours. Strategic prayer gives me the impression of an exercise in which we try to get around him by making darn sure we only ask for the right stuff at the right time with the right words... Well if you can't take it further on to "... with the right circles and diagrams traced on the floor at the zenith of the waning crescent moon..." I know I can. It looks to me like Christian magic.

I'm actually all wrong in my impression. I'm making a semantic error here. My impression is actually about tactics, not strategy. Yes, there is an element of Christian magic (you might say wacky tactics) in some of our prayers that I would like address. But strategy is an overarching direction, a focus, that could legitimately be communicated by a prayer leader in the context of a meeting. Heck, I do it all the time.

So on sober second thought, I'll have to do some research on the strategy that will be apparently be presented at this conference, the "seven mountains." I've heard of it off and on for a few years now, and what I heard did not impress me much, but I'll have a look.

Praying is where encounter God and he lets us in on what he's doing and we add our prayer to action, not that he needs our help, but he graciously lets us get involved. "Daddy, can I try?" It's not primarily  about strategy, but rather intimacy.


What I'm doing here is actually promoting one strategy over another. The strategy of listening first appeals to me a whole lot more than taking on the seven mountains.

But, you might say, if you're into the strategic prayer thing, "what about binding demons over my home town?" or "What about conquering the seven mountains?' to which I can only answer, if God has led you  into praying that way, go ahead. But if you're going to teach prayer, try to stay within models found in scripture, especially the one given by Jesus. "When you pray, pray like this..."

Still fuzzy about tactics and strategy here. Binding demons is a tactic; conquering the the seven mountains is a strategy. I still think that both tactics and strategy should arise from the life, practise and teaching of Jesus primarily and everything else is open to question.

I'm sure I don't have the whole picture. But after reading that brochure, I'll pass for now.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stuff to Remember

Last night I was part of a conversation that included a side reference to observing remembrance day in church (since it actually falls on a Sunday.) Last two years we've reeled off names of Canadian soldiers who died that year for us to remember. I think there are possibly a number of other things to remember as well. Here's my list. I should mention that this has been heavily influenced by a coworker's impressions of a history of World War II -- a book that demonstrates conclusively to his mind, and I think that he's got a pretty good one, that there were no good guys in that war. So, the list.

People first.
Several categories of victims come to mind.
Let's start with those whom the military arrogantly call collateral damage. Innocent bystanders who die because of war. Simple. Remember them.
Then let's remember the homeless and orphans through war, and their suffering. Finally let's remember the children of the future who will simply have less through the wanton wastage of resources by the armies of the world.

Along with victims, I'd like to remember the courageous and faith-filled ones who refuse to bow to the god of war. They, just like the young Hebrew men in Daniel, believe that God is able to save his people without resorting to carnal force, and resolve that even if He doesn't, they will not sacrifice their consciences to their countries or the forces of culture around them. Some of these have suffered horribly for their righteous stand throughout the centuries. Read this.

Other stuff.
Try the law of unintended consequences for example.
The fact is that war seldom accomplishes what it sets out to do. Every treaty contains the seeds of the next conflict. Every military ally has the possibility of becoming an enemy next. The evil Taliban of the present and the gallant, freedom fighting Mujahadeen of the past are, as I understand it, the same people. World War II, the popular no. 1 example of a just war, was a weird trade off where we took out Hitler by enabling Stalin.

Remember the adage that says that the first casualty of war is the truth. The implication is that people who believe the government's story about the state of the world and therefore enlist are perhaps not firstly heroes but dupes. Let us hope not. I have friends who have had military careers and they're not. But whole nations have been duped. No doubt about that.

Remember that today's generals march not into the front with their men. Soldiers who enlist as men are reduced to being someone else's pawns. Ugly but true.

Finally my choice for a remembrance day hymn.
The coda from Bruce Cockburn's It's Goin' Down Slow suits my mood for this Remembrance Day.

God, damn the hands of glory
That hold the bloody firebrand high
Close the book and end the story
Of how so many men have died
Let the world retain in memory
That mighty tongues tell mighty lies
And if mankind must have an enemy
Let it be his warlike pride
Let it be his warlike pride

Monday, September 10, 2012

Defense in Depth

I took a course on computer security last May. Lots of review. Some new concepts. Some stuff repackaged under a new name. Language is fascinating that way. If you have some idea you want people to remember, an alliterative phrase is a means to that end. A very prominent example from this course was "Defense in Depth." Isn't that catchy? It's a simple, and ideally speaking, pervasive, way of looking at computer security. It means you don't depend on only one way to keep your computers secure. Anti-virus software protects against one kind of attack. Firewalls protect against other kinds of attacks. Good passwords protect against other kinds of attack. Building security protects against yet another attack vector. Defense in Depth means you do your level best in each area. (Do All the Things)

I thought of it the other day when I was praying with a friend of mine. He was seeing a negative pattern developing in his life and at some level he wasn't just needing to help himself (i.e. to simply stop it) -- he also needed help, and in fact he was planning to go to counselling about the problem. But as it turned out, another dimension of help was also needed. As we prayed we discerned that there was a demon involved. We invited Jesus to deal with the demon and He did. Gone. Freedom. Hurrah! But my friend still planned to go to counselling, and furthermore we talked through some thought-based strategies to avoid the negative pattern in the future. Defense in Depth.

It came up again at a prayer meeting last Saturday. The raison d'etre of the meeting is essentially to pray for revival in our church. but typically at the end people bring up personal needs as time allows. Someone had a back problem and when we prayed, and, I might add, for only a short time, the pain went away. (When healings are that easy, it says to me that God is on the move.) But that wasn't the end of it. One of the group praying brought forth some counsel for our friend in the area of nutrition. Defense in Depth.

Point is, there's no one magic bullet. Jesus heals a man, and tells him to stop sinning to keep from further injury. He also talks about demons being driven out but coming back later to see if there is anything hindering a re-occupation. Life is a complex thing. Build on a good foundation in every respect. Defense in Depth.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Atheism Is Only a Symptom

There's a story I read as a child that still fascinates me. A town in China was expecting to "receive" a new allotment of "foreign devils," missionaries that is, and some discussion arises as to where they would be housed. "Why not put them in the house at the end of such and such a street. It's  haunted by demons-- they won't stay here long." "Good idea." So the western (American, British, Canadian, I don't know) family arrives and they are oblivious to the demonic realities around them. Realities that everyone in the town can see, know how to see, have known how from birth. The missionary family blithely moves into the haunted house and the towns people wait to see the demons attack. What they see instead is the demons fleeing through the windows, fleeing from these blind westerners, who for all their unawareness, carry the presence of Someone the demons fear. Some in town convert to Christianity on the basis of this obvious demonstration of power, and they tell the missionaries, only to be surprised that the missionaries never even knew what had happened.

I chatted about this story with someone who was recently as missionary in an Asian country, who said it's still this way. Haunted houses are cheaper to rent, and you sometimes have to pray through them to clear away the spiritual cobwebs.

Here's the deal. What I've just related has no place in the materialistically oriented minds of my generation. We don't see, don't sense, don't believe in ghosts, demons or anything. Whatever unseen organ in us that senses, intuitively understands, grasps, gets whatever is spiritual around us has, through that materialistic worldview, atrophied to the point of amputation, such that for us to actually experience God or anything else spiritual, is oh so close to impossible. And the ironic thing is that although we are a blind minority in the world, we think of ourselves as having grown up past all the superstitious "idiots" who actually still can sense what we can't. And we think we are the advanced ones.

I mentioned in an earlier post about materialism and Christianity. Materialistic Christianity is a ludicrous thing. On one hand, you have a world, real because that's all we will allow in our minds, of nothing but what you can see, or test for empirically. But, oh oh, we still believe in God, so we will tack on to our lonely universe the idea of a Creator. (I'm not even going to explore what our impoverished worldview has done to the story of redemption. That would make a study!) We read the Bible and ignore the stuff that makes us nervous. Call them fables. Or, if our tradition won't let us call them fables, let's dichotomize. At all costs, let us avoid being confronted with our foolish notion of a materialistic-only world. Let's teach that all of those miracles were for a different time. God's not doing that kind of thing anymore...

And this is the kind of Christianity many of my friends grew up in. No wonder some have turned to atheism. At least two I know, have, after a period of asking God to make himself known to them, so that they could really believe, given up completely and concluded he's not even there. But it's like trying to use a radio that has only a transmit and not a receive channel. The ingrained materialism has made it impossible to hear God's answer. Furthermore when they are around people who really do communicate with God, they are to inclined ignore them as foolish and superstitious. Human nature is not naturally humble. Instead of regretting one's own blindness, it's easy to switch over to superiority-- "We've outgrown superstition..." As C.S.Lewis put it, we've "seen through what [we] haven't even seen."

 Where does this leave us? Well as far as I know the only thing that changes worldview is experience. Let us continue to pray for miraculous signs and wonders, just like the first church in Acts did, so that the blinders are shaken off and even our materialistic generation can be saved.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Healing, Ornery Style

I like praying for healing. Especially when it works. Thursday I got to pray for a co-worker who has some kind of chronic pain. She checked back with me about an hour later and it was about fifty percent less. Another co-worker (I do work in a faith-based agency after all) commented that my prayers were "more effective" than hers, because she hadn't seen the same results praying for healing for the same situation. (Co-worker number 2 wasn't really being fair to herself, actually. The two of them pray together regularly and that is a greatly sustaining force in both their lives.) But what she said about effectiveness made me think. Could it be that in my crazy ongoing attempts to see God's kingdom come through healing, I have stumbled upon something that works, something that could work even better if put into the hands of that multitude who are holier and closer to God than I ever could be? Well if so, the attempt to transmit it should be made. So here goes. This my take-it-or-leave-it subjective and ornery guide to praying for physical healing.

 1) Be aware of the Holy Spirit moving through you. How you do this is your business. Just thinking about the Spirit sometimes is enough, A spoken invitation might be your thing. I think it just as valid to invite the Spirit as to make yourself specially aware that he's always with you. Really there's not much functional difference. Ultimately the goal is to be a conduit for his power to flow through. Yes, you're going to have to feel something. I get a sort of tingly feeling. Some people feel heat. (Did I mention this is subjective?)
2) With the permission of the one being prayed for, lay your hand on or near the part of the body with the problem.
3) Tell the body part to get better, tell the pain to go away, something like that. Believe that God has actually given you the authority to heal. That means it's your job to call it. Use the imperative mood -- tell the thing to happen. Keep it simple, though. As soon as you start discussing medical conditions with God, you are praying for healing in a way that Jesus never did. And try not to experiment with catchphrases that you've heard. "Come into alignment", and "I plead the blood." are near useless as far as I'm concerned.
4) Wait. Relax your hand. Expect, feel God's power flowing through your hand. This is something I've picked up recently. I used to imagine that I was a wizard or a Lord (see the 1st Thomas Covenant Trilogy) directing fire from my hand at something and burning it up. This is pretty well the opposite operation to ministering God's power. Funny thing about the wizard thing is that my hand tenses up and it seems to choke off the flow of God's power. On the occasion I mentioned, when I relaxed, I actually felt the tingling move down my arm and it seemed to enter the body of my co-worker.
5) You can't pray forever. (It's just not feasible) so if you have no, or incomplete results, you have to conclude with something. I usually ask God to remain in the location where the problem is and complete the healing.

Lots more could be said.  But this is stuff that (I think) I've learned.