Church

Can’t We All Just Get Along? The Church of Us vs. Them: A Conversation with David Fitch

How many times have you read a Facebook/Blog post that insists, “If your pastor didn’t say anything about [most recent social injustice], you need to find a new church?” Maybe you have used this lede in an attempt to raise attention to the latest illustration of failed immigration policy, how racism has gone underground or the ways our current economic structures insist on an indentured debtor class. All of these issues and more are important. But is it possible calling out the lack of attention given in some churches gives fuel to existing antagonisms that further divide?

David Fitch’s recently published, The Church of Us vs Them: Freedom from a Faith That Feeds on Making Enemies, takes aim at the antagonisms that distract the church from its call to be God’s faithful presence. It is a reversal of the reversal. Rather than live out allegiance to Jesus is Lord, discerning the faithful responses to conflicts with wisdom and grace, the church has often been caught up in antagonisms that deepen division. Fitch remarks that when he wrote, The End of Evangelicalism, ten years ago, never would he have imagined we would be where we are today in need of disassembling the enemy-making machinery in the church.

If you are new to David Fitch, he is the,

B. R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary Chicago, IL. He is also the founding pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community, a missional church in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago. He coaches a network of church plants in the C&MA linked to Life on the Vine. He writes on the issues the local church must face in Mission including cultural engagement, leadership and theology and has lectured and presented on these topics at many seminaries, graduate schools, denominational gatherings and conferences.

In The Church of Us vs Them, Fitch brings together ideas from at least two of his previous books, The End of Evangelicalism and Faithful Presence. The former is more academic analysis of Evangelicalism while the latter is more specifically an on mission ecclesiology. If there ever was a time for a work like this, it is now. We need someone to help us unwind the antagonisms that has left the church captive to ideologies of the Right and the Left as we deal with important issues that tend to bring out the worst in all of us.

Today on the podcast, David and I have a conversation about The Church of Us vs Them and more. I hope you will check out David’s other books. I think you will find an underlying trajectory that brings us to his current book. Check these out while you are ordering your copy of The Church of Us vs Them. For other of David’s books click here.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.

Freedom from the Tyranny of the Self or, You Are the Body

Often I take a manuscript into the pulpit. The preached sermon will vary. Below the post will be a link to the preached sermon.

Pastoral Prayer: Holy One, by the power of the Spirit Jesus came with the Good News. We risk missing it for we only hear the Law. Forgive us for taking the Good News and making it into a new law. By your grace set us free to love – all bodies, even your Church. And all God’s people say, Amen.

He would stand in the mirror before we left the cabin for evening worship. Upon checking out his hair and clothes he would declare, “I’m so pretty.” Just like that. The young man was years ahead of People Magazine’s, Sexiest Man Alive feature begun in 1985. People has since offered its award for the most attractive male annually. Notice, Michael declared himself pretty. People recognizes attractive as sexy.

My friend Jason, who has been here with us a couple of times, generally uses self-deprecating humor when talking about himself. Except, except, when talking about his baritone voice. His line about his voice? His line that he has used in a sermon or two? “I have a voice so manly it comes with its own chest hair.” How does he get away with it? Well, he is much younger than me. He is in a different denomination where he is assigned to his congregation. And, some may give him a pass since he carries in his body the death sentence of terminal cancer.

After thirty years as a full-time pastor, almost twenty-five of those years spent right here, I thought it high time we have a talk about the body. Not my body. After all, some of you know that Tommie picks me up every weekday at 5 a.m. in order to buffet my body. Remember, we are Baptists who tend to take the Scriptures literally and somewhere we misread buffet as buffet. The Apostle Paul wrote these words translated in the old American Standard Version,

But I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after all that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.

The more modern rendering, in for instance, the Christian Standard Bible,

Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

Ideas about the body, during and after the time the Apostle Paul would have written these words, assumed anything material was bad. The body is material. The body is bad. Undercurrents of this idea have run along the rails of human history. Today we witness the same idea in body shaming. Consider art from not too long ago and we see something very different from what you find in Men’s Quarterly or Vogue Magazine. Thin indicated poverty. Thick reflected wealth. The idealized images of today actually become a social law under which humanity suffers an incredible weight.

Eating disorders, yo-yo dieting, and so-called healthy eating all indicate the cruel imposition the law has on human beings. Did you hear that? When we work to understand how the Law functions to enforce expectations – social and moral – we get a better understanding of grace when we discover that we have been forgiven and set free from the law. Remember, the Apostle Paul reminds us that the power of Sin is in the law. 

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 

We are crushed beneath the weight of its constant reminder that we are not good enough, smart enough, strong enough or pretty enough. How can we fail to see that this is the most unifying human experience?

It is no different for the Church in the world today. The analogy works. Every ideal assigned to the Church becomes a law unto itself. The same power that works to shame the human body would enjoy nothing more than to shame the Church as God’s Body. The metaphor is right there, in the Scriptures. The Church does not do enough. Under the breath the specific charge is, The Church does not do what I want it to do. What that means is that the Church suffers the Body shaming normally expected from those on the outside only it comes when you or me idealize a vision for the Church from the inside.

It also means that a young pastor friend may be right. We were texting the other day and he sent this,

I came across [John] Wesley talking about how he’d not preach anything but justification to non-Christians or new Christians, sanctification only to those ready for meat. I think we are in a milk only moment.

My response? The response I sent back?

Given that many have conflated their faith, or understanding thereof, with American Civil Religion, I don’t know how we are not in a milk only moment.

The reference of course is to the Apostle Paul who described the need for us to move on from milk to meat. One thing about this working out regimen that Tommie lured me into is that it comes with a coach that knows her nutrition. Not only does she have the command of a drill sergeant, she also requires that we actually tell her what we are eating. Imagine that we are paying for this! When I open the Facebook App on my phone I wince when Julie has tagged me in a post. That means she is going to tell me that I have not been eating very well. Not enough protein, she scolds. 

I fill out the Diary of the My Fitness Pal App and hope that when I click the nutrition tab, I will feel the weight lifted. You know, the weight of not living up to the law of percentages. It is for my good. I do feel better. Little does she know that at my age no matter how well you eat or exercise, when the clock strikes 2 p.m. it is like Smokin’ Joe Fraizier delivered an uppercut and I am often looking for a power nap. Her insistence is that we are building muscle. I muse to myself. She does know what I do for a vocation, doesn’t she. Why normally we are poster folks for body shaming ourselves. I digress.

Our growth has been stunted by a low protein diet. We fail to build the muscle of resistance to the foods that have as their label, God and Country. There is no God and Country in the Scripture, particularly the New Testament. There is only an Empire that creates unhealthy conditions for its people. Look at conditions of the people Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61 – poor, captives, blind and oppressed. We think they describe others. But, under the banner of Country, Empire, that is us, all of us. Listen to the so-called religious leaders that consort with power. They have created for us a new law, bow or be ridiculed as disobedient. This is the milk of our diet. 

The law is every where. But the one place that it should not reign is in the Church. When we find the law in the Church, it usually comes under the pious conviction used in the sentence, “This is what our Church should be doing.” Whatever this is that is not connecting people with the grace of God is for some other organization, not the Body of Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described this as the wish dream. We bring our wish dreams to the Church and it disrupts our life together. How? Because the wish dream becomes the law for everyone else. This is the argument in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. 

Stand firm then and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

When we submit again to a yoke of slavery, we need a message of milk. We reached for the meat too soon.

That brings us back to the body. Each of today’s Texts point to something about the body. In Nehemiah Israel gathered like one body at the Water Gate to hear the Scriptures read. 

Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and with their hands uplifted all the people said, “Amen, Amen!” Then they knelt low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Their bodies were involved. No, this is not to invoke a new law here at Snow Hill. The point is that the people involved their bodies. In fact, even though they realized they had missed the law, Ezra told them not to weep but instead to eat and drink and have a great celebration because they understood the words that had been explained to them. They had lived under Empire while in Babylon. Hearing the word of God explained led them to celebrat.

Maybe Paul had in mind Israel standing as one body listening to the word of God when he pressed the metaphor by saying,

Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it.

Often all we hear is individual. We fail to connect ourselves to the Body. But, Paul did. He pointed out that we are Christ’s Body by God’s Spirit. There is no shaming Christ’s Body. If we point to the Psalmist that writes that we, our bodies, are fearfully and wonderfully made, is it any less fearful and wonderful that by God’s Spirit we are made to be Christ’s Body?!

This takes us back to the reading we heard in Luke 4. Don’t miss this. Jesus got up to preach. He used Isaiah 61. And then, he went out and practiced his sermon. How did Paul not take this from Jesus,


Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

Here is some milk.

First, Jesus’ message was not for those folks over there. It was for us. It is for us. We cannot read Jesus’ sermon as though it was for someone else. We are the poor. We are the captives. We are the blind. We are the oppressed.

Second, Jesus cut off Isaiah’s words about judgment for he would take in his body our judgement. This startles some and confuses others. The law judges harshly. Though the Psalmist says the law of the Lord is good, the law does not redeem or rectify. The law lifts the ideal and condemns those who do not keep it. The judgment of the Power of Sin upon us is taken up in Jesus’ own Body.

Third, Jesus declares God’s grace – God’s favor. This is forgiveness. The tag line of a Church in Manhattan is, Enjoy your forgiveness. That might be worth borrowing. Enjoying our forgiveness entails connecting people with God’s grace. That is, when we hear the Good News, we look for ways to connect people to it.

How? 

Look around you. Here is what we are doing. It is not all we are doing. But at present it is what we are doing. We will not be working through the list and checking it twice to see who is signed up with at least one of these opportunities. That would be creating a new law. Instead, we are presenting to the Body what we do in the enjoyment of our forgiveness. Consider it an invitation to enjoy with us.

Freedom from the Tyranny of the Self or, You Are the Body


Disruptor(s) Needed: A Conversation with The Alan Noble

Business disruptors. Sports disruptors. How about Church disruptors?  The story is told of a pastor who, while preaching, noticed his son chewing gum. He is said to have stopped the sermon and instructed his son, “Paul, go spit out your gum!”

It Will Take More Than Gum

More than 50 years later, gum is the least likely disruption in a Sunday worship gathering. You have not lived until someone stands up and begins shouting at the preacher. It does not matter that the person was barely coherent. The experience is decentering.

Accelerated change in the cultural surroundings left, and leaves, churches with few options. Often it felt, and feels, a losing battle to other choices available to church-goers and potential attendees. Many have already identified the condition as a loss of privileged status. Christendom, as some refer to it, described the period when, for example, schools would not plan extra-curricular events on Wednesday evenings in deference to local church schedules.

Today, winning churches succeed, or so it seems when they market themselves as a positive lifestyle option. Christianity is not a lifestyle option no matter the marketing prowess. If Christianity has become one lifestyle option among many, how would a formerly radical message be renewed? 

Who Will I Send?

Not just a few theologies offer a critical analysis of Christianity as lifestyle option – Liberation Theologies, Womanist Theologies, Radical Theologies, and Radical Orthodoxy, to name a few. Dismissed by some as merely perspectivist theologies, voices from within these theological movements have identified the secularizing influences often missed by dominant culture theologies.

Who might help identify the trajectory that led us to the place where the Church, churches, seem as susceptible to secularizing forces it has so vocally battled? If you answer someone like Charles Taylor, then be prepared for pushback. Not many would wade through an 800-page tome like Taylor’s A Secular Age. More importantly, how would one appropriate the insights Taylor provides that result in descriptive phrases like buffered self, immanent frame and expressive individualism? Particulary how might the Church, churches, and pastors/leaders identify the ways discipleship to Jesus is affected by these trends?

The Definite Article

Enter Alan Noble, @TheAlanNoble. In his new book, Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age, Alan answers the aforementioned questions for the Church, churches, and contemporary forms of Christianity. Pastors, this is a most helpful resource. It is not a cliff notes version of Taylor’s work, though you will find it an excellent introduction to Taylor’s assessment of the secularization hypothesis and its failing.

More than that, Disruptive Witness calls attention to the Church, and churches, as the needed disruptive witness for a world turned inward. Voices of hope are needed in a world represented by persons reduced to individuals that express themselves in hopes their chosen identity becomes the transcendent for which they long having been told truth resides within. Disruptive Witness calls the Church, and churches, to forego assuming themselves closed off to what Darrell Guder described as the Continuing Conversion of the Church.

Take a listen. Share the podcast. Buy the book. 

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.


Did You Know You Were Full?

Following the Lectionary means that sometimes you must include or reference passages that are not part of the given readings. It points to the value of the habit of reading around the Text under consideration. Read More

I’ll Push You . . . To Go See the Movie

Finally, a movie that gets the church right. You only get one night to see it in a theater. This Thursday. Read More