Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Are you in?

Long before George Clooney uttered these classic words in Oceans Eleven (apologies to those who prefer Sinatra's version from 1960), the concept of "are you in" was explored in a much more visceral, gut-wrenching way by some of the big names of the Old Testament. Daniel and Nehemiah are examples to us today in their willingness to be "in" with a bunch of people who kept screwing up their nation. You can see it in their prayers.

Prayer of Nehemiah:
Then I said: "O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses." (Nehemiah 1:5-7, emphasis added)
Prayer of Daniel
I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land." (Daniel 9:4-6, emphasis added)
These two guys have a number of things in common, which makes their prayers all the more intriguing:
  1. Both were in captivity in foreign countries
  2. They were both men of prayer
  3. Neither one of them was directly at fault for the present state of affairs
    • Daniel was one of the "guys in the white hats", whose devotion to God was unquestionable (remember the vegetable diet and the lions' den?)
    • Nehemiah wasn't even born when the exile happened; he was born into slavery
  4. And most significantly, although they weren't the cause of the problem, they assumed a posture of identification with the rest of their people and with the plight of their people.
It strikes me, after reading these two prayers, that both Nehemiah and Daniel have hit upon something of great spiritual importance that we need to consider in our journey to recapture what it means to be the Church, in partnership as a missio ecclesia with God the Spirit in His missio dei of the advancing Kingdom of God. Simply put, I don't think we have the authority to proclaim that the "institutional" church isn't "us". The more I look at the whole topic of detoxing from church, the more I'm getting uneasy with the idea that we can just write off a large segment of the church. What if identifying with the church at large -- mega, seeker, purpose, charismatic, fundamentalist -- is part of God's missio ecclesia?

Is there a spiritual component to choosing to identify with the church at large, which we will miss out on if we don't (or refuse to) make that choice?

What if the freedom to choose to identify with the church (including our own CLB) is an indication of a returning spiritual health for those going through the season of detox?



  1. Rob- I see no one has jumped on this quite yet. I wanted to let you know I'll be thinking it over. Good questions. My first thought is that there are some of both sorts of folks in the OT (those who identify and those who don't) but I'll have to do some checking. Actually that was my second thought. My first was that the Reformers were mostly kicked out of the institution rather than leaving voluntarily, weren't they? I'll have to check on that too. Both answers will inform my thought process.

  2. Robby,
    I've been thinking about this too and trying to better understand ekklesia. The Lord is opening my eyes to acknowledge and appreciate the many parts of His body.

    There are many brothers and sisters in the body that gather in ways that aren't necessarily my ideal of what church should be. However, in spite of that, they are part of MY family in Christ, not just an offshoot that I can disregard.

    Right now, I am viewing the one-anothering scriptures as they apply to His entire body, especially Christian groups that I don't agree with. I feel like it's important that I learn not to disregard entire branches of the family tree.

    If my judgment toward other believers is harsh, I cannot have fellowship with them. They would probably disagree with what I believe about the church, but we can find common ground in our love for the Lord.

    The tension is in continuing my journey of redefining what church means to me without disrespecting how others in the body choose to function.

    Also, there is the issue of my ideas being so radical and threatening in the eyes of the average church member, that while I may identify with them, there isn't really an ability to express myself openly.

    Even if I'm not received or understood, I can do my part in truly appreciating my brothers and sisters in Christ whether they are Baptist, Vineyard, Methodist, or house church.

    Those are my thoughts today.

  3. Robby,
    I also struggle with detoxing from the instituional church. There is nothing wrong with studying scripture and seeing that other modes of doing church is OK (i.e. house church, cyber church, emerging church) but the problem comes when we think that our way is better and others aren't as spiritual as us. There is so much us vs them mentality throughout the "church" that we miss the opportunity to not only pray for the church at large but we end up isolating ourselves with our own new traditions. May there be more and more Nehemiahs and Daniels that pray for the church universal.

  4. I'm with you, Rob. Yeah,I've wondered why identificational repentance is so common in the OT. It is interesting that we may find it easier to identificationally repent for those outside the church (Does YWAMer John Dawson - Taking Our Cities for God - deal with this?), than our bro's within the church.
    I think one gains a greater position for influence and a more respected voice when dealing with an issue as "ours", rather than "yours/theirs".
    Thanks, Robbymac.

  5. Thanks for interesting discussions, as always.

    Several years ago I was involved with both a Southern Baptist and a charismatic/third wave church. It was tempting to see only the latter church as the place "where God was moving".

    However, I started to notice something. I loved listening to Rich Mullins, and saw that he had insight into the heart of God. In the Baptist church we did a study by a older teacher named T.L. Hunt, "The Mind of Christ", that also spoke of God's heart. I remembered my time at YWAM, and how God moved there as well.

    I realized that there truly is the body of Christ, and I couldn't just say that *one group* had a monopoly on what God is doing. (Don't get me wrong though, I'm not suggesting some sort of universalism here)

    I guess the point is that it is okay to look around and ask hard question on if things are being done right in the church. There is so much in the way we do church that isn't necessarily "scriptural" and can certainly be thoughtfully questioned. It isn't easy when people have been hurt or disillusioned by church (as I have before). I agree with your detox article. But we should recongnize just as whatever movement we are leaving/disagreeing with isn't perfectly in line with what God is doing, neither are we. We need to be able to identify with the body, whether in intercession (specifically like your examples of Daniel and Nehemiah), or just seeing where God is moving in different arenas than we are in. We can't get prideful in our own "right"-ness that we forfeit what we are trying to do for the Lord.

  6. What Grace said.
    Also- perhaps something is happening and the Spirit is moving the church as a whole into more maturity, seeing as how so doggone many of us are involved in this thing? It happens with individuation as children become teenagers, questioning if not outright rejecting the identity of their family of origin. This is a healthy thing. I don't think this idea cancels out what Grace said or what you are saying. In healthy families, eventually the child finds his/her own identity while keeping the best from his/her family.

    Thanks Rob.
    Dana Ames

  7. Cindy,

    I'd be interested in hearing what you find about other OT figures who didn't identify, as you say. The pastor of the church we attend has been preaching through Nehemiah, and while it wasn't his point, the whole identification thing popped out at me as we read Nehemiah's prayer, which reminded me of Daniel's prayer, and a few synapse and neuron firings later, this post appeared.

    The Reformers were largely tossed out, which ironically is the same manner in which I ended up in the Vineyard in the first place. The trick is then even more difficult -- when the leaving wasn't voluntary but being expulsed -- to forgive, beat bitterness down, and still be able to "identify".

  8. Hey Emerging Grace,

    Thanks again for your insights!

    I agree that it IS a source of tension to deconstruct/redefine things without disrepecting others in the Body. Some people take it very personally -- that if we change or want to change something, it's somehow "obviously" an attack or judgment on how they're doing church. It's quite a tightrope, isn't it?

    You said:

    "Also, there is the issue of my ideas being so radical and threatening in the eyes of the average church member, that while I may identify with them, there isn't really an ability to express myself openly."

    I've come across this more than a few times, myself. And what's been interesting to notice, is that when I keep my ideas to myself and just participate in their gatherings as they like to have them, I still sense the Lord's presence. Kinda humbling when that happens.

    That doesn't negate the journey to find new expressions of the Body -- church history is full of these journeys -- but it does help me dial down attitude-wise.

    Are your thoughts the same today as when you first wrote this? :)

  9. Jeff,

    "May there be more and more Nehemiahs and Daniels that pray for the church universal."

    Amen, brother!

  10. Hans,

    It's been awhile since I've re-read Dawson's Taking Our Cities For God, or his other excellent book that deals with identification, Healing America's Wounds. While the second book deals more specifically with racial and societal identification and repentence, the principles would probably equally apply to this discussion as well.

    Thanks for asking the question -- I'll have to look at those books again; they're on my shelf still (after finishing the other books that I haven't read for the first time yet!)

  11. Jason,

    Wow. Great comment! I admire your heart and wisdom.

  12. Dana,

    "In healthy families, eventually the child finds his/her own identity while keeping the best from his/her family."

    Yes! That's what detox is all about -- and your comment even fits with the "tasks of adolescence" motif from Detoxing from Church!

    Good to hear from you again, btw!

  13. Robby,
    Sorry you had to witness my composing, editing, rephrasing neuroses. Actually this is what I'm currently trying to learn, although I'm still having a little trouble extending it to the toxic church that we left. Lots of turmoil there lately, I should send you an e-mail.

  14. Hey Grace,

    No worries, mate! I'm still working out all the implications too.

    "Actually this is what I'm currently trying to learn, although I'm still having a little trouble extending it to the toxic church that we left."

    Yeah, the church that gave me the left foot of disfellowship (ushering me unceremoniously into my Vineyard season) holds a similar place in my heart. In the first few months after being kicked out, I actually had to avoid reading certain Psalms about God smashing the faces of David's enemies, because I had names and faces that I found myself applying to those passages (ouch).

    That showed me just how deep the wounds had gone, and also that while forgiveness might be a one-time choice, it needs to be ratified and walked out daily. And therein lies the real work...

    "Lots of turmoil there lately, I should send you an e-mail."

    Please do. That's how Brother Maynard and I process a lot of our CLB stuff.

  15. I happen to think you're onto something important. (And thanks for redeeming my time online; the pickings have been pretty slim recently.)

    I've concluded, despite a lot of rough treatment by the church in the past thirty years, that there is no "them" in the church (i.e., as in "us" and "them"). The exception would be someone who is clearly under God's judgment, in which case he, the Lord, is winnowing and separating wheat from chaff. That's much different from the ways we distinguish and separate ourselves, making distinctions which aren't really meaningful in the Lord's eyes (which is what really matters, right?).

    I know firsthand that it's easier said than done, having been "tenderized" like a raw steak at the hands of the brethren over the years. But when you can hear the Lord say to you, "Go back," as he commanded a distraught and stressed-out Elijah (1 Ki. 19:15), and respond in faith and obedience, then you've turned the corner on the issue of "us" and "them." "They" may treat you like Joseph's brothers treated Joseph sometimes, but there is still "one faith."

  16. Maybe this will sound bad and uninformed but . . . I nearly walked away from my own very large church to a smaller church more in line with the sort of "emergent" ecclesiology so I've been thinking about this topic.
    I think that when we are hurt in a church, in many ways we react in the same way we did as children and universalize everything. My family hurt me, so all families are bad or the family as an idea is bad. I recognize that every denomination has its systemic problems, but I see most hurt caused by individuals because of individual differences. I find it hard to think of the "institutional" church when there are so many institutions with many differences as well as many commonalities. The body of Christ may have ailing members, but they remain part of the body which means part of us and of Christ. As a caveat, I do not believe that if one is in a church and being hurt there, that one needs to stay, but it doesn't mean that all churches or all church is bad.

  17. Dave,

    Great quote from your comment:

    "But when you can hear the Lord say to you, "Go back," as he commanded a distraught and stressed-out Elijah (1 Ki. 19:15), and respond in faith and obedience, then you've turned the corner on the issue of "us" and "them."

    I think, as we look more to Jesus, we will see the church as the Lord's church, in all it warts and wrinkles, and love her anyway.

    A pastoral friend of mine prophesied over me about nine years ago that God would "restore the beauty of the Bride in your eyes". That didn't require rose-coloured glasses, of course, but it meant learning to look at the church through the lens of "Bride of Christ".

    Oh, and Wendy & I really liked and identified with your "tenderized like a raw steak". Great word-pic!

  18. Rob, I think this blog post is helpful for being in the whole flow of "church":
    Lausanne #3- Check our Prejudices


  19. Juniper,

    Well said! We do need to be careful about how much "reaction" is colouring what we're writing (or speaking), and the way in which we communicate.

    At the same time, as you pointed out, there are some churches (including some house churches I have seen) that are so toxic that leaving is the only healthy option for people, especially families. The last thing the next generation needs is to be raised in a toxic church environment -- it colours their view of God as well as their view of the church.

  20. Dana,

    Thanks for the link. I'll give it a read.