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October 13, 2005


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Todd, thanks for asking the questions about how we should view Mark 9:42 in it's textual context (or at least I think that's what you were asking).

The concerns over our causing someone to skandalon (i.e. fall away from their faith) is strongly set within a context of "self-absorbtion" on the part of the disciples. They're arguing over who will be the "greatest", and Mark arranges the material in a way which elucidates the dangers of such a focus. In doing this, Jesus illustrates who the "least of these" are: a little child, the outsider who is driving out demons in Jesus' name, and the person who only has a cup of water to offer his disciples. To cause even the "least of these" to fall away (and by inference, anyone of greater importance than the "least")is a most grevious offence. The juxtapositioning of Jesus' teaching on anything that causes US to skandalon ourselves (9:43-48), strongly suggests that our own sin not only has the potential of causing our own falling away, but the falling away of others as well. Mark's placement of Jesus' divorce teaching immediately after (10:1-12) only reinforces this same idea. Israel's religious leaders have distorted God's original intentions concerning marriage and have done so for their own selfish purposes. In this case, it was the women who were the "least" (e.g. not formerly able to divorce their husbands or charge them with adultry), but Jesus affirms the value of women (the least) and elevates their status through his radical re-clarification of God's intent for marriage.

Anyway, it seems abundantly clear to me that the context vividly illustrates how living purely for ones self can have damaging and damning consequences. Self-absorbtion may not only be a sin in it's own right, but likely contributes to a host of other sins; sins of "omission"; sins with horrible consequences. In a culture that emphasizes individual responsibility, I fear it's all too easy to skip right past all of this. Does that help?

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, Todd. You TOTALLY get extra ECP's for answering a question with a question, man.

Actually, I believe we must work at nurturing an environment where it is safe to share one's beliefs and doubts in complete honesty, without fear of judgement or reprisal (this is hard for many people to practice). Alan Jamieson, in his book "A Churchless Faith", does a great job pointing out how significant this is. In addition, I believe it's important not to get stuck in an "honesty-for-honesty's sake" mode. I'm discovering that people are also longing for meaningful reflection, challenge, and even leadership. Does that help? Are we a bit closer?

That something I beleive in too. But what Iv'e seen in Emergent is a building of idealogies in the name of doing that.

Basically suggesting things that the most pure Christianity is the unofficial, non instutional kind. And all, churches of the traditional kind are corrupt, by virtue of taking money for their upkeep, having paid clergy etc....

And much of pomo, I think can be a rationalization for sin. You end up excusing your bitterness, and unforgiveness towards pastors etc. by ranting and demonizing the IC. And you label it "Being a Reformer".

You rationalize not keeping the Sabath, or the fellowship of the brethren, or being obedient to those in authority, also with the same hokey excusues. Talking about Jesus and the Pharisees etc. But ignoring that even Jesus attended the services of his day and age.

And then there is other things as well. Like rationalizing the pleasures of the flesh, but deconstruction. Especially areas of sexual mores.

In these areas, there can be such a "stiff neckedness" if you confront these things with any kind of Traditonal Christian value (talking about the scriptures, and church history etc. that are applicable to the situation). There is just so much relentless self justification.... Even in the face of some things that are so obviously wrong.

Gina, how about during catechism - when the purpose is to learn the tenents of our faith? Isn't the "primary" purpose of confession, "confession" and not exploration?

Maybe I should also ask, how long are confessional sessions or how long can they be?

The purpose of Confesion is to nurter and develope ones Faith in God. As well as to make sure that they are in the habit of making regular repentance to God for our sins.

There can actually be some exploration in confession. Where the priest will ask what is going on in your life, and so forth. Orthodox confession is often compared to psychotherapy. And there is a popular book by that title "Orthodox Psychotherapy".

"How long are confessions"

I think 30-60 min is standard. I've only really recently gotten in the habit of trying to regular at it. (the last bit of Protestantism that I finally got over was fear of going to confession because of being freaked out by the concept).

So far I've done one hour ones. But most of that is because our priest is pretty warm and chatty. And we not only get into indepth discussions of things related to what I'm talking about. Like lets say concerning fasting, how and why, we do it. But we also get of topic on other areas. In more of a chit chatty "getting to know you kind of way"

In general our priest is very personable, and is often inquisitive on how we are, espeically how we are adjusting to the Church being non-Egptian, former Protestants.

I have heard of what would call "Speed confessions". Like if were part of what you might call "The ministry team" (the choir and acolytes, that do the music and assist the priest). I might make a speed confession. Basiclaly whisper in the priests ear, the sins that are most on my conscience, and recieve the prayer of absolution.

I have heard stories of people who way lay, priests for this kind of thing. There is an old woman who I hear does this quite often in church. When the priest is in the back, out of line of sight she sometimes grabs him.

But this sort of thing is not optimal. It's more a matter of necessity. It's best to talk to a priest in a non stressed enviroment so they can give you counseling regarding whatever your problem or situation is.

"There can actually be some exploration in confession. "

Pavel, I'm not exactly sure how to respond. On the one hand, I'm glad that the "opportunity" is there to explore one's faith-related struggles with one's priest. But on the other hand, it doesn't naturally strike me as representing the level of openness and honest exploration that I'm reading people are looking for today in their spiritual journey. Am I really off-base here?

DP, I think this is reflective of the paradigm shift. As a former "non-churcher" back when it wasn't cool yet, I did feel that I was in the "age of exploration"....and the answer lay "out there somewhere."

Upon embracing Orthodoxy one finds, the "final frontier" is really within. "The Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).

But the whole of our treatment and exertion is concerned with the hidden man of the heart, and our warfare is directed against that adversary and foe within us, who uses ourselves as his weapons against ourselves, and, most fearful of all, hands us over to the death of sin. In opposition then, to these foes we are in need of great and perfect faith, and of still greater cooperation on the part of God, and, as I am persuaded, of no slight countermanoeuvring on our own part, which must manifest itself both in word and deed, if ourselves, the most precious possession we have, are to be duly tended and cleansed and made as deserving as possible. St. Gregory Nanzianzen, In Defense of His Flight to Pontus.

Enter eagerly into the treasure-house that lies within you, and so you will see the treasure-house of heaven: for the two are the same, and there is but one single entry to them both. The ladder that leads to the Kingdom is hidden within you, and is found in your own soul. Dive into yourself and in your soul you will discover the rungs by which to ascend. St. Isaac the Syrian in The Art of Prayer

The "undiscovered country"...

Pavel, I'm not exactly sure how to respond. On the one hand, I'm glad that the "opportunity" is there to explore one's faith-related struggles with one's priest. But on the other hand, it doesn't naturally strike me as representing the level of openness and honest exploration that I'm reading people are looking for today in their spiritual journey. Am I really off-base here?

Yes and no.

I would say that discpleship in the old fashioned Biblical sense, doesn't fit into many contemporary christians ideas of something desirable.

That is to say. That there is a desire to sort of pick and choose things. Decide your comfort level. And based on that, make a commitment to what your willing or not ready to do.

So I would make a distinction between a "Seeker" vs. a person looking to be a disciple.

A seeker is someone who is checking something out. To test it, and possibly embrace it as something good. While a disciple is someone who has already made the decision to embrace the faith. And is simply in the process of learning how to do so.

So I would say, that I think the paradigm of pastoral care is set up for that. And of course all of this, also is dependant on people also making the effort, to participate in this sacrament and spiritual disciple.

Which is something I actually thought you as a Wesleyian would be able to understand.

But anyway there is no confession ghestappo. Or anything like that. If you have cold feet, you certainly are able to procrastinate indefitaley (As I did). Of course you will realize that this is not really the right thing to do if you want to progress in your spiritual life.

Anyway getting back to the issue of felxability.

I think a great part of the evangelcial church is doing a great disservice from blurring the line between seekers and those who have officially joined the church. (the post catechumens).

There are many, many areas where this is actually weakening the Faith, or at the very least the profession of Faith. There are pomos for example which will not officially endorse items of the Nicene Creed in their statement of Faith, less it be divisive, for example...

Pavel, I'm not exactly sure how to respond. On the one hand, I'm glad that the "opportunity" is there to explore one's faith-related struggles with one's priest. But on the other hand, it doesn't naturally strike me as representing the level of openness and honest exploration that I'm reading people are looking for today in their spiritual journey. Am I really off-base here?

Oh I forgot this.

Actually Confesssion very much fits the new Emergent trends.

as in "having a spiriutal director", coach etc.

The big difference is that in traditional pastoral care, rather than this being construed in consumeristic sense. (where some people pay for this just like they would a coach or a psychotherapist). I think the old fashioned father/confessor, has no more potential to do real good.

Because some spiritual directors from what I've heard aren't much different than Christianized Rogerian therapists...

lol and I'll be happy to explain that one to you, if you don't get my drift... :)

correction on a typo.

"I think the old fashioned father/confessor, has no more potential to do real good."

should read "more potential to do good."

I have read halfway through Shane Claiborne's book "The Irresistable Revolution"...I have really mixed feelings about it. The good so far is the lifestyle promoted in this book generally and the social commentary is often very true and amusing. That being said I also consider this book as incredibly dangerous as it really does misinterpret important sections of the bible while also taking them out of context and presents what seems to be essentially another false "gospel" different than what the bible presents when in context. Let me explain, the gospel as shown so far in this book so far(to be fair I have only read about half) has been one of works (earning our way to God through our efforts to be like Jesus) and the author believes that God's grace costs something, when the meaning of grace scripturally is unmerited/unearned favour. Personally being reconciled to God is a free gift, by grace through faith in Jesus and his paying the death pay-off of sin on our behalf. It's not of works Ephesians 2:8-9 and Titus 3:5 are a couple of texts that the author Shane may want to read a few times and consider when he is interpreting Matthew 25 with "the sheep and the goats" - His interpretation which amounts to a works gospel can't be correct or else there is a contradiction in the bible. - Romans 11:6 "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." Good works will come about as a result of real God given faith but works do not produce faith. The cost of sin is death, not good works.- Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." He might br refering to the Spritual biblical good news as "cheap grace" I'm not sure exactly what theology he is referring to by "cheap grace" but yes definatley grace isn't cheap, it's free! God's blood was shed on the cross and He died to give us this grace, it's an insult to the risen Jesus and in grave error to imply in any way that we earn God's favor. It's like saying Jesus' sacrifice doesn't cut it, which ignores large amounts of scripture. So really so far the bad of this book outwieghs the good, but it's good for understanding the false teachings of new emerging religious leaders. I think the author likely means very well and does try to promote a lifestyle of love and does share very interesting experiences of his good works but I have to be honest about what I believe is a soul damaging error in the religious teaching woven through the book, at least so far. Works based religion isn't biblical Christianity.

"Works based religion isn't biblical Christianity."

Matt, I think I see where you're coming from, and would perhaps offer a word of caution not to throw the baby out with the bath water (which many of us evangelicals are quite famous for doing). We must remember that "biblical Christianity" includes:

James 2:24,26 (NRSV)
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

Yes, we are saved by grace through faith -- initiated by God. And yet, we are also free moral agents who are responsible for what we do (and/or fail to do). Scripture describes a "partnership" -- between divine initiative and human responsiblity. This appears as a "tension" in scripture -- an important one -- and one I believe that is reflected in passages such as:

Philip. 2:12-13 (NRSV)
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

My read on Shane's book seems quite different from yours. Although portions seemed hypercritical, his heart comes through loud and clear: a call to those desiring to be "followers of Christ" to get off their socially conditioned (e.g. stemming from a culture of "entitlement"), theologically self-justifying butts and start "doing" the works that Christ himself did as well as the "greater works" that are to be expected of all such followers (John 14:12).

I've witnessed a LOT of soul-damage being done "in the name of Christ" over the years, and it certainly doesn't come from the likes of disciples like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Shane Claiborne.

-- Chris

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