Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Principle of Integration

John Wesley was a fascinating man. The more I read about him and by him the more I come to appreciate his theological methodology and particularities. Wesley shares my great love for the church fathers, particularly the Greek fathers. Their influence on Wesley is often quite apparent. Wesley's affinity for the Eastern fathers contributed to his task of integration. Wesley was one of the few theologians who have seen the need to integrate Western and Eastern Christian distinctives and do so in a way that compliments those distinctives.

Certainly even a theological novice could ascertain that there are significant differences and orienting concerns that accompany Western and Eastern theology. At times these difference have come into vicious conflict with one another. Yet Wesley was one who saw value in both traditions and, to an extent, melded the gold from each. One of the primary reasons that Wesley had this flexibility is because he did not so much endeavor to take up the task of theology systematically, his theology flowing from an idea or system. Rather, Wesley primarily was formed by what Maddox calls his orienting concerns. This subtle shift allowed for Wesley to pay greater attention to integration.

I have found that churches and individuals often err in extremes. For example, I am one who decries the theological bankruptcy of many contemporary worship songs. However, I am not opposed to the contemporary worship style. Quite to the contrary I enjoy it. Beyond this I have found that it is not always necessary that a worship song be filled with theological content. A well rounded service can contain songs that simply bring congregants into the intimate presence of God without deep theology. What becomes a problem is when extremes are adopted as norms. It seems we are often better at over-correcting than balance and integration. No, I don't want to sing a ton of songs that make Jesus sound like my "boyfriend," but I also see the value in some songs that are less than theologically integritous.

In essence, the principle I desire to see highlighted more often is that of integration. But, interestingly while this principle is often one which people respect and discuss it is rarely practiced. Western Christians continue to highlight only the pardoning aspect of salvation while Eastern Christians may highlight only the power of transformation and fail to speak of pardon. Evangelicals bemoan liturgy as rote and meaningless, while liturgical folk see evangelical worship as shallow and meaningless. Of course these are gross generalizations, still the spirit of integration is often espoused but not practiced.

What is it that makes integration so difficult to actualize?
Do you have any ideas how we could begin to make changes in our local churches?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Neglecting Pentecost

While I did not intend to compose another piece similar to the former, I have been compelled by a renewed interest in the importance of the Church calendar. One Sunday ago from this past Sunday was an incredibly important day for the Church. In fact, what the day commemorates is what some have considered to be the “birthday” of the Church. Yet for many of us in the evangelical tradition not only was this day hardly celebrated, but in some of our churches in may not have even been mentioned.

The day I speak of is the day of Pentecost. Pentecost Sunday came and went unbeknownst to many in our churches. We can debate the importance of some of the Church holidays or some of the days which the Church has conspicuously marked as having importance. Yet I am compelled to ask, of all the days to minimize or exclude what reason can we give to justify neglecting Pentecost? Pentecost, for those of you who unfortunately have never been exposed to it, celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles in the book of Acts. Some consider this the visible beginning of the Christian Church. Regardless, it is an incredible significant day to celebrate as Christians because the Christian conception of God is by necessity Trinitarian. Not only is this distinctly Christian, but the necessity of the Holy Spirit in the life, existence, and sustenance of the Church and individual Christians is paramount. Pentecost is the seminal day for Christians to celebrate the Holy Spirit, and many of us missed it.

Why, of all the Church days to refrain from celebrating, do we neglect Pentecost? Perhaps the mitigation of the Holy Spirit in Western theology contributes to this, or perhaps the implicit anti-Catholic bias has once again reared its ugly and ignorant head. Whatever the case we ought to feel ashamed. We celebrate Christmas, we celebrate Easter, and although we don’t really celebrate many more Church days how dare we miss Pentecost. Yes, Christianity is Christo-centric and the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ ought to be commemorated and celebrated. But Christianity is also staunchly Trinitarian and without the concept of the Trinity Christianity is incomplete at best and horridly heretical at worst.

As Christians we rely on the Holy Spirit daily. The ancient fathers associated the communication of grace primarily with the work of the Spirit. Perhaps we forget the necessity of grace to both will and perform the good and to aid us in our daily efforts because we so easily forget the Holy Spirit. This ought to change, and perhaps it can begin with simply recognizing the incredible profundity of Pentecost.

What do you think?

Did your church celebrate or mention Pentecost?

How crucial is the recognition of the Holy Spirit to the existence and mission of the Church?