In the original post of this series, I gave my definitions of parachurches and churches. I will now turn to a generalized history of parachurches and their relationships to churches. This is by no means an exhaustive or authoritative history, but a thumbnail sketch in order that we might be on the same page.
The history of parachurch organizations is difficult to find. It appears that these groups emerged out of the Second Great Awakening in the US in the 19th Century, but the immense proliferation of the size, number, and influence of these organizations came strongly after World War II with the newfound prosperity in the US (Mark Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, 1992, 438). Though parachurches are not necessarily are a part of evangelicalism, many of them within the US are tied to the general evangelical movement. Especially in the older parachurches, there seems to be a strong emphasis on proclaiming the gospel through teaching to groups of people not touched by the churches. Most parachurch organizations are born out of necessity; they find their inception in a group of Christians seeing some need that churches do not meet. These needs could be anything from evangelistic and medical outreach in different nations to building low-income housing domestically to going onto high school campuses to make disciples. The key here is that parachurches exist because the churches for whatever reasons are not addressing certain issues. One could look at this phenomenon as an example of churches not doing their jobs and this is true to a certain extent, but we do not need to condemn our congregations. Instead of knocking churches, let us appreciate what parachurches are able to do. Parachurches by their more fluid and less institutional nature are perfect organizations to answer the call that certain issues demand. The overhead is generally far lower and the scope of their ministries is more focused (or limited, depending on one’s perspective) than local congregations.READ more
Scot McKnight has a post today in his series about 1 Peter being written to groups of early Christians trying to figure out how to be the community of God’s people in “emerging situations.” He says that today’s emerging movement is a holiness movement. His take on holiness in general is a breath of fresh air.
The emerging movement, at its best, is seeking a holistic gospel and a radical commitment to God’s redemptive work — and that is what holiness is all about. It wants to let God’s work (and his character) shape everything it is doing. That is what Peter commands in 1:15-16. It is the dedication of everything to the way of Jesus, the transformation of secular space into sacred space, and the creation of an alternative community where God’s will holds sway that creates holiness.
It is altogether common (and wrong) to speak of holiness as difference and leave it at that; difference is not the point. Otherness (as in absolute purity or absolute love or absolute focus) that creates the difference. We don’t try to be different, and think we are thereby holy; we try to be wholly dedicated to God in loving God and others, etc., and it is that sacred pursuit that creates holiness. So, let this be said: being different is not the point; being separate is not the point; being good and loving makes us different and that is what matters.
After much prayer and deliberation, Carey submitted her rank list for ob/gyn residency programs. We’ll know on March 16 where we’ll be for the next four years starting in July. For those who don’t know about the match process, the prospective resident applies to residency programs at different hospitals. Those hospitals that like the application invite the student for an interview. After the interview both the applicant and the hospital rank one another, or in some cases, not at all. The programs and the students submit there rank lists into a central system where a computer matches the resident and hospital by the highest possible comparable ranking. If there is no match, then students have to scramble to find open residency positions throughout the US, regardless of specialty.
In all honesty, I’m convinced there is no computer sophisticated enough to do this confusing job. I think it’s a team of monkeys who match residents and hospitals. The monkeys’ handlers draw up a big dartboard whose sections are keyed to coincide with different hospitals and then the monkeys hurl one dart per applicant. Wherever the monkey’s dart lands, that’s where the applicant goes for his or her residency. If the monkey misses the dartboard altogether, then the applicant has to scramble. (Actually, that system sounds similar to my junior year in college.)
Anyway, I ask for your prayers that wherever we land, it will be the place that God wants us to be. Please pray that it will be the best possible residency for Carey. Pray also that I would find employment quickly, preferably employment within a church—I’ve been tithing all these years and now it’s time I start taking something for myself. That’s how it works, right?
I would like to take some time and develop a series of posts dedicated to the relationship between churches and parachurch organizations. The relationship between churches and parachurch organizations is difficult to understand. On the one hand, in some examples, the relationship between these two groups is fruitful and symbiotic. On the other hand, the relationship is non-existent or antagonistic. In the middle there is room for much confusion and distrust. For some, the church and parachurches are seen as different entities and perhaps even competetors vying for converts and participation by existing Christians. For others, the labels "church" and "parachurch" are false alternatives. Let us first define our terms. (For clarity, when speaking of local congregations or even denominations in general, I will use the label "church" with a lower-case "c". When I speak of the larger, historical, and worldwide body of Christ, I will use the label "Church" with an upper-case "C".)
When we speak of churches, we usually mean ecclesial congregations that function in our traditional understandings of what a church looks like—they gather weekly for worship, they perform and partake the sacraments, etc. (These markers vary by tradition.) When we speak of parachurches, we usually mean Christian organizations that focus on a few specific ministries whose focus extends outside the boundaries of our local congregations. Many international and domestic missions organizations, evangelistic groups, student outreach groups, prison ministries, and relief agencies fit into the parachurch. (Wikipedia has a list of evangelical parachurch organizations; the list is helpful but by no means exhaustive.) These organizations may or may not have any denominational affiliation. Often they distinguish themselves from churches by saying they do not practice some of those traditional markers of the Church, especially the sacramental markers. By definition of the term, a parachurch (literally, alongside the church) is not a church, but works with and beside churches.READ more
When I sat in my theology classes and we discussed the different atonement theories, I was struck with how each theory made sense. It was as if I couldn’t understand the Cross and its meaning without a bit from each theory. Some said the Cross and Resurrection were God’s victory over sin, others said they were Jesus taking the guilt of my sin upon himself and purifying sinners, others claimed that Jesus was restoring honor to God. (There are even more theories.) I began to try to make sense of all the differing stories this way—and it may not make sense to anyone else but me. I began to ask, “What did World War II mean?” Can you boil that seminal event into one meaning? It was the end of Nazism and fascism within Europe. It marked the beginning of the Cold War. It introduced systemetized and mechanized genocide. Global power was radically redistributed. And I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. There are just too many results and meanings that come from that event. Now if as a Christian I hold that the Cross and Resurrection were the most significant events in the history of the cosmos (far more significant than World War II), then how can they have only one meaning? Don’t we need several stories to even begin to communicate the richness of those events, and then we won’t likely have a full grasp on it all. No one theory is perfect, but perhaps that speaks to the fact that we need all these stories. (Even the Gospel writers had different emaphases in their presentation of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.)
Anyway, Scot McKnight says this all rather nicely in his post, “Who Tells the Best Atonement Story?” (And he gives a brief synopsis of the major stories.)
The early Church very quickly began to debate its understanding of God, and the whole Church, everywhere, came to the conclusion that God was a Trinity – Father, Son, Holy Spirit. This is what we read in the Nicene Creed. These creeds were discussed and debated and improved for more than four centuries. This may come as a surprise but the Church never sensed a need to articulate a single explanatory theory for the atonement. The wise ask why the Church never “solved” the atonement question. I believe it was because they knew it took more than one story to tell that story, and I believe also that they knew it as a reality so rich in diversity that attempts to narrow it down to manageable size were unwise.
From Scot McKnight:
I will begin a series this week on 1 Peter and contend that 1 Peter is a good example of what theology looks like in an emerging environment.
This should be interesting. McKnight is a NT professor at North Park University.
Last night Carey and I cleanded after having some friends over for dinner and we listened to the So I Married an Axe Murderer soundtrack. I admit to having a soft spot for a lot of the music on the album. Many of the bands were popular just as I was developing my taste in music. Suede, Spin Doctors, Soul Asylum, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, and The Boo Radleys (perhaps the raddest literary reference in any band’s name) are all there. Then there is Toad the Wet Sprocket, a band I always wished I liked more. Some of their songs I really enjoy, but each time I bought a CD of theirs, the whole thing just didn’t do it for me. I like more songs by Toad the Wet Sprocket than Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, and yet I don’t feel the same about Ned’s. Perhaps it’s the disappointment of getting my hopes up and feeling let down. Whatever the reason is, when I hear “Brother,” “Walk on the Ocean,” “Come Down,” or “Fall Down,” I feel a sense of saddness. But it’s been years since I’ve given their music a fair shot, so maybe I should check some stuff out online. Or just download the songs I like.
James V. Brownson is onto something over at Allelon. He writes in “The God Who Sent Jesus – Reflections from John 17”:
The sending of the Son expresses something basic about God: that God wants to be known. God’s mission is to know and be known. Eternal life consists in knowing God, and Jesus Christ whom God sent (17:3). It is in Christ preeminently that we discover this–that God wants to be known, and it is central to Christ’s mission that the world know this about God–that God is the one who sent Jesus….
Simply by being the new community, the world comes to believe that God sent Jesus–that is, the world comes to believe that God has a mission to this world, and wants to sweep us up into it.
The most basic Christian affirmation is that God loves the world. But why do we believe such a thing, in the midst of tragedy, heartache, famine, war, disaster, and all the ills that flesh is heir to? We believe that God loves the world finally because we believe that God sent Jesus.
Allelon is a site I first viewed a few years ago. Recently it has become one of my favorite reads.
What if every church had a historian? What if every congregation had someone to document the path that the congregation has taken over its lifetime, to interview the people, to record the history of the Spirit’s activity within the community? What if we were able to read the story of our congregations—their triumphs and struggles, the periods of celebration and mourning, the time in the Promised Land, in the desert, in Exile, and homecoming. Perhaps then we would have a better sense as a community about our roots, why we are the way we are, how we came to this place, and where God is taking us. Too often I think we in churches believe we are doing something radically new that no one in the history of the Church or in our congregation has ever done. Perhaps through knowing our histories we can see how our spiritual ancestors handled similar situations, or at the least have a greater sense of identification with our community. But let us not be content with merely writing the histories of the early years of our communities. Let us do the hard work of writing those histories up until the current time, and being willing to revisit our understanding of what happened in the past.
One of the best histories of a congregation I’ve read is Servant Leaders, Servant Structures by Elizabeth O’Connor (awful title, but great book). O’Connor details the path of The Church of Our Saviour in Washington, D. C. It is not a “ten-steps to a successful church” type book, but rather the record of one community’s experience as they try to be the church, as they try to participate with God’s mission in their context. There are great successes and failures, and minor achievements and ideas they had to put to death after a while. It doesn’t flinch, nor does it air out peoples’ dirty laundry.