hat is God’s dream for this world? The Bible and Christian theology give no clear answer to that simple question, but there are glimpses. More than glimpses, perhaps. The Bible opens windows to see into the world as God desires it. If we know what God desires, if we know what God’s dream is, wouldn’t we give our lives to fulfill it? [The "dream of God," of course, is not a biblical term; but the idea is entirely biblical.]
Jesus’ invitation is this: “Seek first [God's] king-dom and [his] righteousness.”[Matthew 6:33] Seek the justice, the good works, the right ways, and the faithful-ness of God. Seek the path of God, the ways of God, the reign of God. Seek God’s presence, God’s embrace, God’s love. God’s kingdom encompasses all of that.
Among other things, when we seek the kingdom, we seek to know and to live according to the values, the moral values, of the reign of God. The question of God’s kingdom is what the world would be like if God were king, president, leader of the world, rather than those who are in charge. What are God’s values? What are the characteristics of the moral vision of God’s kingdom? Read more ….
In my book, Moral Values: What I Learned Growing Up in Church, (available as an eBook), I ask the question: “Can the Christian church, divided over different beliefs about moral values, create safe places so people can live together in love?” My answer, in part, includes a “Safe Place Covenant” to guide congregations in learning how to create places where people will feel safe enough to talk through their differences with love and respect. You can find the full covenant here.
The Church that is emerging in the 21st century will be different from the common tradition of the historical Church in many ways. What is happening cannot be identified simply with some network (such as the Emergent Village) or some semi-organized movement called the Emergent Church.
People around the world increasingly value compassion and acceptance of others and resist inherited traditions imposed upon them by force of institutional hierarchies of all kinds. Nonviolent activism that challenges traditional authority and demands direct voice …. read more
From my 2004 book, Moral Values: What I Learned Growing Up in Church[now a free e-Book] – The church today is deeply divided over our understanding of moral values and their biblical roots. Some people define key moral values as abortion and homosexuality, and some say key moral values are larger than that, the values of life and love. Some see black-and-white values taught in scripture, and others see shades of gray in a biblical tradition with its roots embedded in writings spread out over 1,000 years.
The choice is not either/or but both/and. There are some clear black-and-white moral teachings in scripture (though not as many as some people think), and there are many shades of understanding of such concerns as marriage, family life, sexuality, religious life, the sanctity of all life, and the roles of men and women in society, to name just a few.
In a small book like this we cannot consider all the moral teachings of scripture. And this is not an academic study of any of them. It is a personal witness to my faith. I want to focus on the ultimate moral values of life and love, especially love. What does the Bible teach us about love, and what are the implications of love in our concern for those who have yet to be born and our concern for the sacredness of marriage – two areas of moral values argued so vociferously during the 2004 U.S. election?
Will the church survive its deep divisions? Will mainstream denominations in the U.S. find a way to continue to live together despite the seemingly insurmountable differences of understanding about what we believe to be of ultimate importance in our faith? Will the different branches of the church – sometimes characterized as conservative and liberal – be able to accept each other as members of the same spiritual body and family and learn to live together without rancor and with respect? These are the fervent questions in my heart and soul as I write this book.
What I know about moral values I learned growing up in Protestant churches and in a Christian home. We went to church on Sunday as a matter of choice, perhaps of habit. Whether out of choice or habit, we went both to Sunday School and to worship. And as a teen, I went to youth group and to choir. Some years it seemed we were at the church more evenings than not. After 40 years in ministry, my heart and mind still yearn for confidence that God is behind my convictions and moral commitments, that the Spirit guides my moral choices.
Given the changes here and there in how I live out my fundamental values as a Christian, the moral values I hold and the choices I make still come out of the core of what I learned as a child growing up in church and in a Christian home. I learned early in life simple lessons like these:
Be kind to others.
Forgive people who hurt you.
Stand up to bullies without fighting.
Be honest without hurting people.
Let other people be who they are.
Be faithful to your friends.
Love God and other people.
These simple values form the concrete foundation for the life God calls me to live out in the church, as well as in the world. I am convinced that God calls the whole church to live by them as well. As I experience the church today, I see a large crack in the foundation.
The Church changes in every generation, certainly in every century. There are pivotal generations, however, and I believe we are living in one of those times. The history of the Christian Church focuses on such things as Creeds, Confessions, and Common practices. When people talked about “what we believe,” they most often meant what we can understand and explain – our doctrines and denominational distinctives, for instance.
As the Church moves farther into the 21st century, all that will change rapidly. We already see a deepening chasm between leaders and pastors who focus on these traditional foundations and those who focus on what I call 5 Movements of Changing Churches:
“What we believe” becomes more about how we live and how we demonstrate to the world God’s gracious love for all creation. Faith becomes more a matter of relationship with God and the world than a matter of intellectual and organizational uniformity. The Church is changing. The question is whether we will change with it.
Much has been written about the Emerging or Emergent Church, as if there is one reality. We would be more accurate to speak of emerging churches or congregations or communities, for what is emerging in our day has many dimensions and cannot be limited by the boundaries we have set in the past to describe the Church. We are not seeing a new denomination forming. This is not just a matter of new worship styles or new theologies.
Traditional gatekeepers guard gates that many people no longer use. Sentries still guard the walls of doctrine and liturgy that people simply go around. In emerging churches, hierarchies disappear; top-down control is ignored. New networks form around common interests and mutual trust, and people resist the warnings of those who cry wolf when they know in their hearts that what they are experiencing is no threat.
Creative imagination enables us to move beyond what we have always been taught to see something new. When we open up our minds and spirits to the new thing God is doing without prejudging it as wrong, we can begin to imagine what we have never seen before. Isn’t that what God has been doing in the world throughout the ages?