Category Archives: Leadership

Steward the Faith

“After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:10)

A family occasion was the recent cause for my wife and I to look at old family pictures and other family memorabilia.  It doesn’t seem that long ago when we were so young that our parents still held onto some of their youth.  Then, there was a time when my afro was so large, my dad “hinted” (a euphemism) how nice it would be if I got it cut.  Looking at pictures of our children at various stages of their own growth, pictures that seem like they were taken yesterday was a reminder that time never slows down for they are all now at or near middle age and have their own families.

Growing up, I was always interested in, and later grateful for, the family stories my parents shared with me.  These were stories of the events of their lives and their families of origin including some I met and got to know and grow close to and many whom I didn’t.  I heard about mom’s and dad’s experiences as children and young adults and even beyond, things that shaped them as people.  Those lessons were critically important to me.  

I know I’m not unique in this; I think it’s natural for parents to do this with their children.  These narratives provide context for life, value formation and hopefully, healthy spiritual formation, something that many children, I fear, are not getting in their homes.  

Early in the formation of the national Israel, GOD instructed His people, through Moses, to be proactive with certain things, including passing down the narratives of what GOD had done for them to succeeding generations. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deut. 6:6-7).

People share a lot of things with their children, verbally and by being observed daily over the course of years as the children grow: history, culture, values, habits, expectations, dogmas, flaws, prejudices, etc.  For those of us who claim to know, love and trust GOD, where is He, and what He has done, on that particular list which we proactively and purposefully share with the generations that follow us?  

Time never slows down and soon another generation will “be gathered to their ancestors” until that “great day of the Lord.”  Let it not be said of us that we lived and then left without intentionally, purposefully, faithfully paying forward our faith and that we left behind us another generation that grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done.   

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted. 

A Christian Oxymoron

“Seek first the kingdom of God…” (Matthew 6:33, NIV)

Thou shalt have no elohim acherim [other gods] in My presence.” 

(Exodus 20:3, Orthodox Jewish Bible)

I’ve been mulling on this for some time now, the idea of Christian Nationalism.  Certainly, the concept of nationalism has entered more and more into our nation’s dialog over the last few years and seems to be favored by more than a few.  This is one of the issues for which I feel the need to put a stake in the ground and to say so: Jesus was not a nationalist.  Christianity and nationalism are irreconcilable ways of believing and behaving.  They are unequal yoke partners.  They are in direct opposition to one another.  Christian Nationalism is an oxymoron if such a thing as an oxymoron ever existed.

What is nationalism?  Well, the term has a broad definition, but a representative one is “devotion, especially excessive or undiscriminating devotion, to the interests or culture of a particular nation-state.”1 With it comes a belief in acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals.  In its mildest forms it is patriotism.  The problem as I see it is that, too often, the milder forms of nationalism morph into things not so mild.  The more extreme forms of nationalism have often started as patriotic fervor and then gradually transitioned into something more extreme and xenophobic. It’s like the proverbial frog placed in a pot of cold water and the heat is gradually increased until the pot is boiling and frog never saw it coming.  Too late!  The same thing has happened in nations where national values shifted gradually to become not only important values but the supreme values.    

The history of highly nationalistic nations reflects some combination of these characteristics: 1) an inflated sense of superiority and exceptionalism; 2) the assumption of privilege as a result of being members of a nation’s dominant culture; 3) dismissal, distrust, fear, or hatred of those outside of that dominant culture such as minorities and/or foreigners; 4) the assumption of the right to exclude those outside of the dominant culture from full or even partial participation in the nation; and 5) demonstration of oppressive behavior under the guise of protecting national interest. 

Let’s take a look at some historical examples of nationalism:

  • The Persian Empire – Grew to conquer most of the Near and Middle East; tried to conquer Greece
  • The Roman Empire – Saw itself as the rightful ruler of the world
  • The British Empire of the 19th century – Held a prevailing attitude that anything not British was intrinsically inferior
  • Nazi Germany – We know what they did
  • Fascist Italy – We know what they tried to do
  • South Africa during apartheid – The minority in power saw themselves as a modern-day “chosen people” in a modern-day land of Canaan with the right to subdue, subjugate, and brutalize the majority who had inhabited the land for centuries
  • Japan during WWII – Nearly 80 years later both North and South Korea still has beef with them over things the Japanese did and failed to fully acknowledge    
  • The Soviet Union – We know a lot of what they did, what they have tried to do, and a lot is still unknown
  • The People’s Republic of China – See above
  • Cambodia under Pol Pot (1975-79) – A complete horror show, literally
  • Russia – Vladimir Putin.  Enough said?        

The characteristics mentioned earlier in the full paragraph above are not anything I want reflected in my life, nor should anyone who wants to be associated with Christ.  Biblical Christianity is inclusive (see John 3:16).  The basis of biblical Christianity is unselfish love for GOD and for our neighbors.  The parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) makes it emphatic that Jesus recognized no national or ethnic boundaries on who constituted a neighbor. 

If the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-18) is missionally directed toward all others who might be considered “outsiders,” then the tenets of nationalism don’t fit and can’t fit.  John Wesley, the great 18th century Anglican priest and credited with founding methodism said, “The world is my parish.”  This was not from a man who felt superior, who felt entitled, who dismissed, distrusted, feared or hated, who excluded or oppressed others.  He was very much the opposite. 

I think the concept of Christian Nationalism depends on closely linking personal religious beliefs to one’s national identity so that they become inseparable, what some call civil religion.  The problem with this is such notions are far from orthodox Christian faith.  Instead, faith is expressed in some hybrid view of GOD and nation.  This is strikingly close to polytheism and idol worship if it places nation on or near the same plane as GOD, in direct disobedience to the first commandment.  Nation becomes a contemporary version of the ancient Israelites’ golden calf.  It  undermines one’s ability to commit one’s life to the “Great Commandment” to love GOD with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).  No, I don’t believe it is possible to be a Christian and a nationalist whenever that nationalism manifests more than common patriotism.  

Perhaps those who claim to be Christian Nationalists don’t sufficiently grasp Christianity or perhaps there is an inner transformative work that has not yet been accomplished in their lives.  Another alternative is that they really are nationalists and are wearing the outer clothing of Christianity.         

  1. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2016.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted. 

Simple Grace

Yesterday, I drove 60 miles in heavy rain.  Most of that was on an interstate where the normal speed limit is 65.  Of course, it’s fairly common on clear days to be passed by cars doing considerably above that even when I’m driving a little above the limit.  Experiencing that kind of high-speed driving and the occasional intemperate switching from lane-to-lane from fellow travelers on very wet roads in a driving rain to me seems to be…inconsiderate.  Maybe my age is showing, but I don’t think that’s it.  I’ve felt this way since I began driving. 

Now I do need to confess that a number of years ago I had an accident in a rainstorm.  All of my family was in the car.  Our three children were young, including our youngest who wasn’t quite two months old.  On a curving on-ramp to I-295 in a heavy thunderstorm, I never thought much of the pool of water in the road.  I wasn’t going fast, maybe 25mph. I lost control of the car as the tires lost contact with the road and the car hydroplaned and slammed into the concrete curb.  Fortunately, no one was hurt, and there were no other cars in front of or behind us.  The front tie-rods were broken making the car not drivable.  

That night is strongly etched in my mind all these years later.  You might say I’m a little sensitive which is why I think it’s so important to remember that we share the road and life with others.  The simple graces hardly cost anything at all.  Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’ is not just for children.  Letting people finish what they are saying without interrupting them to say what you want to say is about valuing their voice as much as you value your own.  Demonstrating courtesy like holding a door or using a blinker when turning or changing lanes only involves a little wrist action.  Exercising the patience so as to not tailgate others or weave in and out of traffic may require a little more restraint, but we all will be more likely to get where we’re headed with a lot less stress.

You might say this is not going to change anything and that people will continue to do these things.   I disagree.  If just one person adjusts some aspect of their life to offer simple grace to others, then that’s a change.  And maybe, that one person may influence someone else to do the same. 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.  

More Than Enough

“So above all, constantly chase after the realm of God’s kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from Him. Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly.”  (Matthew 6:33, Passion Bible)

One of my favorite worship songs is More Than Enough1 as sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  In summary, it speaks of GOD’s complete sufficiency as a provider, a healer, and the blessing of His constant presence.  The song’s aim is to reaffirm in our hearts and minds that the person of GOD and the provision of GOD exceeds our every need.  I can’t hear it or sing it without experiencing emotion that can’t be contained.  

I firmly believe that the GOD I know has a storehouse of riches that is infinite in its abundance.  I believe that abundance is a prime character trait of the economy of the kingdom of GOD.  This is the economy which Jesus introduced to the world and for which His followers, His Church, has the responsibility to demonstrate and promote.  GOD’s economy of abundance is in direct opposition to the economy of scarcity which characterizes the world and its nations. 

The economy of abundance says there is enough of everything for everyone to have their needs met.  There is enough food for everyone in the world to eat, there is enough work for everyone so that everyone can contribute to the whole, there is enough money so that no one needs to be destitute, there is enough space for everyone to live peacefully and safely, there is enough love for everyone to receive, there is enough compassion to share broadly…there is enough.  In fact, there is more than enough. Cases in point are the occasions in which Jesus fed thousands out of what appeared to be very little.  In both cases, there were leftovers after the multitudes were fed.      

Conversely, the economy of scarcity says “no” to all of the above; there is not enough of everything for everyone.  The size of the pie is finite, and the more some have the less others will have.   Because the economy of scarcity says “no,” unused food is plowed under or stored and then often rots in one part of the world while people starve in another part.  The economy of scarcity is why the richest 1% of the world’s population owns in excess 50% of the globe’s total wealth, a number that continues to grow for the richest and shrink for the poorest2.  The economy of scarcity is why we will always have people living in homelessness and deep poverty, unable to find an escape.  The economy of scarcity is why we create reasons to fear and demonize “the other” and need ways to keep “them” out (closed neighborhoods, privatized schools, gated communities and border walls which cost billions of dollars).  The economy of scarcity effectively states that there is only so much opportunity, so much love, and so much compassion to go around and those who live outside the boundaries of privilege are not eligible to receive.  

Sidebar: Imagine being able to use hoarded and misappropriated money to fund equitable public education, broad access to post high school education for those who want it, development of vaccines, cures, and other advanced medical protocols, expansion of non-fossil based energy sources to support the re-greening of the earth, universal quality support and care for the other abled, the disabled and the elderly…

I’m not fostering some utopian ideal or human-based political economy.  Instead, at least in the realms in which the Church can exert influence, it is GOD’s economy of abundance where the rhetoric of grace is actually the reality of grace that abounds and where the will of GOD is done on earth as it is in heaven.  Perhaps difficulty buying-in to this is because of a lack of belief that GOD’s way actually works (and a belief that the world’s way does).      

The primary value in GOD’s economy of abundance is GOD’s righteousness.  It is the natural extension of loving GOD and loving our neighbors as ourselves which Jesus declared as the two greatest commandments.  The primary values of economies of scarcity are acquisition, self-promotion and self-protection.  It is a natural extension of loving self and those closest to us above all else.  

In GOD’s economy of abundance, there is recognition of human psycho-social and material needs (read or reread Matthew 6:33), but they are always secondary and come as a promised provision based on faith and obedience.  In the world’s economy of scarcity, human needs, desires and preferences are always primary and are always subject to competition and conflict (between individuals, groups, regions, and nations).        

So here’s my question for those who claim to be citizens of the kingdom of GOD.  Which of these two economies is most evident in your life, not enough or more than enough?  I ask the question of you (and of myself) because it goes to the heart of practicing what we preach.     

  1. More Than Enough” by Robert Lane Gay.
  2. “Richest 1% own half the world’s wealth, study finds,” The Guardian, US edition, 2017.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.

Off Point Values

Expedience is not a Christian spiritual value – Me

There’s an issue that has weighed heavily on me for the last several years, and while I have touched on it here and there, I feel the need to be more direct.  Let me say first that I am grateful to those who take the time to read what I write, both those who are Jesus followers as I seek to be, those who have reservations about Him, and those whose belief systems are fundamentally different than mine.  I don’t take your interest lightly and appreciate each of you. 

That said, I want to be explicit: I love the Church.  I believe it is the physical body of Christ in this world for which He gave His life to redeem (repurchase).  And to this body, He is the head in all things.  Because the Church His body, He cares deeply for the Church and is fully aware of her errors, her flaws, her potential, and is continually seeking her perfection.  

The Church offered me a needed lifeline early in my adult life, and I have believed and worked to be part of that lifeline offering to others over the years. I have gotten to know and experience GOD and His community of believers through the Church such that I want more and more of Him and them.  I am so grateful that GOD is not stingy; He gives of Himself freely to those who seek after Him.  Our relationship continues to deepen even after all these years.  The Church has been the facilitator for all of this.  I love the Church so much that I hate to see spiritual compromise operating within her. 

There is no question that there are many serious, controversial and complex social and political issues at work in our society.  They have been present for many years, and I suspect will continue to be present for many more.  They have been the catalyst for much division and worse.  I say “catalyst” rather than reason because I believe the actual reasons for division (and worse) lies in the heart dispositions of human beings.  Sometimes, the rationale for harmful, hurtful, and even hateful treatment has been the perceived moral laxity of others leading to a belief that otherwise questionable attitudes and actions are justified because they serve a greater societal good. 

There is nothing particularly new here, it is common to humanity.  The problem for me is when the Church adopts this path, treating political expediency as a spiritual value in order to combat moral decline, aligning itself with those whose aims are political power and whose tactics are power politics.  And power politics always has targets which are often anyone considered to be an outlier from the majority’s norm.   

While some in the Church thinks this kind of alignment strengthens her position to affect moral transformation, I think she is weakened by it in the long-run.  Make no mistake; I have huge concerns about what I see as moral decline and even degradation and the spiritual darkness (disguised as enlightened thinking) in which this decline festers.  If the Church is going to be faithful to her calling, however, she cannot follow a common path.  “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).  

There is no divine power in the common path and yet too often, I think, our history shows that we keep coming back to it, perhaps because it’s relatively easy and expedient.  We keep fighting with the weapons of the world.  We keep giving to Caesar what belongs to GOD.  We keep seeking power alliances to advance our agendas.  We keep placing our bets on utilitarian philosophy (from a spiritual perspective, justifying questionable means for the sake of perceived righteous ends) rather than the historical Christianity we claim to be upholding.  And by doing these things, we are proclaiming expedience is a spiritual value.  It is not!  It never has been.  If it were, Jesus would have allowed His followers to fight to prevent His arrest (John 18:36).  He did not do that.  In fact, Jesus rebuked Peter for his initial attempt to fight for Jesus (John 18:10-11).  Paul rebuked the Corinthians for judging those outside the Church, instead saying that those in the Church should judge those on the inside (1 Corinthians 5:12).     

The truth is that, throughout history, every time the Church has sought the use of political power to gain social advantage, she was weakened by a distorted witness.  Her credibility suffered because she was viewed as just another special interest group among many.  The powerful and mystical distinctiveness of Christ, who freely gave grace, compassion and forgiveness, who did not manipulate nor condemn nor curry favor with anyone, and who sacrificed Himself for the sake of others, was clouded by mixed messages and the need to defend against charges of hypocrisy.  Are we not seeing some (or much) of that today?   

I would love to see changes in the moral fabric of our time.  I do believe in a singular objective standard of right and wrong, of sin and righteousness that flows from the wisdom of GOD.  What I don’t believe in is in using earthly means to gain heavenly outcomes.  As Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).  It is not the business of the Church, which belongs to Jesus Christ, to undermine His way, His truth, His life, and to do so in His name.    

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted. 

Hold On, Just For A Moment!

I was watching a college football halftime show and one of the analysts was lamenting to extent to which Covid-19 had upset normalcy in society and particularly its impact on the unencumbered play of college football.  Like the rest of us are impacted, all players, coaches, fans, and schools have been affected.  The schools with big-time programs also have experienced major economic hits as their football programs provide millions of dollars in revenue.  Taking a stab at humor, there was a paper shredder on the table and the analyst making the complaints started shredding pieces of paper with the year 2020 emblazoned in bold letters.

For certain, 2020 has been a tough year around the globe, but before it passes into obscurity let’s not ditch it before looking to see if there are lessons we can glean from it.  Here are a few thoughts:

  • It’s not 2020’s fault.  Sure, there is symbolic blame we can cast on it, but when the clock reaches 12:01am on January 1, 2021 we will face the same challenges as we did in March 2020.  It was only a year ago when we were looking forward to saying “Happy New Year” as 2019 came to a close.  While there may be light at the end of the tunnel because of the pending availability of vaccines, it may be mid-summer before we have universal availability in this country, not to mention other countries around the world.  The challenges of economic and emotional recovery will loom large well into 2021…and there are no guarantees, which brings me to the next point.      
  • If nothing else, this experience, hopefully, has taught us and continues to teach us that we don’t have the control over our environment we thought we had.  Scientific and technological advances combined with the relative wealth of living in a “1st world” country can create an illusion of sovereignty, unlimited personal agency and even arrogance.  Nope!  No matter how far advanced we become, there have always been historical events beyond the control of persons, individual and collective wealth, scientific expertise, and governmental strength that remind us that we are neither transcendent nor unlimited.  Perhaps it was just our time.  This alone should humble us…and keep us humble.
  • The only tests of resilience are difficulties.  Endurance is only needed when there is something to overcome.  This past year has required, of all of us, resilience and endurance.  For some, it has been more so than for others.  Still, I suspect it will continue to be so as we try to recover, adapt, and move forward.  And perhaps the resilience and endurance we’ve had to demonstrate in 2020 will give us confidence for whatever we may face in the future.

So, before we throw 2020 away into the dustbin of forgetfulness, let’s take time to see what else it might say to us that can actually help us in 2021.  May the new year give you clear eyes to see and fresh ears to hear what the Spirit is saying.  

Blessings.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.                

Come On, Church!

While I haven’t seen it in a while, I used to enjoy the “Come On, Man” segment on the ESPN® Monday Night Football pregame show.  Do they still do it?  For the uninitiated, the segment highlighted bone-headed plays and player behavior from different games from prior weeks. Each analyst on the pre-game show would select several plays they wanted to highlight, a video would show the play and the behavior, which would always be something head-scratching, and the analyst would say, with disdain in his voice, “Come on, man!”  The underlying, unstated message always was, “You need to do better than that.”

In truth, the saying is a lot older than the sport show’s use.  I’ve heard it from others and have said it myself for many years as a reaction to seeing or hearing something from someone that provoked an incredulous reaction in response to their behavior or comment, “Come on, man!”  It’s another way of saying, “Are you serious!?” or “Are you for real!?” or “You’re kidding me, right!?” or “I can’t take you seriously!” or “That was messed up!”

If you’ve been following me at all, you know that I have a great love for the Church.  I’ve spent most of my adult life in it, both as a lay member and as clergy.  I write about it, directly or indirectly, much of the time.  I read a lot about it.  I have studied the Church from its inception to current times, and the most of its developments, transitions, struggles, successes and failures in between.  I believe it to be a mystical body with a holy, transcendent purpose.  And sometimes, I think we are living beneath our calling and beneath our privilege.

The various philosophical methods developed over the centuries to “prove” GOD’s existence and the validity of Christianity aside, my study, my reason, and my experiences (including my observations) combine to affirm GOD’s reality.  The holy and transcendent are not and cannot be products of human wisdom and creativity.  Therefore, participation in them come from invitations from above and these invitations and participation have specific modes (e.g. grace, the Holy Spirit, acknowledgement of sin, repentance, faith, rebirth, self-emptying humility, and intimate spiritual relationship expressed through obedience, study for understanding and wisdom and regular prayer).  

The faith on which the Church was founded was never intended to join the list of the world’s philosophies.  It was to stand apart as the distinctive, earthly body of the heavenly and holy person of Jesus Christ.  Without that distinctiveness, Christianity can’t be anything but one among many human philosophies rooted in an argument not a person.  

The invitations have come from above, but the response and participation within the Church is uneven and sometimes lacking.  This is even more the case when the Church’s attention moves away from Christ, His will and His ways, and focuses its passion on other issues, causes, concerns and their associated wills and ways.  The result: a confused purpose, diminished power to witness, and inconsistent ability to demonstrate transformation into Christlikeness, the intended fruit of faith.

Come On, Church!   

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.   

Step Away

“…Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6)

Looking back on life, I realize how much energy I’ve exerted trying to avoid toxic things.  That goes for situations and, occasionally, people.  I’m not referring to the common aggravating things that are part of everyone’s life that tend to bum you out, but rather the situations which (and people who) so negatively affect your outlook and attitude that only removal of yourself enables you to restore equilibrium.  And failure to remove yourself may cause you to either assume aspects of that toxicity within yourself or experience feelings of having a weighted soul (oppression).

This was a periodic challenge in the corporate settings in which I worked whenever office politics became pronounced and people were trying to assert power in obvious and (in what sometimes appeared to me to be) cynical ways, when people were jockeying for power and prestige, or when something went wrong and avoidance of responsibility and c.y.a. was the ingrained habitus.  Demonstrating skill in these areas, i.e. functioning in the midst of toxicity, along with demonstrating competence in an assigned area of responsibility, was a way folks survived and even thrived.  This wasn’t a constant, but it became prevalent enough that I had to leave.  Thankfully, GOD provided me a way out.

Of course, toxic environments and people are not exclusive to business settings; we find them in every arena in life.  And I think the dynamics in them are essentially the same regardless of the setting, become a part of the toxicity or recognize what it is and how it stands to impact and step away (mentally and emotionally, if not physically).  Unfortunately, I think many people who have opted to adapt to toxic environments don’t realize that they have done so.  They’re like the Fabreze® commercials; they become nose blind to it.  They don’t see anything irregular or harmful to themselves or to others, often despite the reaction of others to them.  

Scripture frequently used yeast, a leavening and fermentation agent, as symbolic of sin.  In the story of the exodus, the ancient Israelites were told by GOD to not use yeast in their baking of bread at the time of the Passover.  Later, they were told not to use it in preparation for certain sacrificial offerings.  In the New Testament, both Jesus and Paul used yeast as a metaphor for sin or that which leads to sin.  

Anything toxic (literally, anything harmful and capable of causing injury) influencing our spiritual selves is a sign that yeast is present and at work.  It is harmful to us and to those around us because yeast affects whatever it touches.  Adopting attitudes and behaviors which are toxic is sinful because they do not reflect the love of GOD nor love of others, regardless of how they manifest themselves.  I’m convinced it’s one of the reasons Jesus talked about the importance of having eyes that see and ears that hear.                                       

When I see it in myself, the antidote is to acknowledge and deal with it before GOD in an honest and non-defensive way.  When I experience it in situations or in others, I will try to speak to it as graciously as I can and may make it a matter of prayer.  After that and if nothing changes, I usually step away.  It takes too much energy to remain in the midst of that. 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.    

Keep It Simple; Not Simplistic

“Love the Lord your God with all your…mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

There is a difference between something being simple, which essentially means easy to understand or not elaborate whereas simplistic is the tendency to ignore complexities and complications.  

Children, for example, are able to grasp the essential measure of biblical truth if they can remember John 3:16 or the lessons found in the songs, Jesus Love Me and Jesus Loves the Little Children1.   Hopefully, as we mature our ability to wrestle with some of the complexities of biblical teaching increases with our aging, although not everyone will grow to the same levels.  But if, for some reason, we do not grow a lot in understanding much beyond what we find in John 3:16 or those two songs, the lessons within still provide us with what we need to be grounded in the Christian faith and to obey the two great commandments: love GOD and love our neighbors as ourselves.

We need that strong foundation of belief and obedience to truth for this is how we build our lives on solid rock and not on shifting sand, a metaphor of Jesus.  We need that foundation because the world we live in is full of complexities which are constantly in motion.  Additionally, new complexities are added upon the old.  Changes spawned over several hundred years by the Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, near unceasing warfare, and all of the after-effects of modernity including technology development coming at warp speed has forced all of us to deal with change at a pace which is constant…and often unwelcome.  

Add to this, postmodern challenges to the tenets of modernism, political instability, economic uncertainty, and the rejection of societal norms which we see expressed in increasing activism.  The world has turned into a Ball of Confusionfor many people.  The “good old days” don’t exist except as a haven in the minds of those who are dealing with a sense of loss of control and/or resentment. 

The danger for those in this latter group is the temptation to prefer simplistic responses to complex issues, that is, responses that ignore real complexities and complications.  This danger is equally true for the Church as it is for every other segment of society.  One example is something I came across a week or so ago in which an “evangelical” pastor condemned the “evil of intellectualism” that he believed had infected some in his congregation.3 This is not a unique or isolated view.  I have witnessed it, not necessarily in his exact words but certainly with a similar attitude.  I have heard pastors I know speak of experiencing it within their own ministry contexts.  

The theme of anti-intellectualism in the Church is not new; it has been the foundation of fundamentalism for at least of century and reflects a deep distrust and “antagonism to learning, education and the educated…in a conscious display of simplicity, earthiness, even colorful simi-literacy.”4   

This is taking the gospel (which can be communicated and understood simply) and making it simplistic in a way I doubt was ever envisioned by Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, John, Polycarp, Augustine, Origen, Tertullian, John Chrysostom, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others.  How do we love GOD with all of our mind if we devalue the mind’s ability to wrestle with and comprehend levels of complexity…or worse than devaluing it, calling it “evil?”  How can any of us have the experience of being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) if we neglect feeding them with the spiritual food of the Word and the wisdom of the saints acquired and tested over centuries…or at the very least, earnest prayer?

John Wesley, the 18th century Anglican priest who founded Methodism, and a central figure within my denominational tribe, was clear in declaring that there is great value in the use of reason to grasp spiritual truth, marking it only second in importance to Scripture.  It was said of Oswald Chambers, a noted early 20th century teacher, evangelist and missionary, “If [he] had a pet peeve it was, in his words, ‘intellectual slovenliness, disguised by a seemingly true regard for the spiritual interests.”5 To his students he said, “More than half the side-tracks and all [author’s emphasis] the hysterical phenomena that seize whole communities of people, like [an infectious] epidemic…arise from spiritual laziness and intellectual sloth on the part of so-called religious teachers.”6

This is, in no way, a call to big intellectual pursuits for everyone.  However GOD has wired each of us, in gifts and in passions, we ought to pursue these earnestly for the sake of the body of Christ and for our own joy as He blesses us in our practice.  This is however an admonition to (1) accept that our world is very complex and that there is room for the Church to engage that complexity with tools of the mind, (2) not despise those who feel called to do that; they too are honoring GOD, and (3) recognize that every mind is a “terrible thing to waste” and question those who think it’s wise to do so.                                

If I don’t learn to think, then I don’t think I’ll ever learn.”- Craig D. Lounsborough

  1. Jesus Loves Me by Anna Bartlett Warner (1859), Public Domain, Library of Congress.  Jesus Loves the Little Childrenby C. H. Woolston (original publication date is unknown).  It may still be under copyright as the last publication date was in 1976. 
  2. Ball of Confusion (The Temptations) written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.  Recorded on the Gordy label and released in 1970, Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.
  3. My apologies.  I cannot recall or retrace the source.
  4. The Free Dictionary by Farlex (online).
  5. Oswald Chambers, Abandoned to God by David McCasland, 1993, p. 106.  
  6. Chambers, p. 106.  

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless noted otherwise.

Missing Steps?

“…I in them and You in me—so that they [disciples] may be brought to complete unity…”

(John 17:23)

My first role in vocational ministry was as a pastor of spiritual formation.  I assumed this responsibility after a lengthy career in corporate human resources.  I served in this role for 7 years before taking on a lead pastor role.  There are some definite parallels between strategic HR and spiritual formation.  My HR focus was dedicated to influencing the creation of work environments in which talented people could flourish, aligning their abilities and contributions with business processes in order to achieve success after success, both corporate and individual.  The models for these successes were predetermined…in other words, we knew what success would look like and worked toward those ends.

Spiritual formation, specifically Christian spiritual formation, is the transformation people into the image of Jesus Christ for the benefit of others, all under the influence of GOD’s Holy Spirit.  The model for this transformation is Jesus Christ…being like Him is the “success” target to which all Christians are to aim their lives, regardless of branch, denomination, doctrinal distinctives, ethnicity, cultural preferences, economic status, political affiliations, or whatever the TV preachers are saying.  Jesus speaks directly to this in His High Priestly prayer in John 17.  “Complete unity” in Him and in the Father, i.e. being like them, is the purpose of spiritual formation.  When it occurs, others benefit and are blessed of GOD which is consistent with GOD’s nature (there are too many biblical citations to note here to support this point; suffice it to say that GOD loves people, all kinds of people, all people, beyond our ability to fully grasp).

In a recent reading on the early Church (2nd and 3rd centuries), the author asserts that church growth  was not the result of evangelistic fervor in the way we understand it today.*  Instead, he claims it was because the of the slow, patient, very steady development of new converts in a way that required them, over time, to demonstrate with their lives their commitment to their confession of faith.  It was when others deeply embedded in the non-Christian world witnessed the generosity, the compassion, the love (toward each other, the poor, and even toward those who abused and persecuted them), they were so impacted by this distinctly different lifestyle that many wanted to know more about this Christus.

To generate this lifestyle testimony, those making inquiries about Christianity and new converts were strictly limited in their participation in the community of faith (the church), typically for weeks, sometimes months and beyond.  This was to give new converts time, instruction, and opportunity to reflect upon and ultimately to replace the attitudes and behaviors developed in the many years prior to their conversion to new attitudes and behaviors consist with the faith.  It also gave the church an opportunity to assess their prospects before they were admitted into the fellowship.  Prematurely admitting poorly formed people into the church would undermine the church’s witness to an unbelieving world because there would be inadequate distinction between those in the dominant culture and those in the church.  Premature admission would also increase the prospect for persecution if disaffected converts or insincere people became avenues of information to those hostile to the church.

The practice of patient formation of new believers over the course of decades to strengthen and grow the Church is vastly different from contemporary practices of “opening the doors of the church” to anyone who wants to become a member, allowing people to join after taking a few membership classes, and baptizing folks who may be hard-pressed to explain the significance of baptism apart from it being a church ritual.

The Galatians passage on the Fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23) provides very specific examples of outward behaviors reflective of a legitimate inward transformation.  Similar behaviors are shared elsewhere in the New Testament by Paul, Peter, and John.  These are what the spiritually formed Christian should be demonstrating consistently as evidence of a fundamentally changed heart.  Among the things the behaviors are contrasted with are bitterness, discord, rage, factions, and malice.

At a time when the witness of Christ’s Church is as critically important as it is today, I wonder if we’re missing some important steps in helping people live the faith and not just profess it.  The drive to get B.I.S. (butts in seats) is strong, but if that drive is so strong that it actually undermines Christ’s mission by turning immature and under-formed Christians loose on the world, then it can’t be right.  After all, we’re not here for ourselves…others are key.

The measures of church success are varied depending on who you speak with.  How many in the Church today measure themselves against the standard of “complete unity” with the Father and the Son?  At the end of the day and at the end of the age, that’s what will count.

* The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, the Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, Alan Kreider, 2016.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted