Redemption, or the Bible as… Pt. IV – Guest Blogger, Jon Prater

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This blog post is part four of a four-part series adapted from transcripts preached during a revival at Forest Chapel Church of the Brethren.

As the people of God, we celebrate redemption. By that I mean we celebrate the way that we are repurchased, or reclaimed for the Kingdom of God.1 However, we must also celebrate and take caution that redemption is not a one-time act; it does not happen in a vacuum. In other words, our redemption comes in a moment, but also perpetually renews and restores in our lives. With this in mind, we explore the Bible as redemption.

Both the Old and New Testaments present that redemption comes from God alone. Stories such as the Exodus point us to the redemption God provides for God’s people; while New Testament passages such as 2 Corinthians 5 life the redemption delivered through Jesus. However, redemption is empowered by the Word of God. We must expand our understanding of redemption to encompass a multi-faceted theology of redemption- first redemption as a position through God (1 Corinthians 1:30); redemption as an act through Jesus (Ephesians 1:7), and redemption as a way of being in the world through the Bible (Ephesians 5:26). For this study, we will consider the third of these.

After all, redemption is not just about our standing in the scheme of life after Earth, but also about our status on this Earth as well. The redemption offered through Christ is about not just life eternal, but life abundant as Jesus himself taught in John 10:10. Jesus words about abundant life in the here and now should provide a substantial framework for the way we engage the Bible as God’s people.

In the earlier parts of this study, we spoke on the Bible informing our lives together as rule, the Bible calling us together as confession, and the Bible sending us out as proclamation; this last thought of the Bible as redemption is what transforms us into the people of God. After all, many a story can be told of people in the community of faith who live their lives without ever being transformed, and the question we must begin to ask is why. Ephesians 5:26 stands to offer us the consideration that it is the Word of God that renews us piece by piece and day by day- the Bible is our source of transformation for life today.

This need for continual renewal is why we, as Christ followers, should center around Scripture, because the Word of God is our most significant source of spiritual renovation. Consider passages such as Romans 12:1-2 that encourage this continual renewal for the cause of Christ- the Word of God must be at the center of this kind of action. As people of God, we gather around the Bible not just to read of the history of the faith, or to set rules and parameters for life, but to meet and empower the Spirit of God to rise up in us and make something new in the midst of our lives. Much like the dry bones coming to life at the Word of God spoken from Ezekiel’s lips, we too come to life in new ways as the Word of God is lifted in the center of our faith.

However, approaching the Bible in this way also challenges us to consider our theology of evangelism in new ways as well. We are powered to lift ideas such as “The Bible Transforms” alongside phrases such as “Jesus Saves”; if we detach the person of Christ from the illumination of Scripture the Gospel has lost its power in the here and now, and merely becomes about eternal destination, not ministry in the here and now.

As a pastor, I am often asked what should be our motivation for Bible Study. In most circumstances, I present the idea that it is through Jesus that we get into the Kingdom of God, but through the Scripture that the Kingdom of God arrives in us. By engaging with God’s word in the context of community, and in the context of individuals we are entering into a kind of renewal and perpetual engagement with the Kingdom of God.

In many ways, we, as Anabaptists, would do well to link the renewal of the water of the Word with the restoration we find in the baptismal waters. We do not see baptism as an end, but as a passage into a transformed way of being in the world. Our baptism signals to the community around us that we are entering into a process of sanctification and discipleship and that from that moment forward we want to live life in a new way, in the light of Jesus.
After all, a frequent confession for the people of God is that the Bible is a living text that reveals itself in new and profound ways each time we engage it. We would do well also to remember that we too are living and that each time we approach the Bible we are changing as well.2 Just as the Word of God is being used and revealed by the Spirit of God, we too are being transformed and shaped by the Spirit of Truth and the teachings of Jesus.
So as people and communities of faith may we each continue to be renewed by the Word of God. As we find our resting place in Christ, may we each remember that the Kingdom of God is on the move, and each time we enter the Word of God the Kingdom moves in us.3

Jon Prater is the pastor of Mt. Zion Church of the Brethren in Linville, Virginia where he has served since 2020. He is a current MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and has an undergraduate degree in Biblical Theology from Liberty University. A former church planter, Jon is a public speaker and workshop leader on subjects including church planting and church vitality. He is husband to Jessica and father to twin sons Aiden and Elijah.

1 Burge and Hill, The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary.
2 “THE WASHING OF THE WATER IN THE WORD.”
3 Crier, “What Does It Mean To Be In Christ?”

Image Credits: Our Blessed Rejoicing and Institute for Bible Reading

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Standing in Stillness or just Standing Still – Guest Blogger, Elizabeth Murray

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This week, we take a break from our four-part series, “The Bible As…” by Jon Prater, to welcome a new writer to the Brethren Life & Thought Blog as Elizabeth Murray, of Anderson University, shares her insightful Advent reflections.

In this Advent season of waiting, I find myself meditating on how much of my life is bound up in the tension between anticipation and foreboding. When am I waiting patiently, and when am I just waiting for the other shoe to drop or otherwise delaying out of fear?

There are those, like my brother, who believe if you expect nothing, you’ll never be disappointed, but can we really stop ourselves from living in expectation? Would it be healthy for us to try?

I know myself well enough to recognize that I thrive on anticipation. I relish the steps between here and some planned-for there. I love to check off the boxes as I prepare for a trip.

Flight? Check.
Hotel? Check.
Ground transportation? Check.
Entertainment plans? Check.

As I check off each box, my eyes narrow with delight, knowing that this expectation will soon become a reality, that each step is guiding me where I want to go. Sometimes, though, I languish in delaying my joy.

I think many of us play this game with ourselves. We feel somehow undeserving of happiness, of met expectations. We’ll say to ourselves that only once we reach a goal weight, the completion of a degree, the purchase or sale of property, or some other arbitrary feat will we be worthy of our joy. It is as if we believe in doing these things, we’ll become bulletproof to loss. We delay going after our goals because we fear that losing our joy will be worse than never attaining it at all.

Brene Brown, social worker and shame researcher, points out, “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience, and if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy.”

She points out that this fragility leads us down the path of foreboding. She gives the example of being awash in love for an infant child, standing over their crib as they sleep, then turning away from this joy by saying, “I don’t know what I’d do if anything ever happened to them.” We begin rehearsing these moments, she says, as if doing so will truly prepare us – as if spending time in these fearful feelings will make us impervious to loss. It’s safe to feel there is something we can do to protect ourselves, but the truth is, Brown says, there is no way to actually prepare. All we are doing is spending time in fear and in this rehearsal of tragedy rather than focusing on gratitude and joy.

How would our lives look different if we lived in joy instead of fear?

As a person of faith, I’ve struggled with using the virtue of patience as a scapegoat for my fear. I’ve dressed up my foreboding in the cloak of patiently waiting, pretending that it was faith rather than fear that kept me standing still. Yes, we must be patient. We must be willing to sit in stillness, take time to discern our paths, and do so with grace and peace. This peaceful waiting, though, is different than the gut-wrenching wait for that which we are too afraid to pursue.

In Romans 15:13, the scripture acknowledges that faith and joy are bound to one another – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (NRSV). Without the peace of trusting in God’s support – or more broadly our resilience to failing – our fear can wind up looking a lot like patience unless we take steps to tell them apart.

How do we take these steps out of fear and into faith?

There is some agreement across disciplines that gratitude is among our greatest tools. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.” (CEB) Brown’s research found this early Christian advice in action. In her interviews, she says, “People were quick to point out the differences between happiness and joy as the difference between a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.”1

This active practice of gratitude helps us see through our fear. It helps us live in joy and understand the times when we must be patient in discerning our paths while being courageous enough to take them when the time comes. Without gratitude and joy, our fear leaves us standing at a crossroads, unable to be the active and engaged hands and feet of God at work in the world. Without patience, we stomp carelessly into the world around us. Without faith, we take little action at all. Thankfulness isn’t just a mealtime prayer or words tossed off because we feel like we’re supposed to. It must be at the center of our spiritual practice. It must be tangible and active. Yes, we give God our thanks and praise because He is worthy, but we also give it because we need to be thankful to be fully engaged servants.

As I wait in anticipation of Christmas and a new year, I give thanks and try to live in a joy that helps me have the courage to wait in stillness instead of standing still in fear.

 

 


Elizabeth Murray grew up in Anderson, Indiana, the daughter of two music professors. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and returned to Indiana to begin a career in journalism. She now works in digital content for Anderson University, founded by and affiliated with the Church of God movement, and is pursuing a Master’s degree in strategic communication at Purdue University. She is active as a member of First United Methodist Church in Anderson, Ind., the congregation into which she was confirmed in 1997.

Elizabeth has a deep love of stories and storytelling and sees writing as a way to forge connection and community. Through sharing knowledge, she believes we come to see what we have in common is greater than what separates us

  1. https://www.eomega.org/article/gratitude-is-the-key-to-a-joyful-life

Image Credits: Project Zion Podcast, Pinterest, and Catholic Life – Diocese of La Crossee

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The Bible As… Pt. III – Guest Blogger, Jon Prater

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This blog post is part three of a four-part series adapted from transcripts preached during a revival at Forest Chapel Church of the Brethren.

Image result for proclaim bibleThe third lens of engaging Scripture is proclamation. To proclaim means to “to declare publicly, typically insistently, proudly, or defiantly and in either speech or writing.” In some ways, the entire Bible can be seen as proclamation, but when we engage the Scriptures through a lens of proclamation, we are intently asking what God would have us say to the world around us. The New Testament word for proclaiming is kerysso, which is used 63 times in the New Testament. The term kerysso is intricately connected to authority to speak on another’s behalf.
The Word of God was never meant to be a strictly private text. The oral history of the Biblical text shows that the Old Testament was traditionally a communal document. Furthermore, the nature of the Epistles of the New Testament shows that the writers had public consumption of their letters in mind when they penned their words. The practice of gathering to hear God’s Word in a public setting is nothing new, it is part of Christian history from our roots.

One of the first misconceptions that we must address when we consider proclamation is the role of prophecy in the Scriptures because the prophets were the earliest agents of proclamation in the Christian story. A common misconception is that prophets were concerned with foretelling- or telling the future; which is undoubtedly not the case. The prophets, instead, were interested in foretelling or delivering a message on behalf of God in the midst of their current context. Foretelling is an essential piece of Biblical proclamation because we are called to take the words of Scripture and import them into our lives and settings.

The lens of proclamation frames a healthy practice of evangelism and discipleship. Passages such as Mark 16:15-19, and Romans 10:14-17 call us to integrate the Biblical text into our evangelism and discipleship programs. In a world full of church growth programs, canned theory, and gimmicks we must keep an intentional base on the proclamation of the Word of Truth. The underlining question for us when approaching the Bible in this fashion is what is God’s Word for God’s people today? While this is primarily the task of the preacher, we must also encourage all of God’s people to embrace this kind of approach. After all, part of our Brethren identity rests on 1 Peter 2:5 and our calling to a priesthood of all believers. By placing emphasis on the call of all people in the faith community to ministry we should also emphasize the call for all people to engage the Word as proclamation.

Image result for prophecyPart of this tension, though is that proclamation is not always good, just ask the Old Testament prophets. In fact, Jesus himself employed woes as part of his Gospel announcement. Jesus’ proclamation, even when proclaiming negative action, points to a greater truth- the Gospel. Therefore, we see that all of God’s proclamations point to the good news, and our declarations should reflect this same kind of discourse.

This lens of approaching the Scriptures guides us in the life of the community and gives the community cues on its place in the world. Remembering that we are the carriers of the good news, as the beforementioned Scriptures teach us. Paul casts images of beautiful feet that carry the good news of Christ. May we each reflect this powerful image as we engage God’s Word as proclamation.

Jon Prater is the pastor of Mt. Zion Church of the Brethren in Linville, Virginia where he has served since 2020. He is a current MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and has an undergraduate degree in Biblical Theology from Liberty University. A former church planter, Jon is a public speaker and workshop leader on subjects including church planting and church vitality. He is husband to Jessica and father to twin sons Aiden and Elijah.

“Definition of PROCLAIM.” Accessed October 17, 2017. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/proclaim.
“Genesis Chapter 1 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed January 13, 2017. https://www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/gen/1/1/s_1001.
“How to Read the Bible – Forthtelling, Not Foretelling – Oxford Biblical Studies Online.” Accessed October 17, 2017. http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780195161496/obso-9780195161496-chapter-3.
“Preach, Proclaim – Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology Online.” Bible Study Tools. Accessed October 17, 2017. http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/preach-proclaim.html.

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Simplify Recap – Guest Blogger, Jonathan Stauffer

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This week, we take a break from our four-part series, “The Bible As…” by Jon Prater, to welcome back frequent Brethren Life & Thought blog contributor, Jonathan Stauffer. Stauffer writes about his experience attending Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center’s recent Simplify Conference. Stauffer accompanied two current Bethany Theological Seminary students as part of a partnership between Bethany’s Peace Forum and conference organizers, (also) current Bethany students, Katie and Tim Heishman.

 

Nestled in vibrantly-colored trees above the Shenandoah Valley, I attend a weekend retreat at Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center located a few miles northeast of Harrisonburg, VA. The retreat, aptly entitled “Simplify,” explored a Christian witness through simple living principles largely drawing from the Anabaptist traditions. Beginning on Friday night, attendees watched a video called “The Story of Stuff,” which described the harm a hyper-consumerist culture places on God’s earth and its inhabitants. Later that evening, several small groups discussed how simple lifestyles could alleviate such harm and steward toward the healing of all creation.

After a good night’s sleep, Saturday provided a full day to explore simple living and creation care principles further. The first keynote speaker, Sam Funkhouser, grew up Church of the Brethren but as an adult joined the Old German Baptist Brethren New Conference.* Sam accepts the socio-economic concerns presented by climate change and global capitalism as a needing a Christian response. Yet he also appreciates the tradition of nonconformity, a form of simple living practiced by the Old German Baptist Brethren. Motivated by their sectarian faith, Sam and his wife, Stephanie, make their own clothes and have modified their car to become as fuel-efficient as possible. Both topics were expounded during smaller group sessions later that day.

Other workshop sessions were offered later on Saturday. Yakubu and Diana Bakfwash, Nigerian-born Brethren members, are ministers at GraceWay Church located east of Baltimore, MD. Using the example of Jesus in washing the disciples’ feet, Yakubu and Diana talked about service leadership in a context that acts beyond the church walls. Nancy Heisey, a professor of biblical studies at Eastern Mennonite University, facilitated a workshop on the role of technology in our lives. Spending some time to carefully reflect on the gadgets we use daily, Nancy says, helps one decide when technology is an effective tool or becomes a distraction in light of our faith values.

The afternoon keynote speaker, Jenn Hosler, presented a biblical call to creation care and simple living. Starting from Genesis, Jenn outlined the instances of God’s care towards creation in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. She went beyond the first chapters of Genesis and the Gospel of John. The Prophets, wisdom books, and New Testament letters also reveal a cosmic order to the Heavenly Kingdom, one that blesses and desires to renew creation. In terms of simple living, the Bible raises up God’s blessing in those living responsibly and compassionately rather than idolizing material possessions (Mark 10:17-25 and James 4:1-10 are a few examples).

Between thoughtful speakers and rich group discussions, there was a lot one could take away from this event on simple living practices. The question remains: what is the first step for one to live more simply?

Jonathan SJPS_Tweed_Ride14tauffer is a member of the Polo (IL) Church of the Brethren congregation. Currently a substitute teacher, Jonathan is a recent graduate of Bethany Theological Seminary, receiving an MA with a concentration in theological studies.

*The New Conference formed out of the Old German Baptist Brethren in 2009. Interestingly, the split was largely centered around the church’s authority over internet use. More details can be found in the following article: Mast, Gerald J. “The Old German Baptist Brethren Church Division of 2009: The Debate over the Internet and the Authority of Annual Meeting.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 88, no. 1 (January 2014): 45–64.

Image Credits: Jonathan Stuaffer

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The Bible As… Pt. II – Guest Blogger, Jon Prater

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This blog post is part two of a four-part series adapted from transcripts preached during a revival at Forest Chapel Church of the Brethren.

The Word of God should not only be approached as rule. No, in fact, one of the most quoted Scriptures in regards to Biblical inspiration states that there must be multiple ways of engaging Scripture.Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:16, says “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” which speaks to the array of ways we can, and should, use the Word of God. If we search past the Word as rule we will next see the Word as confession.

The Bible as Confession

Consider books such as Lamentations or Psalms- the scope of these books is much broader than instruction. Yes, there are factual pieces of these books, but their greater use is in confession. After all, doctrine is of no value if there is no confession attached to it. A criminal can know the rules of the land, but until they confess to the value of the system the laws create, their knowledge does not transfer to a common value system. In other words, our society is much better off when people not only avoid drunk driving because they will face consequence if they are caught, but they also understand and confess to the more significant value of human life and the ways this law contributes to a more healthy society.

The Bible itself speaks to the Scriptures as confession. In Romans 10 Paul is expounding on thoughts regarding evangelism, the climax building to verse 9 when Paul states that those who “believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths will be saved”. However, this is not the end of the thought Paul is giving. If we track Paul’s train of thought we come to verse 17 “Faith,” says Paul, “comes by hearing and hearing comes from the Word of God” (emphasis mine). The word Paul uses here is pistis which is defined as “a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with it[1]

What this means is confession in the life of a Christ followers not only an admission of guilt but also an acknowledgment of truth. We can confess and not be guilty. Many theologians such as Knox, Luther, Augustine, and Lewis all have published some kids of confession- that being the core belief that forms who they are and the way that they interact with the world and God. This faith that Paul is speaking of, this burning passion is undoubtedly more than law. Faith, in this context, is not just what you believe, but what you do with your belief. To tap into James, this is related to the tension between faith and works; one drives the other; they are indicative of one another; not similes.

The Word of God as rule guides our behavior, but the Word as confession guides our identity. When we engage Scripture through the lens of rule it tells us how we are to live, but engaging through the lens of confession tells us why we are to live that way. Consider the framing of the Laws given in Scripture, most of them are framed in a structure of confession and rule. Take Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments, for example. God speaks to Moses a decree for confession before giving the Law. The terms of confession are found in 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…” God sets up the formula- declaration for confession, followed by action or consequence- if you believe I am God then this is your rule.

The problem that the church has seemed to battle for a majority of history is getting this formula out of order. Instead of allowing our identity to affirm our doctrine we invert the process so that our rule, or doctrinal infrastructure, informs our identity. Our convictions work contradictory to the grace God has given us; our church culture states that if your doctrine is right, you can identify with us; when in reality what the Scriptures seem to suggest is that if you identify with us, your doctrine should follow suit.
In recent years there has been debate on the traditional order of identifying with Christ. Traditionally practitioners have prescribed to a believe, behave, belong order for identifying with Christ. However, as the Emerging church movement gains momentum, this traditional rule has been called into question by many leaders. For the emerging church, a more efficient order for identification is belong, believe, behave. While some argue that this model leads to more ethical dilemmas, it certainly seems to fall more in line with Paul’s train of thought in Romans 10.

The lens of confession is rooted in the Christocentric and community hermeneutic. By offering a standard community confession, we are strengthening the fabric of the faith community. When asked why the Law was so central to the Israelites we are quick to identify that it kept them separate from other nations. I am not debating the truth in that statement, but I lift a consequential truth alongside it- it held the Israelites together. Sure, the sectarian truth is prevalent here, but the Israelites also shared their experience and tradition across their stories. The common confession that they shared in Yahweh led them to a common rule of practice and drew them around a collective identity- people of the Lord.

Perhaps this is one of the core pieces we can learn as faith communities- the Bible as confession invites following the rule of faith and practice to be a fruitful experience, not oppressive. Also, this pushes us past the individual adoption of doctrine and belief. When we move past these, we place the center of discerning rules of faith and practice back into the community setting, allowing for a more significant connection to our neighbor.

Jon Prater is the pastor of Mt. Zion Church of the Brethren in Linville, Virginia where he has served since 2020. He is a current MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and has an undergraduate degree in Biblical Theology from Liberty University. A former church planter, Jon is a public speaker and workshop leader on subjects including church planting and church vitality. He is husband to Jessica and father to twin sons Aiden and Elijah.

  1. “Greek 4102.” Strong’s Greek: 4102. Πίστις (Pistis) — Faith, Faithfulness, Biblehub,Com, biblehub.com/greek/4102.htm.

Other referenced works

“Create a Sense of Belonging.” Psychology Today. Accessed February 22, 2017. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pieces-mind/201403/create-sense-belonging.
“Genesis Chapter 1 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed January 13, 2017. https://www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/gen/1/1/s_1001.
“Spiritual but Not Religious.” Psychology Today. Accessed October 14, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hot-thought/201610/spiritual-not-religious.

Image Credits: Protestant and Christian Unity Ministries

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The Bible As… Pt. I – Guest Blogger, Jon Prater

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Earlier this year the Barna group released results from a series of surveys based on the American opinion of the Bible, and their research revealed some interesting trends. For example, 80% of those surveyed stated that they considered the Bible to be a “sacred text,” which was more than three times the amount of the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and the Torah combined. However, only 45% of people said that they strongly agreed that the Bible contained everything a person needs to live a meaningful life[1]. These studies also revealed that 71% of people confessed that the Bible was inspired the God in some way, but only 33% believe it is entirely accurate[2]. Finally, 51% of people responded that they engage the Bible at least two times a year outside of an organized church service- and 55% percent of responders say the Bible brings them closer to God[3].

It is no secret that the evolving culture around us has a complicated relationship with the Bible. Whereas the Bible may not have the central role in society it once had, to say that the majority of people in America have abandoned Scripture is not accurate, and in many ways is a hyperbolic response to a complicated issue. In fact, many people would identify that they have a high respect for the Bible, but they do not relate to the Scriptures in traditional ways. Therefore, through the next series of essays, I will present a four-fold way that Brethren can faithfully approach the Scriptures in a series I have titled “Witnessing the Word.” These essays will present engagement with the Bible as rule, confession, repentance, and proclamation. Each of these movements hopes to introduce a way that we can both personally and cooperatively engage the Word of God, and invite others around us to approach the Bible as well.

The Bible As Rule

The Church of the Brethren has always held a high view of the Bible- especially the New Testament. In 1998 Annual Conference adopted a statement entitled “The New Testament as Our Rule of Faith and Practice.” This paper has become a cornerstone of how our denomination functions together. The heart of this statement affirms that the Bible was central to the Brethren movement from the beginning. The 1998 delegate body affirmed that Alexander Mack himself taught that one should “resolve to sacrifice your life, property, family, yes, all that you have in the whole world rather than waiver from [the Bible’s] teaching].”[4] The Bible as rule is not new to who we are but deeply seeded in our Brethren DNA.

The conflict arises not from the Bible as rule, but the purpose of that rule. For many people, the rule of the Bible is about legislation, judication, and punishment. For these people, the Bible is a standard; we should place our lives against that measure to assess reward, discipline, and eternal destination. Much of this way of thinking find roots in Augustine and his dogmatic method of relating to Scripture[5]. The tension here can be that a dogmatic method of Scripture interpretation can easily call us away from specific behaviors, rather than inviting us into a more holistic way of living.

For others, most Brethren included, Scripture is not about judication, but relationship. Brethren have traditionally approached Scripture with a two-fold hermeneutic- Christocentric and Communal[6]. In other words, the Brethren read the Bible with the understanding that all Scripture is centered around Jesus, and all Scripture is best understood and applied in the community setting. Emphasising the communal hermeneutic means shifting from I and me language when interpreting the Scriptures to us and we language, because the rule of Scripture is not just about the individual, but that certain individuals place in the community of faith, and the world as a whole. Furthermore, the Brethren hermeneutic offers a conviction that Biblical literacy is not about merely factual memorization, but in the lifestyle of a person. Perhaps this conviction is best framed by Dale Brown, who said that the Brethren hermeneutic “becomes a genuine living authority when stories and messages of texts make a difference in the lives of believers, even vessels of clay.”[7] This is the connection between the New Testament as our rule and our practice.

By applying this hermeneutic to the rule of Scripture, we are led to focus on the Scriptures as a way of encouraging us to flourish in the Kingdom of God, not merely offering a list of offenses punishable in the Kingdom. In many ways, this kind of interpretation seems to line up alongside the original intent of Old Testament Law. Many people would emphasize passages like Exodus 19:5-6 which says “Now, therefore if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites” (NRSV) to summarize the intent of the Law. However, this does not seem to be the end of the story. Yes, God used the Law (rule) to create a holy people, but passages like Galatians 3:10 emphasize that keeping the Law is a curse, and impossible to do with human strength. Paul then teaches in Galatians 3 that the Law was not merely given to push us to try harder but to point us to our great need for a savior- Jesus Christ.

Scripture, then, is not merely about innocence and guilt, but relationship. The “rules” of Scripture function as parameters for engaging the most healthy relationship with both God and neighbor. When juxtaposed against worldly rule we see that the laws of the government are not merely to legislate who is guilty or innocent, or to prevent anarchy, but to provide parameters for a flourishing society. In the same way, the rule of Scripture is not just about heaven and hell, but about empowering the Kingdom of God to come in our lives in the healthiest way possible.

This blog post is part one of a four-part series adapted from transcripts preached during a revival at Forest Chapel Church of the Brethren.

Jon Prater is the pastor of Mt. Zion Church of the Brethren in Linville, Virginia where he has served since 2020. He is a current MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and has an undergraduate degree in Biblical Theology from Liberty University. A former church planter, Jon is a public speaker and workshop leader on subjects including church planting and church vitality. He is husband to Jessica and father to twin sons Aiden and Elijah.

[1] “The Bible in America.”
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “The New Testament as Our Rule of Faith and Practice.”
[5] McKnight, Postmodern Use of the Bible. 29.
[6] Brown, Another Way of Believing. 101.
[7] Ibid. 103.

Image Credits: Jesus without Baggage and Quote HD

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For Courage and Healing: A Reflection on Training with Christian Peacemaker Teams – Guest Blogger, Jennifer Keeney Scarr

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I turned off my car and opened the driver’s side door, stepping out onto 21st Street. After five hours driving from my home in Ohio, it was a relief to stretch my legs and breathe in that Chicago city air. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, this journey was a long time coming.
I looked up the street toward the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) offices and training center – my home for the next 31 days.

With a deep breath, I slung my purse over my shoulder and pocketed my keys, “Here goes nothing.”

Jen studies training material on Kingian Nonviolence.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is an organization building partnerships to transform violence and oppression across the globe with teams based in Colombia, Palestine/Israel, Iraqi Kurdistan, Canada, and Greece. In 2013 I was lucky enough to join a delegation to Palestine/Israel to meet not only the CPTers working in the city of Hebron but also the Palestinians and Israeli partners using creative nonviolence to transform the oppression of the Israeli Military. By the end of my time there, I felt the call to join the work of CPT and began asking questions about how to do just that. After four years of delays, conflicting schedules, major life changes, and lots of prayers I finally found my way to Chicago, Illinois to participate in the month-long intensive training for the CPT Corps.

In one sentence, training was an intense journey toward strengthening my capacity for courage and awakening to what peacemaking looks like in motion.

The first days of training I felt small and unprepared. These feelings typically accompany my engagement with something bigger and beyond myself. I especially feel this way when I read the news both local and global. That small and unprepared feeling kept me silent, hidden, and willfully detached from the painful effects of racism, sexism, and heterosexism in our world. Those are big words. The weight of them is suffocating.

Jen listens to a presentation on public witness in preparation for later action drawing awareness to the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Our training cohort, a group of people from Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Czech Republic, the United States, and Germany most of whom had backgrounds in social justice, hit the ground running immediately. In just four days we were asked to plan a fully fleshed out demonstration to take place in downtown Chicago at noon that Friday. Given the 50 year anniversary of the Israeli military’s occupation of Palestine, our trainers felt this was a timely topic. After speaking with Palestinian partners on the ground and receiving input from experienced CPTers, we poured our hearts into the project sacrificing sleep and downtime to bring this action to life. It felt so big and nearly impossible, but we did it. The action we planned was a success. One week down.

Our second week was focused on Undoing Oppressions and Conflict Transformation. Meaning our trainers deeply challenged us to come to terms with those big “isms” I mentioned earlier: sexism, racism, heterosexism. Each day we focused on a different “ism” unpacking the effect each one has on our personal lives and the lives of others. Each day we sat with the heavy impact of those “isms” and each day we committed to be part of the force that heals them. We ended the week with a crash course in becoming an ally, concluding that undoing these oppressions is a lifelong work which takes dedication, courage, and endless amounts of listening.

Jen with some of her cohort-mates resting near Lake Michigan.

The remaining two weeks focused more specifically on preparation for being in the field on a CPT team all the while talking about self-care. Self-care is so much more than making sure a day off is honored or remembering to drink water, though both of these are essential. Self-care is discovering that which gives life and energy to your soul and inviting that into the rhythm of your life even while in the field with CPT. For many on our training team, this energy and life was time spent with beloved people over a beverage or good food. It was exercise on nature’s trails or getting lost in the rhythm of music. It was spiritual and faith-based, it was different for each of us. Self-care is that which sustains us for the hard work we do.

This was never more clear to me than on the day we talked about kidnapping, torture, and death. These are the three worst things that could happen to a CPTer in the field. Thankfully these worst case scenarios are not regular occurrences, but they have happened. On this day we were asked to write a statement of conviction stating why we are committed to the work we do. These statements are kept on file at the CPT office to be pulled out and given to family, friends, or the media in the event we are kidnapped or killed. It was strange to write a letter I pray no one will ever have to read. Writing the letter, was also incredibly important. It forced me to think clearly and concisely about why I’m willing to risk my wonderful life for the opportunity to be part of the work CPT does. This is an excerpt of the statement I submitted:

“I’ve come to understand that the holy lands are not the lands on which Jesus walked, but the lands on which he is still walking. The holy land is the place where people of faith stand in resistance to all that seeks to destroy. Not just in Palestine but also in Colombia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lesbos, Canada, and your hometown. I am called to walk this holy land faithfully with our partners, and I am deeply humbled to be able to do so.”

The final day of training arrived with a whirlwind of music, celebration, Chicago-style deep dish pizza, and way more tears than I’m comfortable admitting. To the tune of “For the Healing of the Nations,” each of us walked down the graduation line receiving certificates and some of us receiving invitations to join the corps. When that beautiful red hat covered my head, it felt like an anointing. I was a CPT Reservist. Finally.

 

Jennifer Keeney Scarr is pastor of the Trotwood Church of the Brethren and a newly minted Christian Peacemaker Teams Reservist. The daughter of two pastors, she lived in Southern California before moving to the Midwest to attend Bethany Theological Seminary from which she earned an MDiv in Peace Studies Conflict Transformation. She now lives in Trotwood, Ohio with her husband, Jonathan Brumbaugh Scarr. Pastor Jen is also an active leader among Progressive Brethren, most recently moderating the Womaen’s Caucus’ women in ministry panel at the Church of the Brethren’s Annual Conference this past summer in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Image Credits: Jennifer Keeney Scarr and Leia Tijou

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Book Review of “Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto” by Taiaiake Alfred – Guest Blogger, Tim Heishman

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Few writers can unmask the injustice of colonialism, both 500 years ago and even today as I write this, the way Taiaiake Alfred can. Alfred is a Kahnawake Mohawk scholar who can walk easily between Native and settler cultures, helping us see what we could not see before. The heart of this book is a call to Native people to disentangle themselves from North American culture, values, and society as a whole and return to indigenous forms of leadership, politics, and governance. Colonialism is a tremendously difficult force to resist. It may have a kinder face today than it did 500 years ago but it is no less powerful. In this book, Alfred walks the reader through the indigenous values of peace, power, and righteousness, never losing sight of his thesis that a new kind of Native leadership, characterized by a return to indigenous forms of self-government, is needed to effectively resist colonialism and preserve what still exists of Native American culture and life.

The book is organized similarly to a “Rotinohshonni condolence ritual” in written form (21). The first section takes the form of a dialogue and laments how much knowledge has been lost over the last 500 years as well as how much work it will take to restore and implement what is left (21). The Indian Act in Canada and the Indian Reorganization Act in the United States lay out the current system of governance in Native American communities. In Canada, for example, band councils are the typical intermediary between indigenous tribes and the federal government. Band council members are indigenous but work closely with the federal government. Alfred has much to say about how governments have worked hard to co-opt Native leaders and about how Native leaders have allowed themselves to be co-opted by colonial governments (27). Alfred argues for an end to this co-optation and a restoration of indigenous forms of government. Band councils, while made up of indigenous persons, are structured according to Western, or settler, understandings of legal, cultural, and societal norms. Thus, a Native governance has a colonial mindset built into it, which Alfred argues serves to continue colonizing the minds of indigenous people. He writes, “it is the duty of Native leaders to satisfy not mainstream but indigenous cultural criteria” (62).

After the first section on peace, Alfred moves to power. Here he focuses on what political leadership, values, and culture should look like (21). Key characteristics of justice in Western circles are individualistic in nature while key characteristics of justice in indigenous circles has much more to do with coexistence, balance, and the interdependency of all things (66). Thus, reconciliation and restoring justice in indigenous culture is much more dialogical and communal than individualistic (67). Also, decisions are often made by consensus rather than electoral politics (69). Indigenous people have a different understanding of power. According to Alfred, “power is used in a way that contributes to the creation and maintenance of balance and peaceful coexistence in a web of relationships” (73). Native people operate with a completely different paradigm and way of thinking. The colonial political structure imposed on them not only changes thousands of years of how they have governed themselves effectively but it has a huge impact on their culture. Governance, culture, and religion are intertwined in indigenous political culture. Finally, a discussion on political power must explore the strategies settler governments use to co-opt indigenous leaders. Settler governments try to support leaders who are the least threatening to the present order, encourage divisions in indigenous communities, create dependency on settler governments, and co-opt Native leaders by trying to incorporate them into the settler agenda (99). Native political culture, is quite different from Western settler political culture and the settler states of Canada and the United States have actively sought to impose their political culture on indigenous nations.

After peace and power, Alfred moves to righteousness. In this section, he reviews themes discussed earlier in the book but applies them to the current context. Difficulties that Native people face today include co-optation in exchange for money, the temptation to self-govern with Western political structures and make treaties, and the reality that young persons are becoming disillusioned with colonial political structures that are corrupt (21). A problem related to struggling to build the types of self-government that Alfred advocates from traditional culture is that there are many immediate incentives to sell out to the colonial governments now and the benefits of the indigenous way will take much longer (121). Instead, Alfred urges Native people to discontinue electoral politics as well as other forms of colonial government and return to indigenous political tradition, begin speaking Native languages again, become economically self-sufficient, and relate to the Canadian and United States governments on a level playing field of equals (172). In many ways, this book is a guide to decolonization and a restoration of traditional indigenous culture as well as well as forms of self-government faithful to indigenous ways.

What are we to do with all of this information? Throughout this book, Alfred issues challenges to white settlers and Native Americans. He asserts that “white people are ignorant of history” and Native Americans “have wavered on their commitment to the goal of freedom from colonial domination” (122). No one gets off easy in this book. Everyone shoulders blame for the present injustices. With that in mind, our first step in response should be to learn about the history of indigenous nations in Canada and the United States. We cannot be ignorant of the injustices that have taken place upon the land where we live. Second, we should learn about the injustices Native Americans face today, injustices that are a continuation of 500 years of colonialism. To learn about history and present injustices facing Native Americans, my wife Katie and I joined Christian Peacemaker Team’s Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Delegation to Manitoba and Ontario this summer. Third, read this book! Fourth, we need to start conversations with other settlers as well as Native Americans in the state we live. What tribes live in your state today? Fifth, begin to practice a land acknowledgment statement in public gatherings. A simple statement could be a short line we speak whenever we gather for worship, such as “Welcome to worship this morning! The land we worship on today is home to the Iroquois, Siouan, Shawnee, and Tuscarora tribes, the original inhabitants of this beautiful place. We are grateful for how they cared for this land for thousands of years before European settlers arrived. We seek right relations with the original inhabitants of this land, a relationship based on respect, peace, and friendship.” Even acknowledging the land we stand on is a powerful act of justice. What steps will you take?

Tim Heishman is a “city kid” who is currently living in the woods. He shares the position of Co-Program Director at Brethren Woods Camp & Retreat Center with his wife Katie as they both are working towards their MDiv degrees at Bethany Theological Seminary. Tim spent his growing up years in Harrisburg, PA and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic before returning to the U.S. to study at Eastern Mennonite University. Tim, along with Katie, is a former National Youth Conference Coordinator for the Church of the Brethren. Now, living in Virginia, Tim and Katie attend Linville Creek Church of the Brethren. In his spare time, which is rare for seminary students and ministers, Tim enjoys traveling and learning about other cultures, gardening and cooking, keeping up with political news, running, and playing board games.
Image Credits: Amazon and Tim Heishman
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Summer Camp and the Rule of Life – Guest Blogger, Katie Heishman

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Brethren Woods Camp & Retreat Center’s new logo updated 04/2017.

Working as a program director might be one of the only “office” jobs that connects me to the cyclical design of nature. As we move from season to season, our programming shifts in rhythm with the movement of nature. In the winter, we slow down, observing a slower pace, a slower schedule. Into the spring, the pace of life and work perk up with the greening of life all around camp. By the time summer erupts around us, we’re matching the pace of buzzing bees and the vibrancy of the natural world bursting around us. Then with a flicker summer blazes into fall, the erratic pace of summer giving way to the vibrancy found in restful sleep, dreaming of new seasons, and preparing for winter weather.

The summer months sneak up on me and leave with a sense of disbelief, “Is this really happening? Are the summer staff really arriving today?” Despite my disbelief at the fast-paced reality, it’s really happening. Our summer staff begins to arrive in the middle of May—we spend two weeks training and planning with our Assistant Program directors. They take charge of the day-to-day routines of camp making sure meals and activities are happening on time. They allow Tim and I space to step back from the day to day of summer camp and prepare for next week or the coming months of programming. The calendar still spins on—even if I’m living in the disbelief of summer all around me.

2017 Summer Staff after a commissioning ceremony

My disbelief stretches from the arrival of summer to the people who show up to summer camp. Each summer that the summer staff—full of male and female counselors, support staff, and leadership—is a gift from God! Finding faithful young adults who will be getting paid can be a struggle, but finding people to come for free—well, that floors me! Brethren Woods has a faithful base of adult volunteers for health managers and deans who take a week from their job or their summer to spend time at camp serving.

As an extrovert, the buzzing about of volunteers and summer staff is a real treat for me. Every volunteer brings a unique spin to their leadership. I am blessed seeing nuanced styles at play throughout the whole summer. The worship stays fresh week to week with the movement of deans, who provide daily Bible study lessons and lead the campers in evening worship, adding personal songs or stories to the mix. Adult counselors resurrect games from the late 80s and early 90s that the kids love! Health managers each have a different system for grading the “cleanest cabin” from yellow cards to the Mr. Clean Broom, and a dancing duck. I’m in awe of the time and commitment folks will put into their roles. My favorite question to ask volunteers is, “What are sacred memories or moments that you have around Brethren Woods?” Everyone’s answer is different and each one leaves me in awe at the many ways we can each experience a place where God speaks to us.

Everyone wishes that life could be more like summer camp…and I’m one of the lucky kids that gets to experience it every summer. Supervising the summer is obviously not the same as sleeping in a cabin with seven other souls, but summer camp’s rhythm lends itself to a “rule of life.” A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that give our lives structure and strengthen our walk with God. Camp’s rule of life looks like rising with bunk mates; praising God by the lake with croaking bullfrogs; blessing breakfast, lunch, and dinner and eating family style; reading scripture and studying the Bible; evening worship hosts a painted sky that fades to twinkling stars; and reflections of the day and God’s movement are shared with bunkmates by flashlight.

During the summer months, I’m reminded of the enormous impact the camp rule of life has on camper’s and staff’s lives. A whole community is committing to immerse themselves in rhythms that encourage their awakening to God’s movement in their lives. Most of the time, we don’t create these spaces and these rhythms to encounter God in the same way that we can at camp or on spiritual retreats. Camp is a technology-free zone, but most of my life involves daily attentiveness to a laptop or a phone. Even as a seminary student and worker in outdoor ministries I need reminders to cultivate a consistent rule of life that allows me to abide with Jesus. How can I cultivate a life with sacred, joyful rhythms like summer camp? What does a faithful rule of life look like when I must create it myself? What would a rule of life for a family or household include? What sacred rhythms do you want to cultivate together?

While I work on drafting my rule of life for the coming, slower seasons—I wonder about what volunteers, staff, and campers will carry with them from this summer season. At the end of the season, summer staff usually share about the immense deepening of their faith because of their time at camp. Many learned spiritual disciplines like centering prayer and breath prayer for the first time and I’m hopeful for their continued walk with God. Sometimes we hear about campers initiating baptism and membership classes with their pastors when they come home from camp. Many heard calls to follow Jesus more intentionally, committing to an intentional step in their journey and I’m grateful for church communities there to support them. I finish thank you cards for volunteers—thanking them for the gift of their time and energy, which in this day and age are fleeting more and more. I am grateful for their spiritual maturity and their commitment to join in the sacred camp rule of life over and over again each summer.

 

Heishman is an MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and co-Program Director at Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center with her husband, Tim. They live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and attend Linville Creek Church of the Brethren.

Image Credits: Camp Brethren Woods, Faith and Worship, and Rule of Life

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Paul, Money, and You: A Reflection on Urban Intercultural Stewardship – Chibuzo Petty

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(S)Paul of Tarsus is, after Jesus, the most consequential New Testament figure. Many would, with some validity, claim (S)Paul’s influence on the development of Christian theology has even been greater than that of Christ himself. A prolific writer, he also serves as one of the main characters in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. (S)Paul was born in Tarsus (Acts 9:11) but raised in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). Having Roman citizenship, he was well traveled and one of the most cosmopolitan of the New Testament characters. He was instrumental in the early Church’s shift of focus from Jerusalem to Antioch – though we will see in 2 Corinthians that this is more complex than it immediately seems. Antioch was where Jesus followers were first called Christians and remains the center of Western Rite Syriac Christians.

Ancient Corinth was a major Greek city during the time of (S)Paul. It was his practice to travel to various cities on his missionary journeys. Acts suggests that he would go to cities with stable Jewish populations. Using synagogues as his launching pad, he would reach righteous Gentiles and convert them to Christianity. His letters, including this one, are unique because of his predominantly Gentile audience – in contrast to Luke’s writing, for instance. Because 2 Corinthians touches on so many topics, I have chosen to focus my reflections on 2 Corinthians 8-9.

The selected passage is important for many reasons. First, it is worth noting that, at least at first glance, (S)Paul’s tone might seem more manipulative than a modern reader would be comfortable with. He writes to the Corinthians in several paragraphs about how important it is for them to give, how he’ll be so disappointed if they do not give, how the broader Church will be disappointed if they do not give, how they should be embarrassed if they do not give, and how he is not only writing them to ensure they give but also sending three people ahead of him for good measure. Still, he writes that they should only give gladly and not due to pressure. This seems to border on the absurd. He certainly seems to be pressuring them into giving.

To be fair to (S)Paul, giving is an essential aspect of church life. Giving of time, talent, and treasurer is a vow many take when being baptized, declaring their faith, officially joining a congregation, etc. In our modern context, financial giving not only pays staff, bills, and taxes but furthers the mission of the church through local and global service. Despite financial giving being such a high priority for congregational leadership, it is not a priority for most members. Studies show than less than ¼ of a congregation tithes. 80% of tithers are giving at just a 2.0-2.5% rate. (The Hebrew Scripture’s standard is 10%.) This lackluster giving rate is even below that during the Great Depression when Christians gave at a rate of 3.3%.

There is also some reason to believe that those who have the least to give actually give the most. Broadening the conversation to charitable giving, the lowest income bracket, people making less than $20,000 annually, give 4.3% of their income to charity. Remaining income levels give at an average of 2.3%. Counting the three lowest income levels (i.e., those making less than $58,000), which are the three most generous per capita, they average a giving rate of 3.2% compared to $2.0 for those making $58,000+. This should not surprise us. Nor should it go without recognizing that Jesus praises this sort of behavior. The Scriptures say:

While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.” – Luke 21:1-4 (NLT)

This is an important image as we think about urban ministry. While the national poverty rate is 13.5%, the urban poverty rate is 16%. Further, urban poverty is growing increasingly concentrated. In Dayton, Ohio, the urban area nearest me, 60.3% of the poor live in neighborhoods with a 20%+ poverty rate.

Beyond tithing, these chapters illustrate the importance of Christian stewardship, more broadly. I think the most meaningful aspect of the passage for urban ministry is that it illustrates the importance of building a network of support, ideally connected to a sending congregation. I really like the early model of Jerusalem, the mother church, sending apostles out to plant other churches. I appreciate that these congregations did not only have a relationship with the mother church but with one another as well. This relationship included prayer, fellowship, and some degree of shared finances. In a modern context, I believe this model remains relevant. If urban ministry, especially church planting, is to succeed, it will take a lot of prayer. New church starts will almost certainly need connection with other, more established, congregations. And, this connection will almost certainly need to go beyond fellowship to financial support. I have been pleased to see many seminaries, as well as large, influential churches, establishing entrepreneurial ministry training programs in recent years. I think this is a really excellent idea. As I think of future ministry opportunities, money is clearly an object. I do not believe this is my succumbing to modern temptations. (S)Paul understood the power and importance of money in ministry.

Image Credits: Crosswalk, Fuller Youth Institute, and Teen Quest.

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