October 18, 2017

Demythologizing “Radical” Christianity (3)

Disciples, Bro. Sylvain of Taize

By Chaplain Mike

This is the third post in our series, the one in which the ol’ chaplain may find himself in a position of having to defend the appearance that he is contradicting himself or at least being inconsistent.

First, let’s review:

  • In part one, we lamented all such attempts to “adjectivize” the faith. We agreed with Jethani that evangelical leaders tend to over-correct the problem of “consumer” Christianity by strongly promoting “activist” Christianity. We appealed to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, where he countered the “radicals” in the church by recommending that they seek quiet lives of minding their own business and working hard in their given vocations as the best way of pursuing Christian love and a good witness. It’s OK to just be a Christian.
  • In part two, we once again agreed with Skye Jethani’s observation that churches tend to celebrate Christians who do extraordinary things and ignore the contributions of those who are engaged in more ordinary lives and vocations. The answer is to recover the Reformation doctrines of calling and vocation, which give dignity to every person’s calling. Even the most common task is a means through which God loves the world. There are no “first-class” and “second-class” Christians, only a variety of callings, and it is God’s job to dispense them.

Today, as the late broadcaster Paul Harvey might have said, we will look at “the rest of the story.”

Pentecost, Bro. Sylvain of Taize

The balancing truth to what we’ve been saying is this: God does call some people to extraordinary callings. In addition to the common, ordinary vocations to which most believers are called, the Spirit does lead some to fulfill vocations that may seem, for one reason or another, “out of the box.”

I call this the eschatological witness” of the church.

Through our usual vocations, God maintains a witness in the world that he is the Creator, the God of wisdom and all the “good” blessings of Providence and common grace. He blesses our health, our families, our work, our recreation. He provides our daily bread, protects us from evil, sustains us through trials, enables us to enjoy beauty, and guides us in our relationships with our neighbors.

However, through special vocations, God testifies to the new creation to come, when the original creation will be renewed and transformed. When we act in ways that transcend creation categories, we are pointing to a reality beyond them. We relativize them and communicate that they are not eternal.

This is what Jesus did with the creation institution of “family” in Mark 3. When he was told his mother and brothers were looking for him, Jesus pointed to those who were listening to his words and said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” The biological family, precious and blessed as it is, is nonetheless transcended by God’s forever family—those who listen to and follow Jesus’ words. This is the family of the eschaton, the new creation; the ultimate family to which we look, and for which we long.

Some people are called to vocations that point unambiguously to the new creation. So, for example:

  • Some people are called to singleness rather than to marriage and family life.
  • Some are called to serve the church vocationally as evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
  • Some are called to an “apostolic” ministry of planting churches through doing missionary work in cross-cultural settings.
  • Some are called to lives of contemplation, prayer, and work separate from the world in religious orders.
  • Some are called to leave “normal” careers and life settings to live among the poor and needy in order to serve them.

In short, some are called to lives that others might consider “radical” or “extreme” in the sense that they “sacrifice” the usual vocations that people pursue in the world. In doing so they point to the age to come.

  • Those who sacrifice normal family life testify to the new creation, where we will neither marry nor be given in marriage. The family relationships we value are a fundamental part of this creation, but will not be so in the new creation. Those who sacrifice them now for the sake of serving Christ are testifying to the eschatological reality of the Kingdom. Jesus said those who can accept being “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom” should do so (Matt 19:12). That’s truly “radical.” It’s also not for everyone. However, if you were to ask my personal opinion, I would say not enough people consider the option. As a pastor I would encourage more to do so, fully acknowledging that a small minority will pursue this “radical” path.
  • Those who seek religious vocations such as pastoral ministry, missionary work, or religious orders are testifying to the eschatological reality of the new community. Some focus more on calling people into it, others on helping them live within it, and others on providing prayer on behalf of the community. All who serve the church have sacrificed normal “productive” work in this world in order to serve God’s forever family.
  • Those who have special vocations among the poor testify to the Great Reversal that Jesus brings in the Gospel, in which the last are first and vice versa. They also give witness to the radically inclusive nature of the Kingdom, as they love, accept, and dignify those whom the world at best ignores.

Ever Watchful, Bro. Sylvain of Taize

None of these callings are “better” than normal vocations of being a spouse, parent, shopkeeper, office or factory worker. And, of course, in our individual lives as new creatures in Christ, we all testify to one degree or another to the Gospel and the reality of the Kingdom. It’s just that most of us don’t do it as the focus of our vocations.

That should not make anyone feel like a second-class citizen or downplay one’s contribution to God’s work in the world. One need not move overseas or even go on a mission trip to achieve “radical” status. Planting churches is not more “radical” than planting flowers in my garden or helping my neighbor plant hers. It is imperative that we insist on this!

  • All callings are “radical” in the sense that we are to fulfill them by living them out as people who are rooted in the fundamental soil of God’s grace and faith in Christ.
  • Not every calling is “radical” in the sense that we use the word—to signify “extreme” commitment to an extraordinary kind of work.

Having said that, I’m still all for commending the extraordinary works too! It may well be that we should be challenging some people to move out of their suburban ease into the inner city to work with the poor. Some young people should be encouraged to consider not marrying so that they might use their considerable gifts in vocational ministry of some kind. I love it when we hear Acts 13 stories, when the Holy Spirit says, “Set apart ____________ and ____________ for the special work to which I’ve called them.” Many of my own heroes are people I respect for difficult choices they made to sacrifice promising careers and comfortable lives so that they could step out into the unknown for the sake of the Kingdom.

This, however, takes great pastoral wisdom and a commitment to the practice of individualized pastoral care and guidance. I am not in favor of shooting off shotgun blasts of “radical” into a congregation week after week and hoping the spray hits just the right people. Too many others can get hurt in the process. Pastors—skip the hype and start visiting people personally! Listen to them. Discern what God is doing in their lives. Cooperate with that, with his agenda, and give them personalized pastoral guidance rather than trying to implement a one-size-fits-all discipleship program.

“Ordinary” or “extraordinary,” it can all be properly called “radical” when rooted in Christ.

Comments

  1. Wonderful and perceptive post, Mike.

  2. “Through our usual vocations, God maintains a witness in the world that he is the Creator, the God of wisdom and all the “good” blessings of Providence and common grace. He blesses our health, our families, our work, our recreation. He provides our daily bread, protects us from evil, sustains us through trials, enables us to enjoy beauty, and guides us in our relationships with our neighbors.”

    ——–

    Is this the prosperity gospel? The concept that God blesses our health, our families, our work and recreation? Please correct me…I don’t want to take anything out of context. Maybe it’s me but I see the prosperity gospel whereever I look in Christianity. Its deeply embeded in the faith system. AND please understand…I’m not trying to be difficult…I just think different.

    I had to work this afternoon, and I was listening to the news when a co-worker was channel surfing. He stopped at CNN where they were talking about the tornados and devestation in St. Louis. I stopped what I was doing and listened to the interview and was just flooded with questions. I sent out an email to a number of Christians I know….and it was not received warmly. Here’s what I sent…
    ……..

    So I’m plowing away here at work. CNN is blasting in the room among my co-workers. Then they had a story about the tornado that hit the St. Louis airport and the neighboring area. This guy was interviewed and he was talking about how his house was protected because “God rode shotgun for us…” So I was listening to this in the background and put down my work and started to think. Is that the purpose of God? He rides shotgun, meaning he looks out for you? I had a whole host of questions that popped up as I thought about what was said….

    1. If God rides shotgun and protected those people’s homes from the tornado, what about those who lost their property in this tornado? Does God not love them?
    2. If that’s the case does that mean God’s love is not unconditional?
    3. Is God punishing those people who lost their homes due to unconfessed sin? What was their crime? Are they gay? Did they vote for Obama? Did they not go to a particular church? Or is God still pissed that someone voted for Bill Clinton in 1992?
    4. If God is looking out for people that means God is in control? Right….if so than why did he allow these tornadoes to take place? Does he enjoy watching people suffer?
    5. Or…do these tornadoes show that God is not in control of his creation? If so what type of God is he? Impotent? Weak?
    6. In such a tragedy who is being blessed? By riding shotgun and certain people being protected does this show how deeply the prosperity gospel is embedded in Christianity? Is the prosperity gospel Christianity itself?
    7. What is the purpose of allowing these tornadoes? What good would come of such a tragedy IF God allowed it? Is God that narcissistic?

    • Fine bundle of questions there, Eagle.

      I’d be inclined to say that the man who spoke about God “riding shotgun” for him and his family was trying to express gratitude that he had been spared the devestation that hit others, not because he deserved it better than his neighbours, but that God was gracious.

      The trouble is, we have a very poor language of gratitude and can’t express that in a sound-bite.

      As to the rest of it – ah, the perennial problems of theodicy, and if you think I have an answer, think again. All I can tell you is what we’ve just heard in the Easter readings:

      Matthew 26:52-54

      “52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

      John 18:36

      “Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

      Look, I could go into the spiel about the fallen creation and free will and all the rest of it but you’ve come out of Christianity (or the craw-thumping version thereof) and you know the drill. All I can do is be silent before the mystery of suffering and pray for the people in St. Louis (and I know a guy on-line who lives in Webster Groves, and thank God, they haven’t been as hard-hit, ‘hard-hit’ meaning “no-one’s been killed”).

    • I’m not sure which qualifies as better entertainment: the less than pleasant responses you received from that email, or the FUNdamentalist science kit you link to 😛

      Though I wouldn’t claim to answer all those questions, it may be worth considering that God is NOT fair. At all. Though His love IS unconditional, that doesn’t mean that it is distributed with equal proportion to all people. He’s not a love socialist, otherwise he would “owe” salvation to some just because he gives it to others. Which is alright if you’re a universalist, I suppose.

      God must be good (benevolent) and great (powerful) if He is God at all. Withdraw either of those qualities and you have a deity not worth serving. Before one approaches the question of how certain specific realities square with those attributes individually, it might be fair to consider this question: Would you even consider it remotely possible at all that there could be a God who is both good and great? If not, then any and every tragedy becomes compulsory evidence for disbelief. Also, if there is no God who is both benevolent and powerful, what are the other options? A powerful yet wicked God would do much worse damage. A benevolent yet impotent God, since obviously unable to intervene and alter the forces of creation, is utterly irrelevant and couldn’t possibly have been the creator.

      Hay carumba. I should know better than to theodicize at 2 in the morning…

    • Eagle — I’m going to hit this one with fear and trembling. A few weeks ago Wisconsin had a storm system roll through that set the one-day record for tornadoes in April in the state. The next evening, I found out that the northern town where my brother lives was hit pretty hard, with injuries (thankfully, few) and extensive property damage, including homes destroyed.

      My brother doesn’t share the same faith commitment my mother and I do, and from what my mom said was less than enthusiastic on Monday evening when she called to find out how he was after she found out about the previous day’s tornado and told him she’d felt incredibly burdened to pray for him Sunday. She’d been praying for him all afternoon. The tornado had a track of several miles, and apparently started within *50 or 60 yards of the house where my exhausted brother was sleeping.*

      Am I going to say God didn’t protect my brother? No. But I know that many others aren’t similarly protected from disaster, including my family and me. I’ve seen and experienced some pretty brutal losses, and have no illusions that God provides some sort of divine force field sheltering his favorites or those who do All The Right Things.

      Maybe a strange advantage for me was that I’d had a good number of illusions shattered prior to turning to Christ, but I think a person has to be really disconnected from the darkness of this world not to ask questions like yours. I do, and freely admit that I haven’t been given anywhere near the answers I want. I tend do view the wonders and joys and especially answered prayers I see as temporal glimpses of a not-realized but coming eternal reality breaking into a broken world, and evidence for that interpretation (as well as for trusting God in spite of the unanswered questions) in that God isn’t unaffected by what he permits, but walks into it with us, especially in the Incarnation.

    • Eagle, God forbid that I should promote a prosperity Gospel. I think you missed my point.

      I’m talking about how we witness to God the Creator through our normal vocations. If I show love to my family, that witnesses to God’s good creation plan for families. If I work hard at making cabinets or raising corn or selling goods honestly, all these testify to a goodness in creation that God put there. God loves the world and shows his wisdom through people fulfilling their vocations.

      No one is saying God always “blesses” Christians in these endeavors so that everything works out great. I hope that clarifies.

      • Chaplain Mike-

        So basically you are saying do our job to the best of one’s ability? If I’m an engineer for Union Pacific drive a train in the most professional manner possible. If I’m a CPA do a client’s taxes in the most honest and professional way possible, What if people do that then out of other motivations…? For example the accountant does the taxes honestly so as to avoid prison? I hope I’m not angering you…but I really don’t see the need for God in many of these situations. A person interested in a career and their own personal development will want to do the right things regardless. Do I make sense?

        • Randy Thompson says:

          I think you do make sense.

          You can be a good widget-maker for any number of reasons. And, God plays no real role in engineers doing engineering things, or postal clerks selling me stamps.

          However, God makes a huge difference, it seems to me, in what kind of person you are underlying your engineering or postal clerking. I would see God in people who do their jobs and pursue their careers while doing so in a non-selfish way. That is, they are people who share the credit for a job well-done and don’t hog it for themselves, who look after the well-being of others and their careers, and who genuinely care about others. Years ago, I worked for a Fortune 500 that had a “lean and mean” corporate culture. I did not fit in with that culture. I made a conscious decision to associate with people who struck me as genuine human beings, not corporate fast-track wannabes. Interestingly, such people tended to be Christians. I realize that’s anecdotal, but i think there’s truth in it.

          I can also see people doing their job as an expression of worship. Selling stamps is an opportunity to use God-given skills and opportunities to love God. The same with widget making. Brother Lawrence, the 17th century French monk and author of the spiritual classic, “Practicing the Presence of God,” is a good example of this. So is the great composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, who signed all his music, secular as well as religious, I believe, with “Glory to God.” Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch, but couldn’t someone sell postage stamps as an expression of love and service–seeing the sale of stamps as an opportunity to help me pay my bills and send letters to friends? Couldn’t an engineer design a freeway overpass out of a desire to help people go where they need to safely and quickly?
          Can’t well all, like Bach, end our work with “Glory to God”?

        • Eagle, I go back to posts we’ve had on the subject of vocation. I encourage you to go back and read them.

          Particularly helpful to me has been Luther’s concept that, in our vocations, we are the “masks of God.” God works through ordinary people doing ordinary things to bring forms of grace and goodness to the world. It’s not so much a matter of whether or not that person “feels” or “sees” or even “accepts” that God is working in and through him/her. It’s simply a fact that this is how God works. When I have a piece of toast in the morning, as a Christian I acknowledge that as an answer to my prayer for God to provide my “daily bread.” But that bread came to me through a process of countless people fulfilling their vocations. From the farmer to the truck driver to the baker to the packager to the store clerk to my boss who pays my wages and the gas station attendant from whom I bought gas so I could drive to the store, each “blessing” I enjoy comes by God’s providence through a multitude of people. If you think about how complex it all is, it is really quite staggering.

          The question of each person’s motivation along that “chain of blessing” is a matter of each person’s personal accountability to God. And whether or not each person consciously acknowledges that God is behind it all is not really what I’m talking about at this point. I’m merely suggesting that by fulfilling our vocations in the world, we participate in this great dance that allows us to share God’s bounty with one another. We do it imperfectly at all times and poorly much of the time, yet God still superintends. As a Christian, I find dignity and purpose, meaning and significance in being a part of God’s sustenance of his creation.

          You are free, of course, to interpret all of this as a merely human enterprise. My faith in the Creator who made all things good and sustains his creation will not allow me to do so.

    • Radagast says:

      Eagle – Christians suffer, just as much as secularists. And sometimes God need us to learn something, to face something we are in denial about. When I talk to folks that are agnostic, and they bring this subject up, I usually respond something like “if being a Christian meant you would be protected/prosperous/ healthy/happy all the rest of your days then everyone would be one”. As mentioned previously, I find that the deeper you go the tougher the road becomes because someone is always trying to knock you off the faith walk.

      • “Eagle – Christians suffer, just as much as secularists. And sometimes God need us to learn something, to face something we are in denial about.”

        So…Radagast…when my Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer what was God trying to teach her? When the church I attended in the upper midwest had a sexual predator that raped and assaulted a number of young people in the church…what was God trying to teach the vicitms of a sexual offender? I know you mean well…but your explanation for me makes Christianity repulsive. If God operates in such evil in allowing people to get cancer, be molested, murdered, etc in order to teach people a lesson or break their denial; then throwing away much of my Christian material and walking away was a wise move. Becuase I can’t stomach being in a faith system that is that cruel.

        • Randy Thompson says:

          Life itself can be very cruel. Yet, if God is in Christ reconciling the world on the cross, God in some way is taking responsibility for the cruelty and pain and absorbing that cruelty and pain into Himself.

          I do not expect to find a satisfactory answer to the “why-is-there-suffering question this side of the grave. But, a crucified God gives me real hope that an answer may be awaiting me on the other side. For now, I’m content to hope for that.

          The cross tells me that God understands the question.

        • Radagast says:

          Eagle,

          I hear you brother. There are probably some idealistic Christian answers for this but I am a realist and pragmatic so I won’t give opnion. You have been on this side of the river and know the christian response. I have spent a number of years on the agnostic side and know that response as well. Although there are similarities between our experiences you also carry the pain of having been hurt spiritually by the church (yes – I acknowledge it can happen).

          So… from my own personal experience – there is evil in the world and I can avoid evil coming from me by being in communion with God. But i cannot control evil happening to me if perpetrated by another. In the case of a pediphile there is a part of me that would like to take care of the perpetrator personally, by my own hand (and idealistically I am completely pro-life). My point is that just because I am Christian it does not mean there is a protective bubble around me in this life. But it is preparing me for the next life.

          As for situations like your Mom, my heart goes out to you – it must be very hard – my faith tradition can tend to focus more on Christ crucified – that being said I could handle things better if it were happening to me but a loved one – it would test my faith.

          But I did not really answer those questions you pose above…. because I don’t know what the answers are for you or me, until the time comes. All I can say that for me, when I experience trial ( I am older, and have a large family) I found more strength leaning on God than when God was not in my life. And Eagle, I can’t explain this to you, this is just my experience and maybe one can find that strength without God. But in my life I have tried it both ways and found it better with God in my life.

          Radagast

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          …when my Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer what was God trying to teach her? When the church I attended in the upper midwest had a sexual predator that raped and assaulted a number of young people in the church…what was God trying to teach the vicitms of a sexual offender?

          Eagle, do you remember the scene in the Gospels when some of the Apostles ask Jesus about “whose sin was it?” and Jesus answers with a reference to “those killed in that tower collapse in Siloam — were they any greater sinners than the others?” (“Others” presumably referring to survivors or those not involved in what was apparently a well-known disaster.)

          When asked a similar question to yours, Christ didn’t answer with glib sermons about “What God Was Trying To Teach Them/Us/Whoever”. As far as I can tell, he answered with “Sometimes, Sh*t Happens. Don’t try to read too much into it.”

  3. I totally agree that one “calling” is not better than another. I also agree that people should be challenged to move outside of their “comfort zones”. What I find interesting is that what some people call radical others just see as normal for them. Our son and daughter-in-law have moved with their son from the US to Croatia to plant a church. Our daughter and her husband and 4 children would eventually like to go to Africa (and have already spent some time there) to minister to people living in poverty. My husband and I just moved to S. Korea from rural Ohio to teach English. Some people look at us and think how radical and out of the box this all is. But looking from the inside out it doesn’t seem so to us. My husband and I have not traveled a lot before this, nor have we been “risk-takers”. But this move to S. Korea seemed the natural thing to do at this time in our lives. It doesn’t feel strange (although there is some culture shock) nor does it feel radical. It was just the right thing to do for us. I think an important thing is to challenge people to be seeking God in their lives..and the rest will unfold.

    • In our world of relatively easy transportation and global communication, your story is much less “radical.” I wonder what people would have thought if you had written these words 150 years ago?

      • I definitely agree that ‘s it’s much less radical. But there are people in our little rural community in Ohio who have never traveled outside the county, much less lived outside the county or the state or the country. so to them, our move is radical. It’s all about perspective. But I think our story has been a challenge for them to see where God might want to use them, whether it’s in the small community or in the next county. The focus is not on how far you can go away from “home” or how much you can do without, but whether you are living a life of love, mercy and compassion wherever you are.

  4. Chaplain Mike, I’ll give you a favourite quote of Chesteron’s (he loved Walt Whitman’s poetry for its optimism and fraternal feeling):

    “Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.) ”

    Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

    🙂

    • That was also a favorite quote of Allen Ginsberg. I thought it was his! (and he really did contradict himself…)

      • Chesterton also wrote a series of parodies of poets on the theme “Variations on an Air” where he re-writes the nursery rhyme of Old King Cole as if it had been written by Tennyson, Yeats and Whitman, and here is his version of Whitman:

        after Walt Whitman

        Me clairvoyant,
        Me conscious of you, old camarado,
        Needing no telescope, lorgnette, field-glass, opera-glass, myopic pince-nez,
        Me piercing two thousand years with eye naked and not ashamed;
        The crown cannot hide you from me,
        Musty old feudal-heraldic trappings cannot hide you from me,
        I perceive that you drink.
        (I am drinking with you. I am as drunk as you are.)
        I see you are inhaling tobacco, puffing, smoking, spitting
        (I do not object to your spitting),
        You prophetic of American largeness,
        You anticipating the broad masculine manners of these States;
        I see in you also there are movements, tremors, tears, desire for the melodious,
        I salute your three violinists, endlessly making vibrations,
        Rigid, relentless, capable of going on for ever;
        They play my accompaniment; but I shall take no notice of any accompaniment;
        I myself am a complete orchestra.
        So long.

        Okay, it’s dangerous for me to start with the Chesterton quotes, because once I begin there’s no reason to ever stop, but I have to do this bit from his 1922 book “What I Saw in America”, about how journalists ‘translate’ things for their readers:

        “Another innocent complication is that the interviewer does sometimes translate things into his native language. It would not seem odd that a French interviewer should translate them into French; and it is certain that the American interviewer sometimes translates them into American. …In answer to the usual question about Prohibition I had made the usual answer, obvious to the point of dullness to those who are in daily contact with it, that it is a law that the rich make knowing they can always break it. From the printed interview it appeared that I had said, ‘Prohibition! All matter of dollar sign.’ This is almost avowed translation, like a French translation. Nobody can suppose that it would come natural to an Englishman to talk about a dollar, still less about a dollar sign—whatever that may be. …Another interviewer once asked me who was the greatest American writer. I have forgotten exactly what I said, but after mentioning several names, I said that the greatest natural genius and artistic force was probably Walt Whitman. The printed interview is more precise; and students of my literary and conversational style will be interested to know that I said, ‘See here, Walt Whitman was your one real red-blooded man.’ Here again I hardly think the translation can have been quite unconscious; most of my intimates are indeed aware that I do not talk like that, but I fancy that the same fact would have dawned on the journalist to whom I had been talking.”

        • This is off the already-off-topic, but since you started on the nursery rhymes, here’s a link to “Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames” (Mother Goose Rhymes) from The d’Antin Manuscript:

          http://www.aescon.com/aesconsulting/french/index.htm

          Number one (un on the list goes like this. It’s annotated, too, so you can get the historical context:

          Un petit d’un petit [1]
          S’étonne aux Halles [2]
          Un petit d’un petit
          Ah! degrés te fallent [3]
          Indolent qui ne sort cesse [4]
          Indolent qui ne se mène [5]
          Qu’importe un petit d’un petit
          Tout Gai de Reguennes. [6]

          Get it? Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall…

          According to Amazon there are 40 of these in the book. Four of them are on the site above.

    • That and Emerson’s “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds” have been a useful defense! But you’re not being inconsistent; you’re talking about a subject larger than can be summed up in a single thesis statement, one that needs several posts. And thank you for doing it — this needs to be said.

  5. Steve Newell says:

    The other day I was reading 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 where St. Paul wrote about spiritual gifts. In this he wrote:

    Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

    What each of us is called to do is not a reflection of how “good” of a Christian we are but what is God’s will is. The gifts that we given for the common good of the church. When we use these gifts be bring glory to ourselves, we are misusing what God has given us a part of the body of Christ. Why do we judge each other on what God has called us to do?

    I called to be active in my local church, to be a father and husband, to be a software consultant, all in Christ. Through my vocation, I can support those in full time ministry through my time and money. Maybe in the future, my vocation may change to have more “direct” ministry but for now, I am where God has placed me and it is good enough.

    • “… the same Lord …”

      In reading CM’s post, the thought struck me that it’s not the calling or effort that’s truly extraordinary, it’s the extraordinary Christ who calls and empowers who makes the calling or effort extraordinary. Placing one call on a superior level to another puts the focus on the called rather than the One calling

  6. I like the statements at the end about it really depending on good pastoral leadership…real discipleship and spiritual direction. Francis de Sales in “On the Devout Life” talks about all the wonderful things people can do, but that no matter how good it seems, nothing should be done without the advice of a good spiritual director.

  7. I have been a “foreign missionary” for 33 years. During the time I have had the great privilege of seeing God show up in some incredible ways. I have also been shot at (in times of political upheaval) on five different occasions; been bitten by a snake; and, had all the typical missionary illnesses. Better than all that, I have seen three daughters grow up into normal, productive adults – all still following after Jesus.

    After all the years and all the stories this has become the new normal. You still have to get up every day – in a very ordinary fashion – and decide to live like a very ordinary disciple. Nothing too radical about it. It comes down to whether we will reflect His character and His priorities in Zumbro Falls, Minnesota, or, in Huaraz, Peru.

    I especially agree with “sg” above – it comes back to the extraordinary Christ that lives through each one of us, independent of vocation and geographic location.

    Tomorrow, I will be traveling to the States to help say good-bye to a retired pharmacist who died on Easter morning. I suppose, according to this discussion, he led a less-than radical life. Still, forty years ago he gambled on a long-haired kid and began to invest in me. Without his normal Christian life, I would have never had the privilege of providing target practice for right-wing soldiers or left-wing activists.

  8. Great post. I commend to iMonks two great resources on this: (1) Os Guinness The Call (2) Mark Greene The Great Divide (see the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity http://licc.org.uk/the-great-divide). Great stuff debunking erroneous kingdom heirarchy.

  9. These posts on “radical’ Christianity have given me much to think about… I feel a little relieved. I have had such a hard time with the word “destiny” and how it applies to my life. I am wayyyy beyond middle age, and this word makes me feel a bit uneasy…that I should be accomplishing much more for Christ than I am…and it may be too late at my age. I do love the Lord with all my heart, but I am in my home most days.

    I must believe that I have already found my destiny in Him by just living an ordinary life submitted to His will.

    Thanks Chaplain Mike.

  10. It is so refreshing to read this series. Thank you. The incredible weight of guilt and shame that comes from not being radical enough is a burden I no longer want to carry.

  11. Shannon McKemie says:

    i have enjoyed this series. i have felt a second class citizen in a singles group that i was part of because i was not a “teacher” in the local schools or because of my financial constraints unable to do some things. Thank you for this series.

  12. Chaplain Mike,

    My main problem with your approach on the celibate ‘callings’ is the idea that those who are married cannot have a radical vocation.

    I consider such an approach more gnostic than christian. All the great reformers of the 16th century were married men or got married to heed the bible more than Rome (Luther of course comes to mind!).

    To me there is a biblical distinction between day to day life and the eschaton, yet to separate the two is NOT christian but gnostic imho.

    • I did not say or mean that, Hans. Of course, one can pursue callings that give eschatological witness in either the celibate or married state. My appeal to singleness was only meant to provide one example, an example that was extremely countercultural in Jesus’ day and remains so today in our era of “family values.”

      • How did I know someone was going to pull the plum of “celibate” out of the pudding in order to re-fight the Reformation, and never mind the actual point you were making?

        Okay, riddle me this: married Orthodox clergy, yet still with many of the corruptions of Rome, including exceedingly high Mariology (you think Catholics over-estimate the place of the Virgin? Read some of the Orthodox hymns in her honour!) and invocation of saints, not to mention the whole monastic tradition, literal interpretation of the Body and Blood, etc. etc. etc.

        If being married is “heeding the Bible more”, then God help all us singles, there’s no hope for us, we may as well get measured up for the pitchforks and horns right now!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Okay, riddle me this: married Orthodox clergy, yet still with many of the corruptions of Rome, including exceedingly high Mariology (you think Catholics over-estimate the place of the Virgin? Read some of the Orthodox hymns in her honour!)…

          Didn’t the original Internet Monk have a couple postings about encounters with Ethiopian Coptic (?) students and their cradle church’s X-Treme Mariology?

      • The ‘counter cultural example of singleness in Jesus’ day’ might have been either John the Baptist or Jesus himself.
        As far as our Lord is concerned well… he is God in the flesh. He didn’t come to procreate but to save us so that settles it and to follow his example in the single life is a wrong application since none of us is God incarnate.
        I do not deny that there are examples of single prophets in the Old Testament up until John the Baptist but what I heavily oppose is the idea that being single is a ‘gift’ or a ‘calling’ one can receive.
        God can use setbacks in life like being handicaped or poor or single of course. God uses all our vicissitudes to sanctify us.
        Yet to use this insight to heighten singleness to the status of an official ‘calling’ or ‘vocation’ reeks of religion! There is nothing we can offer God out of our own efforts.
        Yet we can live out of grace in whatever situation we are in and make the best of it. Luther was celibate for being a monk and understood this celibacy was wholly unnecessary to be in good standing with God and like all other works out of the flesh is just ‘dirty rags’.
        I repeat: I am not laughing at ppl in their particular life situation but I completely oppose the idea that singleness could be a biblical ‘calling’. It’s religious and only tries to add to grace which of course is impossible.

        • I would like to add to this: I consider it sinful NOT to get married if one is able to. This implies that voluntary celibacy ‘for the sake of the Kingdom’ as Rome so shrewdly puts it is a sin.
          “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. THEY FORBID PEOPLE TO MARRY and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything God created is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” (NIV84 1 Timothy 4:1-5)
          Within biblical boundaries both sexuality and food are to be celebrated with thanksgiving and NOT rejected. Religious people always deny this and come up with all sorts of rules about how to be ‘holier than thou’ by abstaining from marriage and from certain foods.
          Yes I do know the verses by Paul about it being given to some to be unwed, yet I still have to find the first person who can convince me that those verses point to a calling or vocation to celibacy ordained by God. All Paul states there is that some who are not married can give all their time to the Kingdom, which of course is true.
          The whole concept that it is ‘holier’ to remain unmarried than to be married is wholly foreign to Paul’s mindset. “It is not good for man to be alone” and that settles it. Exceptions may exist because they always do but they do not indicate a ‘vocation’ to celibacy.

          • We’ll have to disagree on this one, Hans. I still think you are distorting what I’m saying. You may have good reason to have a strong conviction for your interpretation because of what others have said or taught about this, but your comments are not responding to my position.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            So being Single is a Sin.

            Especially if it’s a Romish “Vocation to celibacy”…

        • You are distorting what I’m saying, Hans. Jesus and Paul are the ones who commended singleness as one legitimate, God-ordained way of living for the sake of the kingdom. I think it will be a minority, nevertheless, to accept celibacy as a vocation is valid and need have nothing whatsoever to do with works righteousness. You are confusing categories.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I consider such an approach more gnostic than christian. All the great reformers of the 16th century were married men or got married to heed the bible more than Rome (Luther of course comes to mind!).

      And for clergy, getting married or not announced “Which Side Are You On?” during the Reformation Wars. Let it simmer a couple generations and it hardens into “All Clergy Must Be Married” so you’re nothing like Rome who says “All Clergy Must Be Single/Celibate”. We do A because Enemy Christians do Not-A.

      Remember about a month ago, when this blog ran a posting about how a lot of Protestant churches refuse to hire single pastors?

  13. David Cornwell says:

    Discerning one’s “call” to a particular field of work or ministry is also very relevant to this. It is necessary that such discernment take place or disappointment or disaster can be the outcome (among others).

    • Good thought, but what are some ways to discern that?

      • David Cornwell says:

        I think the process can differ with individuals or organizations. But one needs to be willing to submit to a process. It should involve a lot of questioning, soul searching and prayer. Recognition of that calling should eventually come through the Body of Christ in that particular setting, church, or field of work.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Discerning one’s “call” to a particular field of work or ministry is also very relevant to this.

      You’re not going to believe this, but “Discerning one’s call” is a continuing theme in the latest incarnation of My Little Pony cartoons. In the current version, those “butt tattoos” on MLPs (called “Cutie Marks”) are literally a visible manifestation of the cartoon pony’s “call”, appearing when they realize their calling. One of the continuing situations deals with a secondary group of characters: Three little “blank flank” foals (the little sisters of two of the main group of characters and a schoolmate) who are the only ones their age without Cutie Marks. Their increasingly-desperate attempts to “discern their call” and receive the mark on their flank have been the basis of three episodes (and much humor) so far.

      I am not making this up. Here is the latest episode featuring the three blank-flanks, asking the main characters how they discerned their callings. Remember Professors Tolkien & Lewis and Messr Chesterton — children’s tales (especially those that appeal to all ages) are often the core of a people’s storytelling.

  14. Incorporating the sacraments back into evangelical worship might help re-establish religious vocations without falling back into the medieval caste system, with priestly classes at the top of the food chain. The priest is dependent upon the farmer who grows the wheat which becomes the bread and the vine dresser whose grapes become the wine. There isn’t a religious vocation anymore. Pastors are now glorified businessmen, carnival barkers and marketeers. I don’t think this is what the reformers had in mind. They meant to break the superstitious hold that the priestly classes held over the common people – not destroy the vocation all together. Secularization was an over-correction in the other direction.

    • There is also something positive to say about religious orders. Radical evangelical Christianity is driven by individual pietism and revivalism, which looks a lot like wild, wild west rugged individualism: God giving someone a “vision” and having them strike out on their own to start a ministry, campaign, camp meeting, or religious lobbying committee. Religious orders provided authority, accountability, standards, and discipline not found in pietistic rugged individualism. As Thomas Merton discovered, religious orders can be too authoritarian to the point of crushing the individual call. But individualism equally crushes it, because a cord of one strand can’t stand up to temptations, and trials alone.

      • “In addition to the common, ordinary vocations to which most believers are called, the Spirit does lead some to fulfill vocations that may seem, for one reason or another, “out of the box.”

        That is one of the differences, I think, between Catholics and others. Where, as you say, evangelical Christianity was driven by the “strike out on your own to start a ministry” model, within Catholicism most of that impetus ends up with the formation of religious orders.

        And as for being treated as being “outside the box”, every founder of an order – be they male or female – has a potted biography that goes something like this: X was inspired to work with the poor/teach the children of the working classes/distribute religious materials/focus on prayer/provide medical help/become a missionary. X gathered a group of like-minded men and/or women. X had great success. X was then called to account by the bishop, who put X under obedience to stop doing whatever X was doing/answer charges of heresy/leave the diocese and preferably the country first thing in the morning. Fast-forward 50, 100 or 300 years, and X is being raised to the altars tomorrow when Pope Z canonises them.

        If you’re not being regarded with deep suspicion by the hierarchy, you’re not really doing it right.

        😉

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Incorporating the sacraments back into evangelical worship might help re-establish religious vocations without falling back into the medieval caste system, with priestly classes at the top of the food chain.

      But a lot of Evangelicals (especially the megachurch & splinter church types) HAVE fallen “back into the medieval caste system”. They just call their “priestly classes at the top of the food chain” by different names — “pastors, missionaries, worship leaders, and full-time Christian workers”.

      • That is a good point, HUG. The paid staff can and often do become a super class within the church. It is not healthy for the individual staff members, if their church employment equals the extent of their spiritual life. Such a strange beast, gobbling up staff and congregation for the sake of wretched urgency. It’s such a difficult problem created by the suburban church culture. Are people who devote most of their week to prepare music for Sunday morning not to receive any compensation? Should Sunday morning worship require such preparation and production necessitating people to devote so much time to the effort in the first place? Even J.S. Bach held paid positions within the churches he served. I tend to think that compensation is due to those truly practicing a vocation, whether it is a plumber coming into the church to fix a toilet or a musician who prepares the Sunday music. To treat such efforts as a religious vocation or a special vocational class simply because it is being performed inside a church building may be the problem. I see an extension of this in the outsourcing of services by religious non-profits. At first, it seems strange for a ministry to give any task to the unwashed heathens, but on second look, it is worse to over-spiritualize a service simply because it is for the “Lord’s” work. In fact, I think such over-spiritualizing actually has the opposite effect by removing the truly sacramental nature of a vocation. Treating a vocation as the face of God only when it is performed for a religious end is a type of dualism.

        • Another way to look at it: should only special, religious farmers grow wheat to be used for communion bread or wafers? Are churches supposed to own their own farms and vineyards to grow wheat and raise grapes? I guess that is not as absurd as I hope it would sound.

  15. In my youth, I sang songs like “Dare to be a Daniel” and was influenced by pulpit encouragements to be a David, or at least one of his mighty men. Not everybody is a spiritual superhero. Being somewhat introverted, it didn’t dissuade me to graduate a Christian college determined to set the world on fire for Jesus. Through Luke’s eyes in the Acts of the Apostles we see how the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit worked to extend the Gospel, but only through the lives of a handful of the Apostles, and deacons like Stephen, who was probably one of the seventy. I guess that’s my point. The seventy (or 72) just have a walk-on role. I heard many sermons about Bible heroes, but not many about those not listed in the credits. For every superhero, there is a Christ-loving multitude who remain largely lost to history but will show up in the book of life. Over the years, I’ve calmed down in my zeal to conquer the world single-handedly for Christ, never having once been featured on Lifestyles of the Christian Rich and Famous. Having now been unemployed for several years, it has been a long, hard adjustment to be counted among the poor and anonymous. Luther’s views on vocation are an epiphany, as I begin to understand how being ordinary but faithful with a “few things” is just as radical in God’s sight.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      For every superhero, there is a Christ-loving multitude who remain largely lost to history but will show up in the book of life.

      That was the reason behind All Saints’ Day on November 1. To honor all the Saints who were never formally canonized/recognized as such.

  16. Chaplain Mike,

    I think you should stress how important motivations are in all of this. There are plenty of people who live so called “normal” lives simply because they don’t want to be bothered out of their complacency and position of comfort in life. Not everyone who lives a “normal” life for Christ does it for the right reason I feel. Many simply do so out of comfort and safety. I feel that you are making too much of living “normally.”

    As much as I agree with you, I cannot help but feel that what you advocate may justify feelings of complacency and lethargy many Christians have. I find it hard to fit in the Apostle Paul’s fierce and urgent call to run the race and receive the crown within your argument’s framework.

    • This post was supposed to provide exactly that balance, Huol. But there are healthy ways to confront complacency and unhealthy ways. That has been the specific focus of this entire series.

    • Huol, I was about to make a similar comment to you and then saw yours!

      We see far too many Christians who are lazy and content to leave most of the hard work and sacrifice to the ‘called’.

  17. I think of that line from the movie, “The Incredibles”, where Buddy/Syndrome declares, “when everyone’s super, [maniacal laughter] no-one will be”. Perhaps this is part of the problem. If we don’t treat religious vocations as a class by themselves, or if all vocations are treated as if they are spiritual, then the idea of spirituality will become mundane and trite. Spirituality is supposed to be radical, set apart, and special, right? Otherwise, how could you tell the difference between the real, true Christians and the “lazy pew sitters”?

    There used to be a few Quakers who hung out here at iMonk. If they are still around, I’d love to hear their take on this subject. My understanding is that Quakers don’t observe sacraments or special religious days because all of life is sacred and all days are sacred. I think this is why Quakers made such exquisite furniture. It was plain and unadorned but made with such care and skill.

  18. Ben Carmack says:

    I have enjoyed reading Chaplain Mike’s series on the “demythologizing,” and found myself thinking about it on Easter Sunday rather than listening to the pastor’s sermon.

    I have been tempted at times to promote an overly individualistic, libertarian “anarchist” spirituality devoid of religious or clerical leadership at times because of frustration. But each time when I look at the evidence and examine the Scriptures (Acts in particular) God guides me back to the importance of having Holy Orders. Now I’m understanding why some traditions call this a sacrament in itself.

    In Acts and in the Apostolic Fathers, it is clear that while most of the Christians were encouraged to be faithful in their everyday vocations, a minority were left with special leadership responsibilities that included preaching, teaching and planting new churches.

    One thing that continues to bother me is the idea that once one is called to ministry, one is called to ministry forever. Once one is called to celibacy, one must make a lifelong vow. I understand that changing lifestyles midstream is often impractical, but I’m loathe to be too confining. It seems many good-hearted men and women embrace, say, the monastery or priesthood, and later in life regret not having families.

    Perhaps God has “seasons” in life for some of us, where we live an “ordinary” life then do the “extraordinary” for a season?

    • Ben, I think the fact that you embrace the ‘seasons’ and are loathe to the confining nature of some callings is an indicator of your nature and your calling. I’m guessing you won’t be heading to the monastary any time soon; although maybe later in life. (Monastary meaning any extraordinary calling).

    • Good observations, Ben. You know, Jesus only “ministered” for 3 1/2 years. Was the rest of his life wasted? I find it perfectly feasible that God may call us to do certain “extraordinary” work for a season while most of our life will be spent in “ordinary” vocational pursuits.

  19. Far and away the most radical aspect of Christianity is the indwelling of the Spirit in the individual. It means that the work of God on earth is incomplete. He still has things to teach us and things to accomplish through ordinary individuals. This is the bane of every lover of order and systemization. Tough to keep things tidy and predictable if the Spirit is opening new vistas. If there are prophets and seers left on the planet they face the same scathing review that their fathers did. If Jesus wanted a well bred religion He would have given us buildings, books and administration but no Holy Spirit. I