We have looked at two principles so far and today a last. The first week we talked about the importance of trying to understand context. The next week we discussed the importance of not twisting scripture to fit what we want it to mean. Today we want to have conversation sour outdoing the importance of doing theology in community. These are key principles for us to grasp as we build our own personal theology.
Understanding can be be difficult, so the goal of this series is not to paralyze in the complexity of theology. Theology being: trying to understanding the character of God, how he relates to us, and how we relate to him. The goal is not to paralyze but to push us to go for it, to give it the time and energy it needs and deserves. In this series we are hoping to encourage you to jump into scripture, to think critically, to contemplate and apply, and to engage in the process of faith and understanding. We should not try to, or pretend to, have all the answers, but to ask questions and be honest. It’s unfortunate that theology and spirituality can be used to divide. I believe an open handed honest theology encourages community, relationship even friendship, not because it makes us all the same or even believe the same things, but it helps us all explore our beliefs honestly, together.
How can a person have meaningful relationship with a person who has different spiritual or theological beliefs?
Believe it or not, but you will NEED to have relationship with people that have different spiritual or theological beliefs than you. How do you have a conversation with someone who believes differently than you?
*How tos of having spiritually minded conversations:
I can be wrong
If I’m entering into a spiritual conversation certain I am right and the other person is wrong, it’s inevitably starting off unfair. Who wants to be in a conversation where the other is trying to convince you that your deepest held beliefs are wrong? I haven’t ever heard anyone remark, “You know, I sure love talking with ____, he’s always letting me know how wrong I am and it’s wonderful!” The reality is I have doubts of my own and when I’m willing to freely admit those, something special can happen. The conversation becomes less about me trying to convince someone and more about us having a humble and honest conversation together.
I don’t know sometimes
Trust me, an occasional “I don’t know” can win a lot of respect and credibility for you in a spiritual conversation. It takes away my need to have to be Mr. Answer Man and allows me to be me. It can also be really refreshing for the other as well. It injects into the conversation that mystery is part of faith.
Don’t oversimplify things
Sometimes, I act like this Christianity thing is a magic pill that will solve all your problems if you just sign the dotted line and commit to weekly Sunday payments. We’re all smarter than that because life is messier than that. Reducing the gospel to 4 steps actually does an injustice to the messy, miraculous, meaningful life death and resurrection of Jesus. If this message was just four bullet points, the Bible would be a lot shorter and God would have sent a pamphlet instead of his son.
Look for truth in other perspectives
It’s only fair, if I want someone I’m having a conversation with to “convert” to my faith, I should be open to change as well. I’m not saying I have no sense of loyalty to Jesus because I actually really do. What I mean is, truth isn’t something that makes me right, truth is a person we’re both looking for. That’s the great freedom in Jesus claiming he is truth. He didn’t say he talked about true things, he claimed he is truth. This opens me up to discover him in other’s. Instead of being the exclusive owner of truth, I offer the other the same respect they have given me and look for truth in their words as well. I used to slap the “non-christian” label on, and enter the conversation assuming they had nothing to offer me. A healthy spiritual conversation is a level playing field where we both discover truth together and are changed.
Avoid conversation enders
So many of my spiritual conversations I shot in the foot by statements like, “Do you believe in God?” or “Do you believe the Bible is true?” These questions are often conversation enders. Avoiding these kind of statements adjusts my posture from beginning the conversation where we disagree to starting where we agree. It’s better to ask questions like, “Tell me how you’ve experienced something spiritual?” or “If there was a God, what do you think he or she is like?” Then I listen. These are sincere and curious questions where I really believe the other has an interesting story that has greatly informed their thoughts on God. Remember, we are both intellectual and emotional creatures. You can prove God exists all day long and a person will still walk away if their dad claimed to believe in God also and beat them most nights. I’ve learned to validate another’s story. To ask good questions. To seek a divine curiosity as I peer into the life of a brilliant creation of God formed in God’s image.
These are not how tos with the end game where you are left unable to believe anything or not being able to express what you believe. That is not the goal. I have seen it and I have lived this moment of feeling like I don’t want to offend, I don’t want to alienate, I don’t want to exclude, I don’t want to be wrong. So, whatever, I don’t know, I don’t care, I’m not sure… This is not the goal. The key is to not shut down yourself or the person you are connecting with, but the goal is to build up.
Here is what my faith says: If we are earnestly seeking spiritual reality that search will lead us closer to Christ, closer to Jesus. I believe that!!! We are all in different places, but as we seek we find, as we find it should not turn others away, it should encourage others in their finding. As we seek it we will be drawn to Christ.
Like every gathering at Corner Church we are going to have the opportunity to connect — have conversation. Have conversations with the people around us, that may (WILL NOT) not believe the exact same things as you or me, and that’s ok. It’s actually more than ok, it’s amazing to disagree and still value relationship
17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
So to get us started and help us think about the direction we are headed here is a dialogue question:
What is the largest crowd you have been a part of? Are you a person that is energized or drained by crowds? Why or why not?
Now thinking in a scale different than the crowd. Think back to Jr. High, High School, maybe College. The group projects. Maybe you were the person that wanted to get in that person’s group because they did most of the work. Maybe you were the person that everyone wanted to be in your group because you did most of the work. Maybe you were the person that looked forward to the group project because you loved the process of team made decisions and team made excellence. Maybe you were the person that dreaded the group project because you despised the indecisiveness, defensiveness, indifference. Maybe you were the person that was so excited about the group project because that meant you could hang with friends — talk — hang — so much fun! Maybe you were the person that loathed the group project because you did not want to talk, discuss, share, gab… I would rather sit here quietly.
What was your first thought when you heard group project?
- I want to be in there group
- Everyone will want to be in my group
- I love groupthink
- I despise group indecisiveness
- I love the social aspect
- I could do without the social aspect
What was your first thought when you heard group project? Why?
Thinking about your response to that question. Here is the exciting news, for some of you. Here is the bad news, for some of you. This faith thing, this theology thing this follower of Christ thing, it is supposed to be a group project. This DIY theology thing will, and this may sound like a paradox, but it is not to be done in isolation. We end this series with a push back to doing DIY THEOLOGY in community.
It’s easy to be picky about who we have serious conversations with. It’s easy to think, or act like: If I am going to do this thing with others, be a part of the group project with others… I am going to want to do it with the right people, people like me, actually — better than me. In order to make that determination I am going to have to do some judging. Who is good enough to do theology with me? I am going to have to interview. I am going to have to evaluate. I will make the decision and you may or may not make the cut…
When I find good enough people
- Smart enough
- Similar enough
- Not too weird
- Not boring
- Willing to fit into my schedule
- Not needy
- Willing to help me when I am in need
- Able to push me
- But not pushy
- Willing to cut me some slack
- Not going to upset me
- Willing to put up with my issues
- Does not judge me
- Straight forward
Then I will have community. Then I will have relationship. Then I will be set to do life, faith, theology, christianity…
Come on, maybe that is extreme. I don’t really think that. I would never do that. I don’t have those unrealistic expectations. But it is so easy to think or say things like:
- That guy is WAY out there
- I don’t want to sit by them
- Here they come…. look busy
- I need a better small group
- I don’t like their leadership style
- They are a little TOO needy
- This is just not feeding me
- I am church shopping right now
- Checking things out — seeing if YOU GUYS can meet my needs — If it’s a good fit
- I am looking for some good friends to keep me accountable
These are my issues. This is a challenge for me. How it plays out in the end is that it’s just easier for me to do this all alone. That way I don’t have to deal with, put up with, or accommodate others. I mean, I don’t really need others, community, church, to be a Christian…
Today we are jumping off the scripture that is often twisted:
20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
I have have heard this out of context. Jesus is really here. I can feel Him extra more, because there are more than two of us.
In the church world I have heard this with a comfortable twist. I know only 4 people came to this event. I know we worked so hard. I know it cost so much. I know we wanted more. But when two or three are here, then Jesus is into it!
Let’s explore some context. Matthew groups these sayings of Jesus around community issues. How to interact with and work through community.
The disciples were debating about who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. A few of the, where thinking: “I thought it was pretty obvious — it’s ME, I’m the greatest. I know they think it is them because they have done this and that, but come one, I have done way more. I am so much better — closer — more talented — gifted — better leader — better communicator — better looking.
Jesus responded saying that unless you become like a child you can’t even get into the kingdom of heaven. You must be like, live like, take the position of a child. Then you will be the greatest.
And while I am on the topic of little ones, if anyone causes one of these little ones — people who are taking the place of humility — causes one of them to stumble, it would be better to take a 1500 pound MILLSTONE and tie it around your neck and be thrown into the sea.
Things that make people stumble will come, should come, must come, but woe to the person through whom they come. If your hand or foot causes you to stumble then cut it off. If your eye causes you to stumble then gouge it out. It is better for you to walk (or limp) through life maimed than be thrown into the fire of hell.
Make sure you don’t look down on the insignificant one, don’t despise them. I don’t and I know the father doesn’t. When a shepherd loses one of his or her sheep he or she leaves the 99 to find that one. When it is found, that shepherd is happier about that one than the other 99. This is how the father in heaven is. He is not willing that one little, least, humble, servant should perish.
If someone in your world is sinning or acting hurtful, be helpful to them. Go and talk to them about it one on one. If they don’t adjust go back with two or three that have also witnessed the issue and want to help. If they still don’t adjust bring it before your community. This is hard, confrontational, but at this point is necessary. If you follow these principles, this process, I have your back.
Let me tell you again. If two or three of you agree it will be done by my father in heaven. For when two or three of you gather with the goal of having my heart, passion, perspective, empathy, worldview, conviction, if you do that in community, then we are on the same page.
Peter then comes up to Jesus and asks how many times he needs to forgive, “up to seven times?” Jesus responds saying, “not seven but seventy seven times.” Jesus then tells this story of a guy has a unpayable debt and can’t pay it. It is forgiven. Then he walks outside and won’t forgive a minor debt. Word comes back to the original debt holder and he has him thrown into prison until his original debt could be paid
All of these verses circle around community. How to have healthy community. Catch this two or three phrase:
“Where two or more are gathered there I am”
It is not about special presence of God. This phrase is about accountability. Jesus is addressing the disciples who were very familiar with the old testament expectations. The disciples had heard the “two or three” before.
6 On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.
15 One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
The power of two or three is accountability. In a moment when accusations is being made, when someone may have an ulterior motive. The power of two or three overcomes. In Matthew Jesus is talking about community, the importance of community, how to deal issues in community. Jesus in conversation about how to deal with someone’s failings brings out the power of agreement. Where there is confrontation, where there is accusation, when there is potential for ulterior motive, two or three is essential. In that moment Jesus says what you say I say, what you decide I decide, what you proclaim I proclaim, I’m with you in those decision.
As we process DIY theology again today with the focus of understanding the character of God, how He relates with us, and how we relate with him, theology can be done with an ulterior motive. It can be contentious and confrontational because it calls people to change, because it calls me to change. Jesus encourages two or three together in that moment. Theology built in community prevents wandering off track.
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
I can be in the midst of lots of people and not be really with people. I can be surrounded by christians and not be building community. I can act like there is agreement and not really agree with anyone. So, let’s consider the words of Hebrews. “Consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
The value of the community is that it keeps us on track. It prevents ulterior motives. It keeps focus and prevents wondering. We as Corner Church really believe in the two or three. That’s why we have co-Leaders in connection groups, multiple locations for Corner Church, do team sermon building, and why we do dialogue questions during service.
What is the difference between crowd and community? How have, are and/or can you build theology in community?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Matthew 18:1–35
- Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What is a real life example that illustrates your answer?
- What picture is Jesus trying to show as he repeatedly uses the “child” illustration?
- Why do you think Jesus was/is so into agreement?
- Can there be agreement when there is different perspective? Why or why not?
- Why do you think Matthew puts the parable of the Unmerciful Servant here? What should we gather from it’s placement?
- How can introverts and extroverts do “faith” together?
This passage was adapted from Kyle Reynolds post “5 Characteristics Of A Fair Spiritual Conversation”
This message was adapted from message given at Corner Church by Scott Woller, Dan Zabinski & Greg J Barber.