The Rules Change

I am at Dover UMC this Easter morning.  (Location of church)  The service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 11: 1 – 8, Revelation 21: 1 – 6, and John 13: 31 – 35.

(This has been edited since it was first posted.)


The first part of this message today is a little bit of a rant but I trust that you will allow me a few moments to speak out. Trust me, what I am saying does, I believe, have relevance and meaning to the Gospel for today as well as the other lessons and it speaks to the meaning of the Scriptures.

One thing that has amazed me about the past few years is the cry to upgrade science and mathematics education in this country. It isn’t that we are calling for more science and mathematics teachers right now; it is, if you will, nothing new. Back in December, 2008, there was report that called for more science and math teachers (see “Have We Learned Anything?”), And what I wrote then echoed some of the thoughts that I first wrote back in 1990 (see “The Crisis in Science and Mathematics (1990)”). We see the future but we view it with our eyes glued totally and completely to the past. It isn’t that we are afraid to look into the future; it is more that we are reluctant to abandon our old ways.

The other day, I examined a job announcement that I consider typical for today’s job market, especially in the area of chemical education. This particular institution is seeking someone who has the ability to effectively use all forms of audiovisual equipment (e.g., Power Point, Internet Resources, etc.).  It should be noted that Power Point and Internet resources are not necessarily audiovisual equipment. The successful candidate will also have expertise in curriculum design, technology, program planning, and student engagement techniques.  The qualified candidates will possess excellent computer skills; demonstrate evidence of a career that includes flexibility and willingness to change; open-mindedness, fairness and the ability to see multiple perspectives; a willingness to take risks, and willingness to accept responsibility for professional and personal growth.

The successful candidate’s duties will also include adapting existing chemistry courses for online delivery and then teaching those courses as needed. They should be able to incorporate the latest instructional technologies and interactive learning techniques in course delivery.

Now this is all well and good, except that whoever wrote this job description does not appear to have a clear understanding of the technology used in teaching today. In addition, while the candidate is to be flexible, open-minded, and willing to change, the instructions for applying for this position indicate that you can apply in person or submit your application by fax or regular mail. However, e-mail applications will not be accepted.

This college wants someone who is able to utilize various forms of technology but they themselves will not utilize the same technologies. I also suspect that this desire by the college to teach chemistry online is driven more by the academic numbers game of getting students registered. I was a participant in a discussion about teaching chemistry courses online and emphasized that one could not safely teach chemistry laboratories online. I did so primarily for safety reasons; you have to have laboratory work if you want to teach chemistry successfully and there is no way that you can monitor the conditions under which a student is conducting a laboratory exercise unless it is in real time and in a real place, not some virtual laboratory in cyberspace.

Now what does all of this have to do with the church today? The church today is operating under a set of rules that have existed for hundreds of years. The only problem is that no one understands, let alone knows, these rules. And what is worse, in attempting to “modernize” the church, they simply add on things like guitars and drums and begin singing new music without understanding the meaning of the music in the worship service.

Now, I am not opposed to including guitars, drums and other more modern musical instruments in a worship service. As I mentioned in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, I have laid out a worship service that utilizes several rock and roll pieces (see “A Rock and Roll Revival”). It is just that bringing in any new form of music without consideration for what you are doing is, to me anyway, the same as saying that Power Point is a form of audio-visual equipment.

The greatest problem the new church had two thousand years ago was that one group insisted that you had to follow Jewish dietary laws as a Christian. Peter was one of those who felt that adherence to the old Jewish laws was a necessary requirement for being a member of the new movement. But the vision that Peter received that night some two thousand years ago showed him what Jesus had told the Pharisees before; it isn’t what you eat that causes the problem, it is what you say and what you think.

In this month’s issue of Connections Barbara Wendland addresses the issue of belief and faith. She points out that many people believe because we were taught and told what to believe. If someone did not believe as we did, if their understanding of Christianity was not the same as ours then they were wrong. And we have come to equate faith with belief. And we do not necessarily understand either.

Karen Armstrong points out that the Greek word that is translated as “faith” means trust, loyalty, engagement and commitment. Yet, when we read of Jesus asking the people to have faith, we assume that He is asking them (and us) to believe. This is one of the exciting things about being a lay speaker because I have had time and opportunity to delve into what I have been saying all these years.

There is a person among us who probably hasn’t said that “faith is a belief in things unseen” which is a paraphrase of Hebrews 11: 1 from the King James translation, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” My favorite translator, Clarence Jordan, translated the verse from the Greek as “Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds; it is betting your life on the unseen realities.” And the same verse as found in the Message reads, “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.” There is quite a bit of difference in the translation.

And it carries forth in how you understand what it means to be a Christian. If faith is a commitment, then Jesus wanted disciples who

… would engage with his mission, give all they had to the poor, feed the hungry, refuse to be hampered by family ties, abandon their pride, lay aside their self-importance and sense entitlement, … and trust in god who was their father. Thy must spread the good news … and live compassionate lives, not confining their benevolence to the respectable and conventionally virtuous.” (Karen Armstrong, quoted in the May, 2010, Connections)

Even the meaning of the word “belief” has changed over the years. When it was originally translated from the Greek into the Latin, the word that best described this life of faith was “credo”, a word that derived from the Latin meaning “I give my heart.” But when it was translated into the English for the King James Version, it became “I believe.” And even this word has changed its meaning over the years. In 1611, it meant “to prize, to value, or to hold dear.”

But over the years, it has taken on a more theoretical meaning, to describe an intellectual assent to a hypothetical and possibly dubious proposition. What it has done has made a statement of faith into a statement that we believe in things unbelievable. And it has caused people to turn away from the church because we demand correct belief as evidence of our faith.

Now, there are some today who are going back and looking at the life of the early church. Some are even learning Greek so that they can get a clearer understanding of what the Scriptures really say. You can imagine that this is not readily accepted by many in today’s church. For to go back and find out what was originally said two thousand years ago is in defiance of the authority of the church. But how can the church have any authority if it is based on faulty reasoning and logic; if it demands things that the early church never even considered?

We run the risk of making the same mistake that the religious establishment made when Jesus walked this earth and when the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation took place, of losing the people. But it need not be that way; we can heed the words of John the Seer who spoke of a new earth reborn in Christ and not destroyed by God.

We have been given a new commandment, a new set of rules if you will. We are called to love others as we have been loved.

This is the same love that was expressed that night two thousand years a go when the disciples gathered together in the Upper Room for that Last supper.

But, for us, it was the First Supper. And we come to the table this morning in a continuing expression of our faith and commitment to be God’s servants in this world.

We come to this place, this table because the rules changes two thousand years ago. We leave this place citizens of the New Kingdom, committed to the mission of Christ.

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