We believe in the communion of saints – Dr. Molly Marshall – Baptist News Global

Recalling those who have gone ahead of us like navigators, to lead the way.

By Molly T. Marshall

A cluster of important days crowds the liturgical calendar in late October and early November. We will celebrate All Hallows Eve, All Saints and All Souls during this week, and it is a good time to give thanks for our forebears in faith whose witness continues to inspire us. I will spare you the church history lecture, but these ecclesial holidays go way back.

In the Middle Ages these days were given to remembering the dead, and all the accoutrements of Halloween (witches, black cats, ghosts and, more recently, zombies) came later. The earlier versions included fun and revelry; we are not the only generation to find reasons to dress silly and have a good party!

As Baptists devote more attention to the Christian year, we could profit from celebrating these important days. Some congregations use Memorial Day as a time of remembering those who have departed in the prior year — solemnly reading their names, often accompanied by a tolling bell. Why not make the Sunday nearest All Saints a time of giving thanks for their lives? It would be a way of keeping good company for some of them!

Celebrating Eucharist on that day could further enrich the service. The church gathers with Christ’s whole Body — with those whose rest is won and those still running the race. It would be a way to draw near to the dead in Christ as we remember their graceful imprint on our lives. Death cannot sever the unity of the Body of Christ.

The lectionary reading for All Saints gives us a vision of the faithful gathered in the life to come: “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).

This encompassing body expresses the hope of Christians: that ultimately we will be found in God’s safekeeping.

Along with confessing our belief in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, Christians confess that we believe in the communion of saints, a “Christian symbol that speaks of profound relationship,” in the words of Elizabeth Johnson in Friends of God and Prophets.

This relationship is surely enjoyed by those who have departed in faith, but the communion of saints speaks of an ongoing connection between those alive in Christ this side of death and those treasured in memory and hope. It is possible to be near to them both, in the thinking of theologian Jürgen Moltmann. Because we are the one Body of Christ, we are closer together than we may realize.

Remembering those who have shaped our lives is an instructive spiritual discipline. This past Sunday I preached at First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor, Mich.; there I encountered the daughter of my beloved teacher, Dr. Dale Moody, of blessed memory, professor of theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dr. Moody helped me integrate Scripture and science in creative ways, which was a lifelong scholarly passion for him. He encouraged me as a woman in ministry and theologian, even as he continued to interrogate a patriarchal system where women were not welcome in the pulpit or as professors in theology. It was his advocacy that helped me become the first woman to teach theology at Southern. Seeing his daughter, Linda, prompted an overflow of gratitude for this saint in my life.

Even more important than our remembering these who have moved through death to life is the reality that God remembers them. As the Psalmist says, “The Lord redeems the life of God’s own servants; none of those who take refuge in God will be condemned (Psalm 34:22). God knows the names of those who have been largely forgotten; God remembers them and creates a space for them in God’s eternity. For this, we give thanks.

As we celebrate All Saints in our churches, we recall those who have gone before us with profound trust in the Living God. They died with confidence that God was making room for them in God’s own eternity.

And so we pray with St. Cyprian: “We must not weep for our brothers and sisters whom the call of the Lord has withdrawn from this world, since we know that they are not lost, but have gone on ahead of us; they have left us like travelers, navigators, in order to lead the way ….”

Communing with them and with those with whom we make our slow way across the earth reminds us that we need their saintly ways to shine light for our pilgrimage.

OPINIONViews expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.

What Our Languages Are Telling Us – John Chandler – Baptist News Global

What our languages are telling us

What is the language reach of your congregation?

By John Chandler

Language creates culture. What we say, and how we say it, not only reflects who we are but also shapes what we will become. With that in mind, we can forecast where the world is heading by watching what languages are ascending and descending.

BBC research estimates that up to 7,000 different languages are spoken around the world. Ninety percent of these languages are used by fewer than 100,000 people.

Over a million people converse in 150-200 languages, and 46 languages have just a single speaker. (How exactly is it a language if only one person speaks it?)

Some 2,500 languages are at risk of extinction, with one quarter of the world’s languages spoken by fewer than 1,000 people. Interestingly, 2,200 of the world’s languages can be found in Asia, while Europe has a mere 260. The boats to the U.S. will be coming across the Pacific, not the Atlantic.

The world’s most widely spoken language, both native and learned as a second language, is Mandarin Chinese. English is second. UNESCO fills out the rest of the top 10 as follows: Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, German and French. Honestly, who saw Bengali that high?

For native English speakers, the five most difficult languages to learn are Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The old international joke holds true: “There are three kinds of people: multi-lingual, bi-lingual and American.”

This is becoming more problematic for the church, because 75 percent of the world’s population doesn’t speak a word of English. Believing we can reach today’s world with the gospel in English only is like opening a shoe store that only plans to stock Size 9.

The United Nations uses six official languages to conduct business. The European Union has 23 official and working languages. What is the language reach of your congregation?

It may well be that one of the major reasons to connect with a denomination in the future is that that denominations may become the most strategic way to fulfill the vision of Revelation 7:9: A multitude in heaven “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

OPINIONViews expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.

“3 Ideas to Keep Your Online Discussions Civil” Terrell Carter – www.ethicsdaily.com

3 Ideas to Keep Your Online Discussions Civil | Terrell Carter, Civility, Disagreement

One would think that this diversity in opinion would be seen as a good thing. Unfortunately, this is not how many of us feel, Carter says. (Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

With the headline-grabbing political, racial and social events that have occurred in the U.S. over the past few months, people have had a lot to talk about.

From videos of brutality committed by both police and citizens, to the expanded attention toward domestic violence prompted by the misconduct of NFL players, to the rise of new terrorist groups like ISIS, to the spread of Ebola from another country to the United States, all forms of media are buzzing with commentary on these and other issues from both informed and uninformed contributors.

In today’s vastness of media options, anyone with an opinion on any subject can find a way for their voice to be heard.

From Facebook to Twitter to Snapchat to traditional radio call-in shows, there’s a medium for every person to have their say.

The opinions being expressed are as diverse as the media platforms available to make opinions heard.

One would think that this diversity in opinion would be seen as a good thing. Unfortunately, this is not how many of us feel.

We all regularly hear and read arguments between people standing on differing sides of an issue that would make the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys look like a kindergarten class tug-of-war.

Unfortunately, these arguments seem to be less about the issues being discussed and more about the fact that someone does not see the world the same way as I do. The fallout from these types of arguments can be dramatic.

We have all read posts from friends promising to never use Facebook again because people have been insensitive toward them.

We have all read comments posted by participants on a website classifying any group other than theirs as less than human.

We have all heard about family members who no longer associate with each other because they have offended each other to the point of no return.

As I hear and read these types of interactions on a daily basis, I am left with the question, “Who would Jesus ‘un-friend’?”

With so many lines being drawn in the sand, is there a way to wade through the unfriendly and unproductive chatter that is voiced so frequently?

I have three ideas that should help us all navigate the process of expressing our own opinions without making someone who disagrees with us into unnecessary villains.

First, we have to remember that disagreement is not a sin or an unforgivable offense.

We are not all required to think alike or to feel the same way about anything. Varying opinions are valuable.

Independent thought is admirable and has led to some of the more important discoveries and advances in the world.

History is replete with examples of people who held well-reasoned dissenting views being justified for their independent thoughts.

We can respect another person’s right to hold an opinion just as we want them to respect our right to do the same.

Second, we have to realize that wisdom can come in many ways, even if it does not come in ways that we anticipate.

Even though I am a Christian, I personally appreciate and cherish the opinions of my friends and family who do not hold to any religious faith.

I intentionally ask for the opinions of people who do not hold to the same positions that I do. I do this because I have learned that wisdom is not only found in my belief system.

Wisdom can be found in the experiences of people who worship God or in the experiences of people who do not recognize any god.

I have learned that those who may have differing values from me still care about the same things that are important to me and my family. We have a common foundation as humans.

Third, we must learn to distinguish between the person sharing their opinion and the issue being discussed.

The totality of a person, or a group of people, is not found only in what they think about a particular subject or the stance they take on a politically charged issue.

As much as we try, the totality of a person or group cannot be adequately summed up by their opinion on one subject.

My hope is that we would all do our due diligence and think through our own opinions before we critique those held by someone else.

If we are able to learn how to communicate more effectively with each other, we may be able to make substantial progress toward living together in peace instead of living separately in fear of each other.

Terrell Carter is minister of administration at Third Baptist Church in St. Louis and director of the Foundations in Ministry program for Central Baptist Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

What It Takes to Model Humility – Molly Marshall – www.ethicsdaily.com

What It Takes to Model HumilityMolly Marshall

What It Takes to Model Humility | Molly Marshall, Humility, Philippians

One who understands incorporation in Christ knows that one must also follow the pathway of humility, Marshall writes.

Few passages in the New Testament rival the great Christ hymn of Philippians, which offers a three-stage Christology: pre-existence, incarnation and exaltation. Theologians just love this kind of symmetry!

In just a few verses of Philippians 2, Paul spells out the downward mobility of Jesus and invites us to embark on the same pathway.

The very Word of God, the living Christ, takes the form of a slave, after the likeness of humanity.

He does not cling to equality with God, although in God’s relational self-giving, both Spirit and Son are fully personal and fully God.

Rather, he empties himself for our sakes. The Greek word “kenosis” carries rich meaning, and it discloses how God is present in Jesus.

A key phrase in this passage is “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8).

Paul goes further to say “even death on a cross,” which was the most excruciating and tortuous death he knew.

There is no atonement theory offered in this text; it simply delineates the extent of his mission: serving others even at the risk of dying.

Humility is the master virtue, according to the ancient Abbas and Ammas of the desert monastic tradition.

As Roberta Bondi writes, “Humility accepts our human vulnerability and the fact that we sin. It is not so overwhelmed by human weakness that it is left paralyzed, thinking over its inadequacy.”

When one no longer has to preserve a heroic self-image, one can begin to empower others with collaborative insight.

Humility requires a generous hospitality, not simply thinking about one’s “own things,” but capacious welcome, creating space for others.

When one understands one’s role within the larger body of Christ, there is less anxiety about being “solely responsible,” which allows a greater humility.

Jim Collins, researcher and writer about great organizations and great leadership, names humility as the key quality for effective leaders.

In his study of those companies who moved from “good to great,” he identifies the essential quality of “extreme personal humility” for effective leaders.

One who understands incorporation in Christ knows that one must also follow the pathway of humility.

Humility helps us find those tasks that no one else is eager to do. Humility listens to stories recounted again by our elders.

Humility prompts us to “regard others as better than ourselves.” Humility helps us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit” (Philippians 2:3).

Humility allows us to be patient with children, even when they prove contrarian or in the crass calculus of the economy, insignificant.

Humility reminds us “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s own good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). For this, we give thanks.

Molly T. Marshall is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS) in Shawnee, Kansas. A version of this column first appeared on her blog, Trinitarian Soundings, and is used with permission. You can follow CBTS on Twitter @CBTSKansas.She is a favorite speaker at the Hamrick Lectureship in Charleston,SC.

Welcoming the stranger = Amy Butler

By Amy Butler

It’s a pretty commonly accepted biblical mandate that we welcome the stranger. As we’ve witnessed in the news of late, in our better moments we people of faith can manage to cross wide valleys of opinion to agree on that sentiment. It occurred to me recently, however, that we make these determinations around occasional issues, and most frequently from the position of establishment — we’re rarely the strangers. We can be good about quoting Scripture, but I wonder if a change of perspective would make us even more vigilant about radical welcome.

What does it feel like to be a stranger? After my first week in a brand new city, I began to remember what, honestly, has not been a common experience for me. And, while acknowledging that my experience of being a stranger has very little desperation associated with it, this brush with being new has reminded me just a bit of what it might feel like to really be a stranger in a strange land.

The first thing I experienced in force was anonymity. While navigating the world with no recognition from the folks around you can be freeing, there’s also something a bit unmooring about it. When nobody trains their eyes on you with recognition, it’s easy to feel a bit adrift. The freedom to fly beneath the radar comes at the price of irrelevance. And I remembered: we all need to be recognized, to fill a role in the lives of those around us.

Being a stranger also comes with a strong discomfort. Nothing feels quite normal; everything is brand new. As soon as the excitement of the brand new passes, however, a nostalgia for the familiar rises to the surface. It’s not that the familiar was especially better but the territory was navigable. As feeling uncomfortable has been a constant companion in these days, I remembered: we all long for familiarity and comfort.

And this experience of constant newness brings to mind the built-in sense of incompetence that comes with being a stranger. Need to get across town? Milk for your cereal? A doctor? These are all puzzles of varying degrees, at first presenting a challenge but shortly growing tedious. As these experiences fill each day, the constant feeling of incompetence humbles, then wears down the spirit. Reminder: competence and value go hand in hand in our society; it’s discouraging to live with a steep learning curve.

With the incompetence of newness, the stranger finds himself in constant need of help. Asking for help isn’t always the most comfortable exercise, and living life as a constant receiver can be frustrating. To learn the art of accepting help can be a challenge for those of us who are accustomed to being on the other end of the equation.

I’ve noticed and tried to mark something especially valuable in the experience of the stranger. Strangers see the world around them with new eyes. In that little window of time before anonymity becomes familiarity, discomfort relaxes into ease, incompetence develops skill, constant receipt gives way to opportunities for generous welcome to others, the stranger can see her world with a clarity familiarity does not afford.

And that gift of new eyes may be worth the pain of newness. Once everything starts to feel a little more normal and I’m the one giving out advice on subway routes, I hope I can remember what I saw when I was the stranger. With that memory, perhaps a stranger’s perspective can more powerfully inform the way I navigate my comfortable world.

And welcoming the stranger might become, not an issue-specific anomaly, but rather a regular Christian practice.


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