Monthly Archives: December 2015

Church Traditions You Won’t Find in the Bible (Part 3): The Lord’s Snack

NOTE:  Every church is guided by traditions that guard the doctrinal nuances of a denomination, religious body or congregation. Most of these traditions are post-apostolic and culturally sensitive in origin and practice. Many are innocent and acceptable.  But occasionally some traditions emerge that contain no biblical or historical support. In fact, when deeply considered, these traditions, rituals and spiritual acts can actually detract, delay, detour or distort authentic Christianity. It doesn’t take a Bible major to understand these traditions aren’t Scriptural, but many Christians still trust their efficacy and practice them with little thought.  In this series of articles I’ll investigate several such traditions that have emerged in the past 150 years of Protestant evangelical Christianity.

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Whatever happened to the Lord’s Supper?  

I’ll be honest, communion is my favorite church ritual.  Growing up, my church family took the communion or the “Lord’s Supper” seriously…and weekly.  Prior to each experience, we’d sing a “Communion Hymn” (usually something related to crosses, blood or bread), then an elder taught about what the “supper” represented, why we took it and how to participate.  A prayer of blessing followed.  Nothing was taken for granted, especially with visitors in the house.

After all, the Lord’s Supper wasn’t for everyone.  You had to be baptized to participate…which meant no children…since adolescence was the time for such weighty decisions. In fact, I remember toweling off after my baptism only to be greeted by an elder holding a small tray with a glass cup and homemade unleavened bread, cut into tiny half inch squares.  It was my “first” Communion.

Every Christmas Eve my church held a candlelight service featuring “family” Communion.  We’d share several carols, hear a brief message on the meaning of Christmas, light our candles and sing “Silent Night.”  Then individual families approached the communion table.  On this night fathers served their families (at least the baptized ones) or, in rare cases, a mother might lead.  It was clear to my child’s mind the reason we gathered was to commune in this ancient Christian ritual.

But that was four decades ago.  Today’s communion service means anything goes…and usually does.

This past Christmas Eve I attended one of the largest churches in America.  I chose a church that, traditionally, practices weekly and Christmas Eve communion.  The service targeted the casual, the indifferent or the seeker and so I had no problem with the communion service happening afterwards in another room. As hundreds hustled for the doors to start their Christmas celebrations, I followed another line into an adjacent room where tables were set with trays of juice and bread.  Outside of a Bible verse (non-related to communion) projected on the wall, the atmosphere possessed all the spirituality of Whoville. The cups were plastic thimbles filled with grape juice.  The wafer was small bits of hard bread.  Nobody prayed.  Nobody guided the experience.  No hymn was sung and no instructions given.  People just filed and filtered through to briefly dine on the Lord’s Snack.  Given the night, maybe milk and cookies would’ve been a better choice (would anyone know the difference?).  Santa Claus does better than Jesus these days.

The devaluation and deconstruction of the “Lord’s Supper,” Communion or Eucharist (as some churches call it) has been happening for a half century.  For the most part, this ancient ritual is largely an after thought in evangelical and non-denominational churches today, including those who practice the ritual weekly…or should I say weakly?  Furthermore, in most evangelical churches, communion is served monthly or quarterly or, in a select few, once a year.

The question is why?  And how did we get here?

The genesis of this recent deconstruction is 500 years old.  That’s when the Protestant Reformation reimagined the flow and purpose of the worship gathering.  In the Catholic and Orthodox strains of Christianity, the Eucharist was (and still is) the centerpiece of the service or “mass.”  Every ritual, every prayer, every Scripture, the brief homily and hymnody point to the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  The Eucharist is delivered as a Body of believers to each believer.  It’s a commUNION within sacred community.

But the Protestant Reformation reinvented the worship gathering to focus on the Scripture lecture or biblical sermon (sola Scriptura).  Communion was valued but relegated to side show attraction.  In the evangelical movement of a post-WW2 America, the Lord’s Supper lost weekly billing, then monthly billing.  It was more important for evangelicals to sing, give, announce, and dine on a sermon.  The megachurch movement recast the Lord’s Supper, particularly in those churches that participated weekly, into a “drive thru” experience.  One megachurch pastor boasted how they could execute the Lord’s Supper in five minutes to thousands of congregants.  Basically, pass the cuplet and chicklet.  Fast (spiritual) food.  In some churches prayers are no longer given or teaching provided before the Lord’s Supper is distributed.  Just grab and go.

Frankly, of all the liturgical abuses in modern churchianity, messing with the Lord’s Supper might be the most dangerous.  If practiced improperly or in vain, this tradition holds a punishment of “sinning against the body and blood” of Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:27).  You don’t see such penalties against other rituals or traditions (i.e., giving, worship, baptism).  The point is clear:  we need to get this one right.  The Didache (chapter 9), an ancient, late-1st century document on church practices, states forcefully: But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”

The first problem is this “supper” is hardly the “snack” that most Christians encounter today.  Originally, the Lord’s Supper was just that…a supper.  A full meal deal.  Communion happened in a fellowship meal moment to remember the sacrifice of Jesus through drinking “the fruit of the vine” and dining upon unleavened bread.  A meal within a meal.  This “communion” experience was instituted by Jesus within the Jewish Passover meal, a feast which featured four cups and several courses of food.  Today’s Jewish seder remains a model, although even it’s evolved in two millennia.  Of course, this full meal was open to abuses.  The Corinthians were soundly rebuked by Paul for using the experience for gluttony and drunkenness (I Corinthians 11:17-22).  The “Supper” within a supper is also found in Acts where the “breaking of bread” (or literally “breaking of the bread”) is used to denote the Lord’s Supper as part of their “fellowship” gathering, which included meals in homes (Acts 2:41-46).  Paul states this “supper” is more than a “snack” but a participation in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 10:16) and something to enjoy as “often” or “whenever” possible (I Corinthians 11:26).

Historically, unleavened bread and grape juice was used.  The Passover feast in Jesus’ time forbade bread with leaven and, consequently, any fermented drink.  In fact, the biblical record shows the Israelites drank no “fermented drink” or ate any leavened bread during their 40-year Exodus (Deuteronomy 29:4-6), in which they would’ve celebrated 40 Passover meals.  Consequently, it’s safe to imply “wine” was not part of the historic Passover meal.  Even today’s Passover seder uses grape juice or “kosher wine.” Furthermore, three gospels describe this ancient meal and specifically state the cup is “fruit of the vine” or grape juice (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18).  This unique designation is connected only to the Passover and Eucharist meal, as these same writers use “wine” (fermenting/fermented grape juice) elsewhere (Matthew 9:17; Mark 15:23; Luke 1:15).  Consequently, grape juice and matzah bread are good contemporary examples.  Any alteration, small or great, to this sacred meal using soda, winewater or any leavened bread (which is common today) violates the original practice.

Finally, the Lord’s Supper was a weekly event.  Very shortly after Pentecost, the gathering (ekklesia or “church”) of believers happened in homes.  In Jerusalem, Christians initially met daily, but in time selected the first day or Sunday (The Lord’s Day, Revelation 1:10)  to hold their celebrations, which no doubt included Eucharist meals (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).  In chapter 14 of the Didache, the following instruction is given: “But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned.”  Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) writes in one of Christianity’s earliest apologetics: But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.

It’s clear from Paul’s instruction that we operate in perilous waters if we allow the uninitiated, the unbaptized and the uninformed to participate in this sacred rite.  Failure to practice as Jesus instituted this meal produces consequences.  Like baptism represents a “death, burial and resurrection,” our weekly participation in the Lord’s Supper is a sacred opportunity to reconnect, restore, relive and renew our baptism, week after week.

Is it any wonder the two most sacred rites of Christianity–baptism and Eucharist–are also the most perverted?  We need to recapture the Original DNA of the Church.  We need to fully restore the Lord’s Supper as a fellowship meal for the baptized alone.  Anything less is sacrilege.

I conclude with Paul’s warning to the Corinthians:  So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.  Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

 

Church Traditions You Won’t Find in the Bible (Part Two): Baptisms By Convenience

NOTE:  Every church is guided by traditions that guard the doctrinal nuances of a denomination, religious body or congregation. Most of these traditions are post-apostolic and culturally sensitive in origin and practice. Many are innocent and acceptable.  But occasionally some traditions emerge that contain no biblical or historical support. In fact, when deeply considered, these traditions, rituals and spiritual acts can actually detract, delay, detour or distort authentic Christianity. It doesn’t take a Bible major to understand these traditions aren’t Scriptural, but many Christians still trust their efficacy and practice them with little thought.  In this series of articles I’ll investigate several such traditions that have emerged in the past 150 years of Protestant evangelical Christianity.

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So you finally realize it’s time to commit to Christ.  You decide you need to be baptized into Jesus.  Great.  But when?  And where?  By whom?  It’s not as easy as you think.

After all, in today’s evangelical churchianity, baptism is largely by convenience. And that’s an inconvenient problem.

In many churches, particularly of the evangelical and non-denominational stripe, baptism happens by the clock.  Sunday morning, afternoon or night.  Sometimes on Wednesday night.  Baptisms are scheduled like church dinners, special events and holiday traditions.  In some churches you have to wait months or weeks to be baptized.  In nearly all, you’ll be delayed days (unless you experience a convenient Sunday morning conversion).  Easter Sunday is a popular day for baptisms.  Actually, any Sunday seems good.  Most people are baptized Sunday morning.

The problem? Baptism, as revealed in the New Testament, is hardly a scheduled event.  In fact, this sacred and ancient ritual happened at rather inconvenient times or unlikely places.  The book of Acts reveals a baptism occurred immediately upon a person’s profession of faith in Christ. Nobody waited until the next baptism night, annual church picnic or even Sunday morning.  Three thousand people were baptized on Pentecost immediately following Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:37-41). The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized immediately upon understanding Philip’s gospel teaching (Acts 8:36-38). Saul/Paul was baptized immediately upon being healed (Acts 9:18). Cornelius’ household was baptized immediately under orders by Peter (Acts 10:47-48).

In fact, there is NO conversion in the New Testament (post-Jesus ascension) where someone accepted the Message, believed in Jesus and followed Him without immediate baptism. Why? I believe it’s because of the incredible life-changing promises Scripture connects to baptism (being clothed in Christ, indwelling Holy Spirit, resurrection to eternal life from death and sinbecoming a part of the Body of Christ, spiritual cleansing of sin and salvation).  None of these promises were worth delaying.  Like Larry the Cable Guy says, “Git’er done!

And let’s be honest, baptism in many churches today is tragically more about the pastor or padding the church membership roll.  Sunday morning works great because the preacher has a captive audience and it’s, well, convenient.  Annual baptisms are swimming successes because a lot of people are getting baptized at once and, well, again it’s convenient.  Baptisms fill membership rolls and gives everyone (especially church leaders) a warm fuzzy. The problem is baptism isn’t for the baptizer/s, but for the person being baptized.  Consequently, baptism should never be convenient.  People come to faith at odd times and in strange places.   In Acts, individuals are coming to faith alongside roadways and by riverbanks, in prisons and in homes.  They’re getting baptized at all hours of the day, from morning to midnight. Maybe that’s why baptism was rarely a public act.  If a crowd was assembled, cool, but most conversions (as recorded in Acts and even today) happen Monday through Saturday.  They’re private matters.

The 20th century church not only made baptism convenient but “comfortable.”  Most baptisms nowadays happen indoors using warm water, with towels, thick robes, heated changing rooms and other creature comforts. Sure, churches in tropical regions sometimes employ ocean baptisms (when the weather cooperates), and many churches purposely schedule summer baptisms in order to use local rivers and lakes.  But I’ve heard plenty of old-timers talk about outside baptisms in the dead of winter.  Can you imagine chopping a hole in the ice to access the stream?  And a congregation braving the elements to celebrate a new convert’s baptism?  Nobody considered waiting for the spring thaw because baptism wasn’t something you waited to do.  Maybe that’s why churches today (who take baptism more seriously) find the inside heated mini-pool a convenient, comfortable amenity.

In the Didache (“Teaching of the Twelve”), one of the earliest (late first-century) Christian documents on church practices and a work some church fathers argued should be in the New Testament canon, the following statement about baptism appears (chapter 7): And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.

Evidently the preferred baptismal plan was cold “living” or moving water (stream, river, ocean, lake).  But any water worked in a pinch.  Just git’er done. Now.

Of course the final problem is who will do the honor?

Church tradition delegates baptismal duties to priests, pastors and preachers. Why?  I think because it’s convenient.  It’s easier to control.  A sign of success. And it’s tradition. In many churches, especially of the larger type, new converts desire to be baptized by the pastor (often because it’s one of the few times to meet a significant pastor personally).  It’s also a badge of honor. It’s cool to say “so-and-so-muckety-muck baptized me.” The Corinthians had the same gloating issue.  Ironically, at least for Paul, it seems he did little baptizing (1 Corinthians 1:14-17).  Not because he couldn’t or shouldn’t, but rather because he understood his purpose was to preach not baptize.  After all, anybody could baptize.  You didn’t need a Bible college degree, ordination certificate, special garments or ecclesiastical title to baptize another person.  And you still don’t.

In summary, baptism by convenience (or when convenient) is not a biblical mandate.  The Scriptures are very clear.  Once a person professes belief in Jesus Christ they need to be immediately baptized.  No waiting. No delay. No problem.  And baptisms can happen anywhere at anytime.  Thursday midnight jacuzzi.  Saturday morning YMCA pool.  Wednesday afternoon riverbank.  Tuesday night lake shore.  Friday noon bathtub.  And, yes, Sunday morning church baptistery.  Finally, any believer can baptize a new convert.  In fact, I encourage parents to baptize their children, friends to baptize friends, and teachers to baptize students.  Spread the baptismal love around!

Baptism is by its very nature an inconvenient act.  It’s a soaking experience that changes and charges a life.  Like getting married, it’s not an act to be entered into lightly or without serious deliberation.  It’s a lifetime commitment to follow Jesus anywhere and all ways.

And it’s the best decision I ever made.

Church Traditions You Won’t Find in the Bible (Part One): “The Sinner’s Prayer”

NOTE:  Every church is guided by traditions that guard the doctrinal nuances of a denomination, religious body or congregation. Most of these traditions are post-apostolic and culturally sensitive in origin and practice. Many are innocent and acceptable.  But occasionally some traditions emerge that contain no biblical or historical support. In fact, when deeply considered, these traditions, rituals and spiritual acts can actually detract, delay, detour or distort authentic Christianity. It doesn’t take a Bible major to understand these traditions aren’t Scriptural, but many Christians still trust their efficacy and practice them with little thought.  In this series of articles I’ll investigate several such traditions that have emerged in the past 150 years of Protestant evangelical Christianity.

 

5889311_origIt’s the go-to prayer for many evangelicals.  Across the globe, countless new believers are led in a “sinner’s prayer” for salvation.  It’s the moment when the newly converted “asks Jesus into their heart.”  Many children are led in this prayer by Sunday School teachers, children’s pastors and parents.  “Just repeat after me,” says the evangelist, “and pray this prayer.”

Historically, the sinner’s prayer emerged in the 19th century and is largely attributed to Dwight L. Moody.  Later evangelicals, particularly the crusade preachers like Billy Graham, used the prayer alongside altar calls.  It’s not uncommon in today’s evangelical and non-denominational churches for a preacher to close his sermon with an invitation to close the eyes, raise a hand and repeat a dictated prayer silently.  After which, the announcement is made that several “new Christians” are now in the church.

It seems like an innocuous and efficient tradition.  What could be wrong with saying a “sinner’s prayer?”  Actually, there are several problems.

The first problem is there’s absolutely no biblical example for a sinner’s prayer in the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts (which documents how the early church operated in the first-century world, showing how people became Christians).  There’s no example of a sinner’s prayer in church history until the 19th century.  Unlike other traditions like baptism, Lord’s Supper/Eucharist, preaching, singing and offerings, the “sinner’s prayer” (as a vehicle for salvation) is both historically and biblically absent.

The second problem is the “sinner’s prayer” could be easily confused as a human work.  It’s something you do to receive Grace, especially if you must “repeat” or “read” a prescribed prayer.  The very act of repeating another person’s specific prayer is an act or work.  You’re doing it to gain salvation.  I realize this is a troubling conclusion but many “Christians” today believe that because they “prayed the prayer” (or any prayer) that they’re saved and, biblically, that’s simply not possible (as I’ll reveal momentarily).  Prayer is part of salvation but it’s not the golden ticket.  In fact, biblically, you can be saved without ever saying a prayer!

A third problem is the idea of “asking Jesus into your heart.”  This is so common today in churchianity that few believers think twice about it.  Jesus lives in my heart, right?  Well, that’s a very loaded theological question.  What I can say confidently is nowhere in the conversion process of New Testament believers did anyone “ask Jesus into their heart” (or even imply it!).  To the contrary, the New Testament states a believer “receives” or is “filled” with the Holy Spirit when they’re saved. Jesus, according to apostolic writers, is in Heaven to one day return.  The Holy Spirit indwells the human heart and is given as a “deposit” to guarantee full salvation when Jesus returns (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; 2 Timothy 1:14; Hebrews 9:28).

The fourth problem is the evangelical proposition, in particular, that belief alone grants salvation (and nothing else plays a part).  The Protestant Reformation recaptured an ancient biblical truth:  we are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  However, in the past 150 years, many evangelical and non-denominational churches took it a step further:  faith or belief in God only saves.  But by that definition even the demons could gain salvation (James 2:19)!

So what does the New Testament actually say about salvation?  How (or when) is a person saved?  It’s a rather simple equation:  we are saved by grace, through faith, in baptism, for good works.

First, we are saved by GRACE (Ephesians 2:8-9).  We can’t do anything to gain God’s favor or earn His salvation.  Grace is free gift.  You can’t pray a prayer to be saved.  You can’t do enough good works.  You can’t even repent (change your habits, attitudes and lifestyle).

Second, we are saved through FAITH (Romans 5:1-2; Galatians 3:26Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 3:15; I Peter 1:9).  We must believe only in Jesus Christ.  Salvation comes in no other name (Acts 4:12).  Our faith is not in our parents, our pastor, our church, our denomination, our nationality, our ethnicity or our goodness.  Jesus alone saves us.

Third, we are saved in BAPTISM.  When we are baptized, according to apostolic teaching, we are “clothed in Christ” (Galatians 3:27), connected to the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13); resurrected to life and dead to sin (Romans 6:3-14), spiritually washed (Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5) and, yes, saved (I Peter 3:21).  In Acts 2:37-38, Peter reveals this simple template for salvation:  believe, repent, baptism.  It’s a popular evangelical idea to add “confession” (cherry-picking Romans 10:9-10) but confession is more a post-salvation act that proves your salvation.  Paul’s point in Romans 10, when writing to Roman Christians, isn’t to create a formula for salvation (belief and confess) but rather to reveal a continuing example of what the saved do:  they continue to believe and confess Christ as Lord after baptism (Romans 6:4ff).  Confession is important, but for the initiate a part of repentance. To learn more about baptism, watch this YouTube video I created.

Finally, we are saved for GOOD WORKS (James 2:14-26).  Once we are convicted and believe, then baptized, we experience the power to fully repent (change) and live abundantly (because the Holy Spirit lives inside us).  With changed attitudes come changed behaviors.  What we do and how we live proves our salvation.  James clearly points this out in his epistle.  Good works don’t save you, but once you are saved (belief, repentance, baptism), you will do good works as evidence you’re saved.

I truly don’t know how much more simple it can be.

Believe in Jesus.  Commit to change.  Be baptized.  Then live the change.

Throughout the book of Acts, the best textbook to show how the early church believed and practiced, no one was saved by saying a prayer alone.  No one was saved simply by doing acts of repentance.  Baptism, like the Red Sea for the Israelites, was the Divinely-orchestrated event that separated, sanctified and sealed.  Salvation didn’t come prior to the Red Sea but it was clearly pronounced after Pharaoh’s armies drowned in the waters (Exodus 15:1-2).  Paul even compared the Red Sea experience to baptism (I Corinthians 10:1-2) and professed that’s when he was “washed” and saved (Acts 22:16).

Of course the other cherry-picked Scripture for the sinner’s prayer is Revelation 3:20.  Jesus is standing at the heart’s door, knocking to come if we simply open it.  It’s a nice painting but a poor interpretation.  This passage has nothing to do with individual salvation.  Rather, it’s a corporate call to an entire first-century congregation to repent (they’re already believers!).  The whole church has locked Jesus out of their lives.

In summary, the “sinner’s prayer” is an evangelical salvation tool without a shred of biblical support and to employ it without repentance (which includes confessing and professing faith in Christ) and baptism to pronounce a person’s salvation is error.  If you truly desire salvation, follow Peter and Paul and the rest of the early church:  believe in Jesus, commit/confess to change and get baptized.

It’s truly that simple.

What Africa Could Teach the American Church

1002320_557539680427_1644128156_nI don’t think I need to say it, but Americans are rather selfish, lazy and weak. I’m not sure when it happened but some time after World War II, a generational virus infected the American way.

Our culture has changed significantly in how we interact.

Major technologies like television and the Internet have shifted our information streams. Television opened up the world visually. The Boom generation even knows the exact day: November 22, 1963. The day John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX. On that day, an entire nation collectively mourned around a box in their living rooms, storefronts or local bar. That box of moving images and live news changed how we looked at things.

It not only changed how we looked at the world…and also impacted how we interacted.

Within a few years, the Beatles would beam a satellite image to a global audience, man would land on the moon and the Vietnam War would unfold in our homes. The world became much smaller and television personalities became much bigger. Television created stars. Initially, celebrities were honed by executive brass. Johnny Carson. Jackie Gleason. Ed Sullivan. Then Americans identified and molded television characters into celebrities. The Partridge Family. The Fonz. Charlie’s Angels. Eventually, reality television turned the camera on us. Average Americans suddenly became “apprentices,” “survivors” and “idols.”

With the advent of the Web, things changed even more rapidly.

The Internet allowed every human with a mouse and modem to become a celebrity. YouTube became channel one for narcissism. Facebook and Twitter allowed us to tweet and post our every move, accomplishment, thought and behavior (whether it was a good thing or not). In the process, countless relationships were damaged. Social media has provoked societal ills from racism to terrorism, from addiction to divorce, from sexual abuse to cyberbullying.

In the summers of 2013 and 2014 I trained church leaders and teachers on the eastern slope of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.  In this part of Africa, including larger cities like Moshi and Arusha, I discovered a world without hi-tech.  Television remained rather non-consequential. The local bars showed a movie (usually 10-20 years old) or a soccer match but, for the most part, news still traveled slow and on paper. The Internet also remained obscure and largely unused.

What technology did Africans employ the most?  Not surprisingly, it was their cellphone.  But for reasons that might surprise you.

You see, above all other things, what matters most in Africa (to Africans) is their relationships. Every day, as our team drove through town and country, we found Africans talking to one another, waving to one another, honking at one another. It’s so important to remain in relationship that Africans will answer their cellphones, even let them ring, during situations that most Americans find offensive (like our training events). In fact, to not answer the phone would communicate the relationship was damaged, broken or over. You have to answer your phone in Africa, whenever possible (although I recall no rings during Sunday church).

The only thing that trumps a cell phone ring is an African holding conversation with another person. At that moment, nothing else matters. The relationship is central to all that’s happening.  So you’d never answer your cell phone if you were talking with someone, you wouldn’t even look at it.  It’s disrespectful.

Western culture—fueled by television and Internet tech—has created new social pathologies. We are narcissistic. We like to take “selfies” and post them. We are information-geeks. We want to know everything now. The Africans have not been corrupted by television and the Web. And its very noticeable. They don’t even like a camera pointing their direction. It’s a sign of hubris.

Americans and American churches can learn much from Africans.  In our high-tech, info-soaked, 24/7/365 world, its critical to not lose the personal touch.  Relationships matter.  Communication is key.

Like the old Verizon cellphone commercial once asked, “Can you hear me now?”  Good.  Because if you can, give someone a hug. Reconnect with an old friend. Start a conversation. Forgive an offense. Share a memory. Tell a story. Confess a problem.

Maybe if the church looked more like a relational experience than a sit-and-soak event, it would recapture the heart of a postmodern America.  It’s amazing how someone can go to church, particularly the mega ones, and never touch or talk to another person.

The Africans know better.  And we’d do well to listen and learn.

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