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The Rev. James Ellis III The Rev. James Ellis, III

The Rev. James Ellis III is Chaplain of Discipleship at Hope College in Holland, MI.

Member of:

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Representative of:

Hope College, Holland, MI


Christian Consecration, Where Art Thou?

May 28, 2011

I found the Leadership Journal's recent interview with Charles Swindoll riveting. Over the years I have read a few of his books[1], but eagerly anticipate his newest contribution, The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal. His comments reminded me of an African theologian's article that was posthumously published in Bibliotheca Sacra some years ago Although speaking in a different context, Byang Kato wrote, "It is the Bible that must judge the culture. Where a conflict results, the cultural element must give way."[2] I am perplexed at how unashamedly similar supposed "Christian" culture is when compared to that of the broader society, especially although not exclusively where worship and pastoral leadership are concerned.

Everything that glitters isn't gold, or so we say. Quality is better than quantity, substance more valuable than the hype of empty promises or hypocrisy, right? We, the people, are God's church, not the buildings that we worship in, right? But, of course. Yet, super-sized Christianity that, by rhyme or reason, promotes social anonymity and conformity to popular mores is all the rage. The belief that Christ's presence indeed transforms me into someone altogether different who now embodies a matchless brand of servant-leadership that the world needs is avant-garde these days.

Call me a killjoy or party pooper if you will, but the reality of the matter is that everyone who speaks of Christ doesn't know him, and those who profess to be led by the Spirit of God aren't always the most noble, trustworthy, or otherwise godly folks that you will ever meet. See the book of Jude. Just the other day news broke that Eddie Long settled[3] the civil suit leveled against him, his church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, and one of their non-profit entities, LongFellows Youth Academy. Some argue that this seems to fly in the face of Long's one-time rant: "I feel like David against Goliath, but I got five rocks, and I haven't thrown one yet."[4] Nevertheless, this is where things have landed.

I recall when years ago Carlton Pearson's global megachurch ministry was all the rage. Yet, upon sharing his "doctrine of inclusion"[5] he went from ministry superstar, leading his massive Azusa revivals (which helped bring T.D. Jakes and countless others to prominence) to piraya[6] virtually overnight. Stay with me now. Compared to Long's troubles, this helps, for me at least, to underscore the philosophical versus practical theology debate in American Christianity today. Pearson's misstep was philosophical, Long's practical, yet "we" automatically sent Pearson to the social wastelands, illustrating the sick notion that we will allow leaders to treat us horribly under the guise of divine pastoral authority and grace, but the minute they tamper with our grandma's sweet Jesus we send them packing.

Neither Pearson or Long represent how I see my Christian faith best understood or most faithfully lived. And, of course, there are many who do support them. This is precisely why we need more pastor-scholars in our churches and theological institutions to help make sense of the religious landscapes in which the aforementioned and other so-called leaders rise and fall. No one deserves to be demonized, yet all are fair game for loving correction in adherence to "the faith." Dallas Willard put it this way, "You can live opposite of what you profess, but you cannot live opposite of what you believe."[7]

I hope that we can learn to "speak the truth in love,"[8] knowing that it isn't an either/or but rather a both/and dynamic of Christianity. Truth without love is as incomplete as love without truth. Both are needed for real health to set up permanent residence. I often wonder what the saints of season's past would say about all of this business:

Religion is the chief concern
   Of mortals here below;
May I its great importance learn,
   Its sovereign virtue know.

Religion should our thoughts engage
   Amidst our youthful bloom;
'Twil fit us for declining age,
   Or for an early tomb.

O, may my heart, by grace renewed,
   Be my Redeemer's throne'
And be my stubborn will subdued,
   His government to own.

Let deep repentance, faith, and love,
   Be joined with godly fear;
And all my conversation prove
   My heart to be sincere.[9]

It is good to know--with my old soul and everything attached to it--that I wasn't born in the wrong time period or any such thing. I am simply a child of God who is blessed to be comfortable in his own skin who strives to passionately raise high the name of Christ, while responsibly trudging through culture's overgrown foliage. In every season of life I have discovered that my values, interests, and experiences are tremendously different than that of my peers. Anyone who affirms a similar sojourn can attest to the resultant isolation that follows at times. It is par for the course, I suppose.

In these tumultuous times I find even more redemptive peace and comfort in my hope being built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I am thankful for God's encouragement that mere circumstances can't diminish. I am thankful to God for showing me, in part through humble leaders, that it is okay to be a "peculiar person"[10] who is willing to decrease in order that Christ might increase in his witness to the world.

We, Christians, are no doubt a kooky bunch, but Christ is the difference, so bear with us as we struggle to be consecrated before our Maker. May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance...


[1] See Job: A Man of Heroic Endurance, Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity, and Marriage: From Surviving to Thriving: Practical Advice on Making Your Marriage Strong.
[2] Byang H. Kato, "Theological Issues in Africa," Bibliotheca Sacra, 133 (1976): 530.
[3] http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb/eddie-long-case-officially-958537.html
[4] http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_upshot/20100927/pl_yblog_upshot/eddie-long-i-feel-like-david-against-goliath
[5] Carlton Pearson, The Gospel of Inclusion: Reaching Beyond Religious Fundamentalism to the True Love of God and Self (New York: Atria, 2009).
[6] http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14337492/ns/dateline_nbc/t/hell-back/
[7] As quoted in Jon Walker, Growing with Purpose: Connecting with God Every Day (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 298.
[8] Ephesians 4:15.
[9] The Prayer Meeting Tune Book (Philadelphia, PA: American Sunday School Union, 1859), 64-65.
[10] 1 Peter 2:9.


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