Kemper Crabb explains how speaking the truth in love equals speaking truth and love

As the world sinks further into madness, seldom in history has humanity’s need for truth and love been more apparent. In this part of my ongoing interview with Kemper Crabb, minister, usician, and author of Liberation Front: Resurrecting the Church, discusses how speaking the truth and speaking in love are not incompatible. Actually, the two are essential.


The book is not an easy read, which as you stated in it is the intention. It is designed to shake up the reader. Yet the book also inspires, pointing out the living riches promised the believer who acts upon the Scriptural dictates you highlight. It is reminiscent of Christ’s mix of exhortational and comfort – “carry your cross; deny yourself; anyone who loves their family more than Me is not worthy of Me” alongside “My yoke is easy and My burden light.” How do you, as a minister, balance the two?

O.K., well, you’re absolutely right to say that Jesus’ Message brought both warning (or exhortation, as you said) and comfort. In some ways, these two categories are just two sides of the same thing seen from slightly different perspectives. Context, of course, is always important though many of us are not used to seeing Scriptural passages in context because the largely topical approach of consumer-oriented methods generally cherry-picks passages to emphasize a particular point. This doesn’t mean, by the way, that I think topical preaching is bad. I don’t; though I do think that there’s a paucity of real exegetical, verse-by-verse teaching going on in the churches at this time. But I digress.

You mentioned a couple of examples of exhortational teaching on Jesus’ Part: Matthew 16:24 (or maybe the parallel passages in Mark 8:34 or Luke 9:23) where Jesus tells His Disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” But then Jesus goes on to give this statement its sort of motivational context in verse 25: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My Sake will find it.” This follows in all three of the Synoptic Gospels just the same. You could even have included Jesus’ Warning in Matthew 10:38 about this: “And he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me,” which is smack-dab in the middle of the other warning passage you quoted, Matthew 10:38, part of a larger passage in Matthew 10:32-39 (which, providentially, I preached on just last week).

The passage in Matthew 10 is the one where Jesus says He didn’t come to bring peace, but rather a sword (verse 34) and to “set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (verses 35-36), following which He says in verse 37, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me,” after which Jesus says that whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Him is not worthy of Him.

All of this, of course, seems very dire and downer-ish, and in many ways it is. But Jesus, again, gives the passage its context when, in verses 32 and 33, just before what I’ve quoted here, He tells us: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father Who is in Heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father Who is in Heaven.” This whole passage here is about primary, fundamental identification with Christ Jesus as both our Source and Redeemer; as the God Whose Will and Path are the very reason for our existence. We are not to be confused as to what our ultimate source and reason for being is, and our families are only our proximate sources and secondary reasons for being. If we confuse the ultimate and the proximate here (even here, where our families are generally massively central and important to us), we commit idolatry; we make our family members idols.

And, of course, back in Jesus’ Time even as now, family members frequently demand primary loyalties above anything else, even if their demand interferes with God’s Demands. This was especially true in New Testament times (as it still is in more traditional societies) where familial loyalty is seen as THE primary loyalty.

But, as Jesus teaches here, we cannot put those loves or loyalties, good as they may be in most cases, above our love and loyalty to Jesus. To do so is to deny Him, and to in turn be denied His Loyalty before the Father. This is a dire situation because we live, outside of a primary relationship with Christ, under the Condemnation and Wrath of God, as Jesus tells us in John 3, verses 18-20 and in verse 36. This is a miserable situation, which Paul talks about in Ephesians 2:1-3 where he describes the life of those outside of a relationship with Christ, as we all once were, as being “dead in trespasses and sins,” and “by nature children of wrath,” and, in Ephesians 4:17-19, as living with darkened understanding in the futility of our minds. Worse, to end life outside of a relationship with Christ causes you to be condemned to an eternity of torment separated from the Goodness of God in Hell (Revelation 20:11-15). A dire situation indeed.

This life of darkened futility and death as a result of humanity’s rebellion and Fall has bent us so that we naturally want to be our own standard of meaning. Truth is the “self:” our own self-referential darkness which leads us to value family, or our own desires, or our own futile plans to save our own lives above losing our own self-referential life for Jesus’ Sake so that He can truly save our lives (Matthew 16:25).

When Jesus says to take up our cross and follow Him, He is demanding that we do as He did: put aside our preferences and wishes and do instead what we are intended by God to do in the first place: His Desires, Intentions, and Plans, just as Jesus did by going to the Cross to die as a sacrifice for our sins (Philippians 2:4-10; Matthew 26:37-44). Further, the Command to take up our cross reminds us that the only way we can be free of our darkened, futile selves is to be joined by faith to the Sacrifice of Christ for us on the Cross (Romans 6:3-14; Colossians 2:10-14).

The Church has always seen this Demand of Jesus as a reference both to justification and sanctification, to being initially saved or redeemed by the imputation of Jesus’ Righteousness to us in our identification with Him by God (justification) as well as the subsequent path to being renewed more fully into the Image of Christ by the ongoing exercise of putting the Lord’s Will above our own (sanctification).

We should see these demands in Matthew 10 and 16 as being driven by God’s Love for us urging us away from a life of death and darkened futility toward one of renewal and joy. Life outside of a relationship with the Lord Jesus is living death and onerous struggle and darkened futility. By contrast, life in relationship to Christ is unbelievably better. This is the context for what Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My Yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am Gentle and Lowly of Heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My Yoke is easy and My Burden is light.”

You’ll note that there is still a yoke and a burden to be borne, though comparatively easy and light ones since the alternative, as we’ve seen, is futility, death, and darkness. This would also likely have been a liberating concept to those Jews who were attempting to earn their salvation by keeping the Law, which to make the situation even worse (if possible) they tended to confuse with the traditions of men, as Mark 7:6-13 illustrates.

This, again, shows the Compassion and Love of God. To my mind, these two poles, exhortation (or warning) and comfort, are better understood as truth and love. And, in some ways, these poles interpenetrate each other. Jesus tells the truth because He loves, and He loves motivated by compassion in light of the truth of mankind’s plight.

To some extent, these same poles of concern are reflected in Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 4:15 that we should be “speaking the truth in love.” This verse comes in a larger passage whose context speaks about believers helping the whole Body of Christ to mature and grow up into the measure of the stature of the Fullness of Christ (verse 13). As an aside, in Liberation Front I address the fact that today’s American churches are largely split into truth- or love-oriented churches: doctrine with little compassion or compassion with no content.

We are, as believers, to emulate Jesus’ Example of speaking the truth in love: of offering, as two sides of the same message, both exhortation and comfort; truth and love. And, necessarily, we have to live in light of that same message, putting aside by the Spirit’s Power our own Fallen ideas and desires to adopt and practice Jesus’ Ideas and Desires, and thus experience Jesus’ comparatively easy Burden and light Yoke.

This is the responsibility and privilege of every believer. Every believer has this challenge. As a minister, I’m part of the servant-priesthood called to serve the Royal Priesthood of all believers, as Christians are described by Peter in 1 Peter 2:9. My responsibility is to be an example to others (2 Thessalonians 3:9; 1 Timothy 4:12), and though I all too frequently fail at this task, I do make it a subject of present concern to myself to do so, and to keep the Example of Jesus in my mind, praying that the Holy Spirit will help me be the example I ought to be. That is not, of course, always easy to do, as I’m sure every believer knows.

These days, in our self-obsessed victim-culture, to express the truth of the human predicament, or to speak out critically about the state of the Church, is to frequently be seen as unloving or judgmental since people easily get their feelings hurt, or experience guilt or shame, in light of the truth of God’s Word being taught. Love demands, however, that truth be spoken, or risk that for the sake of avoiding some hurt feelings someone perish forever or fail to be as free in Christ as they could be. It hasn’t always been this way. There have been periods of time when the truth was callously laid out with no regard for the affective aspects of mankind. Our present situation is an overreaction to one of those periods. But this can’t ultimately affect my responsibility as a minister (or any believer’s responsibility) to, in a balanced fashion, speak the truth in love.

Kemper Crabb Defines The Problems With Lone Wolf Christianity

In a world gone quite mad, it has never been more apparent that we need each other to get through the insanity. The divisions of race, color, creed, gender, economic and/or social standing, and the like are being violently exploited by those who profit from their repercussions. These profiteers will use the insane actions of one they oppose as a bloody brush to paint all they oppose as being in solidarity with the one, yet immediately dismiss and explain away the actions of (i.e., murders committed by) one with whom they are ideologically aligned as those of an irrational individual with no connection to their causes; one for whom there can be no possible explanation regardless of how the individual him or herself clearly identifies the cause in which name they kill.

It may seem like the height of irrelevance to discuss the ‘lone wolf Christian’ at the present time. Not so. Unity in the face of dividers is our strength as believers; a refusal to allow the enemy any opportunity to pick, freeze, personalize, and polarize the one who stands for Christ. With that I defer to Kemper Crabb, author of Liberation Front: Resurrecting the Church, and our ongoing interview.


In the book you strongly counsel against the lone wolf mindset among Christians; going it alone as a believer rather than being an active member of the church. Why do we see so much of the lone wolf mentality? Also, is the plethora of individual, independent churches part of this phenomenon?

Hmmm. Well, this is a problem concerning the One and the Many, a question of, I guess you’d say, imbalance. What I mean by this is that, since we’re created in the Image of God, we’re intended to reflect Who God is (on the creaturely level, of course). God is Triune, One God in Three Persons, Unified in His Essence or Substance, and Diverse in His Persons. The Lord is not more One than He is Three, and He’s not more Three than He is One, which is to say, God’s not more Diverse than He is Unified. He is Both Equally, and always has been. God is the Foundation of Balance, the Paradigm for human society (family, state, business, etc.), since God’s Image is revealed in humanity in two genders, multiple relations, and so forth, not just in individuals alone.

God has always dealt with men in terms of the Covenant, and the Covenant is modeled on the Relationships between the Persons of the Holy Trinity, adjusted to the Fallen creaturely level. This is important because every Christian is a member of the New Covenant, which is what defines the Church. And both the Model of the Holy Trinity Himself, and the Covenant predicated by that Model, present and demand a balance between the One and the Many, the corporate and the individual, as the most helpful and most revelatory state of being for human society, which includes the way the Church is supposed to work.

Now, the Church has very frequently been deformed in an imbalance toward either the institutional/corporate or the individual member. For instance, the State Churches that arose after the Reformation in places like Germany and England eventually hardened into moralistic, formal institutions which emphasized a doctrinal standard in terms of mental assent and outward action, but did not value (or urge) the necessity of personal inward affective experience, seeking only a similar conformity to external standards.

In response to such institutional corporate aridity, movements like Pietism and the Great Awakenings arose which emphasized the value and necessity of personal rebirth and relationship to Christ resulting in affective individual experience. This was a needful corrective for the singular over-emphasis on the corporate aspect of the Church of the time.

However, the balancing emphasis on personal relational experience with Christ, in its justifiable central emphasis in the First Great Awakening had become, by the Second Great Awakening, itself an overemphasis on personal experience (as seen in things like Charles Finney’s systemization of techniques to induce an emotional experience of “conversion”) which actually gradually overwhelmed and displaced the desire and perceived need for doctrinal boundaries and ordered corporate worship in American consciousness.

It was this new imbalance which spawned American hyper-individualism and individual orientation (a great book on this is Michael Horton’s Made In America, by the way), and this same imbalance was strengthened by (and conversely strengthened) the Romantic Movement’s subjective self-orientation which had come about as a reaction to Enlightenment rationalism.

The assumption that it was the realm of interior subjective experience which was the only absolutely vital and meaningful part of life tended to downplay the life of the mind and corporate scholarship among Evangelicals by the early years of the 20th Century, and slogans like “no creed but Christ; no law but love; no book but the Bible” began to define the attitudes and worldviews of huge numbers of Evangelicals.

Self-reliance of this sort flies in the face of the fact that Scripture teaches that we desperately need each other in terms of the varied Gifts of the Spirit given for the building up of the whole Body of Christ, of others, as 1 Corinthians 12 plainly teaches (the gifts of teaching and discernment of spirits both examples of vital gifts), or in evangelism, as when Jesus sent the 12 Disciples off two by two in Mark 6:7-13 (or the 70 disciples in Luke 10:1-20), or in worship, since Jesus is present in a way different from His Normal Presence with us when two or more gather in His Name, as Matthew 18:20 tells us. In fact, 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that believers are a holy nation, not just gathered individuals who have similar religious beliefs. No, we are actually, through Jesus, members of one another, as Romans 12:5 lays out.

It is much easier in some ways to ignore all this and still think we can accomplish the same things by ourselves that we would in a corporate setting, and there’s no question that disregarding Jesus’ Command that we be servants in Galatians 5:13 as Jesus was revealed to be in Matthew 20:28. If our spiritual quest is defined by a search for quick-fix solutions and a feel-good experience, we won’t feel the need to obey the Bible’s urging toward responsibility to and for one another: we’ll simply serve ourselves individually without much regard for others.

The definition of Christian life as primarily experiential and self-driven has moved many churches to begin to model themselves on a consumerist philosophy, and become driven by parishioner/consumer desire rather than by the preaching of the Word. It is true that there have been numbers of colossal failures by churches to discipline the rebellious, help the fallen/spiritually wounded (rather than simply whisk them away quietly to avoid dealing with the hassle and pretend things like that don’t happen in those congregations.

There’s also been beaucoup abuse, emotional, sexual, and financial of people by church leaders (which leaders tend to try to avoid accountability to denominational leaders or committees so as to continue to easily perpetrate their wickedness). As a result, many people tend to withdraw from church membership/attendance altogether, and many congregations, fearing unjust denominational manipulation from corrupt or ungodly Church officers, simply withdraw from greater accountability, giving rise to a bushel of independent congregations (further fueled, of course, by the rampant individualist drive to self-sufficiency in most of their congregants).

All these abuses are real, and in this age of increasing centralization and control over so many areas of our lives, it’s easy to want smaller expressions of corporate life, Church included. But what is truly needed is a return to Biblical balance in our churches and everywhere. That alone will fulfill God’s multiple-faceted calling to us all.

Meanwhile, Back At The Blog, Some More Q&A With Kemper Crabb

While gets ready to sink slowly in the west, I’ve been asking around trying to find a new home for my assorted Christian rock reviews and interviews. There is one solid lead, but it would most likely be restricted content-wise to news about touring acts. Better than nothing, but hardly sufficient.

In the meantime, rather than sit around and brood methinks it best to resume posting here at my neglected little way station on the information superhighway. Most likely no more politics; save for the occasional Facebook and/or Twitter rant I’ve had quite enough of that world. Let the peacocks strut and sycophants salivate; there are far more important matters at hand they will not, and cannot, discuss.

So, that all said, back to my interview with Kemper Crabb regarding topics brought up in his new book Liberation Front: Resurrecting the Church.


Throughout the book you, via straightforward Scriptural examples, illustrate God’s intended immense empowerment of, and working through, the church in not only the earthly realm but even the heavenly. Why is this fundamental teaching so unheard and/or unheard of in today’s church?

Hmmm. Well, that’s an important question, I think. It has, however, multiple vectors that feed any kind of answer, and this shouldn’t surprise us, since any kind of motivation to do something, especially something sinful, and you’re going to find varied motivations, frequently even within a single person.

Generally, though, I think there are three or four basic reasons as to why these truths are largely unknown in the Church today. The first, and likely the single most important, since it affects most of the other reasons on one level or another, is the creeping reductionism that has influenced the modern Evangelical Church’s doctrine and practice for at least a hundred and fifty years or so (longer in some quarters), an orientation that I call Christian reductionism. Christian reductionism is willing to posit that the central Creedal doctrines of the Bible (the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Resurrection, Creation, etc.), but remain skeptical about other supernatural aspects of Scriptural teaching, preferring to view those things in the most reductionistic fashion possible, only giving credence to any such possibility when all naturalistic explanations are exhausted, if they finally give any credence at all to them (a salient antidote to this tendency happens not infrequently when a family member or congregant ends up demonized, and there’s no naturalistic explanation).

Some believers adopt this attitude because they seek to make the Faith more palatable to its cultured despisers, and, at least theoretically, bring them to belief. Most of today’s believers, though, have simply absorbed the naturalistic skepticism concerning the supernatural promulgated in modern education and the media, and, though they will accept the far-removed supernatural events of the central Creedal beliefs, anything closer to them in time and space is subject to their background reductionistic bent. This tendency is also far too prominent in seminary training, and many pastors pass it on to their parishioners, either implicitly or explicitly.

So, when Scripture presents a teaching that we actually worship in Heaven while still on the Earth, or that the more obviously supernatural spiritual gifts exist (even though all of the Spirit’s Gifts are innately supernatural in their origin and operation, though gifts like teaching and administration seem to not be so), or that demons actively engage humans to do harm, or that God actively judges nations rather than just individuals, to a Christian reductionist these beliefs are either dismissed as untenable or filed away as irrelevant or unbelievable.

And, of course, Christian reductionist ministers just don’t teach those troubling doctrines, except perhaps to explain them away in naturalistic or lunatic-fringe categories. Not to mention that there appears to be a widely-present fear that if “controversial” doctrines are taught or affirmed, numbers might dip in the congregation (and, consequently, tithes might do the same).

Now, there are Charismatic branches of the American Church who do embrace the supernatural as a matter of course, but since many (though not all) of these branches are much more concerned with seeking experience than they are with arriving at a doctrinally-coherent and integrated Biblical world-and-life-view, they frequently misunderstand or attempt to practice these doctrines, resulting in an imbalanced and regrettably goofy way, which just goes to further marginalize and ridicule these ideas among the more doctrinally-oriented Christian reductionists.

Finally, there’s the simple truth that most of us simply don’t know the Bible, or, if we know it much at all, we don’t know it deeply, so, even if our world-view allows more supernaturalistic possibilities (which taking Scripture seriously and learning it would definitely help that gig), if we don’t know the Bible, a broader world-view wouldn’t help in engaging these doctrines.

What’s needed, of course, is a knowledge of God’s Word engaged in an attitude that will take what it says seriously and be shaped by its teaching, and the courage to teach and practice them.

Kemper Crabb discusses the whys behind places of worship decor

Church architecture is one of the commonly misunderstood elements in both the historic and contemporary church’s history. The complaint has often been lodged that a church should not be ornate or expensively decorated, this contradicting Christ’s commission to live simply and take care of the poor both within the church community and the world in general.

In the first of what will be a multi-part interview, Kemper Crabb, author of Liberation Front: Resurrecting the Church, addresses this issue with a focus on the current American evangelical church.

In the chapter focusing on worship you mention how the purpose behind ornate churches was an effort to, as best as possible, replicate or at the least represent the heavenly tabernacle. It reminded me of an interview I read several years ago with the late Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel Santa Ana. He commented the reason behind his church’s mostly plain design was the belief we are in the last days, and given Christ’s imminent return it would be a waste of resources to create an richly decorated structure in which to worship. Is this a legitimate reason to strip down, as it were?

Yes, I realize that utilizing architectural or decorative aspects to represent the fact that the Church worships in Heaven as well as on Earth might seem like sort of a peripheral point, and in some ways it is. But from another perspective it is of central importance to do so, if possible (and it’s not always possible, of course), whether Jesus’ Return is imminent or not.

Let me say at the outset here that I do have (and have had for most of my adult life) tremendous respect for Chuck Smith and all that he thought and was used by God to accomplish in his life. That being said, however, I have to say that I disagree with his opinion on this point (a point that is not uncommon amongst many of us Evangelicals today, of course). Let me explain why that is.

In Matthew 24: 36, during a discussion Jesus was having with His disciples concerning His coming in judgment, He said:

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”

Respectfully, in regards to those who hold the same opinion Chuck Smith did, many across the Church’s history have believed that the Return of Christ would be imminent in their day, and spent a great deal of time and energy orienting their lives around what they expected to be a fairly immediate event, and it was not.

Don’t get me wrong: we are to live our lives in regard to the belief that Christ will return, and that He may return in short order. But Peter in Acts 2: 16-21, during the sermon he preached just after the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the believers at Pentecost, applied the words of the Prophet Joel from Joel 2: 28, in which Joel prophesied that the events of the Day of Pentecost would occur “in the Last Days,” which Peter taught was happening at the time he was preaching. We’ve been in the Last Days since the birth of the New Testament Church, so I can only draw the conclusion that, in light of the fact that Jesus gave the Church the Great Commission to disciple all the nations in Matthew 28: 18-20 (which has taken a good deal of time so far), the Last Days are a period of time in which the regular pursuits and responsibilities of the Church are to be carried on in light of the fact that, though Christ might, of course, return in His Timing whenever He will, we should persevere in our callings, since no-one except the Father knows the actual time of Christ’s Coming (though I have to say an entire industry seems to have arisen, replete with books, teachings, t-shirts and movies, in a seeming attempt to out-guess the Secret Will of the Father).

Jesus, in telling a parable in Luke 19: 11-27 meant to teach that the fullness of the Kingdom was not yet imminent (as verse 11 tells us), spoke of a master telling his servants, “Do business until I return” (verse 13), which was meant to tell the disciples and those listening that His Return would take awhile, and that they should occupy themselves doing what He had commissioned them to do. The Greek word for “do business” here is from a root word, pragma, which is the word we get “pragmatic” from in English, and it means “to be occupied,” or “to carry on a business.” Jesus was telling the disciples to not sit around navel-gazing (or Heaven-gazing, as the angels rebuked the disciples for in Acts 1: 10-11), but to get on with their callings on Earth.

Luther was once asked what he would do if he knew Christ was returning the next day, He replied that he would plant a tree. When his questioner responded that the tree would never grow but a day older, Luther said that only the Father actually knew the day Jesus would return, and that Luther’s job, like all Christians, was to get on with their callings and leave the secret things to God. I paraphrase, of course, but I heartily agree with Luther here. I think the Church is to always live in light of Jesus’ Return, but I think that means we’re supposed to get on with our normal callings.

Which brings me to the question of Church architecture. Chuck Smith’s concern was to use the Church’s resources effectively in light of the possibility of Christ’s Return (which he thought imminent). Even had he been correct in that assumption, though, I still would have disagreed on this point. I think that our worship, the place and time when we gather with the redeemed in the Very Presence of God, where we hear the Word read and taught, and eat and drink (or see enacted with water) the Sacraments, is where we are primarily formed and shaped in terms of the vision, expectations, values, and desires of our evangelism, eschatology, relations with one another and with God, and our understanding of our vocations, our corporate and individual callings before the Lord, and basically in what we are to do and how we are to do those things.

I believe, therefore, that what takes place in the context of corporate worship has a great deal to reveal and reinforce with what the Church is and does. We aren’t, after all, disembodied souls or spirits, but are, as Jesus is, enfleshed, embodied. We’re supposed to offer even our bodies in what Paul in Romans 12: 1 calls “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” Now, many people just see that as a command not to sin with our bodies (no gluttony, fornication, adultery, drunkenness, etc.), and it does mean that, but not only that. As incarnate beings, our worship itself is to involve our physicality, a truth which most churches recognize implicitly or explicitly.

For instance, all Christian churches practice the Sacraments, they baptize folks with water and eat bread and drink wine (or at least the fruit of the grape) together in the Lord’s Supper. They all stand to sing and hear the Scripture read, bow their heads (and fold their hands and kneel in some cases) to pray, utilize their voice-boxes to sing, extend “the right hand of fellowship” (or the kiss of greeting) to each other and visitors, and so forth. We have bodies. We’re supposed to worship with them, since we are to worship God with all we are.

The physicality of who and where we are are intended to remind us that we are to carry what we experience in worship out into the world in evangelism and discipleship, since even our worship takes place both in Heaven (where we’re seated in Christ, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 2: 6, and as Hebrews 12: 22-24 shows) and on earth simultaneously. We utilize physical symbols to remind us of this (or should), which the raised platform or dais does (showing there’s a sense in which we ascend to the Heavenly Courts to worship; as Heb. 12: 22-24 tells us), the particular clothing of the ministers (even if it’s just a suit, though I confess I’m not sure exactly what message wearing the uniform of the business classes sends beyond calling attention to the fact that ministers are professionals), and so forth. Properly understood, in light of what the Bible teaches concerning worship, all these symbolic actions and clothes, and architectural aspects are meant to physically reinforce and remind worshipers what is actually taking place in worship.Beyond this, these physical aspects of worship are to reinforce and remind worshipers that their callings and the Gospel itself, is intended to actually impact the world in which we live, not just call us to only an interior or “spiritual” escapism.

God so loved the world (the Greek word is kosmos there in John 3: 16) that He gave His Only-Begotten Son to save by His Life and Death. In 2 Corinthians 5: 19, we are told that “God was in Christ reconciling the world (again, kosmos) to Himself.” Jesus didn’t come only to save our souls, but our whole lives and beings, as well as the world in which He intends for us to be sanctified and in which we are to do His Will (and which He will deliver on the day of our resurrection, as Romans 8: 19-24 says). Worship which downplays physicality and physical symbol betrays to some extent one of its own purposes. We are to “be occupied” until Christ returns in the world He has made and will redeem.

The purpose of church architecture is to physically symbolize the true nature of where our worship takes place, and what is happening there. Across the Church’s existence, the architecture of churches has changed across time, as various architectural expressions in various places change (for instance, ancient classical basilicas and Eastern churches differ in many ways from Western Romanesque and Gothic churches architecturally), but the basic things to be symbolized are the same, illustrating our Heavenly/Earthly worship and its intended Earthly impact. (This can easily be seen in Abbot Suger’s Medieval treatise on Gothic architecture, On the Abbey Church of St. Denis). Church architecture is massively helpful in reinforcing these fundamental understandings in the worship that shapes everything we are and do.

All this being said, it’s not always possible to arrange architecture the way we want, of course. New fellowships (such as the one I co-pastor in Katy with Frank Hart) don’t generally have their own buildings (NewChurch, our fellowship, meets in an athletic facility that one of our members owns; a very nice facility, but not necessarily designed to reinforce worship aspects), which is the case with poorer congregations or churches in predominantly non-Christian regions. In a Fallen world, we all have to deal with the situation we’re given on the ground, and it’s not always possible to accomplish the changes or do the things we want to.

There is an old theological concept that helps to think through the implications of all this. The Latin word esse means, basically, “essence” (see how that might relate etymologically there?), and it’s used to describe the basic theological necessities of the Faith (Biblical/creedal doctrines, regeneration, Sacraments, etc.), the fundamental things required for the Church to be the Church. Then there is the term bene esse, which means “good essence,” and it describes good things that help expand or reinforce the essential things of the Church’s existence and mission. Finally, there’s plene esse, which means “full essence,” describing a maximum potential of a fully-realized expression of the Church and the Faith.

There very likely has never in this Fallen world (except in the Life of Christ Jesus Himself) been a realization of plene esse (though we look for that in the New Heavens and Earth), though there have been, over a broad spectrum, realizations of bene esse, as the Church in various cultural and historical circumstances, been able to expand on good things that flow from our Faith’s esse. This is true in the case of Church architecture. Some periods of history in the West (the Medieval and Reformation periods, for instance) have seen the rise of church buildings that sought, to the extent that resources of skill, material, time, and money allowed, to instantiate as many of the symbolic principles of the kind of doctrinally-driven Church architecture I mentioned in my book as possible. Which is great, and opened up before us possibilities and realizations not generally dreamed-of before that.

However, most churches across Church history have not had the necessary resources to realize a even a fuller bene esse. Resources, after all, must be triaged, and people matter more than buildings, and there are frequently not enough resources even for human needs at hand to do much. This is, regrettably, all true. But it’s rarely a complete either-or situation. Things can be done, even in small ways.

The first thing that must be resisted, however, is an overweening utilitarianism concerning the worship of the Lord. This can be illustrated by one of the Events in Jesus’ Life: His Anointing, recorded in Mark 14: 3-10, which tells us:

3 And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. 4 But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? 5 For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. 7 For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. 8 She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. 9 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

Now, in some ways the criticism of the woman’s action was well taken. It was an extremely costly gift. Spikenard was a fragrant perfume-like ointment which was very expensive (and 300 denarii was equal to about a year’s work of labor in Jesus’ Time) and rare commodity. Jesus undoubtedly knew this, and it was the very costliness of the gift which made it appropriate to be given to Him. Jesus recognized that the money could have been spent on the poor, but He also recognized that sacrificial and expensive gifts are appropriate to be offered to Him, even though “the poor you have with you always.” Interestingly, it was this event of seeming waste that drove Judas to betray Jesus to the chief priests for, of course, money, as verses 10-11 of Mark 14 make clear.

We are to care for the poor and the sick, and to fund missions and such ministries, But one of the ministries of the Church is to minister to God and His People in worship. We mustn’t draw the same conclusion as Judas, that it is inappropriate to make costly gifts at the right time for the worship of Jesus. Sometimes architecture falls under this rubric, it seems to me.

And here”s the other thing about this: there is always something we can do in most worship settings, to reinforce the fact that we worship in Heaven through Christ and that that worship is to affect the world, not just provide a means of escape. We can utilize tapestries, framed prints, banners, or whatever, as symbols of our true worship situation, so long as we do this in clear explanation of the Biblical truths behind those symbols, to great effect, if we just will.

Theology that denigrates the truth and effect of where we worship and what happens there is, in my opinion, one of the things that has led the Church in the West into perceived irrelevancy and spiritual powerlessness. There is a balance to be realized here by the Church in our time, and we haven’t been succeeding.

“Liberation Front” by Kemper Crabb a clarion call for church renewal and revival

In the early to mid 1970s, commercials for Mennen Skin Bracer aftershave were a staple of network television, especially sports programming. The tag line was simple: after the announcer deeply intoned how Skin Bracer’s skin tightner and chin chillers wake you up like a cold slap in the face, a man would slap some on – always twice – and end the commercial with, “Thanks – I needed that.” While minister, teacher, musician, and author Kemper Crabb’s aftershave preference is known but to himself and immediate family, he has taken Skin Bracer’s message to heart. His new book Liberation Front: Resurrecting the Church is a Scriptural muscle-guided slap in the face to both individual believers and the church as a whole calling them, and it, back to the Biblically-ordained role and power the church has been divinely ordained to uphold in earth and in heaven.

Crabb is a Renaissance man, not only in how his music over the years has often referenced said era and earlier both musically and lyrically, but in his thorough knowledge of both Scripture and history. He makes his case both straight from the Bible and early church teachers/teachings that church membership is vital to every believer, alongside this outlining and then carefully detailing what Crabb labels the church’s seven modes (Romance, Family, Body, Temple, Pillar and Ground of Truth, Weapon, Liberating Army). Throughout the text Crabb exhorts, challenges, and confronts the reader to discard what he perceives as an emasculated view of the church’s role in society on all levels, instead embracing the Scriptural mandates and promised empowerment to be an effective force in first the lives of believers and from there the lives of others.

The book is not a mere recitation of the Riot Act to Christians equally afraid of their own shadow and determined to go it alone. Crabb points out that the way to genuine peace in Christ comes through embracing His divine empowerment, and its corresponding ramifications, in both the present day heavenly places and here on Earth. In his view, the church is painfully shortchanging itself, and its members painfully shortchanging themselves, by failing to embrace and live out the nearly unimaginable strengths available for the asking once the entirety of Biblical guidelines and promises are accepted, with tremendous emphasis on the neglected if not outright rejected supernatural portions of true life in Christ.

Liberation Front is not an easy read on multiple fronts. Crabb refuses to dumb down his writing, and as noted the book is void of warm spiritual-sounding fuzzies designed to make the reader feel good about him or herself regardless of where they are in life. But for the believer seeking adherence to, and clarification of, his or her true place in the church, the church’s true place in the world, and what God has in mind for His Bridegroom the Church, Liberation Front is as vital and mind/heart/soul-expanding as it gets in today’s world.

The book is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.