All posts in Church

  • Our Lady On Fire

    Our Lady On Fire
    Brian Zahnd

    It was Monday of Holy Week 2019 and I had just finished leading a noontime prayer service when I heard the awful news that Notre Dame was on fire. Our Lady was on fire! I turned on the television and watched in horror for the next three hours. I hadn’t felt like this since 9/11. I wept. Millions of us did. The French news magazine Paris Match said, “Today, they weep for her in every language.” Ken Follett, author of Pillars of the Earth and an expert on Gothic cathedrals, wrote this:

    “The voice on the phone was urgent. ‘I’m in Paris,’ it said. ‘Turn on your television!’ You know what we saw on the screen: the wonderful cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, one of the greatest achievements of European civilization, was on fire. The scene dazed and disturbed us profoundly. I was on the verge of tears. Something priceless was dying in front of our eyes. The feeling was bewildering, as if the earth was shaking.”

    Like millions of others I watched in real time what seemed to be the agonizing death of a priceless treasure. For me, the most dreadful moment came when the 750-ton spire, already engulfed in flames, finally collapsed. It marked the moment when we all feared Notre Dame would be forever lost. Notre Dame had always seemed eternal, and the medieval builders certainly thought it would last until the Day of Judgment; but suddenly we saw that it could be destroyed. Now that everything was on fire how could Our Lady be saved?
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  • In Praise of Ordinary Church

    In Praise of Ordinary Church
    Brian Zahnd

    Sometime in late modernity Christians who had deeply, though mostly unwittingly, imbibed the heady cocktails served by the high priests of the Enlightenment (Voltaire, Hume, Nietzsche, et al.) conjured the drunken idea that Jesus had given a writ of divorce to the church. In an age of suspicion committed to the critique of tradition how could it be otherwise? Surely the compelling figure of Jesus of Nazareth could have nothing to do with the tired institution that is dismissively referred to as “organized religion”? This secular assault upon the church found a surprising resonance among many Christians — especially pietists, revivalists, and rugged American individualists. Thus was born the modern idea of Jesus as personal savior (which really means private savior), leaving the church as little more than an optional common interest club for the more socially inclined. Jesus was essential, but the church was optional, or perhaps irrelevant, or even a hindrance to Christian faith.

    Today this kind of thinking is in full bloom. But what should we make of it? Or perhaps a better question is, what would the first followers of Jesus make of this development? I have no doubt at all that they would scratch their heads at this strange new private religion with its stunning capacity to misunderstand Jesus and his message.
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  • Water To Wine Gathering

    Water to Wine Gathering 1024x1024

    Two years ago I published Water To Wine — a memoir of my spiritual journey out of Americanized pop Christianity into a deeper, richer, more substantive Christian faith. This journey was both the best and most difficult thing I’ve done in over forty years of following Jesus. I describe it as being “born again again” and use the metaphor of water turning to wine. (You can read more about my water to wine journey in this blog post: Twenty-Two Days.)

    I’ve honestly been surprised at how much interest there’s been in the story of my spiritual/theological transition. I think part of the interest is that I did it as a pastor while attempting to bring my congregation with me — a risky endeavor that I more or less succeeded in doing (though not without considerable cost and pain).

    Since the publication of Water To Wine I’ve received messages from hundreds of pastors and Christian leaders from across America and from a dozen or more countries who personally resonate with my story. I find that so gratifying. These days I typically receive three or four of messages a week from pastors who are on what I call “the journey.” Many ask to come visit me and I always say yes, even though it can be a challenge to find the time. A few have even moved to St. Joseph to be a part of Word of Life. I find that so amazing!

    Last fall after meeting with a pastor from Texas, I began thinking about hosting a gathering for people who are on their own “water to wine” journey; I want to tell these seekers what I wish someone had told me fourteen years ago. This will also be a great opportunity for people on the water to wine journey to connect with one another. When I floated the idea on social media, it generated an enthusiastic response.
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  • Beyond the Wittenberg Door

    Luther95theses

    Beyond the Wittenberg Door
    Brian Zahnd

    Five-hundred years ago on All Hallows Eve (the day before All Saints Day) Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Professor Luther was proposing a theological debate, what he got was a revolution. What Luther unwittingly launched that day in Wittenberg was one of the most momentous movements in church history: The Protestant Reformation. Among the many consequences of the Reformation was that the Western Church separated into Catholic and Protestant churches. One way of describing the Reformation would be, “there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.” (Acts 15:39)

    So here we are now, five-hundred years down the road — five-hundred years beyond the Wittenberg Door. And finding ourselves half a millennium beyond the Wittenberg Door, how should we think about the Protestant Reformation? I have a few thoughts.
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  • The Barmen Declaration

    karl_barth

    The Barmen Declaration of 1934 was a call to resistance against the theological claims of the German Christian movement. The German Evangelical Church had given its support to the Nazi state following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. In opposition to the pro Nazi Evangelicals, the Confessing Church movement was born with the Barmen Declaration as their founding document. Written primarily by Karl Barth, the Barmen Declaration was grounded in Barth’s theological conviction that God cannot be made to serve nationalistic interests, God can only rule the nations. Among the original signers of the Barmen Declaration were Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller. Of the 18,000 Protestant pastors in Nazi Germany, 3,000 became members of the Confessing Church.

    BZ
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  • The Charm of Beauty In an Ugly Age

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    The Charm of Beauty In an Ugly Age
    Brian Zahnd

    “It is the prerogative and charm of beauty to win hearts.”
    –Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

    It’s an ugly time right now. Especially in the public discourse in the land in which I live. Politicized and polarized, public discourse has devolved into the polemical napalm of give-no-inch, take-no-prisoners, burn-it-all-down flaming rhetoric. Ugly “Us versus Them” ideology goosesteps across the American stage. Hysterical screams of fear-infused hatred are heard in this nation of immigrants.

    Deport ’em all!
    Build a wall!
    No refugees!
    Don’t tread on me!

    I was in New York last week and saw the Statue of Liberty. I think she had a tear in her eye…or maybe it was just in my eye. The tired and poor, the wretched refuse, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free…are basically given the finger these days. For the sake of honesty maybe it’s time to commission a new statue.

    Are we entering a dark age where the only thing we can build is a wall and where nothing is sacred but a gun? I wonder.
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  • We Need Contemplative Pastors

    JacobsDream

    We Need Contemplative Pastors
    Brian Zahnd

    I became a pastor when I was twenty-two. (In reality I had been doing the work of a pastor since I was seventeen, but by the time I was twenty-two I had been ordained and embarked upon the fulltime vocation of being a pastor.) As I look back upon this, it does appear somewhat ridiculous. A twenty-two-year-old founding pastor! Do I regret it? Yes and no. I admit that it’s probably not the best way to go about planting a church and making disciples, but it’s what happened. It was part of the phenomenon of the Jesus Movement. Young would-be followers of Jesus were looking to me for leadership. It’s the cards that were dealt me. So I did my best. I learned on the job. And the Lord was with us.

    But by the time we began to have the success of numerical church growth in the 1990s, we were fully locked into the charismatic evangelicalism that too often appears committed to an elementary level of faith. Later I would discover just how difficult it can be to lead a large church beyond a quasi-fundamentalist and largely reactive Christianity. It’s not impossible, but it’s very difficult. And always painful.
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  • It’s My Birthday and I’m an Eclectic Christian

    Card

    It’s My Birthday and I’m an Eclectic Christian
    Brian Zahnd

    Today is my birthday and the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri made me a birthday card. On the cover of the card is a cross composed of the “Five Words” (Cross, Mystery, Eclectic, Community, Revolution) that I talk about in the second chapter of Water To Wine. And since it involves the Sisters at Clyde, let me share a little bit of the Eclectic portion from the “Five Words” chapter. It’s a nice story…
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  • American Exceptionalism?

    Uncle_Sam

    American Exceptionalism?
    Brian Zahnd

    American Exceptionalism: The theory that the United States occupies a special place among the nations of the world and possesses a unique destiny in history.

    I’ve heard it said, “American Exceptionalism is simply a fact.”

    I’m sure it is.

    Just like Greek Exceptionalism and Roman Exceptionalism and British Exceptionalism were facts too.

    If you’re not exceptional, you’re just another nation. “Exceptionalism” is required of a superpower. It’s what gives cred to the “We’re number one!” chant.

    But you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t get too excited about Greco-Roman-British-American Exceptionalism — or any other geopolitical claim to exceptionalism.

    (There really is a big difference between being truly exceptional and merely the latest in a long line.)

    American Exceptionalism. This too shall pass. There’s only one exception.

    The Kingdom which endures world without end: The Empire of Christ.
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