Christianity 201

December 12, 2017

Thinking about Different Types of Congregational Worship

But if all of you are prophesying, and unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your meeting, they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, “God is truly here among you.” Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.
I Cor. 14:26 NLT emphasis added

It’s been six months and a good time to make another visit to Seven Minute Seminary. This is a 7-minute video teaching today. I don’t like defaulting to videos, but this particular organization, Seedbed, always provides us with material that leads to deep thought. Rev. Glenn Packiam is Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. He sees the three paradigms in use in our gathering services as being (1) Encounter, (2) Formation, and (3) Mission. “While it’s tempting to privilege one model over the other, a deep theology of the Holy Spirit can help the church keep these purposes of worship in healthy tension.”


Bonus item for those of you who like church history:

While deciding which video to include today, I was interested in the title of this one, “The Birth of Band Meetings.”  If you want to hashtag this, the category would be Pietism.  He describes it as a Protestant movement that predates Protestantism itself. John Hus (aka Jan Hus) was key to this movement, as was Count Zinzendorf (aka Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.) And you thought church history was boring.

“The band meeting was a form of discipleship that helped small groups of men and women practice intense vulnerability and confession of sin together. It helped sustain the Methodist revival in the 18th century, which was preceded by other versions of this spiritual renewal across Europe. Watch this Seven Minute Seminary video by Dr. Scott Kisker [professor of History of Christianity at United Theological Seminary] as he traces the history of this powerful spiritual discipline.”

Other hashtags here would include The Moravian Church and The Religious Societies Movement. And Oxford Methodism. And John Wesley. Hey, one movement leads to another. Watch this. It’s really fascinating if you’re a religion nerd like me.

 

 

 

June 18, 2016

Are we required to submit to a vision by a pastor?

When people leave comments on my various blogs, I often check out their writing if they provide a website. That’s how I ran into Australia’s Luke Goddard, who along with his wife Peta, writes at From Frightened To Father and hosts the Filtered Radio podcast. (Don’t worry, he explained it to me!) I asked him if he would consider writing something for readers here, and he came up with a rather interesting topic. The situation described may be foreign to some of you, but in the modern church it can be far too common. Either way, I hope it gets you thinking… For my U.S. readers, Luke used the Anglicized spelling of honor so many times that I decided not to change it today! 

•••by Luke Goddard

Are we required to submit to a vision by a pastor? This is a valid question as it is an extremely common trait in modern churches to have a visionary leader who is like a miniature god that the congregation must “honour at all costs.” This honour is often driven into the members as if when they open up a discussion about theology, practices or ecclesiology in general is an attack on their God given dream for the church.

Scripture disagrees.

The qualifications for a pastor of a congregation are laid out very clearly in Titus 1:

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

These qualifications include “not pursuing dishonest gain” and, “not overbearing,” and finally encouraging others in “sound doctrine…refuting those who oppose it.”

These qualities are lacking in many pastors, and our submission to them is not meant to be a compulsory, overbearing honour that weighs down and puts into bondage the congregation member. I have witnessed this type of leadership and realized that I was trying to support a vision for church that clearly was unbiblical, yet loved the hype, music, relationships and modern facilities of church and it kept me quiet. I had solid convictions about word-faith doctrine, heretical teachers that spoke blasphemous things that were being promoted by our old congregation, and many instances where visiting preachers said some grievous things from our pulpit… yet my “honour” principle taught from a young age told me to shut up and let it go. They’re a minister, I’m a member… there’s nothing I can say to change anything.

But Christian pastors are literally required to refute those who teach heresy, and also preach in accordance with sound doctrine the whole counsel of God! So I have come to learn that approaching a pastor in a friendly way is OK to discuss theology, but that in most modern churches this is completely unwelcome. Their vision from God for the church is usually “gospel” and unchangeable, and handed down from higher authorities in the Pentecostal movement through young people camps and leader training. It’s a battle for the Bible and souls in reality.

So back to the question: Do we have to submit to a pastor’s church vision? No! But we do honour them as our feeding shepherd, and if they are faithful and rightly handle God’s word then they’re actually due honour for doing so, but those that preach faithfully usually don’t have a “vision” for their church that is infallible. If they do, they end up sliding down a slippery slope anyway. We are in no way obligated in scripture to honour a pastor’s vision. We are, though, under the God given submission to a local pastor if he has “shown himself approved” by studying the word of God. This will be evident in his life, his kids, his teaching and his relationship with his elders and staff. This takes time to visibly witness, but is there for our good. We are to lovingly support our pastors, and speak openly with them about doctrine as it arises if anything is said out of line, but the truth is that heretical teachers usually abhor questioning. In fact, many have gone on record saying they will openly throw out any church member who dares question their way of doing church. This is dangerous. Dangerous because they stand in the place of Jesus as the builder of the church, and the author and finisher of our faith. Jesus becomes the tacked on message to the end of motivational speeches, pep talks, self esteem boosting sermons and mini-movie stories loosely to do with spiritual things.

I think the Bible makes it clear that Paul and Timothy were given very specific directions for pastors to follow, and that those that deviate are not faithfully serving Jesus flock as they should, and as such are liable for questioning. It is how we approach this questioning, though, that often gets us into trouble.

In the end, we need to pray for faithful men of God to proclaim Christ crucified, and support those who do, and listen in to what our current pastors are saying with an open Bible to make sure that they are preaching in context, with the right message, given in season and with faithfulness to the text.

That is the only way a church can grow healthily, and the flock be fed nutritionally.

October 24, 2013

Teaching Emphasis versus Liturgy and Sacrament

NIV Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

With the exception of some early Christian writings, we don’t have a lot of concise snapshots of the early church better than the closing six verses of Acts 2. But ask anyone with even a superficial knowledge of church history, and they’ll tell you that the way we do church in 2013 doesn’t follow the pattern known to those who came before us.

This article didn’t have a specific scripture reference, but for people processing their faith at the “201” level, it raises issues worth thinking about today. It’s from Matthew Marino who has a blog called The Gospel Side, where this article appeared recently under the title, Spiritual Baseball: The Unlikely Path to Intimacy with Jesus.  Send Matthew some stats love by clicking the title to read at source.

Liturgy

Every once in a while you meet someone and immediately sense they are wise and grounded. One of those for me was a Roman Catholic youth pastor. We met some fifteen years ago at an outdoor cafe. While the coffee cooled he made small talk by mentioning the Protestant activities his children were involved in: Awana, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Young Life, and attending a Christian high school. I laughed and probed just a bit: Was he a wanna be Protestant? He laughed back and said, “Absolutely not. It’s just that it is pretty hard to come to faith in my Church.” His answer baffled me. Why, I asked, would he choose to be involved in a church in which it was hard for his children to come to faith? How, I wondered, did he not see himself as making my point for me? The jovial youth minister grinned again, handed me a pen, pushed a napkin toward me and said, with the hint of a smirk, “Make a list of your ten favorite authors.”

I scratched names on the napkin until he reached over and grabbed the pen, and said, “Ok, I’m stopping you at fifteen. I notice that of your fifteen favorite authors, thirteen of them are liturgical Christians.” I had never heard the word ‘liturgical’ and didn’t want to admit it, so I glossed over that detail and asked him what his point was.

He asked, “Why do you like those authors: Nouwen, Lewis, Temple, Wesley, Chesterton, Wright, Manning, Stott?”

“I guess because they write as if they have intimacy with Jesus,” I said.

He answered without hesitating, “Exactly,” he said, “I’m in my Church because it is how you become intimate with Jesus.”

“O, come on!” I objected.

He pointed at the napkin and reminded me it was my list. He then said something that took me a decade to understand, “If you want true intimacy with Jesus, it will probably happen in a liturgical church: Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian, old-school Lutheran.”

We sat there another half hour and I decided that what he was saying is that if the spiritual life were a game of baseball, then first base is a relationship with Jesus. If one does not get on base, nothing else matters. That was why his kids were in evangelical activities. Second base might be knowing the Bible. Third, giving your life away in service for God and the Kingdom. But a “home run,” in the Christian life, is intimacy with Christ…what the Orthodox masters call “theosis” – a fulfillment of the image of God. I left that meeting wanting to “make it home,” but without the least awareness that, for millions over the last 2,000 years, the “home run” I longed to experience has been a common one in liturgical traditions.

And yes, I do realize that statement sounds arrogant and just plain incorrect to evangelical ears. After all, every evangelical church in America has a healthy collection of members who left the liturgical world precisely because they hadn’t gotten “on base” in a liturgical church.

What you may not realize is how non-normative the American 4 song/sermon worship format is in the scope of things. For 3/4 of Christian history, the liturgy was the only form of Christian worship. Even today, nearly 3/4 of the Christians on the planet worship God in the ancient pattern of Word and Sacrament. That doesn’t make the liturgy better, worse or more or less biblical, it does say that what most Christians know as “worship” is a bit of an outlier.

I am not saying that liturgical churches are perfect or have more holy people or that there are not dead liturgical churches…I’m fairly sure that dead liturgy might be the worst sort of dead. Just that for the lion’s share of Christians who have ever lived, worship was not song and sermon but Scripture and Supper.

…for the lion’s share of Christians who have ever lived, worship was not song and sermon but Scripture and Supper.

I didn’t understand what my Catholic friend was talking about precisely because I had been to a liturgical church a few times and found it repetitive and, frankly, numbing. What I discovered was that the power is precisely in the repetition…that, as a rough rock in a stream becomes a smooth stone from years of water flowing over it, the Christian is formed into the image of God when we surrender ourselves to the three-fold pattern of daily immersion in the Scriptures, weekly feeding in the Eucharist, and the annual cycle of the Christian year, combined with contemplative practices like those of the desert fathers. I have found that these are re-orienting my perception of reality, the way I view time, life, and the world around me, in ways that words on a page cannot fully capture. It is freeing me to love those who oppose me and work for the good of those who seek my harm.

You may not be interested in walking the path to the ancient Church, known in Anglicanism as “the Canterbury trail.” I was not either. Ironically it is a journey that has given a depth to my walk with Christ that I never imagined. Like someone who has never tasted ice-cream, I didn’t know what I was missing.

What about you? If you have walked with Jesus for several decades, is intimacy/spiritual union something the church you worship in is nurturing in you? In what ways, corporately and individually are you finding intimacy with Jesus? Or have you, like many, given up on intimacy with God as having a corporate expression? If so, I invite you to the sandlot to play ball.

October 5, 2012

The Gospel: Definition and Goals

NIV Jn. 5:39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Today’s teaching is from Christianity Today’s Skye Jethani who also edits the blog Out of Ur.

April 22, 2012

Chuck Colson Quotations

It seemed appropriate today, in light of the passing of Charles (Chuck) Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, to include some well-remembered quotations from his writing…

“The dynamism and freedom that characterizes the West is the product of Christianity’s reforming itself and moving forward culturally. … The ascendancy of the West is the story of the difference that Christianity makes, and it’s a story we can’t let our culture forget.”


“I’ll tell you one of the most wonderful things about being a Christian is that I don’t ever get up in the morning and wonder I’m not doing anything today or if what I do matters. I live everyday to the fullest because I can live it through Christ and I know no matter what I do today, and it may just be in my prayer time, I’m going to do something to advance the Kingdom of God. Now does that make you fulfilled? You bet it does! And it gives you joy about living.”


“May the Christian church never be regarded as a special interest group. We’re here because we love our neighbor.”


“In every action we take, we are doing one of two things: we are either helping to create a hell on earth or helping to bring down a foretaste of heaven. We are either contributing to the broken condition of the world or participating with God in transforming the world to reflect his righteousness. We are either advancing the rule of Satan or establishing the reign of God.”


“The Bible- banned, burned, beloved. More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history. Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it; dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it. Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it is more powerful than their weapons. Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints. Pieced together scraps of Scripture have converted whole whole villages of pagan Indians.”


“The church does not draw people in; it sends them out.”


“We should always pray with as much earnestness as those who expect everything from God; we should always act with as much energy as those who expect everything from themselves.”


“We are not looking for power, … We are not looking for prestige. We are here because we care very, very deeply about the nation. … We love God, we love our neighbors and we act out of a love of God and love of our neighbors.”


“Christians need to take the lead in educating people that children are gifts, as my autistic grandson most surely is. By going down the path we’re currently on, we might one day get rid of genetic diseases, but only at the cost of our own humanity.”


“If our culture is to be transformed, it will happen from the bottom up – from ordinary believers practicing apologetics over the backyard fence or around the barbecue grill.”


“The church has been brought into the same value system as the world: fame, success, materialism and celebrity. We watch the leading churches and the leading Christians for our cues. We want to emulate the best known preachers with the biggest sanctuaries and the grandest edifices. Preoccupation with these values has perverted the church’s message.”


Sources: Christian Quotes, Quotes Daddy, Thomas George, NutQuote, Daily Christian Quote, Quoteland, Quoteopia

March 3, 2012

Aiming for Inter-Connectedness

I invite you to begin today by slowly and meditatively read the words of Jesus in these four verses from the NLT rendering of John 17:

(11) “Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.”

(21) “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”

(22) “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.”

(23) “I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”

In the part of the world where I grew up, the rumor was that if you were preparing song-sheets for campfires or transparencies for overhead projectors, you should not use the song which states,

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord

The story — which I never could confirm — was that the copyright, which was owned by “the Fellowship of Evangelical Laymen” was the most prosecuted for copyright violation and that church lawsuits could name pastors, church staff, board members and music committee members. Whether or not the “Laymen” were so litigious, I always found it ironic that a song proclaiming that as the Body of Christ, we hold all things in common, should be subject to a mentality that prevented its widespread use.

In the part of the world where I live now, we’re closing in on the annual Good Friday service. All of the Evangelical churches get together in the largest auditorium they can find, which for the past few years has been a hotel ballroom. This is a high point of the church year here and it’s always exciting — and a little bit distracting from the day’s primary message — to see people from different churches coming together to worship.

For the one day, we truly are “one in the Spirit.” 

But the rest of the year, not so much. We break off into our individual assemblies and congregations for the other 364 days, and while the pastors themselves get together monthly, the rest of us don’t get to experience that blessing of Christian unity except at the one annual service.

The point is, we have a lot to offer each other:  Video resources, teaching materials, children’s programs, church libraries, men’s breakfasts, women’s retreats, marriage enrichment, etc.  We also have a lot we can give together more effectively than we can give individually: Respite for families with young children,  support for pregnant teens and young single moms, networking on behalf of those seeking jobs, service projects for shut-ins, community meals for the poor and the lonely, advocacy for marginalized individuals and groups, etc.

Inter-connectedness needs to be intentional.

It needs to be our goal, our aim, and most important, our desire.

But beyond church resources and neighborhood projects, the thing we best have to give each other is ourselves.

The problem in the Body of Christ is that we don’t really know each other. We might know names and occupations, but we don’t know the heart of each other and we have no meaningful shared experiences. We might work together on a specific project for a limited time, but our fellowship is really just task-oriented. We don’t dig deeper to get to know what makes the other person tick, and we certainly have never taken the time to hear their story.

Inter-connectedness needs to be intentional.

We are one in the Spirit, and we should be able to say that without fear of copyright prosecution, but we should also be able to say it without fear of rejection just because we’re part of another faith family.

~Paul Wilkinson


WEEKEND BONUS: GO Deeper

Today we’re giving you an opportunity to dig a whole lot deeper into sermon videos from some of the larger North American churches.

What started out as a recommendation to a friend turned into a blog post today at Thinking Out Loud which lists links to Bible teachers at a dozen churches.

You can enjoy this for yourself, but you might also want to send the link to the list to someone you know who has been away from Bible teaching for awhile and needs to get reconnected. Or a teen or twenty-something who might relate to some of the younger communicators.

Link to list of sermon videocasts and live streams.

September 29, 2010

The Trouble with “Visionary”

I’m currently reading an interesting little book (pun intended) titled  The Strategically Small Church by Brandon O’Brien, released in August by Bethany House.   I’ll do a full review on the book on Friday at Thinking Out Loud, but I thought I’d share with you this interesting take on trying to force a vision to materialize…

When we forget the principle of the mustard seed, we risk forcing our own vision of the church, or the prescribed vision of experts, onto our congregation.   In our efforts to live the narrative of success, we view the small church not as God’s mustard seed, but as an obstacle to be overcome.   We then rely on our vision to bring about the success we desire.   We do this at our own peril.

Disturbed over the gap between the church in Acts and the German church in the late 1930s, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote Life Together to explain genuine Christian community.   In the first section of the book, the person who comes under the fiercest attack is the pastor Bonhoeffer calls the visionary, the person who has “a very definite idea of what Christian life together should look be and [tries] to realize it.”  Bonhoeffer has strong words for the visionary, for the person we might call the “expert” in Christian community:

The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself.   He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.   He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.  When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure…. So he becomes first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.