Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Baptism Again!

My recent reading has included Erwin Raphael McManus's book An Unstoppable Force, a pretty good book about the church. McManus is one of those Southern Baptists that seems to have a pretty good grip on biblical teachings regarding the church. It is a shame that these guys have so much to say about many things but when it comes to baptism for the remission of sins, they get all foggy and discombobulated.

For example, those of us who heard McManus at the 2004 North American Christian Convention were amused that he made a "faith only" appeal and used typically Baptist language. Someone hadn't told him that Christian churchers are a bunch of baptismal regenerationists. (I know we aren't, but other groups tend to think we are.) Or, maybe he did know!! In his book, McManus continually references individuals who "opened their heart to Jesus," "received Jesus right there," and so on. Then he writes the following:

"One experience that binds us all together is passing through the water grave of baptism. Others hold varying thoughts and traditions related to baptism, but from where I stand, the metaphor of immersion is both dramatic and significant. Through baptism we are drenched in God, enveloped in God's presence, and brought through death to life. The water grave is a perfect expression of this reality. It is both personal and communal."

Earlier he said, "Yet we are baptized into Christ and joined with his body." He also wrote, "Baptism is not simply about being baptized into Christ, but being baptized into the body of Christ."

In my view, there are three observations to make about these statements. First, McManus describes baptism as a metaphor. By describing the language of baptism as figurative, it can be dismissed as necessary. Rather than taking the biblical statements as literal language, Baptists can defend their view that salvation comes at the moment of belief. They assume that the language of baptism in or by the Holy Spirit occurs at the moment of belief. Further, they tend to see such language as literal language. My question is, Why take the language in one place as literal and another as figurative? The only reason they do so is they have accepted the Zwinglian formula that baptism and salvation are unrelated and that understanding colors their interpretation of biblical texts.

Second, there is a faulty understanding of the nature of the body of Christ. Baptists assume that the only expression of the body of Christ is the local church. I would agree than the local congregation is a visible expression of the body of Christ, but I would argue that the body of Christ in toto includes all believers everywhere who demonstrate their love for Christ through trusting obedience.

Third, it is obvious that some of our younger preachers are confused by the language Baptists use. It really sounds good! As a result, statements regarding baptism and its purpose have become cloudy. There are attempts to faithfully express the traditional Restoration view but it gets diluted with Baptist terminology and assumptions until it does nothing but walk a middle line that is indefinite and unclear. Of course, all this emphasis on language as metaphor etc. reflects our Postmodern mindset. Our younger men and women are influenced by Postmodernism and its foggy language so they are more than willing to let each individual "make up their own mind" about the meaning and purpose of baptism (and other things, too).

Since most of our preachers come out of our Bible Colleges (or Christian Universities or whatever), I am forced to conclude that there is not much emphasis on how to understand biblical language. In most schools, biblical instruction is reduced to a minimum in order to meet the criteria of any number of accrediting bodies. While I am in favor of accreditation, I also believe that our schools must remain faithful to their purpose of "preparing a qualified and consecrated ministry." Furthermore, I think they must also remain faithful to the Campbellian tradition of making the Scripture central to all education. In doing so, it is not Scripture that must now to science, literature, and tradition; it is the world that must bow to to Scripture.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Thank God! The Election is over.

I don't know about you, but I was ready for the election to be over a month ago. Never have I seen so much anger and hatred displayed for the candidates. Now, if the pundits are right, there are those who are so upset they want to leave the USA or secede. Others are saying that democracy doesn't work!

Shoot! I knew that. In fact, that's why our founding fathers gave us a democratic Republic. Democracies usually in up with a tyranny of the majority. Those who agonized over the Constitution didn't want that to happen. Every they designed in that amazing document, from the Electoral College to the Checks and Balances, are there to mitigate the rule of the 51%.

Think about it for a moment. A look at the typical election map -- you know, the red and blue one -- does not tell you the whole story. Goof Ball Michael Moore would have you believe that the "blue states" would be better off in Canada. (I sometimes think he's right!) Yet when you examine the election map by county, you get a different picture altogether. With only a few exceptions, what made the blue states blue were the votes in the urban areas. Look at the map and you'll see that most of California is "red" with heavy blue sections in the bay area and Los Angeles. A look at New York reveals that most of the heavily blue counties were in and around New York City. The same is true in Illinois, Oregon, and other blue states. You will also see blue areas in "red states". New Mexico was blue around Santa Fe and Taos and perhaps Albuquerque. There are blue areas down the Mississippi and around many of our major cities. What the pundits, particularly the Democratic ones, don't get is the fact that the major differences are basically seen in those of traditional values. Americans living in small towns, as well as those in the South and Midwest, cling to traditional rural values of God and country.

Rural and urban values are often substantially different. Even if you cast aside the impact of religious faith, those values are different. They are not as different, in my view, as they once were but they are still different. Part of the reason for that difference rests in the fact that those living in smaller communities often sense greater accountability than those in the city. As it is often put in the church, "The best thing about living in a small town is that you know everybody. The worst thing about living in a small town is that you ... know everybody." People often do things in anonymity they would never think of doing where they are known.

Most of us from small town America are sick and tired of being treated like someone's idiot stepchild. Rural Americans are no longer the "hicks" they once were. Contemporary farming is a highly technological business these days and it takes a good education to make the necessary decisions to be successful in agribusiness. Improved communication, technology, and tavel make it possible for those in small town America to learn about and experience every aspect of American life -- rural and urban. Not only do those in the South and the Midwest understand life, they form their own opinions and draw not only from educations received at outstanding educational institutions (some with really great football programs -- :-) ) but also from a vast reservoir of good old fashioned common sense.

The wacky left is once again demonstrating the truth of the stereotypes attributed to them. (1) They think they are more intelligent than anyone else. (2) The truly intelligent would always agree with them. (3) Everyone else should be tolerant of their ideas, but they don't have to tolerate everyone else's "stupidity."

Well, for my money, Canada and France -- or wherever they choose to go -- can have them! Bon voyage ... and good riddance!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

A 40 Days of Purpose Report

When I was with the First Christian Church in Canton, OH,we ran a successful "40 Days of Purpose" Campaign. During that campaign, we launched more than 20 new small groups. Existing Adult Bible Fellowships (Sunday School Classes) increased in attendance. There were numerous additions.

Here is Sun City where I work with seniors, I undertook a "40 Days" campaign for several reasons.
  1. The congregation needed a better understanding of the biblical teaching about the church. Most congregations serving Sun City residents have a "hospice" mentality. I believed God planted this church here for a reason. While I don't agree with every detail of Warren's Purpose Driven Model, he does have a pretty good grip on the five purposes every church should live out.
  2. Members here come from everywhere in the USA. This church has folks from Maine, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, West Virginia, Colorado, Kansas, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, and even Florida. Even then, I've probably missed a couple of states. The point is, these folks need to get to know one another and the "40 Days" discussion groups provided the perfect opportunity to do that. We have a monthly Fellowship Dinner, but even then the group is too large to promote real fellowship. We have six discussion groups ranging from 6 to 20 in attendance using edited discussion guides from Saddleback.
  3. The sermon series provided us with a perfect opportunity to teach casual attenders about the importance of trusting Christ and connecting with a local congregation. So far since starting the campaign, we've added 12 new members. One of those was by baptism.
  4. We're not seeing tremendous increases in attendance, but thanks to the fact that our "Snowbirds" are returning the attendance is climbing.
  5. The "40 Days" Campaign also gave us the opportunity to do some quality advertising in the area. Most of our ads were pretty blah, but the campaign gave us an opportunity and a reason to "dress them up" and make them something noteworthy.

We didn't do everything recommended in the campaign materials primarily because this is not a typical church. Our Ministry System is not yet functional, so a Ministry Fair didn't fit us. We support missions, but we didn't feel a Ministry Fair was do-able at this time. We are, however, having a special gathering with one of our mission families home on furlough.

In spite of the fact that we haven't used every aspect of the program, good things are coming from it.

Monday, October 18, 2004

It's amazing what you find and where!

We get The Costco Connection, a monthly marketing magazine because of our membership in Costco. In addition to promoting its wares, it publishes articles of general interest. An article printed a couple of months ago gave me information about "blogs" and www.blogger.com that led to my first blog. The most recent issue featured an article entitled "Conventional Wisdom" that I found interesting and applicable to leadership in ministry. (I'm not opposed to improving leadership, I just don't think we should spend all our time there to the neglect of sound doctrine.)

Peter J. Malcolm cited management consultant Wolf Rinke's new book, Don't Oil the Squeaky Wheel ... and 19 Other Contrarian Ways to Improve Your Leadership Effectiveness (McGraw Hill, 2004). Some of Rinke's suggestions make a lot of sense. Here are a few of his ideas.

Don't oil the squeaky wheel. In too many situations, preachers spend a majority of their time with negative individuals who roil the water in churches. As a result, the eye is taken off the goal in attempt to please the few who create most of the trouble. Rinke says, "If you spend more than 5 percent of your time with troublemakers, you're messing up." The way to develop an atmosphere of trust and cooperation is "to spend the majority of your time with the people who behave that way." In my own experience, when the squeaky wheel gets oiled it just squeaks all the more. The issue is usually one of attention and self-importance than a focus on the church's purpose and goals.

Don't be tough. Too many ministers operate out of a sense of insecurity thinking that to be effective they have to be the boss. It took me some time to discover that I can trust other people to do a job delegated to them without hovering over them or telling them how to do it. Sometimes I could do it better, but I found out that when I gave people the freedom to serve they often exceeded my wildest expectations. Rinke says, "If you're tough and you push people and shove decisions down their throats, you're not going to get people to think for themselves."

Don't satisfy customers. While I absolutely hate it, we live in an era of "consumer mentality." I would like to think that people find a church because it is faithful to Scripture and teaches the truth. Only a few, I've found, think like that. Most look for a church that is friendly and offers a variety of choices all of which are done well. Excellence isn't an attempt to meet customer satisfaction, it is a desire to exceed their expectations. When you think about it, shouldn't we all seek excellence to God's glory?

Don't make decisions. We have the mistaken idea that the minister must make all the decisions. Rinke suggests that genuine leadership gets others to make decisions for you. Ministers who act like dictators will surround themselves with others who are dependent and do only what they are told. Believers need to take ownership. Instead of autocratic leadership, spend time asking questions, planting seeds, and working quietly to help other people to make your ideas their own. Rinke says the two best questions are, "What are you going to do about that?" and "What do you think?"

Don't be proud. Give credit away.

Don't have goals and objectives. Rinke says you should have an H.O.G. -- one humongous overarching goal. That's what Jesus gave the church, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature...." An H.O.G. is one really critical goal you implement and drive home so that every team member internalizes it.

Don't have people work for you. Treat everyone as volunteers. When you deal with volunteers, you say, "Please do me a favor." It is an issue of respect and treating people with honor. Too many times, we treat Christians with disrespect because they aren't doing their duty. We moan and groan because we can't get enough people to serve but it is largely true because we haven't learned to treat people well.

Isn't it amazing what you can find?

Monday, October 11, 2004

Purpose Driven Thinking

I'm amazed at the number of guys who get uptight about Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven Church concepts. Okay, so he's a Southern Baptist. Its as if Baptists are always wrong and we're always right. You know something! I suspect there might be a few Christians among the Baptists. Even Alexander Campbell was considered by some to be a Baptist for awhile albeit a "reformed" Baptist.

I don't agree with everything Rick Warren writes or says, but then I don't agree with everything anybody writes. Well ... yeah ... I accept everything the Holy Spirit guides but I don't know anyone outside of the biblical writers who can claim that! Rick, after all, is a Baptist so I'm not going to agree with his understanding that "baptism is only for membership." He sees it as the identifying mark for fellowship but he doesn't get it when Peter says "it is for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). I have to confess, though, that some of what Warren says is about as ambivalent as what a lot of "our guys" -- even the "orthodox ones" -- say about baptism. I've heard sermons in Christian Churches that left hard line "Christian Churchers" and hard line "Baptists" both happy. I suspect the same thing is true in Baptist Churches. I tuned in to a baptismal service in John MacArthur's church one day and heard candidate after candidate say, "I want to have my sins washed away," when asked why they were beng baptised. Now that doesn't fit my Baptist stereotype.

Here's the deal. When Warren started Saddleback he nearly worked himself into an early grave. His efforts stressed his marriage and almost broke his health. As a student at Fuller Theological Seminary he stumbled across a book entitled, The Church on Purpose. Dr. Joe Ellis wrote that book and Standard Publishing published it. As I understand it, Ellis' book gave Warren the seed thought that resulted in The Purpose Driven Church. Oh, by the way, Dr. Ellis was Dean of the Graduate School at The Cincinnati Bible Seminary and I don't consider him a flaming liberal or a hyper evangelical.

A lot of "our guys" see themselves as right and everyone else is wrong. In my view, part of growing up is to see that God created a lot of people and they are all different. Warren is right when he says, "If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary." God gave us brains to hear, evaluate, and determine what is right and wrong when measured against the absolutes of Scripture. Just because I don't agree with someone on everything doesn't mean we can't agree on something. I find it ludicrous that the same guys who belly ache about Warren have also read Frances Schaeffer, John R.W. Stott, C.S. Lewis, and Carl F.H. Henry or Kenneth Kantzer. I gotta tell you, there are some in our own movement I respect a lot less than Rick Warren. Who you ask. Well okay, I am always a bit suspicious of the works of Mont Smith, Russell Boatman, and Fred P. Thompson and ... shudder ... they've been published by College Press.

Come on men, learn how to sift out the good and throw away the bad. Of course, that assumes you know the difference!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

On Bible Colleges and Education

Christian Churches and Churches of Christ support, by my count, 44 Christian Colleges and graduate schools. Some share campuses. Lincoln Christian College and Lincoln Christian Seminary share campuses, for example. Several of our schools claim university status indicating they exist to do more than train a ministry for the churches. Others proudly claim to be "classic Bible Colleges" carrying on the tradition of preparing preachers for pulpit ministry. These Colleges and Universities vary in enrollment from 0 (zero) to over a thousand. Enrollment in some schools rose dramatically over the past few years.

From time to time there are efforts to work out cooperative agreements or merge various schools. Lincoln Christian College now operates an extension on the campus of what was once Eastern Christian College. At one time Nebraska Christian College, Manhattan Christian College, and Minnesota Bible College (now Crossroads College) discussed merger and an ill-advised purchase of a campus in Dennison, Iowa. Kentucky Christian College and Great Lakes Christian College discussed merging to form Stone-Campbell University. A good friend of mine and I once talked (in jest) about trying to merge Boise Bible College and Intermountain Bible College and move both schools to Salt Lake City. We were uncertain, however, if we could lease facilities in the Mormon Tabernacle for our classrooms and administration. Our discussions in fun were about as successful as efforts to combine the forces of our colleges.

Oh, mergers, if you can call them that, have occurred. Intermountain Bible College closed its doors in June 1985. Boise Bible College merged the IBC library with theirs. Pacific Christian College (now Hope International University or HI-U) agreed to manage the college's records and Platte Valley Bible College tried unsuccessfully to "merge" its alumni base with those of IBC. That same year Midwest Christian College merged with Ozark Christian College. The Midwest merger came largely because the college's income was insufficient to underwrite its programs.

In my view, most mergers or cooperative efforts failed for several reasons. First, alumni and constituent support bases resisted change. They saw themselves being lost in the shuffle and service to their region reduced. Second, some colleges saw themselves as bastions of sound doctrine and they were hesitant to join a sister college they considered less firm on the fundamentals. Third, there was all that money in a given region that would dry up. Supporters of one college would often cease their support rather than shift to the support of another school.

About the only real cooperative effort that I've seen in recent years (admittedly, now, I'm out of the loop so there may be more) is the formation of the Consortium of Christian Colleges for Distance Learning. I am a part of that effort because of the invitation of Dr. James B. North to teach a section of Restoration History online. Jim and I regularly have between 60-100 students each semester in this class from a variety of Christian Colleges. Frankly, I'm uncertain exactly how the consortium started but I do know that Gordon Clymer has pushed it and his vision has guided it for some time. The consortium offers a number of online classes in youth work, world religions, history, and Bible. The consortium sees its largest enrollments in Restoration History, but that may change with the launch of North's Survey of Church History this fall.

Herein is the rub! While the consortium meets a real need for smaller schools who can ill afford to hire instructors to teach specialized courses, the consortium's potential is unrealized. In 1995 I believed online education was the "wave of the future." I no longer believe that. Online education is now! College newsletters reveal that many recognize that the bulk of students entering college are considered "nontraditional." According to a recent issue of Platte Valley Bible College's "Western Challenge," the Department of Education reports that nontraditional students comprise more than 75 percent of those entering college. Platte Valley's answer to the need is to establish extension schools in Denver and other locations. Boise Bible College is also establishing extension locations. With the technology available today it is unnecessary to go to the expense of locating facilities or paying for travel costs when students can study online. Students currently studying online in Restoration History now view Jim North's lectures via Real Media files on CDs. Some thought is being given to using DVD now that this technology is becoming widespread. With broadband, students could also access one web site any time day or night and view the lectures through streaming video. The point is, while some of our schools are developing online classes, particularly larger schools, this is a technology that could be made more widely available. In fact, it is not impossible to establish an Online Christian College utilizing the best instructors in the brotherhood to provide a quality education. It would make education available anywhere in the world at any time day or night at minimal cost. By translating materials into various languages, such classes could be made available even in the Third World as broadband eventually becomes more prevalent worldwide.

The consortium has consistently refused to even consider developing a curriculum that could lead to a degree. Why is that? The representatives of the various colleges involved rightly see online education as a threat to their existence. They often mouth platitudes that the reason they are hesitant to develop degree programs online is because of the necessity of student face-to-face interaction. In my view, the real reason is money. Our schools continue to invest millions in college campuses and other facilities. We spend additional millions on a host of instructors, many of whom have no experience in located ministry and in spite of advanced degrees are unable to communicate effectively to a generation devoted to "screen time."

When I went to Canton in 1995, I did so for several reasons. First, there was a personal need on my part growing out of frustration in my ministry and the death of my associate minister and best friend. Second, I believed the future of Christian Education rested with a megachurch committed to raising up a ministry from within utilizing resources available from Christian Colleges and Universities and providing practical experience on the field. Third, I wanted to accept the challenge of helping turn around a historic church.

Not long after arriving in Canton, Dr. North asked me to teach some graduate courses. At that time, I pushed for consideration of online education. I'd been studying the work of professors in Pennsylvania and Idaho who were developing online classes at the University of Pennsylvania and Boise State University. BSU had even taken a proposal to the State Board of Education for a Masters Degree Program in Historical Geography. It was being considered because of the distances involved for the state's teachers who had to deal with the distances between their small communities and Boise. When I made my pitch, Cincinnati Bible Seminary rebuffed it. (I was thankful they revived it sometime later, but their approach is still quite parochial.)

In my view, our 44 schools are a drain on the brotherhood's financial resources. In an era when the population is expanding exponentially worldwide we can no longer enjoy the luxury (if we ever could) of sopping up resources that could be used to take the Gospel to a lost world.

To reverse this trend, several things need to happen:
  1. Our Colleges and Universities need to start thinking outside the box. I don't know where he got it, but Bill Lown once said, "Education occurs when you have a student on one end of a log and Mark Hopkins on the other." For most of the studies necessary for ministry traning, our schools do not need the elaborate facilities with multimillion dollar chapels, administration facilities, and classrooms. They need prepared men and women who are excellent teachers and the technology to get them to the student. A raft of servers connected to T1 lines would be much less expensive than magnificent campuses. For eye-to-eye educaton, brief on-location seminars could be held. These seminars could be held in churches, rented facilities, or in facilities requiring less outlay than an entire campus.
  2. Schools need to recognize their job is to education, not build buildings. Furthermore, the schools must realize their task is to prepare a ministry. We need Christians prepared in a Christian worldview, but I learned while teaching at Malone College that just because a school calls itself a Christian College (Malone was a Friends school) does not mean they hold to a Christian worldview. I discovered that Malone faculty refused to support a Creationist Program offered in our church because "they didn't want to get involved." The real reason: The would lose money because some worldly students would not take courses on their campus.
  3. Our churches need to take seriously their responsibility to train up a ministry from within. The early church had no Bible Colleges unless you want to call the Alexandrian catechetical schools Bible Colleges. The local church raised up elders and bishops from within. Some of our megachurches are concerned only with making consumers, not making disciples. As a result, just as in Canton, proposals for in-depth training are rebuffed.
  4. In addition to working together to provide quality education online (and in other innovative ways), some of our schools could continue to exist as resource centers providing leadership for seminars, visiting lectures, and other special programs not designed as degree curriculum.

I recognize that traditional campus education will probably always be part of our tradition. I do think, however, that 44 schools, many of which are not effective, are way too many. Online education and innovative thinking could increase educational opportunity for countless individuals worldwide who currently could not or would not consider further education because it is too expensive, demands separation from their families, a loss of personal income, and more.

Little of what I've suggested will happen though. Why do I sound so pessimistic? Simply because experience tells me that existing schools protect themselves and their incomes and see themselves, whether they admit it or not, in competition with other schools for support and for students. It won't happen because there are too many presidents, deans, and faculty members whose jobs are on the line. Those beautiful buildings on multimillion dollar campuses are far more important than whether or not a student really gets a quality education.

Monday, October 04, 2004

My views on the upcoming election

Pardon me for taking a one post (I hope) redirection from my stated purposes. The directions of this year's upcoming presidential election are reprehensible. I felt like I needed to comment on some of what I'm hearing.

First, I don't think I've ever heard or seen mudslinging to extent its been done in this year's campaigns. I know there have always been dirty tricks and gobs of spin, but this year it is a bit much. The old saying is, "Mud thrown in ground lost." This year's campaign has impugned the character of both men. In my view, one candidate challenges the rhetoric of the other while his opponent calls him a liar, a deceiver, and disingenuous. I've heard accusations that one candidate used cocaine in his youth, the other was a coward who created injuries and demanded medals (which he disposed of) in order to further a future political career. I'm tired of the name calling!

Second, for more than forty years, the Americn people have made their selection largely based on style rather than substance. Thousands voted for JFK because he was so much more handsome and composed on TV. With a few exceptions, this remainded true throughout the last half of the 20th Century. In this year's first debate, nearly everyone admits the Democrat candidate won on style. One has to wonder, however, if style counts when the bullets fly! It is easy to play armchair quarterback with the presidency always criticizing a play after the fact! It is not easy to "have a plan" to solve real world problems. I'm weary of the critics who question the intelligence, integrity, and motivation of others when the hardest decision they've made is whether or not to put ketchup on their french fries.

Third, voters make their decision based on self-interest rather than on what's good for the country. Farmers vote for the candidate with the best farm policy. Businessmen generally vote for the candidate who will promise tax relief or offers plans that further business. Many citizens vote for the candidate who promises to maintain or increase their entitlements. When the Republic began, the general rule was to vote for what was best for the country as a whole. Those who called for public education did so to assure an educated citizenry who could understand the issues and make their decisions on what they believed was best for the country, not the candidate who promised to "line their pockets." I'm weary of those who depend on others to take care of them when they've made little or no provision for their own future.

Fourth, I seem to remember (not personally, of course) that George Washington warned the young nation to avoid "entangling alliances." I'm no isolationist, but when it becomes more important to appease our supposed allies rather than act on our nation's own interests we've gone a bit far. Frankly, I don't give a pile of cow dung what France or Germany thinks of us. The French have been two-faced since DeGaulle and I wouldn't trust a Frenchman with anyone, let alone a member of the opposite gender.

Fifth, I would support a candidate who called for the removal of the United States from the U.N. and the U.N. from the United States. For the last half century, the U.N. has been shown for the weak kneed, ineffective, pointless body that it is. In my view, the U.N. serves only as a place for pitiful third-world nations to cry and wail about their problems. In most cases, if those nations would recognize their systems and worldviews have failed they might pull themselves up from the muck and mire in which they find themselves. The United States has borne the brunt of the manpower and cost of nearly every U.N. program and military action. We may "owe" the U.N. lots of money, but that's only because we underwrite nearly every program. Like the League of Nations, the U.N. never worked. Let it die!

I know who I'm going to vote for. My selection has nothing to do with party affiliation. Rather, I pick my candidate based on several factors.
  1. Which candidate best reflects my values and worldview?
  2. Which candidate best understands the biblical role of government?
  3. Which candidate best reflects, in my opinion, genuine character and integrity?
  4. Which candidate is plain spoken and forthright in their statements?
  5. Which candidate, in my view, has the best intrests of the nation at heart?
  6. Which candidate make decisions based on what he believes is right, not on what others think?

I guess that pretty much tells you whom I will vote for.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Failing to learn the lessons

Americans don't like history. As far as most people are concerned, history is just stories about a bunch of dead guys. It is no wonder we see history repeat itself! When you don't learn lessons from the past, you repeat all the mistakes.

Two churches, or groups of churches, caught a lot of attention over the past few years. One is Perimeter Church. The other is a Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois. Both churches are establishing multiple campuses or congregations under one leadership team. As I understand it, and I could be wrong here, strategy and direction comes from the central leadership team and that team administers one budget for all assemblies. These are not venues, but places where Christians gather to worship. Venues emphasize different styles, the Perimeter and Naperville gatherings may use different styles, but that's not the issue.

When I heard about these churches and their outreach strategy, I thought back over my studies in Church History. When I took "History of the Early Church" with Dr. James B. North, he went to some length to describe the development of the Monarchical Bishop system. He pointed out that in AD 107, Ignatius of Antioch wrote seven letters while traveling to Rome where he faced martyrdom. In several of those letters, Ignatius counseled churches to select one man who would guide the church during difficult times. As congregations grew; it became inconvenient for believers to make their way to a central worship assembly. In addition, few facilities existed that could house such a crowd and building church buildings was out of the question. Therefore, they established satellite congregations around the city which were more convenient. The bishop, from his position in the central church, provided leadership and developed strategy. Each week, he would bless the elements of the Lord's Supper and the an elder (Presbyter) would take it to one of the satellite congregations. If there were an offering taken, the elder would bring the proceeds back to the central church.

The next step occurred when some of the satellite congregations became large enough to establish satellites of their own. By that time, the satellite church recognized one of the elders from the central church as "their presbyter." North maintained that this was the beginning of the Bishop and Priest system in the second century church. The central church recognized the growing satellite church as a semi-separate entity permitting them to select elders. When they established satellites, "their presbyter" became a bishop but remained subservient to the bishop at the central church. When you extrapolate that sort of thing out, you end up with the episcopal system.

I wonder how long it will take Perimeter and Naperville to reinvent the episcopal wheel. Oh, it wouldn't happen in Naperville! It's a Restoration Movement church! Oh, really? How can you be so sure? I thought we in the Restoration Movement believed in locally autonomous congregations. Naperville probably saw their strategy as an excellent expedient, but what happens when that which was adopted as an expedient gets entrenched into tradition? You end up with a new episcopal denomination.

A good example of that is what happened over the years to Calvary Chapel. Chuck Smith was the minister who really launched the Calvary Chapel movement. Over the years, those who attended Calvary Chapel moved away and started their own Calvary Chapel wherever they went. Calvary Chapel in California and Chuck Smith remained their pattern and their mentor. Are today's Calvary Chapels any less a denomination than the Southern Baptists? Southern Baptist congregations are locally autonomous. Many believe the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ are now a denomination. Does Calvary Chapel differ in organizational structure from "us?" Hmmmmmmmmm!

Many of these new innovations really aren't all that new! Furthermore, choices always result in "unintended consequences." I have no doubt that my brethren in Naperville, and others like them, have the best of intentions. I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, they are focused on winning people to Christ. But choices always carry consequences -- good or bad! We are accepting strategies, modes of operation, and terms of speech that our Restoration forbears would shudder to hear or see us use. What ever happened to "doing Bible things in Bible ways?" What happened to "Bible names for Bible things?" What ever happened to Alexander Campbell's appear to use "pure speech?"

Just asking!

Thursday, September 23, 2004

A Question Answered

Q: Does this mean the Christian who is not a disciple is not saved?

A: The answer is found in the question. It is possible to be alive and human but fail to develop. It is possible for a person to believe Jesus is Lord but they remain undeveloped and fail to attain their potential. Paul contrasted those who could only take "the milk of the Word" with those "who take the meat." None of us are saved because of our attainment; it is only by God's grace we are saved. At the same time, I must reflect on all of this a bit.

First, James, the brother of our Lord, clearly states that faith without accompanying works is dead (James 2:17). He also points out that even demons believe, but they have no relationship with Jesus. Jesus asks, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I say" (Matthew 7:21). Although discipleship is not a work of merit that earns one God's favor, failure to grow (be a disciple) is a best an indication of a weak and sickly Christian and at worst an indication of unbelief. If, and I am not the judge, a failure to follow Jesus in a discipleship is an indication of unbelief then they may not be saved. You see, we include individuals in fellowship because the profess faith, profess repentance, and go into the baptistery. For all intents and purpose, we consider such people Christians and they enjoy all the blessings and privileges in God's household, the visible church. We cannot, however, see the heart. In the "Parable of the Tares," Jesus contrasted the genuine grain from the weeds that grew within it. A careful reading of that parable reveals that he is talking about the church, not the world. On that Day when he returns, the tares and wheat are separated. I suspect many Christians in name only to be separated from the genuine article. It is also possible that a few pseudo-disciples may join them. Genuine disciples, both mature and infants, will join those gathered around the Throne of God.

Second, our mistake is that we often do not expect nor do we challenge believers to be disciples. As a result, we get what we expect -- shallow believers at best and consumer Christians at worst. All too many congregations are satisfied with reaching but have no means of "teaching them to observe all things." Because rapid growth presents megachurches with a problem, they have sought to disciple through small groups. Small groups are wonderful for building relationships, providing support, and discussing application. George Barna, Gallup, and Robert Wuthnow all agree that small groups are ineffective at teaching content. Contemporary churches trumpet small groups from the pulpit, in brochures and church publications, and in their strategy sessions because such groups are a way to connect new members to the congregation. That's called assimilation, not Christian growth. What passes for the "maturity base path" in most rapidly growing churches is the old saw, "Read your Bible and pray."

What is the answer to this?

  1. Recognize that immature and stagnant Christians are not what they need to be.
  2. Present the fullness of the "Great Commission" in outreach recognizing the responsibility to not only "baptize" but "to teach them to observe all things."
  3. Utilize small groups for assimilation, relationship building, and biblical application.
  4. Develop, implement, and work a strategy for teaching biblical content and give it equal billing to other programming.
  5. Reduce the number of commitments members must make so they can focus on family, spiritual growth, and their work (see Randy Frazee's work at www.Pantego.org).
  6. Consider the development of a (shudder) Bible School. Yes, a Bible School, Sunday School, or other means where content can be taught.
  7. Start with a group of spiritually hungry people and spend 2-3 years teaching them content, application (both are necessary), and how to do what you are doing. Then send them out to begin growth groups of their own. This is biblical -- see 2 Timothy 2:2.
  8. Do something! Do something even if it doesn't work. Do something even if it takes time to get the ball rolling. Remember the adage: You will be frustrated by what little you seem to accomplish in one year, but you will be amazed at what you can do in five years. Just do something or admit that you are more interested in dipping than discipleship!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Jesus Teaching

Discipleship more caught than taught

I once believed that the moment a person emerged from baptismal waters they were a disciple. I now understand that immersion on a profession of faith does not automatically make an individual a disciple. While all disciples are Christians, not all Christians are disciples.

Discipleship is a decision. Becoming a disciple means listening to the Teacher, emulating his life, and knowing and doing what is important to him. It is recognizing Jesus not only as Savior but as Lord.

The process of Discipleship -- and it is a process -- is one of growth in Christlikeness. There is no such thing as a stagnant or nongrowing disciple. Growth may be slow. Progress may falter from time to time, but in spite of setbacks and failures it is ever upward. Each day the disciple should be more transformed into the likeness of the Master.

How does an individual become a disciple? By faith one evidences complete confidence in the Master Teacher by reforming his life, acknowledging (confessing) the Sonship of Jesus, and enrolling in the school through baptism into Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). Arising from the baptismal waters, the disciple's schooling begins. In a university, a student may pay the matriculation fee and submit the necessary documents to enroll, but if he never attends class or fulfills the assignments he can hardly be called a student. A supposed believer who initiates a discipleship relationship with Jesus who refuses to learn and apply the Master's teachings can hardly be called a disciple. As Jesus said, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I say?"

Many there are who enrolled in the school of Christ who refuse to study his text, heed his lessons, and fulfill the assignments.

Having said that, let me point out that when a church's leadership focuses more on methodology and technique than the Teacher and the text, something is wrong. Believers look to their leaders for examples of what it means to be a disciple. Where once ministers and church leaders centered ministry on biblical truth and sound doctrine, they today build on leadership styles and scientific church growth methodology. A desire to fulfill the Great Commission requires more than being seeker friendly and practical preaching. It means registering new students in the school of Christ. It means convincing those new students that it is important to study at the feet of Jesus. Jesus was more than conversant with God's Word, so should a disciple. Jesus not only lived the truth, he was the truth. Disciples need to live the truth as well. Just as the student rises no higher than his teacher, so the average church member becomes no more spiritual than those who lead.

I would call upon those who lead in Christ's body to study God's Word more than their books on leadership. I would challenge them to dig into the text more than they study demographics. I call upon them to preach more expository messages than topical tripe. I plead with them to restore sound doctrine drawn from God's Word than evangelical generalities that skirt biblical truth. I would call all of us back to God's Word rather than what works!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Someone better start thinking!

It will happen sooner or later!

I see it often! Some church looking for a preacher puts a notice in the Christian Standard or on ChristianChurchToday.com stating the qualifications for their position. These qualifications include the ability to preach, teach, lead, evangelize, and in some instances work well with a multiple staff. Then the notice says the candidate will be between the ages of 35-50 with at least "x" years of experience.

It is amazing that no one has, to this point, challenged such blatant age discrimination. Churches continue to demonstrate such discrimination when the business world abandoned it long ago. The business world abandoned it because it is against the law to discriminate in hiring practices based on age, gender, or race. Numerous lawsuits settled that issue and guilty business paid the price for their discrimination.

I am not so naive to believe that those in the business world still avoid hiring some individuals based on prejudice. At the same time, however, they cannot blantantly ask the age of an individual. Birth dates no longer appear on application forms or resumes. Businesses have become far more discreet in their practices whether it be for hiring or "retiring" individuals in their firm.

Churches have a right to hire and fire whom they will, but the laws of the land apply to them as well unless there are biblical or spiritual principles involved. I can understand why church leaders choose not to hire women for pulpit ministries since Scripture, at least in many minds, does not permit a woman to teach (publicaly, as in sermonizing). A church is on shaky legal ground, in my view, if race or age are stated factors in hiring and firing.

Age may play a factor in effectiveness in ministry. Such effectiveness may be legitimate, but a church that assumes someone is ineffective because of age is being unfair to themselves and to the individual. Older and experienced ministers have much to offer growing congregations. Their wisdom may save a church from expensive mistakes leading to financial hardships and internal strife. Many older ministers know and understand church growth principles far better than their younger counterparts and could be highly effective in an environment of support and respect.

The tendency to avoid calling older, more experienced, ministers to pulpit ministries grows more out of chronological snobbery than reality. It is assumed that they cannot communicate with the younger generations. The fact is, the prejudice arises from younger generations who believe those who are older have nothing to offer. A growing lack of respect for parents and for authority in general is demonstrated in the church toward their more mature counterparts.

Sooner or later some well-qualified preacher is going to weary of blatant age discrimination and a church or churches will find themselves before the bar defending their hiring practices in a lawsuit. When that happens, I hope the contemporary church's chronological snobbery will be revealed for what it is and result in its demise. Where are those in today's church who understand the biblical instruction to "respect those who are older"? Just asking!

Thursday, September 09, 2004

We must not permit peripheral issues to divide us.

Walking a Tightrope

We in the Restoration Movement walk a tightrope between legalism and license, between evangelicalism and sacramentalism, and between being a denomination and Christians only. Walking a tight rope is not the same as "walking the fence" or, to use a long gone political epithet, being a "mugwump."

Those of us on the tightrope try to maintain a balance. While holding onto Restoration values, we try very hard to accept people and question theology. It is difficult to express brotherhood without seemingly rejecting those with whome we differ on one hand or being seen as compromisers on the other. No matter what you do, someone will question your motives and your commitment to Christ. It is much easier to choose up sides. What is often misunderstood is the fact that one can, on the basis of one's own study, take a position and hold it with conviction without condemning or rejecting those who differ.

I have a strong conviction about what the Bible teaches regarding Christ's return. I teach it without compunction or regret, but I still believe those who accept other views love the Lord and are brothers or sisters in Christ. I admit to being impatient on occasion with those who hold a differing position as if it were the only way to understand the biblical data. I also admit to getting a bit feisty when brotherhood publications present a one-sided view without balancing it with alternatives. The Christian Standard, for example, published "Why I Am a Premillennial" by my brother David Reagan. The author of a companion article in the Standard spoke of how eschatological views affect foreign policy and how the USA is seen by others. The author wrote from an amillennial perspective, that was clear, but it was not a "Why I Am an Amillennial" presentation. Not long ago, David Reagan spoke at the NACC but there was no presentation that presented the amillennial, postmillennial, or the various dispensational views.

I also hold strong convictions about the doctrine of inerrancy. Yet when I express the belief that Scripture is inerrant, the hackles go up. When the controversy was smoldering in the late 1970s and the 1980s, a mention of inerrancy or a challenge of those who rejected it was tantamount to excommunication. Of course there were those on both sides of the issue ready to excommunicate the other. Dr. Jack Cottrell, who in my mind, presented strong convincing arguments for the doctrine was villified as one who wanted to divide the brotherhood and a (shudder) Calvinist. I strongly disagree with my brothers and sisters who take a different view of inerrancy. In my opinion, I think their view of Scripture and biblical authority is weak and anemic. but they are still fellow Christians and I can fellowship with them, work with them, and, with good nature, argue with them.

I hold strong convictions about the purpose and nature of baptism. I believe the Bible teaches "baptism for (the purpose) of the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). I won't teach or preach anything else. I'm a bit perplexed by brothers who have weakened, at least in print and sermon, weakened that view. I'm not always sure how much their view has actually changed and how much is marketing spin. On this issue, even Alexander Campbell found it difficult to "walk the tightrope." I don't think anyone would argue that Campbell did not believe baptism was immersion in water for the remission of sins. At the same time, he would not make it absolutely essential for salvation. You see, Campbell taught that it was his opinion that God would save those of genuine faith who obeyed to the extent of their understanding. In illustration and written word, he taught that God held people accountable for what they knew and comprehended. On the one hand, it is dangerous to water down the purpose of immersion for marketing. On the other hand, it is equally dangerous to be condemning and unkind to those who don't understand the biblical teaching. It is a tightrope one must walk, however, to be faithful to the Word of God and Restoration values.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that loving the brotherhood is often misunderstood for condoning error or becoming a narrow exclusivist. I don't want to be identified as either. You see, I am not the only Christian but I do want to be a Christian only.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Shoving it under the rug!

Perhaps it's because the Restoration Movement talks about Christian unity! Maybe there are other subtle forces at work. I'm never sure, but when issues of concern arise one of two things often happens. Voices become shrill and antagonistic or the whole issue gets shoved under the rug and ignored. Let me explain.

One illustration of what I'm talking about occurred about 20 years ago when Harold Lindsell wrote Battle for the Bible. Not long after the book appeared, Christianity Today published articles relating to biblical inerrancy and the evangelical world was caught up in turmoil. Dr. Jack Cottrell wrote a little book on biblical authority and inerrancy not long after. The Christian Standard published excerpts from it. These articles resulted in loud and often unkind diatribes as well as equally shrill defenses. I know because I wrote some of those defenses. Letters accused Dr. Cottrell of introducing a "new doctrine," seeking to "divide the brotherhood," and being an "evangelical." During a "debate" at the North American Christian Convention, Myron Taylor called Cottrell a Calvinist and suggested you could expect nothing less from a man who was educated at Princeton Theological Seminary. The interchanges lasted a couple of years then more or less petered out.

At the same time, concerns arose over the denial of inerrancy at one of our three seminaries. Dr. Joe Carson Smith and a group of concerned individuals documented the school's denial of inerrancy and sent that documentation to each congregation in the Restoration Movement. I still have my copy of that information in my files. What the documentation reveals is a consistent effort on the part of the seminary to sweep the whole issue under the rug. The school's reaction ranged from, "How could you possibly suspect us of being unfaithful to the Word?" to "The Restoration Movement doesn't get involved in such theological hairsplitting." Interestly enough, however, the school's president used language more consistent with evangelicalism than did those who questioned the school's stand. The tactics employed were designed to leave the impression that the charges were essentially the result of a "war of words" between sister schools in the Restoration Movement. With that said, the issue of inerrancy was successfully swept under the rug and the whole thing died out.

In the days, months, and years since, any discussion of inerrancy evokes memories of the shrill accusations and the issue is once again ignored leaving only suspicion and distrust in the wake.

A glance at our history reveals this same thing has happened numerous times. In the 1800s when Liberalism began creeping into movement schools individuals began recognizing that professors at the historic College of the Bible in Kentucky were advocating the Liberal line. When challenged, the school utilized the same tactics employed more recently and the issue of Liberalism was ignored. College of the Bible eventually was lost to Liberalism.

In the 1920s and 30s, the issue of Open Membership arose as a challenge to the brotherhood. Concerned voices became shrill and tension increased. Brotherhood officials, in an attempt to sweep the issue under the rug, assured the more conservative voices that Open Membership would not be practiced but congregations and missions continued to receive the "pious unimmersed" into membership. The lack of concerted and honest discussion led to separation and the fracture became more or less permanent when the Disciples formalized themselves into a denomination in the 1960s.

About 20 years ago, David Filbeck and John Greenlee were warning us that the twin issues of evangelical creep and questions of the purpose of baptism would arise. The Christian Standard printed their articles and shrill voices responded. Eventually, however, the whole issue was swept under the rug. We are reaping the result of that today. Congregations are now identifying themselves with the evangelical mainstream and baptism has been separated from remission of sins and is now seen in many places as "the first step of obedience after salvation."

The way we resolve tensions in the Restoration Movement is hampered by our lack of connections. We have no structure in which to discuss and resolve issues that create tension. Our educational institutions tend to increase the tensions because they take one position or another and positions become hardened and motives questioned. The Christian Standard was once an "open forum" for discussion on troubling issues but it has become a "leadership journal" with few, if any, articles discussing biblical doctrine or truth. There is no place to discuss such issues and even if we had one, our congregations remain fully independent with the ability to choose whatever path they wish.

Because of this, some have argued that the North American Christian Convention should become a delegate convention where we can discuss such issues. Most of us, I hope, realize that in this case the cure would be worse than the disease. While our independent nature creates numerous problems for us, it has also resulted in tremendous freedom and multiple blessings. Perhaps the best that we can do is to recognize the flaws in the "system" and work with it. In doing so, we must recognize that we will "lose" some to theologically and biblically indefensible systems and practices. In other words, let's love one another and live with it.

It has ever been so in the Restoration Movement. We lost Dr. John Thomas who later formed the Christadelphians. We lost Sidney Rigdon who was crucial to the formation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We lost the College of the Bible and other schools to Liberalism. We lost churches in Washington and California, among others, to evangelicalism. We are going to win some and lose some. I hate it, but I'm not sure there is any way out of the predicament. We can, however, learn to love one another and when the opportunity arises, discuss issues openly and honestly with civility. Perhaps avoiding the shrill accusations will result in more open discussion. Then again, maybe not!

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Generations are different!

Generations are at it again!

Generational issues always seem to cause tension. Paul alludes to such tension when he told Timothy and Titus to respect those who are older. The Apostle also told Timothy not to permit others to “disrespect” his youth. I don’t remember exactly who it was, but I seem to remember it was Clement of Alexandria who counseled the young lions of that day to respect those who were older.

It is no different today. There is growing tension between generational groups in the church. The “music wars” are symptomatic of the tension but it can be observed in many other ways as well. In fact, the “music wars” serve as the tip of the ice berg.

One example of the tension in addition to the “music wars” is the chronological snobbery of the younger generations. In some growing congregations it is a given that no one over 40 will speak from the pulpit/platform. Since the church’s “target group” is the younger generation (Boomers mostly), it is assumed that an older fellow won’t communicate in a way that meets the needs of the younger generation. In addition, the preaching style the older preacher brings might well to too linear for the postmodern crowd. A young man in the Canton Church summed it up beautifully. In a conversation with me about the possibility of an older teacher leading a young marrieds’ class, he said, “What could possibly have to say to us?”

A similar example is the hiring practices of most intergenerational churches these days. Go to
www.christianchurchtoday.com and take a gander at the posted ads for ministerial candidates. Most churches seek a younger man and make no bones about it. Frankly, I’m waiting for the day when a candidate is rejected because of age and a church is taken to court for age discrimination. I know of churches that fired their preacher because he was “too old” or “they felt they needed a younger man in the pulpit.” George Barna, in his book Turn Around Churches, advises plateaued or stagnant churches to hire a younger minister. With few exceptions, one being Ben Merold, older fellows are rejected out of hand.

Congregations make assumptions based on age. It is assumed that an older preacher is of “the old school” or “thinks old.” That is not necessarily the case! There are older men who understand the generational differences, the postmodern scene, and the importance of creating relationships. At the same time, there are younger men who think old and who are unable to adjust themselves to the culture around them.

Many in the “older” generation have tremendous experience with and understand church growth principles. Furthermore, they possess a mature understanding of church interaction, relationships, and administrative details. Having seen the mistakes of the past they have much to offer those who need to avoid the mistakes of the future. There is wisdom in gray hair that is rare in younger leadership. Congregations deny themselves access to fantastic resources when they assume older leaders have nothing to offer.

On the other side of the coin, older leaders need input from younger generations. Mature leaders need to develop relationships with younger men and disciple them. If those of us with gray hair do not take the time “wade through” the loud music, clothing styles, and sometimes goofy attitude, you can expect them to reject you. Every generation needs to go “cross cultural” and recognize what the other can contribute. God makes us different on purpose. Whether we talk about individuals, a nation, or a generation, God has his reasons for the uniqueness of each. We must learn not to compromise our convictions, dumb down our beliefs, but accept each other in spite of our differences. It is only when we can learn from each other, respect each other, and work together that we will really make a difference.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

How stuff happens!

Some people have the idea that Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy were thought up by a bunch of guys in a back room smoking stogies and drinking booze. Well, er, some of those guys did take a sip or two, I'm sure. After all, Paul told Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach's sake.

At any rate, we want to see changes in the church -- particularly changes we don't like -- resulting from the evil desire to distort the church. Now I will be the first to admit that Satan is a deceiver, and he often deceives good people and the results are catastrophic. But I submit you that those who instigate change, even hurtful change, don't always do so because of bad motives.

Let's think about this for a moment!

It is clear from the New Testament text that elders led the early church, particularly after it moved out into the wider Roman Empire. Paul told Timothy and Titus to "ordain elders in every city." Church historians almost universally acknowledge two classes of leadership in the early church:
    1. Apostles, Prophets, and Teachers.
    2. Bishops, Elders, and Deacons

Consider the second group, the leaders established in the local congregation. I believe Scripture tells us the Bishop and the Elder were synonymous and each congregation had more than one. By the end of the first century, there was a move to elevate one of the Elders to the position of Bishop. We see this in a few of the letters Ignatius of Antioch wrote while on his way to Rome to die a martyr's death. The elevation of one individual puzzles historians because Ignatius was from the Antioch church and undoubtedly knew Paul. Why would he counsel elevating one individual and use the term Bishop to designate him? Ignatius made the suggestion to meet a need. Persecution and the proliferation of false doctrine made strong and decisive leadership essential in a congregation. When persecution comes, a church can't afford to take the time to defer to a college of Elders to determine what to do. Leadership invested in one individual is far more efficient. I don't think Ignatius realized his suggestion would eventually result in the full-blown hierarchy of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches! The suggestion carried with it "unforeseen consequences" he could not identify from his vantage point in history.

Another example can be seen in the development of Creeds. The earliest church required a simple statement of belief, "I believe that Jesus is the Son of God." Before long, the statement enlarged to profess belief not only in Jesus, but in God the Father and the Holy Spirit as well. Through the centuries successive Creeds expanded on the original simple statement of belief. Why? In each case, an expanded Creed was written to deal with rising false doctrine challenging the church. Credalism led to sectarianism and division down the road. What was intended as unifying became devisive. Division was an "unintended consequence" of creedalism, but the Creeds were written with the best of intentions.

I bring all of this to your attention to remind you that some of the changes I've bewailed in this blog do not always arise from the hearts of evil men determined to subvert the brotherhood. Some of those receiving the harshest criticism as "abandoning the faith" or "denying the validity of the Restoration Movement" seriously and conscientiously believe they are doing the right thing. They accept the Great Commission and honestly desire to win men and women to Jesus Christ. While I sometimes disagree with the results -- maybe because of my interest in history I can see the potential for "unintended consequences" -- and their thinking, I do not want to disparage their motives or intent. I can't see into the heart, but I personally know many of those I criticize and know them to be men who love God, love the brotherhood, and love me.

I constantly try to remind myself of what I have just written. I call upon all my brothers in Christ to constantly submit their teaching, methodology, and motivation to the Word of God. I have to ask myself if I want to glorify self or Jesus. Perhaps we all need to ask ourselves that and try to be a little more honest than we've been.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Transformed or Conformed?

Visit Saddleback, North Coast, Willow Creek, Maryland Community, any Vineyard Community Church, or any other of hundreds of evangelical churches and you discover remarkable conformity in worship style and methodology. When my wife and I attended a Presbyterian Church in Franklin, KY, without our daughter and son-in-law, I was struck by the fact that the service was virtually identical to any of a thousand other contemporary services. Oh, I forgot, we did recite the Apostle's Creed in that service. You'll find the same kind of conformity in nearly all Christian Churches and Churches of Christ; especially in our mega-churches.

Pick up brochures from each of these congregations and you will find conformity in programming, statements of belief, organizational structure and the like. In the statements of belief you'll find basic statements about the Trinity, Deity of Christ, Virgin Birth, and the Holy Spirit. Statements on how one is saved are also similar with an emphasis on faith, repentance, confession (sometimes put as a "sinner's prayer"), and baptism. With few exceptions, statements about baptism are nebulous at best. In non Restoration Movement congregations, statements about baptism are phrased as "a symbolic act which testifies to what the Holy Spirit has done." These congregations, as does Saddleback for example, link baptism to membership in a local congregation. Statements found in Restoration Movement Congregations are also nebulous presenting baptism was a "symbol of what the Holy Spirit accomplishes." In some cases, baptism is seen as part of "a process" that brings one into fellowship with Christ and the church. I didn't surf the net as widely as I'd have liked, but I found only one mega-church with a statement that is even close to the biblical view that baptism is the "time" when one is regenerated and brought from Satan's kingdom into "the kingdom of His Dear Son."

Two things need to be said here. (1) Many evangelicals understand perfectly the mode and purpose of baptism. George Beasley Murray's magnificant study on baptism made that quite clear. More and more evangelicals, when doing theological writing -- which is rare! -- sound increasingly like Restorationists. To say from the pulpit or to put in writing in their congregation what they have come to believe would put them in a difficult position with their members who are so steeped in evangelical traditions they would react negatively. (2) Restorationists, once convinced that baptism was the point where one met the blood of Christ, now flee from that position. Alexander Campbell stubbornly held to the believe that regeneration occurred at baptism although he did not believe in baptismal regeneration (see essays in the 1833 Millennial Harbinger). Campbell believed the Holy Spirit (God) did the regenerating, not the water.

To make baptism seem more palatable, our preachers have put baptism into the midst of a process. In the new view, no part of the process should be distinguished from the other. An analogy is made to marriage. When is a person married? At the engagement? At the conclusion of the vows? When the proclamation is made? When the documents are signed? When the relationship is consummated on the marriage bed? We don't know, we're told, but we all rejoice. This is a kind of "spiritual agnosticism." It suggests we don't know when salvation occurs -- at the moment of faith, the moment of reprentance, the moment of confess, the moment of baptism? Since we can't know, we should just rejoice that we have a new member in the family of God.

This is just drivel! It is an attempt to soften the historic Restoration Position in such a way as to make it palatable. It is conformity to the evangelical world so we don't seem "out of it" or "strange" or "wierd" or a "cult." If I remember correctly, Peter did say, "Repent and be immersed every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Paul did write, "You were buried with Christ by baptism and raised with him to walk in newness of life" (see Romans 6). Readers should also study carefully Colossians 2:12-13. It doesn't take a genius to see that baptism is the point when all the blessings promised through faith in Christ are bestowed upon a penetent believer. Again, the water doesn't wash you clean, the Holy Spirit does, but regeneration occurs at the time of one's baptism into Christ.

Too many just want to be accepted. They want to be like everyone else. There is a kind of religious conformity at work that results in a dulling of sensibilities. The result is a dumbing down that denies the authority of Scripture, the real work of the Holy Spirit, and the importance of discipleship. Paul said we should be transformed by the renewing of our mind -- our mind -- not just the conformity to current religious trends that excite the emotions and senses of those around us.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

The caption says it all!

The search for respect

I get those e-mails suggesting I'm old because I can remember Blackjack gum, Studebaker cars, and nickle ice cream cones. Okay, so I'm a dinosaur. Just because I was born during World War II doesn't mean I have Alzheimer's disease and am "out of it." There was a day when wrinkles and gray hair earned you some respect. It still does in some quarters of the globe. Now those of us "older than dirt" are much like Rodney Dangerfield: "we don't get no respect."

Speaking of respect! I rejoice that the Restoration Movement is gaining in respect in the broader religious world. I'm tickled pink that we have so many congregations numbering over 1,000 in worship with more joining the group every year. I am excited by the number of baptisms being reported. The emphasis on reaching the lost rather than enticing Baptists away excites me, too. (We have enough trouble with new Christians and their strange ideas let alone trying to deal with Baptist theology. We've already got enough of that!) It is good to be recognized as the second fastest growing "denomination" in America. It is encouraging that most groups no longer label us a cult like they used to, although I bet there are a few judgments like that under their breath.

David F. Wells, in his book Whatever Happened to Truth?, suggests evangelicals have given up theology in favor of popularity. He argues that when public admiration for the "clergy" declined, ministers began searching for ways they could regain lost respect. Since religious leaders no longer had a corner on theology (every man has his own theology), let alone a corner on the truth, they sought respect through professionalism. That search for professionalism in the ministry meant that churchmen had to become specialists in areas other than theology. So they became "church growth specialists," "counseling specialists," or "administrative specialists."

Some of that is probably true. At the same time, I think I know the hearts of some of our mega-church leaders. They are concerned with relating men and women to Jesus. Sometimes I think their methodology and theology are a bit suspect, but I think they mean to do the right thing. They are on a mission -- a mission believed to be God-given. It is a mission drawn from the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20. Sadly, however, there has been tremendous emphasis on the first part of that mission and little on the last. Too many are content to baptize (for whatever reason), but few are focused on discipling the new Christian to obey all that Jesus commanded them. As a result, they have bought into Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs thinking they first need to meet their social and relational needs when the real problems lie far deeper into their very belief system and worldview. New Christians need to do more than fast for a "spiritual high," they need to believe the tenets of the "faith once and for all delivered to the saints."

In my opinion, genuine respect doesn't come through conformity or compromise. It doesn't come because we're the best at preaching "relevant," which is usually interpreted as some form of self-help methodology. Real respect comes when you are able to show that what Christ did is more than "relevant", it is "eternal." It does intersect with contemporary life but it has eternal significance.

Oh, real respect may never come this side of heaven. But Jesus said, "Beware when all men speak well of you." I guess I'm more concerned about hearing, "Well, done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord." How about you?

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

'Nuf said!

On the ministry

We have long struggled with the role of ministry in the Restoration Movement. For years, we treated the paid ministry as a "hireling," something Alexander Campbell despised. More recently, however, the ministry has been elevated to a position of prominence and they are seen as "the leaders" of congregations. In our larger churches, the role of the elder has declined to the point where they "make five percent of the decisions" -- the really important ones -- and leave the daily running of the church, including operational decisions, to the paid ministry. In one sense that reminds me of what Ralph Johnson, one of my professors at Nebraska Christian College, used to say. He said he made the really big decisions in his family but his wife made the rest. So, as he put it, "I decided whether or not to permit Red China into the United Nations or the wisdom of blockading Cuba but she makes all the rest!"

Something is wrong with those pictures! On one hand, the hireling minister, like a hireling shepherd, has no stake in the flock and disappears at the first sign of danger. On the other hand, the managers -- that's what they are -- act like CEOs, CFOs, and COOs without regard the biblical function or accountability.

Let's face it, about the only thing the "minister" has that marks him as different from the rest of the congregation is his education. Even that makes little difference today! In the 1800s, the colleges and universities our movement supported reflected Alexander Campbell's educational concept that all education should center on a sound biblical education. Therefore, the Bible was the major locus of truth and all the disciplines bowed before it. As Classical Liberal education filtered into the United States in the late 1800s, that changed because, in the mind of the liberal, the Bible could no longer be trusted. Bible Colleges and Schools of Preaching rose up to continue the emphasis on the importance of biblical truth. From 1895 through the early 1970s most of our Bible Colleges required a major in Bible combined with sufficient liberal arts to give the student a solid foundation in writing, speaking, and understanding. Since the 1970s an increasing number of our Bible Colleges, now often referred to as Christian Colleges, elevated liberal arts requirements and correspondingly reduced the emphasis on sound biblical teaching. Today, several of our colleges have become universities. A student can enroll in one of these schools, get a smattering of Bible, and graduate with a degree in business, education, or counseling. Biblical truth is seen as only one of many different sources of truth and sound doctrine has been moved far to the periphery.

Those studying for ministry in our colleges no longer need a strong biblical foundation for graduation. They learn to become managers/leaders. Read that as knowing how to start churches and appeal to the masses so they can build a big church. In my view, biblical truth is taking the rear seat on the bus and is no longer a point of emphasis. Oh, there are a few exceptions. Boise Bible College claims to be a "Classical Bible College" devoted to preacher training. Cincinnati Bible College and Seminary, a school once noted for its sound doctrine and conservative stance, now graduates students who are as much at home in Young Life as they are in a Christian Church or Church of Christ. That's probably a bit unfair, but it might be a worthy experiment to ask all the graduates of our Bible Colleges to explain their understanding of how a person becomes a Christian!

Maybe its time we began looking at the Scripture again to define the role of the minister and the elders. In a strange twist of fate, it was Bob Smith, a Baptist (shudder), who helped me see that one way to look at biblical ministry is to see the eldership and paid ministry as a team. Each elder should function in some phase of ministry, an area which best suits that individuals ability. Those who labor full time in their ministry should be supported so they can do their work (Paul dealt with this in one of his letters to Timothy). The others should do their ministry until such time as it demands their full attention then they too should join the ranks of the financially supported. In my view, these men should arise from within the congregation. One role of the minister/elder is that he "be apt to teach." Wouldn't it make sense that one role for the "paid guy" should be the training and educating of the men of the church so they could develop ministry? (I think Paul told Timothy that what he learned he should commit to others so they could, in turn, pass it on to others.)

Now in one sense, we've done this, but we've done it with paid staff. Let's face it, in most mega-churches, the ministerial staff performs the function of elders (without the ability to refute the gainsayers) and the elders perform the task once relegated to deacons. I'm a big fan of multiple ministries and ministerial teams, but let's recognize that in the New Testament Church the leaders, for the most part, came from within the local body. There were exceptions, to be sure, but the exception proves the rule.

Think about it!

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

That's the only "rift" I want to see!

Changes in the Restoration Movement

Many of us in the "older guard" and some in the "not so old guard" are concerned with the changes occurring in the Restoration Movement. I've been watching things for a long time now. As a "sort of" faux historian, I've found it an interesting exercise to think about what's happening.

We're concerned because the place of baptism in the "plan of salvation" seems to be shifting away from "baptism for the remission of sins" to "baptism because of the remission of sins". Some say it really doesn't make any difference as long as the believer is immersed! Carl Ketcherside used to say, "God knows what baptism is for whether anyone else does or not!" It does make a difference. One is "sound doctrine" and the other "is not sound doctrine." I think it would be an interesting study to surf through some of our mega-church web sites to see what they actually say about baptism and the "plan of salvation." Hmmmmm! Maybe I'll do that!

We concerned about changes in leadership emphasis. This shift reflects what is going on in the evangelical world per se. Historian David F. Wells says that theology has been pushed to the periphery in evangelical churches and replaced with management. Ministers who used to be biblically literate and theologically sound are now trained to be managers. A lot of ministers in our mega-churches, with few exceptions, couldn't consistently preach biblical sermons if they didn't borrow (I won't use plagiarize because I do it too) sermons from others. Most ministers today are equivalent to CEOs rather than biblically centered with the intent to faithfully teach the Word of God in all its fullness. Let me say it: those who preach Baptist sermons without discerning the theological and philosophical differences will eventually be Baptists. (That's not an indictment of Baptists; they are brothers with whom I differ on some really important issues. I'm still mad about how the Redstone Baptist Association treated Alexander Campbell :0).

The whole shift to a leadership/management emphasis started back in the 1970s when The Christian Standard took a whole year to emphasize the importance of leadership in the local church. Some of our brotherhood biggies decided our churches weren't going anywhere because we lacked leadership in the pulpit and in the "board meetings." Then in the early 1980s, if I remember right, a self-appointed ad hoc committee called for a meeting in St. Louis to see what could be done to get the Restoration Movement "on track." I noticed that of those invited, by far the majority represented the left side of the brotherhood -- what C.J. Dull called the "Old Conservative Disciples." I was a bit ruffled by this, but the meeting eventually resulted in the "Open Forum," which really wasn't open because it was "by invitation only."

During the 1970s and 1980s there were also a few on the fringe who called for the North American Christian Convention to become a delegate convention. I have a copy of an anonymous letter calling for that very thing. The letter even went so far to suggest that Leonard Wymore become the first president due to his wide acceptance in the brotherhood.

Today there are troubling signs that the North American Christian Convention is changing its purpose to appeal to and meet the needs of the "professional clergy." In my view, the convention has always been run by an oligarchy but the "select committee" or the "Board of Stewards" has gotten even more select and few, if any, represent the perspective of the smaller more conservative congregations that make up the lion's share of the brotherhood. The convention is rapidly becoming the convention of the mega-church leaders. Each year these leaders become increasingly unresponsive to those who raise uncomfortable questions. In other words, the leadership is quickly becoming a leadership bent on being served rather than serving a constituency. Maybe that's unfair! More accurate is the charge that convention leadership is more concerned with serving a limited contituency -- the mega-church leadership -- rather than the broad constituency that traditionally supported and attended the convention.

That sort of unresponsiveness does not reflect genuine leadership! It is not even good management. If it were a lone voice or two crying out in the wilderness it would be one thing not to respond, but the voices are growing in number and I believe they will be growing in volume sooner than anyone would like.

Quite a few are disturbed about the inclusion of denominational preachers and leaders in camps and conventions. Frankly, I think it is dangerous to present denominational (read "faith only") speakers pulpit-time in venues where evangelism is expected to take place. Christian Service Camps where it is hoped young people will make decisions do not need the confusion created by a denominational speaker who calls on them to utter a prayer or raise a hand. Not only is this not biblical, it is reprehensible.

At the same time, I am not too worried about the number of speakers in a convention or seminar setting. Dr. Tom Sharp is a Creationist who stands for biblical truth. He knows the Restoration Movement but is not one "of us." We invited him to Canton for a Creation Seminar. It was not an evangelistic affair and we extended no invitations. Tom stuck to the subject and did a wonderful job. I'd have him back; well, I'd like to invite him to Arizona some time! It was a bit unnerving to hear the preacher from the Mosaic Church in California give a "faith only" invitation at last summer's North American, but I wrote that off because I expected it. Probably most of those who attended the convention did exactly what I did. Of course, those who don't know the difference still don't know the difference but I doubt one sermon did much either way. I've enjoyed Promise Keepers, the National Pastor's Conference, and I read lots of books by denominational guys. I filter out the good from the bad because I know what I believe and why! Heaven help those who don't!!!!

There is a growing concern for where the Movement is headed. I haven't even talked about "corporate sponsorships" at the North American, the dangers of such financial ties and the fact that those who provide the money determine the direction, or other issues rising up among us. I do, however, listen. There is a rising tide of reaction and opposition to what is going on. Brotherhood leaders need to listen and respond before there is another rift. I, for one, do not plan on "rifting." I love people on "both sides of the potential fissure." At the same time, those who raise questions will be considered "stuck in the old ways" and their questions written off as the ravings of a radical "right wing." That kind of treatment will only serve to widen any fissure. And when rifts occur, too many fall into the ditch and are lost. Hows that for mixing all kinds of metaphors???

Monday, August 23, 2004

Jesus teaching and preaching