Wednesday, December 14, 2005
For the past five or six years--maybe longer--I spent a lot of time complaining about what I identified as the "Platte River Syndrome" in our mega-churches. I even wrote an article for The Christian Standard by that name. The gist of the article was that although our mega-churches were successfully reaching thousands, they were doing little to disciple them. Thus, like Nebraska's Platte River they were often "a mile wide and an inch deep."
This past year, I wrote a second article for The Christian Standard but Editor Mark Taylor rejected it. He had some legitimate criticisms about the article as well as some I thought weren't quite so accurate. The second article's thesis was that although it is difficult for mega-churches to successfully disciple the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of new converts each year they could assure a continuity of sound doctrine through leadership training. While it was not his only criticism, Mark pointed out that leadership in smaller congregations did not always understand biblical doctrine either. He did not see that my suggestions were the best way to accomplish doctrinal and biblical soundness. I disagree not because my methods were the best, but because they were something congregations could actually do.
In our American churches, we often trust the "democratic process" to select good leaders for the local church. Therefore, we often select men with some of the biblical qualities Paul describes in his pastoral epistles along with good business sense. Because the congregation "votes" on these men leadership selection often becomes a popularity contest. In spite of the potential dangers, Earl Heald, one of my mentors over the years, used to teach that "election" was the appropriate method of leadership selection because he understood the"laying on of hands" to be "a show of hands."
There is probably no "foolproof" way of selecting leaders in the local church. Elections can become popularity contests. Evangelist appointments can "pack the group" with those loyal to the evangelist. Self-perpetuating "boards"can become collections of "good ol' boys who won't rock the boat." Most of us, therefore, have decided to get by the best we can and hope for the best.
I think there is another way. (1) Take the biblical leadership qualities Paul describes seriously. (2) Provide biblical, theological, and practical training for potential leaders. (3) Evaluate leaders carefully on a regular basis holding them accountable to biblical precepts. (4) Create an atmosphere of mutual accountability and discipline among the leadership itself.
Something I'm seeing in at least some of our mega-churches is that they take the biblical qualities for leadership seriously. They avoid votes and appoint those who demonstrate servant spirits, take the function of leadership seriously, and are willing to grow spiritually.
There is more that can be done! While many within our mega-churches will not immediately take advantage of practical and "academic" spiritual growth opportunities, some will! As they study and grow they create a leadership core that can hold a congregation together and do more to assure sound doctrine. Leaders of Bible classes, Bible studies, small groups, and those who "desire to become an elder" are all targets for such training and study. Now I have an opportunity to do more than stand on the outside and complain. God is giving me an opportunity to put my "money where my mouth is."
I'm under no illusion! You don't turn ships of the line as tightly as a speedboat. You don't accomplish discipleship overnight either. I learned in my years in the classroom that many students can take your classes but only a few really make their mark in Kingdom work. I've always been grateful for the ONE student who profits from what I had to teach them and went out into the field and reaped a harvest. Over the years the few I helped train are influencing a whole new generation of young men and women who in turn will influence others. That's the kind of legacy I want to leave. I also know than on this side of heaven I'll never know exactly how many profited from my meager influence ... but God does and that's what's important!
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Christian Americans fight this battle every year. Most of us get a bit weary of the over-emphasis on acquisition and year-end parties. It seems the battle starts earlier every year. Here in Phoenix, some stores were putting up displays in late September or early October although holiday marketing didn't start in earnest until Hallowe'en candy went on sale.
My Rotary Club in Canton, Ohio, usually volunteered to help ring bells for the Salvation Army during the Christmas season. Although I've never been a fan of some SA theology, I do appreciate their emphasis on community service and meeting needs. So, I would stand outside K-Mart with some of my Rotarian friends--in the cold, I might add--to ring the bells. Then the news came down that Target would no longer permit volunteers to man the kettles outside their store. The next year it was K-Mart so we moved to another location.
As we rang the bells, we were increasingly encouraged to wish those who threw their contribution into the kettle "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." I refused to do it! It wasn't that I was opposed to "HH," it was simply that I felt too many ignored the "reason for the season." You know what? Most of those passing by responded in kind.
Every year Christmas gets replaced with other things. Thank goodness for Dennis Hastert who put a stop to the foolishness of referring to the lighted tree at the capitol as the "Holiday Tree." It's back to being a Christmas tree! I still hear references to the tree at Rockefeller Plaza as a Christmas tree.
I know the battle for Christmas is underway because of our "national" political correctness craze, but that isn't all of it. It is true that the ACLU, our Public Schools, local governments, and others all avoid references to Christianity.
But ... let's put the blame where it belongs. The major cause of all this erosion of biblical values rests at the feet of Christians who succumb to all the PC "crap." (Can I say that in this blog? Well, its my blog so I guess I can say what I want!) Every year we hear about a few who stand up for Christmas and when they do they get results. For example, a Home Owners' Association in the Detroit suburbs were going to fine a family who placed a Nativity Scene in their yard. The home owners refused and there was such a swell of support that the HOA backed off. (See http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051130/
LIFESTYLE04/511300434) So speak up!
Christians also let themselves get caught up in the whole holiday atmosphere. I think it is great for families to get together during this season. I'm not against giving gifts. Is it necessary, though, to go into debt to the extent that purchases made in 2005 may not be paid off until 2007 or later?
I enjoy the lights, the decorations, the gift giving, and everything that goes with it, but that's not what it is all about. It's about a baby born in an inconvenient place and placed in a manger--a baby who grew up to be God's promised Messiah! You know what? We really don't know when he was born! We don't know the year! We don't know the month! We don't know the day! In fact, all of that really isn't important. The importance fact is that he was born, lived, died, was buried, and was resurrected and now lives to intercede for us.
The important thing is that regardless of how our culture goes, YOU keep Christ in YOUR Christmas! That will go a long way in winning the "battle for Christmas."
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
God led us to Mankato, Kansas, where we fell in love with the people and they loved us in return. We made lifelong friends, some of whom are now with the Lord, during our three years in north central Kansas. After the first year, the Mankato church gladly shared me with the church in Superior, Nebraska, and I preached for both congregations every week. Mankato was, and still is, a very small county seat town but it was home to many wonderful people. The Catholic priest in Mankato became my best friend and we had some great times together bowling in league, buying cars, and sitting at Boogart's grocery drinking coffee and talking theology.
Over the years, I've had some interesting and challenging ministries. A year with Manhattan Christian College prepared me in many ways for teaching. Three and a half years in Great Bend, Kansas, beginning immediately after that church experienced a terrible three-way split. Working with that congregation challenged me beyond measure as I tried to apply God's Word in ways that would heal. God blessed the efforts with nearly 90 additions and the return of many who split off from the church. In time, however, the stress got to me and I had serious allergic reactions which the stress enhanced.
Earl Heal from the Orchard Mesa Christian Church in Grand Junction came to interview us for a ministry with them. We moved to Colorado in 1973 and remained their until 1985. After a few months on Orchard Mesa, Earl, who was Intermountain Bible College's Academic Dean, began moving me into the college. I taught Church History and other classes at IBC through its best years and some of its worst and stuck with it until the college closed in 1985.
With the help of Dr. James North, I was called to Westwood-Cheviot Church of Christ where I worked with Brad Walden and Fred Speckert. The church reached its highest attendance points (about 600) during Brad's ministry. But Delores (my wife) and I missed the west and I missed teaching, so after our son graduated from high school we accepted an invitation from First Church of Christ in Boise to follow Kenneth Beckman's 37 year ministry. I was also asked to teach the history classes at Boise Bible College.
After eight years in the church and the classroom, God fulfilled one of my lifelong ambitions -- to be minister with First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio. When I graduated from college back in the "stone age," Canton was the largest Christian Church in the world with a Bible School of more than 1,000. I always joked about being the minister there, but God let me become a minister there. During my time in Canton, Dr. North also gave me opportunity to teach graduate history classes in the graduate school of Cincinnati Christian University. Once the school called Dr. Cherok, they no longer needed me but kept me in their adjunct professor list for some time.
I arrived in Canton just as that great church was beginning its turnaround. During my nine years in Canton, attendances went from just over 800 to more than 2,200. It was exciting to be part of that church's turnaround, but everyone on staff at that time acknowledges it was God who did it. In fact, none of us had ever served in a congregation of more than 300 (or so) until that time, so it certainly wasn't because of our tremendous expertise.
As I neared my 60s, I began to think I should be "put out to pastor" (pasture). So many churches were calling younger men, I thought others might consider my useful days limited. It was a depressing thought, but one many my age wrestle with. I began to think I should consider other opportunities if they came along and one did from First Christian Church in Sun City. After jumping through all the hoops, I began a ministry with them in February 2003. I immediately discovered that working in a one-generational (senior) church was both draining and fulfilling. It was fulfilling because we fell in love with the people. It was draining because it hurts to watch people you've come to love and appreciate succumb to God's specific punishment for sin--death!
It was also draining because, as one might expect, so many were locked into mid-twentieth century thinking. The church's organizational structure is overly complicated requiring a law degree to understand it and fulfill every jot and tittle. Unfortunate events that transpired over a decade ago left indelible marks on the congregation creating an atmosphere of distruct and suspicion. One individual who had been a leader has an overbearing and bullying personality and is suspicious of anyone who thinks differently than he does. The stress and pressure of dealing with his outbursts, inappropriate congregational involvement in leadership issues, and other stressors were beginning to get to me.
Then, out of the blue, I received a phone call from Christ's Church of the Valley asking if I would be interested in a position with them. You could have knocked me over with a feather! CCV is a true mega-church with attendances of over 10,000 each weekend. They wanted me to work with their Senior Adult Ministry, their Christian Life Institute (or Training U), and lead Class 300, their session promoting service and involvement. After visiting with friends and others, I decided not to take the position. A week later, a "explosion" occurred at First Christian because the individual mentioned in the previous paragraph was not asked to serve in leadership in 2006. Charges were made against the present elders, accusations leveled against them, and my stress increased. I began to wonder if God was trying to tell me something. I e-mailed friends, including some at CCV, asking them to pray for me. CCV then came back and asked me to reconsider their invitation. After attending their Class 100, we determined that we might have something to offer them and we (Delores and I) accepted. I will begin a ministry with CCV January 1.
It was not an easy decision, believe me! We wrestled long and hard with the possibilities. If I felt too old for a congregation of 2,200, would I fit into a congregation of 10,000? Well, I decided that only God knows for sure! You can put out all the fleeces in the world, but you have to make decisions based on those and many other factors. In short, you consider all the options, look for the pros and cons, then step out on faith! Just as God didn't part the water of the Jordan River until the Hebrew priests stepped into the river, God won't bless until a believer puts his trust in God and steps out.
Alexander Campbell, one of the early leaders in the Restoration Movement, looked through the lenses of early American culture and viewed leadership in much the same vein as national government. In Campbell’s mind, the eldership stood in relationship to a local congregation much as the Senate does to the nation. Campbell related the deacons to the House of Representatives. Like many Baptists of his day, Campbell referred to the evangelist as “the Bishop.” In Campbell’s mind, “the Bishop” could also be called the congregation’s “President” or “Presider.”
Many Christian Churches accepted Campbell’s view without question. When industrial corporations developed, the church again caved in to culture and developed church boards. These boards, acting much like “boards of directors” guided the corporation. Just as the “directors” answered to the stockholders, the church board answered to the congregation. The idea developed that just as the corporation board existed to show a profit for the stockholders, the church board existed to make sure the church provided appropriate services for its members.
Nothing could be farther from biblical truth. According to the New Testament, the church is the only organization in the world that exists for others. The church’s purpose is to reach the lost! Nothing more, nothing less! To accomplish that goal, the church’s leadership must equip its members for service (train), care for those who are hurt and “injure” (shepherd), and guide the church in fulfilling its purpose (oversee).
Another mistake Christian Churches often make is the view that elders are responsible only for a church’s spiritual welfare while the deacons (or trustees) are responsible for financial matters. The fact is, biblical elders are responsible for overseeing all facets of a church’s life and work. If you look at Acts 11:30, you’ll see that famine relief sent to the church in Jerusalem went to the elders for distribution. Therefore, the basic organizational chart for a church is not like this:
The elders, therefore, is to have general oversight of the church (see 1 Timothy 5:17 and Hebrews 13:17), not as lord and dictator, but nevertheless with authority borne of function. An elder is to lead, guide, rule, steer the flock, set the course, discipline, and see the church through difficult situations. Elders are also to refute false teaching. That’s why an elder is to be “apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). No one should be selected as elder who is unable to explain and defend biblical teaching.
What about the deacons? A deacon, by definition, is a servant. The word deacon derives from a Greek term meaning “table waiter.” If we take the events of Acts 6 as an example of the work of deacons—and that is debatable—we note that the Apostles asked the congregation to select seven men “who [were] known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). The Apostles turned the responsibility of determining a method and means of meeting the people’s needs to them (that’s delegation). Then they permitted them to see to it. While it is not explicitly stated, the fact that the Apostles delegated the responsibility to the seven implies the seven were accountable to the Apostles for fulfilling the task.
Neither the elder nor the deacon fills an “office.” The word “office” carries with it connotations the Bible does not teach. It is unfortunate that the King James Version of 1 Timothy 3:1 reads, “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” The word “office” is not in the text’s original language. Most newer translations have it right. The New International Version puts it, “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1).
Elders and deacons fulfill leadership functions within a congregation. The elder fulfills a leadership function, the deacon fulfills a service function. Since these are functions (responsibilities) rather than offices, it is important to select by character traits (see 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) rather than other factors.
It is also important for the congregation to realize that elders are accountable to God for their work (see Hebrews 13:17 – they give an account to Christ). Too many individuals within congregations think these leaders should be accountable to them. While many individual members are well-intentioned, they often do not have the spiritual maturity or biblical understanding to recognize the difference between their preferences and biblical teaching. If their leaders are biblical knowledgeable and men of integrity, they are better suited to make decisions relating to the purpose, direction, and operation of the church.
It all boils down to a matter of trust. If the church selects spiritually qualified leaders—men of integrity, character, and spiritual depth—then trust them to do the right thing. Will they make mistakes? Yes they will. But if they are servants of Christ, they will not “lord it over you” but always do what they believe is in the best interests of the church. If you select men who are biblically ignorant and spiritually shallow, men who are not men of integrity or men with a servant’s heart, then you get what you deserve!
I know that’s a rough statement, but it is true. Churches do not take leadership selection seriously enough. Too many think you can push anyone into leadership. Poor choices in leadership have destroyed the effectiveness of all too many churches. Remember, everything rises or falls on leadership.
Friday, October 28, 2005
Like any church, smaller churches have much to offer as well as problems to face. A few weeks ago, I published an article on the pluses and minuses of mega-churches. Whenever you write something like that (or this), you stereotype. What may be true in a general sense is certainly not true for all. Furthermore, mega-churches and smaller churches often face similar issues. Having said that, let me share a few insights about smaller churches.
WHAT SMALL CHURCHES HAVE GOING FOR THEM.
First, in a smaller church you get to know everybody. That’s true especially for the really small congregation, but it is also true for the mid-size church. Those who have been there for some time know almost everyone in the church at least by name or by sight. There is a sense of belonging and a community of spirit that permeates the whole structure.
Second, in a smaller church there can be a greater awareness of needs. Since the members know each other, those who face medical, economic, mental, or spiritual needs are known and have the help and sympathy of others. It isn’t always true, of course, but the response to a need can come more quickly from a smaller group that identifies itself as “family.”
Third, in a smaller church the ministers can truly shepherd the sheep. Although I’ve never thought it was the minister’s responsibility alone to call, counsel, or shepherd, there is a sense of closeness that develops between the committed shepherd and the congregation. The minister almost becomes a “father” figure and has far more direct contact with his flock than the senior minister in a mega-church. In a mega-church, one of the members asked the caller who had come to see them in the hospital when the senior minister was going to come see them. The caller responded, “You don’t want to be that sick.” And so it goes!
Fourth, in a smaller church there is a stronger sense of tradition. Tradition can be either good or bad, but when it is good it binds together people better than slick programs or beautiful structures. Traditions create loyalties and identifications that can be positive and helpful.
Fifth, in a smaller church there is a strong sense of identity. Of course, that identity can sometimes degenerate into a prejudice against those “ho aren’t like us.” Nonetheless, there are positive benefits for gathering people together who come from similar backgrounds, interests, and occupations.
Sixth, in a smaller church there is a greater tolerance with those who make an effort. Aunt Mary may not be the most accomplished pianist in the world, but she tries hard and hits most of the notes so she is loved and accepted. Besides, she may be the only one who can even play. Professional quality is not often available in the smaller church, but loving acceptance for those who make the effort is.
DRAWBACKS TO THE SMALLER CONGREGATION
First, in a smaller church you get to know everybody. Yes, I know I put that as a strength, but it is also one of a small church’s greatest liabilities. You can easily identify the trouble-makers, gossip-mongers, and those who are spiteful and bitter. Because they are known, they are often accepted without question. Furthermore, because everyone knows everyone every statement must be examined lest it cause offense or misunderstanding.
Second, in a smaller church a threat to leave or withdraw support creates a crisis. In large congregations, a family may “take their ball and leave the game” without creating as much as a ripple. One unhappy individual choosing to leave a smaller church creates a crisis, especially when their friends know they’re unhappy. Those with money pose an even greater threat. A major contributor who becomes unhappy can create all kinds of problems.
Third, in a smaller church excellent leadership is often in short supply. More often than not, smaller churches are organized in a more traditional fashion with bylaws that require a specified number of leaders. Such specifications lead to ignoring biblical qualifications making availability the primary requirement. The traditional structures in most churches, including some megachurches, creates an adversarial system that leads to trouble. Fortunate are the congregations that have such systems and have successfully avoided conflict.
Fourth, in a smaller church the minister often becomes a chaplain rather than an innovative evangelist. Those smaller congregations surviving a few years with an innovative evangelist don’t stay small. The Ginghamsburg Church near Dayton is a prime example. When the Methodist Conference assigned Mike Slaughter to the Ginghamsburg pulpit, the congregation averaged about 90 in a small building located about 5 miles north of Dayton. The first year, according to Slaughter, the congregation grew to 70. Today, more than 20 years later, this congregation is one of the largest and most dynamic Methodist Churches in the country. Because of their inherent nature, most smaller congregations want a caregiver chaplain and, if the truth were known, do not expect nor do they want to grow.
Fifth, in a smaller church it is harder for new people to find acceptance. Smaller churches often see themselves as intensely friendly … and they are … with each other. A new family or individual often finds it difficult to break in. Only through persistence and effort can they make their way into the circle of acceptance.
Well, there you have it. Just a few observations about smaller churches! Like my observations about megachurches, these are obviously stereotypes and don’t apply to everyone. In my experience, however, I can attest they are generally true.
Monday, September 26, 2005
As I drove to work this morning (9/26), I heard talk show host Barry Young commenting on what people were saying about Hurricane Rita.
Barbra Streisand and a host of “environmental wackos” maintain our weather patterns are worsening because of global warming. Never mind the fact that a passel of category 5 hurricanes hit the American coast during Streisand’s lifetime.
Young pointed to a few TV preachers and “second coming” nuts who maintain the last two hurricanes are God’s judgment on sinful people and Christ’s return is near. Well it is nearer now than it was yesterday. That’s for sure!
Last winter I heard people commenting that the tsunami that devastated Thailand, India, and Indonesia was God’s judgment on these countries for their unbelief and sinful lifestyles.
Does God send disaster as punishment? Does He pour out His wrath on sinful nations? Is any specific disaster God’s punishment for sin?
I have an answer for that. Maybe!
It isn’t that God can’t or won’t send disaster or crisis as punishment for evil deeds. He has done so in the past and He can do so now. I think about the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, for example. They were horribly sinful and God wiped them out. You might also remember that when Israel entered the Promised Land, God told Joshua to wipe out every inhabitant. In that instance God ordered “ethnic cleansing.” He did so because the Canaanites and others had become despicably wicked.
Does God still do that? Sure he does! Did he do it through the disasters of Katrina and Rita? Possibly.
We need to remember something. God clearly revealed to inspired writers that the disasters that befell Sodom and Gomorrah and the slaughter of the Canaanites were due to His direct action or within the scope of His will.
I know those historical events were “God things” because the Bible tells me so.
Today, I see the results of disasters, wars, and rebellions and am often constrained to think such things might be God’s judgment on wickedness. At the same time, I can’t be absolutely positive that such terrible things result from God’s wrath.
You see, there is another force at work here and I’m not talking about Satan either. According to Genesis 3, Adam’s sin affected more than himself. His sin affected the whole planet. Moses recorded that God “cursed … the ground” and condemned the primeval pair to death. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (verse 22). The earth’s weather patterns changed. The relationship between the beasts changed.
Because of Adam’s sin, “stuff happens!” God can indeed pour out his judgment upon us … and he can use adverse weather, earthquakes, and even human stupidity to do it. But stuff also happens because we live in a fallen world and bad things happen merely because the air currents and moisture act in such a way to create the conditions necessary for a hurricane.
Some day it will all be clear to us, but right now we live in a hazy world and it is difficult to judge from a human vantage point whether Katrina and Rita resulted from God’s judgment. Maybe so! Maybe not! Only God knows why these storms hit and did so much damage. It is wiser to remain faithful to God through “thick and thin” and leave the rest in His hands.
Friday, September 09, 2005
- The Westminster Confession of Faith -- Presbyterians
- The Common Book of Prayer -- Anglicans
- The Book of Discipline -- Methodists
- The Augsburg Confession of Faith -- Lutherans
- The Philadelphia Confession of Faith -- Baptists
Thomas Campbell had his own arguments with the Presbyterians leading to his withdrawal after coming to the United States in 1807. Alexander, his son, protested the restrictions of The Westminister Confession of Faith while in Scotland and by the time he joined his father in the new world, he too objected to creeds.
Both Stone and Campbell were not opposed to creeds as such. In fact, Campbell said that creeds were useful and the more complete the better. Campbell, in particular, however objected to creeds as a test of fellowship. He recognized that any creed that said more than what the Bible taught was beyond the pale and any creed that said less than the Bible said was incomplete. Therefore, Campbell argued, the Bible is all we really need.
In his series calling for restoration, Campbell pointed out that in the first century there were no creeds except Peter's simple statement of belief: "I believe you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Other statements began appearing in the second century and they multiplied when dissension arose over the nature of Christ. Campbell's point was that any attempt to restore the ancient practices must go to the first century. Stopping short of the first century is stopping too soon!
Robert Webber in his book, Ancient Future Evangelism, describes the interest in the current postmodern generation with the ancient faith. When he spoke at the 2005 North American Christian Convention, Webber emphasized a need to go back to the ancient practices. In spite of a rousing exposition of Acts 2, the practices he describes are second and third century practices and beliefs. Campbell asserts, and I agree, that all that is needed is the same standard of belief held by the first century church -- the teachings of Christ and the pedagogy of the apostles.
Today few denominations, save some of the most radical Calvinist groups, emphasize their creeds. The Methodists still have their Book of Discipline, the Presbyterians their Westminster Confession of Faith but rarely do they use them to determine whether or not an individual should be considered for membership in a local congregation. Once used as tests of orthodoxy for the ministry of these denominations, the creeds are hardly used at all indicating a wide variety of belief even among the clergy. Some denominations and congregations still emphasize the historic creeds: Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedonian Creed and so on. The Apostles' Creed, in particular, often makes its way into the liturgy.
Only two things are required for entrance into the Kingdom of God. (1) An individual must recognize that their sinful behavior has separated them from the Father. (2) That Christ is the only way to reconciliation with a just God.
When a person comes to those realizations, they turn to Christ and ask, "What must I do to be saved?" The answer given must be the same as that given to the hearers on Pentecost: "Repent and be baptized (immersed) every one of you ... for the forgiveness of sins ... and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). The efficacy of this repentance and baptism is rooted in the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Therefore, those who come to Christ need not respond to any query but, "What do you believe about Jesus? Whose Son is he?" There is no need to relate an experience, give a testimony, or require the approval of a congregation.
In our contemporary litigious society, many congregations ask members to commit to a membership covenant. Such a covenant is not required for becoming a Christian, but it may be for being a member of a local congregation. A covenant will usually stipulate that the individual recognizes that becoming a member of a given congregation means they accept the oversight, authority, and discipline of the church's leaders. Should church discipline be required, church leaders and the congregation may be spared the threat of lawsuit.
Years ago in Oklahoma, an acapella church of Christ disciplined a church member for immorality. A female member of the congregation was involved in an illicit affair with the mayor of a nearby town. The affair was rather public and brought disrepute to the cause of Christ. Following the example of Matthew 18:15 f., the church's leaders pleaded with her to repent and break off the relationship. When she refused, the church followed the last step in Christ's instructions and brought her immoral behavior before the congregation formally withdrawing fellowship. The woman then brought suit for invasion of privacy and won. The church was saddled with a debt of over $100 thousand. Had the congregation a membership commitment, they could have been spared the public disgrace of a trial and the monetary punishment.
When a person becomes a Christian, Christ adds them to his body, the church. Participation in a local congregation, however, is reserved for those whose character and confession warrant it. Even Thomas Campbell in his "Declaration and Address" stated that:
"All that is necessary to the highest state of perfection and purity of the Church upon earth is, first, that none be received as members but such as having that due measure of Scriptural self-knowledge described above, do profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures; nor, secondly, that any be retained in her communion longer than they continue to manifest the reality of their profession by their temper and conduct." (Proposition 12)
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
In light of a few things I've written on our mega-churches, I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea. I have a love/concern attitude toward mega-churches. Over my nearly 43 years in ministry, I've served in churches of all sizes. My first ministry was in Laurens, IA, a congregation of about 30-35 at the time. I was also on staff at First Christian Church in Canton, OH. Canton was one of our first mega-churches with Bible School attendances exceeding 4,000 at times during the early part of the last century. When I left in 2004, it had once again attained the status of a mega-church. I am not opposed to growing churches, therefore I am not opposed to Church Growth or even the Church Growth Movement. In fact, there are some positives I love about large dynamic churches. At the same time, there are accompanying concerns that trouble me at times.
1. Large churches are biblical. You can't escape the fact that large growing churches are Scriptural. The first church started as a mega-church with over 3,000 baptized in one day (see Acts 2). From that exciting beginning, the church grew to 4,000 then 5,000 and then it exploded with growth. Man, you would have pruny hands just keeping up with the baptisms!
2. Large churches are exciting. I found it exhilarating to watch as 1,800 to 2,000 people came for worship during my last years in Canton. The singing was wonderful (when the song was singable). The response was terrific. The people walking down the aisle each week made my heart beat just a little faster and, on occasion, tears welled up in my eyes. Yes, we got excited about the numbers but it was because each number represented a person -- a person who needed Jesus!
3. Large churches are influential. I could preach about the sins of the flesh until the cows came home in Laurens or Anita or even in Great Bend and I'd be "preaching to the choir." When a preacher in a mega-church preaches about a sin, social or otherwise, he has influence. It doesn't even have to be a sermon. Joe Wright used a prayer comprised of statements Bob Russell made at the Kansas legislature a few years ago. That prayer raised eyebrows and created controversy throughout Kansas. It probably had negative influence on some but positive influence on many more. I preached in Kansas for eight years but was never invited to pray at the opening of the legislature. Because Joe Wright preached for a mega-church, he received the invitation and made a mark. In addition, when 2,000 or more individuals, influenced by their church, go to the polls or make a stand in their community they have clout.
4. Large churches have resources others don't have. Our budget in Canton in 2004 was, if memory serves, about $1.2 million dollars. In addition, the people committed themselves to raising $5.1 million over a three year period to pay off land for relocation. As Minister of Adult Education, I had an annual budget of more than $25,000 to administer. More than $100,000 went to missions each year. Our budget here in Sun City is a healthy $270,000 and we give 20% to missions all of which is commendable. The talent pool is greater in large churches, too. By percentage, a large church may have no more gifted people than a small church but you can only have so much special music, or youth coaches, or teachers and while you may exhaust your talent pool in a small church, you won't in a large one. (Getting folks to use their talent is equally difficult in large and small churches, however.)
5. Large churches can provide superior programming. While in Canton, my Adult Education Ministry spent more than $12,000 on one program. We invited Dr. Tom Sharp from the Creation Truth Foundation to bring his exhibit to the church and we had a week-long program marketed well in the community through radio spots, billboards, fliers, and so on. More than 1,000 children from Christian schools and home-schoolers showed up for one presentation and evening services ran as high as 700. Most smaller churches would consider the cost of bringing CTF to their church daunting at $5,000. Large churches can provide counseling ministries, special needs ministries, addiction recovery groups, and more.
6. Large churches can be strategic. All too often smaller churches avoid change because of the fear of "rocking the boat." If a large church chooses to make strategic changes and those changes create "upset," some can leave without creating much of a stir. In other words, a large church can afford to "leave the back door open." Smaller congregations often avoid making strategic changes because of the fear that highly influential members or significant contributors will become dissatisfied and leave. No one wants people to leave a church, but in some cases a few healthy subtractions can be as healthy as many additions.
7. Large churches are generally friendly. While there are exceptions, when you attend a large church you are welcomed like a long lost brother. Oh, by the way, the exceptions won't be large very long! When I visited Saddleback I received a warm welcome by the parking attendant who directed me to a parking place, another as I climbed the stairs toward the worship center, another along the way as I was offered a cup of coffee, another at the door of the worship center. Believe it or not, there were other undesignated people who made me feel welcome too. I found the same to be true at North Coast Church, Southeast Christian Church, The Vineyard in Cincinnati, and other assorted churches along the way.
I could probably think of many other reasons for admiring large churches, but seven seemed like a good number.
1. Large churches are tempted to make "the show" the thing. Can it always be said that a worship service must be a major production of Hollywood quality? I attended workshops at the Ginghamsburg Church, a Methodist mega-church near Dayton, where they gave us insight into worship planning. It came across as a production meeting for a live TV show, which, for all intents and purposes, it was. As a result, what should be a participatory experience of worship becomes a show. I keep thinking about all those passages in the prophets where God lets Israel know he despises their shows (sacrifices and feast days) because their heart really isn't right.
2. Large churches are tempted to "compromise" for the sake of numbers. Whether or not some of our mega-churches have abandoned the Restoration Movement's strong stand on biblical authority, there is a tendency to "soften" the rhetoric. Now that's not all bad, but when the motive for softening the rhetoric is to avoid offense doesn't it become an effort to merely "tickle ears"? Then there is the motive that undergirds the effort. All too often "we want to sound like everyone else" so others will think "we're like everyone else." Israel got in trouble with that when they wanted a king like everyone else. You see, if we sound like evangelicals or good Baptists, the evangelicals and the Baptists will stop accusing us of being a cult or being something really wierd like "water regenerationists." Then everyone will "like us" and more will come to our services.
3. Large churches confuse relationship with discipleship. Sunday School or Bible School is passe at least for adults. The important thing is establishing relationships. The theory is that those who make friends (relationships) stay. Its more than a theory, it is a truth and every church needs to develop means by which its members can develop relationships. But let's be honest about it. The main concern here is "shutting the back door" and retaining members so the numbers look good. Christian formation is a secondary concern. So the mega-churches downplay Sunday School -- after all, building facilities for adult classes is expensive -- and emphasize Small Groups. I am uncategorically for small groups, but small groups are for relationship building and accountability. They do not and cannot teach biblical content nor do they effectively stimulate genuine discipleship. Discipleship has to do with "forming Christ in me." Somehow the early church passed on content as well as developed biblical relationships. How did they do it? The model is found in 2 Timothy 2:2. Somebody qualified taught others. Church leaders and teachers responsibly passed on correct doctrine. Part of that doctrinal teaching had to do with "loving one another as I [Christ] have loved you."
4. Large churches are vision oriented rather than people-oriented. In many, but not all, cases the vision boils down to the ABCs of church life -- Attendance, Buildings, and Cash. The church becomes a corporate structure with directors (elders) and officers (the staff) and a CEO (the senior minister). The vision shapes the programs and the success of the program is measured in Attendance, Buildings, and Cash. The few whose lives really do change become "poster boys or girls" for what the program can do, but the real success is measured by "the many" rather than "the few." What ever happened to the New Testament picture of an elder as a shepherd? The word poimene, or pastor, is a word applied to the elder rather than the preacher (unless, of course he is also an elder). It is time for the church to get back to the biblical picture of an elder as shepherd and care-giver rather than executive. The same goes for the preacher and his staff!
5. Large churches often assimilate their culture rather than affect the culture. Although the early church always faced cultural challenges from without, the wide-spread acceptance of Christianity exacerbated the problems. When thousands poured into the church after Constantine, they brought with them many of their heathen practices and ideas. In many cases, the church merely "baptized" those practices and made them somewhat Christian. Since those days, the church has continued to assimilate the culture. According to Wolfe's The Transformation of the American Church, today's church has become so encrusted with the culture it is hardly different. Barna reports that moral conditions within and without the church are roughly equivalent. Somehow the church has forgotten its calling to be "a peculiar people." We use the culture's music, the culture's methods, and the culture's values to market our product but the product is often confused with that offered by today's cultural gurus.
6. Large churches equate "feeling" with commitment. One of the staff members from Southeast Christian Church told me that when they got into their most recent structure, there was an attendance jump of about 3,000 a Sunday. Those making decisions streamed down the aisle in record numbers leaving those responsible for assimilation feel overwhelmed. When asked why they had responded to the invitation, many of those who came said "they wanted to be part of an exciting church." "Just once," I was told, "I would lie to hear someone say they came forward because they wanted to make Jesus Lord." In my view, that's quite an indictment. You see, the feeling of excitement and the dynamics of a service motivated decision rather than commitment to Christ. We are often told that today's people want to feel God or experience God in their worship. These statements represent an emphasis on feeling rather than commitment. You see, one can go home feeling good, feeling excited, and feeling motivated but when the feelings die then .... You see, there is little genuine contentment in a feeling. In my view, real commitment means accepting a truth and when that truth is accepted and lived out then things feel right!
7. Large churches can become sources of pride. While I rejoice over every individual brought to Christ in our larger churches (or smaller ones for that matter), our tendency to list and display "our mega-churches" is rapidly becoming a source of pride. We are pointing to the fact that Restoration mega-churches, by percentage, out pace the mega-churches of every other religious group in this country. In other words, by percentage of congregations there are more Christian Church mega-churches than Baptist mega-churches, or Nazarene mega-churches, or Methodist mega-churches. We are close to saying, "See what we have done!" Others may think, "God must be blessing us more than others because we have more mega-churches by percentage than any other group." Didn't our chests expand a bit when we heard some of the major media noted that the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ were the second fastest growing religious group in the USA, right behind the Mormons!!
Well, there you have it. Seven positives and seven concerns. Sounds almost biblical!
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Individuals and movements become great because they existed at the right place and the right time in history. For example, events and circumstances (and Divine Providence) thrust the great men of American history into prominence. George Washington preferred the relative anonymity of Mount Vernon to the snows of Valley Forge, but it was the latter that made him "the Father of our country." Abraham Lincoln was a country lawyer until the South's secession forced him into the limelight. The Vietnam Antiwar movement was discounted until Walter Cronkite built up (and sometimes invented) military failures in Southeast Asia.
The Restoration Movement burst on the scene at just the right time in American history. Here are several factors that contributed to its success:
(1) America was a new nation. With its newness came a questioning of all things European and monarchical. Churches either severed or attempted to separate themselves from their European counterparts. The Anglican Church, for example, became the Episcopalian Church. James O'Kelly led the Republical Methodists, who later identified themselves as the Christian Church, out of the Methodist Episcopal Church because Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke insisted on establishing themselves as "bishops," a title that smacked of Old World elitism.
(2) The American governmental experiment gave rise to an interest in "primitive" democracies and republics. There was a widespread cry for going back "to the old paths". Many looked to the ancient city states of Greece for examples of pure democratic constructs. Others looked to the ancient Roman Republic as an example of a Republic. The Campbells evidenced the same kind of interest in going back to "primitive Christianity" because the church of the first century was not sullied by the divisions of the intervening years.
(3) The frontier was a place for experimentation. The American frontier saw all manner of wacky social and religous experimentation. Communitarian experiments occurred at Oneida, NY, New Harmony, IN, as well as many other places. One individual tried carving out his personal kingdom in the region that became Kentucky. Religious groups such as the Shakers, the Quakers, and eventually the Mormons established themselves on the frontier. Why not attempt to simply return to Christianity's roots through restoring the ancient faith and practice as revealed in the Bible?
(4) The guarantee of religious freedom unhampered by state supported churches. The First Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed the right to free expression of religious faith. The amendment guaranteed that no religious denomination would receive state recognition by the Federal Government. (Several states, however, had state churches. Massachusetts was the last to disestablish its state church about 1830.) Since individuals could worship as they pleased, it was possible to instigate major changes and replace longstanding traditions.
More than any of the other leaders in the Restoration Movement, Alexander Campbell pled for restoration. In his series of articles, published in The Christian Baptist, entitled "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things," Campbell pointed out that institutions can be reformed but not religion. You can reform a religious organization but you really can't do so with religion itself. Why? Because, as he said, the religion is what it is. It can be subverted, changed, or misused but when it does it becomes something different. You can add traditions, rituals, and dogmas to Christianity but it does not remain Christianity. The only thing you can do with religion is to restore its original practices.
Campbell rightly pointed out that you could reform the Catholic organization and make it a Presbyterian organization, but the attitude of the pope would remain in the hearts and minds of the leaders. The only answer was to return to the pure Word of God and simply do what it says.
That is still good advice. The problem is that the heirs of the Restoration Movement have accumulated their own traditions and adopted their own forms for "papal manipulation." Some have called for a reformation of the Restoration Movement; others for a restoration of the Restoration Movement. The Restoration Movement, hear me, does not need to be restored! It is the faith and practice of the early church that needs to be restored!
Reformation won't cut it! Restoration is a continuing effort and will never find its completion this side of glory. Why? Because we gain clearer understanding of the New Testament milieu, the New Testament text, and the early church each year. New discoveries, better biblical scholarship, and new insight added to the old gives us a better picture of what those early Christians believed and taught. Our commitment to biblical study and origins needs to continue.
With that in mind, I am going to take the time to go back over Campbell's "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things" and rethink much of what he said there. You will see the fruit of that study on this blog. In many cases, I'm sure, I will echo much of what Campbell said. In other instances, you will find (if you will compare) that I disagree with Campbell on some things. But I agree with his basic idea -- that the way to Christian unity is through a restoration of pure speech and practice of New Testament principles.
Friday, August 05, 2005
A tremendous amount of ink is currently applied to what is called "restoring the ancient practices." Authors from the "emerging church" carefully point out that today's younger generations seek spirituality and wisdom from ancient practices.
Robert Webber's book, Ancient-Future Evangelism, points the reader to ancient church practices dating back to the second century. Leonard Sweet writes that the younger generation is returning to the music, the stained glass, and the worship styles of the ancient church (with all the technological benefits of today thrown in, of course). Sweet says that to connect with the emerging younger generations (younger Gen-Xers and Millennials), worship must be EPIC. By EPIC, he means experiential, participatory, image-driven, and communal. In this summer's Leadership magazine, Eric Reed discusses the current trend of emphasizing the ancient spiritual discipline practices one might find in many monasteries. Dallas Willard also emphasizes deepening one's spiritual walk with the spiritual disciplines found in ancient Christianity. Terry Mattingly, who was, at least in part, educated at Lincoln Christian College writes weekly columns for Scripps Howard, left the Restoration Movement for Greek Orthodoxy and, at last report, worships in an Anglican Church. Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and even some forms of Anglicanism are seen as offering "ancient" forms for worship and spiritual development. I recently worshiped with a congregation emphasizing "ancient" practices, or at least one man's idea of ancient practices based on ancient Scriptures. (It is amazing how contemporary this worship was.)
As I look at all this stuff about ancient Christianity, one thought keeps recurring: They're not going back far enough!
In his book, Robert Webber takes the reader back only as far as the second and third centuries. It was amazing that during this summer's North American Christian Convention Conferences, Webber spoke at length on Acts 2. He didn't even neglect Acts 2:38 -- at least not completely! It was, however, his only attempt to journey into the first century.
The gurus of spiritual formation travel back in time only to the desert fathers of the second century. Eric Reed, in his Leadership article entitled "New Journeys on Well-Worn Paths," says many Protestants thought Richard Foster "practically invented the [spiritual] disciplines until his exhortations to solitude, fasting, contemplation, and the like fueled the study of the Desert Fathers, ascetics and monastics."
Reed points out that many Protestants are realizing that the church didn't spring into existence in 1517 or 1535, depending on whether you look to Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin. Hundreds of years of devoted followers preceded the Reformation. We've been schooled to think of pre-Reformation Christianity as superstitious, works-oriented, and corrupt. Historians have, in recent years, taken a new look at what was previously called "the Dark Ages" and come to realize that those years weren't all that dark. While rejecting the works-righteousness orientation of those years, Protestants discovered there is much to admire and emulate among those who would seek spiritual formation. After all, salvation does not depend on works but the individual spiritual formation takes effort.
Herein is the rub! The Restoration Movement began in the nineteenth century as an effort to bring about the unity of Christ's church through a return to the ancient order of things. In his series, "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things," publishe in The Christian Baptist, Alexander Campbell said his goal was not reformation but restoration. As he put it, you can reform the church and the papal spirit still fill it. You can reform organizations, structures, and methods but you can't reform Christ's church. You can, however, return to the ancient practices -- the first century practices -- of Christ's church.
I still think this is good thinking. Campbell went on to present a series of articles relating to the nature, leadership, practices, and worship in the first century church. Although they are not easily read, every preacher and church leader needs to read those articles. Are they correct in every detail? I don't think so. In fact, I think the series needs updating. Campbell's goal was to speak biblically, act biblically, worship biblically, and follow Christ's example. Doing so, he believed, would reunite "Christianity's warring factions, bring health to the church, and a healthy church would grow and fill the earth.
I'm certainly not opposed to the spiritual disciplines. We need a renewed emphasis on discpleship because genuine discipleship means believing the right things and doing the right things. More importantly, however, we need a renewed commitment to "redig the wells" removing the clutter of the ages and once again on restoring the faith and practice of the ancient church -- the first century church!
Saturday, July 23, 2005
Attacks on Sharm-el-Sheik in Egypt are aimed not only at western tourists but nominal Muslims as well. Attacks in Iraq are aimed as much at Muslims who yearn for freedom and the temporal advantages of a free capitalistic society. Efforts to take down the Saudi kingdom continue and will do so as long as the leaders continue trade relationships with and cooperate with western powers. You may see more efforts to unseat the Pakistani president because of his government's cooperation with the United States in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We've already seen a change in leadership in Turkey with accompanying reduced cooperation. Radical Muslims will not be satisfied until the whole world is ruled by a Taliban-like rule that will move civilization back at least 500 years.
Western European leaders are finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place as well. Lax immigration policies have permitted Arab immigration to reach the point where they must placate growing Muslim minorities. Spain's turnaround after the invasion of Iraq is a sign that a growing Muslim minority can weild sufficient power to change regimes. Great Britain is finding itself at a point where its culture is being challenged by that of Islam. Terrorist attacks in Britain are aimed as much at reminding Britons they can act as an attempt to force the government to cave on its support of the U.S. effort to terminate terrorism.
Let me make one thing abundantly clear. I do not hate Muslims. I do hate what Islam stands for and I despise the methods employed in its jihad. Muslims do, however, hate my country, and that means they hate me. They would kill me and every other Christian who refuses to submit, to pay, or convert.
The one thing they cannot change at this point, is the fact that Christianity is growing world-wide at a rate that surpasses the growth of Islam. Christianity is the fastest growing religion on the globe and it is growing among those nominally identified with Islam. This drives the radical Islamists to even greater atrocities.
The question is not which will win -- Christianity or Islam! That's already been decided. The question is, Will American Christians and the American people have the courage and the tenacity to stave off this determined enemy until the Lord returns or these radicals retreat into their spider holes and never come out?
Friday, July 22, 2005
Therein lies the real issue of the ambitions of Islamists around the world. Do not be misled by those who would have you believe Islam is a religion of peace. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Qu'ran plainly teaches that the infidels (that's you and me, brother) are to be put to death if they will not convert. Perhaps, and it is only perhaps, Jews and Christians might be spared if they were willing to pay dearly for the privilege of living and obeying the mullah's mandate never to evangelize or "proselytize."
Conversion via the sword has always been the modus operandi of Islam. It is called jihad and dates back to Mohammed himself. Poordisillusioned and hallucinoginic Mohammed sat in a cave until receiving messages from the "angel Gabriel." For years only his wife Khadijah and an uncle believed his rantings. Then a wealthy leader "saw the light" and with monied backing, Mohammed found the means to gather a crowd. Hoping to unite the Arabs under one religious banner, Mohammed began a series of conquests that assimilated North Africa, the Holy Land, Turkey, southeastern Europe and Southern Spain. Only Charles Martel stopped the Isalamists at the Battle of Tours.
Those followers of Mohammed who present a peaceful front are cut from the same bolt of cloth as those who claim Christianity but who deny biblical truth, fail to live the Christian life, and reject the idea that Christ really is Lord. Just as Christianity has its nominal believers, so Islam does as well. Those who proclaim Islam is a "religion of peace" reject the true message of Islam and are perfunctory name-only believers who go through the rituals but deny the real message of the religion.
Have you noticed how the media recently classes "fundamentalist Christians" with "radical Islamists?" That's true not only on the liberal national media, but Fox News as well. Those who really believe the Bible, who understand the only way one can be saved is through Christ, and who speak out against our nation's moral decay are personified as intolerant, unloving, and unwitting agents of dissension, division, and destruction. What the mass of "Christianity" and the mass of the adherents to the so-called "religion of peace" don't realize is that there really is a war to the death between these two religions: the true face of Islam and genuine Christianity!
It is a war waged between the forces of darkness (Islam) and the forces of light (Christianity). It is a war that will be waged on many fronts but we dare not slink back into the shadows and refuse to share the genuine Gospel at every opportunity. It must be shared at home where freedom of religion is interpreted as "believing what you want the way you want and never having those beliefs challenged."
I am uncertain if the bulk of the American people really have the stomach for doing what must be done. What we cannot accomplish with the Book we may have to stave off with the bullet. If so, it will be a long arduous battle. Just as we saw in Vietnam, the American people may find the demands of such battles too much. The cost of waging the war on terror will eventually eat into our comfort levels and many will begin calling for withdrawal. It's already beginning to happen! Those who do not understand this is a battle for freedom and survival are already beginning to whine and carp. Our current president has the moral courage to stand up for what is right (although I'm not sure he understands the nature of the war) but what of those who follow?
The Battle of Britain has just begun. It is only a matter of time until we see the battle renewed in our own cities. When the battle renews here, it won't be airplanes flying into skyscrapers, it may well be a nuclear device detonated in the heart of one of our major cities.
What do we do? Remain altert. Be aware that Jesus could break through the clouds at any moment. Whether he comes or we die, let us be prepared. Fortify your faith and be prepared to stand firm against an evil enemy that would impose its false god upon us or a government that gradually seeks to remove God from our national life and heritage.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
It seems like all I ever write about these days is baptism. Ugh! I hate that, but it is exactly at this point where Satan is doing his work.
I've been doing something interesting over the past few weeks. The Christian Standard article on "Statements of Faith" a few weeks ago picqued my curiosity. I wondered what all of our mega-churches were stating on their web sites so I did a search and visited the web sites of nearly all the churches listed in the Christian Standard as a mega-church. I'm in the process of analyzing what I found and categorizing the results after which I'll post the results.
In the process, I discovered something quite interesting. Since the Standard published an issue featuring an interview with Gene Appel and Mike Breaux, many in the movement think Willow Creek Community Church is virtually a Christian Church or Church of Christ. The Standard article asked, "What's going on at Willow Creek?" Well, I can tell you this! At this point they are not making a transition from a typical evangelical mega-church to a congregation that identifies with the principles of the Restoration Movement!
Appel and Breaux talked about how they had not changed their views on baptism and related, in the article, that there had been 40 immersions. Why Willow had even built a baptismal pool in the building. Well, I can say without reservation that I'm genuinely happy about the 40 immersions they reported. That's wonderful!
But ... that is not the church's "official position." A look at Willow Creek's online Statement of Faith reveals some interesting facts. First, Willow does insist on believer's baptism. They see biblical baptism as resulting from individual choice. Thus, infants are not consider candidates for baptism. Second, those who come to Christ are free to choose the mode of baptism. They may elect to be immersed or sprinkled.
Appel and Breaux mayreport 40 immersions, but how many others opted for sprinkling? They certainly, and for obvious reasons, don't tell us that! As many candidates that Willow receives, wouldn't you expect there may be as many who choose sprinkling as immersion? Even if there is only one that is one too many. The original language leaves nothing to even hint that sprinkling is an acceptable mode for baptism. The very fact that Appel and Breaux encourage immersion is irrelevant. They are both in a position where, if they are to follow the church's stated official position, must sprinkle those who choose to be sprinkled. Even if they do not do so themselves, they are giving tacit approval by continuing to work and teach within the church's stated position.
Furthermore, being in the traditional evangelical mindset, Willow sees baptism as symbolic of an inner change God has already worked. Although some of our best known preachers promote the idea that "we don't know when God saves," such statements run counter to all we've stood for in the effort to restore biblical authority and New Testament Christianity. Alexander Campbell came to the conclusion that baptism was "for the remission of sins." Although he is not our authority, the Bible is, and this is clear biblical teaching! Campbell stated again and again that the reason he and others we so boldly attacked by the Baptists is that they stood for "baptism for the remission of sins." To say we can't say when salvation occurs flies in the face of Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:25-27, and Colossians 2:11, 12. Of course, even these references assume that "faith works" in that it results in salvation at the time of baptism, the point at which God promises to bestow the Holy Spirit, wash us clean, and regenerate us. It is a step away from biblical authority and into the realm of Calvinistic Baptists rather than upholding biblical authority. It is a step toward antinomianism rather than the erection of a creed to deny that the Bible says salvation is assured at Baptism.
Many of our church's look to Willow for methodology. How many will follow Willow and Saddleback into their erroneous theology?
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
The root of the whole issue at USAFA is personal evangelism on the part of believing Cadets. Some of those who had no faith system or practiced (or didn't practice) other belief systems felt the Cadets intruded into their life.
What officials tend to forget is that those in the military tend to be "gung ho" about almost anything they feel is important. The Bible teaches Christians they are to "go, teach, baptize, and teach" those who are unbelievers. Christianity also teaches that "there is no name given under heaven whereby we must be saved except the name of Jesus." In other words, sincere Christans may tolerate other individuals, but they are not called upon to tolerate or accept their belief systems as legitimate. Those opposed to Christians sharing their faith tend for forget that. Further, they often discount Christianity and consign it to the ash heap of "other systems."
This is not something new! One reason the Roman government persecuted Christians was for their "lack of tolerance." Religions were assimilated into the Roman Pantheon and were considered the "religion of a specific people or region." The Romans considered Christianity acceptable as long as they were seen as a "Jewish sect." Christianity, however, broke out from that identity when they scattered abroad. Everywhere Christians went, they preached an exclusive gospel. The silversmith riot in Ephesus was directly due to the fact that Paul taught Ephesians Christians that Diana was no goddess and the believers quit buying the little silver idols the silversmith's manufactured.
Genuine Christianity can accept individuals, love them, care for them, but they can't ignore them. At the same time, Christianity can not tolerate false doctrine and false teaching even in the name of pluralism. Just as there can't be two contradicting truths, there can't be two contradictory religions. If Christianity is the truth, Wicca, Islam, Judaism, or what have you can't be true. Consistent evangelism doesn't reflect disrespect for individuals. It does indicate genuine concern for if Christianity is true -- and the others are not -- then an individual's eternal destiny is at stake.
My son graduated with the USAFA Class of 1992. I was more than pleased with the quality of the officers assigned to the Academy for teaching and training. Many of these individuals were Christians. I did not agree with all of them in all things, but I was grateful for the consistency of their lives and their commitment to God and country. There were Bible studies and prayer times for the Cadets, but no forced anyone to attend. As far as I could tell, there was respect for others regardless of their belief system. My son never indicated to me that anyone was intrusive or intimidating in their concern for others.
All of this is part and parcel of the atmosphere of the USA in today's world. In our "politically correct" world, it doesn't matter what you believe. Well, I don't buy that. For some indication about how Christians should behave in 21st Century USA, you should make a thorough study of the New Testament and the history of the early church.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Take the assortment of statements recently published in the "Christian Standard." They are all good statements. In fact, they are similar to the one I have on our web site. I'm sure there are many other things that could be said, but each of those statements is vague about the purpose of baptism. Let me give you some examples:
"Those accepting Christ must repent of sin, confess their faith, and be baptized into him" (Romans 10:9; Acts 2:38).
"We believe that the repentant believers in Christ should be baptized in water, by immersion (the biblical form of baptism), in obedience to Christ."
"Immersion in water of a professed believer is the Bible baptism (Acts 8:36-38). Such baptism is symbolic of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-4).
A couple of others don't even include baptism as part of their important beliefs. Others have stated their position in terms quite similar. One congregation even identified itself as an "evangelical church committed to the authority of the Bible." That statement would certainly cause a few Restoration saints to turn over, no spin, in their graves. Many of us have thought of the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ as neither Protestant, Catholic, or Evangelical in the commonly used sense of the terms.
Is there anything in the statements above that you can't accept or agree on? Of course not! Immersion is the biblical form of baptism and those who come to Christ must repent and confess Christ prior to their immersion. No problem there!!
But whatever happened to the understanding that baptism is for the remission of sin? Isn't that what Peter said on Pentecost? I won't say no congregation clearly states that baptism is into Christ for the remission of sins. Darned few do, however! It just isn't "politically correct!" To come right out and say it might "offend some Baptist."
It sure did in Canton, OH, a few years ago! When I designed the first web site for Canton's First Christian Church, I prepared its statement of faith. Later, when some of the "young bucks" joined the CyberMinistry, we put clear instruction on "how to become a Christian" on the site. If you want to see what was stated, just surf to www.firstchristian-suncity.info/plan_of_salvation.htm. A controversy arose in a women's Bible study about the place of baptism. The teacher, who attended a Christian Church Bible College, taught that baptism was not part of the salvation process. When I was approached about what to do (I was the Minister of Adult Education), I suggested that the Women's Ministry leader ask her to meet with me or an elder. The teacher refused. In my book, the lack of respect for the church leadership was grounds for dismissal. This teacher was dismissed! Several church members heard about it and reacted negatively. Some started a phone campaign. Others looked at the church web site, then compared our statements with those of other churches. Of course, no other church was as clear as we were! One member knew she was saved in the backseat of an automobile during a night at the movies because she "felt saved." That kind of says it all! As a result, several families left the church. At that point, it was decided the statement on the web site was too specific and it was taken down. I acquiesced (I'm a high S-C for those who know the DISC model of personality traits) but I didn't like it and was deeply offended!
Now let me speak plainly! Let's get over this silliness that we don't know at what point a person is saved. Scripture leaves no doubt that it is at the time of baptism that one's sins are washed away (Acts 22:16), one puts on Christ (Galatians 3:27), and sins are remitted (Acts 2:38). You and I know it isn't the immersion in water that saves -- it is one's faith in Christ that saves, but it is a "done deal" at the time of baptism. All this junk about baptism "being the setting in the wedding ring" or not knowing when a person is married -- at the engagement, the ceremony, the pronouncement, or the consummation -- is a red herring and ought to be scrapped.
What about the person who truly trusts Christ and yet is misled on the issue of baptism or, through some circumstance beyond his control, can't be immersed? I DON'T KNOW! Do you understand those words? God doesn't say! Like Alexander Campbell in the correspondence, I'm left only with my opinion on the question. I'm not God and I don't have any right to speak to that question.
We have watered down biblical teaching so satisfy "itching ears." We must be "like everyone else" or we won't grow. What a load of the stuff we used to spread on our fields in Iowa to ensure a better harvest! Israel wanted to be like everyone else, and they got Saul. What do you think we'll get?
Now, lest someone misunderstand me, YOU DON'T HAVE TO STAND FOR THE TRUTH IN A WAY THAT ALIENATES OR OFFENDS! Love, patience, long suffering, and service go a long way toward making the truth attractive. Some of our problems were created by unloving, harsh, judgmental, mean-spirited men and women who confused their likes and dislikes, their culture and background, and their opinions with the truth. Shame on them! But shame on us if we bow before the idols of half-truths or politically correct speech or marketing ploys just to satisfy everyone around us.
Sunday, May 29, 2005
The convention emphasized traditional Restoration Movement positions. Over the past few years a lot of talk surfaced charging that leaders, especially those involved in organizing the North American, were abandoning the movement's doctrinal positions. The charges usually revolve around baptism. While I often think that many churches are somewhat soft on this question, I did not hear this in evidence. Several speakers clearly emphasized that baptism is for the remission of sins.
The convention services were worshipful and mellow. After the hard rock of last year's convention, this year's services were quietly worshipful. Convention music featured the stylings of John G. Elliott at the piano. Accompaniment featured the piano, violin, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, and drums at a volume comfortable to everyone. We sang traditional hymns as well as newer praise songs. Elliott successfully brought us to the foot of the cross in every service.
The convention emphasized the need for our churches to go deep. Several years ago, I wrote Christian Standard article entitled, "The Platte River Syndrome." In the article I expressed the view that many of our mega-churches are, like Nebraska's Platte River, are a mile wide and an inch deep. Over the past few years, our churches have successfully reached thousands of people but are failing to ground them in solid biblical truth. I found it interesting that several of this year's speakers expressed the same observation and agreed that our churches needed to do more to disciple their members. Sadly, however, those same speakers gave us few practical insights on how to do it.
While I enjoyed the convention, there were just a couple of things that gave me pause. First, there was a lot of talk about "encountering God." Sadly, however, "encountering God" equalled "feelings." the impression was left that if the music and the style of worship create emotional responses, one has experienced God. This thinking fits in well with current worship philosophy that worship must create a sense of the infinite. The gurus of contemporary worship insist that today's young dults want to "experience God." The problem is, however, that someone with the right skills can manipulate emotions to create an atmosphere one can call an "encounter with God" whether or not it really is. I am not opposed to creating atmosphere in worship, but let's be honest enough to realize that the result may or may not be an experience of God. A genuine experience with God depends more on the condition of one's heart and the impact of the Holy Spirit working through the Word. Perhaps we could more accurately call conviction an experience with God rather than emotionalism.
Second, Robert Webber surprised me with his exposition of Acts 2 and his emphasis on the importance of Acts 2:38. At the same time, Webber spoke at length about the need for preparatory instruction (catechism) prior to baptism and the use of ritual and symbol in the process. Just as he did in his book, The Ancient Future Church, Webber drew most of his illustrations of ritual and symbolism from the church of the second and third century rather than the New Testament Church. In other words, Webber simply didn't go back far enough in his search for the "Ancient Church." Still, there were some insights worth chewing on in his presentations.
This year's convention is worth attending, but as in every instance one must keep their analytical thinking cap on.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Perhaps you’ve been following the Terri Shaivo case. Its been in the news constantly for the past two weeks. Unless the Supreme Court takes immediate action, which is unlikely, Terri may be dead by the time you read this.
Numerous times, I’ve gone with families through some of their most difficult decisions. Some of those involved continuing or discontinuing life support for a loved one. When asked, I have always counseled for life but not necessarily prolonging life by extraordinary means.
What constitutes prolonging life by extraordinary means? In my view, extraordinary measures are those which artificially prolong life. Today’s technology permits doctors to artificially prolong life when, by all measures, the individual’s brain functions are gone and only a respirator maintains life. When faced with a decision about “pulling the plug,” I’ve advised families to make that decision with the counsel and advice of a qualified physician. At the same time, I’ve counseled them to provide for life’s absolute necessities – food, water, and access to air. A feeding tube is not an artificial measure. If one is to err, it should always be in favor of life!
I am shocked to discover that 70% of the American populace says this woman should die. In spite of the fact there is ample testimony that Terri responds to stimuli, seems to recognize others, and attempts to speak, the overwhelming majority accept the decision to “pull the plug.” Qualified professionals disagree on Terri’s viability, but at the root of the issue is the belief that since Terri will never fully recover she should be allowed to pass on. We are told by her husband that she did not wish to have her life prolonged artificially. In most courts of law, such testimony is hearsay since there is no written “living will.” Nonetheless, her husband, who has had a long standing relationship with another woman complete with children, wants her out of the way. For him, Terri is now just a nuisance and a hindrance to the life he wants to live.
Here are a couple of facts for you to consider. First, death is no friend. The Bible describes death as an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:27). Death is the specific punishment for sin (Genesis 2:17, 3:19; Romans 3:23). Although the Christian has no reason to fear death, the unbeliever does and should!
Second, human life is precious because God created humans in his image (Genesis 1:27). Only humans bear God’s image. Only human life is sacred.
Third, God demonstrates the special value of human life when he decrees the punishment for murder (Genesis 9:6). This is a “Creation Ordinance” and applies to all humanity for all time. The only just and appropriate punishment for the willful non-judicial taking of human life (murder) is the forfeiture of the murderer’s life. Why? Because man is made in God’s image!
Fourth, God states the value of human life in the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13). The commandment says, “You shall not murder.”
Fifth, Solomon insists any life is preferable to death. In Ecclesiastes 9:4 he says, “Anyone who is among the living has hope – even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!”
In my opinion, our culture has become “a culture of death.” There is little respect for human life as evidenced in the abortion rate and the growing acceptance of euthanasia for the terminally ill. There is only one reason for this as far as I can see. Our culture has pounded the humanistic and naturalistic theory of evolution in our heads until most of us accept the idea that we are nothing more than animals – more intelligent than some – resulting from chance plus time. If humans are little more than a mass of protoplasm from the cradle to the grave, why not extinguish or eliminate that which is imperfect, inconsequential, or inconvenient? Such thinking is vaguely reminiscent of what the world heard from Hitler and his scientists in the 1930s as they pressed for the development of the “Master Race.”