Tuesday, December 26, 2006


The Restoration Movement has always been a diverse movement. At times disagreements seemed more prevalent than agreements. I think this fact existed from the movement's inception. Let me give some exampls.

James O'Kelly is often credited with one of the earliest efforts resulting in "Christians only." He led a number of Methodists to withdraw from the Asbury led Methodist Church to form the Republican Methodists. William Guirey brought a group into fellowship with the O'Kelly movement only to fracture over the issue of immersion. Both Guirey and O'Kelly made contact with the New England Christians (Abner Smith and Elias Jones) but there was never complete agreement because the New Englanders tended to deny aspects of the Trinity. Nonetheless fellowship continued but there was less than complete excitement about it.

The Cane Ridge Meeting birthed another expression of the Restoration Movement. This meeting occurred during an era when Presbyterians were transitioning from a strict Calvinism to an understanding that preaching led to responses and experiences confirming election. Five participating Presbyterian preachers concluded that faith was the belief of testimonyand humans hearing the Gospel could respond to it. Political maneuverings on the part of some strict old-line Presbyterian elders led to the filing of charges against Richard McNemar for preaching an Arminian doctrine. Defending themselves in a documnt often called "The Apology," five men withdrew from the jurisdiction of the Synod of Kentucky to form their own structure, the Springfield Presbytery. These five men--Barton Stone, John Thompson, Robert Marshall, John Dunlavy, and Richard McNemar--disassociated from one another with the signing of "The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery." According to that document, these men gave up any organizational structure beyond the local congregation and sank into union with the church at large.

It is often taught that it was mutually agreed to break up and continue as independent local congregations. What is not so clearly seen is the tension existing behind the scenes. It is known that Richard McNemar hoped to continue the religious excitement and the sometimes strange events seen during the Cane Ridge Meeting. Apparently Marshall and Thompson weren't so keen on all that "enthusiasm." They returned to the Presbyterian Church and later wrote a document critical of "The Newlight Church." Taken at face value, it becomes apparent that these two men opposed the extremes McNemar advocated. Richard McNemar and John Dunlavy eventually ended up in the Shakers proving exactly what Thompson and Marshall feared -- that such excesses would lead to heresy. Barton W. Stone was the only one of the five who remained steadfast to the theological principles spelled out in "The Apology."

Most of the events regarding the Springfield Presbytery took place before the Campbells arrived in America. That meant the Kentucky Christians, the New England Christians, the followers of O'Kelly and those of Guirey were well entrenched prior to the coming of the Campbells. When "Father" Thomas arrived in America the Seceder Presbyterians assigned him to Western Pennsylvania. He soon got in hot water for offering communion to all varieties of Presbyterians and was drummed out of the Chartiers Presbytery. For most of a year, Thomas Campbell preached to friends who formed the Christian Association of Washington. To inform others of the nature of the association, he wrote "The Declaration and Address." Alexander and the rest of the Campbell family arrived just as Thomas was putting the finishing touches on the document. That document combined with the experiences of Alexander in Scotland led to the establishment of the Campbellian reform movement.

This brings us to the relationship of Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone. It is commonly thought that the two men were "fast friends." Frankly, I doubt that! Major differences stood between the two men. Campbell and Stone held different views on the Trinity. Campbell was a strict Trinitarian, Stone verged on a Unitarian or Arian view of the Godhead. Both had divergent views of the nature of the atonement. Campbell held firmly to the substitutionary atonement believing that Jesus died for to pay sin's penalty on our behalf. Stone held to a view usually called the "Moral Influence Theory." That is, Jesus died to demonstrate self-sacrificing love. Although both men believed immersion was the biblical form of baptism, Campbell strongly argued that baptism resulted in "fomal" forgiveness of sins. Stone, however, came to believe baptism resulted in the forgiveness of sins but he was "softer" on it and preferred not to make an issue of it. Campbell held that the proper name for Christ's followers was "Disciple," and he continued to argue for it long after the two movements united in Georgetown and Lexington, Kentucky. Stone pled for the name "Christian" to the exclusion of all others. Campbell and his followers held that any Christian could baptize new believers and preside at the Lord's Table. Stone and his followers were of the persuasion that an ordained minister was required for both. I think both men respected each other and recognized each other as brothers, but I do not see them as hearty friends. Respected colleagues who called for unity and acceptance in spite of differences, you bet. Buddies! I don't think so.

Over the 200 years of the movement one can see tremendous diversity on a multitude of other issue: instrumental music, Sunday Schools, millennial theories single cup or multiple cup communion services, organizations, colleges, radio programs, publications. There were always those who refused to permit others to pigeonhole them, but in time fractures occurred. The fractures occurred because someone insisted everyone had to think alike on this issue or that.

The same attitudes continue today. Is baptism for the remission of sins or is it a part of the process of salvation? My answer to the question is, YES. Sponsorship of various programs and organizations led to doctrinal error in the past. Some argue that's a sufficient argument for rejecting organizational sponsorship of the North American Christian Convention or portions of its program. Others respond that just because it was damaging in the past it does not necessarily mean it will lead to "digression." Signing contracts with sponsor organizations for constructions projects resulted in lost buildings when congregations withdrew from fellowship with the organization. That's enough of a reason to avoid such contracts even with church supported lending agencies say some. Others argue it is only good business to protect the investments of numerous Christians who saved with the agency. In the past, mission sending organizations capitulated to Liberalism, comity agreements, and Open Membership. Therefore, Christians should reject all such organizations and support missionaries drectly. Wait, say others, it isn't the concept of the organization and cooperation that is bad, it is the wrong-headed theology of their leadership. I could go on!

What should we do? Remember that in your biological family it is rare for every family member to see all things alike. In spite of these differences, the familial ties remain strong. A brother is still a brother. You may not agree or even like what he does but you can't change the DNA. You may discuss your differences loud and long. Feelings might even get hurt, but when the "chips" are down you are still brothers. It is only a dysfunctional family where such animosity creates withdrawal and ostracism.

Should it be different in Christ's body, the church? I think not. I heartily disagree with many of my brothers in the Lord over biblical, structural, and leadership issues but they are still my brothers. Like T.B. Larimore, I don't want to push away with whom I disagree. Unlike Brother Lairmore, however, I will give my position. I will hold to my convictions until proven by Scripture or reason that I'm wrong. Believe me, a lot has changed in my 44 years of ministry. A lot of my convictions have matured. Some have changed. But some things don't change. I love the Lord. I love my brothers and sisters in Christ. (I admit there are a few I don't like much, but I love them.) I still think everyone else has as much right to be wrong as I do! There are still some areas where I draw the line, but they are fewer now than years ago.

Should this reduce any concern you or I have for spiritual drift in the church? Absolutely not! We must, however, be careful that we separate genuine spiritual drift from our own uninformed conscience (see Romans 14). We must also be careful to warn in a spirit of concern and love, not a spirit of vindictiveness and rancor. We must also be ready to rescue those whose rejection of our warnings -- if correct -- produce difficulty while rejecting the temptation to say, "I told you so."

Think about these things.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Q & A

I designed and published First Christian Church's (Canton) first web site over the protests of those on the Publicity Committee. Bless his heart, my good friend Bernie Clements just didn't see much value in such a thing. Bernie went home to the Lord a couple of years ago, but the web site has undergone several iterations since then. Each time the site became more professional and more effective.

As the site developed, one of the pages we put up was an "Ask Mike" page. Mark Martens wrote a page permitting surfers to ask questions. Each of those questions came to me and I wrote an answer. After I left Canton the questions remained on line for a while then were taken down and the files came to me. Several friends over the past couple of years said I should put them back online. You can now see them at www.christianchronicler.com, my personal web site. Most of the questions remain unedited so you will see First Christian Church's name occasionally. In time I'll edit those and make them more generic. Once I learn how to do it, I will prepare a response page permitting new questions. Until then, you may email questions to me at mhines5@gmail.com.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Enjoying the Rest

I've been unemployed for 3 weeks now. I've spent the time several ways.

First, I've spent a lot of time networking letting friends and family know what's happened and asking them to keep their eyes and ears open for me. We have always sought God's will for our lives and we're not changing that.

Second, my wife and I are considering all our options. At this point we are in no hurry to make a decision. That hasn't been too hard regarding a different ministry because there's not a lot of options there at this point. While our emphasis may change, we are concentrating our search west of the Rockies. Our son and his family recently moved west and they are not anxious to see us relocate across the country. Should God open an obvious door we will, of course, reconsider. Another option is semi-retirement. We would both continue to work some to maintain a positive cash flow. I currently have some on-line teaching and I am interested to see if there are other opportunities for that sort of work. So, I've been sending out resumes, spending time in prayer, and discussing other opportunities.

Third, I've been getting a lot of rest. Frankly, I found I needed it. The months spent at CCV were stressful and tiring. That fact alone should have revealed to me I was "out of my element."

Fourth, I've been writing. A few years ago I wrote a history of the early church for Moriah School of Ministry in Australia. I used it here in the states in my training class in Canton and in the church history class I taught at CCV before I went on staff. Now I'm writing the history of the later church. My overarching thesis is that most changes in Christ's church result from unintended consequences rather than overt efforts to pervert it. Satan had his plan, to be sure, but the human element involved is just that--human effort to do the right thing with unintended consequences. There are exceptions and these exceptions prove the rule.

In the process, then, of waiting on God I've kept busy doing my part.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Thanks for the support

The ball of life bounces in funny ways. In fact, it bounces more strangely than a football after a squib kick. Right now the ball of my life is bouncing more strangely than ever. I want to thank those of you who commented on my last page, whether published or not, to provide me with encouragement. Your thoughtfulness is appreciated.

When I went to CCV I knew I was taking a risk. Some of my readers felt there were serious doctrinal concerns with the church. If you read my previous posts, you know some even suggested I'd "gone soft" or "changed my theology." The fact is, there should be little concern over doctrine at CCV. If you understand the Restoration Movement, you know that in 1831 the followers of Alexander Campbell (the Disciples) and those of Barton Stone (the Christians) united in Georgetown, KY. Campbell, in spite of what some may think after reading the Lunenburg correspondence, strongly held that baptism was for the remission of sins. Stone came to agree that baptism was immersion in water for the remission of sins, but was characteristically silent on the issue for the most part. He chose not to make it an issue. That's pretty much the stand at CCV. As it is taught there, baptism is immersion in water and part of the salvation process. As with Stone, the matter is then closed.

While there were undoubtedly issues with me that I know nothing about (specifically), I was seen to be "too academic" for the CCV DNA. Because it takes me time to get to know people and to build rapport, I was judged as possessing poor relational skills. Okay, I like my books and communicating through writing is often easier for me than face-to-face even though in disciplinary or teaching situations I prefer the latter. As a result, my efforts were seen as inconsequential. Perhaps so!

As I said above, I knew I was taking a risk to accept a position at CCV. I recognized the corporate mentality before I went there. I understood that much was expected. I also know that I didn't mesh with the church's personality. It was, as they say, a matter of time. I had hoped I might have more time to communicate my philosophy and get a program off the ground. I didn't. So be it!

What are we going to do? I don't have a clue! If I am going to practice what I preach, then I must continue to remember that even when things are most confusing God is still in control. We may look toward semi-retirement. I'm networking and looking for places where I might fit in. We may seek employment in other fields (Walmart is always looking) for a few years. I plan to continue my on-line teaching as long as possible. If you know of places where an old guy might fit in, forward them to me at my home email which is in my profile. If not there, post a comment. God provided enough through severance and emergency savings to see us through for a while. I would be lying if I said I wasn't stressed and just a tad afraid. But something will work out. In a worst case scenario, my cousin from Europe left us with two new tents we could use!!!

Monday, November 27, 2006

As of today I am no longer employed at Christ's Church of the Valley. I received my termination notice this afternoon (Monday, Nov. 27). I was deeply disappointed that it didn't work out. I felt for some time that I wasn't measuring up and I was experiencing substantial stress as a result. So I wasn't entirely surprised when the word came down. I have no regrets, no bitterness, and no anger over all this. I just wasn't gifted to perform at the level of the expectations at CCV.

I don't know what God has in store for my wife and I at this point, but we will trust God to open doors. To date He has never let us down. I can't say that at my age there isn't some fear, but we will wait upon the Lord.

Tonight I taught my last class at CCV. We went through two lessons on Joseph and his dreams. He had a dream, too, but his dream was denied, frought with doubt, destroyed, and then in God's own time revealed and accepted. It was providential that I had that figured for the last lesson in this sequence.

The next chapter has yet to be written.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Defining Moment

Some time ago one of my colleagues asked me if I could think of one defining moment in my life. I thought for a moment and replied, “It was the night Joe Eggebrecht, my minister at First Church of Christ in Sutherland, Iowa, came to our house to volunteer to be my guardian for a year."

Let me explain! It was February of my junior year in high school and my mother was let go from her teaching job. She’d exploded in the classroom in part because her principal would not support her efforts at discipline. Her temper resulted in her dismissal although the School Board graciously paid her for the remaining months of her contract. Her dismissal meant that I would have to go to a third high school. I did not want to move again. I had become a Christian, made friends at school, earned a football letter, and was a leader in several school clubs. Completely unknown to my mom and me, the church leadership met and decided that the church would “adopt” me for a year and Joe would be my guardian. If mom and I accepted, and if mom would pay the $25 legal fee to set up the guardianship it would all happen.

She accepted; I was elated. For all intents and purposes I was almost on my own after school let out that year. The church got me a job with Burdette Weaver. I lived on the farm and worked for him until football started in late August. He tried me at cultivating, but after I tore out about 12 rows of corn, he gave up on that. I spent the summer painting outbuildings, baling hay, checking electric fence, and doing chores. I had a salary, although I can’t remember how much it was, along with three squares and a bed.

When football started, I moved into town into a room in the home of Harriet Reist, a widow lady who lived about two doors from the church. My mom sent me $50 a month to pay my rent, buy my meals, and take care of my recreation. I had no car in a small town of about 800 people, so there was little outside of church activities for me to do. After the first semester, I moved into the basement of the parsonage and helped the Eggebrechts some with money for meals. The basement was just that! It was an area cut out of the dirt with a cot. Church members took turns doing my laundry and taking me home with them on the weekend for meals.

I also spent a lot of time at the home of Harold Steele. Harold was the uncle of one of my best friends and classmate Phil Steele. Whenever Harold had work, he got me to come do it. I helped him dig a trench across the drive for pipe to carry water to the barn. I helped him clean the chicken house, hog house, and barn. I helped him bale hay. After I graduated from high school in 1961, I spent most of the summer at his place. On one occasion, he took his family on a round robin vacation trip to most of the Iowa State Parks. While he was gone, I kept the place going for him. In addition, he let me drive his pickup and bale hay for other farmers in the area. When the family returned from their trip, he permitted me to drive his new Ford Fairlane. I remember driving that car on one of the few dates I worked up courage to get. It was with Pat Prunty, a lovely redhead from Cleghorn, Iowa. Pat later went to Morningside College and then eventually to the music staff at Ozark Christian College.

Throughout that last year, I thought a lot about what I could do to thank the Sutherland church for doing so much for me. During that time I flirted with the idea of Bible College but wasn’t sure I wanted to do that since my dream was to coach football and teach in public schools. I thought that might become a reality when the coach of NAIA powerhouse Northwestern College of Iowa spent some time with me in an attempt to recruit me to his program. He promised a half tuition scholarship until I made the traveling squad, then it would become a full ride scholarship. Knowing I could not afford the tuition, I asked what he would do if I lettered two years in Junior College. He told me Northwestern would give me a full scholarship. With that in mind, I contacted the coach at Norfolk (Nebraska) Junior College and asked if there were any scholarships available. I was 6’ 2” and 227 pounds and had lettered in both my junior and senior years. He replied that NJC would offer me a half tuition scholarship. Well, that was $25! It was, however, in my price range and with Nebraska Christian College in the same town I could afford it.

To make a long story shorter, I left for NCC and NJC in late August to arrive in time for “two-a-days” with $125 saved from summer work. I registered for 16 hours at the junior college and 4 hours at NCC (that permitted me to live in NCC’s dorm) and reported to the National Guard Armory for football. In December of 1961, I committed my life to ministry of some sort and the rest is, as they say, history.

It was a small congregation of believers in Sutherland, Iowa, who made a major difference in my life. While I owe the most to my Savior, there is also a debt of gratitude I’ll never be able to repay to that group of leaders who made a difference in one boy.

I owe a lot to Terry Miles, who, to my knowledge, never became a Christian. It was Terry who nagged me into my first visit at First Church of Christ. I owe even more to the Steele families. Si and Doris kept in touch and have been interested in my ministries to this day. Si left us to go home with the Lord a few years ago. Because of distance and expenses I was unable to attend his services and I regret that. His sons, Phil and Tom, remain fast friends – men I care about and appreciate for their encouragement and friendship. I lost track of the other boys in the family and Virginia, the oldest in the family. I still pray for Sue, with whom all of us high school boys were in love with, because she is fighting cancer.

I still owe Harold Steele a lot, too. He did more than give me jobs. He provided counsel and direction in my life. I know this sounds terrible, but I think I wept more at the time of his untimely death beneath his tractor wheels, than I did for my mother. One of his gifts to me when I went to Bible College was his collection of Christian Standards. He had several decades saved and I kept them for many years. Today those papers are part of the collection of the library at Boise Bible College in Idaho.

What I’ve been trying to say is that the defining moment in my life was when one small Iowa church stepped forward and took me under their wing. My life was changed forever. I wasn’t the moment I accepted Christ. It wasn’t an emotional experience at all. It was the decision of a small group of people to “be the body of Christ.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Rick is oh, so naive!

Rick Warren’s recent observations on the circumstances Christians face in Syria is just another example of now naïve Christians can be. As the guest of the Syrian government, Warren undoubtedly saw only what the Baathist regime wanted him to see and hear from those the regime wanted him to hear.

Muslim governments do allow Christians and Jews to live within their borders. In some cases there is overt persecution, but more often than not the persecution is more difficult to see. One of the greatest obstacles believers face in Muslim countries is the general prohibition against “proselyting.” Christians can live among them but they can not overtly share their message. To do so results in arrest and incarceration! I know of an Egyptian Christian who returned to his country and was arrested for sharing his faith with another. Christians and Jews are often required to pay special taxes or face other, more stringent, restrictions.

My wife and I regularly visit believers in Asia. From all outward appearances, they seem free to worship and move about the country as they choose. As an observer visiting that country only briefly I would conclude the church is not persecuted and is free to do God’s work openly. As someone who has been there, I know that is not the case. There are limitations on what we can say, where we can go, and what we can do. Too many Americans in one location is a cause for concern. It is true that as long as the believers conform to the government they enjoy some freedom, but one never knows when that can be removed. In some instances where Christians object to governmental restrictions or call for greater freedom there are instances of overt persecution. Only the most naïve would say the church enjoys complete freedom to exist alongside Buddhism.

Our president recently visited Vietnam. While there he spent time in a church in personal worship. One would think Christians have freedom to worship under the communist government of Vietnam. That is not the case. Government officials confiscate Bibles, destroy church buildings, and warn believers not to evangelize. I’m sure the press corps accompanying Mr. Bush have the impression that freedom of religion prevails in Vietnam. Such is the naiveté of the press!

I greatly respect Rick Warren for his ministry in southern California. The Saddleback Church is a great church and has tremendous impact for the Gospel in southern California. At the same time, I think he has little experience with the world situation or how the godless rulers of various nations can present a pleasant face while ugliness lurks beneath the surface. And Christians are sometimes the world’s most naïve!

I know Rick Warren has a heart for those in need, but he needs to stick with what he knows and not pontificate on what he thinks he knows.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Thoughts on God

“Christian Standard” magazine recently published a two-part series on “open theism.” I found them stimulating. It will be a while before that issue impacts the local church, but the concepts of “open theism” will undoubtedly stir controversy.

At issue are the existence of evil, man’s free will, and predestination. Open theists argue that if God genuinely permits free will then He can’t foreknow those choices which have not yet been made. Further, prayer truly impacts God and He can decide another course of action. It is all thought provoking and challenging. The arguments also tend toward the philosophical and disregard or reinterpret those passages speaking of God’s foreknowledge, predictive prophecy, and providential control of individuals and events.

I like articles like those in “the Standard” because they challenge me to try to get my mind around difficult concepts. Some around here think I’ve done that so long that I can no longer communicate for the average person. After reading these articles, however, I pretty much returned to my earlier conclusion that finite man simply can’t comprehend the actions of an infinite God. God chooses to reveal Himself to us. He did so through the prophets, but in these last days He did so through His Son (Hebrews 1:1, 2). God could never reveal everything about Himself, but when Jesus came He came with skin on and when we see Jesus we’ve seen the Father.

The articles have the impact of raising our comprehension of the Father beyond the mundane. One of the dangers, in my view, of open theism is the insistence that love is God’s primary characteristic. If so, the open theist must do more than make the assertion. They must also explain what they mean because this culture’s concept of love has little relationship to the biblical concept. It is precisely because we’ve identified love as God’s primary characteristic that our culture has lost any sense of reverence for Him. We tend to see God as a loving God who overlooks every errant behavior because He loves us. Such a soft incomplete view of God has been “out there” for a long time. I’m old enough to remember the song “He” back in the 1950s. Those who sang it on the “Hit Parade” sang it just as written:

Though it makes Him sad to see the way we live,
He’ll always say, “I forgive.”

Garbage! That’s just not true and it has the stench of hell around it. The second line needs amending to, “He’s always ready to forgive.” Now that’s more like it.

You see, the open theists got it all turned around. God’s primary characteristic isn’t love. He is love, but that’s just one of His characteristics. First and foremost, God is holy. Our God is a holy God! From God’s holiness come the twin demands of love and justice. God’s holy justice demands sin be punished. God’s holy love desires the salvation of the sinner. Only the atonement satisfied both requirements (see Romans 3).

Wrestling with the concepts presented systematic theology is great fun. I’ve learned so much from a study of systematic theology. But when the “rubber hits the road” it all comes back to “what does the Bible say.” We “speak where the Scripture speaks ….” I don’t have to understand everything there is to know about God to establish a personal relationship with Him. I expect to learn a host of subtle nuances about Him as my faith in Him grows deeper. At the same time, it is not knowing a lot of information about God that is so important. Knowing God trumps that! Having a relationship with Him does not require exhaustive knowledge. I’ve been married for 41 years now and I’m still learning things about my mate. Why should I expect it to be different with God?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On Ministry in the Larger Church

Not long ago Paul Williams offered some great observations about leaders coming into the church from the corporate world. These leaders come with tremendous decision-making and project experience. They know how to get things done through people. They also know how to communicate with and motivate people. At the same time, Williams said, they often do not have a depth of biblical knowledge necessary to Christian ministry. I would add one other observation to that. I am not certain if these leaders understand the "heart" of ministry. The project and the "bottom line" sometimes take precedence over the needs of people.

The executive would cut to the chase and point out that the "needs of the many" outweight the "needs of the few." Perhaps so in the business world, but this isn't the way Jesus conducted ministry. He took the time to minister to the needs of individuals and care deeply about their needs. On one occasion when his disciples were off rounding up dinner, Jesus took the time to minister to the deepest needs of a sinful woman who came seeking water. Another time, Jesus healed an infirm man by the Pool of Siloam who was unable to get into the water. A Roman official came to him imploring him to heal his child. Jesus did so. The Gospels are replete with such stories. The "one sheep who had gone astray" concerned the Master.

Let me turn that last situation around. I'm often concerned that we are so concerned with the 99 who have gone astray that we forget the one lonely sheep struggling to live for Christ. There was a day I understood that! Maybe getting older heightens the recognition of the needs of the struggling sometimes forgotten believer. Those needs are as varied as those with whom Jesus came in contact. Some are trying to win their workmates but are having a hard time because they can't get answers to questions and they're gradually getting sucked into another orbit. I think, too, of those who sacrificed a great deal for Christ's Kingdom and now feel unwanted and unneeded because everything is targeted toward the young. How often do we give up meeting such needs for another meeting or another project or another program?

Please don't misunderstand me! I want to do everything we can to reach the lost and bring them into an adventure with Christ. I just think we need to always remember that people come first! I know projects have deadlines and things need to happen, but people still need to come first. If we get the cart before the horse it will bring harm to the cause of Christ.

We need the vitality, the drive, the decisiveness of leaders from the corporate sector who are willing to allow Christ to make their lives significant. We also need those with a heart for people -- the lost and the saved. Perhaps like those old commercials for Reeses Cups, we need to let the chocolate of the world of ministry and Bible knowledge dip into the jar of peanut butter and produce something better!

Just a thought!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

On Barna's "Revolution"

Praise God for the revolutionaries George Barna writes about in his recent book Revolution. Barna anticipates the rejection of his insights as he writes almost apologetically about what he sees “out there.” While there are, I think, some legitimate concerns, perhaps reactions should be more positive. This blog is a reaction to Barna’s little Tyndale book.

Barna’s research discovered that millions are developing dynamic spiritual lives without dependence on a local church. Holding a firm conviction that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, these highly literate individuals seek to discover and apply the living Word to their lives every day. According to Barna, their experiences in local churches sometimes enhanced that effort but more often than not they felt frustrated by the their churches’ inability to match practice with profession. As a result, Barna says many of these frustrated Christians are turning to other types of relationships and activities that better express Christ’s call to action. This is especially true among those Barna labels Mosaics (those born between 1984 and 2002). While I don’t have the statistical data Barna does, my own observations and experiences tell me why this is happening.

1. Church is ill-defined and understood by most religious leaders and church members alike. While it is true that Christ’s body reveals itself in local assemblies, the typical local church may or may not be a valid expression. Thomas Campbell said the “church of Christ on earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the scriptures.” Campbell follows this quote from the “Declaration and Address” with the recognition that the church exists in distinct and separate societies – local congregations or gatherings. Barna is right, however, in that there is no specific description given to local congregations in the New Testament. It assumes such assemblies or communities exist in areas described – Rome, Galatia, Corinth, and so on. The only organizational structure discussed is elder oversight and deacon service. New Testament churches met in homes, in the temple court in Jerusalem, or in catacombs; anywhere two or three were together there was the church. It is time for us to take the blinders off and see that Christ’s church is far larger than most of us want to admit. Perhaps in the 21st Century it would be better to think in Kingdom terms rather than church.

2. We’ve encouraged a false idea of worship. For well over a thousand years, the church has focused on specified time segments set apart for coming together for worship. We have “worship services.” Worship isn’t a ritual to be performed; it is a condition of the heart! One of the reasons we’ve had the “music wars” is the fact we tend to identify music with worship. We think worship occurs when we are “singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord.”

The fact is, there is nothing in the New Testament about a “worship service.” Some take Acts 2:42 as an outline for worship, but it tells us what those early converts in Jerusalem did when they came together. Singing is notably absent!

In another article on this site, I made a case for seeing worship as sacrifice. It is a heart response that presents self to God as a “living sacrifice” and sees all of life as the altar where it is accomplished. You can worship at 10:00 am Sunday morning if your heart is right, but you can also worship at 10:00 am Thursday morning in your work place as you work hard to please the living Christ.

Barna’s revolutionaries apparently understand this compartmentalizing of life into spheres of worship and everyday life is false.

3. We’ve misunderstood the role of professional ministry. In fact, we might have more of a medieval concept than we want to admit. Many of us are certainly afraid that if Barna’s vision is true, we’ll “lose our jobs.” You know what? As a young minister, I thought my responsibility was to “preach myself out of a job.” In fact, I did just that in Anita, Iowa, when I got fired from my first full time ministry. That’s not what I mean by “preaching myself out of a job.” I saw my task as God’s servant to prepare the saints for works of service. I believed that ideally individual believers – the priesthood of all believers – should step up and “be the church.”

Back in those days – the 1960s – we lived in perilous times. The Russian Bear still stalked the earth and the communist threat felt all too real. I believed part of my responsibility was to prepare the church to exist without titled ministers. We thought that if the communists ever took over, biblical preachers would be executed.

Those fears never realized, of course, and the Iron Curtain rusted apart. Let’s face it, though. We are still living in perilous times! It is becoming increasingly fashionable to bash Christians. Barna points out that his research shows that the church hardly impacts our culture. All too many Americans see biblical Christianity as a threat. In addition to the internal stress, there are increasing pressures from those who wield the scimitar (spiritually speaking). Haven’t you noticed the increasing messages from the Muslim world boldly stating the way to end terrorism is for all of us to convert to Islam? A day may come when Christians will go underground. Shouldn’t we be preparing believers to follow Christ without our (the professional ministry) prodding?

I could say much more, but I also want to mention a couple of areas of concern in what Barna outlines in his book.

1. Barna is not consistent in his descriptions. Early in the book, he states that most revolutionaries come out of the Mosaic generation although he would include some Boomers as well. One of the descriptors of the Mosaics is their tendency to reject the idea of absolute truth and elevate tolerance. Later in the book, he describes revolutionaries as those who accept the Bible as absolute authority. I don’t think he can have it both ways. The postmodern stereotype is that all faith systems are seen as viable for the individual. Now I suppose that the revolutionaries could see the Bible as absolute for themselves, but they could hardly live that out consistently if they accepted all other faith systems on equal footing.

2. Barna is very general in his understanding of the revolutionaries’ core beliefs. He says “revolutionaries have a wholly biblical outlook on life, based on the belief that the Bible is God’s perfect and reliable revelation designed to instruct and guide all people. The core beliefs of these Christ-followers relate to the existence, origins, character, and purpose of God; the origins and purpose of people; the need for and means to eternal salvation; the expository and content of moral and spiritual truth; and the existence, powers and role of various spiritual beings …” (p. 88).

All of that is well and good, but most of these revolutionaries will not read the Bible itself to determine their beliefs. They will rely on a lot of printed material available in the popular Christian press. If they would just study God’s Word, and only God’s Word, I would be less concerned. I still think they would need some assistance in understanding the context and backgrounds of each book and author found in the Bible. With the plethora of study Bibles and commentaries “out there,” there is a hodge-podge of theological and heretical material as well. I still believe “the Bible only makes Christians only,” but I’m not so confident of all the other stuff.

So what can we do in the long haul if Barna is right?

1. We must begin to see the place where the assembly meets as a resource center. It is time we returned to a biblical perspective of seeing the gathering of Christians as a time for encouragement and instruction. The elements we generally link to “worship” can be part of that, but those things – the Lord’s Supper, for example – can be done any time any where.

2. We must faithfully fulfill 2 Timothy 2:2. American Christians, those who take so much for granted, need to get a grip not only on the pragmatics but the foundational. Scripture considers a balance of content and application. We must consistently seek new methods and new structures to communicate the meaning and purpose of God’s Word to a new generation. The old message must remain at the center and we must never confuse method with message.

Well, there you have it. Another tome!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Preliminary Thoughts on the Emergent Church

Four years ago, when I attended my first National Pastors’ Convention, I first heard about the Emerging or Emergent Church. It was an “add on” to the convention sessions I attended. I perceived it to be sessions designed for those commonly considered Gen-X or Millennial. Walking through the area designated for the Emergent Church sessions, it became clear there were “older” preachers interested in those sessions as well.

Four years later Zondervan Publishing produces a complete line of books and materials for the Emergent Church. Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and Dan Kimball are, pardon the expression, emerging as leaders. At least one Cincinnati Christian University graduate, as demonstrated in Gibbs and Bolger’s The Emerging Church identifies himself with the Emergent crowd.

Writers, preachers, and an assortment of scholars finally became aware of the Emergent Church in the past year or so. D.A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is just one of these. Zondervan published his largely negative critique just last year. Dale van Dyke critiqued Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis, on his web site, www.reformation21.org last February. The leaders of Xenos Christian Fellowship in Columbus, Ohio, also panned the Emergent crowd on their web site. Christianity Today evaluated the movement in November in an article entitled, “The Emergent Mystique” by Andy Crouch.

With all of the attention focusing on the Emergent Church, I felt like I need to say something about it. At this point, however, my observations are preliminary and not all that well thought out. But let me give it a go!

1. Don’t stereotype Emergent Churches. Some of the criticisms leveled at these churches assume that all of them are alike. While there are similar characteristics found in many of these congregations, they are not all alike in doctrine and methodology. Furthermore, they are not fully consistent in all they do or say. I have found that the one thing consistent with human beings is their inconsistency. When we stereotype, we project the idea that all of those identified as this or that are exactly alike. Therefore, when you see the characteristics identified remember that these apply to the Emergent Churches in general but do not necessarily apply in specifics.

2. Many, but not all of the Emergent leaders, are young. That means their theological base is not fully formed. It also means they do not always see the consequences of their thinking. Brian McLaren is only one exception and anyone who reads his material must admit that trying to nail down his thinking is like trying to nail down a helping of jello. Reading McLaren makes me uncomfortable. I reject some of what he writes because he comes from a Calvinist background making some of his foundational assumptions questionable. Other ideas he proposes makes me uncomfortable because I sense he has serious questions about Scripture. That makes me nervous. Still other ideas make me uncomfortable because they challenge some of my own preconceived ideas. Rather than turning me off, however, these things prompt me to rethink my stand and go back to Scripture.

The same is true with Rob Bell. I heard Rob Bell give a fascinating exposition of Leviticus 16 at one of the National Pastors’ Conferences. He made the Old Testament teaching about the Day of Atonement come alive. There was no questioning of the historical significance of Scripture or any attempt to see that biblical teaching as metaphorical – typical, maybe, but not metaphorical. Still, reading Velvet Elvis and watching one of his “Nooma” DVDs made me uncomfortable. Again, I’m not exactly sure why, but some of his statements raised the hackles on the back of my neck as he challenged my presuppositions.

3. Robert Webber doesn’t go back far enough. Robert Webber spoke at the North American Christian Convention Regional Conferences in 2005. His books The Ancient-Future Church and The Ancient-Future Gospel are interesting books. Webber used those books as the basis for his message at the conferences. As I listened to him attempt to identify himself with the Acts 2 church, it became clear he had no idea what that was all about. Nearly every effort on his part to go back to the early church reached the Second Century and screeched to a halt. He talked about the Acts 2 model, but identified it with the second century. He needed to go back to Acts 2!

Dan Kimball’s seminal work on the Emergent Church speaks often about the “ancient Scriptures,” the “ancient Church,” and the “ancient Faith.” When I first read his material, I was interested in an approach that sounded much like our own Restoration Movement concerns – redigging the ancient wells. It became clear, however, that it wasn’t all about “restoring the New Testament Church.” It was more of an attempt to reclothe the second century church with post-modern clothing. Frankly, I like some of what he said, but wasn’t thoroughly convinced.

4. Contemplation and Spiritual Formation isn’t all bad. My daughter first turned me on to Dallas Willard. I first read The Divine Conspiracy and then Spirit of the Disciplines and Renovation of the Heart. I just finished Revolution of Character by Willard and Don Simpson published by Navpress. Those critical of the Emergent Church would have us think Willard and others want to take us back to the monastic contemplation of the Desert Fathers and other early monastic movements.

Come on guys! What Willard calls for is the fulfilling of all of the Great Commission. Churches, especially our mega-churches, have done a great job winning the lost rather than just shuffling members from one church to another. The problem, as Willard sees it, is that the contemporary (I’m not using the term modern on purpose) church hasn’t followed up in an effort to “teach them to observe all things.” We have made church members but not disciples. I used to think there wasn’t a difference, now I know better. Let’s face it, most church members come to church rather than being the church. They are as much or more citizens of this world than they are the Kingdom of God. All too many, I think, are Christians in name only who go through the motions, observe the rituals, but whose life can’t be changed to the likeness of Christ because they are too concerned with “what’s in it for me” than in following Jesus. I sat with Willard for 16 hours over two years and know he stresses teaching the content of Scripture, passing down what was taught (2 Timothy 2:2), and setting aside time for letting it sink in so you can live it out. He doesn’t call for “navel gazing.” He calls for the practice of spiritual disciplines that help the Christian realize God wants him to construct a whole new worldview – a biblical worldview.

5. The emphasis on experience bugs me. In Canton we talked about how people wanting to worship God wanted to “feel” the presence of God. It was decided, not by an active decision but by practice, that the way to do that was to turn the bass up on the soundboard so that everyone’s innards vibrated during worship. This whole thing about a “worship experience” bothers me! I don’t mind contemporary music, but I don’t see it as worship. I like some of the old favorites and the mellow gospel choruses of the 80s and 90s, but I don’t see them as worship either. Worship is a response to the heart and doesn’t depend on externals. It is how I respond to God and His Word every day, not just on Saturday evening of Sunday morning.

One young man taking my Romans Class said that now that he was a Christian he was waiting for God to “tap him on the shoulder and tell him what to do.” As I sat talking with him, I said I can tell you that right now and I don’t have to tap your shoulder to do it. He asked me to clue him in so I said, “God wants you to live out your faith right now where you are.” All of those folks out there seeking some sort of religious or mystical experience just need to open their eyes and do what God commands in Scripture – be a Christ-follower, do what He says, and live your life to His glory. You don’t need a deep bass voice speaking from heaven to tell you that.

6. The church today is just as rigid as it ever was. We have fought the music wars and music lost. In most, but not all, Boomer churches attempts at changing to reach younger generations is met with just as much disdain and antagonism as they met in the 1960s and 1970s. Craig Bird said, “Many of today’s church leaders who as youth battled to get guitars and drums into the sanctuary now disdain Millennial innovations as irreligious.” Peter York said, “The church is as rigid today as it was in the 1960s. What do some of the younger generations want? Believe it or not, they want to sing some of the old songs of the faith. They might dress them up or change the arrangements, but they don’t disparage the songs their grandparents love.

Gen-Xers and Millennials also like the “feel” of candles and a sense of authenticity rather than show. It is said they don’t like mega-churches, but 10,000 gather every weekend to hear Rob Bell in his converted shopping mall in Michigan. Somehow that doesn’t compute. If my own daughter and son-in-law are any indication, they do like services that feel more personal, intimate, and close. Friends and connections mean a lot more to them than they do to me. That’s personality based. I have a few good friends, they have a lot of friends and they are close to them.

What am I saying? I’m saying that what goes around comes around. Boomers who prefer the professionalism of the contemporary mega-church fight their own children who want to introduce some of the “old things” back into worship. I’ve seen all this coming. I’ve wondered for years what will happen when the Boomers reach retirement age. Now I know! Churches need to change some of their methodology to reach a different generation – just as we do on the mission field – but they must never change the eternal message.

7. We’ve been fighting for a strong view of Scripture for years. Questioning the nature of Scripture isn’t something new to the Emergent Church. Whether it is the Liberals of the 19th Century or the Neo-Orthodox of the last Century, there are always those who misuse Scripture. Back in the 1970s, when I was in graduate school, we fought those who said, “The Bible contains the Word of God rather than the Bible is the Word of God.” There were those who said Genesis 1-11 was just story or myth. It’s only a short jump from such things to Genesis 1-11 is a metaphor. I don’t believe that and most Christians don’t either. Just as most believers weren’t fooled by Liberals or Neo-Orthodox, they won’t be fooled by those who today attempt to make the Bible a human product or simply a metaphor for life. Skeptics, rebels, and the foolishly misguided may succumb to such things but we’ll never be able to protect everyone. We have to preach the truth, hold Scripture as the inerrant Word of God, and reach those we can. Listen. I’m not saying we shouldn’t defend the Scripture, but those who want to wander off after foolish teaching are going to do it. We’re told not to throw pearls before the swine. There are too many lost people to get tied up arguing with a few who don’t want to see God’s Word as absolute objective truth.

Those of us in the Restoration Movement have something to offer today’s search for truth. We need to keep our heads on straight and refuse to allow ourselves to get distracted. What can we offer? Here’s a couple of thoughts.

1. We have always emphasized biblical theology (story) over systematic theology. Hey, I like systematic theology. I’m working on a book that is a popularized combination of systematic theology and evidences. Until 1960 most Bible Colleges in the Restoration Movement offered no courses in systematic theology at all. Instead, we studied The Scheme of Redemption by Robert Milligan or something similar. We generally taught Bible doctrine in Bible classes.

Now I know this isn’t the same as “the Bible as narrative,” but it could be. I think it is important to help people get a picture of God’s plan for redeeming man or, you could say, the scarlet thread that runs through the whole Bible.

2. We have always emphasized the ancient-future church. For more than 200 years we’ve been crying out that the way to unity is to return to a recognition of biblical authority. We just need to call out that it isn’t enough to return to the Second Century, we have to go back to the First Century. Our non-denominational, Christ-honoring plea shouldn’t get bogged down on needless details (except those that bring us into relationship with Christ or are clearly taught) and focus on returning to New Testament norms. Let me give you an example. It is clear in the New Testament that Elders were to guide the church. Paul outlined their character qualities (qualifications) in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Examples of their function permeate the Epistles and can be seen in Acts. Other than that, however, we aren’t given explicit directions on how to select these leaders or their relation to a church staff or a lot of other things for that matter. The trans-generational principle is that God wants Elders to oversee the church. The specifics on how that’s done he leaves to us. He wants us to “sing and make melody in our hearts,” but he doesn’t tell us if we should use an organ, piano, jews harp, or something else. (Contrary, of course, to what some of our brothers say.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mission Mistakes

It came to my attention just this morning that Bruce Wilkinson is no longer with “Walk Thru the Bible.” Since there was nothing on the “Walk Thru” web site about Bruce, I was fearful he had died. Actually, he left “Walk Thru” hoping to fulfill a dream.

During a visit to Africa, the enormity of the AIDS crisis hit him hard and left him with an intense desire to get involved. He left “Walk Thru” and went to Swaziland, one of the areas hardest hit with the AIDS pandemic. Confident God would continue blessing him because of his ardent praying of the “Prayer of Jabez,” Wilkinson soon discovered his plan did not generate acceptance in this poor African country.

Although Wilkinson operated out of good motives, he made mistake after mistake simply because he failed to understand the African culture. Rejecting the advice of the U.S. Ambassador to Swaziland as well as Christian brethren, he forged ahead determined God would bless him and he would do a great work for God. The “Wall Street Journal” and numerous web sites chronicle what happened. Wilkinson’s dream shattered around him.

What were his mistakes?

1.     He invested almost magical qualities to the “Prayer of Jabez.” This little prayer, nestled among a listing of the descendants of Helah (1 Chronicles 4:9) calls on God to bless the prayer (Jabez) by enlarging his territory and keeping him from pain. Wilkinson attributed his fortuned earned from massive book sales to God’s faithfulness in fulfilling that prayer. In my opinion, he permitted that prayer to become a mantra and it became devalued by vain repetition.

2.     He failed to consider the African culture. Wilkinson asked for large parcels of land on which to build his “dream villages.” He did not take into consideration the fact that the nationals saw land as something of tremendous value. As a result, national leaders believed he was carving out a territory for himself rather than seeking bases of operation.

     Further, he wanted to take children orphaned by the AIDS virus away from their villages where they would be cared for. The African people saw that as a violation of their culture. If there is anywhere where “it takes a village” to nurture children, it is in Swaziland.

3.     He emphasized the secular rather than the spiritual. The emphasis was on dealing with AIDS first with little attention given to biblical evangelism. In some ways that was not a totally bad strategy, but when dealing with AIDS becomes the only emphasis, something is wrong with the agenda.

Now I am not a missiologist by any stretch of the imagination, but my own travels have taken me to Southeast Asia five times over the last seven years. As a result of those trips, I thought I understood the culture fairly well. This past trip proved me wrong. The Asian culture in which I work is so self-giving and others-oriented that it is easy to slight them with no intention. Let me give you just one example.

We spent three weeks in the Far East this spring. As we moved into the second and third week our stamina dramatically flagged. We were running out of steam. If my memory served me correctly, our tickets sent us back to the USA a day before most of the others. Several other team members decided to change their tickets and leave a day early. They had no responsibilities during that last day, so they decided to spend a day in Bangkok seeing the sights. Only later did we learn our hosts felt badly that so many decided to leave. It was merely sloppy thinking on our part. There was no desire to insult or offend, but because we failed to consider the cultural issues involved that was the result.

Bruce Wilkinson, like most Americans including those I travel with, thought every problem could be solved with an American solution. Although I think cultural understanding has to be a two-way street, I know that we Americans sometimes come across as believing our culture and our ways are superior. Perhaps in many cases they are, but in other cases they definitely are not. Many around the world desire the things and freedoms Americans enjoy, but they must come to realize that America’s plenty resulted from earlier spiritual commitments. (I know a lot of secular Americans would disagree with that last sentence, but I care not!) We must realize we can’t impose those commitments. They must be shared one individual to another. Then we must recognize that Christ’s redemption of an entire culture may shape that culture differently. Just as churches differ – even those in the same fellowship or denomination – cultures will differ in their expressions of the Gospel.

Friday, August 11, 2006


I’m writing this while sitting in the Worship Center of Christ’s Church of the Valley.  It is break time during the 2006 Willowcreek Leadership Summit. There are something like 550 preachers and leaders present from Arizona and the surrounding area. I understand that Central Christian Church in Mesa is also hosting a simulcast.

This is the first such “summit” I’ve attended. I did so because I always want to learn and, possibly more importantly, because the church here paid my registration.

What are my impressions? Each speaker has provided valuable insights to leadership. What strikes me so far is that most of what they are sharing is common sense focusing on dealing with people. That’s not to say there aren’t some valuable insights I’ve gleaned from the presentations to this point. Let me comment on just two of them.

James Meeks, a Black preacher from Chicago, spoke about factors that keep churches from growing. Surprisingly, he did not focus on facilities as limiting factors. The limiting factors came mostly from personal perspectives. The one that hit me was the limitation created by unsure or uncertain leaders. This has been a particularly difficult point for me to swallow. I grew up in church cultures that said the elders were the church leaders and the preacher was in submission to them. In fact, since most ministers were transitory, the elders were the permanent leaders in a particular congregation. Meeks stressed that the preacher needed to be a leader and set the pace and cast the vision. Uncertainty about direction or vision in a preacher stifles growth primarily because the local leaders may not understand the change dynamics necessary to produce growth. I always hesitated to take that sort of stance because I didn’t want people to follow me but to follow Jesus. I failed to recognize what Paul said when he wrote, “Be followers of me as I am of Christ Jesus.” My friend Leland Griffin in Grand Junction always used to say, “People will follow someone so they might as well follow me.” I wish I had understood this years ago.

The other insight came from Jim Collins who said, “It is not what you achieve; it is what you contribute.” This is not a new insight for me, but it comes from a different perspective. The problem is, however, that you may never know what you contribute. Jim Dorman, a minister in Flagstaff, greeted me yesterday. I’ve known Jim since about 1980 and he’s done a great work for God. He reminded me that I gave him a book on discipleship by Juan Carlos Ortiz while at United Christian Youth Camp in Prescott, Arizona. That book impacted him. Sometimes contributing to the life and growth of a believer is as simple as giving away a book or expressing an encouraging word to someone. Jesus pointed out that anyone who gives a cup of water to someone thirsty has done it to Him. We so often think that tremendous achievement means significant contribution. That’s not always true. Sometimes it is the quiet caring and a demonstration of Christ’s love that is all that is required.

It is important, I think, to keep in mind that genuine biblical leadership is a function not a position. Leadership is marshalling others who together can do something great when they could not do so separately. It has nothing to do with the right structures, right names, or right this or that. It has everything to do with influence. That’s what John Maxwell says. I must confess that even though Maxwell doesn’t impress me much (I’m still determined to refute one of his irrefutable laws), I do agree with him in that.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Few Personal Thoughts

This summer has been a really busy time with tasks ranging from speaking at Family Camp West at Bison Ranch in the White Mountains to teaching two segments of "Training U" here at Christ's Church of the Valley. In addition to that, we've had several house guests. George Keenan, a new friend who resides in Turkey, stayed with us nearly a week and I got acquainted with him. Earlier, our good friends Bob and Peggy Kuest stayed with us while their adopted son, Scott, had heart surgery. Then we hosted Mark Moore, a professor from Ozark Christian College who participated in our summer "Training U" sequence. Among all that a cousin in Albuquerque came to Phoenix to visit Mayo Clinic and her brother and his family came from Portugal to visit us and do some camping in the "wild wild west."

George Keenan's visit multiplied my interest in taking a group to Turkey to visit the sites of the "Seven Churches of Asia" and a variety of Pauline sites as well. George operates Rainbow Tours -- Turkey and offers several economical tours. I'm looking forward to attempting to arrange such a tour in late 2007 or the spring of 2008. As a reader of this blog, if you think you might be interested in such a trip, simply add a comment to this page including your e-mail address.

My current projects include preparing a teaching workbook on Romans for this fall here at CCV. I am also writing the text of the outline I use for teaching "First Things First," my basic doctrines class. Oh, by the way, that outline has been translated into Burmese and as soon as funds are available it will be published for distribution overseas. I also have Part II of a small church history to write. It may be simplistic, but my thesis in this book is that the changes occurring to the church over time are the result of "unintended consequences." By that, I mean that most changes were not made to subvert the church but in response to the need of the moment. There is a lesson to learn from this. It is simply that many responses to need in our present cultural situation also inevitably produce unintended consequences. Those consequences result when the response to a need ends up being calcified and hardened into "the way we've always done it." Then, too, seeing the responses to need in the past some times produces a "sheesh" response in the present. I think primarily of the current trend toward establishing satellite churches. That's exactly what the second and third century church did and it led toward the ecclesiastical structure of the Roman and Greek churches.

Enough is enough for today.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Something to Think About

Something I’ve been wrestling with for the past couple of weeks intrigues me. According to Romans 4, Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness. Does this mean Abraham’s faith resulted in his justification?

If so, then there are ramifications that need to be considered. Since justification is being declared innocent, can we say that Abraham was saved? If so, then God imputed righteousness to Abraham because of his faith and his faith saved him. This seems to match Paul’s argument in all of Romans as he says we are justified by faith.

Here’s something else to consider. Works did not save Abraham. Abraham’s faith led him to work. The same can be said of all the heroes of the faith considered in Hebrews 11. By faith, Abraham responded to God and left Ur of the Chaldees. By faith, Noah built an ark. Would I be correct to say that throughout all time, it was faith that justified men? In the Old Testament, then, those who had faith kept the Law. The Law didn’t save, but because of an explicit trust in God they obeyed him. Further, those who trusted God for their salvation observed the sacrificial system because it took blood to remit sin and each sacrifice pointed toward Jesus whose blood washes away all sin for those who trust God. At the same time, going through the motions without confidence in God was empty ceremonialism. Over and over, God warned the people not to trust in the ceremonies, the Law, or the sacrifices. According to the Word, obedience is better than sacrifice because obedience is borne of faith.

In other words, God had no Plan B for a person’s salvation. Regardless of what the Roman church or the Orthodox church taught, no work could ever possess any merit. As Jack Cottrell says so often, works are only what we ought to be doing anyway. Good deeds can’t save simply because as a creation of God, every human being belongs to him and owes him obedience. Only explicit faith (belief plus trust) can do that. The only text of this sort of faith is obedience borne of faith. Therefore, it is never faith plus works that save. It is, however, faith that leads to justification and is demonstrated in one’s obedience and upright acts (Ephesians 2:8-10).

If, and I’m just presenting a chain of thought here, faith results in justification and has done so throughout time, what is the relationship of justification and the presence of the Holy Spirit. You see, here is the rub! If the Old Testament saints were indeed justified, or saved, by their faith they were saved without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Why do I say that? It is because the Holy Spirit never indwelt anyone in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit “came upon” certain individuals to empower them for a task, but he never took up residence. Am I correct here? If so, then there is something remarkable to consider here.

Is it possible that God could justify a person prior to baptism without the immediate bestowal of the Holy Spirit? Alexander Campbell seemed to argue that a baptism was the formal indication of the remission of sins. Is it possible that the Holy Spirit takes up residence at the time God formally remits sin (see Acts 2:38 and Acts 5:32)? But is it also possible that a person is counted righteous by his or her faith?

If a person really, and I really mean really, had explicit trust in God, wouldn’t he or she do what God asked? Why would anyone who trusted Christ question the baptismal command? Why, if they truly trusted Jesus and his Word, wouldn’t they want to be baptized as soon as possible? Why would there be any argument? After all, the faith that justifies always leads to appropriate action!!

I’d really like feedback on this.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Jettison the Lord's Supper?

I’d heard it in the rumor mill, but now it’s been confirmed. At least one Christian Church scrapped the weekly Lord’s Supper.

In the first of a two-part article entitled, “How Do They Grow?,” Paul Williams noted that Christian churches are increasingly identifying with the evangelical community at large. Then, commenting on this, he added, “Some large churches and several new churches are jettisoning the Lord’s Supper from the main worship gathering of their weekend services. (The first large church of influence to do so was Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.)

Frankly, I found this disturbing.

Watch what is said above, though. Paul said these churches are jettisoning the Lord’s Supper from the main worship gathering….” I can picture the thought process leading to that decision:

  1. The Lord’s Supper is designed for Christians to remember the Lord’s sacrifice for us.

  2. The weekend services, especially Sunday morning, are the prime time for guests to attend.

  3. Many of those visiting the services will not be Christian; others will come from fellowships unfamiliar with a weekly communion service.

  4. Since 1) and 2) are true, the weekend services are primarily designed for “seekers.”

  5. Services designed for “seekers” should not involve elements that unbelievers and the unchurched will find confusing.

  6. Therefore, the Lord’s Supper should be jettisoned.

  7. The communion should be offered outside the main service or at another time. Perhaps it would be offered in another part of the building or at a service specifically designed for believers.

It might be argued there is precedent for this in the early church. In the second and third centuries, the church dismissed the catechumens (those preparing to become Christians) prior to observing the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper). In those days, church leaders probably applied similar reasoning. Furthermore, as testified by Justin Martyr, portions of the Lord’s Supper were taken to those believers absent from the assembly.

For all of that “high minded” reasoning, there is still a hollow ring to it. Here’s why. If weekend services are the prime time for guests, they are also the prime time for Christians. Many, perhaps most, Christians will attend a gathering on the weekend and not return during the week for a second or third assembly time. Will the churches observing the Lord’s Supper at another time make sure those unable to attend will have the opportunity to receive the elements of the Lord’s Supper? I doubt it.

I recognize the Bible gives no express command for frequency or time of observance. Nonetheless, the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ have long observed a weekly communion for a good reason: it was apparently the precedent of the early church. Acts 2:42-44 and Acts 20:7 express ample precedent for a regular, even weekly, observance of the Lord’s Supper. Testimonies from sources outside Scripture, as noted above, help us understand the early church’s practice. Whatever happened to the principle that “apostolic precedence equals divine command?”

A few years ago, the church I was serving in Ohio withdrew their support – substantial support I might add – from a missionary. They did so for two reasons. First, the elders called upon him to implement a weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper as done in Christian Churches. They saw this as an activity that identified the mission with the Restoration Movement and the Christian Churches. Second, when the missionary refused, they judged him guilty of insubordination and withdrew support. On the same basis, I wonder if they would withdraw recognition from Central Christian Church as a “real” Christian Church because of their decision to jettison the communion. I also wonder if it would make a difference if Central continued to offer communion to believers in the communion preparation room after each service.

The Catholic and Orthodox Churches continue to observe the Eucharist daily. Those groups continue to grow. It is required that a church hide what it holds to be the central truth of its confession in order to win the lost and unchurched? I don’t think so!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hebrew or Hellenist?

For years now we’ve been hearing about the dichotomy between Hebrew and Greek (Hellenistic) thought patterns. Yes, by all means, the Hebrew and Greek cultures were different. To some extent, culture does shape thought but it seems to me that when applied to understanding the Bible we must see the New Testament as a “cross-cultural” document written in Greek and thus shaped to some degree by the Hellenistic mindset.

In Josh McDowell’s and David Bellis’ recent book, The Last Christian Generation, you see this contrast brought up again. In the book, McDowell identifies many of the issues created by postmodern thinking and rightly recognizes that today’s younger generation has redefined concepts like toleration, truth, respect, acceptance, moral judgments, personal preference, personal rights, and freedom (see pp. 22-23). I wouldn’t begin to suggest that McDowell is off his rocker. In fact, he is “right on!” In my view, his critique of the postmodern generation is accurate to the letter.

When he begins the section entitled “A Blueprint to Rebuild the True Foundation of the Christian Faith,” he drops into the old saw about the difference between the Hebraic educational style and that of the Hellenists. In his assessment, he says, “Practically all of modern education, including that of most churches and Christian schools, employs a form of teaching based on a Hellenistic model of education” (p. 93). He then draws out the contrast between the two as follows:

Greeks shaped much of how we think today about education and disseminating information and truth. Essentially, this Hellenistic approach is to present a student with rational and logical constructs of information that he or she is required to “learn.” To determine if the subject matter has in fact been learned, students are asked to regurgitate the information back to the teacher (p. 93).

The goal of the Hebrew model is not mere memorization of repeatable facts; the goal (as Moses made clear) is to live-out the truth. In this approach, truth is designed to lead to transformation. Truth in this educational approach is to be learned by practicing it in real life. … The question becomes not whether the student has the information correctly stuffed into his or her head, but rather “how has the truth transformed the student attitudinally and behaviorally” (pp. 93, 94, emphasis belongs to McDowell).

Now as far as I am concerned, this is all educational gobble-de-gook. It seems to me that the early church began using what McDowell calls the “Hellenistic” model in the second and third centuries. This was especially true in Alexandria, not known as the hotbed of Hebrew educational models. As the early church developed, it utilized catechisms (potential converts were called “catechumens”) and they “poured information into their skulls” so they would know the truth of the Gospel. As the church spread west, the educational methodology didn’t change much. Even today, the European model of education is based on independent research and “regurgitation” of certain facts to their professors. Students in primary and secondary schools must “regurgitate” what they’ve learned in tests. It’s been that way for centuries!

Why now, does McDowell, and others, make such a fuss about the difference between Hellenistic and Hebraic styles of education? After all, if you make those distinctions the church has utilized that style of education for nearly 2,000 years. Although I recognize that our kids haven’t “gone to Hell in a hand basket” of recent construction, things have indeed worsened in recent years.

The solution to the problem isn’t the erecting of an artificial wall between the Jews and the Greeks or arguing about which style of education is prevalent. The issue is whether or not, in any educational system, there is a strong distinction drawn between truth and falsehood (rightly defined). I know what McDowell is saying, and I agree with him. He says that because parents have the greatest influence upon the lives of their children, biblical truth must be caught from those Christian parents who live out their faith consistently and biblically.”

Instead, McDowell falls into the relational emphasis of the current generation. Yes, the Gen-X crowd is far more relational, but so was Europe for generations and that didn’t protect them from falling away. Let’s face it; in Europe – especially in the Eastern Bloc – the individual was less important than the community. What the relational crowd is saying is that the individual is less important than the community and it doesn’t matter whether that is the “Christian community” or any other community. It reflects a loss of individualism and stresses the submersion of the person into the community.

In my humble opinion, I don’t think you can lay the blame at the foot of some “style” of education. It is the result of numerous factors that have come together in today’s world that create difficulty for the nominal Christian. Let’s face it; we’ve lived with the lie of evolution for well over 200 years now. That lie is constantly drummed into our heads through the arts, the media, the secular classroom, and as many other places as there are places. You can’t even go to Epcot without having it drummed into your brain. Even though scientists know it is a lie, they perpetuate the myth of evolution for their own purposes.

Second, we have been living with a culture that says “self-actualization” is the epitome of success. Another term that could be used for “self-actualization” is “personal autonomy.” Again through almost every means, our culture transmits the idea that life’s goal is to be self-ruled. In is best expressed by the statement, “No one tells me what to do!” For most of our contemporary culture, that includes God!

Third, most of the problems have come about since our educational system left what McDowell called the “Hellenistic” system for that of John Dewey. Our schools, colleges, and universities no longer emphasize classical learning which places value on literature, history, languages, and the sciences, including theology, the Queen of the Sciences. Now education is measured by “outcome” and is intensely pragmatic. McDowell is right when he says we are a highly pragmatic culture and there has been a shift from “it works because it is true” to “it is true because it works.” I don’t think the blame for that rests before some Hellenistic pedagogue.

Way back in the Stone Age, when I was going to Bible College no one made the distinction between Hellenistic and Hebraic styles of learning. I was taught, however, that all truth had a “so what” component to it. Findley Edge (now that dates me) said with every teaching of biblical truth (or any other truth, for that matter), there needed to be an application! The application was how it impacted life. Does McDowell actually believe that all we’ve done is “impart to them cold theological facts about God that they can learn with their heads? (p. 94)” Well maybe some did! I’ll grant that, but to make such a generalization is inappropriate and unfair.

I teach Church History and Restoration History (history of the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ). Teaching history can be dull and boring, I admit. That’s especially true when all the instructor wants is for the student to memorize names, dates, and places and regurgitate them on call. But I don’t teach history that way! I teach those things, but I also emphasize the “so what” factor. What can we learn from the past? How will those lessons impact our lives now and in the future?

In the past, classical liberalism taught that “if you know to do right, you will do right.” Hitlerian Germany revealed the lie in that. It’s all about the “so what.” Is there knowledge to impart? Are there facts to be recognized, retained, and considered? Should those facts make a difference in our lives? The answer to all these questions is, “Absolutely!” After all, Scripture does say, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he!”

Let’s quit all the stuff (I want to say “crap”) about the Hellenistic and Hebraic educational styles and stand up and say, “There is truth. It is real. There is only one way to God. Let’s point to Jesus as the way, the truth and the life.” Let’s commit to overcoming Political Correctness with truth! Let’s commit to standing up for what we believe without compromise. Let’s get away from all this multiculturalism and focus on the one personality we are to all emulate.

When we do that, we will find ourselves under an awful lot of pressure. You see, the early church said Jesus was the only way. They challenged the Political Correctness of the Roman Empire which kept the peace by universal toleration of everyone except those they judged intolerant. When Christians really believe the truth, it will bring pressure. I just hope somebody can face it!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I'm Still Here!

Last weekend concluded my first half of the doctrinal study I’ve been working on for over 10 years. All things considered, the study went very well. Several of those enrolled have already signed up for the next sequence in July. I’ve been teaching the same thing in my SAM’s Class (Senior Adults) and I raised a few eyebrows in my lessons on the Holy Spirit. I told them up front I had a few “Hines heresies” and would probably say a few things differently from anything they’d heard regardless of their background, including those from Restoration Movement churches. (I am, after all, an equal opportunity annoyer.)

I was a bit disappointed in the enrollments for the first sequence of the classes I offered. I tried an experiment by having classes Friday evening and Saturday morning for two weekends. It didn’t seem to work too well. It may be that too many want to head for the cooler hills on Friday and Saturday. It may also be unfamiliarity with several of the teachers. It may be that it was a break in what they were used to. All in all, I was disappointed but not discouraged. This fall, I’ll offer sessions for six weeks on a week night and I’ll still offer at least one “weekend intensive.”

For some of my readers who thought I’d have to compromise my convictions when I came here, I want you to know I have not done so. I do recognize, however, that those attending Christ's Church of the Valley come from all kinds of backgrounds. I teach with the same spirit I used in Canton, Ohio, and elsewhere. I always present doctrinal teaching derived from reason or inference, whether coming from deduction or induction, with love. I do the best I can to evidence a humble spirit while presenting firmly what I believe is biblical truth. I guess I’m just too much of a Restorationist, for I continue to hold on to Thomas Campbell’s Proposition 7 from his famous “Declaration and Address.” (If you don’t know what that says, look it up. If you have trouble understanding it, search for Knofel Staton’s paraphrase.)

It is good practice to remember “we are not the only Christians, we are Christians only.” I think A. Campbell was right when he said there were only two things required to become a Christian: 1) The belief of one essential fact and 2) the submission to one essential act. (You know what those are!) It is wise to understand there are all sorts of stupid ideas out there about a lot of things in Scripture. I’m sure you and I even possess a few of them! Item number two always seems to be a “bug bear.” Yet Carl Ketcherside used to say, “Even if others don’t know what baptism is all about, God does!” Carl is right, and our relationship with God doesn’t depend on our full understanding but our compliance to Christ’s commands. We all have different perspectives, but if we are teachable we can listen. I don’t worry too much about those who have different ideas, but I hope they are teachable and will test what I say against Scripture. After all no one answers to me; everyone answers to God. He alone is the only qualified judge.

Do I agree with everything I hear? No! But I didn’t agree with everything at Canton either. Furthermore, I didn’t agree with everything at what was then First Church of Christ in Boise (a far more conservative congregation than most) either. I do agree that Jesus is the Christ. I do agree that he put us here to make disciples, to baptize them into Christ, and to teach them to observe all things.

Nothing in my belief system has changed! There is one thing that has changed, however. I’m working harder than I have for a long time.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

My experience at the movie

I came away from The DaVinci Code, the movie, thinking to myself: This movie is more deceptive than the book.

Some of you who braved it, saw the movie and probably came away thinking it was much to-do about nothing. Perhaps you got caught up in the story and didn’t keep your “filters” on to evaluate what you saw and heard. I suppose some of you found the whole 2 hours and 29 minutes as somewhat boring.

I didn’t!

Just like the book, for me the story line was captivating. For conspiracy theorists, the movie (and the book) was the epitome of conspiracy theories. A corrupt and power hungry Catholic Church determined to keep a world-changing secret to the extent that murder and mayhem was common place. A beautiful “descendant” of Jesus and a researcher (Tom Hank’s character) who did his best to keep his head while assenting to the reality of the historian’s dilemma.

That’s where the rub came in for me! The movie toned down some of the blatant anti-Christian and anti-Catholic rhetoric, but the sentiments were there nonetheless. Robert Langdon’s responses to Teabing’s assertions were weak and half-hearted attempts to tone down the language, but at best he sounded like a member of the Jesus Seminar. His weak protests as Teabing unraveled his story hardly satisfied the viewer with questions. In fact, they were so weak they made Teabing’s arguments sound all the more reasonable. That’s deceptive. Langdon, a symbologist and ersatz historian, would have had knowledge that raised stronger objections than presented. Why even liberal scholar Bart Ehrman did better than that!

I don’t want to overplay this, but I did hear people talking about the movie as I came out of the theater. Their questions and the discussions I overheard indicated they had some real questions about the history of the church. Without someone to help them, it will be easy for them to come to the wrong conclusions. After all, Brown, who was involved in the movie’s production, still maintains that much of what he wrote is based on fact. In fact, there are lines in the movie that acknowledges and anticipates the attacks on the movie and book by biblical and historical scholars. That makes it even more deceptive as well.

Let’s consider that for a moment. It is a fact there were finds at Nag Hammadi, but they weren’t exactly what Brown said they were. Opus Dei does exist, but it isn’t what he said it was. The Templars were a monastic order formed during the Crusades, but they didn’t do what he said they did. The Gnostic gospels do exist, but they don’t portray the Jesus he says they do. There really was a Priory of Sion, but it wasn’t formed when he said it was and there is no evidence to the contrary. The French police do exist, but given their track record, I doubt they are as aggressive as those portrayed in the book and the movie. There really is a glass pyramid at the Louvre, but the number of glass panes is off in Brown’s book. The paintings he describes exist, too, but there are some important size differences as well as other qualities that he twists for his own purposes. Fact! Well, yes, if a half-truth (no, an eighth-truth) is fact then I suppose you could say that. But a half-truth told with the intent to deceive is still a lie!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

One More Thought on The DaVinci Code

Now that the movie is out and seemingly doing well at the box office, permit me one more observation about the book and the movie. It is interesting, though; that the critics are panning it and my friends who have seen the movie say it is tiresome.

Dr. Jim Garlow visited us (Christ's Church of the Valley) for a presentation on Dan Brown’s controversial work. Garlow holds a Ph.D. in Church History and he knows his stuff. The problem I saw during his presentation is that those hearing him without a Church History background received a lot of information in a short time. It was like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant.

Garlow pointed out that the book left many believers confused and some abandoned the faith because of it. He contended the movie could do greater damage. While I haven’t yet seen the movie, I think he’s right. In spite of the fact that some of the overtly anti-Christian rhetoric is toned down, enough subtle information comes across that can do a lot of damage.

Why do I think it can do so much damage? It is because most Christians are as historically illiterate as they are biblically illiterate. That’s not true just of the man and woman in the pew! Many church leaders hardly know more than the average Christian. All too many endured Church History in college and seminary thinking it was all about the theology of a bunch of dead guys. The man or woman in the pew endured courses in Western Civilization. They all too often slept through the boring lectures on the uniting of the Roman Empire under Constantine. As a result, they are at the mercy of every Tom, Dick, and Harry who turns Constantine into history’s “bad guy.” Writers like Dan Brown do pseudo-history and blatantly lie about Constantine and the Council of Nicaea and no one is the wiser. Brown can lie about the beginnings of Opus Dei because no one cares when it was actually founded. He can lie about the Templars because only a few know who or what they were. Adolf Hitler said, “If you tell a lie big enough and often enough it will be believed.”

I appreciated the fact that Garlow took the position that the book and the movie present a myriad of opportunities for Christians to “give a reason for the hope that lies within them” (1 Peter 3:15). But … you have to understand the reason for the hope! Somewhere somehow someone has to absorb some biblical and historical content in order to be able to share the truth when confronted with lies.

Oh, by the way! I’m convinced that most of our troubles in this country worsened when we stopped teaching history in the public schools. Contemporary “Social Studies” programs instill a mediocre – if that – understanding of who settled his continent, why it was settled, and how our country came to be. At North Canton (OH) Hoover High School which is one of the top schools in northeast Ohio, only advanced placement students took more than a rudimentary introduction to history. According to the school superintendent, “It just doesn’t seem to fit a program designed to help a young person make a living.”

Philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.” We – the church and the nation – are reaping what we’ve sown!