Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Silence isn’t golden

Bob, the president of my civic club, met me as I headed toward the restaurant doors to ask if I would offer the "thought for the day" (read prayer). I gladly agreed. Over the years I've belonged to three well-known civic clubs. Because of my choice of occupation, I guess, I almost became the "official prayer" in each club. No one ever suggested I should edit my prayers or compromise my convictions … until today.

After I offered the prayer I closed as I always do invoking the name of my Lord Jesus. Once we returned to our plates of bacon, pork sausage, eggs, and potatoes, one of the club members sidled to my table to offer me some "friendly advice." I shouldn't pray in Jesus' name at club as there are Jewish members. Evidently the bacon and pork sausage doesn't offend them, but a prayer in the name of a Jewish Rabbi does. Go figure!

It strikes me again how negative our culture's attitudes toward Christians and Christianity have become. Christians are to tolerate and respect the views and convictions of others but rarely is that same toleration and respect extended to believers. Christians who hold strong convictions must compromise those convictions so not to offend those who have no convictions, few convictions, or, at minimum, different convictions. It didn't matter that by telling me, in a friendly manner of course, what I could or could not pray I was offended. I mean, after all, I've opened sessions of the Idaho State Congress and no one told me I couldn't pray "in Jesus' name." I offered prayer on an almost weekly basis at the clubs I joined in Boise, ID, and North Canton, OH, and no one criticized me or told me I couldn't or shouldn't pray "in Jesus' name."

Oh, by the way, all these clubs had Jewish members as well as those who held no religious beliefs whatsoever. But, then, this is, after all, California. You might know that in the nation's most liberal state (except for perhaps New York) you are free only to express views that don't offend anyone else. You see, that's one of liberalism's strongest characteristics – intolerance.

More Christians have died because of others' intolerance than for any other reasons. It has been so since the days of the Roman Empire. Rome tried to stamp out Christianity for its intolerance. You see, Christians dared to say the only way to God was through commitment to Christ. So with the chopping block, the Romans refused to tolerate the intolerance of those who lovingly spread their message by word of mouth.

In honesty, I have to acknowledge that a few boneheads over the centuries tried to spread Christianity at sword point. Charlemagne conquered regions and races at the point of the sword forcing "conversion" at sword point. These conversions were rarely, if ever, heartfelt or genuine. Genuine Christianity can't be forced upon someone; it must come as a response to the "good news."

Christians are losing the "culture war" in this nation as revealed in the increasingly bold suppression and oppression of the Christian message, Christian values, and Christian people. For years now Christians have been the subject of a concerted effort to stifle their talk and their walk. The message to believers is, Keep your faith private and shut up in the walls of your home and your church and don't bug us.

Dear readers, I hope you see this for what it is – a blatant attempt to silence the message. Perhaps we need to hear once again the words of Peter the other apostles, "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:20) With the words of the Great Commission echoing in your ears, obey God!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Losing our Freedoms

Each election cycle endangers our freedoms. This is particularly true for Christians in this election. Recent news out of Arizona reports that Flagstaff is considering raising sexual preference to a protected status. By ordinance, then, the Flagstaff community would accord homosexuals the same protection as that afforded minority ethnic groups.

If this ordinance is not defeated it will have serious ramifications for the traditional Christian community. Jim Dorman, minister of Christ's Church of Flagstaff, reports that while churches would be exempt of the expectations of the ordinance the exemption only applies to ordained personnel. Members, unpaid ministry staff, employees of Christian schools, and even church janitorial services would not be exempt. The ordinance, if passed, would effectively impact a church's right to set membership standards or practice church discipline. Dorman points out that in certain cases church leadership would have to go before a Human Rights Commission to communicate why the church is choosing to be an agency of "discrimination." In worst case scenarios, the Commission could label the church "an agency of discrimination."

This is not just a problem for Christians in Flagstaff. If passed in Flagstaff, other Arizona communities will enact similar ordinances. Regardless of what promoters of such ordinances say, the result is a form of persecution against those who hold a reverence for clear biblical teaching which condemns homosexual behavior.

Other states are well down the slippery slope of decadent acceptance of deviant behavior. This year the California Supreme Court, one of the most liberal state courts in the country, determined that marriage could not be denied homosexual and lesbian partners. Palm Springs is marketing itself as the Gay Marriage Capital in the hopes that homosexuals from throughout the nation will come to the Coachella Valley to "get married." Christians and those favoring traditional marriage are promoting Proposition 8, which will call for legislation to clearly state that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. As of this writing, Proposition 8 is on shaky ground even though the state approved a similar proposition in a previous election. Similar legislation is on the ballot in several other states this year and I predict that most will fail. I pray I'm wrong!

In my opinion, there is a relationship between according sexual preference the recognition as a minority and permitting same sex marriage. Both are attacking the so-called equality issue as seen by the gay rights movement from different directions hoping to catch Christians and traditionalists in a pincer.

Once gay rights activists attain "equality" they will demand that anyone or anything standing in opposition to them be charged with discrimination and punished. The ultimate result will be the removal of tax exempt status from Bible-believing churches or the forced closure of these churches. Preaching or teaching that God condemns homosexual behavior will become discrimination and punished just as it is in Canada today.

Christians must stand up and be counted in this and future elections or the church of Christ will become as persecuted as the church elsewhere.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Standing for Something

While attending the NACC this summer, I saw numerous friends and acquaintances. Even though I don't think the program has been much to write home about, I always enjoy seeing friends I've known for years.

Invariably, they want to know what I'm doing and where I've been. When I mention that I'm serving Camelback Christian Church their eyebrows go up. Camelback has a reputation! I suppose it's a deserved reputation. Dr. Joe Carson Smith, the founding minister, remains a conservative icon in the Restoration Movement. Camelback is seen as one of those "hold out" congregations that remain traditional in worship, philosophy, and theology.

Then, when I remark that I'm preparing a series of articles for "Restoration Herald," I got the same response. Mark Taylor, editor of the "Christian Standard," remarked something to the effect that I should try to get CRA to be less combative. You see, the Christian Restoration Association has long stood for the traditional Restoration Movement values and has, at times, been just that – combative.

My response in both cases has been, "The Restoration Movement needs churches like Camelback that aren't afraid to take a stand for biblical truth and the traditions of the Restoration Movement. The brotherhood also needs the CRA because someone needs to challenge the thinking that leads to directions destructive of the movement's values and purpose. All too often "the blind lead the blind" and everyone falls into a ditch. There is nothing wrong with change, but not all change is good, beneficial, or helpful. Someone has to challenge the thinking of those who would lead the churches, leaders, and brotherhood of the Restoration Movement down a primrose path leading to its destruction.

As I thought about all of this, there were several things that came to mind:

  1. Truth is often seen as negative. Those who "tell it like it is" are simply unpopular because truth cuts … and sometimes it cuts deeply. In our day of political correctness, tolerance, and "politeness" it isn't acceptable to simply tell the truth. Nonetheless, someone has to do it! Speaking about some of the challenges raised by the CRA one fellow wisely said, "Well, even the person who is consistently wrong is sometimes right!" Frankly, during the CRA's history its editors have been more right than wrong.
  2. There is a definite need to keep issues alive and open for discussion. Years ago during the inerrancy controversy, there were those prominent scholars and leaders who would have swept the whole discussion "under the rug." Had they been successful, the issue of biblical reliability would be more seriously questioned than it is – and it remains in question in certain circles. It has been said that "silence is not always golden; sometimes it is just plain yellow!" That is nowhere more evident than in upholding the movement's principles and values.
  3. Those of us who still believe in the Movement's values must remain vigilant. The agents of change will always be with us. Change is indeed sometimes good. Change can also be expedient or helpful. To take an approach, however, that anything that works or seems for the moment to be helpful is good is fallacious. Just because "it", whatever "it" is, works does not make it right! There are almost always unintended consequences and those who refuse to consider that enact changes that destroy. It is right for churches like Camelback, leaders like Joe Carson Smith, or agencies such as the CRA to speak out! All it takes to destroy a nation or a movement is for "good people to do nothing!"

I am happy to be associated with Camelback Christian Church and its heritage. I am happy to be invited to share insights with the readers of the "Restoration Herald." Do I always agree with everything? No, but then I sometimes don't agree with things I said or wrote a month ago! Still, I like what CCC and the CRA stand for. Frankly, I'm not too sure what some of our supposed brotherhood biggies and agencies stand for these days.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Future of the NACC

For my readers who may not read Christian Standard or attend the North American Christian Convention this entry relates to both.

I attended the recent convention held in Cincinnati. Although the convention was not well attended (there were about 4,200 in attendance), it was probably one of the better conventions of late. I did not attend every session, but those I did enjoy those I did attend. I did not hear the two morning speakers because I tried to catch up on some grading for my summer Restoration History course. With only one exception, the evening speakers were interesting, easy to listen to, and had a decent message. Cam Huxford and Ben Merold were outstanding. Jud Wilhite is a smooth speaker and kept my attention, but I really didn't get much from his message. Honestly, though, I found it hard to listen to him because I kept thinking about the fact that the church he serves no longer maintains a weekly observance of the Lord's Supper as a central focus on their morning worship. As one might expect, eighty-two-year-old Ben Merold emphasized traditional Restoration values including the important place of baptism as the means of "putting on Christ" (Galatians 3:27).

The July 6 issue of Christian Standard features an interview with former convention director Leonard Wymore. The printed interview was not the complete interview. To get the full interview, readers must access Standard's web site – www.christianstandard.com. I found Wymore's evaluation of the NACC insightful. He attributes some of the convention's dropping attendance to the fact that convention leadership seems to have forgotten the needs of the smaller and mid-size church.

I would add that this is inevitable given that upper echelon leadership is nearly always drawn from the larger churches. In the past, larger churches were usually those with attendances of over 300 or more. Until the rise of the mega-church, congregations of that size were considered large, especially west of the Mississippi. As congregations grew larger NACC leadership tended to come from the growing mega-churches.

Although we will continue to have growing mega-churches with us for some time, there are still hundreds of small and mid-size churches in small towns and rural areas. Their needs get ignored by the mega-church leaders. I haven't done the research, but I often wonder if that is because there is a tendency to think these smaller churches aren't significant. While many may be dying, others are hugely significant in their communities and often see many won to Christ. They do not always fail to grew because they are stagnant or insignificant. Sometimes they fail to grow simply because movement from small towns and rural areas continue to swell the cities – and the mega-churches, I might add.

As long as the NACC aims its program to the large dynamic mega-church, the leaders of smaller churches will continue to lose interest in the convention. It cannot be assumed that smaller churches always want to emulate the methodology of the mega-church. Such methods often simply do not work in smaller towns and rural areas.

In the interview, Wymore also indicated that rising registration prices make it less likely that leaders from small to mid-size churches will attend. At this year's convention, in spite of $75 for early individual registration there was a $150,000 short fall in meeting convention expenses. Convention leaders made offering pitches at four sessions with offerings totaling $132,000 by the morning of the last day. In addition, sponsors funded workshops and ancillary sessions. Frankly, I hate to think what the convention's total cost was. Although I didn't listen to Jud Wilhite all that carefully, I did pick up on one thing he said that I thought convention leaders need to heed. Wilhite said that he and his congregation – Central Christian Church in Las Vegas – discovered they didn't need more resources; they needed to be more resourceful!

When I served with First Christian Church in Canton, OH, I also participated as a board member of the Ohio Christian Education Association. This inter-denomination group put on an annual convention second to none. The OCEA convention featured hundreds of workshops, a major speaker, excellent music, and tremendous resources. Everything about the OCEA convention was first class. More than 3,000 attended the three day event held in Akron, OH. Registration was generally less than $20 per person for early registration. Earlier this year the OCEA was literally snowed out and the convention lost $30,000. Still the resourceful leadership that plans the annual convention still had an equal amount in reserve for the 2009 convention.

In addition to the large church emphasis and the financial issues, I think there is at least other factor to the drop in interest in the NACC. Many conservative leaders are convinced the NACC leadership is no longer concerned with sound doctrine, biblical preaching, and cherished principles of the Restoration Movement. That may or may not be true, but with few exceptions the workshops continue to feature authors from outside the Restoration Movement. This fact and the multitude of book signing events lead to the conviction they all they want to do is sell books. It is thought that the "big name" draws, but for those of us who hold to the movement's principles there is little interest in hearing Bill Hybels or other big name denominationalists. Where once the convention featured Bible studies and delved into theological issues, the focus is now on pragmatics.

I hate to say this, but I am convinced that the days of the NACC are numbered. I think this is true for several reasons including all of those mentioned above. First, there is a decision to hold conventions to Cincinnati, Louisville, and Indianapolis with an occasional excursion west of the Mississippi. While this region is the heartland of the Restoration Movement it conveys the idea that churches in the west are unimportant. Second, rising transportation costs will only worsen participation from great distances especially for leaders from small and mid-size churches. Third, an ever-widening gap between the needs of mega-churches and smaller churches will continue unless the mega-churches and convention leadership effectively demonstrate their faithfulness to the principles of the Restoration Movement.

As Lee Mason, editor of the Restoration Herald, has said, "We need the NACC." Ben Merold has said, "If we didn't have the NACC, we would need something just like it." It would be a shame if a convention beginning in 1927 as a gathering of individuals would continue to degenerate into an assembly of leaders who only want to congratulate themselves on their successes.

Monday, June 23, 2008

On the Role of Elders

With apologies to my friend "Kent" of "Kent B. True," I just have to point out some stupidity found in the pages of a recent Christian Standard. It seems one of the brainiacs wrote an article on the role of elders. In the article, the author stated that we can discern from Scripture what an elders is "to be," but we don't much understand what an elder is "to do."

The author says that it was easy to understand the elder's role as shepherd in the first century or in rural America. Now that we live in the 21st century in mostly urban cultures we have to ask, now what? The rest of the article was the result of some reasearch on what contemporary elders do. What they do in the city is serve in an advisory capacity to the staff. Where do you find that role in the descriptive passages of the New Testament elder. Here is what I wrote as a letter to the editor of the Standard.

So we know what elders are but do we know what elders do? Apparently not! Not since we live in a 21st century culture that is often urban and can't identify with the role of shepherd. I have a theological word for that thought: balderdash!

Perhaps it would be a good idea for the author of the article to read They Smell Like Sheep and the Bible. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that a church is comprised of people who are often as dumb as sheep. They still need someone to look after them and to minister to their needs just as much as they did when they lived in rural areas. Maybe those urban sheep need even more shepherding.

The issue isn't that we can't figure out what elders do, the real issue is that elders have abandoned their God-given responsibilities to a group of people who are at best an expedient for their roles are nowhere seen in the New Testament. The New Testament Church didn't have "a staff," it had elders. For a movement that began with a desire to get away from the laity-clergy distinction, our contemporary elders have permitted just such a distinction to exist. Why "the staff' is even using the title "Pastor" which rightfully belongs to an elder. Maybe what we need to do is adopt the denominational practice of letting "the staff" be the elders and the elders be the deacons and the deacons just be just another brand of peon in the church. We seem to be adopting all the other denominational stuff that seems to be so inviting!

Everywhere we look in the once biblically-oriented Restoration Movement we see the abandonment of principles taught in Scripture regarding the New Testament Church. I'm not much into patternism, but I still think there are principles that mean something and can be aptly applied to the contemporary church. We've supplanted the biblical principles of leadership for corporate practices complete with a Board of Directors (Elders) and a CEO, COO, CFO, and so on. We've replaced biblical principles of leadership with the pragmatism of so many irrefutable laws of leadership (with proof texts rather than real biblical support). I don't think elders should micromanage, but I think they should be overseers and superintendents who know what's going on and who know the difference between sound doctrine and false doctrine.

Okay, I now get all the perks of a senior citizen so you can write off my meanderings as the ranting of an old man, but you can't escape the fact that in the qualifications of elders listed in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and Acts 20 you can find out what an elder is supposed to do. Their servant leadership is implicit in their qualifications. Maybe ... just maybe ... our folks need to spend more time in the Bible than in John Maxwell's tomes!

Michael Hines
Palm Springs, California

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The NACC and Me

The North American Christian Convention bills itself as "the connecting place." I plan to attend this summer's convention in Cincinnati.

I've had an "on-again, off-again" relationship with the NACC since 1966 when my wife and I attended the NACC in Cincinnati. We camped at Rabbit Hatch, KY, and drove in each day for the convention. We wore suits to the conventon in those days and it was hot in Cincinnati. After that, I attended the convention a time or two then quit going. I got rather disgusted with what I noted was the political atmosphere of the convention.

I started going to the conventions again when I was at Westwood-Cheviot Church of Christ in Cincinnati. I attended conventions in Indianapolis, Anaheim, Tulsa, Kansas City, Phoenix, and Louisville (not necessarily in that order). While serving at Westwood-Cheviot I ministered to the Convention Director and his wife as well as the coordinator of the Bible Bowl and Teen Conventions. These were great people who wanted the convention to minister to the whole family.

I quit going on a regular basis when the Convention raised their registration prices through the roof. Most of the cost increase, in my opinion -- and I could be wrong, came about because the convention leadership foolishly purchased an expensive Cincinnati property for their offices and got into terrible debt. Not long after that, the convention leadership began encouraging sponsorships of various events at the conventions and began refocusing the convention away from families to church leaders. The last convention I attended was at Corona, one of the venues of a divided convention.

Convention leaders continue to raise prices and raise funds for events through sponsorships. Some of those sponsors are from groups, businesses, and ministries with no direct Restoraion Movement tie or relationship. Various conservative leaders within the Restoration Movement have raised questions about the wisdom of such sponsorships realizing that whoever provides the funds calls the tune. Convention leaders may protest that this has not happened, but those charged with having their hands in the cookie jar can often make the excuses and it is difficult to gain evidence that sponsors have indeed shaped the message and the convention. Those who raise such questions are accused of being out of touch, old fashioned, and just plain suspicous!

In addition to all this, the convention leadership continually brings speakers to the platform who represent theological positions at odds with sound doctrine. Sometimes the messages they bring are helpful, sometimes they are not. A few years ago Edwin McManus, minister of Mosaic Church, preached a typical Baptist "faith only" message. Robert Webber spoke emphasizing the "ancient future" church and spoke glibly of the Acts 2 church. Any references Webber made to the early churh did not reflect an Acts 2 church. Rather, he talked about the church of the second and third centuries. Someone not versed in Church History may not have picked that up, but I did. The only question I have is why are we letting leaders from outside the Restoration Movement set the pattern for the church? Why has Bill Hybels become the guru fr growth rather than men from our own movement? Don't we have successful leaders and growing churches that haven't imbibed the spirit of compromise from Hybels and othres?

You may be wondering, if you see all of this why do you intend to attend the convention? There are a couple of reasons:
  1. I have friends across the broad spectrum of the Restoration Movement. I have always enjoyed the convention as a "connecting place" with friends from across the country. When I attend conventions I spend most of my time wandering the displays looking for friends with whom to visit. I attend the main preaching sessions sitting as far away from the raucous music as I can. Furthermore, I always vote "no" for the slate of officers even though my voice is never heard when the vote is taken.
  2. I don't want to lose what little influence I have. I am under no illustion that my being there will create much of a ripple. But as I visit with a friend or two, it might ... it just might! More and more are abandoning the convention (attendances show that) and some absolutely refuse to attend because of the convention's policies. I would hate to see a repeat of the 1927-29 general conventions that resulted in the formation of the NACC. Maybe I'm too late! The Hillsboro Family Camp may already have done that.
  3. When I do go to the conventions I usually room with my good friend Jon Stedman. Jon and I are best of friends dating back to grad school. We have seen and supported each other through some major crises in our lives. We look forward to just bein together and having fun. We share the expense of the room and take in only what we think might be worthwhile.

I'll bring you a report after this year's convention giving you my insights and evaluations.

Its Been Awhile!

As the title indicates, it's been awhile since I last posted. There are some good reasons for that. Let me explain:
  1. I took a two week mission trip to Thailand in March. I worked with my friends Bob and Peggy Kuest of New Mission Systems and Ahtapa Sinlee, a national worker and good friend. I spent the first week in Mai Sai one of the chief cities in the Golden Triangle. There were nearly 120 workers from Tibet, Myanmar, Laos, China, Vietnam, and Thailand. One of the most exciting part of that particular segment was meeting two Lisu workers from Tibet who reported the starting of 62 churches without any help from westerners. The second week, I was in a Hmong village near Mai Sot. We taught about 50 Hmong Christian tribal leaders. Those trips are beginning to leave me exhausted when I arrive home.
  2. My teaching load this spring was particularly heavy. I started the semester with 54 Consortium students (about 40 completed). I also designed and taught a course in American Christianity for Dallas Christian College and a Restoration History course for Manhattan Christian College.
  3. I continue to minister with the Camelback Christian Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. Along with the elders, we are working through some strategic planning that I hope will result in growth for that faithful congregation.

Looking to the future, there are other service opportunities on the horizon. Lee Mason, editor of Restoration Herald invited me to write a regular column for the paper. I am currently writing articles for that and publication should begin in a few months. In the column I am focusing on the lessons we can learn from church history. I hope to take events and individuals from the past and put a face on them to help Christians see what we can learn from them. I expect to get in trouble a few times, but that's part of the picture.

I am currently teaching a summer session for the Consortium, 3 students in a Restoration History course through Manhattan, and World Civilizations II for Dallas Christian College. I hope to get more regular with the blog but my wife and I are planning a trip to the North American Christian Convention and some vacationing to see friends in Canton as well as our daughter in Nashville. I also plan to do some videoing at Restoration sites in West Virginia and Kentucky so I can produce some video for my online courses.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"Some Still Shoot Straight"

I received a recent publication from First Christian Church in Canton, OH. It was interesting to me that the church has instituted a "baptism night" rather than immersing respondents the "same hour." An article telling about "baptism night" was pretty vague and generic causing me some concern for a congregation I grew to love during almost eight years of ministry.

I sent a quick e-mail to John Hampton expressing my concern and asking him if the church had changed their position on baptism for remission of sins. Not only did I get an immediate answer, I got a copy of a message John intended to preach Sunday, March 16. After reading it over I recognized a good part of it as part of a message I had preached myself years before. To be honest, we both borrowed from the same source. There could be no doubt left in my mind that John saw baptism resulting in "inner cleansing" because of faith.

How different from the response I got from the preacher of the new Stadia replant in Gil bert, AZ. Neither owed me a response, but one took the question seriously and moved to alleviate suspicion with an honest answer. The other -- the one who wanted me to "shoot straight with him beause he could take it" -- never bothered to affirm or deny.

There are many things causing concern in the Restoration Movement. (See some of the comments on earlier blogs.) If Stadia is not using some litmus test regarding the preaching of "baptism for the remission of sins" all they have to do is be honest and verify their honesty. Like Reagan, I trust but verify! If the preachers and leaers of some of our mega and not so mega churches aren't adopting Evangelical doctrine and approach, let them say so and demonstrate that they are telling the truth. Honest answers without dissimulation is the only way to alleviate the growing tension created by distrust. Churches and congregations must learn to demand accountability of their colleges and our brotherhood "somewhats." We've had too many in years past who hid their beliefs and their motives resulting in the encroachment of liberalism into our schools, open membership on the mission field, and the near loss of thousands of congregations when the Disciples hid the purpose of Restructure. What the liberals did to the Restoration Movement in the late Nineteenth and the Twentieth Centuries, Evangelicals are doing today.

Churches must remain vigilant in their teaching and in holding parachurch agencies accountable for their actions.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

There’s Something About a Feeling!

Well, now! Hillary has felt the presence of the Holy Spirit "on many occasions in my years on this earth." According to an interview by David Brody, the former first lady professes to believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." That's great! So does Satan! Not that I'm personally linking Hillary to Satan, of course, but there is a lot more proof to the pudding.

When asked if she believed that faith in Christ was necessary to going to heaven, she replied, "That one I'm a little more open to. I think that it is, as we understand our relationship to God as Christians, it is how we see our way forward, and it is the way. But, ever since I was a little girl, I've asked every Sunday school teacher I've ever had, I asked every theologian I've ever talked with, whether that meant that there was no salvation, there was no heaven for people who did not accept Christ. And, you're well aware that there are a lot of answers to that. There are people who are totally rooted in the fact that, no, that's why there are missionaries, that's why you have to try to convert. And, then there are a lot of other people who are deeply faithful and deeply Christ-centered who say, that's how we understand it and who are we to read God's mind about such a weighty decision as that." Hillary, you don't have to read God's mind, just read God's Word! Of course, to do that you are reading the results of what God has communicated! Perhaps Hillary needs to go back to Jesus. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me." That's not some Sunday School teacher or theologian; that's Jesus!

As to feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit, I have to ask, "Hillary, how do you know it was the Holy Spirit?" Was it just a feeling or did he communicate some objective truth to you? Did you feel the Holy Spirit's leading when you voted to support the president's Iraq policy or do you feel it now that you are running for president and oppose his policy? I don't think the Holy Spirit, who is God, vacillates that much! Did you feel the Holy Spirit's leading when you openly supported the prochoice agenda that has resulted in the abortion of 40 million human babies since 1973? I doubt it!

The problem with feeling the Holy Spirit has been with us since the Montanist heresy of the second century. Every believer (I'll take them at their word) who heads off in some wild-eyed direction supports their heresy, stupidity, or just plain folly with an appeal to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Our Disciples brethren said the Holy Spirit led them to Restructure in the 1960s, a step now admitted foolish. The leaders of Midwest Christian College back in the 1970s professed the Holy Spirit was leading them to purchase a Catholic hospital for a new campus. MCC is dead and buried. That sure makes the Holy Spirit look stupid, doesn't it! Without some objective foundation the profession of the Holy Spirit's leadership comes up way short!

So how can we know whether or not the Holy Spirit is leading? It certainly isn't labeling humanity's hair-brained schemes as such before the fact. It isn't pointing to a copy of the New Testament and saying, "That's all the Holy Spirit you'll ever need!" It isn't relying on our emotional response to felt needs. Then how can we know?

Just stick to the Word of Truth, the Scripture, and obey God's Word. If you want to be pragmatic in an approach to problem solving let it be known you are applying pragmatic solutions; don't lay them off on the Holy Spirit to sound super-spiritual. The Holy Spirit does "lead into all truth," but that promise is ours only in a secondary way! Jesus made that promise to his disciples. They were led into all truth and they recorded it for us so we'd know which way to turn when it was an issue relating to God's sovereignty. Where God has not spoken he leaves the matter to us to figure out a solution that honors him and remains faithful to the revealed Word.

We are experiencing so much post-modern pablum these days that it's really hard to keep our heads on straight. I guess there's something to that old popular song, "There's something about a feeling…."

Friday, February 29, 2008

Stone Campbell Differences

Considering the Restoration Movement a homogenous people is a huge mistake. The fact is the Restoration Movement is an amalgam of many theological concepts, personal leadership characteristics, and social backgrounds. To my knowledge, only one author, Richard T. Hughes, a scholar in the non-instrumental fellowship, has analyzed the movement according to these criteria. I am of the opinion that differences in these areas continue to create an undercurrent of tension within the movement. If I am correct, it will take only a spark to initiate more unfortunate division within the movement.

Hughes points to two major personalities as the source of the tensions. Although strained in some of his analysis, Hughes points to Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell. Both men were the leaders of the two groups that united together in late December and early January 1830-31. Both were Presbyterians, but both came to conviction about restoring the New Testament Church in different ways.

Hughes says Stone’s convictions arose out of his experiences with the revivals of the Second Great Awakening. It was Stone who organized the famous Cane Ridge Meeting where estimates placed the participants at between twenty to thirty thousand. Preachers from many denominations preached. Stone saw the religious excitement and the apparent conversions. Hughes contends Stone recognized the power of a united witness and became convinced uniting Christians could in turn win the world to Christ. Hughes also contends that, for Stone and his followers, holy living became more important than any concept of “sound doctrine.” The only way to that kind of living was through a return to New Testament teaching.
Campbell, on the other hand, was more intellectual and theological in his approach. Some would say he was more legalistic. Most historians of the Restoration Movement suggest Campbell owed much to Locke and Bacon, both of whom were Enlightenment philosophers. Because of this Hughes suggests Campbell’s approach was more scientific and legal. Thus, Hughes describes Campbell as more legalistic. As a result, his version of restoration required seeing the New Testament as a “pattern” which could be followed resulting in a virtual reconstruction of the early church. For Campbell, then, emotion was downplayed and reason elevated. He viewed “sound doctrine” as something to be restored along with the organizational and functional structures.

I think Hughes sometimes strains out gnats to swallow camels (pardon the pun). He takes the typical non-instrumental interpretation that the early Campbell differed from the later Campbell. He insists the Campbell of the “Christian-Baptist” era differed greatly from the Campbell of the “Millennial Harbinger.” Hughes says the difference can be attributed to the success of the Movement as it moves from “sect” to “denomination.” I disagree with Hughes’s views, but his insistence that Campbell and Stone differed in some significant ways is at least partially valid.

It is my conviction that a good share of the tension existing in the Movement results from these differences. Let’s note just a couple of examples.

There is growing tension over the emphasis of “experience” in worship. We are told today that “seekers” (or whatever you want to call them) are seeking an “experience with God.” Thus, on one hand, those from the Stone tradition feel right at home with experience-centered worship. Like Stone they would avoid excesses of the charismatic movement or frontier revivalism. At the same time, they would not shy away from utilizing music, speaking styles, or other methods designed to impact the emotions. The heirs of Campbell, on the other hand, eschewed all sorts of emotionalism. The Gospel, as Campbell saw, it was a common sense message that could be evaluated, considered, and either accepted or rejected. Campbell believed such a message and its acceptance resulted in appropriate emotional response. It was Campbell, not Stone, who insisted the church’s hymnody be examined so it would express biblical truth. It was Stone, not Campbell, who continued to use the “anxious seat” in his evangelistic preaching.

There is also growing tension over the place and purpose of baptism in the salvation process. Both Campbell and Stone taught baptism for the remission of sin. Stone, however, was a “Johnny come lately” as his “conversion” to this view didn’t take hold until after the union of the Disciples and the Kentucky Christians. Stone came to the conclusion that immersion was the proper form of baptism, but he was not one to emphasize it. For Stone, union (unity) was more important than “sound doctrine.” Campbell, however, began teaching baptism for the remission of sins in the McCalla debate and never once changed his tune. It is true that Campbell refused to condemn or absolve those in the denominations who were baptized with an incorrect mode or an unscriptural purpose. In the “Lunenburg Letter,” he voiced his opinion that those who were mistaught or simply could not understand biblical truth on this matter could be among the saved. It is my conviction that Campbell would not receive the unimmersed into membership of a local church. Rather, he would follow the example of Acts 18 and do some extended teaching leading to immersion for the remission of sins.

There is also growing tension over relationships with evangelicalism. It is certainly true that many congregations and their leaders see the Restoration Movement as part of the evangelical family. Some of our younger historians, theologians, and biblical scholars are trying to minimize distinctions until those they influence see the Restoration Movement as merely one additional denomination in the greater evangelical world. In recent years I have visited several large Restoration Movement congregations and large evangelical congregations. With a few exceptions the service formats and content were identical. Most, if not all, of our mega-churches have services indistinguishable from those in the mega-churches of evangelicals. The exception in some of “our” churches is the weekly observance of Communion. Of course, even that is disappearing!

Would Stone be upset? I seriously doubt it. For Stone, “unity was the polar star.” It was all important goal. The Kentucky Christians wanted to “sink into union with the church at large.” From the vantage point of someone in the Stone tradition, the contemporary identification with evangelicals it is part of the fulfillment of the goal.

Would Campbell be upset? Absolutely! Campbell said he never expected to see “all the grand armies of God unite.” Rather, he was looking for those who were committed more to Christ and his Word than to their denominations to unite with others committed to the same goals. Although some contemporary historians describe the Restoration Movement as a “come outer” movement, Campbell insisted on true evangelism. In fact, the reason he encouraged the Mahoning Baptist Association to call Walter Scott as evangelist was precisely for that reason.
What is the upshot of all of this? It would be tragic if the attitudes and approaches of the most influential leaders of this movement led to contemporary division. Yet I see the potential for division growing on the horizon. Lines are being drawn between those who emphasize baptism for the remission of sins and those who don’t. There are those who will continue to follow the Willowcreek philosophies and they will eventually be indistinguishable from the denominations and they will reject any identification with the Restoration Movement (some are already there). Others will retreat and spend the remainder of their existence condemning and vilifying those who “left them”. Some will, with Hughes, say the Restoration Movement is a “lost cause”. Others will attempt to “hold the line” and some, like myself, will continue to “speak out” while retaining relationships across the board hoping division won’t occur again.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

“Shoot straight with me!”

Stadia will apparently launch Genesis Christian Church in Gilbert, Arizona in the near future. The church has a web site giving information about the church and publicizing the new congregation's "Grand Opening." Genesis replaces Gilbert Christian Church which closed its doors this past fall. It will join an extension campus which Mesa's Central Christian Church recently opened. Gilbert should be an excellent location for a church plant since it is a rapidly growing suburb in the Phoenix metroplex.

Rumors abound that Stadia will not place leaders in new church starts who preach and teach baptism for the remission of sins. I checked out the church's web site and their statement of faith. Like many such statements, the language is sufficiently vague on many points. The section on salvation, however, is so vague as to say nothing. Individuals from any evangelical denomination can interpret it to suit their particular perspective. I rather expected this would be the case because the church planter selected for the church's start, although said to be a product of Mesa's Central Christian Church, was educated in a state university, Trinity Evangelical Theological Seminary, and Phoenix Seminary. In other words, unless well educated at Central, he has no solid background in the principles and plea of the Restoration Movement.

I emailed the church planter and asked him for a definitive response to his and the church's understanding of the purpose and place of baptism in salvation. I got back an email which gave an equivocal response. He also stated that he assumed I wanted to know how the church viewed the relationship between baptism and salvation and told me to "be straight with him." I responded without any equivocation and asked him bluntly if baptism had anything to do with salvation. To date the man who wanted me to "shoot straight" with him "because he could handle it" has yet to respond.

I know he has no obligation to respond to me but I always wonder what these guys have to hide. I asked an honest question and I hoped I would get an honest answer. I should have known better!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Membership and Discipline

I recently received two very good questions. (1) What are your thoughts on (church) membership and how important should it be? (2) When you do "exclude" church members, how would you go about this process?

These questions arose because someone surfed to my history web site (www.christianchronicler.com) and found some Q&A I did while at First Christian Church in Canton, OH. Over several years I received numerous biblical and doctrinal questions I answered on the FCC web site. Today it isn't "politically correct" to emphasize doctrine so the Q&A was taken down shortly after I left leaving it in my purview to post it on my own site. One question asked if there were any reasons to exclude (excommunicate) people from a church. My response was that the Bible teaches three reasons for putting people out of the congregation: (1) The denial of Jesus; (2) Sexual sin; and (3) Creating factions or division. Both questions above can be tied to this discussion.

Question 1 In my opinion, the continuing emphasis to grow large congregations contributes to a declining interest in church membership. I'm sure there are many other dynamics contributing to it as well, but in a culture that avoids commitment it is easier to gather large numbers than call for membership commitment. Southern Baptist preacher Rick Warren teaches that membership relates to commitment and identifying with a specific congregation is a statement that the member is committed to Christ and the work of the local church.

I think there is a biblical issue at the heart of the matter. The Bible teaches that when a person is immersed into Christ they become part of the body of Christ. Immersion, according to Scripture, is the time when a person of faith transitions from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. Granted, there is no guarantee that a person's heart is right or that he/she truly believes Jesus is God's Son and trusts him alone for salvation, but baptism into Christ remains an external indication of that commitment. Therefore, membership in a local church provides a means by which the leaders can identify those who have (at least) made that step of commitment.

There is a practical issue, too. Identifying with a local congregation means (or should mean) that the individual is willing to submit to the elders' of a particular assembly. God placed the elders as "superintendents" of God's flock. They are responsible for assuring the teaching of sound doctrine and to maintain a congregation's commitment to God, Christ, and Scripture. This means, among other things, that it is the elders who are responsible for maintaining a congregation's good character and reputation and that implies they are responsible for loving discipline when necessary. They are to serve the church not "lord it over" the members. They lead by example.

In the Restoration Movement the concern has not been simply adding "members" as one would recruit members for a service club or fraternal order. The concern is for evangelism and bringing individuals into relationship with Christ and his church.

Question 2 The answer to this question is partially answered in the response to the first. Church discipline falls into the responsibility of the elders. Biblically, however, the whole congregation must also be involved. The primary method is to follow Christ's directive in Matthew 18:15 and following. Discipline starts with an individual who is wronged or concerned. Galatians 6:1 indicates that an erring brother must be confronted with loving care. The example in 1 Corinthians 5 indicates that Paul insisted the church in Corinth discipline a brother who was overtaken with a serious fault. He recommended "delivering the erring one to Satan" (putting him out of the assembly) until he repented. Contemporary Christians, perhaps afraid of legal ramifications, ignore these biblical instructions and examples. The result is Barna's studies revealing that Christian morality is hardly distinguishable from that of the secular world. Today's church simply does not take sin seriously. To talk about sin is politically incorrect.

In the not so distant past, a church member needed a "letter" to transfer membership from one assembly to another. This letter indicated they were a member in good standing and not subject to any church discipline. By the 1960s, few churches required letters opting instead to write the individual's previous congregation to inform them of a transfer. This provided an opportunity to communicate any problems that existed. In the 1970s and 80s, there was little or no communication between the current and previous congregations other than a note that the previous congregation "should change their records." Today there is no communication at all in most cases. I have known of situations where individuals were members of two or more different congregations at the same time.

A plurality of denominations and an unwillingness to "check out" new members leads to the fear that any discipline simply leads to "going down the road." So, in effect, we are back to the numbers game.

Discipline need not be unkind or unloving. In fact, the biblical picture of church discipline is just the opposite. The recalcitrant were removed and "treated as a gentile." That doesn't mean hatred; that means lovingly communicating the gospel and calling the individual to repentance. No church discipline should ever be practiced "without tears." But…we live in a culture where parents are afraid to discipline their children; it is no wonder church leaders are afraid to discipline the children of God.

Practicing church discipline is not denying the "grace standard." It is, in fact, applying it! Even when such discipline requires exclusion in extreme situations, it must be accomplished with unconditional love for the disciplined. This may seem paradoxical, but much of Christianity is! We save our life by losing it; we gain status by becoming humble and so on. It is entirely possible to discipline, not from anger or vengeance, but from love.

May we seek a restoration of biblical membership and discipline!