Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Get With the Program!

Members of the GOP point fingers and begin recriminations on the recent loss in the presidential election. Purveyors of doom and gloom expound on the Internet. Those who see “signs of the times” in every event see recent events as another indication of the soon coming of Jesus to overthrow the liberal rascals and establish his millennial reign. Political pundits speculate all is lost and the Grand Old Party and our nation have died.

Don’t believe it!

God is still in control. Although weakened the United States government still has checks and balances. The USA is still a democratic republic. Well, at least for the time being.

Yes, the “anointed one” – to use one pundit’s terminology – can appoint liberal Supreme Court Justices. These justices are indeed a concern. But they haven’t been appointed yet. Yes, the great idiot in Washington can undermine freedom of speech and rule of law with his incessant efforts to circumvent the congress and the Constitution.  Yes, many bad things can happen. But they haven’t happened yet and 95% of what you worry about never happens. Fear of the future is your own worst enemy.

Come on! Get with the program. There are some definite steps you can take to help shape the future. Here are a few of them:

1.     Share the Gospel with the lost. America’s greatest need isn’t to pare the welfare rolls. America’s greatest need is to redirect sinful selfish hearts. Only the Gospel – only Christ Jesus – has the power to do that. We got where we are partly because Christ’s church sat back and whined about all the cultural shifts rather than figuring out how to communicate the Gospel cross-culturally. I mean that! Sharing the Gospel in the current American culture is cross-cultural evangelism! That means Christians must learn to speak the language of a culture of people with empty hearts and worldly minds.

2.     Live the Gospel with all your strength. George Barna reported years ago that while 80% of the American people express a belief in God only 5% of those professing God live according to biblical teaching. He pointed out the fact that about as many Christian women get abortions as those who profess no belief in God. While Christians profess family values the divorce rate among Christians matches that in the world. Christians cheat on their Income Tax, practice shoddy business ethics, and engage in extra-marital affairs just as much as their non-professing friends in the world. Don’t say anything, though, you might drive them away from the church! How silly!

3.     Get involved in your community. Christians have long had the tendency to withdraw from the world into safe little enclaves. Whether a monastery or a Christian school the attempt to withdraw to avoid interaction with a sinful world is foolishness. Come on Christian parents, why don’t you volunteer to be teaching assistants? Why don’t you run for the school board? Why don’t you inform yourselves on both sides of an issue and engage in the process? Don’t you realize you’ve withdrawn into your safe little cocoons and permitted the secular/progressives to have their day? They’ve indoctrinated children since the days of Roosevelt and you’ve let them do it. What did you expect? You think others won’t listen! Well maybe not but that’s especially true when you won’t say anything except to condemn.

4.     Make some new friends. For the most part after you’ve been a Christian for a few years church people constitute your only friends. I belong to a Rotary Club here in Palm Springs where homosexuals constitute about half the membership. I’m worried sick that rubbing shoulders with them – figuratively speaking – will cause me to become gay! NOT! Everyone in that club knows where I stand. They understand my principles even though they may not agree. At least I have access and am earning a hearing. They are my friends! Believe it or not, every member of that club – straight or gay – is concerned for the peace and well-being of others. Right now that small club is raising thousands of dollars to alleviate malnutrition among children in the horn of Africa. Is that sharing the Gospel? No, but it is meeting human need and I can participate without saying, “Be warmed and filled!”  Do I preach to them? Not hardly, but when they ask or open the door I share my faith in real terms they can understand and they know I serve my Lord Jesus. You can do that too!

Just four steps! I’ve only suggested four simple steps and you can probably think of others. What are Christ-followers for? I’m not into the “social gospel” but I am into a Gospel that results in changed hearts because changed hearts lead to changed lives and changed lives lead to a changed culture. And God knows we need to change our culture!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Thoughts About the 2012 Election

I entered some observations onto my Facebook page regarding the election. I need to expand on some of that here.

First, I want to note that the best thing about being an American is the simple fact that in this country I get to express my opinion at the ballot box. With few exceptions there are no threats or efforts to intimidate. Once the vote is in there is peaceful transition. May it ever be so.

Second, the carping has begun complete with Monday quarterbacking trying to figure out why Romney lost the election. No matter the outcome, I still believe he was the better candidate. So why didn't he get elected? I became convinced after hearing the results that the main reason he lost is simply a failure to communicate his message so it could be understood clearly.

What most of us older folks don't get is the fact that the American culture has experienced a dramatic shift. In my lifetime the American culture changed several times. It is no longer the culture of the 1950s where Christianity and Americanism mixed in a kind of civil religion. It is no longer the culture of the 1960s and 70s when so many young people rebelled and focused on drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll. It is no longer the 1980s, the era of Reagan. It isn't the 1990s which is the era of Clinton. We are now well into the 21st Century and cultural change has become exponentially fast. Whether in "doing church" or "doing politics" the old methods just don't resonate any longer. Oh, those of us Tweeners (those born in the late 1930s and early 1940s) and the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1967) understand the "old ways" but even the Boomers sought change.

You can see cultural change in the way we communicate. I remember gathering around my grandfather's radio to listen to Amos and Andy. In my own home in Ottumwa I listened to radio programs -- The Lone Ranger, Straight Arrow, Sergeant Preston, Father Knows Best... Then came TV and radio was gone. I hurried home to see Pat Moleteri on American Bandstand and Annette Funicello on the Mickey Mouse Club. TV changed everything! I watched the Vietnam War unfold before my eyes. The Kennedy assassination captured all our attention as did the Cuban Missile Crisis before it. Then we began hearing about computers and the computer age burst upon us an we entered the information age. All of that has engendered cultural change occurring faster and faster. TV made us a visual culture. Computers brought us instant information and personal interaction beyond our wildest imaginations.

With every culture shift came a "new language." That new language sounded like English but the computer enabled us to instantly translate English into major world languages with a push of the button. Presidents and world leaders can watch events unfold anywhere in the world in real time. We are living in a different world.

And here's the rub: communicating the old message the old way no longer works! Traditional churches are dying because they aren't communicating. Governor Romney lost the election, not because he didn't promise to give away free stuff. He lost it because he didn't communicate. Just as the traditional church doesn't do well reaching younger generations across all ethnic lines, Romney didn't either. All of this is true not because the message isn't valid; it is true because the message has to be placed in newer forms utilizing different methods. The "old paths" are great but today they need to become multi-lane super highways.

What strikes me is the fact that when I traveled to Myanmar (Burma) I realized that to really communicate I had to have someone translate for me. Even though most of the students who took my courses spoke English, they didn't get the nuances and subtlety of the language. I needed to either learn the language or have a translator. Even then the message got blurred because my whole frame of reference was that of a different culture!

The United States is now a multicultural nation. Those who hope to get a message across today must learn to communicate in a language meaningful to those who are younger and from different ethnic backgrounds. That's true for the church; it is also true for the politicians. The message doesn't have to change! How that message is communicated does!

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Over the past couple of years I've not paid much attention to this blog. Instead I've been writing for the Restoration Herald, a Restoration Movement publication. In fact, the series in the Herald is a serialized history of the Restoration Movement. I need to get back to that task too but I felt I needed to continue making other observations here.
My life is changing. Not only am I getting older -- 69 now -- but my body is showing wear and tear. I had a heart valve replacement in 2009 and colon cancer surgery in 2011. I decided to make a lifestyle change last December and have focused on retraining my eating habits. To date I've lost 46 pounds with a goal of at least six more. If I make it I'll be at a svelt 210 which is the lower than my high school senior year playing weight.
The focus of the articles to come will be on practical applications of the professed principles of the Restoration Movement. Many young people attending "our" Bible Colleges have no real idea the principles espoused in the movement's past. Fact is, neither do a lot of those who've been around for a while. With all of the bickering, name calling, and suspicions leveled at one another it is a wonder the movement remains as united as it is. Right! There are already three very public divisions: Non-instrumental Churches of Christ, Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (Independent), and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Within the non-instrumental segment there are numerous divisions; some say as many as 27 or more. What goes unnoticed and without acknowledgement, however, are serious fractures within the independent wing of the movement. Even the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have some hidden divisions as well. Most of the fissures in the independent wing are due to leaders who fail to properly understand the movement's principles. I'll not worry too much about the other wings because they are outside of my own range of fellowship ties.
Since I bexcame a Christian in 1959 I've seen continuing battles over practical issues that have nothing to do with biblical doctrine (viz. the "music wars"), a variety of fusses over baptism, arguments over whether or not the North American Christian Convention should call to the podium speakers from the denominational world, organizational structures, missions, inerrancy, and the list goes on and on. Some of these issues do have doctrinal roots and should be open for discussion. But in the words of that famous theologian Rodney King, "Can't we all get along?"
I'm not sure where my thoughts will take me but you are invited to come along for the ride.

Monday, August 27, 2012

I've been sorting through papers and files which tend to clutter my office and thus my brain. It is amazing what you find. The "prayer" of my previous post was just one item found when looking through my Restoration History files. It is attached to a workshop I did for someone somewhere. As I read through that presentation, I felt it might be helpful to flesh it out here for anyone still reading this blog.

The workshop focused on traditionalism in the Restoration Movement. I presented it years ago. It may date as far back as the 1980s or the 1990s. Since that time much has changed within the movement itself. Some of the change is for the better, some is not. Large segments of the movement remain tied to traditions.

Younger men and women assume traditions are bad and should be rejected. On one hand, tradition is helpful and provides beauty, meaning, and form to worship and work. Tradition can reflect encapsulated truth and needs emphasis. On the other hand, tradition becomes problematic when it obscures the truth, hinders fulfillment of the church's purpose, or contradicts biblical truth.

First, I need to make some preliminary observations about the Restoration Movement. This historic movement seeks to reach the whole world for Christ. When it began in the early 19th Century it believed division and denominationalism hindered fulfillment of the Great Commission. Thus it sought the unity of believers based on a common recognition of biblical authority. Early leaders point to Christ's prayer recorded in John 17 where he prayed that his followers would be one so that the world might believe.... 

To accomplish this vision, those leaders called for believers to:

  1. Throw off unscriptural and traditional creeds dividing Christians.
  2. Throw off unscriptural and traditional governmental structures designed to defend the creeds.
  3. Throw off an unscriptural and traditional clergy system.
In short, their plea required submitting everything to Scripture and permitting Scripture to become the source of all doctrine and practice.

Since I presented this years ago, the churches of the Restoration Movement made tremendous strides to attain the vision. There are, however, enclaves of resistance which have become as traditional, institutional, and denominational as the denominational world. Surprisingly, though, the years since the mid-1980s have seen the beginning of thousands of congregations which would agree with all three statements above. But...they have not come to the same doctrinal convictions of the Restoration Movement. 

Many of these resisting congregations have become entrenched in attitudes that keep them from successfully fulfilling the Great Commission. For example:
  1. They are more related to the church as an institution than they are to God.
  2. The churches become more concerned with their continued existence than with its mission.
  3. They can't separate means from ends...means become ends and ends become means. They retain some practices even though they no longer achieve their reason for existence.
  4. There is more concern with correctness of belief than quality of life.
  5. They have lost the spirit of Christianity retaining only the form.
Such congregations retreat into a de facto denominationalism that ruins their message. They are functionally denominational. You can see this in:
  1. Exclusive cooperation.
  2. Suspicion of churches that are growing when they are not.
  3. Stress on what is wrong with "outsiders" than what is right.
  4. Expecting everyone else to "join their group."
  5. Boycotting meetings of others with whom they have disagreements.
  6. Blindness to one's own weaknesses and deafness to outside criticism.
  7. Isolation.
  8. Ignorance of others and listening to the criticism of others without personal investigation.
  9. The idea that righteousness is determined by belief.
  10. The insistence on official or sanctioned literature.
  11. The belief that unity can only be realized when there is complete doctrinal agreement.
  12. Greater desire for conformity than for unity.
  13. The establishment of de facto creeds.
I'm fearful that all churches within the Restoration Movement allow some tradition to become encrusted until it hinders outreach and fulfillment of unity through a restoration of biblical authority. I see it in the realm of church leadership.where congregations express one of several traditional models. I see it in an over-emphasis on certain theological issues.

Is there a way to escape this treadmill? Here is a suggested methodology for evaluating belief and practice in today's congregations.

First, submit every teaching and practice of the church to Scripture. After all, Scripture is the inerrant standard against which measurement can occur. I'm assuming that in doing so, such a study of Scripture will use sound hermeneutics -- interpretative methodology. Once recognized, these truths must be preached fearlessly. This preaching must not only deal with Scripture's explicit teaching but its practical appliation as well. Growing churches preach doctrine! 

Second, submit every belief and practice against the church's purpose. In doing so there are two principles to keep in mind. There is the principle of expediency. Is it helpful? does it help accomplish the church's mission? (See Proposition 13 in Thomas Campbell's "Declaration and Address.") There is the principle of inference and deduction. Realize that only that which is clear and explicit should be made a test of fellowship. Care must be exhibited in those doctrines or teachings which are inferred or deduced by human reason. (Seee Proposition 6 in Thomas Campbell's "Declaration and Address.")

When congregations and their leaderships understand these things they can evaluate tradition and suggested changes with wisdom. There are two standards to be considered when evaluating harmful tradition or bringing about change in a local assembly: biblical teaching --is it faithful to the Scripture -- and purpose!

A Prayer for Change

But Lord,

    I've always bought brown sugar

    in square boxes

    with grown letters on the box.


I saw the plastic bags of sugar in the grocery store yesterday.


I could tell by looking that this was a better way.

    The strong, air-tight bags would keep the sugar soft and usable.

But I've always bought brown sugar in boxes.

    And I reached for the box.


Now, back at home, I wonder why.


Lord, why are we…

    why am I…

    so reluctant to change old ways?

    Some old ways are valid,

    but some need changing.

And I cling to square boxes with unthinking tenacity,

    Just because I've always bought square boxes.


That is not reason enough.

Times have changed – and are changing

    so fast it makes my head swim.

I am obligated to face my days intentionally!

    The container that brown sugar comes in is no great thing.

But there are other, weightier matters

    That require rethinking – and perhaps revising.

If I am going to live significantly,

    I must make my big decisions purposefully,



"New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth.

They must upward still, and onware, who keep abreast of Truth."


Forgive my square boxes.




From Bless this Mess and Other Prayers, by Jo Carr and Imogene Sorley. Taken from Sharpening the Focus of the Church.