Through a glass darkly

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)KJV

Friday, May 26, 2006

Megachurch Mania

I was reading Christianity Today's Weblog which linked to this AP article about how mainline churches are emulating (or at least trying to) evangelical megachurches. What stands out as the "lessons learned" that the mainlines take away and adopt is not the theology of the megas, but the furnishings, the worship styles, the incoporation of technology - as if those were all they needed for church growth. Even more distressing is the opposition that the more traditional members express towards these changes eventhough their churches were on the edge of death had they done nothing. (We have folks like that in my church too.) It all this emphasis on the packaging of the product(in this case, the Gospel) rather than the product itself, that rubs me wrong.
Of course, non-mainline evangelical churches that think just changing music styles or rearranging the furniture will solve their attendance problems are just as deceived. I'm not against any of the changes-we should utilize every means possible to help communicate God's truth. For me, incorporating contemporary elements into our church services has a missiological purpose. If we went to a foreign land, it would be extremely arrogant to insist that the people adopt American culture, dress and language as conditions of their being able to hear the Gospel message. Yet for many churches they do just that, they insist that unchurched visitors dress like them, sing songs written for their grandparent's generation and sit facing forward in rows of pews; talk about cultural arrogance. But taking a bit of liberty with Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 13: "If I play contemporary worship music, and use a video projector to display words but don't have love, I'd be making meaningless noise like a car alarm going off all night." The "stuff" is not the point -it's a means, not an end.
For a humorous, albeit all-too true view of the megas view this youtube clip.

Monday, May 22, 2006

More Political Fun

This is distressing -I'm only 95% conservative? How can this be?
Your Political Profile:
Overall: 95% Conservative, 5% Liberal
Social Issues: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal
Ethics: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Stubborn As A Mule

It seems I've been reading a lot lately about the stubborn nature of folks and how that trait has put people in some difficult positions. People hold on to an opinion, a way of doing things, a belief or an idea despite all evidence to the contrary. The simple example is the child who keeps trying to put the square peg into the round hole and gets mad when it doesn't fit. A company president sticks with a management theory he picked up from some leadership guru despite the fact that company morale is in the toilet. I've known some people at my church who hold on to some notion of the way "church oughta be" despite the fact that the culture around them today doesn't resemble their ideal from fifty years ago. President Bush is accused of being stubborn for not modulating his policies in the face of declining poll numbers or opposition from our allies.

Sometimes it's not just individuals, but institutions like my own denomination, the ABCUSA (you can read about that in the previous post); it can be countries like North Korea or Cuba that hold onto their fantasy of their countries being a "workers' paradise" despite the fact that communism, by and large, has been relegated to the "dustbin of history". Even those who label themselves "progressives" can be chained to stubborn ideas- reference those who trot out slogans like, "we must fight for a woman's right to choose" (despite the evidence that the nation is becoming more "pro-life" with time), "we need to spend more money on the poor, education, or whatever social program is their pet project" (despite the trillions thrown at these problems with no effect).

But one person's stubbornness is another's "steadfast commitment to principles" in the minds of many. How can you tell the difference? Was the Apostle Paul encouraging "holy stubbornness" when he wrote:
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." 1 Cor 15:58 NASU?

The Psalmist writes:
"You [God] have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands."Psalm 119:4-6 NIV

So the question is, does our belief (that we hold so stubbornly to our chest) line up with God and His ways? Even (or especially) as Christians we can hold opinions that we equate as being from God when they are no more sanctified than our choice of ice cream flavor. Some ideas might even be in opposition to God's stated laws. The thoughts that are only preferences need to be held loosely, the one that are wrong need to be abandoned, but the ones that reflect the character and call of God are the ones to which we must demonstrate wholly (and holy)stubbornness. The result is this:
"You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast,because he trusts in You." Isaiah 26:3 NIV

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Vote To Leave

I have been pondering on how I was going to post on this subject -the vote of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest to leave the denomination by withdrawing from the covenant of relationships. I could've just posted the ABCPSW press release seen here. I could've linked to the punditry of His Barking Dog or Durable Data. Yet, as a third generation American Baptist, the day was more than just a political decision, more than just my marking an "X" on a ballot -it was the death of a relationship, a death that required true mourning on my part.

Laura, my friend and roommate, pontificates on it in her theology blog and just links to her theology blog from Laura's Writings. She writes of the profound worship encounter it was to stand alongside 1300 hundred fellow delegates in a simulcast link of seven cities while singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" and "It Is Well" as they counted the ballots. Some of her readers seem to take exception to the idea that the worship of God and the sense of His presence could have occured in an act of "Christian disunity" and schism. However, they weren't there and from what I've read of their comments, they don't quite understand what the vote was all about either.

For me, it was a moment of ultimate sadness -to have come so far and to have been together as a denomination for so long all the while existing in such a dysfunctional relationship was tragic. As a delegate of my church, I was indeed bound to vote for withdrawal, but also as a follower of Christ and His Word, I had a higher allegiance to the truth that compelled me to vote for it as well. Continuing in fellowship with those who reject the authority of the Bible in favor of their own estimation of "truth" is not healthy or wise. Barbara Nicolosi, in an article in ChritianityToday Online makes this comment (with regard to the Davinci Code movie, but I think fits here too) said this:
"I don't think we should encourage people in the terrible sin against the Holy Spirit of speculating that things that are holy are evil, and that things that are evil are holy... How is that not painful for anyone who knows the Lord?"
It is painful to associate with people who call evil, good and good, evil. It's painful to think that no appeal to the Scriptural text can change the mind of a person who thinks it means something completely different than I do. This is what has happened over the past dozen years in the ABCUSA.

The national leaders closed their eyes to the open sin of their colleagues and shrugged that they were powerless to do otherwise -"it's not our place to police anyone's behavior, let the offenders' region or their local church do it". When some regions attempted to discipline their own wayward churches and pastors, the national board and the regions that disagreed with discplinary actions provided safe haven and new homes for the unrepentant. Together, they resisted any attempt for reformation and renewal using parlimentary procedures to thwart such acts and to protect their like-minded partisans. They ridiculed their opponents as small-minded bigots and fundamentalists all the while expecting the regions to shut-up and keep sending in the money for the Board's causes. So-called "Baptist values" of "soul liberty and local autonomy",in their mind, trumped Biblical teaching on issues of sexual ethics and morality. This lead to ABCPSW's conclusion that since we can't persuade, we can't convince and we can't co-exist peacefully, it is better to separate. This may be the beginning of the end of the ABC-the more conservative regions may follow shortly now that one has stepped away.

And this is why I mourn, the Baptist forefathers who fought so strongly to build such a great family could never imagined that family being torn apart in such a way.
A comment on Laura's blog referred to the conflict as being one of righteousness versus unity, but how can a group be united when there is such a chasm on what righteousness means?