Tag Archives: Church

Unity of Churches? What Does the Bible Say?

I think modern calls to unity and ecumenism are wrongheaded. Al Kresta talked about it in the podcast below calling Evangelicals “separated brethren” and I believe Steven Greydanus has said that evangelicals are “sheep outside of the fold” and/or a younger brother of RCC. Thus, we don’t experience the “fullness of the Gospel” because we are not under the umbrella of the RCC. These RCC can correct me if I’m wrong but it seems as if they hope for a formal unity where everyone, including the Orthodox are under the RCC. Evangelicals work with the same assumptions. George Yancey has written about it in, “One Body, One Spirit: Principles of Successful Multiracial Churches” and in other places. And progressives actually seem to have no problem coercing others into what they believe. They want everyone to follow their liberal agenda’s, ie., everyone SHOULD be welcoming and accepting of LGBT and SSM (not just between races and ethnicities but anyone who is different). This was something that really struck me as I read, Skillen’s “Recharging the American Experiment.” In there, Skillen’s said that the government should not coerce theological conscience. There are some churches that believe in SSM and some that do not. As we live in a pluralistic society, all should be allowed to exist in their differentiation. By implication, this could be the same for churches between themselves. Churches don’t tell others churches what they should believe with regard to a host of issues. So it should be the same with SSM. Churches are not united for a myriad of reasons—theological, moral, worship style, ethnic, etc. The problem with calls for unity, it seems, is that this is:

1.An ideological utopian vision influenced by modern Kumbaya culture.

2.It is not what Jesus had in mind in John 17.

Here is D.A. Carson on John 17. The John 17 unity prayer needs to be understood within the greater context of the Father’s protection for those who would be followers of the Messiah.

“The constant goal is that the disciples be one as Jesus and his Father are one. Like any analogy, this cannot legitimately be pressed without limit. The unity enjoyed by Jesus and his Father has numerous features that could not be duplicated in the unity among believers. For instance, Jesus and his Father are but two; the believers are many. Jesus and his Father stand together in their creative work (1:1–3); this cannot be predicted of the disciples. Jesus and his Father enjoyed the brilliance of pretemporal glory (17:5); but obviously that unity could not in the nature of the case be shared by temporal creatures. Many other such distinctions suggest themselves on the basis of the fourth Gospel alone. Yet clearly the analogy is important, and must not be robbed of all content by endlessly peeling the onion. Many of the relational ties between Jesus and his Father described by John’s Gospel are functional in nature. Moreover, as chapter 2 of this book demonstrated, if Jesus stands with his Father with respect to man in revelation and authority, he simultaneously stands with man with respect to his Father in dependence and obedience. Within this framework, the Father and the Son enjoy a perfect unity of love, of purpose, of holiness of truth. Now, Jesus prays, so protect these people you have given me that they may be one as we are one: one in love (a theme already stressed, 13:34f.; 15:13), one in purpose (obedience, fruit bearing, witness—all prevalent themes in these chapters), one in holiness (it is not for nothing that Jesus here addressed his Father as “Holy Father,” and will shortly ask him to sanctify the believers), one in truth (they, unlike the world, have come to recognize the fundamental truth that Jesus is the revelation of God). This theme of unity is an important one in Jesus’s prayer. It is picked up again and repeated (17:21, 22, 23), and so we shall return to it in the last chapter of this book—at which time its relevance to the modern church may be usefully explored. For the moment, it may be helpful to note that if the prayer is a request that Jesus’s disciples be protected in order that they may be one in love, purpose, holiness, and truth, it follows that the greatest dangers lie in those things that seek to destroy unity in love, in purpose, in holiness, and in truth. An adequate catalog of such evils, coupled with a careful assessment of their danger, would immediately double the length of this book. Such a catalog would include jealousy, hate, friction, arrogant isolation, selfishness, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, a wretched tongue; for these vices seek to destroy the unity of love. The catalog would go on to mention one-upmanship, an uncooperative spirit, brinkmanship and impatience (which threaten unity of purpose), all kinds of sin (which abhors holiness), and lies, dogmatic half-truths, unwillingness to admit error or sympathetically learn from one another, chronic unbelief (which conspires to obliterate unity in truth). From all such evils, good Lord, deliver us.”

If this is the case, as I believe it is, Sunday morning is not the most segregated hour in America. That is an ideological utopian vision of how one believes things ought to be. James Kalb and of late, Jared Taylor have spoke about some of the sociological aspects of human communities where they expound on the idea of “birds of a feather flock together” and “where we find ourselves naturally.” Let’s face it, it’s right there in front of our faces EVERYDAY. Diversity. Diversity is with us as a constant—as the way of the world. Why do we still have the black race? Why do we Asian peoples? Why do we still have Anglo-Saxon European peoples? Spanish and the sub varieties therein. As said above, people group together for various and myriad reasons. It is still basically the same in schools, in marriages, and in friendships. This is not to say that persons from one group will not venture into another group, but if it is done, it will be done organically without changing the distinctions of that particular group.


Popular Religion, Victoria Osteen And Why It’s Not All That Bad

There has been a video of Victoria Osteen floating around on the internet this past week or so which has received quite a bit of flack from many evangelical Christians for it’s shoddy theology. You can see that video and a more favorable response here .

Years ago, I read Richard Mouw’s book, Consulting the Faithful: What Intellectuals Can Learn From Popular Religion .

It had a great impact on me, challenging me to be more charitable and less suspicious of popular religion by trying to see below the surface to understand “the hopes and fears” of the average lay person. I’ve been surprised via searching out and reading alternative views such as Brent White’s above at how much I/we as a community of Christians don’t see or deliberately ignore opposing views just so we can sulk and criticize and be bitter about the “state of the Church” in general.

But let’s face it folks. Folk religion, popular religion or whatever you want to call it is here to stay. Let’s face the fact this thing called “popular religion” could possibly be one way that God is using to bring folks into a deeper relationship with himself. Let’s face the fact that popular religion, because not everyone is an intellectual, is the way many folk relate to God (thinking of the mentality challenged here). Let’s face the fact that there may be some GOLD nugget(s) that we can glean from. It could be said that when Franky Schaeffer wrote, “Addicted to Mediocrity,” though this brought to the fore the critical “state of evangelicalism,” it did not help in terms of understanding the laity and many of the sentiments which drive their form of worship and by which they “live and move and have their being.”

Mind you, while I will probably not attend an Osteen service myself, as I’m past much of that sort of theology, (though I would never count out attending for other purposes ie., praise and worship where that, it seems, is most untouched by popular theology, at least one can praise God where the praise, though probably simple, can still be heart felt and not wrapped up in struggles of Billy Cosby sentiments), I really don’t blame others for doing so as this is where they meet God at. I’ll say it like this. Mouw uses the analogy of “puppy love.” That’s a good place to start for relationships but it can’t carry those relationships through the long haul and the topsy-turvy storms that relationships eventually bring. Our relationship with God begins some where on some level.

Now one might say, “Ahh…but those people have been going to that church for years and they are none the farther theologically.” The problem with such criticism is the way one is viewing personal piety and church attendance. How do you KNOW many of these folks are not theological giants? How do you know WHY they are attending such services? As I said, I could attend because I like the music aspect of the service though I’m barely able to sit through the preaching. I may attend because I have good friends whom I’ve developed deep relationships with. I may attend because I am accepted and that is all I needed at the time.

At the end of the day:

A. I don’t think any of us has “correct” theology (though this is not to say that we should neglect studying theology, after all, professors and teachers, are gifts to the body as well).
B. There are many different reasons for why people attend church and God meets us where we’re at. My church attendance isn’t all about having correct theology but an encounter with the Divine.

So. While **I** probably wouldn’t attend certain churches for shallow theology, (I definitely see that not all is negative–there is SOMETHING that can be redeemed), people attend for various reasons and I trust God, through the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth.


The Atlantic’s, “The Quiet Gay-Rights Revolution in America’s Churches”: Some Thoughts

The “The Atlantic” (is that how I would write that?) has put out an interesting article, The Quiet Gay-Rights Revolution in America’s Churches on the changes within faith communities and how they are “progressing” and are more supportive of gays and same sex marriage. Whether it’s true or not, that this was in a very large part due to some political agenda as described by Capelle here:

“In Albany, who do legislators listen to?” Alan van Capelle asked his fellow activists at a dinner at the Sheraton in Manhattan. “Corporations, labor unions, and people of faith. If we can win their support, we can win the issue.”

where churches have been “infiltrated” to cede ground to gay activists, I don’t know. It could be a number of issues going on here.

Regardless, what I want to do is look at some of the points this article mentions and then give a little commentary on each one.

“It is a recent development — Jones dates the “tipping point” to 2011 — and it has helped marginalize gay-marriage opponents by discrediting their most powerful claim: that they speak for the religious community.”

There are a couple of things that have been pointed out in this article. One is that, though Pope Francis is still very much against SSM, he is more friendly towards LGBT persons saying, ” “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” and the other is the LONG solid history of the Church on sexuality and same-sex attractions and activities/relations. The Christian church has pretty much been unified on this question of same sex relationships. For the Pope to say what he has said is not unusual or even contradictory to the long teaching of the church. But I suppose one could say that proponents of same-sex marriage, in the Christian church don’t speak for the religious community either. At least not for most of those who have lived (past) and those who are still alive (such as the Christians mentioned in the article ie., Southern Baptists, a good portion of Catholics, etc. I mean, are we to say that the Religious Left speaks for the religious community?

This really is a question of justice. And the problem is that both the right and left have been narrowly focused on political engagement. That is, they both have jumped on this or that moral issue and have sought to get government to do something about it not asking the question, “Is this where government should be involved?” I know this sounds slightly derogatory, but both the Right and Left live parasitically off of one moral issue or another (Skillen) instead of asking about the more basic questions, “What is civil society’s role? And what is government’s role?” on these issues.

“I get it all the time,” she said. “People have been told for so many years if you’re a gay person you basically don’t belong in the religious community. And straight folks, too, want to see their religion as a source of love and inclusion that’s making people’s lives better, not shaming people or keeping them out.”

This get’s a little closer to what I’m saying above. Think of it like this. Say you have a public space. In this space there are families, churches, shops, unions, universities, police, voluntary organizations, doctors, banks, and so forth. Now, a university doesn’t have the right to tell a family how to work out their family life or family issues, etc. A union shop doesn’t have a right to tell a church how to run it’s business, etc. With THAT basic understanding in place now think of it like this. You not only have ONE church, but many churches of many different stripes. My Baptist church should not tell the Mormon Church what distinctives it should have. The Catholic Church should not tell the Orthodox or the Protestant churches about it how they believe or their codes of ethics or conduct. Even within denominations, a church should not tell another church how to run it’s business because of the dynamics involved. And so, you begin to see the point that this is not so much a theological question but a POLITICAL one. Churches have their theological teachings as well as their ethical ones. There are certain beliefs and behaviours, etc, that churches adhere to. Thus, if one wants a church that is LGBT friendly, such that it invites them to participate in the full life of the church, such that it marries them or invites them to take communion, etc, then what would be problematic with gay-folk attending THAT church and leaving those that are opposed to same-sex marriage alone–to their own beliefs, teachings, codes of ethics, etc? Why is there this need to change all these more conservative churches on this question? And here’s the thing. This has NOTHING to do with centring out gays PER SE. It has EVERYTHING to do with PUBLIC JUSTICE. Connect the dots, please.

“Central to this outreach has been a message that emphasizes religious teachings about compassion, tolerance, and humility. Religious leaders and followers want to feel that they’re not choosing politics over religion but bringing the two into alignment.”

Given what I’ve said above. Who is doing this? Choosing politics over religion? I would say, it is more those who seek to change a particular church.

“When President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage more than a year ago, he framed it as a matter not of separating church and state but of following Christian teaching: “When we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule,” he said. “Treat others the way you’d want to be treated.”

A religious argument for political question now, right? I mean, churches hold that women should not be ordained as priests, would the President say, that the Golden Rule is not only not being applied but that it is also going against a woman’s civil rights? I mean, there are some that advocate this (goes against a woman’s civil rights). But again, given what I’ve said about churches having “theological consciences” then folk should attend those churches that believe in women’s ordination. Also, this seems to apply only when the issue is “your beloved issue.” Right or Left. The Right, for years has mostly been the one to use religious arguments and those on the Left have said, “You have to hang up your religious hat before you can talk about a particular issue in the public square.” The Left comes out with their particular pet issue (SSM) and it’s OK now? We can use religious arguments?

“There’s no question this is partly the story of an overall change in American public opinion toward gay rights; it’s also partly the story of a rising religious left that seeks an alternative focus to the old religious right.”

All this is is living parasitically in the political system. Right vs Left with no principled understanding or a connecting of the dots between governing and the proper issues. The Left is pretty much doing the same thing that they have accused the Right of doing.

“For faith leaders and LGBT activists alike, a reconciling, gradual but profound, is under way. “People have been told for decades that homosexuality is a sin, but they know really good LGBT people, and they don’t know what to do,” said Groves of the Human Rights Campaign. “We need to be going into those conservative religious spaces with messages like the pope — who am I to judge? Once people see the humanity of LGBT people, it is very hard to hold onto a vitriolic stance.”

Of course, don’t be vitriolic. I know this happens with both sides. Both sides, both Right and Left could tone the speech down. Both can be welcoming but both can’t be affirming. One side will be both welcoming AND affirming and the other will be welcoming but NOT affirming which may look like, invitations to communion, participation in different areas of church life, etc, (again, all of this depending on that particular body’s code of ethics) but don’t believe in or practice SSM.


Church As Worship? Or Concert Hall Experience.

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Some Christians have tended to see church as something that looks something like the picture above. As a matter of fact the website I got this from said this about the setting and others like it.

“Contemporary church architecture is all about the dramatic play of light and shadow, and creating spaces that speak to the landscapes and skylines they occupy. Instead of adhering to the traditional look of Gothic, Romanesque, or Neo-Classical looks—all very popular during the last century—contemporary church architecture stretches the boundaries of the expected, combining aspects of modern art, industrial design, and concert hall acoustics for an astonishing final product. Many congregations feel that contemporary church architecture helps to turn the focus of the church from the structure itself to the relationships and people that make up the community.”

But to get the right feel in contemporary church architecture and maximize the connection between interior and exterior aesthetic, it’s imperative that congregations and communities seek professionals with experience in modern church design in particular.”

The point I’m trying to make is not so much about church architecture but more about how technologies play in church (which church architecture can be seen as a part of). Even here, it it is said that the architecture is about “the dramatic play of light and shadow and creating spaces that speak to the landscapes and skylines…”

While this is not bad in itself or something I don’t take any moral issue with, and while technologies may intrude on impersonal forms of communication, the point can be made that wisdom would be needed to discern how to use new technologies.

Some churches use only new technologies because they say they never really use the time worn liturgies of the past. But it may come as a surprise, in fact, that they really do use liturgies if one defines liturgies as “works” that the corporate body conducts, such as greetings, confessions, celebration, affirmation, proclamation, offering and benediction. And while these things may change over time so that churches will remain relevant and meaningful to congregants, it is one thing to remove them from top to bottom whole sale with no connection to the past and another to keep them but in a reformulated fashion ie., a greeting could possibly be said as “Good morning” (keeping the liturgy) as opposed to “The Lord be with you” (a former way of saying basically the same thing). Thus, corporate worship should require that we have some communal memory and shared rituals.

Worship has always relied on human skills and technologies. The question it seems then is not so much what works but looking beyond that to engage both tradition and other cultures to see where the Church is growing through the work of the Spirit.