Category Archives: The Church

I Reject the Premise

I’m reading a book for my thesis work that attempts to help its readers better understand Jesus’ Jewishness. One of the authors describes her journey to Israel and mentions that some have called the Holy Land “the fifth gospel”, and I started thinking about mine. I thought about how very much I agreed. There is something about being in the place.

We’re told it doesn’t matter. In church, we hear things like:

“You can worship God wherever you want. You don’t need a fancy building.”

“You can approach your ‘quiet time’ however you want. You shouldn’t let anybody tell you when, or where or how long, or what way to practice your spirituality. The important thing is that it’s yours.”

“You can pray however you want. You don’t need anybody else’s prayers.”

“You can sing new songs even if the old people don’t think they’re very good. The important thing is that they’re yours.”

And I thought about trying to defend my feelings about being in the land where Jesus walked and taught and live and died and rose and ascended. I tried to think about how it “works”—about how God “uses” a pilgrimage. But I can’t think that the premise behind this way of thinking is fairly recent (Englightenment?) and false on its face (though with a kernel of truth).

What is necessary shouldn’t be the question. I didn’t need to choose a romantic spot to propose. Elise and I didn’t need to marry in a church building. We didn’t need to use a common liturgy with roots in a historic liturgy. We would have been just as married. But those things were important. Nobody questions a couple who returns to the scene of their wedding to renew their wedding vows. Nobody questions the value in going to the same place. Must a vow renewal take place in the same place—or another place of significance? Of course not. But whether or not I can prove empirically that these things result in a longer, healthier marriage is beside the point.

Place, time, rhythm, ritual, history—these are all intrinsic parts of being human. Why do we think there is value in ignoring them? Why is there so much pushback (mainly in Protestant churches and even more so in evangelical/conservantive/non-denominational/descendants-of-the-frontie- tradition churches) on many of these things? Why do we fear admitting that there can be value in kneeling (kneeling!) in a place where countless throngs have knelt before and prayed? I don’t think that’s magic, or superstition.  I don’t think it needs to undercut the “essence” of worship or prayer or spirituality, if there can be such a thing. I think the premise that there is some essence we can reduce all things Christian down to, and that that essence is all that “matters” is foolishness. I think it’s destructive.

Yes, I think that attitude is destroying churches, families, the entire discipleship process.

I also think the attitude of a certain Church that there are laundry lists of requirements for certain things to be “valid” is also destructive. But that’s an easier argument to take on. Another time.

Karen Marie Yust in Real Kids, Real Faith:

When adults act as if religious education is mainly a tool for children’s moral development, children quickly catch on to the irrelevance of religious culture for the grown-up world. They have no incentive for committing themselves to a particular spiritual identity in adolescence if faith is portrayed by adults as something one sheds with childhood.…If they discover that our own spiritual practices are given little explicit attention and power to shape our lives, they are likely to imitate our indifference to the religious culture.

Leonard Sweet in From Tablet to Table, emphasis added:

I have had people challenge me on bringing up my children without religious choices. “Don’t you think you’re being a bit imperialistic and colonialist, not letting your children choose what religion they want to follow?”

My answer is, yes, I am being a bit imperialistic and colonialist. But I’m that way about plenty of other things besides religion. I didn’t ask my child, “What language would you like to speak?” or “What economic level would you like to be a part of?” These things are circumstantial to our birth. They are stories we are born into. So if you’re born into my house, guess what? “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). A child doesn’t decide to have toes; she discovers that she has them; this is how a child of mine discovers that he or she is already part of the body of Christ.

Important words for Christian parents, and for churches thinking about how they incorporate children into congregational life (particularly worship and the sacraments).

⇝ A GUARANTEED way to get kids listening to the Sunday sermon … — LECFamily

A GUARANTEED way to get kids listening to the Sunday sermon  — LECFamily:

I was amazed at the words that the children recalled hearing in the sermon and their delight as they shared their joy with me warmed my heart. The adults in the congregation were thrilled to see the children so involved, so engaged, and so well behaved in worship. And their parents were grateful to have the opportunity to worship as a family and to not feel stressed during that time in the pew. 

A really cool idea.

“For the future to be good…”

Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and Space-X (among other things), tweeted about some of the things necessary for a “good” future.1

But I don’t think he’s right. Technology doesn’t change human hearts, nor does it eliminate suffering. If history shows us anything, technological advances will only increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The biggest problems we face are not technological hurdles. It’s not that I’m opposed to research, technology, exploration, or discovery. But we deceive ourselves if we think that new technology and scientific discoveries (including medical ones) are automatically advances or progress.

Only God is good. The more of his kingdom that breaks through into our world, the better it will be. The more his will is done in us, the better this world will be. In fact, we don’t need Mr. Musks’s company or any other to provide us with a good future, because we’ve already been guaranteed a perfect one! In the end, all things will be set right. Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, every soul will worship God, through his son Jesus Christ our Lord, by the Holy Spirit. Evil, sin, and death will in the end be vanquished, and our future will be perfect as we dwell fully in the presence of the Divine. I was reminded recently that our weekly worship as Christians should be reminding us all of that outlook.

Now if anybody wants to donate a Tesla Model S…well, just leave a comment and I’m sure we can get in touch.

  1. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming that he doesn’t think electric transport, solar power, and “the missing piece” are sufficient.

The Painful Lessons of Mars Hill

This article isn’t discussing breaking news, but I finally got to catch up to a few items on my “to read later” list. From Leadership Journal: The Painful Lessons of Mars Hill.

Western Seminary’s Dr. Gerry Breshears, a past friend and co-author with Driscoll, says many churches today have a problem with “giving lip service to ‘co-laborers,’ while depending on a single superstar.” And if it is all about the superstar, he says, then what if things go wrong with him or her?

I have first-hand experience of churches operating on a smaller scale but in the same way: around a single charismatic individual who does not believe he or she is really working alongside others. Those churches were built, to varying degrees, on the cult of personality rather than the Church. I’ve seen the devastating fall-out when things go wrong with that kind of leader—and felt it personally.

On the one hand, I’m not the prototypical church planter. I don’t tend to draw crowds and I’ve never been confused with a socially popular guy. On the other hand, I do have a strong (if introverted) personality, and the danger remains. We are spending a ton of time building up and equipping leaders for the labor of planting a church-planting church. We have not talked a lot about “growth strategies.” We have not talked marketing, or efficiency. We talk instead about Kingdom values (more than conversions!) and the desire to hear “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” when we meet our maker.

Micah 1-2

I’ve been thinking. Contemplating even.

In our daily reading, Elise and I have switched over to Micah this week (we’re still kind of keeping an eye on the end of Acts).1

What particularly struck me starting yesterday is the point that really picks up in Micah 1:5, following a word about the tremendous judgment that is coming:

All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob? Is it not Samaria
And what is the high place of Judah? Is it not Jerusalem?

The rebellion of the world has corrupted Samaria (the Northern Kingdom of Israel) first, and that corruption has spread to Judah and even Jerusalem itself (1:9). The Holy City, the center of the religious life of God’s people, the geographic locus of his precious Covenant with his people, has become a pagan high place. This is a damning word.

It is bad enough that the world lives in rebellion against God. It is bad enough when the covenant people of God violate his teaching—his clear teaching. But it is most grievous when in the name of God idols are worshiped by God’s people.

The people are even clamoring for a cessation in the preaching of God’s truth. When the prophets speak of disobedience leading to judgment and destruction, the people respond in 2:ff:

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
“one should not preach of such things;
disgrace will not overtake us.”

In verse 11, we see the problem put in a humorous (or sarcastic, at the least) way:

If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,” he would be the preacher for this people!

The people thought that their special relationship to God precluded judgment. Perhaps they thought God would never bring shame upon himself by letting his adopted nation be laid waste. Maybe they thought their status as God’s people gave them the permission to decide right and wrong for themselves. That wouldn’t really be a new story, would it?

If it could happen to the people of the Exodus, to the people of the Torah, to the people of the Temple, it can happen to us. The Church must resist the temptation to cave in to the rebellion of the world against the God who has adopted us as his own children.2

We must not allow people with rebellious hearts clamor for a preacher who will make them feel better about themselves and their sin and we must certainly not allow the world (unconverted and unrepentant people perhaps disguised as churchgoers) decide what is preached. As faithful Christians, we must not be deceived that every idea which seems good to us has been delivered to us from God by his Holy Spirit. We must never think that our adoption into God’s household gives us the authority of God himself. We must not make the living Temple a place of apostasy.

  1. Since our son’s birth, I’ve learned to pay close attention when a certain minor prophet comes up—and sure enough, the Daily Office lectionary Old Testament reading is in Micah this week.

  2. We must also care for the poor and vulnerable, and seek justice for the oppressed—serious offenses that the prophet goes on about at length in these chapters.

➠ Matthew Marino: David Kinnaman is Wrong

We did this to ourselves by investing in segregationist youth ministries that proved ultimately unhelpful. What we can do in response? We can repent of where we failed them in their youth rather than by again pandering to where we have left them as young adults.

Another thoughtful take on the way we, the Church, have failed our younger members. Also includes this gem: 

[Segregation by age] was the drug everyone wanted: Parents wanted their kids to like church.

His solutions are not going to be easy.

via David Kinnaman is wrong: How the church really lost the millennials.