Seven Mistakes Every Church Should Avoid Whether you agree with any or all of the "mistakes" mentioned in this article, it is certainly worth the read and can serve as a helpful springboard for discussion on the biblical/theological/historical nature of the Church.
Why men have stopped singing in church A fascinating discussion is unfolding at churchformen.com regarding the disappearance of singing (especially by men) in most churches with a contemporary bent. Although I consider worship to be much more holistic and diverse than what the author is focused on, the discussion there is nonetheless a worthwhile read.
The Anglican-Episcopal Divide Widens Further NT Wright offers a honest and somewhat heavy-hearted perspective regarding The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the U.S., and their decision to further formalize their decision to appoint to all orders of ministry, persons in active same-sex relationships. This marks a clear break with the rest of the Anglican Communion.
"I Am Second"- Incredible Personal Stories Personal testimony stories are a dime-a-dozen on the internet. YouTube and a plethora of other sites offer them. But you will NEVER find striking personal stories about life and loss and struggle and victory and faith like you will encounter at www.iamsecond.com. This is a resource site you MUST visit for yourself and then bookmark.
Charles Wesley's secret code diary cracked by priest An Anglican priest has unlocked the 270-year-old secrets of Charles Wesley's coded diary, throwing light on the turbulent relationship that he had with his brother John in the early years of the Methodist movement they founded... The “hidden” material offers an insight into Wesley's fierce determination to prevent the Methodist societies from breaking away from the Church of England, and disagreements with his more influential older brother.
It seems that posts like this one are becoming more commonplace of late. Why? Because a generation of young adults who left the church years ago, are returning -- as as they do -- they're looking for something different than they had left. The sentiments that Andrea Palpant Dilley has written about may not be true for all young adults, but certainly are true for many -- especially those who plenty sharp enough to recognize how today's popular evangelical churches have bowed too long to the idol of being "relevant" -- so long, that they've lost their sense of weight, substance, and significance.
For a number of reasons, young adults who are returning to the church after years of absence, end up in churches far more traditional, historical, and even liturgical than they attended before. They want a faith with roots, with longevity, with a history that hasn't sold itself out to the whims and fads of our ever-changing culture. As this trend continues, what is it saying to the church as a whole? What is it saying to you and I?
The fruit of genuine transformation should characterize the lives of all Christ-followers, yet if truth be known, precious few who claim to be Christians actually evidence such transformation in their lives. This is exactly what George Barna highlighted today in the unveiling of his new book, Maximum Faith, at the Western regional Wesleyan Holiness Consortium, held at Azusa Pacific University.
Barna pulled no punches in describing how today's church has divorced transformation from the process of salvation and placed it into the hands of the individual. Rather than providing people with a "map" for the intentional transformation of their lives, many churches give folks a "menu" -- leaving it up to the individual to pick-and-choose among options, selecting what sounds good to them, and hoping it all turns out well. In contrast to such an approach, Barna insists that churches must partner with people in the transformation of their lives, guiding them and helping them to avoid the faulty associations so prevalent among professing Christians today. Barna's recent research suggests that...
We Confuse: With:
intellectual knowledge faith
emotional happiness joy
physical comfort divine reward
Such confusions and misconceptions can be remedied, at least in part, by better understanding the dynamics of authentic spiritual transformation. So then, how does God transform people’s lives? Barna draws on recent research to describe a ten-stop "journey" that he believes produces robust life transformation – and goes on to explain the reasons behind why most people struggle to get past the halfway mark (noting that only 1% of Americans reach stop 9 and/or 10). Here are Barna's 10 "Stops":
Concern about sin
Born again - inactive
Born again - active (doing "Christian" things)
Brokenness (usually through personal crisis)
Profound love of God
Profound love for people
Much is currently being written regarding evangelicalism's misrepresentation of conversion/salvation as a "decision" or "event" that occurs at a point-in-time, rather than as a process or journey. Despite this, change is slow in coming. I applaud Barna for being a contributing voice to a church in need of reform, and look forward to reading and reviewing Maximum Faith in the coming days.
In the early centuries of the Church, worship was dynamically linked to the spiritual formation of worshipers. The various acts of worship constantly reminded believers of their formation journey as worshipers, in that these worship components were first delivered and explained to them as part of the catechetical instruction they received prior to and following their baptism – itself, a central act of worship. As worshipers heard the teachings, memorized the Creed, offered up prayers, and received the Eucharist, their own catechesis and baptism were always in view. Believers were formed for worship.
Today’s reality is quite different. Conversion and Christian formation have little to do with the when, why, and how we worship. As evangelicals, we are quick to affirm that the Christian faith is meant to be a faith-of-the-heart. [OT: God is not after our “sacrifices”, but after our hearts] Yet, a process of spiritual formation that prepares the believer for knowledge of, full participation in, and commitment to worship is strangely absent. We might “require” praise-team members to be members or at least regular attendees for 6 months or some such thing before being allowed on stage to help lead worship, but we generally leave their spiritual formation process up to them! We have fairly successfully disconnected the ministry and acts of worship from the spiritual formation of the worshiper.
What implications does this disconnect present? How might it be affecting our corporate worship expressions? In what ways does our culture’s emphasis on radical individualism, as well as egalitarianism, keep us from rediscovering and utilizing the catechetical practices of the early church? Further, what implications would the faithful catechizing of believers have on the health, strength, and effectiveness of congregational worship and mission?
We evangelicals commonly “save” people (facilitate their "decision" to receive Christ), yet fail to fully “convert” them. As a result, we become discouraged when attempting to “disciple” these saved-but-not-yet-converted “Christians,” and shake our heads in disbelief at how many of them eventually discard their faith for a more secularized and even less demanding "form" of quasi-Christian spirituality.
Wouldn’t this reality drastically change if we led new comers to the faith through a process of conversion, and of Christian formation? What if worship, then, flowed out of who we had become? What if we worshipped like truly baptized people (with all that this means), rather than un-converted folks who still bring their capitalism, materialism, hedonism, narcicism and the like, into the worship gathering?
What is it exactly that makes one truly "Christian?" The witness of the ancient scriptures -- and especially the gospels and Acts -- seems to describe a process and reality quite different than what we evangelicals have promulgated and defended for the past 2-3 centuries.
When the people described in Acts 2, convicted by the Holy Spirit, asked, "what must we do to be saved?" Peter told them to "repent and be baptized." If we're honest about the meaning of metanoia (repent) and the process by which new believers were prepared for baptism (cf. the Didache), we will be hard pressed to define Christian conversion as punticular in nature, and primarily a private and personal matter.
Many evangelicals consider conversion to be an individual transaction with God -- a purely personal, inward, and individual decision. The church stands outside of these transactions, and is not even needed for such. As Gordon Smith has so clearly described it:
If the genesis of the spiritual life is largely an individual transaction, then it follows that the rest of the spiritual life is transacted on one's own, in one's own space, on one's own terms. If one can be "saved" without reference to the community, then one can presumably live the rest of one's Christian life without reference to community. And wile one might still attend church and be active in a Christian community, the individualism of one's conversion fosters a sense that the church is nothing more than a sum of its parts, a collection of members, of individuals. Such a Christian lacks a covenant relationship with the community of faith, lacks a sense of vital dependence or, better, mutual dependence upon the community, lacks a sense of oneself maturing in teh faith "as each part" does its work (Eph. 4:16). And the church is seen as a dispenser of religious experiences and opportunities that I can take or leave; hence, I can leave and affliliate with another congregation if I conclude that the other church will better "meet my needs." (Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation, 9-10).
This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. A conversion that is distortingly individualistic will foster a spirituality that is distortingly individualistic, and in turn only tragically reinforces the commodification of the Christian faith. Standing against such a view of Christianity is the witness of the scriptures and the early church. Ancient biblical Christianity clearly developed and emmanated around the importance of "we" rather than "me." A Christianity lived outside of the community of the local church wasn't even a possibility. Such a faith would have been a heretical faith.
What is needed today is a restored understanding of conversion. Conversion describes a process of change, rather than an event -- something we'll look at a bit closer next time.
Why do many Christians seem clueless when it comes to graciously accepting the spoken words of blessing from others? I have encountered this over and over and over -- especially among evangelicals: someone comes up to us and says "God bless you" or "May the Lord bless you" or "May God pour out His blessings on you this week" or any number of similarly configured blessings. But instead of responding with "thanks" or "wow, thank you so much" or "I sure appreciate that" or "Amen. I receive that", we upstage their blessing with a clever "He does" or "He always does" or "He already has" or some such thing. Whether or not such responses are intentional attempts at upstaging or posturing due to illusions of spiritual superiority, they're ignorant at best and arrogantly rude at worst.
Maybe people's unwillingness to gratefully accept someone else's words of blessing probably stems from bad teaching, bad theology, or bad modeling -- somehow thinking that only God has the "right" to bless us. If that's the case, then what about Jesus' imperative in Luke 6:28? Or Paul's echoing of this same injunction in Romans 12:14? “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” And how about the truth regarding the blessing God's people, carried over from the Old Testament:
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:22-27 NRSV)
Now THAT'S some great theology! When we invoke God's blessing upon others, we -- in a real sense -- put His name upon them. God somehow honors this and then blesses them! This is a powerful truth, and the words of blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 have not only endured through the ages but have been preserved in the worship liturgy of the Church. Since all believers in Christ are now priests unto the Lord (e.g. Revelation 5:10), it is we who now carry on this ancient faith-tradition of speaking blessing over others. And when we are the recipients of such spoken words of blessing, let's consciously work at receiving them humbly, gratefully, and with grace -- guarding our words, our hearts, and our unity in the body of Christ.
The crowds in Jerusalem -- we have long remembered the way they waffled, the way they extolled the coming King on Palm Sunday, yet days later called for his execution. Shocking? Yes. Tragic? Yes. Ironic? Huh?
Holy Week is filled with fascinating paradoxes, ironies, and enigmas. And perhaps one of the week's greatest ironies actuallly brackets The Great Week, for although the crowds shouted "hosanna!" (i.e. "save us") during Jesus' triumphal entry in to Jerusalem, they did not realize their later shouting of "crucify him!" would in fact turn their initial request into a reality. In a very real sense then, hosanna! and crucify him! are inextricably linked, for it is by means of Christ's crucifixion that He in fact saves us!
After reading Witvliet's Worship Seeking Understanding, I found myself wanting to generate
discussion threads on a number of topics, but will settle for this one, at least to start with:
Cultural engagement -- it has been several years since I first read Neibuhr's Christ and Culture.
It captured my interest then and did again related to Witvliet's
investigation of what the relationship should be between the church's
worship liturgy and the culture we find ourselves in. Though I agree
with critics who view Neibuhr's categories as somewhat inadequate and
limiting, they remain excellent launching off points for discussion. I
was particularly interested in Witvliet's use of Stephen B. Bevan's Models of Contextual Theology,
and in particular, Bevan's "Synthetic Model" -- which "looks for a
synthesis 'between one's own cultural point of view and the points of
view of others' instead of constantly focusing attention on the
particularities of a given contextualized theology" (p.111). I admit
that my gravitation toward "both-and" postmodern thinking is in view
here. Nonetheless, I resonate with the synthetic model in that it seems
to both embrace and guard against the enculturization of Christian
liturgy. What Witvliet posits toward the end of chapter four seems
huge: "In sum, the twin dangers that cultural engagement seeks to avoid
are 'cultural capitulation,' on the one hand, and 'cultural
irrelevancy,' on the other." In every case of cultural engagement,
there must be a yes and a no, a being in but not of, a continuity and a
discontinuity with accepted cultural practices" (p.119).
the product of an evangelical megachurch (chapter 11 was quite
spot-on), I have grown increasingly suspicious of how evangelicals have
frequently favored culture-pleasing evangelism over culture-shaping
theology. Worship Seeking Understanding was therefore a refreshing read
for me for many reasons, not the least of which being its emphasis on
how important theology is (biblical, historical, systematic) in the
shaping of liturgy -- not just the "what and how" of liturgy but the
Within many denominational structures, there seems to be
a persistent "push" and pressure to employ culturally proven and
effective practices in the "growing" of the church. Such an emphasis
has, in the past, driven the seeker-sensitive model of how many
evangelicals "do" worship and church. Despite some heartfelt
retractions by evangelical leaders, the role which culture should play
in the worship and life of the church is not always an easy or
I look forward to any reactions, thoughts, or questions you might have in response.
Throughout the early centuries of the Church, the conversion journey remained centered around baptism. Although the act of baptizing occurred at a fixed point in time (normally on Easter), ones baptism included an extended period of teaching and being mentored beforehand (i.e. catechesis) and often afterward (i.e. mystagogy). One's baptismal preparation normally spanned a fairly long period of time -- up to a full year.
This process of catechesis is commonly referred to as the catechumenate.
catechumenate developed and took shape over the first five centuries, there are
a number of distinguishing characteristics that stand out in their commonality:
To varying degrees, the role of the “sponsor” was important.
A screening interview became common prior to admission into the
catechumenate in order to assure sincerity.
An emphasis on the “Two Ways” during pre-baptismal instruction.
A preference for baptizing in natural or “living” water sources,
with exceptions allowed.
Immersion as the preferred mode, with allowances made for pouring.
Baptism is in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Baptisms are primarily held on Easter/Easter Eve.
Lent is reserved for final catechesis and preparation for baptism.
Repeated exorcisms, signing with the cross, and laying on of hands
were common for catechumens.
Catechumens were expected to purify their lives and engage in good
deeds within the community.
An affirmation of faith and renunciation of the devil occurred at
the time of baptism.
Partaking of the Eucharist is reserved for baptized believers
Though sometimes quite brief, after-baptism mystagogy occurred.
It's a topic rarely taught on, referred to, or prayed about in most evangelical churches. But that might be changing. Thanks to visionary leaders like Dr. Steve Fitch of Eden Reforestation Projects, evangelicals are finally starting to "get it" when it comes to our biblical, theological, and moral responsibility to care for our planet.
Fitch is not the only who has owned-up to this responsibility and stepped-up to the plate by taking action (which he is doing in a tree-mendous way); other Christian leaders -- with both low and high profiles -- are challenging the church to BE the hope of the world in every way, including environmentally.
Where does one begin? That's an important question -- and one that we might take up here in detail sometime in the future, but this one thing I can offer most assuredly: we should begin by courageously coming before God with confession and petition.
So here's a starting point for us -- a common prayer that Brian McLaren (and others) are encouraging believers to pray this month before world leaders meet in December regarding global environmental needs:
A variety of written text versions of this prayer are available here.