Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Evangelical’ Category

I just finished the book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea by Alister McGrath.  First of all, I highly recommend the book.  It’s an excellent treatment of the issues surrounding the Reformation and all its major players from Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Bucer and others.

One of the things it talked about was how Protestantism, outside of the Lutheran and Calvinist camps especially, as been so remarkably adaptable to different times, different countries and different cultures.  For sure, there have been eras of missteps in missionary efforts where too much emphasis was placed on transplanting a Western European style of Christianity into countries where the cultural norms and such are vastly different.  But the overall history of Protestantism has been one of amazing malleability.  And to most Protestants, this is a sign of it’s vitality and a source of great strength.  Aside from being centered around a sermon, you can encounter scores of different styles from country to country or even within one city.  You might walk into a Baptist church that’s very “countrified” with Southern Gospel style hymns and right down the road walk into another with all the high church pomp and circumstance you’d see in a Catholic service.  And right down from that would be one with a kickin’ rock band leading worship, congregants in jeans and t-shirts and the pastor sporting a faux-hawk.  And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the predominantly African-American congregations.

On the other hand, worldwide, Catholic and Orthodox churches are largely the same.  This was especially the case prior to Vatican II and the Mass being in the vernacular.  You could go anywhere in the world and the Mass was spoken in Latin and was in the same form.  Even with the vernacular, because the form of the Mass is consistent, most experienced Catholics can follow the service fairly easily even with the language barrier.  And this consistency is viewed by Catholics as a sign of strength and vitality as well.  They feel they adapt in more subtle ways to each culture (such as Mass in the vernacular) but that the more consistent liturgy and emphasis promotes unity and cohesiveness in the Church.

And this adaptability vs consistency thing doesn’t just apply to different cultures and countries now.  Outside of high church Lutherans and Anglicans, Protestantism is nothing if not willing to change.  No matter what era Protestantism finds itself in, there seems to be a near constant desire to change and seek to be “relevant.”  This is especially true of the last 30-40 years or so, since those first hippies started coming to Christ during the Jesus Movement, but whether it was John and Charles Wesley, Charles Finney and Dwight Moody, the rise of Pentecostalism or the New Calvinists, this is has been a hallmark of Protestantism.

Catholicism (and to a similar degree Orthodoxism) on the other hand has been marked by its ties to history and (little “t”) tradition.  Some of the rites, creeds, prayers, music and other facets of Catholic worship have been around since the earliest days of the Church.  Many others have been in consistent use in Catholic services for centuries.  There’s a connectedness and a feeling of being anchored in something bigger than oneself but more importantly, bigger than “right now.”

To be honest, I’m torn over which is the best approach.  I’ve mentioned my feelings numerous times…how I lament the lack of historicity and the sense that we’ve lost something in all this manic striving to be culturally hip and relevant.  I find a depth and richness in traditional, liturgical worship that just seems lacking in much of contemporary styles.  But at the same time, I realize that everyone is not like me.  No matter how much you explain to some people the richness and deep meanings of the liturgy and its ancient roots, they don’t get it.  And it’s not that they don’t get it because they are non-Christians unattuned to the things of God.  These are wonderful, growing, sincere believers in Christ.  They might be able to appreciate elements of traditional worship from time to time, they prefer the more casual, modern style.  They feel like they connect with God on a more personal level in that kind of setting and that their relationship with God is much better partly because of the willingness of churches to loosen up and not be bogged down with attachments to songs and styles and cultural trappings that are no longer a part of modern life.  I even felt that way myself at one point, but as this blog attests, that’s changed with me.  It doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a well-done modern worship service, I just have different tastes and different things that matter more to me.

What do you think?  There are pros and cons to both approaches I believe.  What is more important…cultural relevance in worship style or a connection to the past and our Christian brethren from times gone by?  As long as the Gospel is being taught and people are being discipled and matured in the faith, should the form in which those things are conveyed matter?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Back in the age of dial-up, when regular people were just beginning to get on the internet, the first things I discovered were message boards. There were tons of them. And the ones I seemed to gravitate to the most were theology boards and ones devoted to debating Christianity with atheists and agnostics. Generally speaking those debates generated way more heat than light, but every now and then you’d have a conversation that went deeper, perhaps via email off the boards or in private messages. And more than once a more level-headed, non-angry atheist would say something about how they appreciated my approach and kindness (I wish more would have felt prompted to say that about me, but I sometimes struggled to keep my temper and sarcasm in check) and that they looked at me or others on the boards and wished they could believe.

That always seemed to be so odd to me. Someone who looks longingly at Christian faith and sees beauty and peace and something desirable, but can’t bring themselves to say they actually believe it. It seemed so sad. All I could do was pray for them and try to answer whatever questions I could and encourage them to keep an open mind on it. You can’t just make someone see something they don’t see. I can’t imagine not believing in God so sometimes it’s hard for me to really put myself in their shoes and feel what it would be like to really NOT believe…until now.

I’m starting to understand where they are coming from, but it’s not what you may be thinking. I’m still a believer. The world literally makes no sense to me without God in it. I can’t “unbelieve” such a thing any more than I could unbelieve that my wife and children exist. But I do wish that I could believe something. My friend is so certain and so at peace with his decision to become Catholic. He did his homework, read a ton and came to the conclusion that the Catholic church was the church Christ founded and that it’s the church we all should seek to be reunited to. I on the other hand have read far more and for a longer time than he did, but I’m still wandering in the wilderness. I admire so much about Catholicism and find much about it to be so attractive. I have similar admiration for other traditions such as Orthodoxy, traditional Anglicanism and Lutheranism too, but particularly on the latter two (in addition to traditionally minded Reformed churches) I still run into the question of authority. Who has the ultimate authority to decide between widely divergent interpretations on Scripture and Christian doctrine? It just seems that splintering over and over becomes inevitable no matter which tradition you choose, except Catholicism.

But though I look longingly across the Tiber at what seems to be a much more stable and solidly rooted faith, I find myself thinking, “I just wish I could believe…” And the wishes are about many things. Among them, I wish I could believe:

…that the Pope and Magisterium truly were infallible on matters of faith and interpreting Scripture.

…that the bread and wine in the Eucharist truly were the literal body and blood of Christ.

…that the Marian dogmas were true and that asking her and other saints for their intercession was truly effective rather than idolatrous.

…that I could agree with the Catholic Church fully on their stances regarding divorce and contraception.

…that if I chose to cross the Tiber, that I wouldn’t be sitting there 5-10 years from now unhappy again and wanting more out of church and the Christian life but now being completely befuddled as to where to go next.

I could go on and on I suppose but I guess what this really speaks to is that I’m so tired and weary. Nearly exhausted mentally and emotionally. I’m tired of being restless in my spirit and mind. I’m tired of not feeling like I can really jump in with both feet somewhere because of all these unsettled theological questions.  I’ve been through the emotionalism of my Pentecostal days, the intellectual high of Calvinism and Reformed theological study and the seemingly endless quest to be “culturally relevant” (which seems to be closely related to some vague notion of “hipness” sometimes).   Right now I’m just attending church but I don’t feel like I can really engage with my whole heart because I question everything.  I just feel like I’m in this state of suspension with no solid foothold anywhere, not because there aren’t several options purporting to be solid footholds, but because I’m in a crisis as to which one to trust.  I believe the Bible, but on the deep stuff, it’s increasingly unclear as to who is viewing and interpreting it properly. It’s wearing me out. I just want the truth. And I need a place to stand.

I just wish I believed…

Read Full Post »

There’s an excellent discussion over at iMonk’s site about liturgy.  I wanted to highlight one response from a Baptist minister in particular because he comes from a decidedly “non-liturgical” background.  I’ve said similar things in describing why I like liturgy to my anti-liturgy friends but he does an even better job.  Go check the full post at iMonk’s blog though to see the responses from the Eastern Orthodox, Methodist, Lutheran and Catholic contributors as well.  Here’s the snippet I liked the best:

I think I’d want to start with the inevitability of liturgy. Here is something I’ve learned after a lifetime spent in churches that pride themselves in being free of liturgy and dead ceremony (terms used interchangeably in some places): the premise is absurd. There is no liturgy-free worship, and the monikor “non-liturgical” makes about as much sense as “government intelligence.”

The same churches that will ostensibly operate beneath the feigned guise of “free” worship or “Spirit-led” worship will inevitably, predictably, and without fail fall into a liturgy that is so set it makes the Greek Orthodox look like wild-eyed Pentecostals on speed. I’ve heard Baptist deacons anathematize written prayers only to turn around and say the same prayer over the offering plates that they were regurgitating back when Herbert Hoover was in office (i.e., “Father we just…”, “bring into the storehouse…”, “our tithes and your offerings…”, “bless the gift and the giver…”, with about 10 more “just’s” and “umm’s” thrown in). I’ve seen the same Baptist people who mock the formulaic worship of the liturgical churches respond to small changes in the customary bulletin layout with a venom that makes Genghis Khan seem like Stuart Smalley. I’ve known pastors in churches which chide the physicality and symbolism of liturgical churches almost get martyred in the center aisle for suggesting that the flag be moved from the sanctuary, or for putting their Bibles on the communion table, or for projecting a song instead of singing from the hymn book. The same Baptist who will condemn the Catholics for their relics will threaten to murder you in your sleep if you move the black-and-white picture of Miss Bussie from the display cabinet in the foyer. I’ve met more Tetzels in Baptist land than outside it.

The only difference between the “non-liturgical” churches and the “liturgical” churches is that the former’s liturgy is (1) present but denied, (2) inherited instead of intentional, (3) culturally defined instead of ecclesiologically mandated, and (4) largely pragmatic instead of theological.

Read Full Post »

Six Flags Over Jesus

“Yeah, that’s good. I guess I was thinking a little less theologically and more practical philosophy of ministry stuff. For example, missional is the opposite of attractional. The attractional church puts on the dog and pony show to get people in the door. Being a sacramental church seems to free us from the need to put on some other program. I’ve been feeling very whiny lately about the way modern evangelicalism has put a lot of pressure on po’ widdle me to provide a full service church for religious consumers. In a sacramental church I imagine I could say, “Look, I’ll minister the Word and sacraments. Y’know, the stuff that gets you to heaven? You want any of that other crap you can do it yourself.” ”

This was a quote from a Lutheran pastor on another blog. It encapsulates well one of the issues I have with the modern evangelical church model. I’ve been involved with various contemporary evangelical churches for over 20 years now. And as my previous mentions on my religious mutt background attest, they aren’t confined to one denomination or any denomination at all. These churches span the spectrum including Assemblies of God, Southern Baptist (my parents’ church, not mine), United Methodist, non-denominational charismatic and non-denominational non-charismatic. To varying degrees, all of them have a sort of “all things to all people” approach. Now, don’t take that to the nth degree or anything. All of them are solid, Bible-believing churches well within the evangelical mainstream doctrinally. And these churches are run by and attended by many, many people who love God. But their ministry approach definitely reflects this notion.

Here’s the problem: it is an exhausting and expensive model to maintain. Almost every one of these churches have activities and “ministry opportunities” going on all week long. There are home cell groups, men’s ministries, women’s ministries, Bible studies, children’s church, nursery, Sunday Schools, singles groups, divorce care, puppet teams, drama teams, a contemporary service, a traditional service. The sheer amount of manpower to head up all of these things and keep them running year around can be staggering. Factor in that when it involves someone that has the gift of teaching or another specific talent, and that there aren’t necessarily a ton of those people in a given congregation, the burn out potential is rather high for the handful that get called on all the time to run these things.

Then there’s the praise band, the orchestra, the choir, the audio/visual team, the props team. The bar has been seriously raised in this regard over the years. Not only do you need people with the expertise to do all this stuff, but also, it’s not cheap. Lighting, sound gear, video equipment, computers and software…the stuff you find in many contemporary churches rival what you’d see at a rock concert a few years ago.

And what is the effect on the congregants? I don’t want to paint everyone with one broad brush, but this game of oneupmanship between churches (state of the art technology, elaborate children’s ministry classrooms, etc) tends to create a consumerist mentality. We shop for a church based on superficial concerns. Rather than settling into a church where true fellowship happens, we get lured by the sheer deluge of opportunities. Collective activity replaces real community. Cool and “relevant” (the most tired and overused word in Christian circles) presentations and videos overshadow that which has sustained the Church for 2000 years: the ministry of the Word and the sacraments.

Also, the net effect of the money and manpower that it takes to keep all these plates spinning and working to their full potential is that there are a lot less people-hours and dollars going toward the church reaching past its own four walls and just ministering to itself and instead reaching its community. How often do we hear conservative Christians rant against government welfare programs and the taxes needed to sustain them while pulling up every Sunday to a concert hall with a pint-sized Six Flags Over Jesus right next to it?

What if the church focused on having a reasonable worship and educational space that is conducive to the sacred (read: you’re allowed to have it look pretty and have an aesthetic that denotes that it’s a place of worship, not a warehouse, gymnasium or someone’s oversized living room), resisted the temptation to just keep building and building rather than church planting and then focused those resources of people and money toward serving the community they live in? All kinds of possibilities come to mind but some ideas would be: weekly free car repair for single women/mothers, free tutoring services for kids in a disadvantaged area of town, organizing volunteers to help the homeless, linking up with existing ministries like Habitat for Humanity, putting our pro-life beliefs into practice by starting a program and fund to encourage women locally not to abort but to give their child up for adoption (and having many more Christian families consider this other than when they can’t have biological children), organizing and funding free health clinics for the uninsured.

I could go on for days. You could probably think of many others. These are the kinds of things we could be doing…if we weren’t taxing ourselves with programs, ministries and expenses that leave us tapped out both financially and physically. And I will guarantee you, if we started handling church this way, concentrating on being (as the quote put it) missional and sacramental rather than attractional, the reputation of the Church and Christians in this world would be much, much different. You don’t draw people to Jesus by your amazing technology and Swiss Army knife ministry approach. People are drawn to Him the same way they always have been, through love and serving.

Read Full Post »

Musical Disconnect

This will be quick. I’m in church this morning. We went to the contemporary service this week. It was fine for the most part. But sometimes I wonder if the worship leader pays attention to the lyrics of the songs he chooses.

After one song is done, the band goes quiet for a few seconds. Then the drummer starts in with a driving beat on the toms and kick drum. A drum solo of sorts. He does this for several bars and then the lyrics start:

In the secret,
In the quiet place
In the stillness You are there
In the secret,
In the quiet hour I wait only for You
Cause, I want to know You more

Shouldn’t lyrics talking about the “secret, quiet place” and the “stillness” where you wait on the Lord be accompanied by music that would convey that thought as well?

Call me crazy…

Read Full Post »

I’m reading This Is My Body: An Evangelical Discovers The Real Presence by Mark Shea. It’s a short read, only about 50 pages long. But it’s really posing some interesting thoughts to me and one passage in particular stuck out. He’s speaking of the Protestant suspicion of anything that smacks of “works” religion or falling back into the same error the Galatians made over the issue of circumcision. This same sense of unease or outright suspicion is felt toward the Catholic doctrine surrounding the “Real Presence” in the Eucharist and seeing it as a “means of grace.” And Mr. Shea felt much the same way at one point. But he had some interesting thoughts as his evangelical pastor preached on the Bread of Life discourse in John 6:

Do not misunderstand. My pastor was certainly no exponent of Catholic theology. Rather, in classical evangelical fashion, this good man held that “the teaching of Christ is the true bread from heaven” and that the passage had no Eucharistic significance…he urged, we must become mature in Christ “by eating His word” and relying on the grace of God working in and through fellow Bible-believing Christians. Only thus, he said, could we hope to grow.

…It suddenly bore in on me that this grasp of biblical teaching as “food for maturity” was strikingly similar to the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. I saw at once that regular biblical fellowship and regular Holy Communion are both a form of ritual, both “means of grace.” The only difference is that in the former, God transubstantiates paper, ink, and the human voice into His Word; whereas in the latter, according to Catholics, He changes the bread and wine into something even more impressive. My difficulty, then, was not with the idea of ritual “means of grace” as such, but with a God Who might touch me in a non-verbal, non-cerebral, non-spiritual way.

This really is a crucial point. Protestants think in terms of receiving grace “by faith” and what we mean without explicitly saying so is that “by faith” means “intangible.” Grace in the biblical sense is only experienced by believing and trusting in Christ, not by any physical means. And this does explain much of our reaction against the Catholic view of the Eucharist as a “means of grace” (literally, a physical manner in which God’s grace is transmitted to us). Yet we also believe that we are spiritually fed and matured by tangible means such as reading our Bibles, sitting under solid Biblical teaching and fellowship and sharing life with other believers. What are these things if not tangible and physical? And in believing this, we certainly don’t mean to convey the idea that God does not transmit His grace to us in other ways such as prayer, the Holy Spirit quietly working on our hearts and so on. But we affirm the notion that God works through things in the physical world He created to nurture and mature us. These are “means of His grace” to us.

So why do we have such a problem with the Catholic notion of Holy Communion being a tangible way in which God actually gives us a measure of His grace? Why are we so suspicious of means that are “non-verbal, non-cerebral and non-spiritual” yet have this glaring blind spot when it comes to other such “Protestant” means like the written Scriptures, the teaching of the Word by our pastors or fellowship with other believers?

What say you?

Read Full Post »

Great article up on RelevantMagazine.com from a guy who has attended Southern Baptist churches all his life and decided he needed to branch out and experience how some of his fellow brothers and sisters worshipped on Sundays. In six weeks time, he visited a different Southern Baptist church than his own (with a different style as well), United Methodist, Presbyterian (PCUSA), Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Assemblies of God.

Go read the whole thing as it’s a really neat experiment and he’s a witty writer. I just wanted to share this excerpt on his Episcopal visit. I could have almost written this for him verbatim:

Then we recite the Nicene Creed, followed by the “Confession of Sin.” Together, as a congregation, we recite a wonderful prayer, including this passage:

We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

When we finish, the priest says, “Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you of all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ,” and it’s such a good reminder. I love this part.

For the Eucharist, we proceed a row at a time to the front. I hear the administrants’ voices: “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven. The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.”

I can’t overemphasize the satisfaction I get from this service. It’s contemplative, reverent and serious. There’s no swaying or hand-clapping, but the congregation participates through prayers, confessions and responses. I hear more scripture read than in any Baptist service I’ve attended…

The liturgy is different, but the words are deeply meaningful. I get the sense that the focus of the service isn’t on the music, or the preaching, or even on making visitors feel comfortable. It’s on Jesus. It’s crazy how that seems so revolutionary.

Exactly.

MASH HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »