Archive | the church RSS feed for this section

To Christianity from China: conform or else. To Christianity from American government: conform or else?

3 Aug

Broadly speaking, in China there are two versions of Christianity. There is the one that is officially tolerated, accepted, celebrated, subordinated to, and accommodated by the State in public life. Then there is the one that is officially not tolerated, prohibited, discriminated against, and shunned by the State. Why the unequal treatment? In the former version, the State has determined that it poses no threat to national ideological and cultural orthodoxy and State power. It’s a version of Christianity that will comply with the reigning political elites and their ideological creed, even affirm them. As such, it is rewarded for good behavior with public accommodation. But the latter version, the underground version, has done what all authentic Christian communities have always done on their better days: bend the knee only to the Kingship of Jesus Christ and His Word. They fear God rather than men. It isn’t surprising that such a dichotomy in the 21st century, where a religion is accommodated only in so far as it conforms to a State sponsored creed, exists in communist China, where religious liberty and separation of church/state have never been a fundamental right/principle of the political system. We expect the State to maintain a “conform or else” attitude towards religious communities there. But in America?

Evidence?  Where to begin.  How about California Senate Bill 1146:

http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/08/03/briefing-08-03-16/

 

Advertisements

What does the Christian church really face after Obergefell?

22 Apr

From Jake Meador:

Hope, History, and the American Church After Obergefell
It’s a truth universally recognized by anyone who has ever talked about the BenOp that a person who expresses concern about the church’s future is in want of a person to quote Tertullian at them.

Sorry, is that cheeky? Here’s the quote and we’ll get to why it grates on my hear so in a moment: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The problem isn’t that Tertullian is always wrong. The problem is that this quote has become a sort of truism reflexively recited by American evangelicals who can only imagine that government-sanctioned opposition to the church will be a good thing for the American church. And while there will likely be some benefits to come from opposition, it’s essential that evangelicals not be overly sanguine about the American church’s short-term prospects.

The Historical Precedent for the Death of Regional Churches

The first point we need to get clear is that, historically speaking, it is simply not true that persecution always helps to strengthen and refine the church. Sometimes persecution simply destroys a church. Once upon a time there were thriving churches in northern Africa, the Middle East, China, and Japan. Then they died. (You can read about them in this fine book by Philip Jenkins.)

Those churches were all either destroyed (in the latter cases) or driven to the very edge of society (in the case of the two former groups). Indeed, what little remained of the historic churches of the Middle East has been largely eradicated by ISIS.

Thus we need to first figure out why these churches were destroyed or simply made into permanent extreme minorities. There are a number of factors in play:

In some cases, the church was closely tied to a ruling elite and when that elite was overthrown the church lost its standing and was crushed.
In other cases, the faith was actually only professed by a small minority of social elites and never penetrated into the mass population.

Finally, in still other cases, Christian identity has become conflated with a set of other characteristics or cultural values which, over time, erode the distinctly Christian characteristics of a people. So there is still a superficial Christianity, but it is badly compromised by its close ties to nationalism. Greece is a good example of this as somewhere between 88 and 98% of the population profess to be Greek Orthodox but only 27% of those people actually attend church weekly. Elsewhere in Europe the numbers are even more dire. In Denmark, 80% of the population is Lutheran but only 3% attend any kind of church service weekly. This critique also applies to cities and states in the USA that are historically Catholic, such as Chicago or Boston. The gap between those who claim to adhere to a specific faith and those who attend church weekly is enormous.
What all this means is that there are a number of conditions that have historically caused local churches to crumble and regional churches to disappear or lapse into a kind of permanent minority status. And the key thing to get clear is that this is very much a live possibility in the United States.

Read the rest

Church, FOR God, BY God. Reformed vs Evangelical Worship

8 Apr

It seems that the “church is for the unchurched” crowd in evangelicalism gets things exactly backwards. The priority seems to be to design church/worship around what is pleasing to the unchurched, then the churched, then God, sadly in that order. Shouldn’t it be exactly the reverse? Shouldn’t church be designed FOR God (what pleases Him) and BY God (according to His biblical methodology)? What does the bible say? What are the dangers of doing church according to our own designs?

Calvin: First, it tends greatly to establish God’s authority that we do not follow our own pleasure, but depend entirely on his sovereignty; and secondly, such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is to go astray. And then when once we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions.”

Robert Godfrey has a helpful, fair, and accurate description of what separates Reformed worship from mainstream evangelical worship in this short essay (excerpt below).

One of the challenges of being Reformed in America is to figure out the relationship between what is evangelical and what is Reformed. Protestantism in America is dominated by the mainline Protestants, the evangelicals, and the charismatics. After these dominant groups, other major players would include the confessional Lutherans. But where do the Reformed fit in, particularly in relation to the evangelicals, with whom historically we have been most closely linked?

Some observers argue that the confessional Reformed are a subgroup in the broader evangelical movement. Certainly over the centuries in America, the Reformed have often allied themselves with the evangelicals, have shared much in common with the evangelicals, and have often tried to refrain from criticizing the evangelical movement. But are we Reformed really evangelical?

One area in which the differences between evangelical and Reformed can be examined is the matter of worship. At first glance, we may see more similarities than differences. The orders of worship in Reformed and evangelical churches can be almost identical. Certainly, both kinds of churches sing songs, read Scripture, pray, preach, and administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But do these similarities reflect only formal agreement, or do they represent a common understanding of the meaning and function of these liturgical acts in worship?

If we look closely, I believe that we will see the substantive differences between evangelicals and Reformed on worship. That difference is clear on two central issues: first, the understanding of the presence of God in the service; and second, the understanding of the ministerial office in worship.

Ex-Lesbian Rosario Butterfield on How evangelicals should engage homosexuals

8 Apr

You don’t need a megachurch to go to heaven

10 Mar

From Hans Fiene @ The Federalist:

If you’re a parent trying to give your child the best education possible, I would worry about teacher quality and your own involvement in your little one’s intellectual development before I’d worry about class size. I’m not saying that having 19 children per room isn’t preferable to 23. I’m just saying that the student-to-teacher ratio won’t matter a tremendous amount if your son’s teacher thinks four plus twelve equals purple or you want your kid to memorize the chronology of WWE champions instead of U.S. presidents.

So if little Bryden (because that’s what boys are named these days, in case you hadn’t already given up on humanity) has a bit of an overcrowded class, but a solid teacher and great support from you, don’t let anybody convince you that you’re selfishly endangering his education if you don’t turn your life upside down by moving to a slightly less-congested school district.
Likewise, if you’re a Christian parent trying to give your child the best spiritual formation possible, don’t let anyone convince you that you’re selfish for not making the size of a congregation your number one priority. In particular, don’t let megachurch pastor Andy Stanley convince you that you’re endangering your child’s soul if you don’t attend a large congregation.

If you’re a bit confused by Stanley’s accusation (one that, to his credit, he quickly recanted), here’s what he meant: Making friends at church is what keeps people in the faith, and the more kids your church has, the more opportunities your children will have to make friends. Therefore, if you attend a congregation that only has enough kids for a joint middle school/high school youth group, you’re reducing your kids’ friend-making potential and thus putting them at risk.

It doesn’t matter if the local megachurch’s Christology is wonky enough to keep you at a smaller parish or if the mid-sized flock you belong to is where you and your kids were both baptized and confirmed, apparently. To Stanley, it would be better for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and be thrown into the sea than that you should cause your freshman to share a bag of Doritos and a TeenzAlive! Study Bible with a seventh grader.

Read the rest

I don’t recognize my church anymore, but no one cares.

7 Mar

In his book, Worshiping with Calvin, Terry Johnson writes about contemporary worship.  He has much to say on the matter (how it displaces us from our common heritage, fails to unite all of God’s people in worship, distracts and entertains, ignores, reduces and oversimplifies theological content, etc.).  But he also points out that it leaves many worshipers behind and marginalized.  He writes:

From 1975 to 2000 Chuck Fromm was the head of Maranatha Music in Costa Mesa, CA, the birthplace and source of the contemporary genre in the early 1970s…. [Fromm explains how Christian Rock resonated with him in a special way, as the music of his people and his culture, rather than something he felt came from a “different universe and imported.”]  Much as Fromm’s testimony resonates, it is also rich with irony.  He seems not to recognize that the church music environment that was a “different universe” from what he calls “my culture,” was in fact a familiar and comfortable culture for many others.  What he came to reject, many others continued to embrace and love.  For some, their familiar and comfortable church culture had deep roots, reaching back to the Protestant Reformers to the early church.  At the same time, the importation of his culture into the church was inevitably deeply alienating to those in the church for whom it was new and foreign.  How many times have we heard older people say, “I do not recognize my church anymore.”  After forty years (or even 450 years) of relative sameness they walked into their church service one Sunday, saw a “praise band” up front, heard strange music played with non-traditional instruments (electric guitars, drums, tambourines, etc.), and were profoundly disoriented and disturbed by the experience.  If they dared to express concern, they were cautioned not to obstruct the progress of the gospel.  The church, it was explained, was reaching the unchurched.  They soon learned that the only people to whom the church cared to minister the gospel were young people, or so it seemed.  Apparently older people, who were put off by the new, did not need gospel ministry.  Sot it was in with the youth culture, and out with whatever preceded it.”

Is Europe in decline by taking up roots?

8 Dec

From Samuel Gregg:

In his Mémoires d’Espoir, the leader of Free France during World War II and the founder of the Fifth Republic, General Charles de Gaulle, wrote at length about a subject on many people’s minds today—Europe. Though often portrayed as passionately French to the point of incorrigibility, de Gaulle was, in his own way, quintessentially European.

For de Gaulle, however, Europe wasn’t primarily about supranational institutions like the European Commission or the European Central Bank, let alone what some European politicians vaguely call “democratic values.” To de Gaulle’s mind, Europe was essentially a spiritual and cultural heritage, one worthy of emulation by others. Europe’s nations, de Gaulle wrote, had “the same Christian origins and the same way of life, linked to one another since time immemorial by countless ties of thought, art, science, politics and trade.”

On this basis, de Gaulle considered it “natural” that these nations “should come together to form a whole, with its own character and organization in relation to the rest of the world.” However, de Gaulle also believed that without clear acknowledgment and a deep appreciation of these common civilizational foundations, any pan-European integration would run aground.

Today’s European crisis reflects the enduring relevance of de Gaulle’s insight. This is true not only regarding the quasi-religious faith that some Europeans place in the type of supranational bureaucracies that drew de Gaulle’s ire. It also applies to the inadequacies of the vision that informs their trust in such institutions. Until Europe’s leaders recognize this problem, it is difficult to see how the continent can avoid further decline, whether as a player on the global stage or as societies that offer something distinctly enriching to the rest of the world.

Read the rest

%d bloggers like this: