Monday, October 31, 2011

The New Ascendancy: The Resurgence of Anglo-Catholicism in the North American Anglican Church

By Robin G. Jordan

When I look at the Anglo-Catholic wing of the North American Anglican Church, I see a group that gives all the appearance of being well on its way back to ascendancy in that Church, a position that they enjoyed before the rise of the liberal wing. Anglo-Catholics are fairly well organized. They are active in promoting Catholic faith, order, and practice. A number of Anglo-Catholics hold episcopal office in the Anglican Church in North America, the Anglican Mission, and the Continuing Anglican Churches. The Anglo-Catholic bishops form a voting block in the ACNA College of Bishops. The Archbishop and Primate of the ACNA is an Anglo-Catholic who is shaping the government of the ACNA at the provincial level and even the diocesan level along unreformed Catholic lines. Forward in Faith North America, a leading Anglo-Catholic organization, has its own non-geographic diocese, the Missionary Diocese of All Saints, in the ACNA. The clergy of this diocese are required to be members of FIFNA. The ACNA has adopted as its fundamental declarations a doctrinal statement that is more sensitive to Anglo-Catholic concerns than it is to evangelical ones, even though for some Anglo-Catholics the fundamental declarations do not go far enough in an unreformed Catholic direction. They would have the fundamental declarations affirm all the teachings of the first seven Ecumenical Councils of the early church and recognize confirmation, penance, ordination, matrimony, and extreme unction as sacraments. They would also have the ACNA’s weak affirmation of the Thirty-Nine Articles removed from the fundamental declarations altogether.

The affirmation of The Jerusalem Declaration, which was at one stage included in the proposed fundamental declarations of the Anglican Church in North America has been relegated to the preface of its constitution where it has no regulatory force but is incidental to the explanation of why the ACNA was founded. The leading Continuing Anglican Churches have recently reaffirmed their commitment to the Affirmation of St. Louis, a decidedly Anglo-Catholic doctrinal statement that subordinates Scripture and the classic Anglican formularies to unreformed Catholic tradition. The ACNA College of Bishops also recently authorized an ordinal that permits the optional use of ceremonies and ornaments “treasured by Anglo-Catholics” and in doing so sanctions the Medieval Catholic and post-Tridentian Roman Catholic doctrines and practices associated with these ceremonies and ornaments. The English Reformers rejected these ceremonies and ornaments and the associated doctrines and practices as not agreeable with Scripture. The long awaited ACNA Prayer Book is expected to be equally as unreformed Catholic in tone as the ACNA ordinal. A number of Anglo-Catholic Continuing Anglican Churches are moving toward federation and may eventually partner with the ACNA.

When we look at the evangelical wing of the North American Anglican Church, I see a different picture. I see no discernable effort on the part of evangelicals to restore the rule of the plain sense of Scripture and the classic formularies in the North American Church. If any group appears dedicated to its own extinction, it is the evangelicals. In the Anglican Church in North America they show no inclination to stand up for longstanding evangelical Anglican distinctives, much less the Scriptures, the classic formularies, and historic Anglicanism.

If the evangelicals find themselves an increasingly marginalized group in an Anglican Church in North America in which the Anglo-Catholics have gained ascendancy, they have themselves to blame. They have made no attempt to organize for their own self-preservation. They do not take the very real possibility of marginalization with the seriousness that it deserves.

If they believe that the Anglo-Catholics will in the long-term show them the kind of tolerance that they are presently displaying toward the Anglo-Catholics, they are fooling themselves. Once the Anglo-Catholics have entrenched themselves in the Anglican Church in North America, they are going to make it increasingly difficult for non-Anglo-Catholics to retain their identity.

The present situation of evangelicals in the Anglican Mission is not any better. One Anglo-Catholic priest, strategically placed in the Anglican Mission, was not only able to change the organization and structure of the Anglican Mission but also was able to change the organization and structure and more importantly the doctrine of Anglican Church of Rwanda. In doing so, he also changed the official doctrine of the Anglican Mission. The Anglican Mission is, after all, a missionary jurisdiction of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. With the 2008 canons the Anglican Church of Rwanda not only adopted an organization and structure modeled upon that of the Roman Catholic Church but also the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. The official teaching of the Anglican Church of Rwanda regarding the eucharistic presence and the eucharistic sacrifice come almost word for word from the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law. The same priest served on the Common Cause Governance Task Force that drafted the ACNA canons. The influence of the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law is also discernable in the ACNA canons.

It appears to have become politically correct in the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Mission to maintain that the differences between Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals are simply a matter of emphasis. One hears the view that being Anglo-Catholic is not incompatible with being evangelical. This view, however, glozes over major theological differences between Anglo-Catholicism and traditional Anglican evangelicalism particularly in the critical areas of revelation, salvation, and the sacraments. A number of these differences “constitute opposed positions based upon very different readings of the Bible” (Gillis Harp, “Navigating the ‘Three Streams’: Some Second Thoughts about a Popular Typology,” Mandate, September/October 2009) Traditional Anglican evangelicalism shares the same understanding of justification and sanctification as classical Anglicanism. Anglo-Catholicism, on the other hand, has a quite different understanding of justification and sanctification. Anglo-Catholics arguably preach a different gospel from the New Testament gospel, which the English Reformers sought to safeguard with the Thirty-Nine Articles.

The failure to recognize and to admit real differences between Anglo-Catholicism and classical Anglicanism and traditional Anglican evangelicalism, the lack of a strong evangelical Anglican identity, and a preoccupation with parish ministry to the neglect of larger concerns accounts in part for the increasingly weakening position of evangelicals in the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Mission. The low-church wing of the Continuing Anglican Churches succumbed to the Anglo-Catholic onslaught decades ago. It has never recovered.

In The Way, the Truth, and the Life the GAFCON Theological Resource Group identifies two challenges to the rule of the plain sense of Scripture and the classic formularies in the Anglican Church, which originated in the nineteenth century. They are Anglo-Catholicism and modernism. In its application of the “three streams” topology to Anglican faith and practice, it stresses that Anglican orthodoxy is first and foremost, evangelical. The gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ is at the heart of the apostolic message. The Anglican understanding of the New Testament gospel is set down in the Thirty-Nine Articles interpreted in its plain, natural, and intended sense. For Anglicans who uphold the Thirty-Nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s word and as authoritative for Anglicans today the essence of gospel teaching is that we are saved by grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. The GAFCON Theological Resource Group stresses that Anglican orthodoxy is catholic in that it values the catholic Creeds and the first four Ecumenical Councils of the early church recognizing them to be the Scripture-derived rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. The GAFCON Theological Resource Group stresses that Anglican orthodoxy is charismatic in that it recognizes the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit are essential to its life and mission. This is not how the “three streams” topology is frequently applied in the North American Church.

Evangelicals in the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Mission who are faithful to Scripture and the Anglican formularies and committed to the gospel imperative need to be weighing very carefully whether there is really a future for them in these two ecclesial bodies. They need to come together in a North American Anglican Future Conference to explore their options. One of those options is to establish a North American Anglican missionary province that, like themselves, is faithful to biblical teaching and committed to the Great Commission.

Reclaiming Halloween

While confronted by the rise and rise of Halloween, what many fail to appreciate is that what Christians have on their hands could be what Simon Cowell would call a 'high class problem'. Halloween is believed to originate from the pagan festival of 'Samhain', but has long since been Christianised into 'All Hallows Eve', in a bold, ruthless, and far-sighted move that was typical of our indomitable forebears. Halloween revellers are in fact celebrating the eve of a Christian festival – All Saints Day or Hallowmas, if they did but know it – partaking in the symbolic last gasp of darkness before it is extinguished by the light. However, unlike similar success stories of Christmas and Easter, the duality of Halloween and Hallowmas is largely forgotten. This is perhaps unsurprising considering the main activity of the traditionally Catholic feast day is to pray to Saints, a no-no for Protestants. It is followed by All Souls day, which features prayers for the departed faithful. Both festivals are sombre affairs that are not universally observed by Christians, and are certainly devoid of any appeal to the masses.

As our distant ancestors knew instinctively, banning or protesting against frivolity does little to promote the Church's message. Clever marketing does not attempt to change society's attitudes overnight, but works with the grain of human nature to shift perceptions by degrees over time. I would therefore propose that Hallowmas (a name preferable to All Saints Day for its connotations of Christmas and its lack of doctrinal ambiguity) be made into an ecumenical event. This sombre day of the dead could become a joyous celebration of the Christian Communion, for all denominations; a day when the great works of the likes of Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, and Williams Booth and Wilberforce could be celebrated, in the context of the faith that sustained and inspired them. The sterling work of Christian charities and the plight of Christians around the world could be highlighted.... To read more, click here.

Plan to Fail

Failure is a key to growth.

I've been experimenting with ways to grow my church. I know "church growth" is sometimes a bad word, but at its best, church growth is about making disciples of Jesus Christ. So I went with my worship leader, Jeremy, to Michigan State University's campus and tried to hand out worship invite cards to students. This was way out of my comfort zone, but I was asking my congregation to push themselves, and I thought I ought to push myself, too. I found it a lot easier to tack the invite cards up on bulletin boards than hand them out to people, but we did both.

Our expectations were not very high. We hoped that after handing out a couple hundred cards that we'd get at least one person to show up. We waited anxiously on Sunday morning hoping our low expectations might be surpassed. The results: not one new person showed up! So much for growing our church through invitation.

Not so. What Jeremy and I realized as we walked around the MSU campus (with a growing sense of futility about our method) was that this was the very first time in my two years of being a pastor at this church that we had actually gotten out of our office and walked around the community imagining how to build relationships. We really hadn't realized how inward-focused we had become until we walked among these students on campus. Our eyes were being opened and our imaginations were being stretched, but the only way we got there was by risking failure.

And fail we did. To read more, click here.

CT Classic: Is Halloween a Witches' Brew?

Or have Christians been spooked out of celebrating a part of their rich tradition?

The contemporary Christian often finds Halloween an uncomfortable topic. It's a bit like walking past a graveyard and detecting among the tombstones a thoroughly raucous party in progress—a bizarre mixture of horrible screams and merriment—and wondering who might have called it. What is this mishmash of innocent fun, ugly pranks, and witches' taunts? And what indeed, might be "holy" about All Hallow's Eve?

Most of us know the holiday's name was Christianized centuries back. But we also realize the event must have a decidedly unsavory past, what with the ghouls, goblins, and ghosts decorating everything from K-Mart windows to school bulletin boards. The blending of seasonal, Christian, and pagan is remarkable.

For instance, the thoughtful believer might visit a spook house sponsored by a Christian group. Should he become entangled among the screaming and often genuinely terrified thrill seekers, he may wonder about the edifying value of butcher's gore depicting brutalized humans, or vampires and executioners reaching out for one's throat. At the other end of the spectrum, he hears of parents forbidding any festivities, including the use of costumes or creatures or imagination. Were he to quiz other Christians about Halloween, he'd find an awkward vagueness, or perhaps fulminations against wickedness, or simply appreciation for pumpkins, costumes, and mystery stories. To read more, click here.

Related articles:
Matters of Opinion: Hallowing Halloween
Yes! Halloween Is Christian--Wonderfully So!

Halloween: Best Evangelistic Time of the Year?

The Christian community is divided over how to approach Halloween, some saying it is a pagan holiday Christians should avoid while others argue that there is no better time for ministry. Many of those who want to take advantage of the opportunity will use Gospel tracts, or pamphlets explaining the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, as a means of reaching a high volume of people. But what are the advantages of ministering through Halloween-themed tracts, and is there a right, or wrong way, to go about distributing them?

According to the Light Up The Night page of the American Tract Society's website, it is estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of children trick-or-treat each year, giving Christians the opportunity to potentially witness to hundreds of children from the comfort of their own doorstep.

“Normally attracting this many people to an evangelistic event would take weeks of planning and be very costly, but at Halloween it is as simple as a flick of the lightswitch,” says one article on the website. “Put simply, leaving your light on could possibly be most effective evangelistic effort you could make all year.” To read more, click here.

Related article: To Celebrate or Not to Celebrate? Halloween Sparks Debate, Controversy for Some Christians

Wimpy Prayers

I have noticed how ‘small’ the prayers I lead congregations in sometimes are.

This has been highlighted as I have been using the new Common Prayer services produced for our Diocese by the Archbishop’s Liturgical Panel. What highlighted the inadequacy is carefully reflecting on the collects or prayers in the book. To read more, click here.

Abandon the Reformation, Abandon the Gospel

There they sat. Relics. Lots of them. There was a cut of fabric from the swaddling cloth of baby Jesus, 13 pieces from his crib, a strand of straw from the manger, a piece of gold from a Wise Man, three pieces of myrrh, a morsel of bread from the Last Supper, a thorn from the crown Jesus wore when crucified, and, to top it all off, a genuine piece of stone that Jesus stood on to ascend to the Father's right hand. And in good Catholic fashion, the blessed Mary was not left out. There sat three pieces of cloth from her cloak, four from her girdle, four hairs from her head, and better yet, seven pieces from the veil that was sprinkled with the blood of Christ. These relics and countless others (19,000 bones from the saints!), stood ready to be viewed by pious pilgrims. These relics were the proud collection of Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony, Martin Luther's prince. And they sat in the Castle Church at Wittenberg, prepared and ready for showing on All Saints Day, November 1, 1517.

But in the midst of this fanfare was the essential ingredient, namely, the procurement of indulgences. Veneration of these relics would be accompanied by indulgences reducing time in purgatory by 1,902,202 years and 270 days. An indulgence, the full or partial remission of punishment for sins, was drawn from the Treasury of Merit, which was accumulated not only by the meritorious work of Christ but also by the superabundant merit of the saints. To read more, click here.

Define Your Purpose to Grow a Healthy Church

The first step to get a church to grow again, to get a declining church to grow, or to get a growing church to grow more, is to redefine your purpose. Go back and rediscover the original vision of the church and say, “Why are we doing what we’re doing?” Growing churches have a clear-cut identity. They’re precise in their purpose. They have an understanding of the reason they exist. They know exactly what God has called them to do.

However, if you ask the typical church, “What is the purpose of your church?” you’ll get a lot of different answers if you ask different members. To read more, click here.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Can the Church Afford Full-Time Ministers?

When it comes to finances the church has ample impetus to spend what it is given wisely. This means a steady diet of evangelistic and gospel specific spending is prime territory. Yet, when you look at most church budgets salaries for staff compose either a large minority or majority of financial resources. Now, the necessity of paying ministers a salary that provides for their needs and their families’ is a given. However, there are future pitfalls of this financial relationship, and new wrinkles that must be addressed.

The efficiency of allowing ministers to focus solely on ministry tasks is a valuable asset for churches. Yet, a minister’s sole reliance on the church’s financial resources creates issues. For instance, the minister lives under the reality of needing to retain and/or grow membership to retain and/or grow the amount of fiscal resources needed by the church. The majority in many situations goes toward salary and benefits. While numeric growth is desired, its necessity to meet salary obligations is a less than optimal motivation.

Moreover, there is the question of does this reality influence Gospel propagation? Additionally, is this the most productive, practical and biblical model for the Church, especially in its contemporary manifestation? To read more, click here.

A New Kind of Urban Ministry

Christians no longer want their communities fixed. They want them flourishing.

It is, without a doubt, the most surprising large-scale cultural shift in my lifetime.

Not that long ago, cities were places few people wanted to be. Across the northern United States, from Seattle to Pittsburgh, urban cores declined as industry and people decamped to sunnier climates. In the new South, the growth was in the greenfields of the suburbs, not the largely forgotten city centers. In the 1970s, you could drive down Atlanta's Peachtree Street and watch discarded newspapers float like tumbleweed past the storied Fox Theater.

Today those cities, and many more, are thriving in ways no one predicted a generation ago. Cities are the destination of choice for many young adults (at least, those who can find a job that will pay the outrageous rents that city-center landlords can demand) and the hub of revivals in food, architecture, and entrepreneurship.

Indeed, many suburbs are now taking cues from the walkable, mixed-use economic and social fabric of cities woven before the automobile. As a teenager, I had to trek all the way from my quiet suburban town to Harvard Square to find a coffee shop. Now that experience is as ubiquitous as it is standardized. Most Americans still live in suburbs—true for all ethnic groups and most income groups too—but our markers of the good life are increasingly urban. This is just as well, because more and more of us live in places defined by the density and diversity that are the hallmark of a city. To read more, click here.

Drivers and trick-or-treaters should follow these Halloween safety tips

The monsters might be crepe paper, but the hazards can be real.

Halloween can be a dangerous night for parents, children and drivers, local safety experts warn.

They're asking parents to make a plan for the night's festivities and to choose children's costumes carefully. They also remind people that many seasonal decorations are flammable.

Drivers should slow down and use extra caution during Halloween festivities, said Autumn Waite, spokeswoman for Snohomish County Fire District 7 in Clearview.

Remember that children may not see you and they may not be paying attention, Waite said.

"Children are excited on Halloween and may move in unpredictable ways," she said. To read more, click here.

Related articles:
Halloween is a holiday for all ages
Let kids gorge on Halloween candy, dentists say

Your church might want to sponsor a All Hallows Eve Family Night or Fall Festival next year. It keeps the kids off the street and is fun for all ages. It can also be a good community outreach.

Online Witch School Claims Wicca Fastest Growing Religion

An online witch school recently launched a public relations campaign declaring a shortage of teachers it claims comes as the result of Wicca becoming the fastest growing religion in America.

Witch School International, Inc. said in a press release that “America is on the brink of awakening and discovering its inner magic, and this is changing belief systems around the world as well. How this change occurs depends on what people believe, and more people than ever are looking at Paganism and Wicca.”

The schools co-founder, Ed Hubbard, is quoted as saying, “There is such a rapid spiritual reorientation in America occurring, that the need for thousands of Wiccan teachers over the course of the next decade will be required to meet the demand for basic teachings.”

While Witch School claims that religious experts say Wicca will become the third largest religion in the United States “early in the 21st century, behind only Christianity and Islam,” it is generally only agreed upon that the belief system is rapidly growing.

Wicca has been categorized as a loosely organized, under-the-radar religious group that is best known for its use of magic, sorcery, and engagement in witchcraft. The Christian Post previously reported that Wicca has no recognized guidebook or single book of “sacred literature” to define its practices.

According to, Wicca is a "neo-pagan, earth-centered religion that has its modern origins in the teaching and practice of the original English Wiccan, Gerald Gardner (1884-1964)." To read more, click here.

Related article: Wicca is America's fastest growing religion, says Witch School

The Great Killer of... Many Things

Un-met Expectations can KILL! You know the feeling… You were expecting with all of your heart for “this”, instead you got “That!” We all have expectations, we have them in marriage, kids, team mates, weather, restaurants and friends..etc…

The problem is when our expectations are not met, then we get mad, hurt, disappointed or worse… Disengage or become bitter. I have experiences in all of those and quite frankly, I want all of my expectations to be met! But then, that is an unfair expectation!

That’s the thing about expectations, there are rules… To read more, click here.

The Reduction of Episcopacy

By Order of the Church of England all Presbyters are charged (1) to minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Realm hath received the same; and that they might the better understand what the Lord had commanded therein (2), the Exhortation of S. Paul to the Elders of the Church of Ephesus is appointed to be read unto them at the time of their Ordination; Take heed unto your selves, and to all the flock, among whom the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to Rule (3) the Congregation of God, which he hath purchased with his blood.

Of the many Elders, who in common thus ruled the Church of Ephesus, there was on President; Whom our Saviour in his Epistle to that Church in a peculiar manner styles the Angel of the Church of Ephesus (Rev 2.1); and Ignatius, in another Epistle written about twelve years after unto the same Church, called the Bishop thereof, betwixt which Bishop and the Presbytery of that Church, what an harmonious consent there was in the ordering of the Church government, the same Ignatius doth fully there declare, by the Presbytery with St. Paul (1 Tim 4.14) understanding the Company of the rest of the Presbyters or Elders, who then had a hand not only in the deliverance of the Doctrine and Sacraments, but also in the administration of the Discipline of Christ, for further proof whereof, we have that known testimony of Tertullian in his Apology for Christians. (4)

In the Church are used exhortations, chastisements and divine censure. For judgement is given with great advice as among those who are certain that they are in the sight of God; and it is the chiefest foreshowing of the judgement which is to come, if any man have so offended that he be banished from the Communion of Prayer, and of the Assembly, and of all holy fellowship. The Presidents that bear rule therein are certain approved Elders, who have obtained this honour, not by reward, but by good report; were no other (as he himself elsewhere intimates) but those from whose hands they used to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist (5). For with the Bishop who was the chief President (and therefore styled by the same Tertullian in another place (6) Summus Sacerdos for distinction sake) the rest of the Dispensers of the Word and Sacraments joined in the common government of the Church; and therefore, where in matters of Ecclesiastical judicature Cornelius Bishop of Rome used the received form of gathering together the Presbytery (7); of what persons did consist, Cyprian, sufficiently declares, when he wishes him to read his letters (8) to the flourishing Clergy which there did preside or rule with him, the presence of the Clergy being thought to be so requisite in matters of Episcopal audience that in the fourth Council of Carthage, it was concluded, that the Bishop might hear no man’s cause without the presence of his Clergy, and that otherwise the Bishops sentence should be void, unless it were confirmed by the presence of the Clergy, which we find also to be inserted into the Canons of Egbert, who was Archbishop of York in the Saxons times, and afterwards into the Body of the Canon Law itself. To read more, click here.

4 Things Your Team Needs from You

If you are a team leader, you will have followers. To do the job well, you have to provide them with some important things. Here are four of them. To read more, click here.

New Charges of Cover-up against Presiding Bishop

Disturbing new charges have surfaced about a cover-up concerning just how much Episcopal Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, when she was the diocesan of Nevada, knew about the past sexual abuses committed by Father Bede Parry, a former Catholic priest whom she canonically received into her diocese as a priest in 2004.

The allegations stem from telephone conversations and emails exchanged between Abbot Gregory Polan, the current ordinary of Conception Abbey in Missouri, where Father Parry was only a novice when his sexual abuses of young men originally came to light in the 1970s, and a certain Patrick J. Marker. Until recently, Mr. Marker had remained anonymous as another victim of sexual abuse, who had been molested by a different Catholic priest, while a student at a preparatory school operated by a different Catholic abbey in Minnesota (St. John's).

Bede Parry, before being ordained at Conception Abbey, had taken courses from 1979-1982 at the School of Theology also run by St. John's in Minnesota, and had admitted to his then Abbot in Missouri that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with a teen-aged student there. The Abbot required him to undergo "psychological treatment", but kept him on as a priest. Notwithstanding his treatment, Fr. Parry continued to molest young men in contact with him at the Abbey, and who had been enlisted to sing in its choir. It was during a summer camp for that choir in 1987 that Fr. Parry made the sexual advances which resulted in the current lawsuit on file in Missouri, and which the Circuit Court just ruled could proceed, over objections by the Abbey that the offenses alleged were outside the statute of limitations. To read more, click here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Prince Charles a Descendant of Dracula?

Prince Charles Announces His Blood Relation to Vlad the Impaler

Prince Charles has publicly admitted to being related to Dracula.

HRH Prince Charles appeared on the premiere of the upcoming TV show “Wild Carpathia.” The television show seeks to raise awareness for the Transylvanian Forest of Carpathia, which maintains a traditional Romanian heritage in light of the country’s stampede to modernize.

In the television show premiere, Prince Charles confesses to having relations to Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula.

“The genealogy shows that I am descended from Vlad the Impaler,” Prince Charles told TV host Charlie Ottley.

“So I have a bit of a stake in the country,” he added.

Vlad the Impaler was a 15th century Romanian warlord who ruled primarily during the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. He was known for his cruel fighting tactics, including impaling his enemies. Rumor has it he dipped his bread in the blood of his victims. To read more, click here.

Introverts In the Church

The scowling old man nearly bumped into me as he fled the sanctuary.

As I turned to watch him stomp out to the parking lot, I asked a friend if she knew why he'd left before the service started. She replied, "You know how in your sermon last week you encouraged all of us to be more welcoming to newcomers? Well, after five people came up to him to introduce themselves, he blurted "Can a guy just be anonymous when he checks out a new place? I want to be left alone!" And thus concluded his seven minute survey of our church.

It's not only cantankerous old men with a flair for storm-off exits who are turned off by hyper-friendly churches, however. As I reflected on that event, I realized that I too would be intimidated and overwhelmed by that many strangers approaching me, no matter how genuine and kind they were. As it turns out, our churches are actually teeming with this species of people called "introverts." I am one of them, as is 50% of the American population, according to our best and latest research.

Unfortunately, owing to a few antisocial types as well as to a general extroverted bias in our culture, introverts get a bad rap. Mainstream American culture values gregarious, aggressive people who are skilled in networking and who can quickly turn strangers into friends. Often we identify leaders as those people who speak up the most and the fastest, whether or not their ideas are the best. To read more, click here.

Leadership Reading List: We Are All Weird

Full disclosure: I have a rather large man-crush on Seth Godin.

That said, I think that the church could learn a good bit from his new Domino Project book, We Are All Weird. The idea behind the book is that the bell curve that has for years defined our society is fading away, and that the “mass market” is going the way of the dinosaur. No longer is one type of coffee, one style of car, or one widget designed for the mass market enough to work in this nation. Society is organizing into tribes that define themselves by what makes them different (or weird) and in order to reach them, you need to really understand what makes them unique (weird) and “get it”: faking understanding for the sake of sales will do more harm than good to your efforts of knitting into the different communities.

Here is what the book has had me thinking through about the church, and where we are headed.... To read more, click here.

Wiccans Get Tricked and Christians Get Treats

My wife, Tammy, and I have been married for 21 years. When she was a teenager, she was hanging out with some friends one day who were messing around with a Ouija board. The letters began moving without any of the teenagers touching the board. The board spelled out the letters, "K I L L T A M M Y." If you are a Wiccan, you know all about this type of magical power. I sure am thankful that none of those teenagers followed the direction of those spirits that day. Those spirits were trying to entice the teenagers to go deeper into the dark world of the occult.

Halloween is a high holy day for Wiccans. They celebrate a festival of darkness in which they attempt to communicate with the dead. They call upon the "deities" to help them. They believe that the "goddess and god" can help them change their lives. They have direct connections to their deities through their magic.

A former Wiccan who became a Christian said, "One month before I was due to be dedicated into Wicca as a neopagan, a Christian friend gave me a book called 'Witchcraft to Christ.' It is a very powerful testimony of a woman who was Queen of black witches but by the grace of God she became a Christian." Another former Wiccan who is now a Christian wrote, "I didn't know that real Christianity was experiential and that true Christians have a deeply personal relationship with God." To read more, click here.

Five Warning Signs of Declining Church Health

December 17, 2004, should have been a day of celebration.

Nellie Jo and I had been married 27 years on that date. We were in Naples, Florida, enjoying the sunshine and each other.

Then the phone call came.

We had been given a great deal of confidence that the biopsy would likely prove negative. Proceed with our anniversary celebration, we were told. In the unlikely event that the report was not good, they would let us know.

The report was not good. Nellie Jo had cancer. The next two years would prove to be some of the most challenging years of our lives and marriage.

When an Unhealthy Body Looks Healthy

Looking back, it is amazing to recall how healthy Nellie Jo looked. She showed no signs of fatigue or sickness. Had she not seen a couple of warning signs, she might have found out too late about her cancer. She might not be alive today.

I’ve seen it countless times. My team would go into a church for a consultation, and we would begin interviewing church members. We would hear from many of the congregants that their church was healthy and thriving. Then we would see the warning signs. And we would begin to fear that the apparently healthy body was not really healthy at all.

The church was sick. Some of the churches were really sick. To read more, click here.

Study: Gays can change sexual orientation

A major seven-year study published in a mainstream journal is challenging the secular notion that gays and lesbians cannot change their sexual orientation.

The longitudinal study followed 61 subjects for between six and seven years and found that 23 percent of them reported successful conversion to heterosexual orientation and function and another 30 percent reported stable behavioral chastity with a significant dis-identification with gay orientation. Twenty percent of the subjects had given up and embraced a gay identity.

It is believed to be the first study of its kind -- that is, one that followed people over a series of years and monitored success or failure. The study followed subjects who voluntarily were taking part in Christian ministries affiliated with Exodus International, the nation's largest ministry devoted exclusively to reaching out to homosexuals. To read more, click here.

Are Christians Trouble-Makers?

In a recent article entitled, “The French Connection: The Many Parallels Between France’s Revolution and Today’s Anti-Christian Secularism” (Touchstone, Sept./Oct, 2011), James Hitchcock essentially argues that what started in the French revolution is now being continued by those who are rampant secularists and strident atheists. The goal is to dismantle the effects of the Judeo-Christian worldview on culture, in particular Western culture, stripping it of any vestiges of what secularists believe is a repressive and non-progressive system of belief.

Hitchcock rightly states, “The Enlightenment attempt to discredit Christianity in three ways – 1) as the incubator of hatred and violence, 2) as based on a false understanding of its own origins, and 3) as merely one manifestation of the natural human religious instinct – is now being reprised.”

Hitchcock is correct. In both subtle and blatant ways, Christianity is slowly being isolated and marginalized in the public square. Where it once was welcomed, the Christianity is now an increasingly unwelcome voice, a world-view now viewed as strange and obstructive. Whereas before the Christian worldview was the framework for the consideration of what was right and wrong, it has itself become the focus of suspicion and ridicule.

Are Christian’s the trouble-makers we’re made out to be? Do we foster violence, engender delusional beliefs, and manifest an arrogance of belief that is wrongly embraced? Do we hold to strange and unfamiliar truths that no longer resonate with modern culture? Is the church now the unwelcome guest at the community table. To read more, click here.

Ordinariate Watch: Anglican Ordinariate in England and Wales Set to Use RSV Lectionary

As we await the official announcement concerning the Anglican Ordinariate in America, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in England and Wales is already underway and gathering their liturgical resources.

The Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition (RSV-CE) has long been a favorite version of the Scriptures for many Catholics and has become the standard text for many Anglican Use parishes.

We received word through a posting by Fr. Christopher Phillips of Our Lady of the Atonement Church (Anglican Use) in San Antonio that this version of the lectionary is going to be adopted by the Ordinariate in England and Wales. His article in The Anglo-Catholic also noted that his parish is inviting others to join with them in providing these Lectionaries to the fledgling parishes in the U.K.

The following is Fr. Phillips' article.... To read more, click here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Episcopalian Church Membership Dips Below 2 Million

Although at one time a large and influential religious denomination in North America, a fact sheet published by The Episcopal Church shows that its membership has dipped below two million members.

The survey of membership trends noted that in 2006 there were over 2.1 million “Active Baptized Members” in the church. By 2010, however, the number decreased to less than 1.96 million.

Jeff Walton, communications manager for the Institute on Religion and Democracy and staff member of the IRD’s “Anglican Action” program, believes that many factors have contributed to this decline.

“The Episcopal Church's numerical decline comes from a drop in baptisms, departures sparked by disagreements within the church over the authority of Scripture and the identity of Jesus Christ, and a decrease in evangelism as Episcopalians focus increasingly on social charity,” Walton explained to The Christian Post.

“The spread of universalist theology within Episcopal seminaries has extinguished the urgency of winning souls, and the church has been largely unsuccessful in reaching immigrant populations which are disproportionately attracted to Roman Catholic and Pentecostal churches.”

Walton was not optimistic about The Episcopal Church’s ability to reverse the downward trend, considering the rapid decrease in marriages and baptisms within the denomination as a sign of still more decline in the future. To read more, click here.

Guyana’s Anglican Bishop Launches Diocesan Association in USA

Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Guyana The Right Reverend Cornell J Moss on Sunday, 23rd October, 2011 at St. Gabriel's Church in Brooklyn, New York declared it was his privilege to begin another exciting chapter in the life of the Diocese of Guyana. He was at the time installing the Officers to serve in the Guyana Diocesan Association -New York, New Jersey & Connecticut USA. It will also be called The GDA-USA Tri-State.

Bishop Moss stated that it was a wonderful moment as hundreds of Guyanese and friends and well-wishers, attended a meaningful service of thanksgiving to Almighty for His blessings on our Diocese. To read more, click here.

Does Joel Osteen Not Know, or Does He Not Care?

Here we go again. Joel Osteen is in the news once again, this time for saying that Mormonism is just another form of Christianity. Osteen, pastor of “America’s largest church,” as the media repeat over and over, was speaking to The Washington Times in an interview that covered a variety of issues. It was the quintessential Joel on display.

Speaking to the newspaper on Monday, Osteen said, “I see faith in America at an all-time high.” His comments came just as a major research project detailed a significant loss of vitality in America’s Christian congregations. That loss of vitality can be traced, among other things, to a loss of theological and biblical conviction. Joel, of course, is proof positive that you can build a crowd without building a church. He is not inclined to deal in much theological conviction.

In the interview, he distilled his message in these words: “Part of our core message is that seasons change, and when you believe, if you don’t get bitter, and you don’t get discouraged, you may not change overnight, but you can get peace.”

He also told the newspaper: “People need to be reminded that every day is a gift from God, and bloom where you’re planted and be happy where you are, and to make that choice to get up every day and be grateful.”

That message includes some truth, of course - but it doesn’t even come close to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Hell will be filled with people who bloomed where they were planted. To read more, click here.

When an Elder isn't on Board

We expect that some people will contribute very little financially to our churches. Take for instance the college student, living on student loans. She might toss a crumpled five in the offering here and there, but don't expect much more. Or visitors—they're likely to keep the purse strings drawn until they decide to make your church their home.

But what would you do if you discovered that one of your elders wasn't giving? I'm not talking about an elder experiencing a financial crisis or one recently out of work. And I'm not talking about someone who's just overly frugal. What if you found out that you had an elder who wasn't giving a dime? Nada.

How would you respond? To read more, click here.

Stewardship preaching. Not seeker friendly?

For a Jew to give more under the law in a simple tithe than a Christian gives under grace is a disgrace to grace. If Jesus exceeded the law in everything he said, taught, or did, how can it be that this includes everything except the most important thing in the Christian life—the stewardship of our possessions?

On what basis do I say our relationship to money may well be the most important thing in the Christian life? For starters, Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).

The two are inseparable. You cannot love God with all your heart and not love Him with all your treasure. Two entire books of the New Testament, 1 John and James, were written to say that our actions validate the reality of our profession of faith. To read more, click here.

From the Pen of J. C. Ryle: The Fallibility of Ministers

"When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?" We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." Galatians 2:11-16

Have we ever considered what the Apostle Peter did at Antioch? It is a question that deserves serious consideration.

What the Apostle Peter did at Rome we are often told, although we have hardly a jot of authentic information about it. Legends, traditions, and fables abound on the subject. But unhappily for these writers, Scripture is utterly silent upon the point. There is nothing in Scripture to show that the Apostle Peter ever was at Rome at all!

But what did the Apostle Peter do at Antioch? This is the point to which I want to direct attention. This is the subject from the passage from the Epistle to the Galatians, which heads this paper. On this point, at any rate, the Scripture speaks clearly and unmistakably.

The six verses of the passage before us are striking on many accounts. They are striking, if we consider the event which they describe: here is one Apostle rebuking another! They are striking, when we consider who the two men are: Paul, the younger, rebukes Peter the elder! They are striking, when we remark the occasion: this was no glaring fault, no flagrant sin, at first sight, that Peter had committed! Yet the Apostle Paul says, "I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong." He does more than this—he reproves Peter publicly for his error before all the Church at Antioch. He goes even further—he writes an account of the matter, which is now read in two hundred languages all over the world!

It is my firm conviction that the Holy Spirit wants us to take particular notice of this passage of Scripture. If Christianity had been an invention of man, these things would never have been recorded. An impostor would have hushed up the difference between two Apostles. The Spirit of truth has caused these verses to be written for our learning, and we shall do well to take heed to their contents.

There are three great lessons from Antioch, which I think we ought to learn from this passage. To read more, click here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mark Noll: Protestantism Today

Anniversaries have the potential to renew a sense of the past in the present, to spark a fresh awareness of important but neglected milestones, and to prompt the best kind of intellectual debate over the deeper significance of by-gone persons and events. They can, as is well known, also be put to evil purposes. One of the truly black days in recent history was June 28, 1989, when the Serb firebrand, Slobodan Milosevic, used the 600th anniversary of the Battle of the Blackbirds in 1389 (when a small force of Slavs defeated a much larger army of Saracen Turks) to set off the disastrous ethnic cleansing that ravaged the former Yugoslavia.

Yet positive benefit from anniversary celebrations certainly accrued for all who in 2009 marked the 200th anniversary of the births of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln (born, as it happens, on exactly the same day). In 2011 commemorations of the 400th anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible and the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War have been producing a remarkable range of thoughtful retrospections.

So, one can hope, it will be as the clock ticks down to October 31, 2017, the quincentennial of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On that day 500 years ago a little-known German monk, Martin Luther, posted 95 theses (in Latin) on the door of the Castle Church in Saxon Wittenberg in order to prompt a debate on the Catholic church's promotion of indulgences. The dispute on indulgences (certificates purchased to reduce time in purgatory for relatives or oneself) soon got out of hand. Within four years, this once obscure monk stood before the most exalted ruler of the western world and told the Holy Roman Emperor, the Habsburg Charles V, that he was "bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience."

Eight years later in 1529, those who followed Luther in being willing to exit the Catholic church if their reforming goals could not be met were given the name "Protestants." The occasion was another high-level conclave convened by Charles V where he heard an assemblage of German princes declare, "We are determined by God's grace and aid to abide by God's Word alone, the holy gospel contained in the biblical books of the Old and New Testaments." Within only a few more years, this German "protest" against the emperor's attempt to restore the religious unity of Europe had spread to England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, parts of eastern Europe and even outposts in Spain, Italy, and other centers of continuing Catholic strength. Within less than a century, Protestants had established European beachheads in the New World.

And today? Nearly 500 years after Luther's initial provocation in Wittenberg, Protestants and Protestant-like movements are all over the map, both literally and figuratively. The recently published "Atlas of World Christianity" enumerates about 500,000,000 adherents to churches and denominations that trace their descent directly or indirectly from 16th century Protestant beginnings and several hundred millions more in "independent" churches with Protestant origins or strongly Protestant characteristics. To read more, click here.

Getting a Handle on Spiritual Leadership

What are church leaders supposed to do?

If we want to do a good job as spiritual leaders, it's important to know what we're actually supposed to do! As obvious as that sounds, many people who are being promoted by God to accept a role of kingdom leadership in the lives of fellow believers neglect to think through what, exactly, that means. Because we are sincere in our desire to do what God wants us to do for the sake of others, we bravely launch into spiritual leadership, but most of us have a nagging suspicion that we do not know what we're doing.

We start off the job feeling inadequate to the task, and it doesn't take many days before we realize the unspoken doubt we had about ourselves is true. Subsequently, our thoughts run down a predictable path: Somebody made a mistake in asking me to be a leader … should I wait until I'm found out as a fraud, or should I quit before I do real damage in someone's life?

Add to this feeling of inadequacy the fear of failure—that we'll be blamed for our mistakes—and most sensible people want to avoid becoming spiritual leaders at all. Those who already have that designation search for reasons why their life is too [fill in the blank] to continue; or, they focus on the getting things done (running meetings, organizing events, helping people with problems, receiving more training, etc.).

All the while, they try to be as inconspicuous as possible, hoping that if they do not disturb anything or draw any attention to themselves, nobody will challenge their (non-existent) leadership credentials. To read more, click here.

Iran Attempts to Convert Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani as He Awaits Execution Decision

Pastor Nadarkhani Is One of Many Christian Leaders Suffering Persecution in Iran

Iranian officials are attempting to convert Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani while he awaits his verdict under the jurisdiction of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has reported.

CSW has been informed that during Nadarkhani’s stay in prison, guards and officials have provided him with religious Islamic literature “allegedly as part of an official campaign to convert Christian prisoners.”

“CSW is deeply concerned at news of a further increase in the harassment of Iranian Christians,” CSW Special Ambassador Stuart Windsor said in a statement.

Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor, was originally arrested for protesting in October 2009. His charge was then changed to apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims, for which he was found guilty in the local Gilan province court. He appealed his case in December 2010 to Iran’s Supreme Court. The case was then passed back down to the lower Gilan province court, which in turn passed it to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Khamenei for review.

Khamenei has ultimate authority over Iran’s judiciary matters, and is expected to announce Nadarkhani’s fate by Nov. 2.

“The ayatollah can make any decision he wants. He controls the judiciary, who’s executed, who’s not executed, the military. The list goes on,” Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, told The Christian Post. To read more, click here.

Related articles:
Eritrea: 3 More Christians Die Inside Military Prisons; Toll Now at 21
Christian Mother of Five in Nigeria Killed
Human Rights Watch Warns Egypt Against Covering up Attacks Against Coptic Christians
Indonesian Church Denied Site as New Bill Threatens Freedoms

Total Capitulation: The Evangelical Surrender of Truth

Evangelical Christians are not surprised to find themselves analyzed and criticized within the pages of the secular press. After all, the truth claims that characterize authentic evangelicalism are increasingly seen as unusual (and perhaps even dangerous) by the secular mind. Nevertheless, evangelical readers of The New York Times recently found themselves taken to task by writers presenting themselves as fellow evangelicals. Their essay reveals the central question that evangelicals must now answer: Do we really believe that the Bible is the Word of God?

In their opinion essay, Karl W. Giberson and Randall J. Stephens accuse evangelicals of “simplistic theology, cultural isolationism, and stubborn anti-intellectualism,” among other things. They point specifically to the rejection of evolution, which they call “the rejection of science,” and then refer to this as “textbook evidence of an unyielding ignorance on the part of the religious.”

At times, the writers use the words fundamentalist and evangelical almost interchangeably. Following a line of argument popular among secular observers of conservative Protestantism, they explain that fundamentalism “appeals to evangelicals who have become convinced that their country has been overrun by a vast secular conspiracy.” In other words, they explain evangelical conviction in terms of psychology, not theology. Evangelicals, they argue, “have been scarred by the elimination of prayer in schools; the removal of nativity scenes from public places; the increasing legitimacy of abortion and homosexuality; the persistence of pornography and drug abuse; and acceptance of other religions and of atheism.”

In response to these developments, Giberson and Stephens argue that evangelicals created a “parallel culture” which includes everything from church programs to summer camps, colleges, publishing houses, media networks, and more. There is truth in the description of an evangelical subculture, of course, but these authors surely know that this “parallel culture” emerged early in the twentieth century - long before prayer was removed from public schools or any of the other developments they list had taken place. But, then again, that honest admission would ruin the story they are trying to tell.

Giberson is well known as a leading proponent of evolution, and he has launched several lines of attack against evangelicals who reject evolution. A former professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College, Giberson has argued that evangelical theology will simply have to give way to evolutionary theory, going so far as to admit: “I am happy to concede that science does indeed trump religious truth about the natural world.”

Stephens is an associate professor of history at Eastern Nazarene College. Together, Stephens and Giberson have also written a new book, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. The main thesis of the book is that evangelicals are following the wrong set of leaders, especially when it comes to intellectual matters. They level their attack on figures like James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, and Ken Ham, founder of the Answers in Genesis ministry. Their main accusation is that these leaders, along with others, simply embarrass evangelicalism before the watching world by refusing to accept what Giberson and Stephens call “secular knowledge.” To read more, click here.

The Power of Preaching Teams

Toolkit: Preaching

Video venues and multi-sites work really well for what I call the overpowering communicator (OPC). The OPC is the person who is such a good communicator that no one else in the church, or maybe even in the geographical locale, can compete in the pulpit.

But given that there are roughly 375,000 Protestant churches in the country and probably no more than several hundred OPCs, I advocate for the use of preaching teams in many, if not most, congregations. Based on my observation and experience, preaching teams are an underutilized strategy for church growth, evangelistic outreach, and pastoral impact. Here's just one reason why.

Different styles of communication appeal to different people. If the pastor is not an OPC, chances are he or she is only going to attract a certain type of person. If others in leadership who have a teaching gift are allowed to preach regularly, it's likely that a new demographic will be attracted to the church. To read more, click here.

Reach the hardcore unchurched

Perhaps you’ve encountered a response to the Gospel similar to this one: “You Christians are so hypocritical! You have a fairy-tale belief system. You look down on everyone else. And most of you look like you are from the ‘Twilight Zone.’”

For many Christians, these words and this attitude represent the majority of unchurched America. But it just isn’t so. In fact, in our research we found that only five percent of unchurched America would be this hostile: highly resistant to the Gospel; antagonistic toward Christians, and belligerent in their conversations with and about Christians.

But unchurched America, by our estimates, account for 160 million adults. So the “hardcore” unchurched would total eight million people, or five percent of the total. That’s not a small number, nor is it a number we should ignore. To read more, click here.

A Calvinist Looks at Orthodoxy

During my studies at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, I was often asked by students, "Are you Orthodox?" It always felt awkward to be asked such a question. I thought of myself as doctrinally orthodox. I was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. So I thought I could claim the word orthodox.

But I did not belong to the communion of churches often called Eastern Orthodox, but more properly called simply Orthodox. I was not Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, or Antiochian Orthodox. As far as the Orthodox at St. Vladimir's were concerned, I was not Orthodox, regardless of my agreement with them on various doctrines.

My studies at St. Vladimir's allowed me to become acquainted with Orthodoxy and to become friends with a number of Orthodox professors, priests, and seminarians. My diploma was even signed by Metropolitan Theodosius, the head of the Orthodox Church in America. From the Metropolitan to the seminarians, I was received kindly and treated with respect and friendliness.

I am not the only Calvinist to have become acquainted with Orthodoxy in recent years. Sadly, a number have not only made the acquaintance, but also left the Reformed faith for Orthodoxy. What is Orthodoxy and what is its appeal to some in the Reformed churches? To read more, click here.

This article is the ninth in a series of articles on Eastern Orthodoxy originally posted on the Monergism web site.

No more ‘under construction’ banners

This church (remaining nameless) has had this sign on its homepage for at least several years:

The site (which is one page) has this encouragement:

For anyone who might have been keeping an eye on the site, it's been a pretty disappointing wait! These signs on websites are bad for a number of reasons.

As one study concluded:

"Users also felt that "under construction" signs were disrespectful of their time."Tony explains neatly on Twitter:

"If it wasn't important enough to get it ready for launch, you're never going to do it". The answer is simple - remove the 'under construction' sign. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Malaysian Muslims denounce alleged Christian conversion efforts

About 2,000 slogan-shouting Malaysian Muslims gathered near the capital on Saturday to denounce alleged Christian attempts to convert Muslims, widening a religious rift that could cost Prime Minister Najib Razak minority votes in upcoming polls.

The rally led by non-governmental bodies comes amid an escalating row over accusations of covert conversions among Muslims and a raid on a Methodist church, which has divided Muslims and angered ethnic minorities.

Men, women and families gathered in a stadium in a suburb outside Kuala Lumpur to unite against what they said were attempts to evangelize Muslims, an offence in a country where over half the population follows Islam. To read more, click here.

Why I'm Such a Believer in Sermon-Based Small Groups

Three reasons that just might convince you

If I had my way, every small group would make the basis of their study the weekend message. Obviously there are plenty of other things you can use as the basis for your small-group study time, but here are three reasons I'm such a big believer in sermon-based small groups.... To red more, click here.

Religion Today: Church receives 'gift from God'

St. Edward the Confessor Episcopal Church, dedicated to an important English king, was founded in San Jose's Cambrian Park neighborhood in 1956. Through the years it prospered, adding buildings to its campus and establishing an endowment through sale of an adjacent orchard for the construction of Highway 85.

In 2009, however, the majority of the congregation and its priest, the Rev. Ed McNeil, became unable to support the progressive views of the Diocese of El Camino Real and the national church.

They moved from the property on Union Avenue, formed St. James Anglican Church, and affiliated with other separated parishes. St. James, however, avoided lengthy legal battles, leaving buildings, trust funds and other assets behind. The remaining members of St. Edward's are continuing ministry under a new priest.

St. James, now building-less, rented space for worship at community centers in San Jose and Saratoga. They were resigned to spending years as a "portable church." To read more, click here.

What IS going on in Britain's mosque schools? Beatings, humiliation and lessons in hating Britain

The punishment is almost medieval in its cruelty. Victims are forced to crouch down and hold their ears with their arms threaded under their legs. Beatings are often administered at the same time.

This brutal practice has its own name: the Hen, so called because those forced into the excruciatingly painful squatting position are said to resemble a chicken.

It is the kind of shockingly degrading treatment you might expect to feature in an expose of torture techniques, like say, the use of waterboarding (simulated drowning) on terrorism suspects. You’d be wrong, though.

In fact, the Hen is used to discipline children, many under the age of ten, at British madrassas, the after-school Islamic religious classes invariably attached to mosques.

We have been told of one little girl who was forced to stay crouched and contorted in front of her class for an hour.

‘It’s a particularly unpleasant and painful punishment,’ said Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, a founder of the Muslim Institute think-tank, and one of the few Muslim voices in the country to speak out about the abuse of youngsters at madrassas.

The harrowing stories now emerging from such establishments are all too familiar to detectives in Lancashire, where there are 15 madrassas in Accrington alone. They have received at least 37 separate allegations against local Islamic teachers or hafizes, ‘holy men’ who have memorised the Koran by heart.

Among them is a girl who says she was hit and kicked in the leg and face, causing bruising. The victim’s age? Just six. To read more, click here.

Catholics Divided Over Revised Liturgy

Language in Mass to change Nov. 27

A dozen people sat in a circle in a small meeting room beside the darkened sanctuary of St. Barnabas Church on Hikes Lane on a recent weekday morning, practicing new readings that will mark the biggest and most controversial overhaul of Roman Catholic liturgy in decades next month.

They gave a test run to a revised version of the confession of sins. They softly struck their chests with their fists as they read the repentance for sins committed through “my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.”

Many hadn’t made that gesture in nearly half a century, when they had used the Latin phrase, “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” Since the Mass began to be recited in English, that clause, and the chest-striking, had been dropped from the confession of sin.

“OK, how did that feel with the change?” asked a discussion leader, Mary Carol Kelly.

A chorus of voices from the mostly middle-aged and older group said it was familiar. “Growing up, that’s what I did (at) Mass every morning in school,” one said.

The class is part of an effort under way for months in the archdioceses of Louisville and Indianapolis and throughout the country. They were preparing for a revised text of the Mass that will take effect Nov. 27, the first Sunday of the liturgical season of Advent and of the church year.

The revisions reflect a new translation for the English-speaking world of the Roman Missal, the official Latin-language set of worship documents. It includes words and instructions for conducting the Mass, the central act of Catholic worship, in which priests bless and distribute bread and wine as essentially the body and blood of Jesus Christ. To read more, click here.

How to have a God-honoring Halloween

There's an old British prayer that I've always found rather charming: "From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, good Lord deliver us." As we move toward Halloween, I imagine that many Christians might be harboring thoughts somewhat along these lines.

Each year, on Oct. 31, children (dressed as ghoulies and ghosties and even the occasional long-leggedy beastie) tramp from house to house pestering homeowners by ringing doorbells and expecting a handout that will rot their teeth. More seriously though, the holiday itself just doesn't seem entirely wholesome to many -- what with its occult themes and so forth. Wouldn't it be better, some Christians ask themselves, if Halloween would just go away?

For those who perhaps sympathize with that feeling, I encourage you to look at Halloween a bit differently this year. To read more, click here.

Young Hispanic Catholics Continue to Shift to Evangelical Churches

Perhaps hungry to assimilate into American culture, more second and third generation Hispanics raised as Catholics are finding the worship style of evangelical churches in the U.S. more to their liking and leaving the centuries old religion.

Although the trend has been reported in the past, a recent National Public Radio (NPR) article points to the shift led by young Latinos as the major reason for the increasing numbers of U.S. Hispanics leaving the Catholic church.

Even more specifically, a movement toward Pentecostal churches may be where the influx of Hispanics from the Catholic faith is seen most, according to NPR.

Reverend Wilfredo de Jesus of New Life Covenant Church in Chicago believes the Christian Church in the U.S. is hugely impacted by the country's Hispanics.

"No doubt, every denomination would have decreased in membership if it had not been for Hispanic growth, including our fellowship, the Assemblies of God,” De Jesus said as reported by NPR.

In a 2009 study reported on by The Christian Post, the trend was already quite visible and not only toward Pentecostal. To read more, click here.