Saturday, May 30, 2015

Why Are Behaviors the Bible Condemns Considered 'Morally Acceptable' by Christians?

The Story: According to a new Gallup survey, Americans consider a variety of behaviors that the Bible condemns to be “morally acceptable.”

The Background: Since the early 2000s, Gallup has tracked Americans' views of the moral acceptability of various issues and behaviors. The overall trend clearly points toward a higher level of acceptance of a number of behaviors that the Bible clearly condemns. In fact, notes Gallup, the moral acceptability ratings for 10 of the issues measured since the early 2000s are at record highs.

The first number in each category list the number who consider the behavior to be “morally acceptable” while the second number is the percentage that consider it to be “morally wrong.” The third number is the percent change from 2001 to 2015. Keep reading

Also see
Americans Continue to Shift Left on Key Moral Issues

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

The Missing Ingredient in Church Leadership

In the 1970s, one researcher noted, “There are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept.” According to these definitions, leadership is influence, power, mobilization, motivation, processes, inspiration, among many others.

The same could be said of the church: “There are almost as many different ways of leading the church as there are persons who have attempted it.”

As a researcher of leadership and one who has led the local church for 10 years, I’m constantly searching for better ways. How can we disciple better? Does a better operational process exist? Is fried chicken truly the best option for the church picnic?

There are a lot of good studies, books, and blogs on church leadership. But one ingredient of church leadership is under-represented, not only in the literature, but also in practice. The missing ingredient in church leadership is a willingness to be held accountable. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

The Complexity of Pastoral Care

Pastoral care is exceedingly complex. In seminary, our professors taught us to labor to become discriminating preachers–that is, men who preach to different categories of hearers in the congregation. In any assembly it is fairly certain that there will be present hard-hearted hearers, spiritually mature believers, believers with wounded consciences, etc. Additionally, there are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, singles, etc. This means that the applications of Scripture must be pinpointed to specific people living in specific situations. The same is true in pastoral ministry. Pastors need to become discriminating pastors. We must abandon any idea of “mechanistic pastoral ministry.” Far too many adopt a “slot machine’ approach to ministry–just put the coin in and pull the handle. Rather, pastoral ministry takes a keen knowledge of the personalities, life-situations and struggles of congregants. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, he charged the whole congregation to “warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thess. 5:14). Here are five categories to keep in mind when laboring to become a discriminating pastor.... Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

5 Ways to Rise Above Internet Outrage

In the most connected culture in the history of humanity, outrage is everywhere. even officially dubbed 2014: “The Year of Outrage.” They even made a handy interactive calendar. You can click on any day of 2014, and find out what everyone was fuming about on that given day.

Everybody’s ticked. People like extreme rhetoric, and we apparently love 140-character exhibitions of our own righteous anger.

But in the Bible, believers are told that yes, we’ll get angry, but we’re to rid ourselves of it as quickly as possible, not to spin it as “righteous.”

So how is it possible to be on social media, wading through a sea of insults and, you know, just general wrongness, without getting worked up into a self-righteous lather?

Here are five things I keep in mind to help me deal with it.... Keep reading

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United Church of Canada to Investigate 'Effectiveness' of Minister Who Professes Atheism

A regional body of the United Church of Canada will interview a clergywoman who is an outspoken atheist to see about her "effectiveness."

In June, the Toronto Conference of the UCC will enact a formal process known as a review regarding the Rev. Gretta Vosper, an author and founder of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity who is also a professed atheist.

The Rev. David W. Allen, executive secretary of the UCC Toronto Conference, told The Christian Post about the investigative process. Keep reading

ECOP Celebrates 200th Member Congregation after 2012 Break with PCUSA

A conservative Presbyterian church that was founded in 2012 in response to the growing theological liberalism of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has reached its 200th member congregation.

The Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians gained congregation number 200 when First Presbyterian Church of Griffin, Georgia, joined the denomination earlier this month, following a unanimous vote. Keep reading

Friday, May 29, 2015

Anglicans Ablaze Early Weekend Edition: May 29, 2015

In this early weekend edition of Anglicans Ablaze:
Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

There's Still Time to Make the Anglican Church in North America More Comprehensive

By Robin G. Jordan

While the second Anglican Church in North America has in its five short years in existence avoided the rapid breakup that overtook the first Anglican Church in North America at its formation, the same theological tensions that were present in the first Anglican Church in North America are also present in the second Anglican Church in North America. These tensions are largely between those who believe that classical Anglicanism is genuinely catholic, adhering in its teaching to the three catholic Creeds and the first four General Councils, and those who have historically viewed classical Anglicanism as not fully Catholic, not holding to the teaching of the Catholic Church in its Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox variants.

Freed from the restraints of the un-Catholic Episcopal Church in the United States, the latter group has sought to shape the second Anglican Church in North America according to their own particular vision of the Church. This is evident to a degree in the second ACNA’s constitution and canons but it it is most evident in the denomination’s Ordinal, Texts for Common Prayer, Being a Christian: An Anglican Catechism, and the proposed rites of admission of catechumens, baptism, and confirmation.  It is also evident in the large role that its bishops are playing in the government of the denomination, a role not envisioned in its constitution and canons, but which its bishops have arrogated for themselves at the expense of the bodies to which the constitution and canons entrust the government of the denomination. The result in the long term will be a Church that while Catholic in teaching and practice is not reformed and therefore not Anglican.

These theological tensions have so far not come to a head. This may be explained in part by the fact that those pushing this particular agenda in the second Anglican Church in North America have not at this stage taken away what little flexibility congregations and clergy have to pursue a path at variance with their vision of the Church.  They have, however, denied those who disagree with them on key issues any official standing in the denomination. The second Anglican Church in North America in practice and on paper recognizes only one legitimate school of thought in the denomination.

As the unreformed Catholic party in the second Anglican Church in North America becomes more aggressive in pushing its agenda, this flexibility will disappear. The final version of the Prayer Book that the College of Bishops endorses may bring these tensions into the open if the book is, as I anticipate, unreformed Catholic in its doctrine and liturgical usages and makes room for only a High Church style of worship.

Under the provisions of the denomination’s constitution and canons the adoption of a Prayer Book for the second Anglican Church in North America requires more than the endorsement of the College of Bishops. It requires formal authorization by the Provincial Council in the form of a canon and ratification of that authorizing canon by the Provincial Assembly. 

While there is a strong likelihood these bodies will go along with anything that College of Bishops endorses, there is also a great opportunity at this stage as well as at earlier stages in its development to push for a Prayer Book that comprehends the entire range of conservative schools of Anglican thought in its doctrine and liturgical usages and which makes ample room for a wide range of worship styles—Low Church, charismatic, experimental, and contemporary, as well as High Church. This includes a revised Ordinal which is acceptable to conservative evangelicals and a revised Prayer Book Catechism that is truly acceptable to all conservative schools of Anglican thought.

If the College of Bishops should for any reason seek to dispense with such formal authorization of a Prayer Book to which it has given its endorsement, the rites and service of the Prayer Book would have no official standing in the denomination. Individual bishops might enforce their use within their jurisdictions but they would be doing so in violation of the denomination's governing documents. The constitution and canons do not recognize bishops as having the power to authorize rites and services in their diocese, only to ensure the doctrine rites and services are used in their diocese are agreeable to the teaching of the Scriptures. In permitting the use of the College of Bishops' endorsed Ordinal and Texts for Common Prayer in their respective dioceses, they have shown themselves to date to be incapable of doing so. Both the Ordinal and Texts for Common Prayer incorporate doctrine and liturgical usages that have no basis in Scripture or which are not consistent with what Scripture teaches. 

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

What is the future of the local church?

The Church in the UK is in trouble – or at least that's what the headlines tell us. So what does the future have in store for British Christianity? Jason Clark, senior pastor of Sutton Vineyard, oversees and leads church planting in London for Vineyard Churches UK. He spoke to Christian Today about how British churches are looking ahead in a time when the narrative is largely one of decline. Keep reading

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Why Church Members Dislike Church Growth – Rainer on Leadership #128 [Podcast]

Today on the podcast, we discuss why church members dislike change and ways that pastors and church staff can help ease this tension when a church begins to grow. This comes from a recent blog post entitled Seven Reasons Some Church Members Don’t Want Their Churches to Grow. Keep reading

Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 25:20 — 23.2MB)

Look Before You Innovate: The Secret of Change

Innovation is great—but not all innovation. The question for the church is what innovations we should pursue. Keep reading
This article is a repost from January 2014. I definitely recommend reading the article if you have not read it and rereading it if you have read it.

What Are Justification and Sanctification?

The words justification and sanctification have largely fallen out of use in Western culture. Sadly, they are also fading from sight in the Christian church. One reason this decline is distressing is that the Bible uses the words justification and sanctification to express the saving work of Christ for sinners. That is to say, both terms lie at the heart of the biblical gospel. So, what does the Bible teach about justification and sanctification? How do they differ from one another? How do they help us understand better the believer’s relationship with Jesus Christ?

Justification is as simple as A-B-C-D. Justification is an act of God. It does not describe the way that God inwardly renews and changes a person. It is, rather, a legal declaration in which God pardons the sinner of all his sins and accepts and accounts the sinner as righteous in His sight. God declares the sinner righteous at the very moment that the sinner puts his trust in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-26, 5:16; 2 Cor. 5:21).

What is the basis of this legal verdict? God justifies the sinner solely on the basis of the obedience and death of His Son, our representative, Jesus Christ. Christ’s perfect obedience and full satisfaction for sin are the only ground upon which God declares the sinner righteous (Rom. 5:18-19; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:7; Phil. 2:8). We are not justified by our own works; we are justified solely on the basis of Christ’s work on our behalf. This righteousness is imputed to the sinner. In other words, in justification, God puts the righteousness of His Son onto the sinner’s account. Just as my sins were transferred to, or laid upon, Christ at the cross, so also His righteousness is reckoned to me (2 Cor. 5:21).

By what means is the sinner justified? Sinners are justified through faith alone when they confess their trust in Christ. We are not justified because of any good that we have done, are doing, or will do. Faith is the only instrument of justification. Faith adds nothing to what Christ has done for us in justification. Faith merely receives the righteousness of Jesus Christ offered in the gospel (Rom. 4:4-5). Keep reading

Charlie Charlie should challenge us to take the supernatural more seriously

This week the Internet's love of viral crazes stumbled into supernatural territory when the 'Charlie Charlie' Challenge became massively popular among young people. The game involves crossing two pens or pencils on top of a piece of paper, creating four quadrants with either 'yes' or 'no' written in them. Players then ask questions of a Mexican 'spirit' named Charlie, and wait for him to answer the questions by moving the pens.

Exorcists are warning that teenagers are messing around with forces way beyond their understanding, with one telling the Catholic News Agency that players are 'calling on spirits' which 'will stay around for a while' after the game is played. They suggest it's just a simplified version of the notorious Ouija, which has seen young people dabble in the occult for generations.

For many, this is all harmless – if morbid – fun. Their line would be that evil spirits aren't real and the resulting phenomena can be explained away scientifically. But if that's true, why is the trend quite so fascinating? For years now, researchers have argued that while young people are largely no longer religious, they are spiritual, and they don't struggle to believe in a world beyond the visible. So when the #CharlieCharlieChallenge trend enticed thousands of teenage social media users this week, its spread can be partly attributed to the belief that it might actually be real.

As Christians, we believe this is serious. Actually asking an evil spirit, or a demon as he's variously referred to, to engage with us directly is playing with supernatural fire. The Bible talks about demonic forces often: Jesus casts them out of people; Paul warns not to 'participate' with them (1 Corinthians 10:20); and James says they believe in God – and shudder (James 2:19). In the Old Testament, God and his prophets are frequently warning Israel not to get involved with those who practice the occult, from Deuteronomy 18's list of 'abominable practices' to the grisly description of demonic sacrifice in Psalm 106.

That's not why young people are interested however. They're intrigued because they've seen one of those pencils move on a YouTube video, or heard a story about a demon who might be real, and can prove his existence. When they 'play' however, they're entering the world described in all those verses.

For some, like those Catholic exorcists, who report that "the number of disturbances of extraordinary demonic activity is on the rise," this is tantamount to a pastoral emergency.

Whatever your view on that, there are some interesting reflections to be drawn from this week's bizarre craze. As a youth worker, I'm fascinated that while teenagers seem to be interested in the idea of talking to an invisible spiritual figure who can give them some kind of guidance, they're choosing a Mexican demon over the Son of God. Why is that? Why when young people are so naturally intrigued by the supernatural, do they default to a magical way of supposedly contacting the dead, rather than wanting to contact a spiritual force who's very much alive? Keep reading

Photo credit: YouTube

Infant baptism: Is it ever ok for the Church to turn parents away?

It's a story that regularly makes the papers, particularly on a slow news day: someone is outraged after the local vicar refuses to baptise their child because the parents are unmarried/divorced/gay/don't go to church.

This week's victim is Rev Tim Hayes of Dukinfield, Manchester. He is said to have refused to baptise the child of unmarried parents. He says he just wanted them to understand what baptism was all about: it's not just a naming ceremony. Furthermore, marriage is important too, and if the couple can't afford the cost of a wedding he'll do it for free.

What he almost certainly didn't say was that he wouldn't baptise the child, and he has been backed up in that by the Diocese of Manchester. Church of England law (Canon B 22.4, if you are interested) says: "No minister shall refuse or, save for the purpose of preparing or instructing the parents or guardians or godparents, delay to baptise any infant within his cure that is brought to the church to be baptised, provided that due notice has been given and the provisions relating to godparents in these Canons are observed." Keep reading

On Mission: Six Articles

What Missionaries Aren't Telling You (Part 1)

Our first two years in Tanzania were the hardest of my life.

Gil and I were 24 years old. We had been married only 9 months. Ten days after we arrived, I had an adverse reaction to my malaria medication that instigated over 6 months of panic attacks. I was deep in mental darkness, and even when I began to improve, I still was barely coping a lot of the time.

My teaching job required me to wake up at 5:00 and leave the house at 6. Usually, I didn't get home until 5 pm. Gil's job took place in the afternoons and evenings. When I got home from work each day, I immediately joined him in his ministry. I loved what we were doing, but I was utterly exhausted. Keep reading

Also see
What Missionaries Aren't Telling You (and What They Need From You)
What Missionaries Aren't Telling You (and What Needs to Change About That)

Rescuing Short Term Missions

Tony Myles shares insights on how to lead a productive mission trip.

1) Short term mission trips have historically been seen as a positive way to get young people engaged in overseas missions, but lately have come under fire for, perhaps, facilitating a bad view of missiology in general. Why is this?

People like to air their opinions, plain and simple. I'm just as guilty as anyone about this, so let's all be honest about how that's played into current conversations about missions. We end up trying to say the next clever thing, whether we actually have something original to offer or are just kicking at what's been foundational for years. We become so focused on the finding a "nail in the tire" that we stop driving the "vehicle" forward and actually making progress. If there is any ongoing problem with mission trips, it's in our lack of foundational preparation, debriefing, and follow-up. That's the focus of Flipping Missions because what will either make the most of a trip or waste it is who we are going into it and coming out of it. Keep reading

20 Truths from A Field Guide to Everyday Mission

What does it look like to live on mission in the routine of everyday life?

1. Fix broken things: Jesus saw blindness and other disabilities as symbolic of spiritual brokenness; we can to. Pick up trash, paint fences, help a neighbor with rehab, or clean a park.

2. Be generous: Sacrifice your time, money, and resources for the good of others. This echoes the generosity, sacrifice, grace, and initiation God first showed you.

3. Back your ministry up with your message: Be aware how the work of the gospel is echoed in your cleaning, fixing, renewing, and serving. Be willing to explain this when asked.

4. Build relationships: Stories get deeper, trust is built, and needs are expressed, only as relationships get stronger. Make time, ask questions, and visit often. Share your story and remember as they share theirs.

5. Take—or teach—a class or lessons: do adult education, cooking, fitness, art, or whatever you’re passionate about. If there’s no class offered in an area of your skill or passion, start one. Keep reading

Plan family vacations with a purpose

When our family helped plant a church in southern France, our eldest daughter's perspective changed. "I realize now that God is everywhere. He's not an American." You don't need to permanently relocate to experience this type of change with your kids. Many families vacation with a purpose. These servant-like excursions have helped change and shape families, solidifying their kids' beliefs. Keep reading

Why Are Religious Organizations Losing Their Teenagers?

Religious organisations are losing their teenagers, according to a new report. Teens and young adults from the Millennial generation are not only less religious than previous generations, they are less spiritual as well, the study warns. The exceptions are the black communities and political conservatives.

The report challenges the received wisdom that Millennials, who followed Generation X, remain interested in a spiritual dimension even when they have rejected organised religion.

They are instead more likely to be part of the emerging "nones" group, identifying with others who write "none" on surveys and forms when asked to state their religion.

The study shows that Millennials have less approval of religious organisations than previous generations, are less likely to say that religion is important in their lives, are less spiritual and spend less time praying or meditating. Keep reading

Also see
Generational and Time Period Differences in American Adolescents’ Religious Orientation, 1966–2014
Millennials Are the Most Selfish, 'Least Religious Generation' in Nation's History, Study Finds
Why more young women than ever before are skipping church

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Same Sex Marriage Debate Heats Up in Australia: Four Articles

Churches defend traditional meaning of marriage

The NSW Council of Churches has restated its view that the Australian Parliament should define marriage as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

“Christians are guided by the teaching of the Bible, which never condones the marriage of persons of the same sex or other alternatives to the traditional norm, which is the union between a man and a woman,” Council President, the Reverend Dr Ross Clifford, said.

“For practical purposes, marriage has been understood as a man-woman union since the dawn of time, and Australian law reflects that consensus,” Dr Clifford said.

“Changing the meaning of marriage would be a vast, risky social experiment. Children have the right to know and be cared for by their natural parents. The law should reflect and promote best practice. Amid the emotion and hype, principled arguments in favour of retaining the current definition of marriage in Australian law deserve the consideration of every federal politician,” Dr Clifford said. Keep reading

Meet the victims of same-sex marriage

All over the world we’re seeing the effects of legalising same-sex marriage and it doesn’t look good for objectors. Some practices like performing same-sex marriage ceremonies and other supporting services can pose serious moral crises for service providers.

Refusing these services on the basis of belief can breach anti-discrimination laws, with jail time as a possible result. Keep reading

I oppose same-sex marriage (and no, I'm not a bigot)

We are told there are those in favour of same-sex marriage, and then there are the bigots. But allow me to make the case for traditional marriage as being between one man and one woman, writes Michael Jensen.

The passing of the Irish referendum on same-sex marriage has triggered a round of Australian advocates announcing that it is now "our turn". We lag behind the UK, many European countries, some states in the US, and (perish the thought!) New Zealand, and we ought to get with the programme.

The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, in line with the new ALP dogma, has announced that he is introducing a private members bill into Parliament next Monday. He has said:
It's time for our laws to reflect the values of modern Australia and to include everyone as equals ... It's time for marriage equality.

Whatever our religious views about marriage ... I believe we have to change this law which discriminates against adult couples on the basis of who they love.
How could anyone stand opposed? The terms in which the pro-marriage redefinition case are stated make it sound as inevitable as the dawn, and as unstoppable as the tide. And these same terms make opposing a redefinition of marriage sound primitive and even barbaric. There are those in favour of change, we are told, and then there are the bigots.

But simply saying "it's time" doesn't make an argument. Neither does the need to keep up with the O'Haras, the Smiths, and the Pedersens. Neither does the support of TV stars, comedians, or even Bono. At best, these are arguments from fashion. Keep reading

Gay marriage: Australia's businesses take out full-page ad backing same-sex partnerships

Some of Australia's biggest businesses have thrown their weight behind the push for gay marriage, with a full-page newspaper advertisement today.

Corporations including Google, Qantas, Optus and the ANZ and Commonwealth banks have put their names to a list of Australian businesses backing marriage equality.

Others supporters include law firms Slater and Gordon and Gilbert and Tobin, and the Football Federation of Australia.

Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome said the corporations approached the organisation send the message that Australia's business community was behind marriage equality.

"It was about corporate saying it's not just about us individually supporting this, we want to do it collectively and send the strongest possible message," Mr Croome said.

He said corporations understood the importance of respect for diversity in the workplace and equality for staff and customers.

"They're also very sensitive of course to Australia's international reputation ... that is at risk of suffering if we don't catch up to countries that are most like us — New Zealand, the UK, the US, Canada and now, Ireland," he said. Keep reading
International reputation with whom? Support for same sex marriage in Australia seems to be largely based upon vague notions of keeping up with the times and does not take into consideration the damaging effects that same sex marriage has upon families and religious freedom.
Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

10 Reasons Why Spiritual Disciplines Matter in Church Revitalization

Thom Rainer and I have talked often about the process of church revitalization. Both of us recognize, though, that knowledge of revitalization is hardly enough to turn around a church; the process cannot be separated from the personal walk of the leader who longs for church renewal. Below are ten reasons why spiritual disciplines matter in church revitalization. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Smarter Rural Ministry

Your cultural assumptions will affect your effectiveness.

It was early in the ministry of my first church and I was enthusiastically sharing my vision for the transformation not only of our little church, but our community, our region, and beyond. My rural co-leaders listened patiently until I began to outline goals for the future. At that point a leader interrupted with his perspective regarding goal setting.

“Pastor, nobody can tell what is going to happen until it happens, so what is the point of setting goals?” To bolster his point, he quoted Scripture: “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, `If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.' ‘But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting (and presumably, goal setting) is evil.’”

In the pause that followed, it was pretty clear that at least some of my rural leaders thought that the whole notion of setting goals and strategic planning was at odds with the will and ways of God. But I was thinking, "How do they accomplish anything without a goal?"

It was my first lesson in rural ministry. I was learning that rural is separated from urban/suburban by more than miles. Rural is a distinct socio-cultural context that comes with its own assumptions and mindset. Effective ministry in rural contexts requires that you adapt your leadership style. Otherwise you simply won’t be effective. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Maturing in Ministry: Two Articles

3 Ways to Identify Your Ministry Convictions

Most church leaders will claim they have a conviction to develop leaders and a conviction for biblical community—to help people grow together in community. But it is one thing to say you have certain convictions and quite another to display those convictions in your everyday leadership. If something is a conviction in ministry, you cannot imagine ministry without it.

So how can you tell what your convictions really are? Here are three ways.... Keep reading

12 Reasons Not To Blame Others For Our Ministry Failures

I don’t blame anyone but myself for my failures in ministry.

Why are people so surprised by that?

In last month’s podcast with Carey Nieuwhof (click here to listen), I described our church’s history, including a short period where we had sudden growth, followed by even faster and deeper collapse.

Carey asked me if I had a handle on why the collapse happened, so I told him two of the mistakes I made that contributed to it. He was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t blame anyone (like the big church down the street) or anything (like changing demographics) for the problems, but took the responsibility upon myself.

To which I responded, “If you don’t own it, you can’t change it.” The interview went on and I thought no more about it.

But that little exchange and my short answer to it have received far more feedback (all positive, thankfully) than any other aspect of the interview.


I think it’s because we live in a blame culture. And that culture has invaded the church. In fact I know it has because I regularly hear pastors of Small Churches blame everyone from their denominations to other churches, to the corruption of the culture for their church’s lack of growth and/or health.

We must stop doing this. Here are 12 reasons. I’m sure there are more, so if you know of any, feel free to add them in the comment section. Keep reading

Life-Changing Sermons

What I'm about to write will probably get me into trouble: I'm deeply persuaded that there's entirely too much mediocrity in the church of Jesus Christ when it comes to pastors preparing and delivering their sermons.

I'm tired of hearing boring, inadequately prepared theological lectures, delivered by uninspired pastors reading manuscripts, regurgitating their favorite exegetical commentaries, recasting the sermons of their favorite preachers, or reshaping notes from one of their seminary classes.

There, I said it. Now I need to unpack it. Keep reading

Where You Live Changes What You See When You Read the Bible

You may be surprised to discover just how much your culture determines what you see in the Scriptures.

During the years in Romania, I found myself challenged by the insights Romanian pastors drew from the text. Preachers seemed to spend time on things that I tended to pass over. Even now, when Corina and I discuss a passage of Scripture, we often latch on to different words and phrases. We’re both inclined to think the other has missed the point and is majoring on the minors.

Cultural background and social location play an important role in the way we read a text. Keep reading

Church Economist: The United Methodist Church Only Has 15 Years to Reverse Its Decline

The United Methodist Church has only 15 years to reverse its decline in the United States if it is to have a sustainable future, an economist warned church leaders.

At the same gathering, the church leaders discussed possible missional goals to address that decline and enhance the global denomination’s ministries around the world.

“By 2030, the denomination in the United States will either have found a way to turn around, meaning it is growing, or its turnaround in the United States is not possible,” Donald R. House Sr. told the May 19 combined meeting of the Connectional Table and the General Council on Finance and Administration board. “By 2050, the connection will have collapsed.”

In other words, he predicted that unless things change soon, the denomination in coming decades will not have enough U.S. churches to pay for its connectional structures. Such structures include conferences, bishops, agencies, missions and international disaster response. Keep reading

Summoning the demons: Playing 'Charlie Charlie' game poses real danger, warns Vatican exorcist

A Vatican-approved exorcist has warned against the dangers of playing the game known as "Charlie, Charlie," which is gaining popularity among young people on social media.

Spanish priest Jose Antonio Fortea said the so-called Charlie Charlie Challenge, a game played on a simplified version of the Ouija board, poses a real danger as it involves the summoning of spirits, the Catholic News Agency reported on Wednesday.

The game uses two pens and a paper to create a makeshift version of the Ouija board. A grid is drawn on paper to make four panels, two of which are labelled "yes" and the other two "no." The pens are then put on top of another, positioned like a cross.

The players invoke a Mexican demon by calling out "Charlie, Charlie can we play" or "Charlie, Charlie are you here?" Then they wait for the pen to move as they film the game for online posting.

Father Fortea warned that the game involves the real, occult practice of "calling on spirits," cautioning people that "some spirits who are at the root of that practice will harass some of those who play the game."

Even though players "won't be possessed," the spirit that has been summoned "will stay around for a while."

Also, the game "will result in other spirits beginning to enter into even more frequent communication."

"And so then the person really can suffer much worse consequences from the demons," Father Fortea said. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Same Sex Marriage in the News: Five Articles

Why Australia should not rush to follow Ireland

“You’re a nauseating piece of filth”, tweeted Crikey political editor Bernard Keane to his 44,000 followers.[i]

‘Bigotry’, tweeted Labor member of parliament Stephen Jones....[ii]

ACL’s crime? We sought to discuss the consequences for children of changing the definition of marriage.[iii]

If this is the sort of abuse dissenters to homosexual political activism cop now, what will it be like when intellectual elites and activists have the force of law behind them?

Ireland’s redefinition of marriage and family should cause us to take a deep breath and consider the consequences to free speech and children. Keep reading

Also see

Statement by Core Issues Trust on the Irish Referendum on Gay Marriage

Core Issues Trust offers its gratitude to the many thousands of citizens who voted against changing the Irish Constitution to replace marriage as the union between one man and one woman for life, with a new concept which takes no account of the sex of the marriage partners.

The Irish Government’s poll has enabled simple majoritarianism to usher in a radically new model of marriage based on the lowest possible construct: love while it lasts. Denying that all marriage is thereby redefined, the government has eliminated the very foundation of marriage based on natural male-female complementarity, a complementarity self-evident in human anatomy, physiology (procreative capacity), and even psychology. Now, instead of having sexual unions in which the extremes of each sex are moderated and the gaps filled, we will see the institution of marriage deteriorate even further as the extremes of each sex reshape marriage to be far more accommodating to non-monogamous behaviour and rapid dissolutions. The integrity of the sexes, male and female, will be further dishonoured as people are praised by the state for treating their sex half in relation to their own sex rather than as half of a whole sexual spectrum of male and female, as though two half-males make a whole male or two half-females make a whole female.

In addition, with the elimination of a male-female prerequisite for sexual unions, there no longer remains a logical reason to deny adult-consensual polyamorous unions or even incestuous unions (particularly incestuous unions where procreation is minimized or eliminated). For the limitation of two persons to a sexual union is predicated on the duality of the sexes, male and female; and the principle of embodied otherness upon which incest may be rejected absolutely is discarded in the embrace of the excessive sameness of same-sex sexual unions. The Irish Government in our view has also sacrificed innocent children to the demands of individuals who prioritise their “right” above the right of children to be raised by their natural parents. Keep reading

'Gay cake' case: Ashers Bakery will appeal discrimination verdict

The McArthur family, who last week lost a court case after a judge ruled that they had "unlawfully discriminated" against a gay rights activist, have confirmed that they will launch an appeal against the verdict.

"After much careful and prayerful consideration given to legal advice, we have decided to appeal the judgement handed down last Tuesday," the family, based in Belfast, said in a statement.

"We continue to insist that we have done nothing wrong as we have discriminated against no individual but rather acted according to what the Bible teaches regarding marriage.

"As many other people have already noted, Christian beliefs seem to have been trampled over in this judgement and we believe this only has negative effects for our society. Our hope and prayer would be that an appeal will allow us and other Christians to live out their faith in Jesus Christ in every part of their lives, including their workplace." Keep reading

Six Questions about the Supreme Court’s Upcoming Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Richard Hammar explains what clergy and church leaders should know ahead of the June decision. Keep reading

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Where do Irish Christians go from here?

On May 22nd, 62% of those qualified to vote in the Republic of Ireland referendum on same-sex marriage, chose to vote ‘yes’, effectively moving Irish values and lifestyle definitively away from God. Commentators on this were quick to point out that the vote was as much an anti-Roman Catholic church vote as it was a move towards so-called ‘equality’. The recent history of child abuse and cover-up in the Roman Catholic church in Ireland has appalled, disillusioned, and driven away many, including a new generation of young people, from its doors.

The Roman Catholic church is also at war with itself. The Association of Catholic Priests, a liberal group representing about a third of Roman Catholic priests in Ireland estimated that about 25% of priests voted ‘yes’ and encouraged their congregations to do so, despite a number of bishops urging a ‘no’ vote. Furthermore, it reports that at a Mass in Dublin just before the referendum, one priest urged his flock to vote yes, announced that he was gay, and received a standing ovation from his congregation! Keep reading

Also see
Reform Ireland: Winning This Island for Christ
Hear us, merciful God for that part of the Church which you have planted in Ireland, unleash in it the power of your Holy Spirit, and give it boldness to proclaim the gospel to all the people of the land. Open the hearts and minds of the Irish people to the good news of Jesus Christ and bring them to repentance and faith in him. Make the Church of Ireland once more the bright light in a dark world as it was in ancient times. This we ask in the name of the same Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain 

Questions to Ask When Adding Ministries

If you are an engaged, commitment member of a local church then you have probably at some point said to yourself or a friend, “We should do this ministry.” Often times these types of thoughts and ideas give birth to very fruitful and faithful ministries. As church leaders pastors pray for increasingly burdened and active church members.

But, there is more to it than this.

Let’s say that an entire church membership of 200 people are all burdened for new ministry expressions. Some want to work with international students, others with children in the congregation, still others with women in the church, and others with the poor in the community. And, for the sake of the illustration, they all are bringing these ideas to the pastors. How should the church leaders think through this ideas?

I have found three questions to be very helpful in evaluating ministry. These questions are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but rather they represent a process for working through faithful ministry in the local church. Keep reading

Also see
Simple Church Revisited
Simple Church Epilogue Part 1
Simple Church Epilogue Part 2

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

7 Ways to Lead Younger People

If you want to reach the next generation then you have recruit and develop the next generation. They need your wisdom, knowledge and experience.

How you lead them, however, may challenge how you’ve ever led before. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

8 Easy Ways to Be Missional

Missional is not an event we tack onto our already busy lives. It is our life. Mission should be the way we live, not something we add onto life: “As you go, make disciples….”; “Walk wisely towards outsiders”; “Let your speech always be seasoned with salt”; “be prepared to give a defense for your hope.” We can be missional in everyday ways without overloading our schedules. Here are a few suggestions.... Keep reading

Americans Vastly Overestimate Size of Gay and Lesbian Population

Poll shows Americans think 25 percent of the population are lesbians or gay men. The actual figure: less than 4 percent.

Same-sex marriage is one of the fastest-moving social issues in U.S. history, having become legal in state after state as Americans cheer it in ever-growing numbers. But one thing is slightly off-kilter: Americans seem to have absolutely no idea just how many of their fellow citizens are lesbians or gay men.

In fact, they think that 23 percent of Americans, or almost one in four, are are gays or lesbians, a Gallup survey released Thursday revealed. That's way off: The polling organization most recently found that less than 4 percent self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

A third of people surveyed believed that lesbians and gays made up more than 25 percent of the population. Just 9 percent of those in the survey correctly stated that they thought the group made up less than 5 percent of the population.

It's unclear why people think there are six times as many lesbians and gays as there actually are. Keep reading

A Requiem for the Boy Scout

The Boy Scouts were doomed the moment the national leadership decided to preserve the organization at the cost of the values and ideals that gave it birth. Speaking to a national meeting of Boy Scouts of America leaders, President Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, called for the B.S.A. to abandon its policy of allowing the participation of openly gay scouts, but not the involvement of openly-gay adults.

Speaking in Atlanta, Secretary Gates told his fellow B.S.A. leaders that “we must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.” Gates presented a matter-of-fact briefing to the leaders, speaking in entirely pragmatic terms. There was not a shred of moral insight or argument in his statement, other than his belief that the Scouts must do whatever is necessary, or face “the end of us as a national movement.”

Even as he took office last year, Gates indicated that he was not satisfied with the compromise the B.S.A. national board adopted in 2013. After insisting, just six months earlier, that the Scouts would not change their policy excluding openly-gay scouts and scouting leaders — a policy national leaders acknowledged was expected by the vast majority of scout parents — the national board crumbled under external pressure, largely from activist organizations and major corporations.

By any honest account, the policy adopted in 2013 was a compromise that anyone could see would not hold. By allowing for openly-gay scouts but not openly-gay adult leaders, the B.S.A. put itself in a no-man’s land of moral evasion. As recently as 2004 the Boy Scouts of America had maintained that homosexual conduct is “inconsistent” with the Scout Oath’s requirement that a scout be “morally straight.” By 2013 that policy — successfully defended all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States — was an embarrassment to some leaders and in some regions of the country. Keep reading

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Issues in Church Leadership: Three Articles and One Podcast

Is There a "Leadership Code"?

James MacGregor Burns wrote, “Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.” So to better understand leadership, Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood, and Kate Sweetman set out to discover if there is a “leadership code” —a set of leadership characteristics that are transferable from one context to another.

Perhaps you have heard someone say, “Leadership is leadership.” The authors would agree. After interviewing leadership experts, reviewing works about leadership from multiple generations, and processing their own observations, they concluded that 60-70% of all leadership is transferable. In other words, up to 70% of what makes a leader effective in one environment is transferable to another environment. Some know this intuitively and hire proven leaders for the “transferable 70%” of the job and train for the 30% of the job that is industry or discipline specific.

So what characteristics make up the “leadership code”? The authors articulate five essential qualities in all leaders, regardless of the context.... Keep reading

Creating an Incredible Team Culture—An Interview with Chris Rivers [Podcast]

How do you make sure your team stays aligned with your mission and vision?

Chris Rivers’ job at NewSpring Church in South Carolina was to teach new staff NewSpring’s culture.

The challenge was they were adding up to ten new staff per WEEK. Chris explains how they did it, and what you need to do to keep your team aligned, whether you’re adding staff, adding volunteers or simply trying to align your existing team. Keep reading

7 Steps to Conflict Resolution

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. These dear friends had labored with us in Bible study, outreach, prayer, and church planting. They had financially supported our collegiate ministry for years, and they had commended our work to others. And now this couple was maligning us with accusations not based in fact—at least insofar as I understood the facts—and picked up from people they had recently met. We never had a chance to defend ourselves.

Things escalated, and people chose sides. A few tried unsuccessfully to mediate the conflict. In the eyes of the primary couple, everything we did was now tainted with suspicion. In our eyes, they couldn’t do much that was right, either. My heart knew little but fear, anger, and self-justifying self-protection.

What can you do in such situations? When two or more sinful people draw near to each other, disagreements will surface. From time to time, these disagreements can lead to hurt feelings, tension, backbiting, and all-out opposition. If you’re not prepared, these situations will blindside you, and your heart’s vileness will only fuel the eruption.

But the Lord gave us detailed advice on how to handle explosive disagreements; it’s found in Philippians 4:2-9. Keep reading

7 Ways to Respond to an Overly-Negative, Complaining Bully

How’s that for a title?

After I finished talking to a group of pastors recently, a pastor approached me and asked a question. He asked, “What do you do when there is one person who is always trying to disrupt what you are doing? He is never satisfied with anything I do and he incites people against me. I know he’s going to complain about something every time I see him or his name comes up in my inbox. Honesty, I think he’s the one obstacle in us being all we could be as a church. He’s like an 8th grade bully who never grew out of it.”


That’s a paraphrase– but it’s a true story.

And you’re shocked. You’ve never heard anything like it before – right?

It’s certainly never happened to you. Correct?

Of course it has!

In my experience, most churches have one of these type people – – or more.

They remind me of reading 1 Samuel 17 and the introduction of the giant Goliath. The people are intimidating, disruptive, and, if we’re honest, frightening at times.

I need to say that I don’t believe these type people are as big an obstacle as we make them out to be in our mind. We allow them to intimidate us that way. And, they usually know it which is often part of their objective.

Thankfully, the ruddy shepherd boy David was willing to call the bluff.

But, how should we respond? Keep reading

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10 bad preaching habits which must be stopped

The Bible's full of great preaching. It's also very honest about one sermonic failure: Acts 20:7-12 tells the story of Eutychus, who fell asleep when the Apostle Paul was preaching and fell out of a window.

I sympathise – with Paul, that is. I remember on one warm Sunday evening in my early years as a minister counting six people asleep during the sermon (not all at once). That was a low point and I hope I improved. I also remember being told by my college principal during sermon class to go and read CH Spurgeon's Lectures to my Students and pay particular attention to the woodcuts showing pulpit mannerisms: "You fall somewhere between the wrestler and the dancer," he remarked.

In evangelical churches at least, the sermon's supposed to be the high point of worship. Ministers train for years to be able to do it well. So how come so many of us are really terrible at it, and what are the pitfalls to look out for? Keep reading

Also see
Movies In Church: Use Pop Culture, But Don’t Let It Use You

Rising to the Challenge of a Changing Religious Landscape in the UK and the USA: Three Articles

How should Christians relate to 'outsiders'?

In a post-Christendom culture, should Christians look different from those around them and keep their distance, or engage with culture and not look too distinctive? This has been a challenge for the Church down the ages, but it has a particular edge to it in times of cultural change, particularly when it feels as though culture is moving away from 'Christian values'. And there are compelling arguments on both sides of the debate, for both practical and theological reasons. Keep reading

The end of casual Christianity

The Roman historian Tacitus described Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians: “In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and torn to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights.”

In spite of what you may have read or heard, the recent Pew Research Center report “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” was better news for Christians than this. “Is Christianity in America Doomed?” asked one headline, about a faith with which 71 percent of Americans still identify.

Most of the actual decline in believers from 2007 to 2014 was concentrated among Roman Catholics and the Protestant mainline, and among those most loosely tethered to religious faith. Evangelical Christians held pretty steady, which set up an odd chain of reactions. Secularists were pleased about the decline of Christianity. Some conservative Christians were pleased about the decline of theological liberalism. The latter is evidence of an old grudge. Keep reading

Is the UK still a Christian country?

Are we losing our religion? The answer for the UK seems to be "Yes", while the answer for the developing world is a resounding "No".

That was the conclusion of a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center in the US. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Ireland will not force churches to wed gays

Ireland on May 22 became the first country to hold a public vote amending its constitution to allow gay marriage, but the change will not force houses of worship to perform the unions.

Instead, gay couples will be able to enter in "civil marriage," a separate institution from but affording all the legal benefits of "religious marriage," according to the Yes Equality civil group that spearheaded the drive for the constitutional change.

"No religious institution can be forced to marry a lesbian or gay couple against their beliefs," the group's website reads. "Churches will be able to continue with religious ceremonies and will not be required to conduct wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples."

Ireland's Justice Department plans to draft a marriage bill this week that will permit those taking vows in civil ceremonies to choose either to be "husband and wife" or "spouses of each other," satisfying the demands of religious groups including Catholics, Protestants and Muslims that no church will be required to perform gay marriage in the country, the Associated Press reported.

With 62.1 percent of the vote, Ireland approved a referendum to the nation's 1937 constitution stating, "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex." According to official results announced May 23, votes in favor of the change totaled 1,201,607, while 734,300 voted against it. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Monday, May 25, 2015

4 Crucial Values for Small Church Pastors

1. Relationships are most important. Develop personal and strong relationships with the people. Be appropriately transparent and vulnerable. You want them to know and like you, not just “the pastor.” Be the real you, not a pastoral version of yourself. When they know you and like you, they will trust you, which is the currency of leadership.

2. The ministries of your church should reflect the gifting of your people. Don’t just create a list of ministries you think your church should have. As you get to know your people, allow the ministries of your church to grow out of their gifts, talents and abilities. When this happens, your ministries are effective because your people are both gifted and passionate. Making disciples is the mission of every church, but the methods we use to approach and accomplish it depend on the people we have in our church.Keep reading

7 Kinds of People You Can’t Afford to Keep

In leadership, you always face your share of critics.

Everyone has an opinion, and if you’re like me, you can get focused on keeping people happy, which is always a critical leadership mistake. Your church or your organization isn’t for everyone (here’s why).

Usually, the discussion at the leadership table will end up with someone saying:
Look, we can’t afford to lose people.
Sometimes that’s true. Often, it’s simply not.

In fact, often the opposite is true.

The people you are most afraid of losing are the people you most need to lose.

Truthfully, you can’t afford to keep them. Keep reading

Also see
5 Ways People Pleasing Undermines Your Leadership
Why You Need to Stop Thinking Your Church Is for Everyone

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Reflections on Patriotism and Deceased Loved Ones: Two Articles

Thinking Theological about Memorial Day

This is post probably has something to make everyone unhappy. But here goes.

With Memorial Day on Monday (in the U.S.) and, no doubt, a number of patriotic services scheduled for this Sunday, I want to offer a few theses on patriotism and the church. Each of these points could be substantially expanded and beg more detailed defense and explanation, but since this is a blog and not a term paper, I’ll try to keep this under 1500 words. Keep reading

Why Resurrection People Remember the Dead

Keeping the memory of our deceased loved ones alive.

When I was a child, a family in our church lost their daughter in a tragic car accident weeks before her high school graduation. For years after Vicky died, my mother kept in contact with her parents, mentioning her in conversation long after our community had stopped talking about her.

On one occasion, my mother asked, "Do you ever wonder what Vicky's children would look like?" Talking about the dead in this way makes a lot of people uncomfortable. But for Vicky's parents, it was a breath of fresh air—healing air. At one point, Vicky's dad told my mother, "You are the only one who ever mentions Vicky's name. Everyone else is afraid to." He and his family were pained by losing the memory of Vicky, so speaking her name was for them a source of comfort.

Death is a cyclical reality in all communities, and often families are forced to travel the grieving journey alone. After his young son died, a close friend of mine said, "Pretty soon Isaac will fade from most people's memory. And any future children we have will never know him. Instead they will associate him with times of the year when Mom and Dad are sad—his birthday, the day he died, and Mother's and Father's Day." My friend was not only grieving the loss of Isaac; he was also grieving the loss of his memory in the community. Forgetting Isaac meant deep alienation for his family.

A year after Isaac died, another family from my circle of friends lost their little girl, Poppy, in the third trimester of pregnancy. As with Isaac's father, Poppy's parents were afraid that Poppy's memory would be lost. In a tender moment, Poppy's father said, "I am afraid to lose the pain over Poppy's death, because pain is the only connection I have to her."

His words reflect a deep truth about our Christian faith. They are words of protest against the forces of death that had extinguished Poppy's life and now threatened to take her memory as well. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

Things Scripture Does Not Allow

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds, who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they” (Hebrews 1:1-4).

Whew. What a sentence.

The Lord Jesus Christ was God’s last word to Planet Earth. Everything He had to say. Man’s last and greatest hope.

Man’s only hope. Keep reading

Seven Trends in Worship Service Times

If your church has one service at 11:00 am on Sunday mornings, it is likely in the minority. In a recent reader survey we conducted with 1,649 responses, slightly over half of the congregations had only one worship service on Sunday morning, and the times of that single service varied.

The “sacred hour” of 11:00 am is no longer the worship time for a majority of churches.

Though we don’t have definitive information on the origin of the 11:00 am worship time, it appears to be related to an agrarian society. We started our services late in the morning so the farmers could milk the cows and do necessary farm chores.

So what are the trends in worship service times? Our information is based upon the survey we noted above as well as anecdotal data derived from our interaction with thousands of churches. Keep reading

Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain

8 Arizona Pastors Create 'Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction' Sermon Series

Local Progressive Pastor Says They're Trying to 'Alienate' People Who Don't Interpret the Bible Literally

Eight conservative Arizona pastors have banded together to teach a sermon series to their local community titled "Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction," but one local United Methodist Church pastor, who holds more progressive views on the Bible, says they're trying to alienate people who don't interpret the Scriptures literally.

The series will be taught at eight different Fountain Hills churches and is being advertised on large billboards in front of each of them.

"It's a sermon series dealing with some of the essential tenets of Christianity — that being the deity of Jesus, the validity of Scripture, the literal, physical resurrection of Christ and the atoning sacrifice of Christ," said Christ's Church of Fountain Hills pastor Don Lawrence, one of the eight pastors preaching the series, to The Christian Post.

Lawrence said the series will deal with topics discussed in recent progressive Christian seminars held in Fountain Hills.

"For the last four or five years, there's been a series of seminars hosted in our community pushing the progressive movement," he said. "In those seminars they dismiss or argue against some of these basic Christian tenets. It has created a lot of questions and some confusion among [people] in our community, and so we [are doing] a series to address some of those questions that we have heard." Keep reading

Gay Marriage in the News: Four Articles

Irish Same-sex marriage vote: How a Minority achieved a Majority

“For years leading up to Ireland’s civil partnership legislation, a small nongovernmental organisation (NGO) – the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) – along with its many supporters and collaborators, worked quietly and methodically toward this day...." Keep reading

Ireland same sex marriage vote: Catholic Church needs a 'reality check', says Archbishop

A senior Archbishop has urged the Catholic Church in Ireland to move out of "denial" and take a "reality check" after the vote in favour of same-sex marriage. Keep reading

Gay marriage will split the Catholic Church

Ireland, for so long the most overtly Catholic state in Western Europe, has voted for gay marriage by a stupendous margin – 62 per cent. Never before has a country legalised the practice by popular vote.

It would be naive to ask: how could this happen? Hatred of the Church is one of the central features of modern Ireland, thanks not only to the paedophile scandals but also to the joyless quasi-Jansenist character of the Irish Church, which was handed complete control of education in the Free State after partition in 1922. (Many of its priests were outstandingly holy and charitable, but you’ll get your head bitten off if you suggest that in today’s anti-clerical republic.)

Anyway, I don’t want to focus on Ireland. Homosexuality as an issue is a greater threat to the Catholic Church worldwide than the sex abuse scandals. Here’s why.... Keep reading
Jesus did refer to homosexual practice in his teaching. He identified as one of the evils coming from the human heart "pornia," which is sometimes translated as "fornication" but which his audiences would have understood to have include sexual activity between members of the same sex as well as members of the opposite sex.
The Failure of Winsomeness

The United States has avoided Europe’s fate for a long time, but the churches here have finally lost the ability to coast on cultural momentum. The churches that don’t retrench around building their internal strength and coherence around orthodoxy — and that requires far more than catechesis, but it requires at least that: teaching our story to our children — and evangelizing from that position of strength, aren’t going to survive. The overculture is just too strong. The forces of atomization and desacralization are very hard to resist.

This is a reality that many Christians, Christians of all kinds, do not want to face. I know very little about Evangelical culture, so prior to Q, I asked a prominent Millennial Evangelical, a thinker I greatly respect, to tell me what I might expect there. He told me that Evangelicals, especially those of his generation, have a particular blind spot about the broader culture. In his view, they have a naive understanding of cultural dynamics, and think that they will be more acceptable to the mainstream if they simply behave with more winsomeness towards them. Keep reading

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Anglican Church in North America Faces a Changing Religious Landscape

By Robin G. Jordan

Among the findings of the recent Pew research into the changing religious landscape in the United States is that evangelical churches and church networks are doing a better job of retaining and attracting new members than their Catholic counterparts. One of the implications of this finding is that if the Anglican Church in North America is going to flourish in post-Christian America, the ACNA is going to need a strong evangelical presence in the denomination. To have such a presence, the ACNA is also going to need a strong evangelical doctrinal foundation. At a minimum the ACNA is going to need to make “generous space” for evangelical teaching and practice in the denomination.

Creating such a space faces a number of serious obstacles in the Anglican Church in North America. Four such obstacles stand out from the rest.  

The first obstacle is the Anglo-Catholic and philo-Orthodox bishops who dominate the denomination’s College of Bishops. These bishops represent a special interest group within the ACNA, which seeks to establish a preeminent place for Catholic doctrine, order, and practice in the denomination to the exclusion of other legitimate schools of Anglican thought. They are creating conditions in the denomination that negatively influence the growth, survival, and spread of these schools, in particular conservative evangelicalism with its roots in the English Reformation, the Elizabethan Settlement, and the Evangelical Revival.

The second obstacle is a movement within the denomination to redefine the terms “evangelical” and “evangelicalism” and to interpret unreformed Catholicism as meeting their revisionist redefinitions of these terms. This movement is not only diluting evangelical distinctives but also editing real evangelicalism from the denomination’s DNA.

The third obstacle is the existence of the unfounded belief that Millennials as a generation are attracted to ancient tradition and liturgical forms of worship. We often hear this claim from those who seek to reconstruct Anglicanism along the lines of the supposedly undivided Church of the early High Middle ages in the eleventh century before the East-West Schism. Research into church attendance patterns of Millennials does not support this claim. Millennials are not flocking to liturgical churches. They are not breaking down the doors of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches or even High Church Anglican and Lutheran churches. These churches do attract a small number of Millennials. However, when it comes to Millennial church attendance, the scales tip in favor of non-liturgical churches, churches that are also evangelical and non-denominational. The research points to the need for much greater diversity in forms of worship than the rites and services that the Anglican Church in North America has produced to date would allow.

The fourth obstacle is the persistence of anti-evangelical attitudes that congregations and clergy that broke away from the Episcopal Church brought with them from that denomination. The development of these attitudes has a long, complicated history. Their origin is in part traceable to the High Church and Latitudinarian rejection of the Articles of Religion and their Reformed doctrine during the early years of the Episcopal Church, in part to a negative reaction to nineteenth century revivalism and religious “enthusiasm,” and in part to the influence of Anglo-Catholicism, liberalism, and modernism. The convergence movement, which originated in the charismatic renewal movement of the twentieth century and purportedly brings together the three disparate theological streams of Catholicism, evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism, has also fostered anti-evangelical attitudes in its downplaying and even outright dismissal of the Protestant Reformation. It has played a leading role in the movement to redefine the terms “evangelical” and “evangelicalism.” It takes a reductionist view of evangelicalism, reducing it to a single distinctive—an emphasis on the Scriptures.

Unless the Anglican Church in North America overcomes these obstacles and makes room for evangelical teaching and practice in the denomination, its future will not be as bright as its leaders claim. This claim is based in large part on the denomination’s initial growth spurt. However, no one has to my knowledge done any research into this growth spurt—the size and viability of the new congregations that have been planted, how long they have been in existence, the areas in which these new congregations are being planted, the population segments at which they are targeted, their growth rate, who planted them, and other factors needed to evaluate what is touted as unprecedented growth. A closer examination would, I suspect, reveal a different picture. Denominational leaders have admitted to having difficulty in gathering reliable data on congregations in the denomination.

The Anglican Church in North America has only to look at the diminutive  size and shrinking and dying congregations of the Continuing Anglican Churches to see what the future holds in store for the denomination if its leaders persist in their policy of exclusion of evangelical Protestantism from that body, refusing to make ample room for genuine evangelical teaching and practice in the denomination. 

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