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Kennedy’s ‘The Perfect Agony’ explores the dichotomy between experiencing happiness in the Lord and the fear as well as the sorrow which accompany significant events in our lives. He uses as his text Mark 14:32-42.
Christians read and hear much about the potential pitfalls of experiencing negative emotions. As Kennedy says (emphases mine):
… this is a hard text for many American evangelical Christians who have been taught that God became incarnate to give us happy lives and therefore any lack of joy, peace, and/or happiness is the result of some kind of faith deficiency. But Jesus, the sinless lamb, experienced emotional turmoil on a level unknown to any other human being. And he wasn’t doing anything wrong.
Citing a real life example — one which is typical in every congregation — Kennedy describes how the more a cancer sufferer he knew (in another church) heard happy verses parroted from the New Testament, the worse she felt.
The problem is ours. We read scripture emotively. Paul says: “rejoice.” We think: feel happy. James says: “Count it all joy”. We think: feel joyful. John says “love casts out fear” we think: If feel love I won’t feel fear. Jesus says: don’t worry. We think: I mustn’t feel worry.
No. God doesn’t say to the mourner, the frightened, the anxious: Don’t feel emotion. He says: Don’t let sorrow, fear, worry, rule you as if they were your gods. You have One God, And I’m greater than your emotions. Let me bear them with you. Come to me. (Matthew 11:28)
Therefore, it is perfectly normal to fear and to grieve. It is normal to experience the panoply of negative feelings, such as loneliness and the blues. However, as with so many other things, it depends on how we treat these feelings. Will we be enslaved to them or will we use those experiences as an opportunity to pray to the living God for help and guidance?
What Kennedy says has implications regarding how we minister to our fellow Christians, including those facing death. Instead of sounding glib by prooftexting, we might well advise prayers for emotional strength during difficult, seemingly impossible times.
One wonders whether reading the New Testament emotionally is a 20th and 21st century trend. I do not recall my parents or grandparents understanding it as such. My grandparents’ generation born in the 1890s would have been used to infant mortality. For my parents’ age cohorts, living to 75 and beyond was an achievement. The deaths which, today, we would consider premature were an occasion for family and friends to pray fervently (a popular word at the time) whilst feeling sorrowful.
Strangely, few of them lost their faith. Churches were full.
These days, instead of looking for wisdom in the New Testament, many of us disregard it. Again, as Kennedy says, it’s all in the way we read it. If we mistakenly read it as an emotional self-help manual — ‘if I really loved, I wouldn’t feel afraid’ — we’re bound to be disappointed, even angry.
Perhaps it is time for us to focus more on God in times of need, when we need to overcome a devastating situation. May we ask Him for help, for grace, for comfort. He will provide.
28But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (Luke 12:28-31)
In it, he explains how he reads and studies the Bible (emphases mine below):
The more you know about Christ, the more likely you are to reflect Him.
And that really is the Christian life. As I look back at my life and all the years of study and tens of thousands of hours of going through the Scripture, whether I’m writing books or preparing sermons, or writing notes in a study Bible, or whatever, all of my efforts to understand the Scripture do not end with the understanding of the Scripture. My goal has never been to know the facts of the Bible. It isn’t that I want to know Bible history, or that I want to know what’s in books and verses. That’s not the end, that’s only the means to an end. I want to know Him. Paul said, “That I may know Him.” It is the joy of my life to find God in the living Christ on the pages of Scripture. The more I study the Bible, the more glorious Christ is to me. The more I understand the Scripture, the more majestic and magnificent and awesome Jesus Christ is and my worship and my service to Him is a direct reflection of that awe. A limited view of Jesus Christ produces a limited capacity to worship and limited motivation to serve. The great objective of Scripture is to know Christ so that you can love Him more, so that you can be swept away as the hymn writer put it, in wonder, love and praise. It’s not about knowing the Bible, it never should be. Knowledge puffs up. It’s about knowing Christ. Not some mystical knowledge, not some knowledge induced. Your lack of understanding about Christ cripples your worship and no amount of music and no amount of sort of spiritual mood-inducing is going to produce true worship which rises out of an overwhelming wonder concerning Christ.
So whenever we gather together, it is Christ who is the goal and the end of everything we learn. Everything I know about the sinfulness of man makes me love Christ more because He brought an end to all my sin. Everything I know about the glory of God makes me love Christ more because I see God fully revealed in human terms that I can comprehend in Christ … He’s the theme of all of Scripture.
This is why it is almost painful to read or listen to so many notional Christians who subscribe to erroneous beliefs: Arminianism, universalism, mysticism, Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM), gnosticism, theonomy or liberation theology.
Nothing in the New Testament points to any of those.
Yet, the stubborn say, ‘I’ve read it already’ or ‘That verse doesn’t agree with my personal belief’. I read a long thread last week about the HRM on another blog; one HRM advocate said (paraphrased), ‘Well, as I don’t really know the details of the New Testament, I cannot say’.
Read Holy Scripture and discover the truth it reveals. If you’ve actually read it, reread it. It contains a wealth of knowledge which helps us understand Christ all the better. And in understanding Christ, He draws us closer to Him and we better reflect His example in our own lives.
As MacArthur says, isn’t that the purpose of the Christian life?
Excellent starting places in the New Testament are the Gospels of John and Mark as well as the Epistles Hebrews and Romans. And why not try the Grant Horner Bible Reading System? It’s easy to follow and takes but one half-hour a day.
Last week, the story about the Methodist minister in Telford, the Revd Patricia ‘PJ’ Jackson and her refusal to wear a red poppy for the upcoming Remembrance Day service she will lead made news here in England.
I found out about it thanks to fellow contributor Quiet_Man at Orphans of Liberty. He cited the Telegraph‘s article, which said that the ‘Rev PJ’ — as she likes to be known — believes it is her ‘democratic right’ not to wear a red poppy to commemmorate the soldiers who have died for our freedom.
The Telegraph reported:
She refused to give a reason for her decision but a spokesperson at the Telford circuit said it was because Rev Jackson is in favour of peace.
A church spokesman said: “Reverend Jackson is happy to wear a white poppy but doesn’t want to wear a red one because she feels it advocates war which is something she does not believe in.
Jackson is originally from the United States. My American readers can feel free to correct me in the comments on this one, but, as far as I know from my friends living there, veterans have not collected donations to the American Legion or VFW for 25 years or more. I remember donating and receiving a poppy every year. Sometimes they were light blue instead of red; a veteran told me that colour represented the Pacific Theater.
Therefore, it is unclear whether Jackson would have ever known about the tradition of the poppy and Armistice Day, or as we call it in Britain, Remembrance Day.
I wrote more about the story at Orphans of Liberty. It’s a long post with several points, so what follow are just a few.
One related to the wording on Jackson’s church website:
It is standard for pastors to fashion their websites to focus primarily on Christianity. Best practice in this area includes a statement of faith and mention of denominational affiliation.
This is what the Leegomery Methodist Church proclaims on its About page (emphases in the original).
The Mission of the Church is to be a “Hug for the Community” through Worship, Prayer, and being loving and caring.
Leegomery Methodist Church was built in 1878, with the Sunday School/Community Room being added in 1953. The Community Room was refurbished in 2010 and work was completed on the refurbishment of the Church in 2012. All facilities, which include fully fitted kitchen and toilets, comply with the Disability Act, Health & Safety, Fire Regulations and are Eco Friendly.
The Friends committee organise an Annual Community Family Fun Day, Bingo Evenings, Social Activities, Concerts, Religious Festivals and much more throughout the year. See Forthcoming Events for full details.
All Leaders of our Children and Young People’s Groups are CRB checked and the Church has a Safeguarding Policy for Children, Young People and Vulnerable Adults.
Morning Worship is held every Sunday at 11am for which everyone is welcome.
A fun Sunday School for children & young people from 0 upwards also meets each week at 11am. This is nothing like day school, those attending take part in games, crafts, listen to stories and have lots of fun.
Being a ‘Hug for the Community’ is not a doctrinal, or a particularly Christian, statement.
Even worse, we don’t even find out what time the Sunday church service is until we’ve got past a mention of the toilets, Bingo Evenings and CRB checks.
I wondered whether Jackson had arrived recently in England and didn’t really understand the place the poppy has in British hearts:
It just seems odd that anyone who has been here for a time, especially a clergyperson, would be so obstinate in wearing a white poppy — or none at all — if (s)he were about to lead a Remembrance Day service.
Any visitor or newcomer to these shores cannot miss the red poppies that men and women wear at this time of year, including nearly everyone appearing on television news broadcasts. It’s abundantly clear that Remembrance Day is — quite rightly — an important day to the British.
Of course, we cannot forget the spiritual state of seminaries these days:
They outdo The Guardian in their adoption of ‘peace and justice’ as well as identity politics. For them, Scripture is but a footnote and none of it is history but rather liberation allegory. I know someone relatively conservative who went through the system over 20 years ago, when female seminarians began holding church services with prayers addressed to ‘God, our Mother’. Even now, having served in churches for a few decades, she gets more radical by the year. It sounds as if Ms Jackson might have experienced something similar.
I concluded by saying I hoped the minister would change her mind after talking the issue over with local members of the Royal British Legion, councillors and congregants.
Jackson’s local paper in Telford, the Shrophsire Star, spoke to local people planning on participating in the Remembrance Day service:
David Moore, president of the Hadley and Leegomery Royal British Legion, said: “From the military members who attend the service, and there are a lot, we were very shocked.
“If someone decides they don’t want to wear a poppy, that is down to the individual, but if they are officiating a remembrance service, just for an hour, an hour and a half, it’s not going to cut anyone’s throat to wear one.”
… I can understand that the Rev PJ Jackson does not want to glorify war. Neither do I. It brings to a sudden end too many lives for questionable reasons, as in the Iraq ‘adventure’ for the glory of Tony Blair and George Bush.
We need to think about who causes wars. It is not the rank and file soldiers, sailors and airmen. It is the politicians. The rank and file servicemen are the ones who pay the price, in terms of lives and limbs, lost sight and lost mental faculties. Wearing a red poppy is a means of remembering and honouring those were killed and injured allowing politicians to make their quests for glory and a place in the history books. Serving one’s country in the armed services is an honourable profession and a dangerous one …
We all accept that we need clean water and a separation of the foul water in sewage from the water we drink, but not all of us will work to maintain the sewers and get our hands dirty. Sometimes we need a similar separation of the clean and the foul in world politics, and it is the military, the ordinary servicemen, who get their hands dirty to keep these two apart …
I’ll end with Quiet_Man’s observations on Orphans of Liberty:
… I do believe the idiot woman is misinformed as to the red poppy’s significance as it does not commemorate war, does not glorify war nor does it advocate militarism. It reminds us of sacrifice and those who fell as well as those who served. There is precious little glory in war as any conversation with soldiers, sailors or airmen will tell you. Nor does the horror of seeing your friends killed or maimed give them anything other than grief.
As for the white poppy, well it was used by the Women’s Cooperative back in 1933 as a symbol to end all wars, six years later the UK was fighting for its life agains the Nazis, there was the horror of the concentration camps and the systematic murder of foreign nationals on their own soil by the Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD. The white poppy to me symbolises the peace at any price mindset of the hard of thinking aka the left who are happy to disarm civilisation, though no one else. These were the same people who wanted to ban the bomb (only for the UK) spied upon their own citizens and raved about the socialist paradises across the iron curtain and who still bitterly regret the people there throwing off the yoke of the communists.
The white poppy to me does not symbolise peace, but surrender, this is my view and one which I hold to …
I hope that, for those who are unfamiliar with it, this explains the meaning of the red poppy, discourages people from wearing a white one and calls all of us to pray this Monday, November 11, for the families of those who died whilst in service to their country, and us.
Let us also remember those who have returned from war injured, maimed and, possibly, forgotten. Too many are sleeping rough with no home and no job, through no fault of their own.
The theologically conservative Episcopalian-Anglican site, Stand Firm, recently featured a post about the 31 Methodist pastors who plan to jointly officiate at a same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania this month.
Stand Firm’s discussion centres on the fact that same-sex marriage is not allowed as per the United Methodist Church’s discipline statements.
The clergymen are showing their solidarity with their colleague, the Revd Frank Schaefer who — six years after the fact — faces Methodist Church discipline for marrying his son to another man.
That delay, to me, has just as much to do with Schaeffer’s story than with their disregard of Church rules.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports (emphases mine):
At the time, Schaefer told his supervisors about the ceremony but not his congregation. Then and for nearly six years after, he said, officials took no disciplinary action.
But in April – 26 days before the church’s six-year statute of limitations was set to expire – a member of his congregation filed a complaint with the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church.
A spokeswoman from the conference last week declined to answer questions about why charges were filed now.
In a statement, Bishop Peggy Johnson, one of three Methodist bishops in Pennsylvania, said complaints are confidential.
This 11th hour action seems to have propelled the renegade pastors into action. If Schaefer were not going on trial on November 18, 2013, would this have happened? One wonders.
The 31 clergy are now ready to press for change in the United Methodist Church. The Church has global disciplinary statements, which is no doubt why same-sex marriage is disallowed whereas the Episcopal Church (TEC), the ELCA (Evangelical Lutherans) and PCUSA (mainstream Presbyterians) perform such ceremonies.
The renegade Methodist clergymen maintain that Schaefer’s marrying his son to another man was an
an act of love, not a prosecutable offense.
Schaefer said that his son Tim had experienced a deep conflict about his sexual orientation for many years:
Schaefer said that as a teen, Tim prayed to be cured of his homosexuality and considered suicide when that didn’t happen.
Even before going to seminary, Schaefer thought the church’s doctrine would “be in trouble” if it was proved that homosexuality is genetic.
His son, he said, offered him that assurance.
“To me that was the ultimate proof at that moment. For heaven’s sakes, he didn’t choose this,” Schaefer said at his office last week, his eyes raised to the ceiling and palms reached out, “He didn’t want this.”
Though he knew the possible consequences, Schaefer said he didn’t hesitate when Tim, now 29, asked him to officiate.
At the afternoon ceremony at a restaurant overlooking a marina near Boston, Schaefer settled on pronouncing the couple married “in a holy union ratified by God.”
“Those whom God has joined together,” he said, “let no one put asunder.”
When Schaefer goes on trial at the Spring City, Pennsylvania, retreat centre in a few weeks’ time, the 31 clergy plan to attend.
As for Schaefer, currently pastor of the Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon County:
[he] doesn’t plan to deny performing the ceremony. Instead, he will present a team of religious experts he hopes will prove that his decision upheld other church doctrines – namely that pastors should minister to at-risk teens who have contemplated suicide due to confusion over their sexuality.
Schaefer said Tim was one those kids. His son’s story will be central to his defense.
The paper adds:
Critics say Schaefer could have avoided a trial several ways, first by denying his son’s request.
“Good parenting 101 is realizing that not everything that your child asks you to give him or her is necessarily always the best thing for them,” said John Lomperis, a director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative think-tank.
Church officials also offered to forgo a trial if Schaefer agreed never to officiate at another same-sex wedding.
Schaefer says he couldn’t do that.
Three of his four children are gay.
That’s incredible — three of his four children are oriented to their own sex. How does that happen?
Those in the United Methodist Church who favor heterodox positions on sexual ethics are becoming desperate. It became very apparent last General Conference that the United Methodist Church has no interest in changing the Discipline statements related to homosexuality—at least not in the direction that they want changes made. Although it is little reported, the United Methodist General Conference has resisted such changes by increasingly large majorities since the issue was first raised in the 1970s.
From what I have read of the history of Methodism, we began departing from John Wesley’s original vision in about the 1850s in the U.S. By the 1960s when the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church, the leadership of the denomination was liberal and many of them wanted to move further from Wesleyanism to to become more modern, focusing on “social gospel” and transformation of the world rather than disciple making. This has increased the rate of decline of the United Methodist church in the U.S. This whole process is detailed, from a secular sociological perspective in The Churching of America . The polity on sexual morality almost certainly will not change in the way that they want it to … The “facts on the ground” strategy … will be more difficult to accomplish in the United Methodist Church than it was in TEC. The United Methodist church has an ecclesiastical court system to enforce the requirements in The Discipline. Although the members of the Judicial Council, our Supreme Court, may be liberal and disagree with the specific provisions of the Discipline, they know that if they let the “facts on the ground” strategy succeed, they become as useless as a fifth wheel. So they will enforce positions that they personally disagree with in order to maintain their power and authority. Therefore, the liberals are either going to have to live with the current polity, waste precious time and effort that a domestically declining denomination doesn’t have in protests, or leave the denomination. As in most denominations, the churches that are more faithful to scripture tend to be the fastest growing (though not the most well known). Therefore, God may be using this issue to bring His church back to greater scriptural faithfulness. I am in a wait and see and pray mode.
I’ll look at the United Methodist Church’s decline in more detail tomorrow.
To be fair, Pastor Spencer’s post at Intrepid Lutherans is actually called ‘Don’ts and Dos for the Orthodox Lutheran Pastor’, but it is broad enough to be applicable to laymen, especially Christian bloggers.
In fact, all one has to do is swap out ‘Lutheran’ (and similar references) for one’s own denomination and situation.
Excerpts follow, emphases mine:
> Don’t assume any other Pastor is orthodox just because you roomed with him in prep or college, or he’s married to your sister, or related in any way.
Do always “test the spirits” with regard to all other Pastors, near and far.
> Don’t expect your members to be 100% orthodox Lutherans.
Do expect and demand that your fellow ministers be 100% orthodox Lutherans.
> Don’t judge your ministry by numbers – any numbers.
Do evaluate your ministry according to your faithfulness to the Lutheran Confessions and historic Christianity.
> Don’t try to save the church – leave that to God.
Do inform your congregation, and your fellow Pastors, as to the dangers and problems you see.
> Don’t ever stop studying, learning, and growing in your faith and knowledge of the Bible and Book of Concord.
Do keep up with what’s going on among other Lutherans and other Christians.
The Revd Walter Bright recently wrote an instructive post for seminarians, drawing on his own experiences.
From my experience, the following also holds true for theology majors, as a number of them leave Christianity.
Excerpts from ‘With the Word and the Spirit together, you grow up’ follow, emphasis in the original:
Just before I went to seminary for a four and a half of preparation for ministry, the Lord impressed on my heart a verse from Luke chapter 4. I started meditating upon it, but didn’t get it until the end of my first semester.
I went to church at least five different times during the week. I lived on campus, so I attended our school chapel time, midweek bible study, Friday night prayer meetings, than both Sunday morning and Sunday evening services. I had wonderful, Spirit filled professors, great prayer meetings and church services, but my personal prayer time, bible reading and meditation and my personal evangelism gradually came to a standstill. My passion, my fire was going out little by little. I thought to myself, I’m in the right place, why am I neglecting these vital spiritual disciplines?
Now, I am a big fan of theological education, I disagree with those who think you don’t need it. Unfortunately, many young people enter seminary full of zeal and fire but graduate dusty, dry, or sometimes spiritually dead. This is one of the reasons Christian kids lose their faith and drop out of the church when to go off to college. Knowledge and learning is great, but every scholar, student, minister and leader would have to seek that balance of having both knowledge and Spirit combined so that they can grow up and not dry up or blow up.
Knowledge mixed with a little dose of prayerlessness does something to you. It puffs you up! Sooner or later you begin to feel like knowledge is all you need. Imagine doing a three or four-year ministry preparation where your prayer life does not exist, your bible reading and meditation is lifeless, and your personal evangelism is dead.
Please read the rest of Pastor Bright’s post for his excellent suggestions on standing firm in the faith whilst at seminary. They concern Luke 4:1. Here are the first few — he offers many more:
- stay humble
- stay disciplined
- stay hungry
- stay holy
- stay prayerful
- stay grounded
- stay being yourself
Trinity Sunday 2013 falls on May 26.
Last year, I featured excerpts of a Trinity Sunday sermon from the Revd Matt Kennedy, Rector of the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York. Mr Kennedy explained various heresies and what makes them so.
I located another sermon of his for today’s post. I do not recall if it is specifically for Trinity Sunday, however, Kennedy makes excellent points on the application of the Holy Trinity in our lives.
At some point in a good number of us — myself included — have come to such an abstraction about the three-in-one Godhead that, if left unchecked, it can be a divine mystery which we neglect.
The Holy Trinity can be difficult to understand and explain; it is a mystery of faith. Yet, we must do our best to understand and apply what we can of this mystery to our daily lives. This is a good way to explain it to children and adolescents; it involves an egg. This post from 2010 explains more about Trinity Sunday and its place in the Church year.
Now on to Kennedy’s sermon which ties us in with the three Persons of the Trinity, the Church and the Bible. He has more at the link, but this is the excerpt — the practical application in our lives — which caught my eye (emphases mine):
The individual Christian,
cannot separate the Holy Spirit from the Holy Scriptures.
The scriptures are the words of Christ,
and it is the task of the Holy Spirit to glorify the Son
by taking his words
and making them known…
not undercutting them.
The Holy Spirit is never, therefore,
never going to contradict the Holy Scriptures.
On the contrary,
if you want to hear the voice of God,
if you want, in your ordinary day to day life,
to feel the presence of God,
to know him,
to be guided by him,
to find out if he loves you and how much,
to figure out what to do with yourself,
how to relate to the people around you,
if that is what you want,
then there is one place to go
and that is the Bible.
And that is because for the believer,
the Holy Spirit’s task is not reveal to new revelations
or new truths to astound our friends,
but to illumine,
to help you understand what has already been so carefully
and perfectly revealed.
He does that supernaturally
through your personal study,
applying those words to your life and to the life of the church.
Two great posts appeared recently examining why young people leave the Church.
Over the past few decades we have seen a growing number of non-denominational churches that are heavy on music and the show and light on liturgy and ritual. We keep seeing the Church trying to be “cool” and trying to meet young people “on their level.” As a young person, I don’t think it’s working. That faux-hawk you’re sporting Pastor? The watered down sermon about a “famous” person who believes in Jesus? Using out-dated memes in your power point presentation? …
This is something I think many churches need to remind themselves of. When witnessing some of these “cool guy church” antics I’ve found myself feeling patronized, and seen others leave the church for something more “traditional”. I’m reminded of the parable of the lost sheep, where Jesus asks his followers if one out of their hundred sheep went missing ,wouldn’t they leave all their other sheep to run after the one? It’s a strong message, and maybe one that many churches are taking to heart in their search for their lost sheep. My advice? Leave it to God. He will find his lost sheep and bring them home. Don’t push away your 99 sheep and leave them out in the cold, because you may find they will be lost as well.
This isn’t a negative “beat up on the church” post. I love the church, and I want to see American evangelicalism return to the gospel of repentance and faith in christ for the forgiveness of sins; not just as something on our “what we believe” page on our website, but as the core of what we preach from our pulpits to our children, our youth, and our adults …
10. The Church is “Relevant”:
You didn’t misread that, I didn’t say irrelevant, I said RELEVANT. We’ve taken a historic, 2,000 year old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as “cool” to our kids. It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize.
As the quote says, “When the ship is in the ocean, everything’s fine. When the ocean gets into the ship, you’re in trouble.”
I’m not ranting about “worldliness” as some pietistic bogeyman, I’m talking about the fact that we yawn at a 5-minute biblical text, but almost trip over ourselves fawning over a minor celebrity or athlete who makes any vague reference to being a Christian …
8. They get smart:
It’s not that our students “got smarter” when they left home, rather someone actually treated them as intelligent. Rather than dumbing down the message, the agnostics and atheists treat our youth as intelligent and challenge their intellect with “deep thoughts” of question and doubt. Many of these “doubts” have been answered, in great depth, over the centuries of our faith. However …
7. You sent them out unarmed:
Let’s just be honest, most of our churches are sending youth into the world embarrassingly ignorant of our faith. How could we not? We’ve jettisoned catechesis, sold them on “deeds not creeds” and encouraged them to start the quest to find “God’s plan for their life”. Yes, I know your church has a “What we believe” page, but is that actually being taught and reinforced from the pulpit? I’ve met evangelical church leaders (“Pastors”) who didn’t know the difference between justification and sanctification. I’ve met megachurch board members who didn’t understand the atonement. When we chose leaders based upon their ability to draw and lead rather than to accurately teach the faith? Well, we don’t teach the faith. Surprised? …
This is what I was driving at in my closing comments yesterday on Simeon. Catechise your children as soon as you can; start gently with simple concepts and prayers between the ages 3 and 4. Build from there. Make sure they know what they believe and why they believe it.
Meg and Mark make excellent points which all pastors and church volunteers would find of interest.
Could it be that our young people are crying out, ‘Gimme that old-time religion’?
Over the past few years, this blog has examined the feminine character of church services.
We simply do not have enough men attending Catholic and Protestant services. Yet, this was not always the case.
Many pastors and theologians wonder how men can once again participate in the life of the Church. Christians over the age of 50 recall that the pews on Sundays had a good cross-section of men of all ages. By contrast, today’s congregations seem to be mostly comprised of women and girls.
William Lane Craig, American theologian and apologist, addressed this in his April 2013 e-newsletter (H/T: Triablogue). Emphases mine:
One overwhelming impression of these [Craig's speaking] engagements is the way in which the intellectual defense of Christian faith attracts men. Both at Texas A&M and again at Miami every single student who got up to ask a question was a guy! …
Churches have difficulty attracting men, and the church is becoming increasingly feminized. I believe that apologetics is a key to attracting large numbers of men (as well as women) to church and to Christ.
In writing this blog, I have noticed that America’s confessional Reformed churches seem to have the most men who are actively involved and regularly attend services. The confessional Lutheran denominations in the United States must be a close second.
Why? These churches have male ministers, solid homiletics, by-the-book liturgy and traditional hymns or sung Psalms. That is what men — and boys — want when they go to church.
You might ask, ‘What about the Catholic Church with its all-male clergy?’ Ah, but what about the modern hymns, variable liturgical forms and weak homilies?
Going back through my archives, I found some interesting quotes from male pastors and congregants.
In 2009, I featured a post called ‘Here’s what happens when Dad doesn’t attend church’. The post looked at a Swiss survey of church attendance which an Anglican priest — a Fr Low — analysed and compared to England’s situation. I recommend it to every pastor. Fr Low wrote:
Faithful mothers produce irregular attenders rather than regular. Their absence transfers the irregulars into the non-attending sector. But even the beneficial influence really works only in complimentarity to the practice of the father.
In short if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper.
Where adults have witnessed, in their own childhood, that Church, for example, is a ‘women and children’ thing, they will respond accordingly. Curiously, both adult women as well as men will conclude subconsciously that Dad’s absence indicates it is not really a ‘grown-up’ activity.
He concluded that:
Emasculated liturgy, gender-free Bibles and a fatherless flock are increasingly on offer. In response to this, decline has, unsurprisingly, accelerated. To minister to a fatherless society the Church of England, in its unwisdom, has produced its own single-parent family parish model in the woman priest. The idea of this politically contrived iconic destruction and biblically disobedient initiative was that it would make the Church relevant to the society in which it ministered.
Women priests would make women feel empowered and thereby drawn in.
Another post of mine — ‘Consistent churchgoing habits important for children’ — contrasts this present-day problem with the normality of family church attendance near the end of the 20th century. A commenter on another Anglican blog remembered:
[ol' codger tone] When I was growing up going to church every Sunday is what was both expected and done. We did it, the families on our street did it, the families at our church did it. The only times we weren’t in church was on campouts for Scouts. Otherwise if you weren’t there, people assumed you were sick/indisposed … And we’re not talking the ’50’s here, these were the ’80’s. [/ol' codger tone]
Nowadays, sports activities are regularly scheduled on Sunday mornings, the time when families used to be in church.
As I mentioned above, modern church music is a problem, especially when men learn that the most robust, rousing hymns — ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’ and ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ — were dropped from hymnals beginning in the 1980s. I featured an analysis of traditional hymnody as seen from a pastor’s perspective in ‘A Lutheran pastor on church music’.
In ‘Why Johnny won’t SING!’ I looked at the role of music in a church service. I quoted Dr Carl Trueman, a Reformed minister and professor at Philadelphia’s Westminster Theological Seminary. He wrote:
You can tell a lot about someone’s theology from what they do in church. Involve [pop] music in your worship service, and I can tell not only that you have no taste in music but also that you have nothing to offer theologically to those who come through the church doors; indeed, what you do have can probably be found better elsewhere …
Such as at home in bed, sipping coffee and reading the Sunday papers whilst listening to the radio.
Many former churchgoers find this more gratifying than getting out of bed and rounding up the family to attend a service led by a woman featuring girly songs and a sermon oriented to women in the pews. Even in churches where a man takes the service, too many other things are feminine, as the Telegraph reported a few years ago:
A majority of men, 60 per cent, said they do not like flowers and embroidered banners in church with 52 per cent saying they do not like dancing in church.
Comments gathered from the survey of 400 UK readers of the men’s magazine Sorted also showed many did not like hugging, holding hands or sitting in circles discussing their feelings in church.
Nearly 60 per cent of those surveyed said they enjoyed singing – but added comments showing they preferred anthemic songs and ‘proclamational’ hymns as opposed to more emotional love songs.
Nearly three quarters, or 72 per cent, said their favourite part of a service was the talk or sermon.
In 2009, Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California, whose posts I feature regularly here, posited the following on the decline in church attendance, particularly where men were concerned. (This comes from my 2010 post, ‘Women priests — a Calvinist view’.) Dr Clark wrote:
For a long time the theory of many erstwhile non-confessionalists has been to minimize areas of tension between Christians the prevailing culture. With the rise of the modern feminist movement, this one was easy. For the pietists what matters most is religious experience. Females are just as able to facilitate religious experience as anyone else, so why not? Many non-confessionalists (both liberals and ‘conservatives’) share an embarrassment over Paul’s apparently misogynistic tendencies. The great quest of much of the modern church has been to become acceptable or ‘relevant’ to the prevailing culture. It has been thus since at least the early 19th century …
Ironically, as the the non-confessional majority, in its quest to become acceptable to modernity, becomes more like the surrounding culture it becomes more irrelevant. The mainline has been bleeding itself to death for decades. The evangelicals are following suit. The consequences may not be entirely evident yet but the signs are there …
I think there is a connection between the drop in attendance to Sunday morning worship and rise in female pastors. The latter is a symbol of the capitulation of the church to cultural pressure and the former is one of its consequences.
I wonder if this feminisation of church has subconsciously led atheists to attack Christianity. Of course, they accuse it of being too robust. Yet, Christianity’s image is in reality becoming less masculine, more feminine. It looks weak, as do many pastors (my ordained readership excepted!).
I have the impression that a number of today’s clergymen in mainline and some Evangelical churches seem a bit too bookish or soft. This could be a result of today’s seminaries which might encourage them to tone down the testosterone; I do not know. I find it difficult to relate to them. And, if I do, how many others — including women — do, too?
It seems as if a reappraisal is in order of where the Church in the West is today. Perhaps it is time to throw out postmodern thinking once and for all and return to our traditions.
As the line went in the baseball film Field of Dreams: ‘Build it and they will come’.
Who are likely to donate to church and to new churches (‘plants’)?
The middle class.
It does pastors no favours if they bite the hand that feeds them. This ‘April Fool’ post from a Scottish pastor demonstrates the potential folly of this type of Marxist class struggle in a church context. (H/T: The Triablogue.)
Satire is difficult to write. Most attempts belong in the circular file.
There is another question, however — should a pastor write satire for publication especially when he depends no doubt on money or time from a social class that he criticises? Consider the Scottish pastor’s critique, ‘A Working Class Manual On How To Reach The Middle Classes With The Gospel Of Jesus’:
Congratulations. You have been saved from a housing scheme background and you have taken the step to enter into cross cultural ministry. Ministering to the middle class is fraught with many pitfalls and dangers and is something not to be entered into lightly. Please take time to read the following.
1/ As a people group they are difficult to penetrate without a prior appointment. They like using diaries and a good phrase to familiarise yourself with is: ‘having a free window’. However, be warned that more and more are resulting to sync[h]ing their iphones, their [M]acs and their calendars with alarming frequency. Often, any [A]pple based product or even a prominent sticker often leads to a ‘way in’ to the culture …
3/ Related to shopping, please try to familiarise yourself with shops like Waitrose, Marks & Spencers and the shrine that is John Lewis. This is the Holy Trinity of the MC shopping world. For those of us used to Lidl and Farmfoods just pressing our faces against the windows of these establishments can be quite an intimidating experience. Our suggestion is that you buy some of the garments listed in 2 and then try to familiarise yourself with the layout of these places. Practice buying something exotic like Salmon and maybe even some fruit. Be warned, at some point you will have to purchase fresh vegetables, but we do offer specialist training before leaving you in an area on your own. Don’t worry about it for now. But, for those who can face it, practice at home with a tin of canned carrots (Ketchup helps initially with the unfamiliar taste) …
7/ This is a long-term ministry. You must settle in for the long haul as you take time to try and be open and honest with the MC. Keep persevering. I have heard many testimonies of middle class people opening up and even being saved.
8/ Remember to break their spiritual poverty gently to them. Most of them are on a mission to save YOU. Friendship evangelism is a good one. They love that approach …
Funny? To some, perhaps. Maybe standards of wit and satire have gone down since I was a nipper.
1/ As a result, I shall wonder in future whether the next pastor or vicar I meet has the same outlook as this man. I’m already highly disappointed in and sceptical of today’s Church, anyway. This type of approach isn’t helping to draw me back into the fold.
2/ I notice that this pastor spent four years ministering to street children in Brazil. Would he have dared to satirise them like this? Unlikely. Therefore, why satirise the middle class?
Stunts such as these are unfunny and in poor taste.
Christ came for all sinners — rich, middle class and poor alike.