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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.
Now that Easter is over — although Eastertide continues for 50 days, until Pentecost Sunday — we move from a period of penitence and sombre consideration of our Lord’s suffering to a period in which we contemplate the meaning of Easter.
Last year I excerpted the Revd James A Fowler‘s call for more Resurrection theology. I found Mr Fowler’s sermons from his Christ in You Ministries most helpful. You can find excerpts in the following posts of mine as well as a Lutheran perspective:
Jesus’s death and resurrection go hand in hand. Our salvation could not have been effected by one of these events alone. Both needed to occur. The above posts explain why.
John MacArthur’s sermons on Holy Scripture are edifying to read because he has studied the Bible for decades and can provide rich detail which encourages us to stop and look again at the passage.
His 2011 sermon, ‘The New Passover’, lays out what likely took place when Jesus and the Apostles gathered for the Last Supper. The passage is Mark 14:17-26, although MacArthur mentions other Gospel accounts.
What follows are excerpts, emphases mine as are the links to Scripture:
First it began with a prayer of thanks and it was followed by the first cup of red wine, doubly diluted with water… After that first cup, which kind of launches it, there was a ceremonial and an actual washing of hands. They actually washed their hands because they ate with their hands and there was a ceremonial significance to it because it symbolized a need for cleansing and a need for holiness.
So the opening cup and then the cleansing after the prayer of thanks. It seems to me that this might be a good place to assume that while they were talking about the need for cleansing, while they were talking about their unholiness, maybe that is where the Lord pointed out a problem with them because Luke 22:24 says, “A dispute arose among them as to which of them was regarded to be the greatest.” Same ole, same ole, right? It is very likely that at that time as they’re just getting beginning into this and the issue becomes a heart holiness that our Lord confronts that arguing about who is going to be the greatest, that ugly pride, by doing what John 13 says He did. “Jesus rose from supper, laid aside His garments, taking a towel, began to wash the disciples feet. And He gave them a profound lesson on…humility.”
It had to be juxtaposed against their arguing about which of them was the greatest and such an open manifestation of pride. And then He said to them, “I’ve given you an example for you to do as I have done for you.” And then He even said to them, as recorded in Luke 22:25 and 26, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them.” That’s what Gentiles do. “But not so with you.” He went on to say the greatest of you become as the least, as the servant, the slave. So just getting in to the Passover and they’re already demonstrating their sinfulness, the symbol of the washing would have been a perfect time for them to confront that sinfulness. Our Lord perhaps does that at that interval and then washes their feet to give them a lesson on humility.
This was followed then, this washing, by the eating of bitter herbs. This is when the bread would be broken. It would be flat bread, not a big fat loaf, flat bread broken and distributed and then dipped into a paste made from fruit and nuts. And then after that… first course…they would sing the Hallel. The Hallel, from which we get the word Hallelujah, are series of hymns that praise God from Psalm 113 to Psalm 118. And they sang them all at the Passover. Traditionally they would sing Psalm 113 and 114, and then would come the second cup of wine. And then after that cup would be the eating of the lamb, the eating of the meal. That would be the … main course …
And after the main course was completed would be the third cup of wine and after that they would sing the rest of the Hallel, Psalm 115, 116, 117 and 118. And then they would have a final sip of wine and one more Psalm and leave. That was the evening.
That could have all been done rather in a brief amount of time, however, it was strung out for many, many hours, being interrupted by all the other things that we talked about going on.
Early in this celebration in this sequence, our Lord says something that I think is important for us to hear in Luke 22:15 and16. “He said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.’”
The language is very, very strong. Literally He says, “I desire with a desire,” that’s emphatic in the Greek. This is a very strong passion, “I must celebrate this Passover with you before I suffer. This has to happen for all the reasons that I told you.” Not only because it’s right because it’s commanded by God, but because He must make this transition. He must end an era. He must bring to a completion an entire system and launch a new one and He must lay out all the promises upon which every believer through all of redemptive history draws and He must tell them of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and He must confront their sin, and He must give them a lesson on humility and all these things are so compelling. He knows that He can’t die until all of this is clearly delineated to them and the Holy Spirit will bring it back to their memory in the future and they will write it down and it will be inscripturated and we will follow that instruction and cling to those promises. This has to happen before He dies.
He has, like everybody else, lived His whole life seeing animals sacrificed and all of them, He knew, pointed to Him. And now He was eating a meal at which the last legitimate Lamb was sacrificed and would be eaten and in a matter of hours it would be over. And He was the fulfillment of all those sacrifices. And in the view of His imminent suffering, He knows He will die, He knows He will not live to another Passover, He understands the urgency of this hour.
And there’s another component, John 13 begins by saying this, “He loved His own who were in the world, eis telos, to the max, to the limit, to the end. It was not simply a theological demonstration here. What He said to them, what He promised to them, what He pledged to them, and what He called for them to do was all a part of loving instruction.
It was His profound love for them, as well as their profound necessity for the truth He would give them that compelled this to occur. He says in verse 16 of Luke 22, “I say to you, I’ll never again eat this meal with you until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” And with that statement, we have the end of all legitimate Passovers…this was His last meal before the cross, He ate the lamb and then became the Lamb hours later.
Will there ever be another Passover, legitimate one? Will there ever be? There will, He says that, please notice it. This is not going to happen, He says in Luke 22, until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God. Even Passover has not yet reached its final fulfillment. That’s going to happen in the Kingdom.
Paul says, “We do this until he comes.” Matthew 6:29 talks about the fact that it’s going to occur in the Kingdom…when He returns, He will celebrate the Passover meal with His own redeemed people again. He will.
Americans live in an era where a vast majority of them have read at least one self-help book. For a while, we had two in our house, given to us by agnostic friends in the early 1970s who termed them ground-breaking and revolutionary: Psycho-Cybernetics and I’m OK, You’re OK. Some readers will call the former satanic, because it taught visualisation. However, although my parents were unimpressed by these books, insecure people or those who could be doing more with their potential can sometimes benefit by changing their way of thinking. It doesn’t necessarily need to come through ‘meditation’, just a self-check during the day. Ideally, some would say, this would come through faith, but the Bible is not a personal formula for success.
Speaking with a secular hat on for a second, I believe we are what we eat, read, watch and think. A constant diet of junk food is bad for the health. Reading pornography or nihilistic novels is sinful at worst, unhealthy at best. Watching most television may inhibit critical thought. A convicted criminal who thinks he will never amount to anything even if he wishes to turn over a new leaf has to learn to think in a new way. Instead of his imagining himself committing armed robbery, he has to train himself to imagine enjoying working for a living. An impatient person needs to think of himself as slowing down a potentially destructive reaction the next time someone or something irritates him. And so on. All that said, let me reiterate, self-help is a secular methodology with pragmatic instructions which may or may not work, not unlike a cookbook or a DIY manual. It has nothing to do with church and isn’t intended to. Seeing what happens in the workplace these days, a fair number of managers and employees would benefit from reading I’m OK, You’re OK, based on transactional analysis. Over the past ten years I have seen too many dysfunctional family relationships reproduce in an office setting which produces warped results for the company.
On to Joel Osteen now by way of his father John. Joel’s detractors accuse him of having grown up as a rich boy with no regard for hard times. I don’t know about that, however, John appeared to have grown up in humble circumstances during the Great Depression. It is unusual for reminiscences from parents and grandparents not to have some effect on younger generations. John’s obituary in Lubbock [Texas] Online reads in part:
Born Aug. 21, 1921, Osteen dropped out of high school in his hometown of Fort Worth. In his biography, he said he began seriously thinking about God after leaving a nightclub in 1939. Six weeks later, he was preaching in Paris, Texas.
That high school dropout — after his visit to a nightclub — went on to earn three degrees in theology. We may disagree on the confessionalism of the seminaries where he earned those degrees, however, he adhered to an Evangelistic background, became ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention (Arminian) and later embraced a more Charismatic Christianity. In 1959 (emphases mine):
John founded Lakewood Church in an abandoned feedstore in Houston on Mother’s Day … It was a year after he dedicated his life to the service of God. He had been married for four years to his second wife, Dodie, who joined him in his ministry. His church turned no one away. It didn’t matter what race or belief you had: you were welcome. This was unusual in the segregated, highly religious South.
Unfortunately, the Faith Builders article I cited is no longer there.
John said that his baptism in the Holy Ghost in 1958 changed his ministry:
He traveled extensively throughout the world, taking the message of God’s love, healing and power to people of all nations.
John Osteen founded Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, widely known as “The Oasis of Love in a Troubled World”, where his son Joel Osteen continues to minister to thousands weekly. He hosted the weekly “John Osteen” television program for 16 years, reaching millions in the U.S. and in many other countries with the Gospel. His numerous books, cassettes, and videotapes are widely distributed throughout the Body of Christ.
However, I found this quote of John’s interesting and wonder how the sentiment behind it might have affected Joel growing up:
Great it is to dream the dream, when you stand in youth by the starry stream. But a greater thing is to fight life through, and say at the end, the dream is true.
Joel published Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential in 2004. Note the use of ‘best’, a favourite word among prosperity and positive-thinking preachers. The sermon of Peale’s I featured is called ‘Be Your Best’. Reverend Ike’s is called ‘You Deserve the Best!’
This clip is of Joel exhorting his congregation to ‘Expect Good Things’:
I imagine that many broken people attend Osteen’s Lakewood Church for right and wrong reasons. Yes, they are going to feel better about themselves after negative experiences at work, in marriage and, no doubt, in toxic churches. And, yes, what Osteen preaches is a type of moralistic therapeutic deism, popular in a self-help dependent society. (See my Christianity / Apologetics page for more under the heading ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’.) Some of these people a) will never have entered a church or b) have been away too long.
There are serious problems with Joel Osteen’s ‘church’ and his preaching:
- Osteen has no theological degree and an odd outlook on preaching. He dropped out of Oral Roberts University after two years. A few years ago, 60 Minutes (CBS) interviewed Osteen, already ‘The Most Influential Christian in America’ (2006). Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California said of Osteen after the interview:
… go back and watch Byron Pitts’ questions. Pitts was very fair with Osteen, even generous. He gave Osteen opportunities to say, “I’m a minister. My job is to call sinners to Christ.” What did Osteen say? “I’m not a minister. I’m a life coach. My job is teach people how to have their best life now.”
Jesus had little patience for the “best life now” approach. Broad is the way of destruction. It is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. So much [for] Osteen’s self-described prosperity gospel.
In 2007, Osteen said in the same 60 Minutes interview:
I can get up here and try to impress you with Greek words and doctrine and there are people that need that, they want to study deeper,’ he recently said on the CBS program. ‘But I know what I’m called to do is say “I want to help you learn how to forgive today.” “I want to help you to have the right thoughts today.” Just simple things.
In which case, he needs to step away from the pulpit now!
- Osteen has a false church — not unlike Peale’s and Ike’s. Of Osteen, Dr Clark says:
As to judging someone’s profession, as a Reformed confessionalist … I confess that there [are] three marks of a true church (congregation): the pure preaching of the gospel (as defined by the Reformed confessions), the pure administration of the sacraments, and the administration of church discipline. Osteen’s congregation lacks these marks. Ergo it is, as the Belgic says, a false church. Belgic also gives us marks of a true Christian. You can see all this here.
- He adopts a Gnostic and semi-Pelagian outlook, devoid of justification by grace through faith. Dr Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary California has examined Osteen’s writing and preaching, coming up with these observations:
“You can be better,” Osteen invites. “The question is: ‘How? What must I do to become a better me?’ In my first book, Your Best Life Now, I presented seven steps to living at your full potential.” But with Becoming a Better You, he wants to go a little deeper. “I’m hoping to help you look inside yourself and discover the priceless seeds of greatness that God has placed within you. In this book, I will reveal to you seven keys that you can use to unlock those seeds of greatness, allowing them to burst forth in an abundantly blessed life.”
God has breathed His life into you. He planned seeds of greatness in you. You have everything you need to fulfill your God-given destiny….It’s all in you. You are full of potential. But you have to do your part and start tapping into it…You have the seed of Almighty God on the inside of you…We have to believe that we have what it takes.
Just as Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, and other “faith teachers” speak of believers as “little gods” who share God’s nature, Osteen has an entire chapter devoted to “The Power of Your Bloodline.” “You have the DNA of Almighty God.”4 It’s “what’s in you” that is divine seed, he says.5 It is not that God has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us and adopted us as his children. We are not saved by an external and alien righteousness, but by an internal and essential righteousness that belongs to us simply by virtue of our being created in his image. Therefore, throughout the book Osteen can address all of his readers as semi-divine without any reference to faith in Christ.
There is more at the link. Horton cautions us about human achievement and our status before God:
I’m all for positive thinking-as long as we don’t call it the gospel. I come from a long line of Wild West pioneers and can identify with Osteen’s commendation of his parents as a major source of an optimistic outlook. The problem is when we blindly ignore the reality of our condition before God. Whatever good things there may be about me, none of them commend me before God’s righteous judgment.
- The Word Faith movement, of which Osteen’s Lakewood Church is a part, presents a false notion of God and human existence. Because there is such an absence of Scripture, outside of what some call ‘the fortune cookie Bible’, Osteen’s preaching and his family’s testimony can give false hope to his followers, especially if they are ill. Chris Lehmann of Salon warned:
That confident assertion of — and indeed, identification with — the divine will is one of the calling cards of the Osteen faith. Amid all the spirited self-affirmations and folksy homilies that stud an Osteen sermon, it’s easy to miss the oddly deterministic invocations of divine prerogative summoned up by the preacher, who belongs to the “Word Faith” tradition of Pentecostal belief …
The Word Faith image of the wonder-working, healing God is discomfiting to ponder, and not just because he might tempt desperately sick believers to go rogue beyond the dictates of medical science. The constant recitation of God’s transcendent goodness and the deference paid to his ironclad ability to lift believers magically out of suffering and woe both subtly downgrade the divine presence into a glorified lifestyle concierge. This God has no real way of accounting for the age-old paradoxes of theology, such as the tolerance of personal and historic evil, or the deeper ironies and unintended consequences of the believing life.
- Osteen’s message is unbiblical, even though it sounds loving. The Revd Dr Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC, wrote in 2012:
The biggest problem with Osteen’s message about God is that it is really a message about me. God is a potential, a force, a co-pilot, waiting to be tapped and deployed. I may have a net below me, but I am the one that has to take the first steps on the wire:
Taking steps of faith is imperative to fulfilling your destiny. When I make a move, God will make a move. When I stretch my faith, God will release more of his favor. When I think bigger, God will act bigger.
Osteen’s saying that God only moves if we make a move is hyper-Arminianism. In Osteen’s worldview, ultimately, that must mean that the believer lacks sufficient faith if a) he is dying of cancer or b) cannot keep up with his mortgage payments because of unemployment. We can only hope that his congregation don’t accuse each other of warrantless ‘backsliding’ over circumstances they cannot help.
Dr Lee has more:
Osteen’s message is not biblical. His promise that his audience will be taught the Bible—from a preacher who has admitted that teaching the Bible isn’t his strength—is fulfilled with a smattering of verses. These snippets are at best torn out of their context, at worst fabricated.
There’s this stretch: “God is saying to you what He said to Lot, ‘Hurry up and get there, so I can show you my favor in a greater way.’” In Genesis 19:22, the Angel does tell Lot “Get there quickly, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” God waiting on Lot to step out in faith so he can bless him? Not exactly. It is God telling Lot to flee to Zoar, a city of safety, so he can rain down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.
Osteen bolsters his bootstrap religion by quoting Jesus: “Roll away the stone, and I’ll raise Lazarus.” This, Osteen says, is a “principle,” “God expects us to do what we can, and He will do what we can’t. If you will do the natural, God will do the supernatural.”
One problem. Jesus does command them to roll away the stone, but no such quid pro quo is found in holy writ. This foundational principle is one of Osteen’s own making.
Taken as Christianity, Osteen’s false teachings — heresy, let’s be honest — can damage souls.
I won’t condemn anyone hurting who has sampled some of his sermons in an attempt to feel better on a psychological level. However, as far as Christian teaching is concerned, they would do well to frequent websites and churches which preach the Word of God and the true Gospel message.
Prosperity gospel preachers will be called to account one day. Pray that they discover the true Gospel.
Pray especially for their followers that their souls will be saved through that same eternal Truth through Word and Sacrament in a proper church.
Tomorrow: A checklist by which you can evaluate your church
Dr R Scott Clark of Heidelblog came to Christianity as an Evangelical. Many years ago, he joined one of the Reformed denominations and was ordained in 1998 in the United Reformed Churches in North America. He is Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California.
Christianity today, even in older denominations, relies increasingly on charismatic and Pentecostal vocabulary, memes and ‘healing’.
Those of us who are cessationist believe that the extraordinary gifts from the Holy Spirit which Christ sent to the Apostles died with them. That does not imply that the Holy Spirit has since been inactive; far from it. The Spirit has been at work differently — more quietly — in post-Apostolic history.
Nonetheless, over the past century there has been a certain tension between cessationists and those who believe in ‘Spirit-granted signs and wonders’.
Dr Clark addresses this dichotomy in ‘Less a Problem of What the Spirit is Doing and More a Problem of What We Say’. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:
Please hear me. I am not saying that the Spirit cannot do today what he did in the first century, in the Exodus, in the flood, or in the resurrection. I quite expect to see Jesus return bodily. I expect to see a bodily resurrection and a metaphorical flood (1 Peter) but we’re not there yet. God has not promised to do in our age, in the post-canonical time between the ascension and the parousia [Second Coming], what he did in the canonical age.
What happens is that contemporary evangelical and charismatic folk describe ordinary phenomena in extraordinary, apostolic terms. They identify non-apostolic phenomena as apostolic. That’s cheating but it’s rhetorically powerful and persuasive. Many evangelicals don’t want to live in the post-canonical, in between time. It’s a drag. People want a power religion. Judged against the neo-Pentecostal and charismatic claims, Reformed Christianity seems decidedly weak and powerless (see all of 2 Corinthians).
So, what should we do? I propose that we speak the truth in love. Instead of making claims that we can’t back up we should speak simply. Instead of claiming implicitly that we know what the Spirit is doing just now (we don’t; you don’t know where the Spirit comes from or where he is going) we should say what is true. Instead of saying “the Spirit told me” or “the Spirit led me” or we should say what actually know to be true. “I had a strong desire to pray” or “in the providence of God it turns out that as I was praying x was happening at the same time.”
Does the Spirit lead us, give promptings? Sure. That’s not in question. What is in question is what we should claim about them … We say, “The Spirit was really present” when what we know to be true is that “we had an intense experience.” In fact the Spirit is always present. We may become conscious of certain intense feelings or experiences and if those are good and holy, praise God.
Implicit in the claim to know what the Spirit is doing is an unstated knowledge and claim to power. “It’s not in the Scripture but I know what the Spirit is doing in this instance.” … It sounds and seems more “spiritual” to say, “The Spirit led me to do/say/think” rather than “after prayer and study I did/said/thought.” The latter is corrigible and the former is less so. It’s really a sort of implicit claim to power, authority, and knowledge that, as far as I know, in the post-canonical era, no one has.
Why can’t we simply do good, useful, edifying things without attributing it directly to the inspiration of the Spirit? Why do we have to know whether it was directly from the Spirit? Partly, I think, because we feel guilty for being cessationists because the non-cessationists seem to having all the fun.
Brothers and sisters, we are not charismatics or neo-Pentecostals. We have a different paradigm. We should learn to be content with Scripture and with our own paradigm instead of seeking to plunder the Pentecostals. We do not believe that God occasionally drops into history to do the spectacular but rather we believe that he is constantly with us. We believe that he accomplishes extraordinary things through the ordained and regular (Rom 10). Which takes more faith? …
We are now beginning to see some questionable stories after the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games. Two follow.
On the day that a story about mother-to-daughter womb transplants in Sweden appeared, the Telegraph also reported a request for a ‘ban’ on abortions where disability in the foetus has been detected. Interestingly, this did not come from groups of or for the disabled but from Catholic and Evangelical Protestant church groups.
The Paralympic Games were a joy to watch and, as I said previously, got many of us thinking differently about disability. This can only be a positive.
However, one has to wonder about the way disabled people are treated in general in the UK — benefits, mobility, job opportunity. Is this appeal for an abortion ban a form of emotional blackmail?
Women who want an abortion will go where they can get one, regardless of the law. Many Irishwomen came to the UK, teenage girls included, to get abortions. I don’t read so much about that now.
Here are a couple of reader responses, the first — and most recent — from a disabled person (emphases mine):
blondieuk: How dare these religious groups try to hijack the good feelings after the Paralympics for their own political and religious ends.
The athletes don’t triumph over their disabilities – they like myself, just make the best of what we can.
At a time when the disabled need all the help we can get with unfair benefit cuts, lack of access to jobs, lack of public transport we can use and an increase in hate crimes – what do the religious groups do ? – try to use disabled athletes for propoganda purposes.
Shame on you.
I’m disabled and fully support decisions made by families on what to do with unwanted pregnancies – even if the embryo has the same disabilities as I have.
If you want to help the disabled how about giving us a job or a tube we can get into or access to benefits when we are too sick to work instead of cynically using us for your own ends.
Anita Bellows: The Paralympics might trigger this call, but the way disabled people are treated by this government makes for the opposite argument.
MarinaS: Shame on you Telegraph for giving a platform to such an exploitative campaign. No disability campaigners or groups signed this letter; it is a case of outside religious interests exploiting the disabled (who have enough to worry about these days, thanks) to push an anti-woman agenda.
Organisations like Life are pushing for a ban on all abortions, not just specific types. This is clearly a disingenuous wedge campaign on their part. A respectable broadsheet should not encourage such bad-faith arguments, especially ones that usurp the voices of the disabled.
This is a sensitive issue which the disabled, their families and their support groups should be mooting first.
The second news story involves an exhortation from the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, to businessmen. He believes they should model themselves on Olympian ideals. I can see a case for excellence, good ethics, sporting teamwork and so forth. However, I fear this is not what he has in mind:
We have no political agenda. We have instead a moral tradition that has accumulated wisdom down the centuries, drawing on the twin sources of revelation and reason.
It has given us an outline of a paradigm of good business practice that is contained in Catholic Social Teaching. This talks of solidarity and subsidiarity and their relation to common good, of the unique human dignity of every person specially those who are poor, vulnerable or disadvantaged, and it also talks about the nature of work and human creativity. And it is intensely conscious of the content and influence of culture, the shared values of any society that can do so much good – and if they go wrong, much harm.
I am joining prominent leaders of business and industry at a conference in London today [Tuesday Sept 18] in discussion of what it would take to bring about a renewal of the business culture in Britain.
We have sub-titled it “Uniting corporate purpose and personal values to serve society”, because we have detected a tendency for business people to feel they need to adopt a different set of values in business than those which they apply in the rest of their lives. That intriguing insight clearly needs further investigation.
Hmm, that sounds suspicious, too, especially as he goes on to mention that he and the Archbishop of Canterbury are in agreement on the matter. ‘No political agenda’, only that of the social gospel. (For more on this, please see my Marxism / Communism page and the heading ‘Communism and the Church Today’.)
Neither of these news items is completely honest. And that is not necessarily the Telegraph‘s fault.
Cranmer reports that a Christian councillor on the Brighton and Hove (Sussex) City Council has been expelled from the Green Party.
In July 2012 Christina Summers was the only city councillor to vote against gay marriage. Although, as I write, the Green Party have not yet released the official report for her expulsion, this and other matters are thought to have contributed. Scrapper Duncan has more on the story here and here. Some of these objections concern her Evangelical Christianity.
Greens do not mind Christian members as long as they practice a liberal brand of Jesus’s teachings. Evangelical churches in the UK are, by and large, quite conservatively biblical in their views. Green Party members must sign up to an equality clause, which Summers did. Perhaps since then she has come to a greater knowledge of the New Testament.
It would appear that Summers has since contacted Christian Concern, allied with the Christian Legal Centre, about her expulsion.
Personally, I would say it was time to move on and join another political party. The problem is — where would Summers go? Nearly all the parties in England have a pro-gay marriage position, although one can quietly object for now. I’m not sure where UKIP stands, but they might be too conservative for her in terms of environmentalism. Maybe, then, it’s time to choose another career.
This is one of the drawbacks with the Church of Gaia. It claims to be about environmentalism but dabbles in other areas of social transformation. Greens elsewhere in the West are the same.
Rambling Steve Appleseed describes them aptly in the comments on Cranmer’s post:
I was a member of the Green party for several years a couple of decades ago until I saw though the touchy feely rhetoric and realised that they are not merely innumerate Utopian socialsits with dope addled brains but highly intolerant and profoundly anti Christian. Bet I’ve planted more trees than any of them. They are a menace in a one moron one vote society because their rhetoric and imagery is so catchy but heaven help us if a tenth of their uncosted, untested sub-Marxian Utopian dreams became policy.
I also find it vaguely amusing that a party which takes the Lord’s name in vain (see the first of Scrapper Duncan’s posts) is lecturing us on secular pietism in terms of smoking, drinking and food. Whited sepulchres.
After many months, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has finally been released from an Iranian prison and acquitted of apostasy.
This second post of Cranmer’s shows pictures of him released to his family and friends.
I wrote about him in February, when he was nearly executed. Happily, the many written petitions and letters to Iranian embassies around the world — along with countless prayers for his release — resulted in this happy day. God is indeed good.
Our next step is to pray for him and his family to come to believe in the Holy Trinity. Currently, Nadarkhani is a Oneness Pentecostal. Modalism is a heresy.
I do wonder if he adopted the Oneness belief because Islam accuses Trinitarian Christians of believing in three Gods. Muslims do not understand the Holy Trinity and accuse us of polytheism.
Let us also say a prayer of thanksgiving and add a petition that Nadarkhani can find his way to a Christian country where he can live his faith without fear of imprisonment.
In the meantime, his release is excellent and welcome news. Thanks to everyone who might have responded to my earlier appeal in this regard.
What follows is an instructive story about the mind of a prohibitionist.
In addition to working on a general hypothesis that prohibitionists are by nature megalomaniacs, I am also working on another which posits that many of them are hiding something serious.
A third hypothesis, that they are all leftists, has little relevance to the following — although communitarianism, which fits here nicely — certainly does. Leftism and communitarianism need each other in order to work.
You might have heard of the town of Zion, Illinois, north of Chicago. It is very close to the Wisconsin border and the coastline of Lake Michigan. Today, it’s just another pleasant town and is home to conservation areas as well as a large resort and conference centre complex.
However, its beginnings were quite different. A Scot, John Alexander Dowie, founded the town in 1900.
Dowie’s outlook on humanity
Dowie was born a Congregationalist and appears to be yet another Calvinist (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses’ founder Charles Taze Russell and the Crystal Cathedral’s Robert Schuller) who defected from doctrine and Scripture for his own glory.
Born in 1847, he moved with his parents from Edinburgh to Adelaide (Australia). There, he worked for his uncle who owned a shoe business before moving on to other employment where he did well financially. Dowie returned to Edinburgh to study theology although he was ordained a Congregationalist minister in Alma in Southern Australia in 1872. He married and had three children, only one of whom lived into adulthood.
Dowie had interesting influences and perspectives during his life of 59 years:
- His father was one-time president of the Total Abstinence Society in Adelaide
- He married his cousin
- He left the Congregational Church to become an independent evangelist
- He considered himself a faith healer and disparaged other faith healers
- He was involved with the Salvation Army for a time
- He managed to cause a schism in a Melbourne church because of his authoritarian leadership
- He spent several weeks in jail for conducting an unauthorised procession
- He moved to San Francisco in 1888
- Later, in Chicago, he set up his own tabernacle and healing homes
- In 1896, he founded the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church where he forbade his followers from:
- eating pork
- consulting doctors
- taking medicine
- He stylised himself as Elijah the Restorer with robes modelled on Aaron’s in the Book of Leviticus (see the illustration above)
- He fought off lawsuits for practising medicine without a licence
- In 1900, he founded the town of Zion, where his church was the only one in town
Zion – total control
Dowie owned every property in Zion. As part of his insistence on the aforementioned outer holiness, he also forbade residents from setting up theatres, dance halls and doctor’s surgeries.
This is what stood at the city limits (another version here):
The notice carries the name W G Voliva. Wilbur Glenn Voliva, also a man of the cloth, joined Dowie’s church, later moved to Zion and became his lieutenant.
By then, Dowie had embraced a lavish lifestyle, including a 25-room mansion. He considered himself akin to a prophet for the end-times and sent several missionaries to South Africa, a place he had not himself visited. They established the Zionist Churches, which still exist today. Dowie’s openness to racial harmony — probably the only good thing one can say about him — and his experiential pre-Pentecostalist church proved popular. Even today, the Zionist Churches around the world hold Dowie in high regard.
In 1903, Dowie found out about his opposite number in Islam, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who believed himself to be the Mahdi, or Promised Messiah. The two men exchanged letters, each disparaging the other. Ahmad challenged Dowie to a prayer duel, which Dowie accepted. Each asked God to punish the other.
In 1905, Dowie suffered a stroke during a visit to Mexico. Voliva took advantage of the circumstances to take over Zion. Dowie pursued litigation, but was finally forced to back down and accept an allowance from the church.
The Voliva years – the end
Although the congregation, now tired of Dowie’s authoritarianism, elected Voliva (pictured at right) as head of the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in 1906, they merely traded in one tyrant for another. Voliva went so far as to dictate marriage partners to single townspeople. He also terminated housing leases at will.
Voliva expanded the local Zion Industries, diversifying from selling the Scottish lace of Dowie’s time to biscuits and chocolate. Zion was a company town and, characteristically, its working residents were underpaid.
Voliva believed the earth was flat. This was his understanding of astronomy:
The idea of a sun millions of miles in diameter and 91,000,000 miles away is silly. The sun is only 32 miles across and not more than 3,000 miles from the earth. It stands to reason it must be so. God made the sun to light the earth, and therefore must have placed it close to the task it was designed to do. What would you think of a man who built a house in Zion and put the lamp to light it in Kenosha, Wisconsin?
As a result, Voliva issued additional bans: on globes (yes!), lipstick, high heels and oysters. He named the police force the Praetorian Guard and issued a 10 p.m. curfew.
Meanwhile, Dowie suffered more strokes. His family also left him. He suffered a final stroke in 1907 and died of paralysis. The self-proclaimed Mahdi, his opponent in the prayer duel, died a year later.
Afterward, Voliva began to live as lavishly as Dowie. He had his own radio station from which he preached against the evils of believing in a round earth and evolution. My parents remembered hearing some of his broadcasts as children and found them strange indeed.
The Great Depression forced Zion Industries into bankruptcy. The townspeople grew disgruntled with Voliva’s extravagance. In 1937, an angered employee of Zion Industries set the town’s huge church alight. Voliva filed for personal bankruptcy shortly afterward.
He ended up getting cancer, which proved to be fatal. In 1942, Voliva tearfully confessed to the congregation that he had misappropriated church funds for his personal use and that he had committed other serious sins.
Voliva died that same year, aged 72. He had predicted that he would live to be 120 thanks to his diet of Brazil nuts and buttermilk.
Dowie and Voliva’s church split after that. A small remnant of the congregation reformed, meeting in the local auditorium, but that was also set alight in 1959. An English family was living in a flat in the building. Fortunately, they were out when the fire started, otherwise, they would have perished as Zion’s fire crew lacked the equipment to reach the upper storeys of the structure in those days. Today, a new house of worship stands on the site: Christ Community Church.
Through Dowie and Voliva’s lives we see what authoritarianism is about: megalomania, total control of others, extravagant freedom for oneself, misappropriation of other people’s money and serious sin.
This, I suspect, lies in the lives of other prohibitionists, although we cannot make a blanket statement for all of them.
Recalling the late Nancy Reagan’s words, the next time someone asks for support in prohibition:
Just say no.
Dr Wryzek’s blog, So What’s the Point? provides a thought-provoking insight into the 21st century Church.
Dr Wryzek has studied theology and has also spent time as a pastor. One of his latest posts, ‘Are Your Church Leaders Doing the Right Thing … Really? (Part 1)’ followed the line of the Episcopalian Mockingbirds on legalism and ‘working’ for the church. The Mockingbirds posited that there were two classes of churchgoers: one which served and one that was served.
Although I wasn’t of this mindset until the last decade, I now believe that many pastors put to ‘work’ the middle and upper-middle class members of the congregation. The class ‘to be served’ is only on the receiving end of their gracious ministrations, as ordered by the pastor. It is another way — perhaps a ‘nudge’ — to get people to redistribute their wealth and time ‘for the church’. Meanwhile, they and their families get left behind.
One proponent of this perspective is a Baptist pastor, the Revd David Platt of the Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Alabama. Dr Platt is firmly committed to overseas missions, which is laudable. However, from what I have read of his theology on other blogs, it seems that he wants wealthy Americans — I use the term advisedly — to finance his missionary ministry with large sums of money. Hmm.
Yes, as Christians, we are all called to charity, however, as with fruits of faith, we do this in various ways. We are not cookie-cutters. Platt proposes a ‘Radical Experiment’ which involves, as one would expect, money and time, some of which should be spent in small groups — the ecclesiastical collective flavour of the month. Small groups often involve public confession of sins which are in general no one else’s business except yours and God’s. In the small group — a pietist innovation from centuries ago — the congregant humbly confesses before the appointed leader. If you’re thinking Communist Party here, you would not be wrong; check out the late ex-Communist Bella Dodd’s story of public confession before the local Party Leader.
I can appreciate Platt’s enthusiasm for missions, but to apply emotional blackmail to faithful Christians who are no doubt are already giving to their church and various charities — free time included — is bang out of order. It is not Platt’s business to coerce people into the redistribution of their wealth, which is really what this is. The Holy Spirit and God’s grace will move Christians towards a decision which is right for them as individuals and families.
Anyway, what happens when the money runs out? People like Platt seem to think it is an endless resource when it is, in fact, as Baroness Thatcher pointed out, quite finite, especially where redistribution (socialism) is concerned.
I’m not saying that Platt is a socialist by any means, but he seems to have fallen into a trap. Jesus’s advice to the rich young man was situation-specific. The young man said that he was faithful to all the commandments. This then begged the question: what was the only thing left which was required of him? Jesus tested him; in today’s parlance: ‘Well, if you’re that good a person, then, please, join My apostles and Me. The only prerequisite is for you to sell your possessions and donate the proceeds to the poor’. In other words, Jesus called the young man out.
It is unlikely that Platt’s congregation and adherents are self-proclaimed keepers of all the Ten Commandments. I certainly am not, even though I keep praying for the grace for increasing sanctification. We are all sinners, and almost all of us would fully admit that. So, why should Platt feel he is authorised to develop a Radical Experiment for wealth redistribution? In any case, the first word — ‘radical’ — should start ringing alarm bells.
Seriously, if one’s ministry is that compelling — to use language which Platt’s generation would understand — then, money should just come flowing in naturally. Platt shouldn’t even need to hammer on this topic. However, as it is, his move comes across as arrogant and unbiblical — even if he doesn’t intend it to be that way.
I don’t think that Platt, as well meaning as he probably is, is using actual force or cruelty, just emotional blackmail. ‘Look at how much you have and how little they have’.
However, there is another aspect to this subject, which might come as news to Platt:
There are many European states which take in many people from the developing world every year. Not just a few dozen, but tens of thousands per Western European nation annually. These migrants do not want Platt’s sort of 19th century missionary charity in their own lands, even if they happily accept it as a stopgap measure; many are looking for economic opportunity in the West. We European taxpayers provide every assistance to those coming to our countries — at the expense of our own — believe it.
To my American readers: In all sincerity, donate money and time as you wish, but do not give up your holiday homes or bulk savings for the missions unless you can afford to and really want to. We Europeans are redistributing our ‘wealth’ — via taxes – to those arriving from former colonies as well as in tens of billions of euros (pounds, etc.) in foreign aid to their homelands. Therefore, today’s taxes address the material problems the missions once did. This is the truth. So, relax, enjoy your families and contemplate your retirement. May it be an easy and happy one in this time of economic crisis.
But, I digress.
Back to Dr Wryzek, who writes of pastors employing emotional blackmail in more malign ways (emphases mine):
Because once a pastor always a pastor, I’m disturbed (probably in more ways than one!) at the condition many churches and their leaders are in these days … But, this is nothing new; similar leadership degradation happened to Israel and Ezekiel 34 … describes what Israel’s shepherds did that brought them under God’s judgment and how the problem was solved.
You’ll notice the very first indictment is they used material and monetary resources reserved for the flock, and from the flock, to insure their own personal security and plenty; they became exceedingly fat while the sheep became skinny. Making this number one suggests it is particularly irritating to God (putting it mildly). Next, because of this inordinate self-preoccupation they lost track of the sheep and didn’t bother to go after those who either wandered away (the Hebrew word suggests ‘scared off’) or seek after those who became lost altogether (literally ‘perishing’). Furthermore, they failed to take care of the weak (malnourished), provide healing to the sick and bind up the broken (alludes to treating wounds caused by wolves). Finally, they ruled the remaining sheep (the ones not scared off or not yet dead from neglect) with force and cruelty ...
The ‘force and cruelty’ is a bit more subtle and is very often disguised by ecclesiastical authority (the minister/laity distinction or the so-called ‘Moses’ model of ministry are examples) and tricking the sheep into thinking they exist for the sake of the shepherd instead of the other way around. Using the force of guilt to manipulate a flock into supporting dubious, self-serving programs is one quite effective example. This works by appealing to loyalty for the shepherd (“I’m your loyal pastor so help me out here”), or by using the Bible to coerce some kind of behavior, usually about giving money (“…give to this ministry and God will give back to you even more”). The sheep feel bad if they don’t respond as directed or, much worse, might even feel they’re letting God down and this is just plain cruel.
If any of the above is happening to you or the flock you’re part of at least consider confronting the leadership or find a safe haven somewhere else. Blind loyalty to a person, persons or denomination just because of some ‘past’ good old days or long-standing history isn’t going to cut it because we are in the last days and the kind of ecclesiastical disintegration we are witnessing is a precursor, and contributor, to the great apostasy I think is already beginning (2 Thess. 2:1-3).
Pray for guidance when receiving pastoral requests for time and money. Avoid feeling pressured. Focus on your families’ needs first, then those of others. Charity begins at home.