Monthly Archives: September 2007

Mercy

Saw this great Graham Greene quote on The Anchoress:

“You can’t conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”

Love that.

If you’re the literary sort (and if not, why aren’t you?), I can think of no better reflection on “a severe mercy” than Greene’s novel The End of the Affair.

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The Missing Ingredient

I really think it may be joy.

I’m just speculating here.

When I weary of a doctrinal compatriot’s constant knocking of the Church to the extent that it essentially becomes their raison d’blog, I stop seeing “prophet” and start seeing “scrooge.” I see the pervasive unhappiness with the spiritual quality of fellow believers not as indication of the blogger’s properly calibrated prophetic barometer but as indication of their thinly veiled joylessness.

Remember: only God gets to vomit people out.

There’s a difference between being critical and having a critical spirit.

The message of the Gospel is so thrilling. It should produce in us great joy. The message of the cross should create in us a joy unspeakable and filled with glory.

And when we look out at a Church in biblical and doctrinal and spiritual disarray, a culture in need of reformation, we should commit to this endeavor diligently and fiercely, but despite encountering things that can (and should) disturb or even anger us, our pursuit of reformation should be characterized not by anger or despair, but by great, overflowing, boundless joy.

What an incredible day that the message of the gospel is a scandal to even those who claim the name Christian!

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Contentment

The real devil in the details of the prosperity-type teaching overtaking evangelicalism is not really that it skips over the stuff about sin. Sure, it does that too, but the pernicious paradox of this stuff is that it champions “victorious Christian living” yet does not equip believers for sustainable discipleship. It emphasizes feelings and “outlook,” not the power of the Spirit, which is hard for some folks to notice since the latter is often conflated with the former (so that being optimistic or a go-getter is ipso facto being Spirit-empowered). The problem over time is that, going from victory to victory, expecting victory after victory, cultivates a contagious form of spiritual greed. (Is it any wonder that this sort of teaching often goes hand and hand with talk of financial riches and prosperity?) The real stuff of discipleship — what Eugene Peterson calls “a long obedience in the same direction” — involves hard stuff like discipline and the fruit of the Spirit. In pop discipleship discipline is replaced by steps, tips, and amazingsupercolossal breakthroughs.

There are a couple of Laws of Raising Children active in my house. The first law is that no item in the universe is more interesting than the one a sibling is currently holding. The second law is that no matter where you are (and it could be Disney World), there is some other place you’d rather be.Getting what we don’t have, being somewhere we aren’t. That defines the childishness of the children in our house. But …

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Which Comes First: The Goose or the Golden Egg?

Extrapolating a bit on this post from yesterday, here’s an interesting quote from Steve Sjogren of Vineyard Community Church:

It is common to trust leaders in the early phase of a [church] plant, only to discover in short order these were “LWAs” — leaders with an agenda. As church planters are in a conundrum for several years in a new plant — we need leaders desperately, but most of those available to lead aren’t qualified. Why is it common for these faux leaders to find their way to new church plants? Those who have been rejected in the past from other churches find it attractive to start over at a new church where no one knows them. The challenge with leaders is this — to allow those who have failed in the past to get a fresh start, but at the same time make leadership decisions that will allow the church to grow in the years to come. This is my conclusion on this issue: I must more seriously take into consideration the larger work of God over individual leadership choices. It’s a goose and golden egg situation. The golden eggs (individual leaders) are wonderful, but I must protect the health of the goose (the local church) above all other considerations.

(from Community of Kindness by Steve Sjogren and Rob Lewin)

This is logical. This is wise.

I’m still hung up. I guess I’m hung up on the giving of LWA’s a fresh start. I guess I see ministry to them as part …

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Yes, But What Do You Think About Methodology?

I quoted a line from it in a post yesterday, but today I want to link to it and excerpt it more lengthily. C.J. Mahaney: Cross-Centered Worship (It’s a free download.)

It will kick your butt. It did mine.

My own transcription of a bit from about 40 minutes in:

The message of the cross must discipline and control us, indeed limit us, even though it puts us at a disadvantage at winning an audience . . . What one observes in evangelicalism today is that while many preachers can declare allegiance to all the right doctrines, their theology makes little difference in their preaching, or in their worship leading, beyond drawing the widest, most amorphous, and seldom alluded to boundaries. Their formal credentials may be in order, but the theology they affirm sits very lightly on their actual practice of ministry. We reject any approach where theology sits lightly on the practice of ministry; theology is the foundation for all practice of ministry. It is invisible to their people. We are not going to have our theology invisible! Such ministers demonstrate little doctrinal specificity . . . The biblical gospel may be formally obligatory but it is personally uninteresting and strategically incidental . . .

Such ministers may be exacting in their methodology but they are vague in their theology. I think that is an apt description of the common tendency today. Exacting in methodology, preoccupied with methodology, pursuing methodology, seminars on methodology,overwhelmed by methodology, the material that is being produced …

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Depth as Door to Growth

“I’ve found that a church which correctly applies the concept of true discipleship will accomplish both goals: growth and depth. In fact, studies show that the higher the standards of biblical teaching, the longer people remain engaged. Today’s seekers are seeking depth. They won’t interrupt a fine Sunday morning of sleeping in to attend a church that serves up shallowness, at least not for long.”

– Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches

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Further Thoughts on Sermon-centric Worship

Here are some more thoughts on the need for proclamational preaching in worship gatherings.

It has been argued that you don’t see examples of such preaching in Scripture. This is false. From Moses through the prophets to the Acts of the apostles, we see sermons.We hear that this is a modern invention. It’s not. In addition to Scriptural examples and precedent, we see examples of early church fathers preaching expository sermons.

But aside from that, the real crucial issue, in the context of the current state of the evangelical church is this: What do our people need?And the reality is that we are faced with an epidemic biblical illiteracy and a collective spiritual maturity that is an inch deep. To say that the best thing for the church, given this very real problem, is to create in worship gatherings the opportunity for truth by consensus is just crazy. And dangerous.

Aside from the fact that the New Testament clearly says there are some specifically gifted to teach. Aside from the fact that the New Testament clearly outlines the oversight of the flock by designated shepherds. Those factors aside, even if “teaching by dialogue” was an ideal for a worship gathering, what sort of teaching would the current state of evangelicalism produce?

There has also been the raised the issue of authoritative preaching leading to authoritarian preachers. I think this has more to do with sin, ego and problem personalities, and the failure of elder oversight than it does with proclamational preaching. And one …

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It’s Not About Programming; It’s About Culture

It is very telling to me that in some of my remarks on rethinking/reforming the way the evangelical church does worship and ministry, the more adversarial responses automatically assume I am calling for a return to choir robes, stuffy and dry sermons, 100% hymns sung to organ music, etc. For those trained to think programatically, it is hard to switch gears.But while what I and others are calling for has implications and applications for style and how we do worship and ministry, the call to reformation is deeper, more philosophical. It operates from theological convictions, not from aesthetic ones.

When my church’s former pastor got the boot last year, at his first rally in a nearby park, I recall him immediately employing the scare tactic of warning us that our elders kicked him out because they wanted to turn the church into an inward-focused, traditional, “for churchy people only” institution. (The irony of course is that under his leadership, our church could not have been more inward focused than to exist pretty much entirely to put on a “spectacular” weekend service.) He knew how to play the programming card, to invoke the boogeyman of boredom.And of course we all know there’s no fate worse that can befall a Christian than to have to endure a worship service that is anything less than “exciting.” Right?

What we are dealing with, however, is not a crisis of programming or style, but a crisis of culture. This is why I say I am passionate …

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Rethinking the Attractional Worship Paradigm

You may not recognize the name Sally Morgenthaler, but if your church has now or has ever had an approach to the music in your worship time as “dynamic, relevant, exciting, relevant,” etc., with the goal of attracting the unchurched, you have been influenced or bolstered by her very influential views. Morgenthaler’s book Worship Evangelism became the standard text for the philosophy of worship in the seeker-church movement. She spread the gospel of worship evangelism at conferences and in articles. Her now-defunct website Sacramentis provided resources for churches and worship directors eager to apply the principles, all in the hopes of sparking incredible growth in their churches.

Morgenthaler now says she was wrong. The data she’s been dealing with indicate it hasn’t worked.Read Worship as Evangelism, in which Morgenthaler recounts the gradual discontent with the original paradigm and eventual shock over emerging from it. She has numbers, she has stats.She has a compelling, evolution-of-philosophy story. She doesn’t come at this lightly; at one point, her change of mind is characterized as potential career suicide.

Two powerful excerpts:

Between 1995 and 2000 I’d traveled to a host of worship-driven churches, some that openly advertised that they were “a church for the unchurched.” On the good occasions, the worship experience was transporting. (I dug a little deeper when that happened. Invariably, I found another value at work behind the worship production: a strong, consistent presence in the community.) Too many times, I came away with an unnamed, uneasy feeling. Something was not quite right. …

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Wielding the Word, Living the Word

If His Word is written on my heart, why isn’t it flowing in my blood?

One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.– Matthew 4:4

A couple of years ago I had been reading selections from the Apostolic Fathers, and one thing that struck me most about them is just how drenched in Scripture they are. The difference between these documents and more contemporary writings of edification (the so-called “Christian Living” genre) is clear and impressive. These early documents live and breathe God’s written Word.

Take 1 Clement, for example, which is an epistle from the Roman church to the Corinthians, written at the end of the first century and attributed to Clement of Rome. The point of the letter appears to be a correction and a soft rebuke, addressing the fact that young members of the Corinthian church have affected some sort of rebellion, even ousting older (and wiser) members of the church. The primary aim of the letter is restoration.And the whole thing is riddled with references – some explicit quotes, some incorporated paraphrases – to Scripture passages, both from the Hebrew Scriptures and from the early New Testament canonical tradition.

The letter known as 2 Clement, which is not really a letter but a sermon, is likewise full of Scriptural quotations. The footnoted references at the bottom of the pages of my edition are thick. 2 Clement, which is a speech of exhortation, is essentially a thin pretext for preaching God’s …

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