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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

[There has been a] remarkable increase of adult converts presenting themselves for Confirmation. this is a national phenomenon offering an uncomfortable challenge. Mature men and women, some in responsible positions of considerable civic and social standing, do not take such a step lightheartedly. The Church is not fashionable, and for the artisan and factory hand, the decision to seek Confirmation is even more difficult, often demanding renunciation and courage. this army of new blood entering the Church will not be satisfied with conventions and platitudes with which older Church people have become far too content. they will demand the real thing.

A corollary to this deepening movement is the growing number of older men offering themselves for Ordination. this group is of so variable a nature as to be impossible to classify, yet one or two pertinent points suggest themselves. There is a considerable number of ex-Nonconformist ministers, who for various reasons have grown worried and dissatisfied with their denomination…these men have become dissatisfied with the piecemeal character of Free Church devotion, however excellent some of the pieces may be. It is chastening to realize that, in seeing the Prayer Book primarily as an ascetical system, this band of converts have discovered a fundamental Anglican truth which some of our senior priests seem to have forgotten. The latter think of regularity of Church attendance, the former of the continuity of Christian living based on the Prayer Book pattern. –Martin Thornton, English Spirituality

Written 25 years ago, and yet it seems to be quite applicable to what I hear from my classmates in summer D.Min and S.T.M classes at Nashotah House.  They are seeing a number of people who have grown up in evangelical, low-church, free-church, or otherwise pietist traditions coming to them asking for help in living an authentic Christian life.  Somewhere, along the way, the evangelicals in the US seem to have lost the plot.  It is no longer enough to listen to the 30 minute sermon and sing for another 30, they are saying people long to be connected to something that is far more ancient than what they have experienced in their lives at church.

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The local Christian radio station has decided to withdraw its sponsorship of the local Christian music festival because Jim Wallis has been invited. Their reasons for pulling back have to do with Wallis’ position on various social issues. they disagree with wallis’ ideas on the need to take care of people’s basic life needs first as opposed to sharing the Gospel and introducing them to Jesus.

Their statement is here.

The money quote for me is this:

We recognize that individually and as the Body of Christ we are not doing all we could as Jesus taught us to. But we do not believe the solution is the church partnering with the government in this endeavor. Feeding the poor with no ability to share the gospel message is at best an incomplete solution. And we fear this is what will happen as the government controls the purse strings. Doing so might indeed help them in this life, at least while the food and water lasts, but what about their eternal souls? While we are commanded by Jesus to help the poor, Jesus said our greatest calling is in Matthew 28:19: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Coming under federal control may make this impossible without legal and financial persecution.

A couple of things stick out.  First is the assumption that where government is in charge of re-distributing the wealth through taxation, the gospel will be hindered.

Has anybody asked the church in  China how that’s working out for them?  China controls and redistributes everything.  Yet the church is growing immensely in that country to the point where they are sending missionaries to their neighboring countries.

Of course, if the government decides that the gospel can’t be preached if your church is feeding the poor or using government money to do so, it will be harder to preach the gospel.  So what?  Where were we promised an easy time of spreading the good news of Christ?

Second, the statement that the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) is more important than Jesus’ command to help the poor, begs for some explanation.  It sounds almost Manichean to say that preaching is more important than helping people to eat.  The spiritual life takes over the reality of living in this world.  It is hard to hear the gospel when you don’t know where the next meal is coming from and your stomach is rumbling.

I appreciate their words of concern that we should be caring for the poor, I think they and Jim Wallis would agree on that point.  It is hardly humanism to suggest that the poor are more likely to hear the gospel if their basic life needs are met first.  I’m missing the statement from Jim Wallis that says we don’t need to preach the gospel.

I think this radio station has withdrawn its sponsorship in the attempt to get rid of a strawman.  The line in their statement that says they invited Wallis to a meeting of local Christian pastors, I thinks suggests that the powers that be aren’t quite certain Wallis is committed to the Christian Gospel as they are themselves.

Just my 2 cents.

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I couldn’t agree more with the thoughts she’s expressing. Since coming back from overseas, I’m just not into the things that seem to make up most of the conversation on Christian radio or the titles in the Christian bookstore.

I only wish I had thought of how to say it like she has here.

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When did Christian worship get bifurcated between “worship” and “message”?  I have heard pastors of all kinds of stripes divide their services this way.  I have done it myself without thinking about what was happening with the words I was using.  Churches I have attended in the past while in seminary or before also divided their services this way.

In seminary, it was common to hear the unwashed, over-eager, and greatly inexperienced Future Preachers of America speak of hurrying their churches through the music to get to the main event, their preaching.  They were only reflecting their teaching and training that called for a high view of Scripture.  Scripture has the final authority in faith and practice, therefore exposition of Scripture must be right next to heaven.  Thus the desire to get to the sermon and the musicians out of the picture.We want to learn from God’s Word.  It is imperative if we are going to live as followers of Christ that we hear from God concerning our lives and our relationship to Him.  He clearly speaks through His Word to us.  Good preaching should focus our hearts and minds on what God has to say to us in Scripture.

For people who are really word-oriented in their outlook on life this view makes sense.  Preaching is the most important part of the service for them.  They are more apt to evaluate a church on its preaching than any other criteria.  This puts a lot of pressure on pastors to hit home runs with their messages every week.  Often times that pressure is found inside the pastor as well because he is word-oriented as a basic foundation for his walk with Jesus.

I have heard people in the pews make this distinction between worship and message in the other direction.  For these people worship is meeting God in song, really belting out the songs with all of their strength.  For some it involves being moved emotionally by the music.  If the music doesn’t move then worship didn’t happen.  As a result they want to linger on the music and resent the pastor or anyone else insisting on preaching or anything else that brings the singing to an end (like the offering or Lord’s Table).  For such people singing and worshipping musically is the main event of the whole service, everything after that is anticlimactic.

Yet to bifurcate Christian worship into worship and message is to miss the importance of the message and the unity of worship.  The message should be seen as part of the worship of the healthy Christian.  We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. (Mark 12:30)  All of those are needed for true worship, including the mind.  Music may carry the soul to the heights, but the message should carry our minds to new heights as well.  I am convinced that God intends the message to carry our souls as well.

Yet to use music and message against each other is to miss the whole purpose of worship.  Is not worship supposed to be our response to God’s incredible grace given to us?  Should not worship be both music and message as we hear God’s word spoken, the truth about our lives, and respond with joy?  We have bought into a mindset that says we need one or the other as primary when both are needed.

Good Christ-centered preaching will lead us to Him and to His grace every time under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit.  Good Christ-centered music will prepare our hearts for the message, as well as preach the message of the Gospel in a different format.  Both ought to be acts of worship and lead to people worshipping God more deeply than they had beforehand.

We need both music and preaching for good worship.  To hold one over the other is to wrongly divide worship and misses the reality that we were made to worship God in many ways.  Both should help us grow in grace and godliness.  That is real worship.

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Just a few further thoughts on the laughing at Jesus suffering in the play in my congregation last night.

My level of being appalled at the laughter in my church last night is still quite high.  My sadness that some people would think it was funny that Jesus was beaten or that how it was portrayed was funny is still overwhelming.

Yet, after the play, as we were closing up the church and a few of us were standing around talking, I was listening to some of the younger people talk and realized there may be a reason for the laughter that rests in our culture.  They were talking about a new horror movie that has just opened at the theater on our island.  This is a movie that is rated R for prolonged sequences of strong gruesome horror violence, rape and language.

I guess there were scenes in this movie where blood flies and body parts come off given the conversation about it.  This was conversation among teenagers and young adults ages roughly 13 to 25.  And they were laughing about the violence in the movie.  They thought it was funny.

As I thought about it later, hearing their laughter about the violence in the flick helped explain why they thought the beating and suffering of Jesus was funny.  If they laugh at what the movies portray as gruesome, they will laugh when Jesus gets hit.  They will not see what is sad or horrific about either.

In many ways, people who can laugh at such scenes have been desensitized to such stuff or have had their consciences seared by witnessing such things on screen, in music or books for too long.  I wonder if they are not borderline sociopaths.  I wonder what our society will look like as these individuals grow older and begin raising their own children.

If people see such horror played out on the screen as funny or things to laugh about later, what will happen when such horror and gruesomeness takes place in real life?  Will they laugh at the poor soul who was unfortunate enough to be assaulted, raped, tortured and murdered?

Our society is being inundated with extreme violence, and it is not just in the movies, check out promos for network primetime dramas during football or basketball games for example.  I know others have probably said it first, but we are deteriorating to the same level as the Romans who were entertained by watching gladiators fight to the death or people get eaten by wild beasts.

The flood of such violence on our society is destroying our compassion for the weak and the defenseless.  The very people God says He cares about.  The ones Jesus said that when we care for them, we have cared for Him.  We can laugh at Jesus’ suffering and torture because we have been taught to laugh at that violence everywhere else in our society.

He came to heal, forgive, and give life.  We are promoting harm, vengeance, and death.  C.S. Lewis had a character in one of his books who enjoyed tearing apart innocent creatures just because they were innocent and he could do it.  He left a bloody trail wherever he went.  We are becoming like that character.  Lord, have mercy on us and lead us to better paths.

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Last night my church put on a drama skit called The Trial during our Sunday evening worship service.  It was the culmination of weeks of practice for the 12 people involved in the skit.  Overall they did a fairly good job considering only one or two of them have a sense of drama or acting in telling a story.  However, no one is going to say they are ready for the big stage as actors or costume designers.

The drama was about the trial of Jesus and was taken as much as possible from the words of Scripture in the four Gospels.  One of the ladies in the church had been working on it for a few years putting together the different pieces from the different Gospel accounts to create a harmonized version that told the story of Jesus’ arrest and trial in a simple way.

Given that we are a small church, this was an ambitious undertaking.  The hope was that we would use this play as an outreach to the friends and family members of the people of our church.  When I looked around, I noticed that the church was fairly full and about one-third of those people were visitors.  So I thought it was reasonably successful in being in an outreach.

The idea was to keep the play simple and yet the storyline faithful to the Gospel accounts.  In reading the script ahead of time and watching the practices, I thought they had done a fairly good job in keeping to that goal.  It wasn’t the Jesus Film or The Passion of The Christ, but for our church and our location it was pretty good.

Yet during the play something unusual happened.  After Jesus is arrested and brought to the house of Caiaphas to be tried before the chief priests and rulers, He is beaten by the guards who blindfold Him and tell Him to prophesy who hit Him.  It is the first of several beatings in the play that ultimately culminate in Jesus’ scourging as commanded by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

In the play last night every time Jesus was struck people would chuckle.  It started early as a little tittering here and there, but by the end people were laughing great big belly laughs every time the actor playing Jesus was hit.  When it was just a little tittering I thought that was weird, but by the end I was appalled.  It was as if the people weren’t seeing the story played out on stage.

Now I admit no one on that stage was going for an Oscar or a Tony award.  It may be that the people were amused by the scene of a very popular elder in the church being struck by another well-liked elder.  But when the action was taken off stage but with sound effects continuing to demonstrate the brutality of the beating given to Jesus, the laughing got louder.  When the two actors playing Jesus and the Roman soldier came back on stage and the one playing Jesus was covered in stage blood with torn clothes and bloody purple robe on his shoulders, the audience lost it laughing so hard.

How horribly tragic.

Even my almost ten-year-old came up to me right after the play and said, “Dad, that wasn’t a drama.  It was a comedy!”  What a thing to have left as an impression upon a kid who knows better.  The story of Jesus’ trial and suffering became a comedy of laughter for many people.  This should have caused us the greatest shock and sadness as we realized what was happening on stage.

The most horrific event in human history should not be seen as a comedy.  It is not a laughing matter that Jesus suffered and died in our place.  We shouldn’t laugh at His beating or give people a reason to laugh about it as if it were some great form of entertainment like the Romans feeding Christians to the lions.

The seriousness of our sin problem gets downplayed when Jesus’ suffering is seen as entertainment.  We dishonor Christ when we laugh or cause other people to laugh about His standing in our place to be punished for our sin and to defeat sin.  I am appalled that such a dishonoring of the suffering of Jesus Christ took place in church.  I understand when such things happen elsewhere, though I do not like it.  But in church?  It should never happen.

The suffering of Jesus Christ is no laughing matter.  It is not a comedy, people.

Lord, forgive us for making light of your suffering and death.  Forgive us for laughing when we should have been crying.  Help us to see with better eyes the seriousness of our sin and the greatness of your sacrifice on our behalf.  In your precious Name we pray, Amen.

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