30 Dec 2006
The heyday of non-denominationalism
Even in small towns, there appears to be a shift afoot. People who once attended moderate-to-liberal mainline churches are leaving to attend non-denominational ones. Mainline denominations have done their best to assist this with their liberal gibberish.
Is this migration really a good thing? People leave a church where they were led in a confession of sin, heard three lessons read each week from the Bible, sang generally sound hymns, took bread and wine at a reprehensibly unfenced table, and heard a sermon featuring “help the poor” moralism, and they instead go to a church where the confession of sin is replaced with a drama, the Bible is barely read, the music is me-focused junk theology, the sacraments are a rarity, and the sermon is “10 tips for a better marriage” moralism. People aren’t shepherded in the mainline denominations. They aren’t shepherded in the non-denominational ones either; the bigger the church, the easier the invisibility. This is an improvement?
Ask people why this move to non-denominationalism. Are they fleeing liberalism and seeking greater Biblical fidelity? More likely, they are attracted by fun children’s programs, upbeat music, and an entertaining pastor. This is a subjective statement to be sure, but those attending them seem not much more Biblically aware than your average mainline church attendee.
People from established traditions – Catholics, Orthodox, etc. – look at these non-denominational churches and rightly ask: What do you believe? All too often, the response is a one or two-page statement that really is little more than the Nicene Creed in bulleted format. Ask for more than that and it’s “We believe the Bible.” The problem is that Mormons and Oneness Pentecostals and evangelical feminists “believe the Bible,” too. The question really is, what do you believe about the Bible? This is why substantive creeds and confessions of faith have always and everywhere been necessary. In a conservative Presbyterian or Lutheran church, the pastor has to doctrinally confess to the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Book of Concord. These confessions put a stake in the ground. There’s continuity, though imperfectly upheld.
Mainline denominations abandoned their confessions long ago; most non-denominational churches don’t seem to have any. The non-denominational church has no tradition of interpretation. Doctrinally, most are vaguely protestant, credobaptist, arminian, and dispensationalist. The church often rises and falls due to one charismatic pastor. Imagine the temptations of egotism, not to mention heresy! These churches have a conceit that they are not divisive because they just “believe the Bible,” but they seem to me the most divisive approach of all, the most quintessentially American in their desire for autonomy. Each church is an independent unit (otherwise, isn’t “non-denominationalism” just a silly pretense?). Instead of a hundred denominations, we have thousands of micro-denominations. That’s divisive.
Lacking the historic grounding and institutional accountability that retards the allure of faddishness, is it any wonder that non-denominational churches are increasingly willing to accept the world’s theology: marketing, feminism, the social Gospel, etc? They are the vanguard for the dumbest seeker-sensitive stunts, one of which I heard recently involved riding a Harley “onstage” during “worship.”
12/31 Addendum: This post is necessarily broad and subjective. I respect many folks who pastor and attend non-denominational churches, and with M.L. Jones and Iain Murray accept all who call upon the name of the Lord (ie. the Gospel as revealed in Scripture) as fellow believers. The basic point here is that creating new non-denominational churches — “rolling your own” — seems expressive of one of the worst aspects of American culture, namely the desire for autonomy. Many are as Gospel-free as your average mainline denomination, replacing good and bad elements and ending up no closer to Biblical fidelity.
27 Dec 2006
The “Purpose” of Christmas
Pastor Riddlebarger was unfortunate enough to catch Rick Warren’s Christmas special on Fox News: The Purpose — get it? — of Christmas.
25 Dec 2006
Messing with Christmas songs
A belated Merry Christmas!
Last evening we visited a conservative, by ELCA standards, church, mainly to hear the music. After a bit we noticed a few things weren’t quite right. In the theological heavyweight “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” we sang:
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell
And then soon afterward:
Born that we no more may die
Now, the real words to the song are “Pleased as man with men to dwell” and “born that man no more may die.” By then even the slow afoot (that would be me) had caught on, so I sang “born to raise the sons of earth” instead of the obnoxious “born to raise each child of earth.”
In “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” we were offered the not-so-enchanting:
Peace on the earth, good will to all.
After the service, several family members asked something along the lines of “What the dickens was that all about?” Why did we sing those dunderheaded alternate lines? Evangelical feminists will tell you that they are just clarifying terminology to help us understand that “man” means “men and women.” But these feminists are doing (quite intentionally, I believe) the exact opposite: obfuscating. Eve was formed from, and created for, Adam, and thus “men” and “sons” are truly inclusive terms.
But this foundational Biblical concept offends the sensibilities of the tolerant (whose Scriptural understanding is oddly similar to that of the world), and so… Change the words!
21 Dec 2006
Your warmest smile
Psalm 34:4-5 in the ESV:
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. 5 Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
And now, Psalm 34:4-5 in the 9th-best selling translation, the Message Bible:
4 God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears. 5 Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him.
Which is a bigger disaster, the Message Bible or the TNIV?
17 Dec 2006
The good shepherd
PCA Pastor Ron Gleason writes about the neglected evangelical practice of pastors visiting the congregation in their homes as “an office bearer in a true congregation of Jesus Christ.” How different this is than the megachurch philosophy that sees the pastor as charismatic CEO!
14 Dec 2006
A stranger on earth
Whosoever professes that he has a Father in heaven, confesses himself a stranger on earth; hence there is in the heart an ardent longing, like that of a child living among strangers, in want and grief, far from his fatherland. -Martin Luther
09 Dec 2006
Oldtruth has some interesting postings on Hell, from a series by R.C. Sproul. This brief clip is a hard teaching. It addresses the question: How I can be happy in heaven if someone dear to me is in Hell? Sproul answers:
Even though we have some affection for Christ and some appreciation for God, our basic affections are rooted in this world, on this earthly plane. We care more about the well-being of our friends and neighbors and family in this world than we care about the vindication of the righteousness of God.
I have asked myself: Why does the eternal God spends so much time going through specific details about the temple in Exodus? Details remain mysterious, but the lack of knowledge, the deficiency, is mine. Similarly, we as fallen creatures are morally deficient, not God, and this seems to me of primary importance when approaching the topic of Hell. It’s a measure of our fallenness that we so often stand above God, in judgment of Him, as if our ways are higher than His ways. Without Christ, who can stand before God in the judgment with such a blasphemous indictment on his record?
06 Dec 2006
In olden days a glimpse of stocking / Was looked on as something shocking / Now heaven knows / anything goes
God is the only barrier restraining the total disintegration of society. Most people simply float with the tide of the culture. If it’s conservative, so are they, and when it liberalizes, so do they. Those raised more conservatively may lag behind a generation, but they catch up with the times. To paraphrase Tolstoy’s comment about fashion: Everyone laughs at the old and follows religiously the new.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of living together. Twenty years ago shacking up may have been done in cities, but it wasn’t common among people in small towns. Now “everyone” does it. As a workmate once memorably stated, you can’t buy a car without taking it for a test run.
It’s a shock when people get engaged and do not move in together. Does anyone know of a non-Christian or nominal Christian who hasn’t done so? According to most “Christian” young people, there’s nothing wrong with it anyway. You know things are bad when Boomers have become the fuddy-duddies.
The culture’s narcissism is such that morality matters less than our personal feelings about morality. The seeming logic: “Morality is what I say it is, so stay off my island, man. God will understand. I don’t know what the Bible actually says, but that’s OK, me feeling it is good enough.” So much for the authority of Scripture.
Which leads to Gen 38:15-17:
When Judah saw [Tamar], he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. He turned to her at the roadside and said, Come, let me come in to you, for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, What will you give me, that you may come in to me? He answered, I will send you a young goat from the flock.
How quaint is Matthew Henry’s comment:
…a [young goat] from the flock, a goodly price at which her chastity and honor were valued! Nay, had the consideration been thousands of rams, and ten thousand rivers of oil, it had not been a valuable consideration. The favour of God, the purity of the soul, the peace of conscience, and the hope of heaven, are too precious to be exposed to sale at any such rates.
And yet how enduringly right and true. We’ve sold our birthright for a mess of pottage.
03 Dec 2006
CNN’s theological turkey
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? -Jer 17:9
I stumbled across a segment of Anderson Cooper’s show the other day. They were reporting from Turkey since the Pope is visiting. In the segment, they paid a visit to the House of the Virgin Mary near Ephesus, where legend says that the Apostle John brought Mary to live after Christ’s resurrection. People wandered through, lit candles, and showed other signs of devotion. CNN interviewed these pilgrims from all over the world and found that they came united by mysticism. And they expressed the world’s theology:
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It’s not important what religion you believe. … It’s important what is in your heart.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife is a Christian though I’m a Hindu. We worship in a church or in a Hindu temple. I worship in the same spirit with the same faith, and all the time whenever I worship most of the dreams have come true.
These man-on-the-street interviews were followed by the blockheaded musings and stereotypings of faith “experts:”
…too often we talk about what is sometimes referred to as high religion. Issues of theology, issues of doctrinal differences.
Fundamentalism in all religions — Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam — is primarily a reactionary ideology. It is not an independent ideology. It needs something to resist against, to react against.
Because his whole idea here is to say people of faith, people who believe, you know, should be united in that belief in God…
So that about sums it up: It doesn’t matter what you believe, just believe, man, because we all worship the same God. And don’t worry that the Bible — God’s revelation to man — teaches the opposite.
02 Dec 2006
Unrequited love, the Lutheran pecking order, etc.
Speaking of Lutherans, I have always sensed that they don’t requite Reformed love for them. Presbyterians often quote Luther. But to a Lutheran, I think Presbyterians are fallen Lutherans. But we don’t annoy them as much as Reformed Baptists (particularly the ones who blog). And Presbyterians and Baptists combined don’t annoy them as much as the Eastern Orthodox. I’m not sure where the Charismatics, Methodists, and Anglicans fit.
01 Dec 2006
Lutherans and the third use of the law
This post from Paul McCain’s blog is refreshing to see. One of the reasons (though not the only one) that I am not a Lutheran, though I was raised such and remain attracted by its liturgy, is this very issue. Though not so taught in their historic confessions, in practice Lutherans have struck me as so eager to embrace the Gospel that they often downplay the third use of the law. You’ll hear things like “Look to your baptism” (whereas in evangelicalism, you’d be more likely to hear “Well, you prayed the prayer, didn’t you?”). Apparently Rev. McCain has noticed it too.
The Epistles are chock full of exhortations to holiness. A persistent theme in the entire book of Hebrews is to abide, to continue, to not fall away. Don’t retreat to the weak shadow of the Real Thing! The clear sense of Scripture for the believer is this: You’re a good tree, a new creation, so act like it. Obey. Bear fruit. As Elrond says to Aragorn in Lord of the Rings: “Put aside the ranger. Become who you were born to be.” Or as an old acquaintance remarked once about Rom 6:6 (“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin”): it has to mean something! When Paul says “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5), it’s hard to get around the obvious, especially when he goes on to say “Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?”
The Westminster Confession of Faith (MESV translation) puts it this way in Ch. 16:
These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and living faith. By them believers show their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, build up their fellow believers, adorn the profession of the gospel, shut the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God. They are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, so that, bearing fruit unto holiness, they may attain the outcome, which is eternal life. … Their ability to do good works is not at all from themselves, but entirely from the Spirit of Christ. And ”in order that they may be enabled to do these things” besides the graces believers have already received, there must also be an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit working in them both to will and to do God’s good pleasure. This truth, however, should not cause believers to become negligent, as though they were not bound to perform any duty without a special moving of the Spirit; rather, they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.
And again in Ch. 19:
[T]he law is of great use to [believers] as well as to others. By informing them “as a rule of life,” both of the will of God and of their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly. It also reveals to them the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives. Therefore, when they examine themselves in the light of the law, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred of their sin, together with a clearer view of their need of Christ and the perfection of his obedience. The law is also useful to the regenerate because, by forbidding sin, it restrains their corruptions. By its threats it shows them what their sins deserve, and, although they are free from the curse threatened in the law, it shows the afflictions that they may expect because of them in this life. The promises of the law likewise show to the regenerate God’s approval of obedience and the blessings they may expect as they obey the law, although these blessings are not due to them by the law as a covenant of works.
I mentioned the third use issue to a local LCMS pastor recently. He nodded and said “we’re trying to get back to that.” Godspeed!