The Future of the Church

What is the future of the Church here in America?

With all that is happening in our country, I suspect that we will see drastic changes in church as we know it. I’ve heard many ideas. Some seem to think the Church will see massive growth. Some seem to think the Church will drastically evolve into something more geared to our internet-based society. And some seem to think the Church is about to finally fade away like the Flat Earth.

I’m not sure that I agree or disagree with any of these views unless I am able to agree and disagree with all of them. How’s that for fence-posting a position? Ah, but isn’t that how it goes? Isn’t it true that reality is usually not extreme? It is usually that odd combination of several things that seem to oppose each other. For the record, that is why I’m a Molinist. Scripture seems to support the idea that juxtaposed truths need not falsify each other. So I agree and disagree with all of the above ideas of the Church.

So what do you think? As America crumbles from the inside out, what roll will the Church play? What will become of the Church?

 

Are You Ready?

I was contemplating again today the correlation between the times we are living in and the apocalyptic prophecies in Scripture. I have always been refining my eschatological stance, and have never quite believed that we would see the fulfillment of prophecy as other time periods and peoples may have. In spite of my fervent rejection of amillenialism, I have always sort of adopted the distance and unconcern of that position. Lately, I fear, I take a far more literal view of Scripture. I am not sure when my view changed. Perhaps, as it usually is with matters such as this, it has been a series of small, subtle changes over a long period of time.

It brought me to question in prayer. With everything as tense as it is, with the direction that we are going, why does God tarry? What is He waiting for? Why doesn’t He come, in all His glory and power, and cause all of us to fall on our faces before Him in worship and awe? What is He waiting for?

And then I remembered 2 Peter 3:

9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

He is patient with you. He is waiting for you. He is waiting for you to come to repentance. He doesn’t want you to perish.

You know the message of the gospel*. You know the story of salvation. You know of Christ, of His death and His resurrection. You don’t need a flannel board and cute little paper Bible characters and sheep.

His blood was shed for you. God’s love for you–personal, individual you–is so deep, so intricate, so complete, so passionate, that He gave everything to offer you a means to be reconciled.

You.

Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart. He is waiting for you.

Pax Christi.

Semmie.

*If, by some chance, you are unsure what the Gospel is and would like to talk with me about it, please don’t hesitate to comment or email.

The Future of the Church

I stumbled upon this blog somehow. I think this Man of Depravity is maybe somehow connected to…Ben, whose blog I’ve also been reading. I have read this “Church Manifesto,” as the Man of Depravity calls it, several times now. If you have the time to read it and the comments, I would encourage it. There are some great thoughts and ideas therein.

So what do you think? Is the Church headed toward a small-group, in-home focus? Is the role of the pastor evolving into more of a facilitator and less of a preacher?

Many churches seem already to have gone that direction–but certainly not in place of a weekly corporate gathering.  I am not sure why the Man of Depravity seems focused on the idea of exclusivity in this matter. Surely a body can function best when both of these two things are in place. The problem, as I see it, with replacing a Sunday service with a Sunday home-group on a regular basis is the distance from the pastor. By this, I mean a couple of things.

First, the opportunity for a major lack in doctrinal accountability. Remember, most pastors have studied extensively and have been ordained. I certainly don’t think this MUST be true of a pastor or teacher; but I do find it concerning that we would seek to shift away from his direct teaching toward a secluded setting. There is enough doctrinal upheaval in the Church today. And for those who think wrong doctrine is something to roll your eyes at, I upheave in your general direction. As one who was distance from the Body of Christ for some time due a lack of doctrinal accountability, I can tell you honestly that this is a dangerous situation–especially in a society that lauds relativism, as ours does. Don’t mistake me here: I am not criticizing the ability of Christians to lead Bible studies adequately. I am criticizing the idea that this should and can replace the accountability of having a trained, studied pastor.

Second, under such a structure of home church, a person would have an incredible opportunity to get plugged into a church without ever knowing a pastor. This distance is unsettling for me. Again, I won’t pretend that only a pastor can counsel or encourage people. But I also won’t pretend that lay persons are qualified or accountable to interact with people the way a pastor is. “Oh, Sarah!” you will exclaim. “If there were a situation that required the pastor’s involvement, we would get him involved!” Oh, I know this. But not everybody who needs a pastor’s involvement is going to jump up and down at your home group, crying, “Introduce me to your pastor!” And even on a very basic level, the relationship between a pastor and his sheep is crucial to the Body of Christ. How will a home-group facilitate this in a realistic and functional way?

Third, although trust can be developed with those who are not pastors preaching from a pulpit on Sunday mornings, the office of pastorship is sacred. We expect, innately, that a pastor is speaking truth to us. We trust his position. This trust, in my opinion, is indispensable. If it weren’t, why would we have such gut reactions to stories where a pastor violates the trust of his congregation? I am not convinced that you can build this trust between a pastor and a congregation without the position of the pastorship as it is today. If you remove the pastor from the congregation, and remove the congregation from the pastor, you drastically alter their relationship–including the matter of trust.

Aside from the relationship of the pastor to the congregation, my biggest concern is that of worship and minisry. Surely these things can exist in smaller settings. But I see this as being detrimental, especially in churches that practice the Gifts of the Spirit. The church relies, yet again, upon the leadership of the pastor. If something is out of line or “off,” the pastor is obligated to lead the church away from it during a service. Who accepts that responsibility in a house-group? And is that leadership trustworthy? Perhaps it is. I wouldn’t count on it.

I don’t deny that the role of the pastor is changing. I am supportive of this. I agree that the pastor will become more of a facilitator. I think Pastor John (from Water’s Edge) is a great example of a facilitator. It’s been awhile since I’ve attended that church, but he has stepped out of the “pastoral spotlight” in a lot of ways–allowing Ed and Charlie to preach some services, encouraging the growth of ministries, training and producing training resources. Yes, Pastor John is far more than a “preacher;” He is a trainer, an equipper, and a provider. But the congregation is not removed from him. The gatherings that occur during the week happen alongside a corporate Sunday gathering. He is accessible to the congregation, and he sits under the same worship, the same preaching, the same ministry that he has set the body under. This allows for correction and accountability and, thus, trust.

Now…I know my words here may indicate that I am opposed to the ideas proposed in Man of Depravity’s blog. I am not. I do think the Church needs to return to smaller settings, focused on personal growth and community outreach. I do not, however, think that this needs (or should) occur at the expense of a corporate gathering.

I have more thoughts on this, especially pertaining to worship. But I must digress for the moment, as Joel & Erin have arrived and we are firing up the grill.

Pax Christi.

Semmie.

The Lack of Debate

I remember the first structured debate I ever heard. It was a four-part debate on the four views of soteriology: Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism, and the Open View. Just typing those words still runs a tingle of excitement down my spine. It was hosted by www.theologyweb.com in 2004. I still remember my immediate infatuation with that grand, surreal, super-theological idea of “debate.” It was a word I could no more than whisper, I was so awed.

Don’t mistake me; I had heard and participated in several forum debates and discussions at another previous website (which shall remain nameless for the sake of my sanity), but it was both very informal and very tense. It was also very focused and very biased towards reformed soteriology.

That night in 2004, I listened to each of the debaters, wide-eared and full of wonder. I was already a Molinist at this point, and there was likely nothing any of the four participants could have said to change or challenge my stance. In fact, I could have written much of their material for them, as I’d had so many conversations, and had read so many articles and books already on the topic. What impressed me about the debate and the debaters was the structure and the respect. These men spoke in turn, addressed each other with dignity and honest challenge, and didn’t seem to feel any need to fall upon ad hominem attacks.

For the last five years, I have held every debate (and every debater) up to this standard of respect. Too often, I have seen debates silenced by ridicule and mocking, rather than by substance and honest scrutiny. It seems that we are far more inclined to laugh at someone than to show why she might be erred. Have you witnessed this in our society?

What a shame it is!

Christian, if an Atheist is wrong, don’t roll your eyes! Listen and challenge him.

Atheist, if a Christian is wrong, don’t mock! Listen and challenge him.

Nancy Pelosi, if the people at the Town Hall Meetings are wrong, don’t label and ridicule! Listen and challenge them.

But you cannot honestly challenge someone whose view you are too busy laughing at to listen to.

And for crying out loud, if you are honestly challenged or questioned, give an honest response. If you don’t know, have the guts to say “I don’t know.”

Mockery as a form of challenge or answer is unacceptable, and it does far more to harm your position than your opponent’s. It shows a lack of respect for others, which implies a lack of respect for self. It is nothing more than a bully tactic. Please, let’s not treat each other so flippantly.

After all, what could truly be the harm of hearing what someone has to say and taking them seriously? If they waste your time, perhaps someone else was listening who needed to hear the lesson.

Pax Christi.

Semmie.

Dear Spmechy

Dear Spmechy,

I can hear your bones rattling in fear of my greatness.

Just kidding.

How are ya, Spmech?

I’m trying to make sense of my new blog. I really like it here. It’s about the most natural blogosphere I’ve encountered since I began blogging back in…oh…my Doogie Howser days. I’m learning, however, that there is much potention for this blog space.

My old blog was limited, and rightly so. It was a blog, plain and simple. WordPress will allow me (I think) to actually create different areas of my site. I thought it might be an interesting option to explore. My true loves will always remain: music, theology, reading, etc. But I’m learning that there is actually more to who I am than I ever knew.

For instance, I am quite charged, politically. Who knew?! This means that every now and then I’m going to rant and rave about CNN’s bias and the hell-in-a-handbasket situation our nation is in. I am also weary of always trying to be profound in my writing; I want to write for the sake of writing, which means that every now and then I’m going to post a poem that is short, witty, and completely unimpressive. I am also enormously weary of trying to impress the tweb mafia with my “I’m too holy to listen to PCD or read Joel Osteen because they might be heretics!” crap.

Hey…Spmech…I like PCD. I enjoy their musicality–which is far more than I can say for some of other Christian musicians. And I’m sorry, I’m done acting like it’s a crime for me to listen to something I like because it might be less than perfect in its portrayal of God. If we truly believed this, we would stop listening to secular music, too, right? And we don’t.

And I don’t even like Joel Osteen, but you know something? I think he’s trying to do a good thing. And I’m sorry if it steps on peoples’ toes, but the fact is that there are a lot of hurting people out there who are aching for just a word of life and encouragement. They don’t always need to hear, “suck it up.” Sometimes they need to hear, “with God, all things are possible, friend!” Maybe it tickles our ears. Maybe we like it because it sounds good. Nah. That’s not why I like it. I like it because I’m tired of all the fuss and dissention among Christians. I’m tired of a “good sermon” having to consist of doctrinal stances we will never agree on. Why CAN’T we say uplifting things? Why CAN’T we “amen” Joel Osteen once in awhile? Again…I don’t even like the guy. So whatever.

My point is…I forgot what my point was. Oh, right. My point was that…the Church can do one of two things: the Church can hide behind our perfect exegesis and push away everyone who rolls their eyes–whether in disagreement, frustration, or boredom–or we can say something that is relevant to our world. I’m not saying we water-down our faith–not by any means! I’m saying we speak the gospel, in season and out, and stop focusing on all these other things that we think will save us.

They don’t save us.

And our world, Spmechy…our society…our government, our children, our familes, our friends, our neighbors, our enemies…they are broken. They don’t care whether we’re preterists or historicists or futurists. They don’t care whether we believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation or symbolism. They don’t care if we clap or sing four-part harmony. They just don’t care. Do you know why? Because it doesn’t matter. None of those things changes the message of salvation; the fact of the cross and the resurrection; the person of our Savior. None of those things makes us more holy, or less broken, or more able to cope with our lives. None of these things prove that we are redeemed.

But are we redeemed?

I struggle with this question.

I think perhaps part of the reason we get so wrapped up in theology and doctrine is because if we stopped…

…if we closed our books…

…if we set down our pens and highlighters and post-it notes…

…if we stopped talking…

…stopped thinking…

…stopped running in circles trying to make sense of a God who is infinitely beyond our power to grasp…

…if we were just silent in His presence…

…perhaps we, too, would realize the depth of our need for Him. Not for doctrine. Not for hymns. Not for church. For Him.

And I am strongly convinced that many of us have disallowed Him any place in our lives, except as the thing we try to make sense out of. Oh, we know Him well enough. Just like Peter knew Jesus before he joined Him on the waves. Allow Him to call us to impossible places? No, we cannot do that. We are too busy studying and learning and debating and winning.

Meanwhile, we not only rob ourselves of who He is…but we rob the world. There is no Plan B. We are the Church. If we are unaware and unresponsive to the needs around us…then what hope has the world?

I’m reminded of what Rich Mullins once said:

I’m not sure that Truth is quite the way we understand it. I’m not sure that Truth has so much to do with statements of belief as it has to do with…Truth is alive; and that It is a Person. And that person is Jesus.

May God bless you and keep you. May His Spirit dwell richly within you. And may the mercies of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, be yours each morning.

Pax Christi.

semmie.