• Church & Ministry •
August 8, 2005
Thom Rainer thinks that most Christians have no clue about how unchurched people really think. Given Christianity’s mandate for evangelism, this represents a big problem. In The Unchurched Next Door, Rainer and his research team consider the real issues involved in reaching unchurched Americans. His findings will surprise many Christians–including many pastors–and offer vital insights as the church looks forward into the twenty-first century.
August 1, 2005
Christianity Today has published an important series of articles on church discipline. Given the absence of biblical discipline from the life of most congregations, these articles are urgently-needed reminders of what is st stake. The six articles are by different authors, and raise a number of issues. All are worth reading.
1. How Discipline Died by Marlin Jeschke, July 22, 2005.
The church’s history of dealing with problem persons in legalistic fashion is responsible in large part, I believe, for the present distaste for the term church discipline. Discipline is still the watchword of high-school basketball or children’s music lessons, but has become objectionable in the church lexicon. For that reason, I have resorted to the term discipling. Evangelism and mission seek to make disciples of people, bringing them into Christ’s way. But it doesn’t make much sense to bring people into Christ’s way in the first place if the church then fails to make every effort consistent with the gospel to bring back into Christ’s way those who are straying from it.
2. Shaping Holy Disciples by Mark Dever, July 25, 2005.
Spiritual disciplines can seem like a human-potential wellness campaign, only expressed in spiritual terms. Church discipline sounds like excommunication, which sounds judgmental. Many want their antinomian liberty, their freedom to have a life that’s not known by others. They don’t want to be open and honest with others; they don’t want people inquiring about their lives. It’s not just our modern, affluent, individualistic American culture; it’s the sinful human heart. We desire to discipline ourselves only for those ends that we like. And we do not want other people to have that kind of authority in our lives.
3. Spheres of Accountability by John Ortberg, July 26, 2005.
Church discipline is really about the spiritual health of the whole body. In larger churches, people can start to think of it simply as scandal avoidance. But the lack of appropriate administration is really a failure of love and a compounding of sin: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt” (Lev. 19:17). Discipline does not merely protect the church from contamination: It builds and strengthens the bonds of love.
4. Keeping the Lawyers at Bay by Ken Sande, July 27., 2005.
A church that has done its work both biblically and legally will not have to look over its shoulder fearfully as it seeks to restore wandering sheep. Instead, it will be able to minister confidently and boldly as it works to guard its people not only from predatory wolves, but also from the plague of division and divorce that so often cripples our witness for Christ.
5. Healing the Body of Christ by David Neff, July 28, 2005.
So when we talk about the church, we are not talking about a voluntary society of people who share compatible religious views or similar religious experiences. We are instead talking about those who are related by (re)birth into a new family. We are talking about the body parts of Christ. Our relationships to each other (the horizontal) do not exist apart from our relationship with God in Christ (the vertical). Indeed, it is our vertical relationship with Christ that makes possible our horizontal relationships with each other. The vertical constitutes the horizontal.
6. Our Uniquely Undisciplined Moment by Thomas C. Oden, July 29, 2005.
Whenever laity or clergy are disciplined, it seems to modern eyes, and especially to the secular press, like overbearing legalism, moral insensitivity, and exclusivism. If any constraints are put on reception of Communion, it appears undemocratic. When church trials have sought to call voluntary believers to accountability to their own voluntary decisions and commitments, the press paints a picture of social injustice. Any attempt at accountability, even for the worst abuses, looks to modernity like oppression. Believers understandably wonder: How can meaningful church discipline be recovered in a culture that prefers no accountability at all?
June 30, 2005
The Emerging Church Movement includes an expanding number of leaders and a diversity of representations. For some, the movement appears to be something of a generational phenomenon–a way for younger evangelicals to reshape evangelical identity and relate to their own culture. For others, the connection with the Emerging Church Movement seems to be a matter of mood rather than methodology or theory. Nevertheless, for most Emerging Church leaders, the movement appears to be an avenue for reshaping Christianity in a new mold.
June 29, 2005
The “Emerging Church” has become a focus of intense evangelical interest, as the nascent movement has grown in both size and influence. While its eventual shape is not yet clear, we now know enough to draw some preliminary conclusions about the movement, its leaders, and its influence.
June 26, 2005
Consider this statement on the disappearance of hymns from worship from Paul S. Jones:
The postmodern church, like the rest of Western culture, is self-obsessed and seems uninterested in the rich heritage of church music imparted to us from the saints of previous generations. Although worship has become a buzzword in all ecclesiastical circles, minimal attention is given to biblical teaching concerning worship. As a result, we find evangelicals slipping away from biblical worship and justifying their practices on the basis of the Zeitgeist. A hedonistic, narcissistic, relativistic, ‘me-focused’ age, though, is hardly one that should inform and define our approach to God. And yet, it does. We measure our success by numbers, our relevance by how technologically integrated and up-to-date we are, and our worship by how good it makes us feel. In the minds of contemporary saints, hymns clash with the spontaneity, simplicity, and style that have come to rule in the modern evangelical church.
Paul S. Jones, “Hymnody in a Post-Hymnody World,” in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, edited by Philip Graham Ryken, Derek W. H. Thomas, and J. Ligon Duncan (Philllipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003). The book is a collection of essays celebrating the life and legacy of the late James Montgomery Boice. Jones is music director and organist at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, where Boice was pastor for many years. See the church’s excellent statement, Our Philosophy-Theology of Music, adoped just this year, as well as the congregation’s Mission Statement.
June 23, 2005
June 20, 2005
June 17, 2005
The Washington Post featured a very interesting opinion column in its Sunday Outlook section this week. Henry Brinton, pastor of Virginia’s Fairfax Presbyterian Church [Presbyterian Church (USA)] presented a case for the conjoining of “faith” and “science” in A Meeting in the Mind.
“Faith and science have always had an uneasy relationship, but they seem to be moving apart in a number of critical areas today, from research on embryonic stem cells to teaching evolution in the schools,” he remarked. “The one area where I see some reason for optimism is in the convergence of faith and science in the treatment of mental illness.”
Here’s how he set out his case: “The two fields have not always been so close. Although psychiatrists are literally “soul physicians,” their work has focused more on medical concerns than on spiritual issues over the past hundred years. This is understandable, given advances in the knowledge of brain chemistry and mental illness, but it has led many doctors to neglect the positive role religion can play in shaping emotions and motivations. From the spiritual side, clergy have resisted the scientific tendency to reduce well-being to the proper balance of chemicals, and have concentrated on providing people with spiritual guidance instead. While many ministers appreciate the value of medicine in treating psychiatric problems, they insist that a person’s relationship with God and neighbor is going to affect mental health as well.”
He celebrates the fact that Christians increasingly embrace psychotherapy. “A growing number of Christians, across the theological spectrum, are receptive to psychotherapy and medication.” There are hold-outs, of course. He singles out Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in suburban Los Angeles, labeling him a “fundamentalist” and castigating him for refusing to “refer troubled people to psychologists or psychiatrists.” MacArthur and others like him reject what Brinton identifies as “scientific advances.”
Brinton adds that many seminaries now offer courses and programs in psychology, “and pastors are more likely than ever to refer congregation members to professional therapists.”
Brinton is certainly right about one thing — many evangelicals are joining with more liberal churches in trying to combine theology and secular psychology. Why would some of us refuse to join that bandwagon? The first reason is deeply theological. We do not believe that a humanistically-based therapeutic approach is compatible with biblical Christianity. The second reason is more pragmatic and observational. The mental health professions cannot even agree on a definition or basic concept of “normal” human behavior. They call this science?
Take a good look at Benedict Carey’s important article in Tuesday’s edition of The New York Times. In Snake Phobias, Moodiness and a Battle in Psychiatry, Carey takes us into a fascinating and revealing debate within the psychiatric profession.
Look closely: “In a report released last week, researchers estimated that more than half of Americans would develop mental disorders in their lives, raising questions about where mental health ends and illness begins. In fact, psychiatrists have no good answer, and the boundary between mental illness and normal mental struggle has become a battle line dividing the profession into two viscerally opposed camps. On one side are doctors who say that the definition of mental illness should be broad enough to include mild conditions, which can make people miserable and often lead to more severe problems later. On the other are experts who say that the current definitions should be tightened to ensure that limited resources go to those who need them the most and to preserve the profession’s credibility with a public that often scoffs at claims that large numbers of Americans have mental disorders.”
If more than half of all Americans will experience what these professionals classify as mental illness, what’s normal? Carey explains that the psychiatrists cannot even agree on whether an experience like mild moodiness is a mental disorder. Mental health pracitioners and researchers throw around numbers and statistics indicating that enormous numbers of persons are mentally ill and need therapy, medication, or both. “You can see why people have a hard time believing these numbers because they change so much depending on how you look at the data,” commented Dr. David Mechanic of Rutgers University.
Carey sees a larger picture: “After a prolonged controversy last year over the use of antidepressants in children, most experts say the last thing psychiatry needs now is for this process to turn into a public fight over who is sick and who is not. But this fight may be hard to avoid. The two sides are far apart, debates over the diagnostic manual are traditionally contentious, and despite increasing openness about mental illness the public tends to be skeptical of any prevalence numbers over a few percent.”
Keep this in mind the next time someone tells you that today’s therapeutic culture is based on science. This science is in desparate need of therapy.
SOURCES: Henry Brinton, A Meeting in the Mind, The Washington Post, Sunday, June 12, 2005; Benedict Carey, Snake Phobias, Moodiness and a Battle in Psychiatry, The New York Times, Tuesday, June 14, 2005.
Note carefully this passage from John MacArthur: “Only God knows what’s in a person’s heart. Only His Spirit working through His Word can penetrate one’s deepest thoughts and motives to transform the heart and renew the mind (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 12:2). Professional psychologists are no substitute for spiritually gifted people who know the Word, possess godly wisdom, are full of goodness, and available to help others apply divine truth to their lives (Rom. 15:14). When people come to you for counsel, the best thing you can do is show them what God’s Word says about their problem and how it applies to their situation. But you can’t do that unless you know the Word and are allowing it to do its work in you first. Then you’ll be in a position to counsel others more effectively.” See Giving Godly Counsel at the Web site of Grace to You.
June 14, 2005
The Houston Chronicle
reports that more and more churches and denominations are turning to
media advertising as the way to raise their public profiles, attract
new members, and stem membership losses. The article
by Richard Vara is truly interesting. Take Alan Fletcher and Stephanie
Hoverman, for example. Vara reports that they were attracted to a
billboard on Interstate 10 in Houston.