August 31, 2008 Commentary:
Vote For Jesus!
Hello and welcome to broadcast of the White Horse Inn. "The Revolutionary" writes Richard Mosier in The American Temper, "could not more admit a sovereign God than he could a sovereign king. Rulers henceforth rule only by the consent of the governed. The God of Puritanism, stripped of his antique powers had no recourse but to enter as a weakened monarch into the temple of individualism and there to seek refuge." It really is remarkable the extent to which the democratic experiment has not only been about politics and liberty in the civil sphere, but about religion and people's relationship before a holy God. In the United States of course there is a long history of the effect and influence of human-centered systems of religion. The attempt to give human beings more freedom than they felt like they had under classic historic orthodox Christian teaching. At Harvard, which was called the "salt of the nations" by the Puritans, already you began to see signs of cracks in the wall, with the denial of original sin in 1757 as the Reverend Samuel Webster, a Harvard graduate wrote, "A winter evening's conversation on the doctrine of original sin." As Peter Gay and his wonderful book The Rise Modern Paganism describes it, "In Arminius' sermons Calvinism is softened to gentle instruction designed to lead sinful men to a reform of their lives." Before the middle of this century according to Richard Hofstadter in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Anti-intellectualism in American Life, "Arminianism was openly espoused by respectable ministers, out cries against Arminianism, though often not technically correct, thus had a certain truth. The truth that many New Englanders had ceased to believe in their beliefs."
According to University of Chicago historian William Warren Sweet, "Arminianism became the theology of the common man because it jived with his experience. As a practical man he disliked dogmatic subtlety and philosophical abstraction. From the middle of the 18th century onward, a whole series of revolts against Calvinism were in the making in America. The first was the gradual rise of a social caste especially in and around Boston composed of families made up chiefly of prosperous merchants and professional men to whom the doctrines of Calvin had become increasingly repugnant. Their success in achieving their own wealth convinced them that they were the masters of their own fates. This was not true only for the Bostonian elite but for the frontiersmen as well" writes Sweet. "The Calvinistic idea that man had nothing to do with his own salvation made little sense to the frontiersman that knew only too well that his temporal salvation was in his own hands. Calvinistic missionaries would report that a whole region was destitute of religion even though numerous other religious bodies were active in the territories."
August 24, 2008 Commentary:
Hello and welcome back to another broadcast of the White Horse Inn. In this broadcast we are going to be talking about American Deism. What was the religion of many of our founding fathers? One of the things that sort of drives the confusion of Christ with all sorts of political ideologies and programs, both on the left and the right, has always been this sense of America's destiny as part of God's plan and salvation from sin and death being correlated in some way with America's mission in the world. In this program we are going to look at the religion of many of our founding fathers in part in an effort to deconstruct the myth of a Christian America so that once again in our churches in America we can focus on Christ instead of the cult of the founding father and their vision of a so-called Christian America.
August 17, 2008 Commentary:
Jesus: Made in America
There is no commentary this week because of the interview with Stephen Nichols, author of Jesus: Made in America
August 10, 2008 Commentary:
What Does it Mean to Worship?
In a Los Angeles Times Magazine article titled "God For Sale" Kathlene Neumeyer wrote, "It's no surprise that when today's affluent young professionals return to church they want to do it only on their own terms. What's amazing is how far the churches are going to oblige." In fact George Barna, an advocate of market-driven approaches to church growth writes, "This is what marketing the church is all about. Providing our product, relationships, as a solution to people's felt need. It is critical" he says, "that we keep in mind a fundamental principle of Christian communication, the audience, not the message, is sovereign." As a Newsweek article describes the church in our day they developed a pick and choose Christianity in which individuals take what they want and pass over what does not fit their spiritual goals, what many have left behind is a pervasive sense of sin." We have to hear these things from Newsweek and the LA Times because magazines like Christianity Today do not tell the truth anymore. The Apostle Paul found himself in a similar situation in first century Greek culture where personal taste reigned and religion was seen as both as a private quest and a ground for public morality. It was into this context that the Apostle to the Gentiles preached Christ and yet even after establishing churches among the Greeks, soon a group of "super-apostles" as Paul sarcastically called the enthusiasts swept many of his emerging churches from their firm foundation. As he relates to the Corinthians these super-apostles sought to make the Gospel more relevant, the worship more exciting, the preaching more practical by blending the pagan craving for novelty and mysticism with Christ.
Now Paul says instead of preaching Christ and him crucified the Corinthians were obsessed with either fashionable Greek ideas or signs and wonders. "But we're successful, Paul" one can hear these super-apostles declare, "we're attracting the seeker, the Greek who doesn't know Jesus yet by meeting his felt needs." And what was the Apostle's response? "While people are stumbling over the offense of Christ's cross" he says, "its because this message is foolishness to those that are perishing to make the message more acceptable is to refashion the Gospel into something other than the saving message of Jesus Christ. See for those who know that the problem isn't some invention of some Greek moral or speculative wisdom, but that they are sinners before a holy God, Paul says that this message "foolishness to Greeks and a stumbling block to Jews" is nevertheless embraced by believers as true wisdom, the most practical and relevant news as we learn that for us sinners Christ has been made for us our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.
At the very beginning of our Lord's ministry he came to his cousin whose fame had reached far and wide as a prophet preparing the way for the Messiah in fulfillment of prophecy. A voice crying in the wilderness John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching him as he was baptizing people in the Jordan. Upon seeing him off in the distance the Baptist uttered the announcement for which all of heaven and earth had been prepared, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." It was Martin Luther who said his whole ministry was that of John the Baptist pointing away from everything else, including himself, to Christ. Calvin added his echo of Luther's concern for the recovery of Christ-centered worship in his day. He said, "This is how he extends his kingdom, we ought to observe where especially he leads men to; to find in Christ forgiveness of sins. Like John the Baptist we all who since Pentecost have been empowered to proclaim the good news are like those crying in the wilderness of worldly preoccupations, trivial pursuits, and grand ambitions, 'Behold! The Lamb of God.'"
But what happens folks when we become part of the wilderness itself? What happens when instead of pointing away from everything else to Christ we see the wilderness, not as a desert mirage, part of the passing evil age, but as the kingdoms that we might win if only we were to bow down and worship someone else? Our Lord himself asked, "What good does it do a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" And that which is true of an individual is also true of a church. Not long ago the newspapers reported the existence of a church that had pared the service down to twenty minutes simply by getting rid of the sermon, the Sacraments, and prayer. The concern with right worship begins with Adam and Eve when their fig leaves were stripped so they could be clothed with sacrificial skins, when Cain murdered Abel because Abel worshipped God as he had commanded by bringing the first and best of his flock to sacrifice as God sent his only begotten Son. Enshrined publically in the Ten Commandments God's people were to only worship the one true God and they were to worship him only as he had commanded. All of Old Testament worship pointed to this Lamb of God, so false worship was strictly forbidden even if it was worship of the correct God.
But human wisdom always knows a better way, a higher way, and it devises more skillful means of approaching God, yet as Paul reminds us, God's foolishness is wiser than human cleverness. By making the audience sovereign we in our day have fashioned golden calves that allow us to have a good time with our deity only to find the real God descending in judgment. If the Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, including contemporary upscale Americans and the unregenerate do not know the things of the Lord, neither can they know them, and if there is no one who seeks after God, no not even one, just what kind of worship do we think such an audience, this sovereign audience, will invent? Maybe the very sort of worship many of us had this very day in churches across our nation. It's one thing to say that our worship must be Christ-centered and cross-centered, but it's quite another to ask how the specifics of this worship are to be carried out and yet even here we are not left without a clear Biblical testimony. In Acts 2 we see the early Christians gathering to hear Christ preached through the Word and receive through the Sacraments. We see them in extended prayers and in rapt attention to the teaching of Apostles. Interestingly there is no mention in Acts 2 of music, although contemporary services often spend so much time with praise choruses that little time is left for Word and Sacrament. But we do find early Christian hymns in the New Testament epistles themselves, in fact Paul tells us that we should sing in our worship because it is, "speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord giving thanks always for all things to the God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." In other words we are actually exercising our priesthood preaching Christ to each other through singing. In Colossians 3:16 Paul adds, "Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you. With all wisdom and teaching and admonishing one another." How? "With psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs singing with thankfulness in your hearts to the Lord."
Folks does our worship, including the singing, cause the Word of Christ to dwell richly within us, with all wisdom, teaching, and admonishment? In this program tonight we want to focus on the meaning of Christian worship and the practical issues of how we engage in this sacred enterprise, why should you even go to church on Sunday morning? Our special guest tonight is the Rev. Harold Senkbeil. Many of you know Rev. Senkbeil from his book Dying to Live, he is a parish minister at Elm Grove Lutheran Church in the suburbs of Milwaukee.
August 3, 2008 Commentary:
Calling the Sheep to Become "Self-Feeders?"
Hello and welcome to another edition of the White Horse Inn. In 2007, the Willow Creek Community Church provoked media attention when the mega-church pioneer published the results of its marketing analysis that led its leaders to conclude that its widely influential model of church growth was flawed. Senior pastor Bill Hybels responded to the research by saying that it "did not shine brightly on our church." "[A]mong the findings," he writes, "one out of every four people at Willow Creek was stalled in their spiritual growth or dissatisfied with the church-and many of them were considering leaving." The report says Hybels "has revolutionized the way I look at the role of the local church," adding, "...it has caused me to see clearly that the church and its myriad of programs have taken on too much of the responsibility for people's spiritual growth."
Spirituality in this report is measured by how much people do. The church's mission is to provide "opportunities to connect with others," "small group opportunities" and "basic personal spiritual practices." Those who are "close to Christ" (level 3) need "advanced personal spiritual practices" and "Christ-centered" members (level 4) require "a wide range of serving and mentoring opportunities." It is unclear really, to me at least, why Christ is even a necessary referent, since these means of commitment could as easily be applied to any religious or self-help group. There is no mention of anyone needing to hear the Word of Christ or be baptized or to receive Christ in the Supper. Although each level is identified in relation to Christ, all of the emphasis is on their practices and their serving rather than on God's.
So why would the most active participants ("Christ-centered" according to the study) be the most dissatisfied with the church and their own spiritual progress? That was the question that puzzled the church's leadership. "The quick answer: Because God 'wired' us first and foremost to be in growing relationship with him-not with the church." Their conclusion is that God meant for his people to move from dependence on the ministry of the church to "personal spiritual practices," which include "prayer, journaling, solitude, studying Scripture-things that individuals can do on their own to grow in their relationship with Christ." As believers mature, they should shift their interest from the church to their own private activities. "The research strongly suggests that the church declines in influence as people grow spiritually." Those who are "fully surrendered" are likened to young adults who no longer need the "parenting" of the church and can now fend for themselves. "Our people" says the report, "need to learn to feed themselves through personal spiritual practices that allow them to deepen their relationship with Christ...We want to transition the role of the church from spiritual parent to spiritual coach." The authors go on to suggest the analogy of a trainer at the gym is probably the best one, a trainer who provides a "personalized workout plan" and that is what the church needs to do.
What I really find remarkable is that those who identified themselves as "stalled" said, "I believe in Christ, but I haven't grown much lately," and the dissatisfied said, "My faith is central to my life and I'm trying to grow, but my church is letting me down." These highly-committed respondents even said that they "desire much more challenge and depth from the services" and "60 percent would like to see 'more in-depth Bible teaching.'" But the take-away for the authors, surprisingly, is not that Willow Creek should provide a richer ministry, but that the sheep must learn to fend for themselves: "self-feeders" is what they need to become says the report. People who need to be more engaged in their own private spiritual practices.
In spite of having defined itself largely in antithesis to the megachurch movement, the Emergent Church movement is currently becoming friendlier to its rival. Like McLaren and other emergent leaders, Doug Padgitt encourages us to think of ourselves and the lives we lead as the gospel. Since the gospel is our following Christ's example, the Bible is "part of a conversation, not a dead book from which I extract truth." "Every person" writes Padgitt, "has experience, understanding, and perspective; there is no one who is totally devoid of truth."
According to Dan Kimball (a leader of the Emerging Church movement), the church is not a place. "The church is the people of God who gather together with a sense of mission (Acts 14:27). We can't go to church because we are the church." Appealing to Darrell Guder's The Missional Church, Kimball thinks that things went wrong at the Reformation. "The Reformers, in their effort to raise the authority of the Bible and ensure sound doctrine, defined the marks of a true church: a place where the gospel is rightly preached, the sacraments are rightly administered, and church discipline is exercised. However, over time these marks narrowed the definition of the church itself as a 'place where' instead of a 'people who are' reality. The word church became defined as 'a place where certain things happen,' such as preaching and communion."
Is self-feeding where all of this leads? Where we think of the church as primarily all about us and what we do providing oipportunities for us to serve and to do things or is church primarily the place where God rescripts us according to his Word and Sacraments by his Spirit and makes us a new creation? Part of that new creation that we will don finally and fully when Christ returns. And is that itself missional as the Word is spread and that Gospel goes out in that way? Is that itself the mission to which the church has been called or have we been called simply to give people spiritual coaching lessons to help them feed themselves?