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Congregationalist Casino Night

Thursday, August 19th, 2010 by Eric Landry

How bad is the rot in American Christianity? Is our heterodoxy, compromise, and worldliness a modern problem or does it perhaps go deeper, down into the DNA of a faith tradition formed more by revivalism than historic faith and practice? Over at Steadfast Lutherans, our friend and Modern Reformation contributor Mollie Z. Hemingway posted an article first published in the Lutheran magazine Witness back in 1916.  The author of the article surveys a number of ministers and practices across the nation and asks, “Is this Christianity?” Here’s a sample:

The Episcopal Churchman, commenting upon the tendency towards sensationalism in the Reformed sects, later suggested that the streets may yet be brilliant with everchanging electric signs flashing forth, “The Congregationalistic Casino,” “The Baptist Hall of Joy.” “The Gospel Free Lunch and Picture Show.”

Leaving off comment about “Reformed sects,” it is interesting to note that the article wasn’t too far off. Casino Night has descended at First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. Here’s Pastor Jack Schaap playing emcee to the congregation:

Horton’s byFaith Interview

Thursday, October 29th, 2009 by Eric Landry

Mike Horton was recently interviewed for the Presbyterian Church in America’s denominational magazine byFaith.  The interview is now online. Here is an excerpt:

So how does an evangelical church present God accurately to someone who doesn’t know Him?

First of all, we can’t put all of the weight on the sermon. The sermon is the most important part of the service, but we have to see the Word of God as communicated not only through the sermon but through the singing, liturgy, prayer, and sacraments.

Paul speaks of the Word of Christ as dwelling in us richly through singing. Children often learn the faith more by singing than in Sunday school. Do the songs we sing cause the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly?

Is the liturgy moving us from confession of sin and a declaration of forgiveness to corporate prayer, to the reading of Scripture, to preaching, and the Lord’s table? Are these things regular aspects of our worship, or do we focus more on what we do than on what God does in the service?

There are a lot of well-meaning folks who say—and they’re speaking against the consumer-driven worship service—that worship is about what we do for God; we’re serving Him; we’re the ones worshiping. And I want to say to them: It’s not that we’re consumers, but we’re not worker bees either. It’s better than that. It’s better than we could have ever imagined. The God of all the universe—who looks after the movement of the planets—became flesh for us, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

W. H. Auden on the Crucifixion

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009 by Eric Landry

Regular Modern Reformation contributor Rick Ritchie who blogs at Daylight sent over the following thought-provoking quote from the poet W. H. Auden:

Just as we are all, potentially, in Adam when he fell, so we were all, potentially, in Jerusalem on that first Good Friday before there was an Easter, a Pentecost, a Christian, or a Church. It seems to me worthwhile asking ourselves who we should have been and what we should have been doing. None of us, I’m certain, will imagine himself as one of the Disciples, cowering in agony of spiritual despair and physical terror. Very few of us are big wheels enough to see ourselves as Pilate, or good churchmen enough to see ourselves as a member of the Sanhedrin. In my most optimistic mood I see myself as a Hellenized Jew from Alexandria visiting an intellectual friend. We are walking along, engaged in philosophical argument. Our path takes us past the base of Golgotha. Looking up, we see an all too familiar sight - three crosses surrounded by a jeering crowd. Frowning with prim distaste, I say, ‘It’s disgusting the way the mob enjoy such things. Why can’t the authorities execute people humanely and in private by giving them hemlock to drink, as they did with Socrates?’ Then, averting my eyes from the disagreeable spectacle, I resume our fascinating discussion about the True, the Good and the Beautiful.

The Limits of the Law

Thursday, May 28th, 2009 by Eric Landry

One of our favorite radio programs around here - other than White Horse Inn of course - is This American Life. Rarely does a week go by without the program taking up some theme that makes us pause and reconsider some great truth about Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.

The May 1, 2009 broadcast (available on the show’s archives page at thisamericanlife.org) begins with a story of one Florida judge’s attempt to instill shame in young convicts who have been caught stealing from local stores. The law-breakers must wear a sign indicating their crime (”I stole from this store”) and parade themselves in front of the store so that everyone who drives by can observe their humiliation.

The show’s producer asks the court minder what the percentage is of those who have been sentenced to this shame who eventually commit another crime. Although statistics aren’t available, the lady says she can see it in someone’s eyes. And so the stage is set to determine what course the young woman wearing the sign that day will do: she is unapologetic, the sentence has done nothing to dissuade her from crime, and she will definitely steal again, she says.

The law, even in the hands of an imaginative Florida judge, cannot create righteousness, nor as he found out after hearing this episode of This American Life can it always prevent sin. All the law can do is create a reluctance to sin again (because of fear of consequences) or shame over sin (because one has been exposed) or begrudging acceptance of a power that constrains our behavior.

Righteousness can’t be created out of whole cloth; it can only be given to those who do not deserve it, don’t expect it, and wouldn’t accept it unless they had been transformed by the new birth. Sadly, the church (in it’s effort to replicate a form of godliness without the power thereof, otherwise known as Christless Christianity) has settled for morality instead of the gospel. We are happy if people are reluctant to sin. We are still happier if they feel shame over their sin. We are living off of a fading power to constrain behavior, a power that has already disappeared in some sectors of society.

The health and eventual success of the church depends not on regaining this power of constraint, nor even of moral influence. It depends solely on our ability (or is it willingness?) to proclaim again the gospel of a righteousness that comes to us while we were yet sinners. Anything more or less is a corruption of the gospel.

Eric Landry
Executive Editor, Modern Reformation


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