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This is not your neighbor’s “Youth Group”

The following is by Rev. Michael Brown, pastor of Christ URC in Santee, CA and is used with his permission. Rev. Brown blogs at The Blog of Christ URC

The only “youth program” your kids need: some thoughts on family worship and catechesis

When my wife and I were introduced to Reformed Christianity, one of the things that stood out vividly to us was the practice of family prayer or “family worship.” In the revivalist, evangelical church in which I grew up, this practice was never emphasized. To be sure, the church in which I was raised encouraged important devotional acts such as praying and reading one’s Bible, but I can’t ever remember a pastor emphasizing the necessity and importance of regular family worship during the week. Instead, there was a full array of programs and small groups offered, each tailor-made to every member of the family: Jr.High group, high school group, college-and-career, men’s group, ladies’ group, young marrieds, married-with-children, empty-nesters, etc., etc. Not that everything in all of these groups was always bad. It’s just that there seemed to be an emphasis upon separating the family as a unit during the week in order to “minister” to each person’s needs.

Oddly enough, Sunday worship wasn’t much different. My family would arrive at church only to split up into our segregated groups for worship: I, a “youth pastor,” would go to the high school “worship service,” while my wife went into the main service with the adults, and my daughters went to “children’s’ church” with the toddlers. The first time we worshiped together as a family was the first Sunday we visited a confessional, Reformed church (!).

Coming to Reformed Christianity, my wife and I not only learned the sobering truth about the means of grace and what actually happens during the Divine Service on the Lord’s Day, we also learned about the vital importance of regular family worship throughout the week. Clearly, this was a practice far more biblical (and historical) than the compartmentalized, hustle-bustle of a busy week at church. The ancient paths God carved out for families to walk in long ago were new to us. We learned how he designed the family to be a worshiping unit, an entity that would engage in prayer, praise and instruction in the course of ordinary, daily life. We learned how Christian parents have the covenantal responsibility-both toward God and their children-of bringing up their little ones as disciples in the historic Christian faith. Suddenly, all those passages about training up your children began to come into color:

Deut 6.4-9: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Eph 6.4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”

Passages such as these, however, cannot be reduced to mere proof-texts for sending our children to Christian schools or buying Christian home-school curriculum. They require of us something far more vital than that. In the first place, they require the indispensable practice of the “family pew,” that is, a commitment of bringing our children to corporate worship every week. In worship, our children – no less than us – are summoned by God to receive his good gifts, confess their sins, and bring him praise and honor as the Creator and Redeemer of his people.

But these commands also require a commitment to daily catechesis so that our children will know what they believe and why they believe it. This is precisely why the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers, as well as the seventeenth-century Puritans who followed them, wrote rich catechisms and strongly advocated the practice of family worship. They understood each family to be a ‘little church,’ in which the father was called to be priest and spiritual head of his home under Christ.

It is for this reason that the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches that worship is to be conducted “in private families daily” (21.6). This was taken so seriously by our fathers in the faith, that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland not only included in its editions of the Westminster Standards a “Directory for Family Worship,” but even mandated disciplinary action against heads of households who neglected “this necessary duty”!

Hughes Oliphant Old describes the rhythm of family worship in Puritan life:

What the liturgy of the hours was for monks of the Middle Ages, the discipline of family prayer was for the Puritans. The typical Puritan home of seventeenth-century England may not have looked much like the splendid cloisters of Cluny, but there was something in common. The daily life of both Catholic monk and Puritan family man was ordered by a rhythm of prayer and praise. With Cistercian solemnity, the Puritan household would gather around the dinner table, father, mother, children, a maiden aunt, perhaps servants or an apprentice. A metrical psalm was sung. Then the head of the house would open up a great leather bound family Bible and read a chapter. This finished, the father would lead in prayer. The Puritans, whether on the Connecticut frontier or in the heart of London, whether they were Cambridge scholars or Shropshire cotters, gave great importance to maintaining a daily discipline of family prayer.

So what happened in the church that we have lost this vital practice? Why have we forgotten the wisdom of these ancient paths? As with most questions in historical theology, there is not one easy answer. There are several contributing factors that led to the corrosion of this practice. One of them, however, must certainly be the rise of American pragmatism.

As Americans, we have an unquenchable thirst for knowing the cash value of something. It may seem to many American Christians that investing in the rigorous daily duty of family worship is too costly. After all, getting a family in 2008 to meet together regularly around a table and take out thirty minutes of the day may seem almost impossible. It would require reordering and restructuring our daily lives. It would require slowing down a little bit. It would require turning off the television a little more (gasp!).

The fact of the matter is, family worship is a great investment. In fact, it is a no-brainer. It pays such high dividends that it is – to use the modern vernacular – like stealing money. In fact, I cannot think of many things in life that pay greater dividends than the ordinary practice of daily family worship. Let me quote Presbyterian minister Terry Johnson to give you an idea of what I mean:

If your children are in your home for 18 years, you have [over 5,600] occasions (figuring a 6 day week) for family worship. If you learn a new Psalm or hymn each month, they will be exposed to 216 in those 18 years. If you read a chapter a day, you will complete the Bible 4.5 times in 18 years. Every day they will affirm a creed or recite the law. Every day they will confess their sins and plead for mercy. Every day they will intercede on behalf of others. Think in terms of the long view. What is the cumulative impact of just 15 minutes of this each day, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, for 18 years? At the rate of 6 days a week (excluding Sunday), one spends an hour and a half a week in family worship (about the length of a home Bible study), 78 hours a year (about the length of two weekend retreats), and 1,404 hours over the course of 18 years (about the length of eight week-long summer camps). When you establish your priorities, think in terms of the cumulative effect of this upon your children. Think of the cumulative effect of this upon you, after 40 or 60 or 80 years of daily family worship. All this without having to drive anywhere.

The family is essentially a discipleship group. In praying and reading the Bible together (and maybe singing too), the whole family is being spiritually nurtured as the truths of the historic Christian faith are pressed before them each day. Parents are humbled as they are constrained to assume the role of priest for their family. They are driven to their knees in a sense of inadequacy of such a task. They are forced to adjust their lifestyle in order to carry out the responsibility of raising their children in the Lord. And they are confronted with the reality of appearing either consistent or inconsistent in the eyes of their little ones.

In the meantime, children are growing up watching their parents humble themselves before the Lord. They are learning of Christ’s claim and Lordship on their lives. They are absorbing Scripture and realizing its authority. They are provided with a medium for reinforcing memorization of Scripture, catechism questions, creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, etc. And they are seeing how they are different than the world in that God has set them apart as his own special people. All of this has a great effect on covenant children: it is part of the means God uses to bring them to faith.

But as you read this, you may be thinking, “Fine. I agree. Consistent family worship seems indispensable. But where do I begin? How do I do family worship?” Let me offer a few recommendations:

First, FIND A TIME that works well for your family. For many, this will be the dinner table. Believe it or not, it is actually very simple to transition from eating a meal together (an invaluable and neglected practice in itself) to having family worship without ever leaving the table. On the other hand, maybe bedtime will be more conducive for your family. Whatever the case, just find a time in which everyone in the family is together for at least 15-20 minutes a day. If no such time exists for your family, then you desperately need to make one! Settle on a time that will become as fixed a routine for your family as getting dressed or brushing teeth. Settle on it and guard it! When the phone rings, let the answering machine pick it up. Instead of being enslaved to technology, let it serve you!

Second, KEEP IT SIMPLE. There is no reason to make family worship long or complex. You can keep it as simple as these three elements: Scripture reading, catechism and prayer.

With regard to Scripture reading, try reading a chapter a day, working your way through particular books of the Bible. Perhaps on certain days, read the passage that was preached in worship the previous Lord’s Day. This will help your family to review what you heard and hopefully develop a practice of meditating on it during the week.

For catechism, work on memory with your children. Teach them to memorize the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed. Then move on to Heidelberg Catechism Q.1, breaking it down into parts until they have the whole thing mastered. Move on from there to these essential questions: ##2-5, 21, 27, 60, 65, 69, 75, 86, 116. It will take a while (maybe years), but despite what you might think, they can do it. Be patient. Think long term. Don’t give up.

With regard to prayer, teach your children how to pray by modeling it for them. Conclude family worship with the simple acrostic A-C-T-S: adoration of God, confession of sins, thanksgiving for all he has done and given, and supplications for those in need. This is a great opportunity to pull out the bulletin and look at the particular prayer needs in the congregation, teaching our little ones to intercede for others in the household of God.

You may also consider singing a Psalm or hymn together before reading Scripture. But whatever the case, family worship should only take about 15 or 20 minutes. Seriously. There is no reason to turn this into a massive ordeal. In fact, fathers, resist the temptation to do that! Once in a while, you may find your family engaged in an extended discussion over a particular doctrine or theological question. It is a beautiful thing when this happens spontaneously and naturally. But don’t force it. Ask a few questions, keep it simple, and conclude. If your family comes to expect a forty-five to sixty minute Bible study from dad, they may begin to dread the exercise.

Third, GET STARTED! To borrow an old slogan from Nike, “Just do it!” Don’t procrastinate and put it off. Each day your children get a little older. Redeem the time given to you.

Fourth, BE CONSISTENT. When you miss a day (or two or three!), don’t throw in the towel. Get back on track and go. Too much is at stake to give up.

Finally, Dad, Mom, BE SUPPORTIVE OF ONE ANOTHER. Satan is against you in this, so be prepared. He wants nothing more than for you to pick at one another during family worship, become frustrated and quit. He wants you to leave the Bible and catechism book on the shelf and reach for the remote at the time you have designated for family worship. He wants wives to be resistant and husbands to be lazy. So, encourage, support and be respectful of one another as you engage in this daily practice.

Family worship is a joy, but it takes work. It usually requires some rearranging of our priorities in daily life. And if you are getting a late start with your kids, it will probably be met with some resistance. Pray for one another with regard to your duties in this simple, but awesome practice.

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Get Justified!

Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification is NOW AVAILABLE for purchase!

We’re very proud of this first book, published under the Modern Reformation imprint. Our hope is to release a new volume every year, combining the best of our classic articles with new chapters written to address the important theological and ecclesiological issues of the day.

For the next five days, you can use a special discount code to get the book at 50% off its normal retail price. Just enter XFPM89VW in the discount code box. This discount is only available through Friday, November 19th.

Once you’ve purchased and read the book, let us know what you think!

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An Impotent Symbol of Cinema Secularism

Crystal Cathedral“He who marries the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower.”

This sage warning from William Ralph Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the mid-20th century, is especially poignant with the recent announcement that an Orange County, California landmark, the Crystal Cathedral, has filed for bankruptcy. According to this recent article in The Guardian, the demise of the famous church founded by televangelist Robert Schuller is illustrative of the deeper and broader weaknesses of American evangelicalism.

A telling quote from the article:

So if you wonder why Americans are, anomalously, religious it is because we have evacuated religion of all content. There are of course theological doctrines on the books, which church members tick off, in the way that they agree to accept screenfuls of conditions for installing new software. But most have no serious interest in these theoretical matters. Whether signing on for a new therapy or self-help programme, trying out a new diet or a new church, they are looking for a bag of tricks, a collection of gimmicks and recipes that will get them the material prosperity, perfect health, beautiful bodies, ideal relationships and complete happiness to which they believe they are entitled.

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John Warwick Montgomery on Reality and Speculation

Modern Reformation contributor and noted Lutheran apologist John Warwick Montgomery recently gave the Fall 2010 Faith and Reason Lecture at Patrick Henry College.  Montgomery began his lecture by appealing to Sherlock Holmes:

“We begin – and we shall end – with Sherlock Holmes,” began Dr. John Warwick Montgomery during last Friday’s Faith and Reason lecture, entitled “Speculation vs. Factuality: An Analysis of Modern Unbelief and Suggested Corrective.” “’Facts, facts, facts,’ insisted the Great Detective. ‘It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts. I can discover facts but I cannot change them.’”

With this introduction, Dr. Montgomery, PHC’s Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and Christian Thought, posited what he views as the central roadblock to genuine Christian faith — a prejudice in which “modern unbelief departs from factual reality in favour of unsupportable speculation, leaving its advocates in a never-never land without hope either in this world or in the next.”

Faith and Reason lecture, Fall 2010 from Sarah Pride on Vimeo.

Prof. Montgomery’s work has appeared in the pages of Modern Reformation since 1993:

“Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification” by Alister E. McGrath (Book Review) – March/April 2000 Vol: 9 Num: 2
God & Other Law-Makers – May/June 1993 Vol: 2 Num: 3
God at University College Dublin – Jan./Feb. 2009 Vol: 18 Num: 1
Legal Evidence for the Truth of the Faith – March/April 2006 Vol: 15 Num: 2
Legislating Morality – July/August 1992 Vol: 1 Num: 4
The Descent of Evangelicalism: Origins of the Specious – Sept./Oct. 1997 Vol: 6 Num: 5
The Incarnate Christ: The Apologetic Thrust of Lutheran Theology – Jan./Feb. 1998 Vol: 7 Num: 1

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Justified: a preview of Mike Horton’s chapter

Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification will be available for purchase in one week. You can pick up the very first copies at a significant discount at the White Horse Inn booth at the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia (November 17-19, 2010).

We got some nice pre-press last week from our friend Tullian Tchividjian. Tullian was in town and we gave him a copy of the book at lunch. His first impressions?

Mike gave me a copy of a new book that he edited and published through Modern Reformation entitled Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification. I was flipping through it last night and was super impressed by what I read.  At the end of the book Mike outlines six-core beliefs that define the mission of Modern Reformation and the White Horse Inn (his weekly radio broadcast). While all of the six beliefs are foundational, I was struck by the gripping clarity of belief number two on the importance of Gospel-centered preaching. Everything he writes here not only defines my theology of preaching but is, in my opinion, the only type of preaching that will rescue the church from Christless Christianity. He writes:

Scripture is of no use to us if we read it merely as a handbook for daily living without recognizing that its principle purpose is to reveal Jesus Christ and his gospel for the salvation of sinners. All Scripture coalesces in Christ, anticipated in the OT and appearing in the flesh in the NT. In Scripture, God issues commands and threatens judgment for transgressors as well as direction for the lives of his people. Yet the greatest treasure buried in the Scriptures is the good news of the promised Messiah. Everything in the Bible that tells us what to do is “law”, and everything in the Bible that tells us what God has done in Christ to save us is “gospel.” Much like medieval piety, the emphasis in much Christian teaching today is on what we are to do without adequate grounding in the good news of what God has done for us in Christ. “What would Jesus do?” becomes more important than “What has Jesus done?” The gospel, however, is not just something we needed at conversion so we can spend the rest of our Christian life obsessed with performance; it is something we need every day–the only source of our sanctification as well as our justification. The law guides, but only the gospel gives. We are declared righteous–justified–not by anything that happens within us or done by us, but solely by God’s act of crediting us with Christ’s perfect righteousness through faith alone.

Thanks, Tullian! Those six core beliefs are central to our work and they give us a unique perspective on the current dialogue about justification that will take center stage in Atlanta next week. As our last little “teaser” before releasing the book, we wanted to post an excerpt from Mike Horton’s chapter, entitled “Engaging N.T. Wight and John Piper.” This chapter will give you a preview of the paper Mike will give at ETS next week.

Perhaps the most respected evangelical Jesus scholar, Bishop N. T. Wright has been stirring things up in Paul studies for nearly three decades. Although profiting from many of his insights, I have interacted critically with his treatment of justification in Covenant and Salvation (Westminster John Knox, 2007). My focus here, however, is on the importance of covenant theology as the context for justification, joining the conversation between John Piper and N. T. Wright.

In The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Crossway, 2007), Piper seems to regard Wright’s treatment of the covenant motif in Paul as a distraction from the apostle’s doctrine of justification. In his rejoinder, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, Wright counters that Paul’s doctrine of justification is

“about what we may call the covenant—the covenant God made with Abraham, the covenant whose purpose was from the beginning the saving call of a worldwide family through whom God’s saving purposes for the world were to be realized….For Piper, and many like him, the very idea of a covenant of this kind remains strangely foreign and alien….Despite the strong covenantal theology of John Calvin himself, and his positive reading of the story of Israel as fulfilled in Jesus Christ, many who claim Calvinist or Reformed heritage today resist applying it in the way that, as I argue in this book, Paul himself does, in line with the solid biblical foundations for the ‘continuing exile’ theme.”

While in my view the lion’s share of false choices are on Wright’s side of the ledger, I agree with his point that covenant theology is the proper context for Paul’s doctrine of justification. My concern with Wright’s view is not that he gives too much place for the covenantal motif—particularly, the unfolding of the Abrahamic covenant issuing in a cosmic redemption. In fact, I even find Wright’s end-of-exile motif persuasive and enriching. Rather, my concern is that he reduces the complexity of this covenant theology, conflating law and gospel in a single covenant type—viz., covenantal nomism.

Simply to advocate covenant theology does not necessarily specify its content. In 1991 Wright wrote that “covenant theology is one of the main clues, usually neglected, for understanding Paul.” Yet, at the same time, he is quick to distance his covenant theology from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century versions. In a later work Wright concedes that he has never read these sources: “Like many New Testament scholars, I am largely ignorant of the Pauline exegesis of all but a few of the fathers and reformers. The Middle Ages, and the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, had plenty to say about Paul, but I have not read it.” Classic covenant theology has therefore been, in my view, too lightly dismissed—even caricatured—without serious firsthand evaluation. While I agree with Wright’s claim that covenant theology is more crucial for understanding justification than Piper suggests, I argue that it is Wright’s version of covenant theology (viz., reducing different types to “covenantal nomism”) that generates false choices.

Next week, we’ll post a video interview in which Mike Horton talks about Justified and the role he hopes the book will have in the current conversations about justification, especially among the Young, Restless, and Reformed-types who have been introduced to Calvin by Piper but find Wright’s “whole world” emphasis fresh and engaging.

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They’re Reading MR, Are You?

Nov-Dec 2010 Modern ReformationThe November/December 2010 issue of Modern Reformation is now available! Two of our authors are already hitting the airwaves to talk about their articles. Both Michael Horton and Ken Samples were interviewed by the good folks at Issues, Etc. recently. We’ve posted the interviews here along with a link to their articles.

Mike Horton on The Gospel and the Sufficiency of Scripture: Church of the Word or Word of the Church? [Related MR article]

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Ken Samples on Responding to Objections to Sola Scriptura [MR article available to subscribers]

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Subscribe to Modern Reformation today and get instant access to the rest of the issue online while you wait for your print issue to arrive in the mail.

Still not sure? Request our Inntro Kit before December 31, 2010, and we’ll send you this issue along with our extended length White Horse Inn CDs. (Restrictions apply.)

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A Lausanne Call for a Second Reformation

Recently The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization was in Cape Town, South Africa with 4,000 participants representing almost 200 countries across the globe. One of the speakers at this event was Chris Wright, the international director of Langham Partnership International (John Stott Ministries) and the author of The Mission of God. Dr. Horton spoke with Mr. Wright recently about some of his comments at Lausanne calling the evangelical church to a “second reformation.”

Dr. Horton’s interview with Mr. Wright will be broadcast on a future episode of White Horse Inn, but we hope that you enjoy this audio and transcript of a portion of the interview as it relates to our mission calling upon the church for a “Modern Reformation.”

[Note: The Lausanne Congress held twelve panel discussions around the U.S. in the months leading up to the World Congress in Cape Town. Dr. Horton was able to participate in two of these events that were held in Southern California. The August 22, 2010 broadcast of the WHI contained a portion of the discussion from the event held at Saddleback Church. You can get more resources and listen to the program A Conversation on Global Evangelism.]

Interview with Chris Wright

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Mike: It is a pleasure to have you with us Mr. Wright.

Chris: Thank you very much Mike, yes it’s good to be with you as well.

I’ve drawn on many of the insights from your marvelous book, The Mission of God, so it’s a real privilege to be able to explore some of these themes for our listeners. But before we dig in to that, I wanted to ask you on the heels here of the Lausanne Congress—a momentous event—if you would give us a first-hand report of what happened in Cape Town?

Well, Cape Town was a marvelous event Mike, yes, there were between four and five thousand people there from about 200 countries all around the world and even that in itself is a remark able thing, just the sheer physical presence of people of almost every nation, language, tribe and tongue gathered in one place praising the Lord Jesus Christ. There’s a certain sense of biblical fulfillment about that and that was very wonderful. I think it was also enormously encouraging to a lot of the people who’ve come from countries where Christians are very few and evangelical Christians are in a tiny minority and persecuted, and so for people from them to meet with others; to be encouraged; to worship together; have freedom to talk and share; I think that was good. I also think that the whole balance of the Congress was positive; they were looking at not just issues of evangelism and evangelistic strategy—which, of course, is important—but also other problems in the world of illness, of brokenness, of violence, of war, of other religions; all kinds of issues that the church has to face in its mission, so I think it was a tremendous menu of workshops and dialogue sessions and plenary sessions; a great deal of information for people who want to have an enormous sense of fellowship and of worship and a closing ceremony which was a communion service led by an African bishop with an African liturgy. It went on for about three hours and yet it didn’t feel like that at all; it was a marvelous musical, worshipful, inspiring event. So yeah, we came home exhausted but very encouraged.

Your paper, a widely-reported a plenary address there, called for a second reformation and you, according to the reports, received quite a warm response to that from the delegates. What was the basic point that you were arguing for there?

The basic point was that in the midst of all the things that we had to look at at Lausanne in terms of what the church needs to do in order to bring the gospel to the world is the fact that the church always also needs to look at itself. The point that I was making was that as you read the Bible you see that God has a greater problem with his own people than he does with the nations of the world; at least if you read the prophets. There’s far more that the prophets say against Israel, the people of God, than they ever do against the nations, and what the prophets say is that the people of God need to return to God, to repent of idolatry, and to be shaped again to be able to be a light to the nations and a blessing to the nations. So, the point I was trying to make was that the world evangelical community shouldn’t simply indulge in a kind of triumphalism or a jamboree spirit in which we go out and say, ‘We’ve got the answer to everybody else’s problems!’ but we need to also recognize that there’s a great deal about ourselves which is ugly, which is divided, which is filled with greed and consumerism, and a great deal of pride and where these things are true, then we need to repent and come back to God before we go out to the world.

The language of ‘reformation’ came to me—I don’t know whether you want to hear this story—but it was from Latin American friend who had done his Ph.D. with John Stott Ministries here in the States, and then returned to his home country in Latin America. He said that over a period of about six months, he and his wife attended ten different churches that were claiming to be evangelical; they were named as evangelical churches, but he said in not one of them did he hear the Bible being preached. In all of them there was a very powerful, single male minister who was extraordinarily wealthy and powerful, but ordinary people were not being taught the Bible. They weren’t actually looking really for salvation; they were looking for miracles, and they were being sold a version of the prosperity gospel which offered them all kinds of benefits in this life if they would give their money. And I suddenly thought to myself, ‘That sounds exactly like the pre-Reformation church in Europe where there were very powerful, wealthy, patrons and bishops lording it over the population, where people were not hearing or understanding the Bible because it wasn’t in their language, where people were being offered indulgences for blessings in the next life for payment of money in this life’. And I certainly thought, ‘It’s the evangelicals today who need a Reformation—we actually need to realize that these are deformities in the church, and to be rid of them, to reform ourselves of them.’ So that’s where the language came from; it kind of caught on, and I thought, ‘Well, perhaps we do need to talk that kind of language today, and be serious enough to use it.’

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The Numbers Don’t Add Up

I was recently looking at the (very long and detailed) bio page of a pastor of a large church in the Midwest. As I was reading, this struck me as being interesting:

In the eight years that Dr. ____ has been its pastor, the First _____ Church of _____ has seen amazing growth, with the average weekly attendance more than doubling. This growth caused the need for a new auditorium; so in March of 2005, the First _____ Church moved into a new 7500-seat auditorium and, throughout that same year, saw over 25,000 converts baptized.

Their website also states,

“…we have a baptism time at the end of every Sunday service. Those who have trusted Jesus Christ are baptized by immersion, making it as easy as possible to be baptized immediately after you get saved…. Dozens and dozens of people get baptized every Sunday here at First _____ Church. If you would like to be baptized, make your way to the altar…”

Elsewhere we read, “being baptized automatically enrolls you in our membership” (emphasis added).

This blog post could be about the lack of catechesis given before baptism (the early church had a period of 2-3 years before a convert would be baptized and entered into membership of the local church), but I want to look at the numbers:

1,500-15,000 – Average yearly total of baptisms (I interpreted the “dozens and dozens” statement above to be a minimum of 24 a week–a very conservative number. However, a video says there were 333 baptisms on one particular Sunday, so 300 per week might be a better average which means there could be up to 15,000 baptisms of new converts each year.)
32,500-75,000 – Probable number of new converts/baptisms since 2005
7,500 – Capacity of the auditorium
2 – Worship services every week (one morning and one evening)

Now let’s looks at what doesn’t add up:

15,059 – Weekly average attendance (This is the advertised average for 2009 from the church’s website). In fact, only around 15,000 can fit in the auditorium for the two weekly services.
17,500-60,000 – Minimum number of “members” since 2005 who don’t show up at either of the church services.

I hope you can see the disconnect between baptism/membership and the actual attendance of the means of grace on a weekly basis. I really want to know where all these new baptized members are! This is not how Christ has established his church. God has given the church of Christ the means of grace (the preached Word and the Sacraments) not only for creating faith, but also for nourishing, strengthening, and sustaining faith. God has prepared a feast for us in the wilderness of this passing evil age, but yet many “Christians” don’t think they need the manna, quail, or water that is freely given from heaven. Instead they are content with starving themselves or sadly making their own meals at home. Obviously the “membership class” that these new members get from the time they “walk down the aisle” to the time that they get wet doesn’t include Hebrews 10:25 which characterizes Christians as, “… not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some…”

Today in America, especially, churches need to seriously pick up their responsibility to nurture new converts in the faith and to stress the importance of the gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day where they are reminded of the gospel they now believe and told again about this Christ whom they now trust. It breaks my heart to even begin to think where a vast majority of these “members” are in their spiritual walk (it can’t be good). The numbers don’t lie–they can’t all be at this church! I really hope I can be proved wrong and that First _____ Church of _____ is, in fact, a springboard or feeder for many other local churches (they plant, but another waters and nurtures). However, if that is their model or role, then I don’t think they would call these new converts “members” of this particular church immediately after baptism.

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Election Post Mortem

How will Christians respond to the Republican resurgence last night? Will the “culture war” rhetoric be amped up? One satirist has already posted on Twitter: “Apparently, contrary to the bumper sticker, God is a Republican.”

In 1994, the last time Republicans won big in Congressional elections, Michael Horton sat down with William Bennett, Os Guinness, Jim Wallis, and Cal Thomas to discuss religion and politics:

Cal Thomas: Isn’t it amazing that about 15 years after the advent of the so-called “Christian Right” that we are still debating the issues of the proper role of religion and politics. My view is that religion is political, or has a political dimension, and all politics has a religious dimension. So the question I want to pose to our panel members is just what exactly is the proper role of religion in a political system, and what is the proper role of politics in a nation that contains a good number of religious people. I want to begin by saying that there are two elements here we need to look at. First of all I think we have to begin with Thomas Jefferson’s wonderful phrase, “All men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and among these are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It was in the next clause that Mr. Jefferson outlined the purpose of Government. He wrote, “And to secure these rights governments are instituted among men.” To secure what rights? Well, the rights that God had endowed. Why is that necessary for government to do? Because the founders understood that men and women were basically flawed on the inside-not basically good as modernists say-and that if they would not be constrained from within by the presence and power of God whom they worshiped, then they needed to be restrained from without by the presence and power of the state in order to conform them to a standard that would, because of self-evident truths, promote the general welfare, provide for the common defense, insure domestic tranquillity, and establish justice. It is, I think, because we have abandoned this important analysis of the human condition, which we used to call sin, that we now have a dysfunctional government. I also would say that I think the church would make a great mistake if it is looking for a political deliverance. People seem to be saying that if we could only find another Reagan then we could make things better. But I don’t believe in trickle-down morality in America. I don’t think that the person in the White House can make things better by him or herself. I think that it is going to require a national revival where our consciences are raised and we all come to our senses.

Michael Horton: I come from the Reformation tradition, which is ostensibly where evangelicals come from-and that is part of the problem, because evangelicalism is becoming more shaped by the forces of secular culture than by that Reformation heritage these days.

I would like to begin by arguing that this whole issue goes back a lot further than Ronald Reagan. In the nineteenth century, the moral crusade was very much a part of the American gospel. It was very important to have an American culture, an American church, an American religion, etc. And as Protestant denominations began to lose their hegemony over these institutions they increasingly downplayed theology and doctrine in order to form alliances with those who were on the right side of the political spectrum. One of the things I argue in Beyond Culture Wars is that the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God are two different kingdoms, a distinction that seems to be lost from both the Christian right and Christian left. Coming from the Reformed tradition-a tradition that has taken this world very seriously-I have a lot of respect for my forebears who in this country founded Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, Yale, and other institutions. They were trailblazers in all kinds of disciplines, and yet they knew that there was another world that was not only more important, but another world that helped us interpret this world. Evangelicals have lost that theological ballast by and large-which, by the way, has been pointed out by more secular historians and commentators than evangelical ones-and because of that loss of spiritual and theological ballast, we end up parroting whatever the world says or whatever was on Oprah’s last show, perhaps with Bible verses attached to it.

We used to call the confusion of politics and the gospel-saving the nation vs. saving indidviduals-heresy in mainline denominations in the sixties. But now evangelicals adopt the social gospel mentality because, after all, it’s now the right politics. Part of the problem in this business is entitlement. Everyone is out for his or her piece of the pie. Not only is Christianity in danger of being increasingly confused with American culture in general-those of you who travel abroad know exactly how many people recognize evangelicalism as an American phenomenon-but it is, even further than that, in danger of being confused with white, middle class, suburban American culture. I’m not critical of the Christian Coalition, for example, for its particular policy positions. It’s a free country and they represent a large segment of society. My problem is confusing that with Christianity, which I think it does.

Christianity won its way to dominance by sound arguments. Stephen in the book of Acts is emblematic of this, for when men began to argue with him, “they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke” (Acts 6:10). Evangelicals today focus on the people in power, and either lionize them, as in the case of Reagan, or demonize them, as in the case of Clinton. They should focus not on the people but on the ideas in power. I think that is crucial to focus on in the discussion of the culture wars.

Jim Wallis: I think what’s really missing in our day is a politics of personal responsibility, social justice, and community spirit. In other words, we need to be involved in shaping a more biblical politics; to move away from predictable ideological politics to a prophetic spiritual politics. The prophets in the biblical mode were never very comfortable in the White House, regardless of who was in power there. That kind of a prophetic biblical politics could cause a kind of convergence, bringing together the evangelicals, Catholics, the black churches, people who are inside and outside churches who are looking for change.

I think the violence we see in our society today may be for us a wake-up call. Violence is not the problem, violence is a consequence of the problem. We need to understand that violence is not just caused by poverty, it is caused by a profound lack of hope; it is despair that leads to chaos. So our politics must be rooted in spiritual values, and it must begin to move beyond the labels of conservative and liberal. Our politics must be characterized by a profound sense of hope. When our children are planning their funerals instead of their futures, we have a problem with hope, and if the religious community is not infusing the public square with that hope, then we are not doing our job.

Os Guinness: Let me just make four comments. Two against those who would tend to discount religion in public life, and two against those who would like to bring religion back to a prominent position in public life, but in unwise ways. The first comment is that understanding America without understanding religion would be like looking at Switzerland without the Alps. You’ll make absolutely no sense of it at all. Most Americans, past and present, have understood themselves and their whole lives (including their public life) from the perspective of faith. And to squeeze that out would be totally anti-democratic. Also you can see that Christian faith, as well as religion in general, is one of the three great streams that shaped this country. And to remove what is the earliest and strongest stream would be an act of national and historical suicide.

The second thing I would say on the positive side against those who discount religion in public life is that clearly, the place of faith and the religious liberty clauses in the founding documents is very close to the heart of the genius in this country. The mix of separation of church and state, faith and freedom, the ordering of religious liberty and pluralism, I think is as close as anyone has ever got in history to doing it right. Those who are trying to squeeze religion out are historically and culturally, and politically short-sighted.

Now of course for the last twenty-five years we have had the controversies. As Peter Berger puts it, one of the odd things about America is that she is a nation with a people as religious as India, and a leadership as secular as Sweden. In other words, the leadership in America is disproportionately secular. Now I personally don’t think that most of that is hostile. I have worked in the media, and in my opinion that lack of appreciation is much more often born of ignorance rather than hostility. In my experience, both in academia and in the media, the amount of hostility is remarkably small while the amount of indifference and ignorance is remarkably large.

Let me now make two comments towards those who are bringing religion back in unwise ways. First, many of them do so by turning everything into the culture wars. There is a culture war; it’s deep, it’s profound, it’s serious. But that is not the deepest problem we face today. I and many others would argue that the deeper problem still is what’s called the crisis of cultural authority. In other words, the beliefs and traditions and ideals which Americans once believed no longer have their compelling power over those who believe them. The situation is not us vs. them; we are fine and they are the problem. So whether it is the liberal elite or the media or whoever, they are the problem so if you clear them out all will be well. The problem with this view is that there is no problem in the wider culture that you cannot see in spades in the Christian church. The rot is in us, and not simply out there. And Christians are making a great mistake by turning everything into culture wars. It’s a much deeper crisis. It’s a crisis of cultural authority that affects religious people as well as secular. It affects all of us in the challenge of the modern world.

And the other comment I had against those who are bringing religion back wrongly is that I think one of the greatest needs today is to work again for a common vision for the common good. A while back a Washington journalist said to me, “Most evangelicals speak as if they’re talking of justice but sound as if they’re talking of just us.” And one of the reasons there is such a negative aura attached to the Christian right, which is partly justified, is that there is no stand for a common vision for the common good. There is no stand for public justice.

So let me pose the issues I think America faces today. At the individual level there is a simple choice. Will we be tribespeople and respond according to our group allegiances, will we be idiots (in the old Greek sense), people who are just after their own individual interests, or thirdly, will we be citizens, people who can fight for their own interests but always with a respect for the common good, recognizing the rights of the worst of their enemies and the smallest minorities that they happen to oppose. Too many Christians today are tribespeople. Would that they were citizens in the best sense of the word.

Cal Thomas: Let’s bring Bill Bennett into this discussion. Bill, on the major issues of our day, abortion, the gay rights movement, etc., it’s fine to talk about pluralism and tolerance, but in politics someone has to make a decision. Now, you are thinking about running for president, so what are you going to do about all those people who disagree with your views?

William Bennett: Well, first of all, the Christian is not objecting to notions of tolerance and pluralism. The Christian’s objection is that he is being left out of the public square entirely. I think that is the problem, Cal. It is not seeking orthodoxy or uniformity across the country. Rather, Christians entering into politics now are saying that they are the last group in America that is not respected. Everyone else seems to have their day and we do not have ours. Our beliefs are tread upon, our children are not allowed to express their faith. This is the main problem we have to deal with.

The Press: Bill, one national columnist recently observed that the conservative religious right is fighting for its life, suggesting that the culture is slipping away and perhaps gasping its last breath. Is there a certain desperation demonstrated in the activity of the religious right involving American politics, and is there a counterpoint to the remarks of President Clinton and Joycelyn Elders about the religious right’s imposing its agenda in politics and education?

William Bennett: I don’t think it’s desperation at all, rather, I think Christians are energized, and I think that the Clinton presidency has helped somewhat to energize them. When Bill Clinton or Joycelyn Elders give voice to views that have angered many people, views that go against the grain of mainstream Americans and not just Christians or Jews, this I think is what has energized people. I don’t think it is a last gasp, I think frankly the movement to get sound values back into politics and to not be embarrassed by their religious origin is stronger now because people understand that we have tried to do it value-free; we have tried to run politics without values and we have seen the result. It is now very respectable to talk in public about the importance of the family, character education, and a whole host of things which only fifteen years ago would have been regarded as on the fringe. So I think this is an expression of strength, not of weakness, and it is that which has enraged some Democrats on the left because they fear the strength of the movement. The last point I have is that as the movement gets stronger its spokesmen must be careful of what they say and how they speak. They must remember to speak in a way and for a cause that would invite people rather than turn them away, so the example of Christian witness must always be in the forefront.

Os Guinness: I would agree with most of what Mr. Bennett said, but just with one slight difference, and that is, I think there is a note of Christian desperation. As someone put it to me, “Christians talk as if they are standing on the rock of ages, and act as if they are clinging to the last piece of driftwood.” And if you read direct mail, there is a panic, an alarmism, a paranoia, that really is born of fear, and I think that really is an explanation for a lot of the hate and some of the ugliness. The clearest example in my view is the attempt by Christians to portray themselves as a persecuted minority. It was quite deliberate; it was engineered at a stage several years ago when the Christian right looked as if it was faltering. I think it is psychologically disastrous and it appeals to resentment. It is politically ineffective and it is thoroughly sub-Christian. But I think examples like this are examples of Christian desperation, and I think the sooner we get rid of this and have a firm faith in the sovereignty of God and of the truth of the Christian Gospel and in the openness of democracy we’ll have a chance to win the debate, particularly if we put in place a public philosophy.

Michael Horton: It seems to me that everyone is setting out to be a moral authority while at the same time there is an enormous amount of hypocrisy, whether you are talking about the Clintons or the Christian right. In terms of beliefs and practices, evangelicals themselves are too much apart of the “worldliness” they themselves criticize. Let me give a couple of examples. Secular humanism is defined by leaders of the Christian right as making man the measure, while at the same time, 77% of America’s evangelicals say that man is basically good, and 4 out of 5 evangelicals agree that “God helps those who help themselves.” If secular humanism is faith in humanity, rather than faith in God, then today’s evangelical are prime suspects. And on practical matters, 1 in 6 women who have abortions claims to be a born again Christian. I have personally known a number of Christian leaders who were writing book on marriage and the family while their families were falling apart. I think we have to realize that the church needs to be the church again, it needs to recover its theological roots. Ideas have consequences, and I think we are seeing Christians themselves failing to live up to their theological convictions because perhaps they are not really in touch with that theology themselves.

I also thought Mr. Bennett’s remark that Bill Clinton has energized evangelicals was very interesting. I think that’s part of the problem. I come at this, not as a player in Washington, I come at this as a pastor who is concerned about an evangelicalism that is becoming increasingly shaped by cultural, rather that spiritual and theological factors. And I think that point that Mr. Bennett made is very important for us to take away. Bill Clinton, by antithesis, is energizing evangelicals. I think that is a very scary thing, because what it means is, first of all, that our witness is reactive, and secondly, that our witness is determined by politics rather than by the Great Commission, and I think that is very tragic.

Jim Wallis: Some of us don’t feel that the White House has been a source of moral guidance for a long time. And I think that Christian preoccupation with who is in the White House and how they can get there to be with them is the source of our problems. I also think we are still plagued by false choices. There is this attitude out there that our choices are to be either completely secular or be perfectly aligned with those of the religious right. This is simply not the case. There are many evangelical Christians who are not politically on the right. There are moderates, there are progressives, and there are many who in fact do not find that their priorities articulated the extremes of either party.

Cal Thomas: I think it is interesting to remember that 2,000 years ago the ancient Israelites were looking for a deliverer to end the secular oppression of Caesar and the Roman government. But because they were looking for a political messiah, they missed the one they were in greater need of. I agree with Jim, that we are not going to have trickle-down morality; it has to be bubble- up. So some of my wonderful friends on the Christians right (which is better than being pagan left) are making the same mistake as the ancient Jews of two thousand years ago, I think.

Let me get back if I can to the issue of character education and virtue, now that these concepts are once again in fashion. What exactly is virtue, and how do you instill it in a people if not through its institutions. Everybody realizes that we have a crisis of virtue in this country, so what is the best formula, what is the best prescription for this virtue vacuum that is now gripping the nation.

Os Guinness: Well, I have three comments. First of all, I think Bill Bennett has done us an enormous service in bringing back the issue of character. To answer your question specifically, the key notion for the Greeks in learning virtue was habit, or as we would put biblically, obedience. And the modeling of character, and the modeling of virtue is much more difficult than simply educating it through the schools or the media. The second comment I have is that I don’t think we should be too impressed with the present fashionability of virtue. You can see the skepticism surrounding the subject on the recent Newsweek cover. Anything that is caught up like that is going to have its fifteen minutes in the sun, but the real test is whether after fifteen years the discussion is still going on. The third comment I have is, if you look back at the tradition of virtues and vices, the Greeks and the Romans stressed the virtues, while the Christians and the Jews stressed the vices. Both groups discussed virtues and vices, but is was the Christians that emphasized the discussion of vices. And for all our talk of virtues today, our view of the vices today is what is being described rightly as “sin-lite”. Sinfulness is low self-esteem, chocolate dessert, and so on. So until there is a radical view of evil and vice, talk of virtue will mean absolutely nothing.

Michael Horton: When the Christian hears talk about virtue-if we have our theological categories, and the Reformers were great with this stuff-we have a category for this discussion of virtue in terms of civil righteousness or civil politics. The problem comes when we don’t have those categories, and we think of civil righteousness as righteousness before God. So when Christians hear talk of pagan virtue, there is a sense in which we should say that even the most agnostic person can have virtue in the civic sense, but we are confusing this right now with Christianity and the Christian message.

The second thing I want to say is that when it does come to virtue in the home, evangelicals once again are lacking. Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson said recently that he was speaking to a group of evangelicals who wanted prayer back in the schools and he asked how many of them prayed with their children that morning. Sadly, no one raised his hand. Everybody wants the Ten Commandments in the public schools, but according to Gallup, most evangelicals can’t name them themselves. There is an enormous doctrinal and biblical illiteracy in the church and I think we have a lot of work in teaching and explaining what we believe and why we believe it before we try to force non-Christians to be less than what they are.

Cal Thomas: It’s really a shortcut to righteousness, isn’t it. The government is my keeper, I shall not want… I think both the left and the right have made serious mistakes in looking to government to deliver us from our collective ills. I would like to thank the members of the panel for being with us today.

Originally published in Modern Reformation (September/October 1994): Vol. 3, No. 5. Pages 24-27.

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In Defense of Monotheopolies

In a recent radio broadcast, The Onion news correspondent Doyle Redland reported that US Circuit Court Judge Charles Elliot Schofield has “ordered God to break himself up into several less powerful deities.” saying that his “stranglehold” on the religious industry “is ‘blatantly anti-competitive’ and ‘in violation of anti-monopoly laws.'”  Redland was present at a press conference given by the judge, who ruled that God is “in violation of anti-monopoly laws.” and accused him of “willfully and actively thwarted competition with such unfair scare tactics and in the process has carved out for himself an illegal monotheopoly.”

Such is the degeneracy of this age that even bastions of journalistic integrity like The Onion must at times yield to the seductive allure of sensationalism and the relentless pressure of secular prejudice. We at White Horse Inn, being dutiful cogs in Christ’s religious industry, consider it only appropriate that we should speak out in defense of our autocrat.

Against the Pagan Deities
These ‘gods’ (i.e., Baal, Asherah, and Molech) have consistently and unequivocally, in true and equal combat, proven themselves inferior in power to our Lord (1 Kings 18). They have treated human beings with total disregard and unstinting cruelty by paying heed to neither our sinful estate nor our cries for help in times of distress and suffering (1 Kings 18), and yet have required worship and reverence of an abhorrent and violent nature (i.e., the sacrifice of our own infants and the mutilation of our bodies).

In Response To The Accusations
From the foundations of the earth, our Lord has openly and clearly made his position on the rights of other ‘gods’ to be worshipped in like manner to himself known (Exo. 20, Deu. 5).  He therefore cannot be rightly accused of ‘unfairly scaring’ lesser ‘gods’ into relinquishing their right to an equal status with himself, and we respectfully submit that if said ‘gods’ were compelled into submission, it was and continues to be a function of their essential inferiority (Isa. 41:21-29), and not a result of conspiracy or manipulation on behalf of our Lord.

In Defense of Monotheopolies
Having established the fallibility and worthlessness of said pretended ‘gods’ and the manifest superiority of the risen Christ, we protest his inalienable and absolute right to hold a monotheopoly and maintain his stranglehold on deity now and henceforth.  His unity (Deu. 4:35), eternal power (Rom. 1:20), and holiness all bear witness to the propriety, justice, and wisdom of such an arrangement – if his innumerable perfections do not demand it, surely his unfailing and careful love deserve it.  Being so far from demanding arbitrary and capricious servitude from his creatures, he has deigned to give good gifts to his children, binding even his most sacred name in self-maledictory covenant to ensure not only their preservation and prosperity, but even their salvation and eternal life (Gen. 15).

-Brooke Mintun

Brooke Mintun is the satirist in residence at White Horse Inn and voted today for King Jesus.

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