6 De-Churching Trends

From Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church into a Godly Life,

Kent Hughes


  1. Hitchhiker Christians: “The hitchhiker’s thumb says, ‘You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas—and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you are on your own! And I’ll probably sue.’ So it is with the credo of many of today’s church attenders: ‘You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills—and I’ll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and probably bail out. My thumb is always out for a better ride.’
  2. The consumer mentality: Many of today’s Christians shop for a church like they build their supper at a cruise ship buffet. “Ecclesiastical shoppers attend one church for the preaching, send their children to a second church for its youth program, and go to a third church’s small group. Their motto is to ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’” This has often been rightly called, Cafeteria Christianity.
  3. Spectator Christianity: “Spectator Christianity feeds on the delusion that virtue can come through viewing, much like the football fan who imagines that he ingests strength and daring while watching his favorite pro team. Spectator sports and spectator Christianity produce the same thing—fans who cheer the players on while they themselves are in desperate need of engagement and meaning.”
  4. Drive-through Christians: “The nice thing about drive-through restaurants is that you can get what you want in a minimum of time with no more effort than a turn of your power steering. The tragic result is a drive-through nation of overweight, unfit people with an addiction to fast foods. So it is with drive-through Christians, who get their ‘church fix’ out of the way by attending a weeknight church service or early service on Sunday morning so the family can save the bulk of Sunday for the all-important soccer game or recreational trip. Of course, there is an unhappy price extracted over time in the habits and the arteries of a flabby soul—a family that is unfit for the battles of life and has no conception of being Christian soldiers in the great spiritual battle.”
  5. Relationless Christianity: In light of the New Testament call to believers to be part of the life of a community of people, it is ironic “that there are actually churches that trade in anonymity, going so far as to abolish membership and the registry of guests. Some churches have even replaced a pastor-in-the-flesh for a video-projected preacher on the screen—a ‘virtual reality’ version of the church.”
  6. Churchless ‘worshipers’: “The current myth is that a life of worship is possible, even better, apart from the church.” So, instead of faithfully participating in a church, there are self-professing Christians today who prefer to have their own private worship service at a local coffee shop, or down by the lake, or in their living room—pajamas and all!
Advertisements
| Leave a comment

Our Adorable Conquering Redeemer

Adapted from the Gospel Driven Church website:

O GOD OF MY EXODUS,
Great was the joy of Israel’s sons
when Egypt died upon the shore,
Far greater the joy
when the Redeemer’s foe lay crushed in the dust.
Jesus strides forth as the victor,
conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might;
He bursts the bands of death,
tramples the powers of darkness down,
and lives for ever.
He, my gracious surety,
apprehended for payment of my debt,
comes forth from the prison house of the grave
free, and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death.
Show me herein the proof that his vicarious offering is accepted,
that the claims of justice are satisfied,
that the devil’s sceptre is shivered,
that his wrongful throne is levelled.
Give me the assurance that in Christ I died, in Him I rose,
in His life I live, in His victory I triumph,
in His ascension I shall be glorified.
Adorable Redeemer,
Thou who wast lifted up upon a cross
art ascended to highest heaven.
Thou, who as man of sorrows wast crowned with thorns,
art now as Lord of life wreathed with glory.
Once, no shame more deep than Thine,
no agony more bitter, no death more cruel.
Now, no exaltation more high,
no life more glorious, no advocate more effective.
Thou art in the triumph car leading captive Thine enemies behind Thee.
What more could be done than Thou hast done!
Thy death is my life, Thy resurrection my peace,
Thy ascension my hope, Thy prayers my comfort.

– one of my favorite prayers from The Valley of Vision

| Leave a comment

Vocational Holiness – A Summary

By: Charmaine Fong

Vocation: Some thought-starters

  1. Unlike what society believes, work is a good thing
  2. God’s calling is more important than our personal choices.

 “What on Earth is God Doing?

Our Creator’s work is seen from two perspectives: the creative and the redemptive.
By calling upon us, we are not tasked with creation and/or redemption directly.
Rather, we are invited to be God’s co-reconcilers; humans serve as agents of God’s work.

This can be seen in the roles of a farmer and a doctor – a farmer’s role is not to grow crops; but to farm (i.e. to prepare the land and sow the seeds) while God’s role is to grow the crops from seed to maturation. In another instance, a doctor is not a healer; God is the healer and does so via the agency of the surgeon/physician.

 “Who Am I?”

We are created as unique reflections of an image of God and should seek to understand our self-identity. Subsequently, we should seek to understand the relationship of our identities to the assignment of our job, as this process is tied to our identity rather than being arbitrary.

We should also see for the true source of joy and passion which drive our identities – desires of our hearts, or “deep longings in our heart”, as Brian Mahan (author of Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose) terms it. Peter Block (author of The Answer to How is Yes) also poses the pertinent question of what matters to us (as opposed to what we should do or what we ought to do) to aid with our prioritizing, as we have a scarcity of time to carry out our good work.

Alternatively, we could reflect on the causes of unhappiness or anger in our lives to determine our purpose – Gordon clarified that this was not to be mistaken for the trivial sources of anger (e.g. bad traffic) but motivations about the unjustified that we seek to set right in our vocation.

Besides embracing our strengths, we are also asked to accept our limitations graciously as doing so would allow us to have opportunities to create dependency- on the Lord and others as our vocation is fulfilled in interdependence with others.

Talent and ability are means to fulfil, and not ways for us to determine or discern vocation.

“What Are my Circumstances?”

Vocation is assigned in a non-arbitrary manner and we are called upon by the Lord to do work in this time, in this world and within the circumstances of this life.

Through the understanding and acceptance of our circumstances, we graciously accept that things are what they are; instead of being engaged in wishful thinking, we seek hopeful realism which aid us in identifying opportunities and constraints.

No situation is hopeless in God’s grace! In moments of darkness, we should ask humbly for God’s grace and be led by the Spirit for greater is the one who is in you than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

Side Bar

In all vocations, we are called to bear the cross and invited to be joint heirs with Christ. Often, the way of the cross includes the way of suffering, failure, disappointment and sacrifice.

A  friend of Gordon’s was about to resign from a position which he was very well-suited in – he had all the necessary skills and traits and Gordon was trying hard to convince him to stay. His response?

“It is not my cross to bear.”

We need to reject self-constructed lives and look towards leading Spirit-animated lives instead. This means that we have a rich dependence on God and lean into God and acknowledge that we are in over our heads.

“Where Am I in the Journey of an Adult Life?”

Depending on the phase of life we are in, we experience different ways of discernment.

Sources of wisdom include adult development theorists and other authors such as, Eric Erikson, James Fowler and Daniel Levinson.

  1. From adolescence to adulthood (Age: 12/16/? – 34): differentiation

Young adults must realise that the love of and loyalty to God is greater than that to our parents.

(Matthew 10:37 – If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine)

2. The middle years (Age: 35 – 59): knowing our deep necessity, embracing strengths and accepting limits

Knowing our necessity: by this age, we should be aware of what matters to us / what angers us, as addressed before.

Embracing our strengths and accepting our limits are just as important: recognize that it is important to accept our capacities as they provide us with opportunities to be dependent (on God and others).

3. The senior years: the potential of wisdom and blessing

Wisdom: we inherited knowledge from the generations before us and are only truly older when we grow wiser. Seniors are tasked with passing on the knowledge to the next generation.

Blessing: we are to affirm, delight in and recognize without qualification or critique, not to judge but we are to bless freely. As grandparents, leave the role of parenting to the parents – just bless freely!

4. The senior-senior years

Retirement: a false societal construct and why we are in a greater position to do work

More than mere points of leisure, we might be able to do good work as we are no longer linked to office and are leaving the levers of power behind.

This puts us in a position of greater influence without judgement.

Hence, when the time comes for the succession of the next generation, leave well, leave generously and bless the next generation.

(Romans 12:18 – If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.)

Conclusion

  1. The greatest threat to the fulfilment of vocation is not external, but internal: fear

Do you have the courage to do what you are being called to do?

Look at the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 – are we like Martha; anxious, fretful, fearful and worried by many things? Or are we like Mary; patiently and faithfully sitting at Jesus’ feet , focused on listening to His Word?

  1. At least 3 conversation partners are needed in our fulfilment of vocation:
    1. 1 older person – a mentor, guide, friend, counsellor (A bless-er, not critic) of the same gender (an older woman is in a better position to bless a younger woman than an older gentleman, vice versa).
    2. A fellow pilgrim – a peer in the same stage and vocation who wrestles with the same struggles as you do; vocation is fulfilled in interdependence with others!
    3. A bless-er and source of encouragement from another walk of life or line of work
| Leave a comment

Bullet Points?

From the Reformation 21 blog:

A few years ago, I was on a panel discussing the Puritans.  A member of the audience asked if I could provide `a few bullet points’ to summarise Puritan theology.  My mind immediately went to those passages of John Owen and Richard Baxter where they give the reader the fifteenth point of the seventeenth qualification of the twentieth application of a doctrine or passage.  `No, I’m afraid I can’t.’ I replied, `The Puritans were not bullet point people in the modern sense.’  As if to underline the point, the recording manager, now a respected RCA pastor in California, added a backtrack of a tommy-gun firing to the mp3 recording.

It also reminded me of wise words a colleague who works in the field of seventeenth century Reformed Orthodoxy once gave me.  I asked him about a certain book on a particularly sophisticated Puritan theologian.  “Look at the man’s sentences,’ he said `You cannot capture the nuance and subtleties of the original author with English prose which is simply not fine-tooled enough for the task.’

One of the key problems of this age is the reduction of every complicated issue to a few sound-bites.   Politicians are the worst of all, not because they are actually worse at reductionism than other people but because the stakes are so much higher.  It is vital that the church does not end up in the same place. Some ideas are just complicated and not even a double tweet or even an extended article in wikipedia can do them justice..  A theology which can be expressed in 140 characters or turned into a half dozen semi-grammatical bullet points without an obvious main verb is inevitably a theology which is either ambiguous, simplistic or both.   It behooves those in positions of ministerial leadership in the church to make sure that the way they write and express themselves on any given topic is not only clear enough for the audience to understand but also precise enough that the audience does not misunderstand.

That is one reason why there must be a difference between evangelism and discipleship.  We should expect those who come to church to grow in their ability to understand the deep things of the faith. Church teaching needs to stretch believers.  Evangelistic preaching and teaching cannot be the sole diet of a church, even though believers as much as anyone need to hear the simple gospel on a regular basis.

It should also make us cautious about the limits of certain media.  Twitter is the obvious example.  It is a great way of linking to more substantial material; it is somewhat crass — even crasser than a typical political campaign debate — when it comes to expressing anything actually worth saying.

James Delingpole has a good piece on this in The Independent.  If Twitter is a bad place for giving expression to post-colonial theory, what hope is there for tweeting decent theology?

Oh, and if you communicate by Twitter, do not complain at being taken out of context.  Twitter has no context worth speaking of.

| Leave a comment

The ‘Atheistic’ Character of Christianity

From Alastair’s Adversaria:

The target of much atheist protest is the god that secures all meaning and makes sense of the world, the religion that serves as a crutch and underwrites the social order, the faith that inures one to truth and reality and gives birth to dulling and enslaving illusion. This is the god in whom they don’t believe. They might be surprised to find that Christians stand alongside them in attacking this deity: we don’t believe in that god either.

Christian thought involves a radical challenge to the way that we naturally view and ‘use’ god. It strikes at the idea of the distant and transcendent absolute being, believing that God was revealed in human flesh, with all that that entails. Christians believe that God came in a regular human body and pooped, sweat, and ate, just like the rest of us. Christians overturn the deity that underwrites and secures the pyramidical hierarchy, teaching that God himself became a servant for our sakes.

Christian faith teaches that God gave himself to die a criminal’s death at the hand of man and that he was dead for a few days. We believe that God’s character was most fully revealed, not in the beauty and perfection of nature, or the stillness of the human heart, but in a mangled and bloodied body on a Roman cross. It is in this eclipse of all light, and even the knowledge of God’s presence, that God’s face is most powerfully disclosed: God makes himself known in this moment of hell. It is also ultimately by this means that God achieves his purposes in the world, not by mere detached fiat.

If God himself felt the deep absence of God (‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me…?’), such an experience is far from alien – indeed, it is completely proper – to Christ-ian faith. Only Christians have a Holy Saturday, the day when God himself lay dead in the tomb, the day when all lights are out. As Tomáš Halík observes in his superb Patience With God, a living with the silence of God is integral to Christian faith and piety, an experience that bears much in common with that of atheists, but that the distinguishing character of the Christian response to this silence is patience.

In other words, Christians believe in an upside-down God, who stands utterly opposed to the deity that human beings naturally believe – or don’t believe – in. In the protests of atheists against this supposed deity, Christians can recognize the voice of the biblical prophets railing against the idols and false gods of the surrounding nations. In the moral protests of atheists against the injustice of the world, and any attempt to palliate us to this by reassuring theodicies, Christians can recognize the voice of the psalmist, who is inspired by God to challenge and question God. In response to the atheists who complain of God’s absence, Christians speak of exactly the same the experience (the ‘dark night of the soul’), the difference being that for Christians this is something to be passed through with struggling patience. In response to those atheists who resist attempts to impose meaning upon suffering and death, Christians can highlight the example of Job’s resistance to his counsellors. In response to the atheists who speak of the opacity of the world, Christians can point to the book of Ecclesiastes.

If atheists question God, believers in YHWH have been doing it for millennia. Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of the Jewish nation, was given the name ‘Israel’ after wrestling with God. The Bible is filled with examples and patterns of wrestling with and questioning God, and demolishing the comforting idolatrous notions that people have about him.

 

| Leave a comment

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards – Final

Numbers 43-70:

43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s, agreeable to what is to be found.

44- Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. 

45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. 

46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eve: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.

47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. 

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. 

49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.

50. Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. 

51. Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. 

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. 

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. 

54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it. 

55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. 

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether ~ have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. 

58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. 

59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. 

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. 

61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; “knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.” 

63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. 

64. Resolved, when I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those “breakings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be wear’, of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. 

65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton’s 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. 

66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. 

69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. 

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

Completed on 17th Aug, 1723.

| Leave a comment

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards – Part 2

Continued from yesterday’s post – Resolutions 22-42:

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is

perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.

33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. 

34. Resolved, in narration’s never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. 

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. 

37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. 

38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord’s day. Sabbath evening, 

39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no; except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.

40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. 

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. 

42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.

| Leave a comment