Going “Deeper” in Church; a Caution

 

From Trevix wax found here

I once met a youth pastor who was so frustrated with accusations of “shallowness” and demands for “more depth” that he told me, “Fine! If they want to go deeper, I’m going to go so deep it drives them nuts. I’ll drown them in depth!” Not exactly the best posture to take as a disciple-maker of the next generation.

I didn’t like the youth pastor’s attitude. But I did understand his frustration. Sometimes it’s hard to please the people clamoring for “deeper” teaching because everyone seems to have a different idea of what “deep” is.

Depth as “Just the Facts Ma’am”

One group thinks teaching is deep if they learn something they didn’t already know. The goal is to walk out of the classroom with more information than they had coming in.

I sympathize with the group that wants more facts. We have more resources available to us than ever before and yet people seem to know less and less about the Bible. When church members think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple, well, “Houston, we have a problem.”

But information is not the goal, and information alone is not depth. Take this approach to the extreme and we produce an elite class of biblical hobbyists who are almost Gnostic-like in their love for more knowledge. Knowing biblical facts is important, but surely we want to go deeper than the demons, who know more about Scripture than we do and are devils still.

Depth as “Insights for Daily Living”

Another group thinks “deep” means “insight for life.” Make a verse of Scripture apply directly to what I do tomorrow. “Deep” means “applied well,” and transformation (rather than information) is the goal.

I sympathize with anyone seeking “life transformation” in Bible study. Surely we don’t want people looking in the mirror of God’s Word and then walking away unaware of their reflection. Every teacher should hope for transformation.

But even if we hope to apply the Bible to everyday life, we don’t want to be self-absorbed readers skimming the Scriptures in search for practical tidbits as if we are reading a self-help book. If we go about Bible study this way, we never deal with the big picture of Scripture and therefore end up spiritualizing earth-shattering truths into coffee mug verses that give us warm fuzzies.

Depth as Gospel-Centrality

So what do we mean by “depth?” Not just new information or insightful application. We are longing for a depth that grounds us in the richness of the gospel.

Too many times, we assume that the gospel is just the basics of the Christian life, but intense, deep discipleship takes place when we get into the theological precision of interpreting biblical doctrines. Not so. The gospel is the story that gives richness and profundity to all our study of the Bible. John 3:16 is simple enough for a child to believe, and yet we can linger over these words for a lifetime and never exhaust all the truth contained here.

“Going deep” is more than winning a game of Bible Trivia. It’s more than finding a helpful insight for the upcoming week.

Going deep is:

  • immersing ourselves in the truth that Jesus Christ bled and died to save helpless sinners like you and me.
  • seeing the depth of our sin and the depth of God’s grace.
  • remembering that there is nothing we can do to make ourselves more acceptable to God.
  • returning to the costly grace that demands “my life, my soul, my all.”
  • viewing the whole Bible in light of the overarching story of grace that has the gospel announcement as its climax and the gospel community as its result.

It’s been said that the gospel is not the ABCs of salvation, but the A to Z of the Christian life. That’s good to remember. We never move beyond this good news. Depth occurs when we more deeply explore the truth of the gospel and its implications.

A Plea to Teachers

As a final note on depth, I plead with teachers. Whatever literature you may use, you are the factor that makes the difference. Gospel-fueled transformation takes place best when the teacher’s life is bubbling over with gospel enthusiasm.

Let’s ask ourselves:

  • Am I reading my Bible just to prepare my lesson? Or am I immersed in this gospel story daily?
  • Am I reading other literature and materials that deepen my own walk with Christ? Or am I content with throwing together the facts for an interesting presentation on Sunday morning?
  • Am I seeking to be a missionary in the community God has placed me? Or am I content with the little group I teach on the weekend?

Deeper teaching happens when we have deeper teachers. So fellow teachers, let’s soak ourselves in the truths of the gospel and the Word. Then, let’s invite others to the fountain of living water offered freely by our Master Teacher whose life and death changes everything.

 

Night at the Oscars? Harvest Festival? Thoughts on the Halloween Alternative


On Halloween night the MGA is hosting a Halloween alternative. It is advertised as

“Come dressed as your favorite celebrity & walk down the ‘Red Carpet’ to Hollywood! Prizes for best dressed celeb, best chili &/or pie at the Top Chef Chili & Pie Challenge. Bring 2 homemade pies, one for judging &/or one for eating! There will also be a candy land  and a slime making station, and surprise celebrities! Donations of nut free candy are welcome!”

I’ve been to several Halloween alternatives in my life, primary as a volunteer for the Churches that were putting them on but also as an attendee  I was never part of a Church that would do a Tract and Treat [ Christian children dressing up as Bible characters or saints, knocking on doors, and passing out tracts in exchange for candy] but I have attended “Hell Houses” that were put on by local Churches. While the former two are not as common, Halloween alternatives are.

Believing that Halloween as it’s celebrated by our culture is less than ideal, the Church has created an alternative where Children, so as not to feel left out or that they are missing something, can go to experience a similar celebration without the negative and dark elements. Its sort of like a sanitized Halloween, with all major components there and sharing all similarities. Fun time with others? Check. Getting free candy for minimal effort? Check. Elements of the harvest, such as pumpkins and scarecrows? Check. Other themed decorations? Check. Scary/Evil elements? Not so much at harvest festivals, but if they put on an evangelistic hell house, check! Kids in costumes? Check/ Adults in costume? Check. “Noticeable” teen or adult females wearing costumes highly noticed by teen and adult males? Oh the stories…….

Amorphously tied in to Autumn and Thanksgiving motifs, these events are usually  how we were to be thankful for the bounty God gave us. Parents would bring their kids dressed up as frogs, farm animals, pirates or Disney princesses and they would go to different stations manned by the youth group volunteers to collect treats, oftentimes of a homemade nature, but more often than not consisting of pure sugar and high fructose corn syrup. After the harvest festival was over, the teens would vacate and go home to get dressed up and hit the local neighbourhoods and businesses.  They rarely worse costumes, opting instead to go in their regular street clothes,  though there was the occasional sketchy nurse and bloodthirsty murderer.

Bringing it back to the MGA, I have to confess that I really don’t get the idea and purpose as coming dressed up as Hollywood actors and starlets. I understand the Halloween alternative, but I cannot think of a concept that is more foreign to me and strikes me to be as poorly conceived than having Christian boys and girls dress up as their favourite secular movie stars. Hollywood seems to be the epicentre of a worldview that is squarely at odds with a biblical one. The whole thing more often than not seems like a celebration of money, sex, power, drugs, violence, vanity and materialism. The lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life... In very real ways they have contributed to the sexualization of our culture and normalization of every kind of aberrant and perverse behaviour. Furthermore, there are very few actors and actresses  whose movies are wholesome and pure, and who would be Godly and righteous role models that we ought to look up to, much less dress up like.

I’m trying to think of who I would come dressed up as, and I can’t even think of a person. Who out there is worth emulating and dressing up as, and what does it say about us and our Christian identity that we want our kids to dress up as Hollywood stars? What does it say about our idolatry? I suppose its a given that some of our girls will come dressed up as Miley Cyrus and other young actresses who regularly exhibit in their private and public life what can only be described as “whoremonging skills.” Dressing up as  Hollywood movie stars attending the Oscars to celebrate movies which often showcase their sin and depravity, in the name of entertainment.

The only thing I can compare it to would be if Timothy or Titus instructed their congregation members that  instead of celebrating some pagan festival, that they should  have their kids and congregation members dress up  as gladiators. They could decorate the houses and catacombs with sand on the ground and weapons in little piles. They could be dressed up as the slaves, criminals and prisoners of war that found themselves entertaining the masses as they cut bone and shed blood in the Flavian amphitheaters. If the women think they would be left out, no worries- there were female gladiators too, and from all accounts they were just as fierce and like a lot of women celebrating Halloween wore just as little clothes.

Clearly I don’t get it, and I wonder if I’m part of some misguided minority. What do you all think? Do you like the idea of a Halloween alternative, and secondly- what do you think of the theme? Is it harmless fun to dress up as Hollywood movie stars, or does it betray some troubling reality? Discuss!

Lecture on Sexual Identity, Orientation, and Gender Dispensation. No Clobber Verses Allowed.

Justin Taylor posted this over at his blog. It is not a lecture about a biblical/theological/ exegetical defense against homosexuality, but rather assuming the position, answers questions from a pastoral/ psychological/socio-developmental/ counseling perspective. I have never come across anything as good and helpful as this. Highly recommended.

  • What causes homosexuality?
  • Can we be responsible for that which is not consciously chosen?
  • What is the difference between having same-same attraction, same-sex orientation, and being “gay” or “lesbian”?
  • How many people self-identify in these ways?
  • Do people with same-same attraction actually change?
  • How can they change?
  • What does the gospel have to do with this issue?
  • How can we promote change in the church for those who struggle?

Almost [saved] Poet Ezekial Azonwu

This is a phenomenal video by the people over at P4CM. Poert Ezekial Azonwu is simply electric and the gospel-centeredness is majestic. I would strongly recommend that everyone watches the whole thing through. And yes- I would give anything to be there. The next Poets lounge is going down October 29, 2011. See http://p4cm.com for more details. Highly Recommended!

Church kids need to stop being so gay

There is a microcosm of our popular culture today that is spread and spewed on a daily basis by many members of the Body of Christ, and this is the fact that “gay jokes” are socially and spiritually accepted within the Church. That is  tragic, disturbing, and damaging. Most Christians know that you shouldn’t tell dirty or sexual jokes and if you confronted a man telling a coarse joke, more often than not he’ll become embarrassed, self-conscious, and acknowledge that he probably shouldn’t be saying them. There is no such stigma for “gay jokes.”

Congregation members, especially teens and young men, have made this a part of their daily repertoire of insults and wit, specifically using the term “gay” as a disparaging epitaph. Innuendos and insinuations of effeminacy and queerness come naturally and quick. They do this based on perceived character defects, personal mannerisms,  speech patterns, clothing style, affectations, interests and oftentimes for no reason whatsoever. It doesn’t really matter what the impetus is, if there is an opportunity to burn another soul [usually in jest]  it’s rare that someone would think twice before saying  “that’s pretty gay” in order to frame them as a homosexual and demean and marginalize them. That’s part of it. The other part is when people  thoughtlessly define “gay”  and make it a synonym for stupid, lame, week and boring.  They might say “that restaurant was pretty gay” or that band is so gay”. Its very, very common, and Church kids love saying it.

Church kids are being bombarded by one of the worst dimensions of  Christian culture which says it’s either alright to make fun of homosexuals, or as is far more prominent and is usually the case, that they don’t care when you make fun of homosexuals. It doesn’t register. They are lethargic and apathetic, and they need to be woken. It is  inexcusable. It is an immature, uncaring and unloving practice. Our culture does it all the time, and instead of making this a dividing line where we draw a distinction between the hateful rhetoric of our culture and the loving, welcoming, nurturing character of the Church’s soul towards homosexuals, our young men have joined the party and have become indistinguishable in this regard.  The pastors and leaders need to take them to task and correct them when they say things like that. They need to be told that what they are doing is a sin and that it has no place in that community of faith. The pastors need to rebuke, shame and discipline them. Call them out on it and take them aside and help them develop it as an issue of personal sanctification.

It is a shame in every sense of the word, and it needs to be seriously dealt with.  It’s not funny and it demeans the name of Christ when they are being allowed to profligate it with impunity through careless and crass words.  Their joking may not all be overt, but they implicitly bleed superiority and condescension when they  take a facet of a person spirit  that they’ve wept  and trembled over and use it as a dismissive disparagement- when they reduce such an important, raw part of gay person’s identity to a punchline to score points.

A while ago I was in discussions with some people about what I would say if I were apologizing on behalf of the Church for how they’ve treated the homosexual community. I think what I wrote then has some relevance to the topic at hand and I figured would share part of it to close out the post;

“I would not apologize for the theology, but rather how we have presented it. I would apologize that we haven’t been more accepting of homosexuals in the congregation and have not aggressively been evangelizing them. I would apologize that we have related to them as lepers, instead of as image bearers needing Christ- and that we are less “leprous” than they. I would apologize that we have not denounced the young men in our congregations who have made a habit of telling “gay-jokes” and other shameful humor. I would apologize that we have been ambivalent and have not paid attention to the men and women in our congregation who have been struggling with same sex attraction. I would apologize for not ministering to them enough, and for not supporting them enough in their desire to be free from this. I would apologize for the tactlessness that certain ministers have exhibited in public forums and for the lack of loving tone with outsiders and unbelievers. Last of all, I would apologize that we have not been clear, intellectual, concise and consistent in our theology of marriage. We have let people who have no theology of marriage hijack the conversation and speak for us. We have let ignorant people with loveless rhetoric and billboards saying “Adam and eve, not Adam and Steve” represent us, instead of thoughtful, wise and well spoken men and women of God who are  able to intelligently lay out a loving, clear presentation of why and what we believe marriage and sexuality to be and how that relates to the homosexual and heterosexual.”

*note. the title of this blog point is deliberately provocative and ironically tongue-in-cheek. When contrasted with the content and thesis, I believe it serves its purpose well.

Waiting and Praying Until The United Church of Canada Implodes

The National Post in their religion section, had this article. It is slightly long, but offers a compelling read into the decline and demise of the United Church of Canada. Much of it revolves around Mardi Tinda, the recently elected new moderator of The UCOC who is essentially the voice and face of the United Church of Canada. The Church itself was formed less than a hundred years ago as an amalgamation of four different protestant denominations in Canada, with the hopes of creating one strong, unified denomination.

To that end, instead of creating a strong unified denomination, it has been reduced to a ragtag bunch of irrelevant  rebels whose only conviction is their insistence that inclusiveness reign supreme. As the face of the Church, we read that her passion and mission is to “help heal creation” by reducing humankind’s “carbon footprint.”  She says the United Church is fighting for “climate justice” and in fact, she just returned from a leg of her Spirit Express, a series of town hall meeting across Canada to talk about environmental issues. This, it seems, is little more than an exercise in missing the point. When I think of Christ and his apostles,  their mission seemed to be one that was focused on seeking and saving the lost- of calling all men to repentance and faith and for the latter preaching Christ and him crucified for our sins. I think creation care is as important as the next person, but what a striking, damning indictment against this woman and her Church that when asked what is her passion and mission as the public face of the church, that is her response.

When asked what are the minimal requirements for church membership in the UCOC, she seemingly balks at the idea that there would even be requirements, or that she has the right to foist them upon others. She personally believes the Jesus rose from the dead, but she would not demand that other people believe that in order to be a part of her Church. She states “I’m of a faith tradition that would say we are humble in knowing we carry partial truths. Truth is always God’s truth. It’s always being revealed to us more fully. And as we live in this life it seems to me there are enough religious voices that would say I have all the truth and in my experience that does not open us to greater understanding.”

This type of response is typically known as a humble hermeneutic, which when stripped down is anything but. In fact, I consider it arrogance in its highest form. Under the guise of humility and the reluctance to make any sort of definitive doctrinal statement they effectively dismiss the scriptures, ecclesial traditions, the church fathers, the ecumenical councils, and two thousands years of historical Christian orthodoxy. That is why they suppose there are no easy or definitive answers to questions like “Does God exists? Was Jesus God? Did he rise from the dead?” They don’t have anything they can point to to back up any of those questions. In fact, someone can answer “No” to all three of those questions and yet still be considered a Minister in the Church of Canada.

Case in point would be Reverend Gretta Vosper, an avowed atheist and a UCOC minister in Toronto. [Yes, you read that correctly] While she would be considered a two-fold son of hell  and  excommunicated by any other denomination, she is tolerated and even celebrated in the United Church of Canada. Mardi Tindal points out the positive side of having an atheist in the pulpit.  “I celebrate Gretta and others like her who cause us to think more deeply about the nature of our faith…One of the things we’re seeing is a greater tolerance for paradox. What Gretta has done has ignited a fresh conversation and invigorated the discussion. This is in the DNA of our Church: to invite this open, deep broad conversation to be the body of Christ…Besides, you can’t talk about post-theism without talking about God.”

This should not come as a surprise though, as one of their prior moderators, Bill Phobbs, stated. “I don’t believe Jesus was God, but I’m no theologian,” David Giuliano, the most recent moderator before Ms. Tindal, stated “I don’t remember Jesus requiring anyone to subscribe to a doctrine before he healed them. To suggest that one needs to subscribe to a narrow understanding of who God is and who Jesus is seems antithetical to the understanding I have of Jesus revealed in the Gospels.” As it were,  the root of all this nonsense comes down to two simple facts: These people hate the Bible and they hate Jesus.

In the UCOC, the Bible is not regarded as inspired or even particularly useful. Rather it is a collection of stories, oftentimes comprised of myths, contradictions and falsehoods that is meant to inspire people, but not mean to reflect or communicate any standard of truth or morality. This creates bizarre situations where people pick and choose certain parts of the bible that they agree with and discard others. For example, they would applaud Jesus sermon on the mount, as recorded by Mathew, but would reject other statements of Jesus, also as recorded by Mathew. The only filter seems to be what seems good to them to believe, which then lets them free to embrace illogic,  paradox and contractions while being humble and spiritual about it. It is a mad way to live and view the world. The fallout from this is evident. Words and meaning don’t matter. Post-modern notions of truth and reality are championed and lauded. Its hard to wrap my head around it, exactly, but the conclusion is that God, the Bible, Christ, Creation, Love, Hate, Belief, Faith, Life, Death are all defined and determined by the person experiencing them. The standard is themselves.

As for the provocatively titled blog post, I do mean that quite literally. Her erosion of membership has been a breathtakingly beautiful sight to behold, coming fast and strong and gaining in momentum over the years.  I think the best thing would be for the Church to wholesale repent of her idolatry and blasphemy, but barring that, I would actively pray that her membership dwindles as fast as it possibly can, so that the denomination ceases to be no more.. The United Church isn’t even a “Church” anymore. They have become a religiously-themed social/political advocacy group, pushing an agenda that most other Christian denominations would be horrified at.  They can point to other “progressive Christian” figures in the past as the inspiration for their slide away from Christ, but it definitely doesn’t help their cause. They bite the hands that feeds them because they hate the historical, Biblical Jesus, all the while begging for scraps at their imagined, idolatrous Jesus. It is pathetic, and the sooner this monstrous, blasphemous, satanically- inspired entity disappears, the better.

*Note, there is a United Church of Canada Church here in town. I do not know anything about them, as they have not returned my calls and have no website that I can visit and glean more information about them. I would suggest that they are innocent until proven guilty, and scriptural sound until proven unsound. Its possible they are a minority in the wider denomination that are still faithful to the word and to Christ, even as their denomination is leading tens of thousands to hell. If anybody knows anything about them, please contact me and let me know.

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 1For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. Romans 16:17-18.  

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead atHis appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 2 Timothy 2:1-4