30 March 2009

Just a reminder...I've moved

If you still have your RSS feeds set for this Blogger site, you need to migrate over to my new Wordpress blog and update your RSS and bookmark links. New posts are not appearing over on this site anymore. However, all of the old posts as well as the comments are over there so you won't lose anything in the move.


28 February 2009

This blog is moving

I've been contemplating this for a while and I'm moving things over to Wordpress. In fact, I've been keeping this blog in parallel over there since shortly after I started it. All the posts and comments are over there so no conversations will be lost. I just prefer the look and feel and the posting interface.

Please change your bookmarks to this:


27 February 2009


Lent is a season of repentance. It's a time to focus on drawing close to God. What it is not is a season to be morose or to beat oneself up about past sins already confessed and forgiven. As with many things in the Christian life, there is a balance to be found here between taking our sins as seriously as God does and not indulging in a form of self-flaggelation to try and make sure God knows just how sorry we are.

This song by Margaret Becker I think really captures God's perspective on this. It's titled "Just Come In" and is from her 1988 album Immigrant's Daughter:

What do I see
You draggin up here
Is that for your atoning?
I know you're sorry
I've seen your tears
You don't have to show Me
What makes you think you must
Make that go away
I forgot
When I forgave
I wish you would

Just come in
Just leave that right there
Love does not care
Just come in
Lay your heart right here
You should never fear

You think you've crossed
Some sacred line
And now I will ignore you
If you look up
You will find
My heart is still toward you
Look at the sky
The east to the west
That's where I threw this
When you first confessed
Let it go now

Just come in
Just leave that right there
Love does not care
Just come in
Lay your heart right here
You should never fear

I will forgive you
No matter what you've done
No matter how many times
You turn and run
I love you
I wish you'd come

Just come in
Just leave that right there
Love does not care
Just come in
Lay your heart right here
You should never fear

26 February 2009

Arminianism and “Once Saved, Always Saved”

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up Methodist and then in my early teens became a member of the Assemblies of God. These two groups make up the first 24 years of my life as far as churches go. And both groups are firmly in the Arminian camp with regard to soteriology (the study of salvation and how it occurs). They believe that man has a free will and that while God does indeed reach out to us first, the moment that salvation first occurs comes when a person chooses to respond to God’s “wooing”, repent of his or her sins and accepts Christ as Lord and Savior and that it is not a result of unconditional election/choosing by God.

After college I moved to a new city and began attending an independent Charismatic church with a twist: they were Reformed/Calvinist with regard to salvation. They taught the doctrine of sovereign election and predestination in that salvation is all of God from beginning to end. Man’s will is so corrupted that he is unable to choose God. God therefore not only initiates in salvation, but because of man’s inability to choose Him, He chose before the foundation of the world those whom He would act upon and change their hearts so they would follow Him and respond to His call. Others, though His general call to salvation was given to them, were not chosen and would thus be left to die in their sins. The Calvinist would claim that unless God acts on some, no amount of mere wooing will cause a man dead in his sins to respond to God’s call. Since God is not a universalist (meaning He chooses everyone and no one ends up in Hell), He either acts on some to demonstrate His undeserved grace and purposes in the world or everyone dies in their sins and goes to Hell.

This was my first encounter where Calvinism was fully explained to me. I later attended a Presbyterian church and then a non-denominational one, both of which taught the doctrine of sovereign election and predestination, and in an even better fashion than the Charismatic church that first introduced me to it. I devoured books like The Bondage of the Will by Luther, The Sovereignty of God by Arthur Pink, Chosen By God by R.C. Sproul and others. For the next 10 years or so, I was an ardent Calvinist so far as the subject of man’s salvation was concerned.

Since beginning this study of Church history, I’ve come to realize there is actually a third path that Catholics, Orthodox and others take on this subject that is neither Arminian nor Calvinist. There are even some nuances between Calvinists and Lutherans on the issues.  And I've come to the conclusion that I can no longer honestly affirm the soteriology of Calvinism, at least not the way it is typically explained.  But that’s a discussion for another time that requires some deep thinking on Occam, Aquinas, Scholasticism and nominalist notions that I’m ill-equipped to discuss at the moment. My focus is the issue of eternal security, or more colloquially, “once saved, always saved.”

Growing up Arminian, this notion never made a bit of sense to me. But once I became a Calvinist, it made perfect sense. Why? Because if a person’s salvation is utterly dependent upon God choosing them, giving them the faith to believe and effectually calling them to Himself and is not a result of his own free will choice, then his it logically follows that his salvation is ultimately accomplished by God as well. In other words, his salvation never in any way depended upon his own efforts. It was all of God. Therefore, “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it in Christ Jesus.” In this picture, God is the author, sustainer and finisher of salvation in all whom He has chosen. No one He chooses can fall away because it’s not ultimately up to them and their efforts.

But in an Arminian context, it becomes completely illogical. As soon as you insert the idea that God does not sovereignly choose some to salvation and that He merely calls/woos/persuades people, but the person makes a free will choice, you have to leave open the possibility that at some point down the road, a person can use their free will to “unchoose.” They can later reject God and His offer of grace and salvation and turn away from Him.  

Other non-Baptist Arminians affirm this in various ways. Without detailing all the nuances of difference, it generally works out something like this: A person could come to Christ, be “born again” and obtain salvation. And while they don’t generally believe that any one sin in and of itself would cause someone to instantly lose salvation, they would affirm that a pattern of unrepentant sin, over time, would have a corrosive effect on the person’s heart and eventually they would by their own actions and a change of their heart and will, have turned away from the faith. They will have “lost salvation” and if they died in that state, would be condemned to hell. And of course they would also affirm that it could be more explicit such as a person deciding at some point that they simply no longer believe in God at all, or even if God is real, they no longer wish to obey or serve Him. Such a person has made an explicit rejection of God and will have forfeited salvation as well. Even Catholics, though not considered Arminian, affirm that a person can “lose salvation” by their actions after the initial moment of repentance and justification.

For all of the Baptist huffing and puffing about free will against the Calvinists, they completely deny human free will once a person has made a sincere repentance and has committed their life to Christ. I find it odd that they think that a person who has not been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, in their darkened state has the free will ability to choose God, but that once a person has done so, they no longer have a free will! They simply CANNOT decide to walk away from Him. And when you point out examples of those who came to Christ, lived for years as faithful believers, but then at some point walked away from the faith and rejected God or have lived for years in unrepentant sin then died, they say that the person simply never was truly a believer. Mind boggling.

So to me, there are two groups being logically consistent with the beliefs they claim to hold. The Calvinists and the non-Baptist “free-willers.” The Calvinist can logically affirm “once saved, always saved” because salvation is effected by God alone and He is not wishy washy. He chose those whom He would save before the foundations of the world and all those whom He has chosen will persevere to the end, being upheld and sustained by Him. Methodists, Catholics and other free-will affirmers can logically affirm that because man must cooperate with the offer of grace to obtain salvation, if the same man later chooses to cease cooperating or to explicitly turn his back on God and reject that grace, he will have forfeited salvation. But this crazy idea that human beings can only choose God, but are not allowed or are unable to “unchoose” Him simply doesn’t add up.


25 February 2009

Ash Wednesday

May the Lord bless all of you as we move into this penitential season of Lent. I pray that He will grant you His grace as you enter this focused time of prayer and fasting, helping you grow in holiness and in the fruits of the Spirit.

I'll leave you today with this collect from the Book of Common Prayer and hopefully have a new blog post up in the next couple of days.

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

21 January 2009

The role of feelings

The kids were sick this past Sunday and it was my turn to go to church, so I took the opportunity to go to the Anglican church. I needed some liturgy in my life.

Anyway, as I was in the service I was struck by how ruled by feelings I can be. The main part of the service, the Eucharist, was wonderful as always. But the rest of the service was less inspiring. First, the organ at the church they are using until their place is built has stopped working, so it was piano only (and they indicated that’s how it would be in the new building since they won’t have an organ right away). Then, I didn’t know any of the hymns and they weren’t particularly good (Anglican hymnody pales in comparison to that of the Methodists to me). And finally the main rector wasn’t there this week so there was a guest speaker. He was ok, but frankly, I’ve become quite used to hearing excellent teachers on Sunday mornings.

So I was sitting in the service, sorting through my feelings. I worry sometimes that I over-romanticize things, then get tired of it or bored when the reality doesn’t live up to the ideal in my head. Here I was in exactly the kind of church I’ve been dying to go to and everything was seemingly conspiring against me to make it less than inspiring.

It troubles me that I’m like this. And I’ll admit, it’s not just a concern for me with Anglicanism, but with any thoughts of becoming Catholic. I don’t want to feel this way. This is a big deal to drag my wife and family into a tradition that is foreign to them and totally different from either of our immediate family. It can’t be done on simply matters of taste and preference, which can then be so easily affected by the lack of an organ or second-rate hymnody. It’s got to be about something deeper. And I also understand that worship ultimately isn't about me, it's about God. I do benefit and receive many blessings from worshiping God, but the main reason for being there on Sunday mornings isn't for me to get something, it's for me to give something.

And on an intellectual level, I know that if I become convinced that certain beliefs are true and are important, and I know that the church I'm attending doesn't believe that way but another option in town does, then I should start attending the church that teaches correctly. This becomes an even bigger deal if I become convinced of the claims the Catholic Church makes because it's not just a matter of this doctrine or that one, but it's a matter of believing that it is the Church that Christ and the Apostles founded and that it has been given the authority to interpret Scripture and determine correct doctrine and practice. If I'm convinced something of that magnitude is true, how much do my feelings on how inspiring the Sunday service is really matter? "Not much" is my educated guess. But it depresses me to think that I'd be locked into a style of worship that really isn't open to debate the way it is in Protestant circles and because of my ephemeral feelings, I may grow bored with.

Maybe you think I'm worrying about nothing, but this is the way my mind works. I've jumped on trendy things in the past and have a natural bent toward things that are different from what most of my family or friends are into. Then about the time they begin to come around on it, I've moved on to the next thing. To some degree I wonder if my dalliance with Calvinism was that way. I was so convinced it was the right view of Scripture and salvation. Now, not so much. Would it be like this for this liturgy or Catholicism issue? Because that's a whole lot of pain, stress and upheaval for something that could change in 5-10 years.

09 January 2009

10 Really Bad Reasons Not To Have The Lord's Supper

From The Blogging Parson.

My favorites:
7. We haven't had it for so long that now it is weird.

10. Having done away with the old formal ways of doing the Lord's Supper, we can't decide on a new, less formal way of doing it that isn't awkward and weird.

Read the rest at his blog.

02 December 2008

Six Flags Over Jesus

“Yeah, that’s good. I guess I was thinking a little less theologically and more practical philosophy of ministry stuff. For example, missional is the opposite of attractional. The attractional church puts on the dog and pony show to get people in the door. Being a sacramental church seems to free us from the need to put on some other program. I’ve been feeling very whiny lately about the way modern evangelicalism has put a lot of pressure on po’ widdle me to provide a full service church for religious consumers. In a sacramental church I imagine I could say, “Look, I’ll minister the Word and sacraments. Y’know, the stuff that gets you to heaven? You want any of that other crap you can do it yourself.” ”

This was a quote from a Lutheran pastor on another blog. It encapsulates well one of the issues I have with the modern evangelical church model. I’ve been involved with various contemporary evangelical churches for over 20 years now. And as my previous mentions on my religious mutt background attest, they aren’t confined to one denomination or any denomination at all. These churches span the spectrum including Assemblies of God, Southern Baptist (my parents’ church, not mine), United Methodist, non-denominational charismatic and non-denominational non-charismatic. To varying degrees, all of them have a sort of “all things to all people” approach. Now, don’t take that to the nth degree or anything. All of them are solid, Bible-believing churches well within the evangelical mainstream doctrinally. And these churches are run by and attended by many, many people who love God. But their ministry approach definitely reflects this notion.

Here’s the problem: it is an exhausting and expensive model to maintain. Almost every one of these churches have activities and “ministry opportunities” going on all week long. There are home cell groups, men’s ministries, women’s ministries, Bible studies, children’s church, nursery, Sunday Schools, singles groups, divorce care, puppet teams, drama teams, a contemporary service, a traditional service. The sheer amount of manpower to head up all of these things and keep them running year around can be staggering. Factor in that when it involves someone that has the gift of teaching or another specific talent, and that there aren’t necessarily a ton of those people in a given congregation, the burn out potential is rather high for the handful that get called on all the time to run these things.

Then there’s the praise band, the orchestra, the choir, the audio/visual team, the props team. The bar has been seriously raised in this regard over the years. Not only do you need people with the expertise to do all this stuff, but also, it’s not cheap. Lighting, sound gear, video equipment, computers and software…the stuff you find in many contemporary churches rival what you’d see at a rock concert a few years ago.

And what is the effect on the congregants? I don’t want to paint everyone with one broad brush, but this game of oneupmanship between churches (state of the art technology, elaborate children’s ministry classrooms, etc) tends to create a consumerist mentality. We shop for a church based on superficial concerns. Rather than settling into a church where true fellowship happens, we get lured by the sheer deluge of opportunities. Collective activity replaces real community. Cool and “relevant” (the most tired and overused word in Christian circles) presentations and videos overshadow that which has sustained the Church for 2000 years: the ministry of the Word and the sacraments.

Also, the net effect of the money and manpower that it takes to keep all these plates spinning and working to their full potential is that there are a lot less people-hours and dollars going toward the church reaching past its own four walls and just ministering to itself and instead reaching its community. How often do we hear conservative Christians rant against government welfare programs and the taxes needed to sustain them while pulling up every Sunday to a concert hall with a pint-sized Six Flags Over Jesus right next to it?

What if the church focused on having a reasonable worship and educational space that is conducive to the sacred (read: you’re allowed to have it look pretty and have an aesthetic that denotes that it’s a place of worship, not a warehouse, gymnasium or someone’s oversized living room), resisted the temptation to just keep building and building rather than church planting and then focused those resources of people and money toward serving the community they live in? All kinds of possibilities come to mind but some ideas would be: weekly free car repair for single women/mothers, free tutoring services for kids in a disadvantaged area of town, organizing volunteers to help the homeless, linking up with existing ministries like Habitat for Humanity, putting our pro-life beliefs into practice by starting a program and fund to encourage women locally not to abort but to give their child up for adoption (and having many more Christian families consider this other than when they can’t have biological children), organizing and funding free health clinics for the uninsured.

I could go on for days. You could probably think of many others. These are the kinds of things we could be doing…if we weren’t taxing ourselves with programs, ministries and expenses that leave us tapped out both financially and physically. And I will guarantee you, if we started handling church this way, concentrating on being (as the quote put it) missional and sacramental rather than attractional, the reputation of the Church and Christians in this world would be much, much different. You don’t draw people to Jesus by your amazing technology and Swiss Army knife ministry approach. People are drawn to Him the same way they always have been, through love and serving.

19 October 2008

Musical Disconnect

This will be quick. I'm in church this morning. We went to the contemporary service this week. It was fine for the most part. But sometimes I wonder if the worship leader pays attention to the lyrics of the songs he chooses.

After one song is done, the band goes quiet for a few seconds. Then the drummer starts in with a driving beat on the toms and kick drum. A drum solo of sorts. He does this for several bars and then the lyrics start:

In the secret,
In the quiet place
In the stillness You are there
In the secret,
In the quiet hour I wait only for You
Cause, I want to know You more

Shouldn't lyrics talking about the "secret, quiet place" and the "stillness" where you wait on the Lord be accompanied by music that would convey that thought as well?

Call me crazy...

15 October 2008

A Dilemma for Protestants

Here’s an interesting dilemma for Protestants. We argue against the infallibility of the Pope on the basis that no man can perfectly hear God and infallibly declare doctrine. There’s also some confusion about the difference between infallibility on matters of doctrine and personal sinlessness but we won’t dig too much into that.

Now, at the same time, we affirm the infallibility of a book…a book written by humans that we know were not sinless, that we believe nevertheless were able to produce infallible teaching as they were guided and enabled by the Holy Spirit.

The difference in these two views is only by a matter of degrees. One accepts infallible teaching and doctrine directly from a man who occupies a specific office and believes that the Holy Spirit enables him to speak infallibly on matters of faith and practice. The other simply accepts the same thing from a variety of men in written form. And on top of that, the one that believes in the infallibility of the Pope when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and practice affirms that such teaching still must not contradict anything in the Bible.

So my question is, if you can accept by faith that imperfect men could be infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit to produce an infallible Bible, why is the notion that the Holy Spirit could infallibly guide a Pope in the same manner such a non-starter?

17 August 2008

Stuggling to Worship

I was attending the Methodist church this past Sunday and chose to go to the “traditional” service because I like the new pastor that teaches there and at least I get to hear some old hymns. All started out well with one of my favorites, “Praise To The Lord, The Almighty.”

But then we got to a point in the service where the music director typically makes a medley of hymns together that we sing. Today he decided to focus on heaven as the theme since the pastor's message was on the Scripture text, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” The song line up was a trinity of perhaps my least liked popular evangelical hymns:

"I'll Fly Away"
"When the Roll is Called Up Yonder"
"When We All Get To Heaven"

I struggle so much when songs like this are sung. And I don't think I'm alone. As I scanned the congregation, I noticed a fairly consistent pattern. The older folks (those 60 and above, which included the music director) seemed to love it. They had smiles on the their faces and sang with some gusto, nodding or lightly bouncing to the music. Anyone under 50, and especially those 40 and under seemed at best subdued and at worst bored. The melodies and time signature just have that bouncy, happy-clappy hoedown feeling to them that sounds dated in all the wrong ways. In fact, the whole middle of the service, from a musical perspective, just not doing it for me. In addition to the above medley, the choir did the Southern Gospel classic, “Midnight Cry” (a popular song about the rapture coming any moment) which just made it worse.

But beyond the music itself, I struggle with the lyrics and subject matter. I struggle for a couple of opposing reasons. For example, a couple of verses from “I'll Fly Away”:

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I'll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I'll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I'll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I'll fly away

Is it unreasonable to feel that a mindset like “just a few more weary days and then...” and “no more cold iron shackles on my feet” when referring to this life is a tad pessimistic? And I guess for me, when I'm in church on Sunday morning, I want to worship God. It's great to hear messages that encourage or convict me and help me grow, but my real purpose for being there is me offering myself, my worship to God. In a sense it's great to look forward to eternity with Him, but it doesn't feel like a worship song to me. Compare the lyrics of that medley to the opening hymn we did today:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,
The King of creation
O my soul, praise Him , for He is thy health and salvation
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near
Praise Him in glad adoration

Praise to the Lord,
Who o'er all things so wondrously reigneth
Shelters thee under His wings , yea, so gently sustaineth
Hast thou not seen how thy desires e'er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord,
Who doth prosper thy work and defend thee
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee

Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him
All that hath life and breath,
Come now with praises before Him
Let the 'amen' sound from His people again
Gladly for'ere we adore Him

To me, that's a song of worship...talking about God, what He's done, His attributes and majesty. “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” just doesn't compare to that. And that doesn't even touch the explicit Left Behind style rapture theology of it and “Midnight Cry.” I just found myself straining to connect with the songs at all. Perhaps some of it is the age thing mentioned above. The closer you get to the end of life on earth, the more aches and pains and troubles you've accumulated or seen, the more you long to just get out of here. But when you're young and have a lot of life ahead of you, you look forward to living it. You want to see your kids grow up, get married and have kids of their own. You want to do exciting and meaningful things for God down here. You're not just waiting for the rapture or to “fly away.” It's great to look forward to heaven one day, but sometimes people seem like they are “so heavenly minded, they're no earthly good.”

Now, for that opposing reason. Setting aside the feeling that none of the hymns in that medley above really seem “worshipful” to me and taking them just as songs with a message...is there something wrong that I don't feel more moved by them? At all? Shouldn't I view myself as a “stranger and alien” here? I mean, I do want to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus. I do look forward to a time where I'm not fighting this constant internal war with myself over sin and I get at least some answers for all the evil and pain and misery that does exist down here (though being an American mitigates how much of that touches me directly). As I was singing these songs and trying to connect, trying to understand what the older folks were getting out of them, I felt guilty that it simply wasn't happening. No matter how hard I tried to resist the “I hate these songs” urge within me and absorb the message, it didn't work. They seemed escapist, defeatist, trite and unmeaningful. Yet I felt like as a good Christian, I shouldn't feel that way.

Anyone else feel this way at church sometimes? Struggling mightily to squeeze whatever you can out of the service or the music or the preaching, largely failing, and all the while feeling guilty that you're not “more spiritual and can see God moving in it? What do you do about it? As I continue to struggle with the desire to be in a more traditional, liturgical worship environment, but having to consider all of the needs of my family and settling for something different for the time being, this is the hardest thing I deal with. And I don't want to feel this way every Sunday. I just want to worship God and connect with Him.

29 June 2008

Protestants and "Spiritual" Means vs "Tangible" Means

I'm reading This Is My Body: An Evangelical Discovers The Real Presence by Mark Shea. It's a short read, only about 50 pages long. But it's really posing some interesting thoughts to me and one passage in particular stuck out. He's speaking of the Protestant suspicion of anything that smacks of “works” religion or falling back into the same error the Galatians made over the issue of circumcision. This same sense of unease or outright suspicion is felt toward the Catholic doctrine surrounding the “Real Presence” in the Eucharist and seeing it as a “means of grace.” And Mr. Shea felt much the same way at one point. But he had some interesting thoughts as his evangelical pastor preached on the Bread of Life discourse in John 6:

Do not misunderstand. My pastor was certainly no exponent of Catholic theology. Rather, in classical evangelical fashion, this good man held that “the teaching of Christ is the true bread from heaven” and that the passage had no Eucharistic significance...he urged, we must become mature in Christ “by eating His word” and relying on the grace of God working in and through fellow Bible-believing Christians. Only thus, he said, could we hope to grow.

...It suddenly bore in on me that this grasp of biblical teaching as “food for maturity” was strikingly similar to the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. I saw at once that regular biblical fellowship and regular Holy Communion are both a form of ritual, both “means of grace.” The only difference is that in the former, God transubstantiates paper, ink, and the human voice into His Word; whereas in the latter, according to Catholics, He changes the bread and wine into something even more impressive. My difficulty, then, was not with the idea of ritual “means of grace” as such, but with a God Who might touch me in a non-verbal, non-cerebral, non-spiritual way.

This really is a crucial point. Protestants think in terms of receiving grace “by faith” and what we mean without explicitly saying so is that “by faith” means “intangible.” Grace in the biblical sense is only experienced by believing and trusting in Christ, not by any physical means. And this does explain much of our reaction against the Catholic view of the Eucharist as a “means of grace” (literally, a physical manner in which God's grace is transmitted to us). Yet we also believe that we are spiritually fed and matured by tangible means such as reading our Bibles, sitting under solid Biblical teaching and fellowship and sharing life with other believers. What are these things if not tangible and physical? And in believing this, we certainly don't mean to convey the idea that God does not transmit His grace to us in other ways such as prayer, the Holy Spirit quietly working on our hearts and so on. But we affirm the notion that God works through things in the physical world He created to nurture and mature us. These are “means of His grace” to us.

So why do we have such a problem with the Catholic notion of Holy Communion being a tangible way in which God actually gives us a measure of His grace? Why are we so suspicious of means that are “non-verbal, non-cerebral and non-spiritual” yet have this glaring blind spot when it comes to other such “Protestant” means like the written Scriptures, the teaching of the Word by our pastors or fellowship with other believers?

What say you?

14 June 2008

Tim Russert 1950-2008

I know it's off the normal subject around here, but I wanted to send my heartfelt prayers and condolences to the family of Tim Russert, NBC Washington Bureau Chief and moderator of Meet The Press. I can't imagine Sunday mornings and news segments throughout the week, especially during this election season, without his insights, interviews and commentary.

Tim, you'll be sorely missed.

06 May 2008

Six Denominations in Six Weeks

Great article up on RelevantMagazine.com from a guy who has attended Southern Baptist churches all his life and decided he needed to branch out and experience how some of his fellow brothers and sisters worshipped on Sundays. In six weeks time, he visited a different Southern Baptist church than his own (with a different style as well), United Methodist, Presbyterian (PCUSA), Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Assemblies of God.

Go read the whole thing as it's a really neat experiment and he's a witty writer. I just wanted to share this excerpt on his Episcopal visit. I could have almost written this for him verbatim:

Then we recite the Nicene Creed, followed by the “Confession of Sin.” Together, as a congregation, we recite a wonderful prayer, including this passage:

We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

When we finish, the priest says, “Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you of all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ,” and it’s such a good reminder. I love this part.

For the Eucharist, we proceed a row at a time to the front. I hear the administrants’ voices: “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven. The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.”

I can’t overemphasize the satisfaction I get from this service. It’s contemplative, reverent and serious. There’s no swaying or hand-clapping, but the congregation participates through prayers, confessions and responses. I hear more scripture read than in any Baptist service I’ve attended...

The liturgy is different, but the words are deeply meaningful. I get the sense that the focus of the service isn’t on the music, or the preaching, or even on making visitors feel comfortable. It’s on Jesus. It’s crazy how that seems so revolutionary.



02 May 2008

Silence is golden

I've now visited two different Anglican churches and two different Catholic churches and there's something strikingly different about the atmosphere before the service compared to the atmosphere before the evangelical churches I've been part of.

Walk into your typical evangelical church (especially if its of the more contemporary variety) and this is the norm: People are mingling and walking around waving to people across the room. There's people chatting and catching up with friends. The pastor is likely milling around near the front greeting people or answering a few questions. The praise band might be making some last minute sound checks or getting instruments ready. The details might vary, but the common denominator is a buzz. Chatter. Hubbub. Noise.

Walk into an Anglican or Catholic church and the first thing you notice is the silence. Not just less noisy. I mean, really quiet. And it doesn't matter whether it's a small or large congregation. Just quietness with people kneeling to pray or sit silently and prepare their hearts for worship. Sure, people are greeting each other, hugging necks and shaking hands...outside the building on the church steps or in the courtyard. Once you step into the lobby and walk through the doors to the nave, there's a hush that comes over everyone and they silently take their seats.

Think about this: how many times do you have an opportunity outside of crawling into bed to go to sleep where you're alert and in a conducive setting to just have glorious silence?

Now, I realize that church functions as a place of fellowship with fellow believers. We're called to live this life with God in community with others. So I don't wish to deny the importance of connecting with other Christians at church. But I do have to ask: what is the primary reason we go to church on Sundays? Or better yet, what should be the primary reason?

As important as fellowship and connecting with fellow Christians is, it doesn't hold a candle to the most important reason: to worship God and give him the honor that's He's due. And part of offering proper worship involves taking time to focus on Him and not the hundreds of other things from our everyday life that clamor for our attention. It's examining oneself and considering how the life we lived over the last week lines up with how we know He's calling us to be. It's pondering the blessings and provision that He's given us and cultivating gratitude for it all.

I don't know about you, but I find it terribly hard to concentrate and to do that with at least three conversations on the football game yesterday or the funny thing the kids did this week or the rundown of where she got that new purse and those earrings going on within 5 feet of me.

And I've actually tried. I haven't gotten into this lately because I don't want to be perceived as whining, but we're attending the Methodist church for a while as the new senior pastor is reportedly going to be instituting some changes and bringing in more traditional elements over the next few months and my wife really wanted me to give it a chance. One time I went in to the auditorium before my wife to get us seats because she wanted to stop by the restroom. I knew I had a couple of minutes and decided to pray and prepare my heart for worship. I was concentrating so hard if I believed in ESP I might have moved furniture. But with someone talking on a cell phone on one side and two women laughing and catching up on the other, it was really hard. Another time I went to the "traditional" service alone because the rest of the family was getting over a cold. While there was no cell phone silliness, there was still the milling about and talking that made quiet reflection all but impossible.

Why are we evangelicals so averse to silence? If it's not the big handshake and hug-a-thon at your local Baptist or Methodist church, it's the filling of every quiet moment with music or worst of all, the tendency of my old Pentecostal days to assume that if things fell silent that it was a cue for someone to blurt out a "message" in tongues or a "word from the Lord." It's as if we're scared to death of it getting quiet. We equate quietness with awkwardness or lack of activity. But the truth is, in quietness and stillness often comes some of the most powerful and enriching encounters with the Father. We assume He's going to speak in the rushing wind or some other bombastic, obvious manner and instead He's whispering in a voice that can only be heard when we're quiet and listening.

And surrounding ourselves with constant chatter and background noise isn't helping us hear Him.

13 March 2008

Confession is good for the soul

I've been thinking about this recently. Right now, the groups or denominations of Christians that practice confession to a pastor or priest are Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, some Anglicans/Episcopals, some Lutherans and possibly one or two others. The vast majority of Protestants don’t do this for reasons we’re probably all familiar with: arguments about no mediator needed between us and God and so on.

My question is different though. I wonder if, as long as it could be understood rightly and that people didn’t take it being offered to mean they weren’t able to go directly to God on their own (a common misunderstanding), would this be a valuable thing for Protestants to start doing again?

I can think of some good things that might come from it:

1. It’s a good way to practice what Scripture teaches when it says “confess your sins one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” It provides some accountability and helps us open up and be real about who we are on the inside rather than acting like everything is ok all the time.

2. It requires (if we do it correctly) us to be specific. Instead of glossing over our sins by being overly vague, we have someone there who expects to hear us be honest and can even ask follow up questions to make sure that we don’t minimize our sins when confessing them. Instead of “I’ve been struggling with my thought life” one would just admit, “I looked at pornography.” Instead of vague references to wanting to be “more Christlike in my attitude,” one would admit that “I tend to be jealous of my friends who are doing well financially to the point that part of me is disappointed when I hear about the nice new things they are able to have that I’m not" or "I regularly curse at people while driving."

3. We have an opportunity to receive wise counsel and be reminded of God’s Word regarding our struggles and sins. Sometimes in the fog of our guilt and doubt we’re not able to step outside that box and see things for how they are.

4. We get to audibly hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven.” The Anglican Book of Common Prayer has various ways the minister can say this but among them are some beautiful words to hear for someone that’s truly repentant and sorry:

"Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in Him, of His great mercy forgive you of all your offenses; and by His authority committed to me, I absolve you of from all your sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

"The Lord has put away all your sins."

The exact wording isn’t quite as important as the message conveyed: God has forgiven you of your sins.

That can be a powerful thing. Of course I can read it in Scripture or think it in my mind, but hearing those words audibly can really drive the point home.

What do you think? Is this something that could work for us Protestants, framed and understood properly of course?

08 March 2008

At an impasse

Well, the dreaded moment has come. I was hoping to avoid it but it's here.

We're at an impasse on the church question.

I've been visiting some different churches hoping to find something close to the Anglican one I enjoyed so much, but with a stronger children's program and other elements my wife would like. But in this area, there doesn't appear to be such animal. So we're stuck between two choices: the Methodist church my wife prefers and the Anglican one I prefer.

It's so frustrating because we've never been in this situation before. We've always been on the same page. But here we are and someone's feelings and wants will have to give way to the other's. One of us will have to die to self and make the best of it while the other one will try not to feel guilty for "making" their spouse be the one to sacrifice.

It sucks.

So many things to weigh. Would our children, as they get older, enjoy a smaller more formal and traditional church and all that it encompasses in terms of how they make friends who share our values and how they relate to and experience God? Or would they feel that it's stuffy and wish it had more activities for them like a larger church would? Could I figure out a way to carve out a bastion of reverence and quiet and connection to Christian history in contemporary evangelicalism or will I be longingly be pressing my nose up against the proverbial window at what I really desire? Would the rather high socioeconomic status (which we are decidedly NOT) of the Anglican congregation be a hindrance to relating to others and getting to know them or would it be better in the more mixed economic demographic of the Methodist church? Or is having a service that's oriented around the Eucharist as opposed to the sermon important enough to outweigh all the other factors?

There just aren't any easy answers. Someone will be happy, someone will be disappointed.

When did choosing a church get so frickin' hard?

26 February 2008

Who decided?

As I’ve been exploring more traditional worship approaches in recent months, I’ve noticed something going on and I’m still trying to work out in my head what it means. When I first began to ponder what I was looking for, I thought what I wanted were a few simple traditional elements: more hymns and less “Jesus is my boyfriend” music, more times of silent prayer during the service, reciting of the creeds and the Lord’s Prayer and finally, more frequent partaking of Holy Communion and more reverence when we do so. Fairly simple, huh?

Then of all the churches in town that I could have chosen to visit to possibly find those things, I chose a traditional Anglican parish and now I’m ruined. Not only have I developed a real love for the liturgy: spoken prayers, responsive readings, sung litanies and the Sanctus, but there was something else: weekly Communion. In fact, the entire structure and orientation of the Sunday worship service is centered about it. Yes, there are announcements, scripture readings, the offering is taken up during which the choir or a soloist offers a song and there’s a sermon. But all of that is done as a lead up to the real reason we’re there: receiving the Eucharist. And that’s quite an adjustment for the average evangelical Protestant.

But why should it be such a shock to the system? Of the roughly 2000 years of Christian history over 1500 of them were like this. Christians everywhere for 1500 years went to church on Sunday and celebrated just as the earliest Christians did…by coming together and receiving the body and blood of Christ. And even after the Reformation, things pretty much continued on this way even amongst the Protestants. Luther affirmed and practiced it as part of the weekly worship service. But somewhere along the way, the orientation changed for some. The focus of the worship service for some Protestants was shifted away from the Eucharist and toward the preaching of the Word. And this has become the dominant expression in Protestant churches across America to the point where people born and raised in evangelical Protestant churches can’t even fathom it any other way.

I grew up in a Methodist church that celebrated Communion once a month and at special services like Good Friday. The Assemblies of God church I came to Christ in did so probably every 6 weeks. I know it wasn’t a rigorous monthly schedule but it was more than quarterly. Other churches I’ve attended since celebrated maybe once a quarter.

Meanwhile, the supreme emphasis was on preaching and teaching. In conversations with many Protestant friends over the years, the issue of the pastor’s preaching abilities came up frequently and certainly whenever there was a change in pastor. It was debated and discussed when evaluating candidates for the role, cited as the reason certain churches were experiencing a downturn in attendance and so on. In some Pentecostal settings, the sermon may go on for 45 minutes or more depending on the subject (anything revolving around spiritual gifts such as tongues inevitably go longer). But never did the question ever arise as to whether we might be emphasizing the wrong thing. So I’m asking it now.

First of all, anyone who can answer please help me out: when did this emphasis change? Is there a particular strain or denomination that we can point to? Can it be traced back to the writings or teachings of an individual?

Second of all, is this change a good one? From my perspective, on the one hand, I’ve learned quite a bit over the years from the excellent preachers/teachers I’ve sat under. I have notes from some sermons all the way back to my high school days. I can remember eagerly anticipating getting to church on Sunday to hear my pastor expound on a passage of Scripture and help me gain new insights into what God’s Word is saying to us. But on the other, this orientation tends to create a “cult of personality” situation where people gravitate to a charismatic, gifted speaker. As a result, the church experiences growth and expansion. But if a pastor leaves for another church, or if he falls into serious sin and has to step down or retires, often times the church can experience a significant drop in attendance. And then the importance of finding a replacement with a similarly winsome personality and inspiring speaking ability is of utmost importance. Pick the wrong guy, even if his heart is in the right place, and you might send the church into stagnation or a downward spiral. And that’s just the fairly normal ones that are doing a lot of other things right. I’m not even getting into the churches that experience explosive growth due to the forceful persuasion of a slick-tongued charlatan or the seductive lies of the “health and wealth/name it and claim it” gospel.

Conversely, churches that are focused on the Eucharist and the accompanying liturgy seem less prone to this problem. The first reason is,the liturgy doesn’t change much except for a few minor changes during the bigger events like the Easter or Advent seasons. Therefore it isn’t dependent upon the pastor to come up with eloquent or novel things to pray or say. It certainly doesn't hurt and you certainly wouldn't want someone who was utterly incapable of preaching. But it's not what people are there for. The main thing that matters is that he does the liturgy in a reverent and heartfelt manner. The liturgy seems to actually enable him to get out of the way and not have the focus fall on him, but on what we’re there to receive from God. This mitigates the problems described above when a pastor for whatever reason, has to leave. I realize it doesn’t completely eliminate such concerns, especially if the pastor has been there a long time and was a truly good shepherd to the people God entrusted to his care, but it does mitigate the performance aspect of that problem.

Secondly, the “build up” of the entire service is not toward what amazing new insight the pastor will give us today, but on the receiving of the body and blood of Christ. Our focus isn’t on a sermon that will hold our attention, but on the sacrifice Christ made for us so that we can have a relationship with Him. Instead of looking for easy to follow life application principles in outline form, we’re examining our conscience and confessing our sins, first corporately, then personally. We’re clearing our consciences and receiving forgiveness. We’re taking time to examine ourselves. And as we are called to remember Christ’s death for our sins, we are reminded that grace is not cheap. It cost a man his life and the gravity of offending a holy God and what it took to redeem us is put back into the forefront of our minds. In so many evangelical Protestant churches, having a specific and intentional time of confession is rare. I can recall several weeks going by without such an instruction from the pulpit unless they were talking to the unsaved during an altar call. How often does your church have a time set aside to do this?

I've mentioned over the last few months that my appreciation for this approach has grown, but I don't think it was until a recent conversation with someone about the matter that I was able to really express for sure that it's not a phase. It's not just a matter of personal taste for me. The feelings aren't going away. I'm slowly becoming convinced that the wisdom of our centuries of forefathers in the faith still holds true today. We need to keep the Cross at the forefront of our worship. And not just an abstract, intellectual assent or understanding, but in our actions and in the receiving of His body, broken for us and His blood, poured out for our redemption. So my verdict is, we've reordered the worship service to our own hurt and we're missing out big time.

But let me put the question to you. First, does anyone know where the practice of orienting the Sunday worship service around the sermon started? And second, do you think it was a wise thing for us to do?

20 February 2008


I've enjoyed using the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, particularly the Morning and Evening Prayers from the 1928 BCP. But while I don't mind using the more formal language (Thee, Thy, Thine, etc.) for prayers in corporate settings, it seems too formal during personal prayer times. So I updated the language a little. Mainly just losing the archaic pronouns and a few other terms while keeping the prayers mostly as is. Some may hate it, but I thought I'd put it out there for those that might enjoy using it.

Morning and Evening Prayers (PDF file)

Again, I hope I haven't committed some kind of sacrilege in doing this. I just wanted something that sounded a little bit closer to how I actually talk to God, only more eloquent. ;)

One other thing: I've been contemplating migrating to Wordpress for this blog. Anyone got any pros and cons for either? Preferences?

08 February 2008

I'm not alone

Well, I know I'm not alone from some from reading some of the combox entries here. But sometimes around here I feel that way. There's an excellent article at Christianity Today on the movement in evangelical circles toward revisiting the past, as in liturgy, the Christian calendar, Advent, even the Divine Hours, candles and incense. And it's primarily coming from 20-30 somethings, not their parents. Any reader of this blog will know that this particular passage connected with me:

In 1985, I gave my life to Christ in a Canadian charismatic church. It was a modern-church setting with a giant, auditorium-like sanctuary that someone had decorated to look like a suburban living room, complete with sea foamgreen carpeting and rubber plants. On Sunday mornings, I would walk in and feel the palpable presence of the all-powerful and all-loving Lord. On Saturday nights, at cell-group prayer meetings, I was mentored by wise "fathers and mothers in the Lord." On Monday nights, I participated in the music ministry of a dynamic youth group.

Yet through the years, though this wonderful church formed me in the joy of the Lord that was my strength, I felt like we were missing something. As a stalwart outpost of the kingdom in a threatening world, our faith seemed somehow precarious. We stood, as we faced that world, on a foundation made of the words of our favorite Bible passages—our "canon within the Canon"—and the sermons of our pastors and a roster of approved visiting evangelists. There was utterly no sense of the mystical massiveness of a church that had stood firmly for 2,000 years. No sense that our foundation actually stretched down and back through time. I didn't have a clue who John Wesley, Martin Luther, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Ignatius of Antioch were. I just knew that I felt like I was part of a church that was in some ways powerful, but in other ways shallow and insecure in a threatening world that did not share our faith.

I now see that my early sense of the church's insecurity stemmed from what J. I. Packer has called evangelicalism's "stunted ecclesiology," rooted in our alienation from our past. Without a healthy engagement with our past, including historical definitions of "church," we are being true neither to Scripture nor to our theological identity as the church. Though Packer doesn't put it this way, it is easy to see ways in which their stunted ecclesiology has led evangelicals to allow the world to shape the church.

So true. Now, I knew who everyone except Bernard of Clairvaux was, but that feeling of floating around without an anchor (or at least one that wasn't big enough), that lack of understanding of the "mystical massiveness" of the historical church was there even before I knew how to put it into words.

And it's good to know that other people feel that aesthetics matter. Part of me feels guilty saying that. I was taught that it shouldn't matter whether you're in a beautiful cathedral, a modern state of the art worship center or an inexpensive rented storefront with folding metal chairs. You should be able to press through and block out the surroundings and focus only on God. And certainly there is some validity to that. If Paul and Silas can praise and worship God in a dank Roman jail cell, certainly I don't have to have the perfect little stained glass sanctuary with plush padded kneelers nor quibble that the worship space looks like a school auditorium or a massive living room. Yet it matters to me. It's not that I'm unable to worship God in those settings, I just find a traditional church setting with beautiful architecture, imagery, pews and so on more conducive to doing so.

I also related to the feeling Sharon Carlson describes. Though she speaks of the Plymouth Brethren, she may as well be talking about my Pentecostal days or many generic evangelical gatherings:

Carlson described the Communion experience as "tearing up bread and passing around cups of grape juice after men in the assembly spontaneously stood and repeated the words that they felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to say," and she felt that was no longer enough. As Campbell reports, " 'I want to be more connected to history, the history of the Christian church,' said Carlson, who relishes the knowledge that she is worshiping the way Christians have for centuries. 'There have been generations of people before me saying the same prayers.' "

Carlson found it difficult to attend emotional, upbeat, and impromptu services on those days when she did not feel the fervor to worship. When she encountered liturgical worship as a student at Gordon College in Wenham and during a year in Oxford, England, she noticed herself gravitating toward the Anglican churches, where she could reaffirm her beliefs with a creed, regardless of her feelings. She also liked following a church calendar that connected the seasons of the year with the seasons of Christ's life. Now Carlson uses the Book of Common Prayer regularly and worships at Christ Church, a theologically conservative and highly liturgical Episcopalian church.

Geez, I'm tracking with you sister. I can't tell you how many times I faked it through upbeat, happy-clappy services when all I really wanted to do was be left alone and cry because life was hard and my faith was weak or because I'd committed some sin that week and felt utterly unworthy to be in God's presence. At times like those, clapping and smiling is at best not the proper response and at worst dishonest and hypocritical. But that's sort of what was expected. There's comfort sometimes in being able to say the words of others when your heart is in tatters. The Creeds, the collects and other prayers say for you what you cannot.

But, I've struggled with trying to analyze my motives on all this. There's a certain streak in me that likes to be the one who likes what's different from everyone else. I'm a beer snob and admit I take more pride than I should in not drinking the regular stuff most folks grab at the grocery store. I have extremely varied tastes in music and love discovering little known bands and not just jumping on the hot and trendy. My political views don't jive with many of the conservative Christians I know (in other words, I tend to buck the Limbaugh/Coulter/Hannity party line a lot). So, is this just another instance of me just wanting to be different?

I live in an area of the country dominated by Southern Baptist and Charismatic worship settings. And if not those, it's just a contemporary, non-denominational evangelical gathering. There are three Catholic and three Anglican parishes in my city. And three of those six are rather small (one has around 20 people on a Sunday morning). Compare that to dozens of Baptist churches, a healthy dose of Pentecostal/Charistmatic ones and more Methodists and Presbyterians than you can shake a stick at. Some of these churches are huge and many others have several hundred in attendance. The subject of church comes up and what kind of place I'd like to find and you just get this look like they can't fathom why you'd want all that tradition. But the main thing is, it's completely against the current of what's going on these days. How much of this is me just wanting to feel cool and different?

I also wear myself out wondering if I'm not giving other churches a fair chance over matters of taste and personal preference. Why does this stuff matter to me? Am I doing this for sound biblical and theological reasons or just because I'm bored with the kinds of churches I've been attending (and enjoying I might add) for the last 20 years or so?

This article felt like a little validation today and had I not been at work when I read it, I might have teared up a little. I'm not going crazy. I'm not the only one. Other people are looking around the contemporary evangelical churches they've loved for so long and have been such a big part of their growth as a Christian and feeling like they want something else and it's just beginning to dawn on them that they probably won't find it there. And it's sad. And a little scary. They don't know how to explain it and they feel misunderstood when they try.

Just knowing they're out there makes me feel better.

30 January 2008

Book Meme: I've Been Tagged

So it appears that Red Cardigan has tagged me with a book meme. Having never done this before, hopefully I do it right. The rules are:

1. Pick up the nearest book ( of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

I'm on the road right now, but I did happen to bring a handful of books to read when at the hotel. The one on top and closest to me was Reflections on the Word by Ken Gire. It's a devotional book that has a passage of Scripture, a short devotional writing and then a written prayer for each reading. Here are sentences six through eight:

Were sunrise and sunset under his control? Was the Faithfulness of returning seasons his merit? If the rain had been withheld, where then would have been his wealth: "The ground brought forth plentifully"; all the man could do was take nature's tides at the flood.

Kind of an odd passage, I know. But them's the rules. I believe I'll tag the following if they are so inclined: The Scylding, Internet Monk, Sherry W, Bryan Cross and Heide Seward. Hopefully they all won't hate me.

20 January 2008

So you call yourself an traditionalist?

Well, for various reasons mostly surrounding the children's program, we decided that the Anglican church we've been attending probably isn't the place for us. We haven't ruled it out down the road, but feel it's probably best to look at some other places.

Today, one of my girls was sick with a cold so my wife told me I could go to church and she would stay home with the kids. I could even visit somewhere and do some "recon" on it. So I did. There was another Anglican parish in town so I decided to go visit it today. From what I could see on their website, it appeared to be more traditional than the one we had been going to. But I was intrigued and headed out in the 20-degree weather to check the place out.

It's funny. All this time as I've been blogging about coming to love liturgy and hymns and tradition, I was beginning to feel like a Renaissance Man of sorts. I thought I had really come to appreciate and get more out of a traditional, liturgical service. I felt more engaged in worship than I had at my contemporary evangelical church. Well, I've learned there's tradition, and then there is TRADITION.

First, the parish is quite small. The evangelical non-denominational church I'd attended before we moved had about 3000 people (including children) there on a Sunday morning for one of the three services. The contemporary Methodist church we'd been going to before starting on this new church hunt has about 6000 in total attendance for all the services they have on a Sunday morning. The Anglican church we've been attending the past couple of months probably has about 450 or so. I walked in today to a church of about 20. Now it could have been lower because of the bitter cold, but it couldn't be much bigger as the size of nave probably would hold 120 max.

Second, these Anglicans aren't satisfied with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and any of the rites therein. Nor is the 1982 Hymnal suitable. They use the 1928 BCP and the 1940 Hymnal. The language is more "archaic" (think King James Version). The priest (they refer to him as "Father") spends much of the time facing the altar with his back to the congregation. There seems to be even more formality and ritual involved such as people genuflecting toward the altar before entering the pew, many made the sign of the cross at various times similar to Catholics. At some point, the priest even rang a bell or chime during one of the prayers or readings he was doing. It also appears he preaches based on the lectionary.

Now, I don't want to sound as if I'm saying there's anything wrong with these things. But it's definitely another leap back in time compared to anything I've experienced. The Methodist church of my upbringing was fairly "high church" (for Methodists anyway) on Sunday mornings and I even recognized some of the readings as strikingly similar today to those back then. And the other Anglican church was another big step in that direction. But this is just far beyond anything I'm used to. It made me realize that while compared to my parents and in-laws and most of my friends I may seem traditional, I'm in the minor leagues.

All of this said, in the end, it's not the reason that I won't be bringing my family there for a follow up visit. The preaching was rather uninspiring despite a good text to base it on from the lectionary. And aside from a couple of teenagers and a handful of young kids, I was by far the youngest person there. They don't have any children's program to speak of. They seem like sweet folks though and were all too eager to welcome me and even openly state that they really want and need more young couples. Barring some big time change of heart from God, I just wasn't feeling drawn to the place.

So the search continues. And any visions I had of myself as some big time traditionalist have been been thoroughly put to rest.

19 December 2007

I just want to know

I'm frustrated.

And the more I read and pray the more frustrated and desperate I become.

I envy my friend who converted to Catholicism. I really do. He's settled on this and happy. I'm neither. The matter isn't settled for me. Not in my head, not in my heart. I'm unhappy with my own personal spiritual life and frustrated with the confusion. I can't seem to reconcile all the conflicting data. Meanwhile I just want to be closer to God but don't seem to feel that happening. And the old evangelical standbys of "just read your Bible and pray" or "have a daily quiet time" aren't cutting it. It's just not that simple. At least not for me.

We like the Anglican church we're attending, but we're torn. Still trying to sort out what's best for the kids and wishing we could combine parts of the Methodist church we were attending (specifically that children's program) with the liturgy and reverence here. I wish I knew more of the hymns. And it would be nice to feel more settled on the question of paedobaptism.

This is hard. I think I believed I was done wrestling with the big theological issues after I got past my "cage-phase" Calvinist years. I couldn't have been more wrong. And while at times it's stimulating and exciting, right now it's tiring and frustrating and confusing.

And I think this is the best I'm going to be able to do to put the myriad thoughts swirling around in my head into words. Please pray for me and my family.

05 December 2007


We're continuing to enjoy the Anglican church. The liturgy is pretty and I like that I actively participate throughout the service rather than just during the singing portion in the beginning.

But I think beyond any of the philosophical or theological arguments for a liturgical service or anything like that, right now the thing I am enjoying most is the quiet and the reverence. It gives me a sense of peace and calm. I don't think I realized how sometimes the contemporary style with all that goes with it added to the frenetic feeling you get from life and work and raising kids and all that stuff. Something about the way things are done in a more traditional, liturgical setting feels like I stepped out of this crazy world for 90 minutes and can take a breath, pause, reflect, hear, repair. The setting, unlike your average modern worship center that could just as well be a local concert hall or school auditorium, gives you a visual indication from the minute you walk in that you've stepped into a place that is "other than." It's set apart for worship and you can leave the craziness of your everyday life outside for a few sweet minutes and meet with God.

It's not that I didn't get that from previous church experiences at all. Just the act of going to worship and hearing the Word taught well and taught faithfully is rejuvenating and life-giving. And sometimes the upbeat songs were encouraging when I was down or worried. But I've come to appreciate stillness and quiet, reflection and contemplation and that's what I'm getting right now from this experience.

I know that liturgy is just as much about what you offer to God as what you receive. And I hate to focus only on what I'm getting out of it. But it's where I am right now in my thoughts. I'm being drawn in and it's making me hunger for more of it. We may not end up staying here with this particular parish, but I hope we do or if not, God will help us find a place similar where He wants us planted and taking root.

26 November 2007

The Catechesis Of The Good Shepherd

I'm curious if anyone out there reading this is familiar with a children's program called The Catechesis Of The Good Shepherd. It's a Montessori learning method for ages 3-12. A brief description:

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a faith formation experience for children ages 3-12. Based on the premise that God and the child share a relationship, the curriculum is designed to develop the religious potential of every child and produces in the child the desire to draw nearer to God.

The work of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is done in an Atrium. The Artium is more a place of worship than a traditional classroom. It is an environment created so that children can develop a living, personal relationship with God. The Atrium is a place where Jesus Christ is encountered by reading and reflecting on the Bible, through prayer and singing and by exploring the liturgy of the Word.

The Catechesis was developed more than 50 years ago in Rome, Italy, by Dr. Sofia Cavalletti, a Hebrew scholar and theolgian, and Gianna Gobbi, a Montessori educator. Today, this Montessori method of Christian formation exists in more than 22 countries.

The curriculum focuses on three age levels. Level One is for children ages 3 1/2 to 6; Level II is for ages 6 to 9; and Level III is for ages 9 to 12. Each level explores the fundamental theme of Covenant as reflected in the Bible and as we live it in our liturgy. Each level introduces 30 to 40 age-appropriate lessons which build on previous teachings.

It is the children's Sunday School program at this Anglican church we're attending and I'm utterly unfamiliar with it and with the Montessori method of teaching. I want to make sure my kids will be getting meaningful instruction on God, Jesus, the Bible and so on at an age appropriate level. Any thoughts, helpful articles and especially personal experiences are heartily welcomed.


15 November 2007

Experiencing liturgical worship

So, the past two weeks, my wife and I have attended an Anglican church here in town. The first week was sort of odd. I liked a lot of the service, particularly the liturgy surrounding the Eucharist. But it was not a normal week for them. It was their annual commitment Sunday where people are reaffirming their commitment to serve and their commitment to financial stewardship. Then they had an infant baptism. Then there was a fairly lengthy testimony from one of the older members who has been going through cancer treatment and to top it all off, it was All Saints Sunday and the assistant rector was delivering the sermon instead of the senior rector who I had heard before from message on their website. So between all of that and being completely unfamiliar with the liturgy and when to sing or when to respond, plus the service running long, we left with mixed feelings.

On a side note, if all that mattered was how we were treated, we'd have joined on the spot. Hands down it's the friendliest, most welcoming people I've ever encountered visiting a church. Anyone within a 20-foot radius managed to make their way over to us and warmly greet us. People sitting right behind us or on the row with us were helpful in pointing out where we were in the liturgy and where to go and what to do. Sweet, sweet people.

I wanted to return and at least experience what would be considered a "normal" Sunday for the church before making a decision. My wife wasn't so sure. I think when I said I wanted to visit a more traditional church, she wasn't envisioning quite as much tradition as I was. So we talked and she agreed to go the next Sunday as I had been assured via email correspondence with the senior rector that this Sunday would be more of a typical one for them and he would love to meet me afterward. I agreed that if we left and she still felt the same way about it, we'd go back to the contemporary church we'd been attending and see what God had in store for us there.

Well, we went this past Sunday and again, I really liked it. Being more used to the order and "rhythm" of things the second time, we didn't feel so lost and confused. The rector's sermon was excellent. Such strong, Biblical preaching and teaching. And again, the liturgy of the Eucharist was so reverent and worshipful and I just love partaking of the Lord's Supper every week. We met the rector and his wife and liked them a lot. They seem like genuinely caring people.

But I wasn't sure what my wife thought.

So we're talking on the way home and I ask her how she felt about it this week and she said that no one was more surprised than her, but she really, really enjoyed it. She felt more comfortable. We sat a little further back and in a weird way, not getting so much attention made her feel less "watched" and more able to just take it all in. She enjoyed the sermon and the hymns. It was a good all around experience. After making sure she wasn't just saying what I wanted to hear and that it's truly how she felt, we have decided to commit to attending for a least the next month. We want to find out more about their children's program and maybe meet with the rector and find out more about their particular place in the Anglican communion, more details on the doctrinal beliefs and so on. So I'm excited.

Just be in prayer for us as we seek God on where He wants us. And pray that we will be able to dig deeper into all that a liturgical approach to worship has to offer.

25 October 2007

I'm not dead

Just ruminating on some things. When I have something coherent to put out there regarding what's going on in my head, I'll be here with bells on. In the meantime, due to a very generous reader and friend, I'm reading The Meaning of Tradition by Yves Congar and The Spirit And Forms of Protestantism by Louis Bouyer.

And I'm exploring a conservative Anglican church here in town. I think I want to visit. Part of me resists because it only plays into the "mutt" reputation I have when it comes to churches. But, I think I'd like to at least try and experience a more liturgical, historically rooted way of worship and I'm just not at a place where a Catholic church would be an honest option or make sense for me.

Lord, give me guidance, grant me wisdom.

04 October 2007

20,000 Popes vs. 1

One of my favorite reads in the blogosphere, Michael Spencer (aka The Internet Monk) posted this quote in a post about Catholicism:
"I would rather have 20,000 “little popes” with their Bibles, all believing they can err and be corrected by scripture, rather than one pope who cannot err or be corrected by scripture."

What I can't figure out is why this is better. How does this solve the problem? These 20,000 Protestant popes all believe they hold the correct view of Scripture already. They are mostly seeking to correct the other 19,999, not be corrected. This still leaves us with a conundrum, that thus far I'm unable to figure out, which is: whose interpretation of Scripture are we to follow?

I mean, I'm sure we all agree that Truth is knowable and that God intended for us to know what it was. So how does having 20,000 little popes help things? Perhaps a fellow Protestant could explain why this should be comforting to me.

14 September 2007

Lutheran perspective

There is a fascinating interview going on over at the Internet Monk's site right now with Josh Strodtbeck, a Lutheran blogger, on God's Sovereignty...particularly compared to the Calvinist view. He's unpacking all kinds of stuff from election, to assurance of salvation and other issues from a Lutheran perspective. You really need to check this out.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

11 September 2007

Being wary of legalism and man-made traditions

So, getting back to my background in legalistic Christianity...

All of this stuff from my past makes me highly suspicious of anything that smacks of man-made tradition. I spent so long trying to earn God's favor, trying to live up to standards that humans, not God, imposed on me and the thought of ever getting bogged down in something like that again gives me a sinking, hopeless feeling if I allow myself to go there in my mind. And this is my dilemma as I consider the claims of the Catholic Church.

As I study the teachings of the Catholic Church, I run into this problem time and again because of the Catholic teaching on the authority of Sacred Tradition. There are dozens of things that a person must do or assent to if they are to be considered a truly Catholic Christian that have little to no support in Scripture. Some of these beliefs include:

The Assumption of Mary

The Immaculate Conception

Missing mass or any Holy Day of Obligation being a possible mortal sin

Not fasting an hour before communion making one unable to receive the Eucharist. (see this thread for an example of what I mean.)

Issues surrounding the use of contraception such as a wife using the pill for medical reasons unrelated to pregnancy and this meaning the couple cannot have sex or a spouse with a communicable disease (AIDS, hepatits) and not being able to use condom to allow them to have sex without infecting the other.

In general, it's the Catholic Church's pattern of binding the believer's conscience on matters that Scripture either doesn't talk about or doesn't give enough detail to warrant such definitive rulings. I realize there are orthodox Christian doctrines that Scripture doesn’t go into a ton of detail about such as the Trinity, but there is enough in Scripture to toss aside the Oneness theology fairly easily if you use some basic logic. But the Catholic Church has elevated some pretty obscure beliefs to the level of official dogma that just doesn’t make sense to me. Where is the Assumption of Mary mentioned? And how do you build a case for the Immaculate Conception out of a vague “full of grace” reference? And while I do understand that Scripture teaches us not to “forsake the assembling of (our)selves together”, how does that translate into missing Mass or a Holy Day of Obligation being a mortal sin unless you were too sick or some other serious reason?

It just smacks of the same sort of building of doctrine on oblique Scripture references and man-made taboos and no-nos that I dealt with in the Assemblies of God. It seems to run completely counter to admonitions in the New Testament such as this from the Apostle Paul:

Colossians 2:8, 16-21

8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ… 16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (emphasis mine)

If you bind someone’s conscience regarding Sunday Mass or various non-Sabbath Holy Days for instance, how is that not passing judgment on someone with regard to festivals and Sabbaths? And while fasting an hour before receiving the Eucharist might be a good practice, should we be making it a requirement to the point of telling someone not to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord if they forgot and ate something within that time frame?

If I’m being honest, this sort of thing scares me. I’ve been in the rut of adding to God’s requirements and it only ends with frustration. The commands He does give are hard enough to live up to without piling on a few extras just because I think they are good things. On the one hand, Catholics don’t seem to be all hung up on certain externals like drinking alcohol in the way that so many conservative Evangelicals and fundamentalists seem to be. But then there’s this whole host of other things that you never hear a peep about in Protestant churches that they do get hung up on. It just seems like a journey to Rome just trades one set of man-made legalisms for another. And that worries me as I weigh the merits and claims of the Catholic Church.

31 August 2007

Short hiatus

Sorry I haven't gotten up the next installment. I'm working on it but it's not done and we're headed out on vacation for a week. I'll jump on it as soon as possible after I get back.