Blog Archives

Why Do We Go to Church? — via The White Horse Inn

From Michael Horton at The White Horse Inn blog.  Horton articulates the issue that seems to be at the heart of the discussion about our worship that usually ends up centering on music and style or preference.  Where one sees bias in another’s opinions, another sees continuity with the past.  Either way we usually end up talking past each other and miss the elephant in the room.  Horton takes on the elephant by asking the question — Why do we go to church?  I think if we grapple with this question honestly, we might be able to work through differences of style or music preference.  What do you think?  The entire article is reproduced below.

Why Do We Go to Church?

How the “Worship Wars” Often Miss the Real Issue
Michael Horton
http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2012/05/22/why-do-we-go-to-church/

Where going to church was for most Americans the default setting, today it’s a conscious choice. Many churches tried wooing Boomers back with softness and smiles, affirming images of a God who is helpful for our life projects, and myriad activities for the kids. Many of their children and grandchildren are burned out on it all. Some head for the exit, toward Rome, the East, or the “spiritual but not religious” category. Others are calling the church to be less consumer-driven and to make God the focus.

For too long the “worship wars” have coalesced around style. These are not unimportant questions; how we worship says a lot about the object and significance of the event. However, all the sides (simplistically drawn between “traditionalists” and “contemporary-worship” advocates) in the debates share more in common than any do with the rationale of Reformation Christianity.

Read the rest of this entry

Steadfast Lutherans » Great Stuff — Fascist roots of the Church Growth Movement

HT to Steadfast Lutherans for reposting the post linked below from the Intrepid Lutherans blog. The post takes a look at the work of Chris Rosebrough at Pirate Christian Radio which examines the Church Growth movement, its origins and practices. Chris is the preeminent LCMS layman on the topic of the CGM which has spawned the Emergent Church. The EC is attempting to rewrite the narrative of the Christian faith, and, in the process, reinterpreted Scripture to suit postmodern cultural relativism. This rewriting of the Christian story and reinterpretation has given us terms such as the churched and unchurched instead of sinners and believers, authentic worship experience rather than the liturgy or divine service, or fully devoted Christ followers as opposed to Christians. These “movements” sever the last tie to the church that is a factual reality in history. Having abandoned faith alone solely in and on account of the work ofChrist alone, the revelation of Scripture is discarded for the casting of vision, focus on the personal experience of the person with the divine, and execution of list after endless list of things to do to be an “authentic ” Christ follower. Be sure and check out the links in post as they contain highly instructive and enlightening materials. Click the link below or cut and paste it into your browser ‘s address bar. http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=19847

Is the Ancient the New Modern? New converts flocking to ancient church in Houston

Is the ancient is the new modern?  Can what is old be new?  The cult of fad teaches us to chase after the wind for the newest, latest, and greatest trends in leadership, missional discipleship, and so called incarnational communities.  And yet this wind chasing is driving people from the emptiness of the ever changing landscape that seems to be our post modern church into the arms of the ancient church.   An article in the Houston Chronicle highlights this “trend:”  New converts flocking to ancient church in Houston – Houston Chronicle.

So what gives?  Why are new converts flocking to the stuffy old church of the past?  Why the church of the Eastern traditions of christendom?  Two words:  Stability and Tradition.  The Chronicle observes:

“Most people come for the stability,” he (Father Richard Petranek) said. “The same thing that is taught today in the Orthodox church was taught 500 years ago, was taught 1,000 years ago, was taught 1,500 years ago.”

At a time when most mainline Christian churches are losing members, Eastern Orthodox churches — which trace their beliefs to the church described in the New Testament – are growing, both in Houston and across the United States.

The numbers are still small: the 2010 U.S. Orthodox census estimates there are about 32,000 active Orthodox churchgoers in Texas and just more than 1 million nationally, although other estimates are higher. But the number of U.S. Orthodox parishes grew 16 percent over the past decade.

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To outsiders, the first hint of what lies within is often the architecture; many of the churches are built in a neo-Byzantine style, capped by gold domes and other flourishes, standing out in a city of sleek skyscrapers, strip shopping centers and ranch houses.

Traditions vary from church to church, but in many congregations, members stand for much of the service. The priest faces the altar for long stretches of time, with his back to the congregation. (All Orthodox priests are male.)

Members make the sign of the cross throughout the service, they kiss icons of Jesus and the saints and, sometimes, the Communion chalice and the priest’s robes.

“It’s pretty freaky for people from the nontraditional churches,” said Father John Salem, pastor of St. George Antiochian Christian Church in West University. “If you come from a non-liturgical background, it can be pretty overwhelming.”

But to many converts, the traditions are the main attraction.

“People are tired of the mixture of worship and celebrity culture,” said Frank Schaeffer, a writer and novelist who converted to Orthodoxy 20 years ago from the evangelical faith of his childhood.

“People are tired of these worship services that look closer to MTV or the Disney channel than something that goes back into the past,” said Schaeffer, son of Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer and the author of books includingDancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False ReligionandPatience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism).“In the Orthodox church, people are not there for the priest, but for the liturgy.”

(Recent convert to orthodoxy, Lana) Jobe points to something else:

“You see churches today splitting over doctrinal issues,” she said. “In the Baptist church, there’s the Southern Baptists. There’s the Texas Baptists. There are controversies over Biblical truths or inerrancy or homosexuality; all kinds of issues come up, and the church wants to vote on it. We don’t have to vote on anything, because it was settled from the very beginning.”

Someone once said, if you want to plant a mega church, build a huge cathedral and follow the ancient liturgies of the church.   Read the rest of this entry

A Primer on Forgiving Others for Lent

Pastor George Borghardt over at Higher Things has an excellent video short on forgiveness, entitled “Forgiving Un-Sorry People.”  The season of Lent is upon us and begins tomorrow with the imposition of ashes tomorrow.  This act of receiving ashes reminds us of our brokenness and our mortality.  We need a Savior to heal the brokenness and raise the dead to life.  For Christians, Lent is a season of reflection and repentance, where we focus on the sacrifice of the Christ on the Cross for our sins.  With repentance comes forgiveness of sins in Christ through his suffering, death and resurrection, forgiveness that is ours through Christ.  In the first of his 95 theses, Martin Luther observed

Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

Forgiveness is an essential part of that life of repentance.  And we forgive those who trespass against us, just as we are freely forgiven.  But who should we forgive? And should we forgive those who are not necessarily sorry for the wrong they have done?  Listen as Pr. Borghardt reflects on forgiving the un-sorry person:

Incarnational Theology from Rev Fisk

For those of you out there looking for a tangible kingdom, flesh put on the Words of Christ, the reality of the Kingdom of God, watch the video.  When preachers stick to the Word of God, embrace it, and become consumed by it, God does great things.  When preachers embrace things that are a little more earthy and, well, man made, strange things happen.  As for me and my house, we’ll stick with the Word.

Christianity Today’s New Global Gospel Project — A Focus on….. (you’ll love the next Word)….. Catechesis

Making Disciples Today: Christianity Today’s New Global Gospel Project | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

With this issue of Christianity Today, we embark afresh on such an enterprise. We are calling it the Global Gospel Project (GGP), resources for a full-orbed discipleship of heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Christianity Today is setting out on a life long learning project designed to make disciples.  In the churches that make up the “evangelical” world and that pioneered the Church Growth Movement throughout the world, leaders have noticed that there is a hunger for deeper teaching of the Word, a hunger for *gasp* doctrine.

We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama. Read the rest of this entry

The Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, December 21, 2011

English: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Ca...

Doubting Thomas.  He was an apostle of Jesus.  All four Gospels mention him as one.  He was not present that first night Jesus appeared to the disciples in the locked room.  He did not believe his brothers.  He demanded proof that Jesus was alive, that He did appear to them.  For their eyewitness testimony was not enough for him.  He needed to see for himself, touch the wounds.  Only then would he believe.

On the night of Jesus’ death, Thomas Jesus a question that evoked one of the most memorable sayings of our Lord.  Jesus had just finished washing the feet of His disciples and revealed that one of the twelve would betray Him to His death.  Peter, ever the bold and brash jumped into the thick of it, telling our Lord that he would fight for Him to the death.  Jesus brought Peter back to reality and told him that he would not only not fight to the death for Him, but that he would deny that he knew the Lord of Life three times before the rooster crowed in the morning.  Jesus then began to comfort His disciples, telling them He was going to His Father’s house to prepare rooms for them. and that they knew the way to where He was going.  To this, Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus replied, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes unto the Father unless He comes through Me.”  In these two short sentences, Jesus staked His claim to be the salvation of the world.  There is no other name in heaven and on earth by which we may be saved.  “Show us the Father,” Phillip exclaimed.  Jesus must have been exasperated at their inability to comprehend and perceive what He was plainly telling them, and He tells Phillip, “Just believe my words!  Or if you do not believe them, at least believe based on the evidence of the miracles the Father has done through Me!”  Faith.  Christ calls us to be under His Word, to be subject to it.  He said it, BELIEVE it.  It is true.

What the scene must have been like, when Christ appeared again to the apostles, again behind closed doors.  This time Thomas is present.  Knowing Thomas’ doubts, Jesus goes directly to Him and bids Thomas to place his hands in His side, in the wounds of His hands.  “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

“You have believed because you have seen.  Blessed are those who believe who have not seen.”  This is the reality of the cross.  Thomas came face to face with the wounds and scars borne by Christ.  It brought to mind all the words of Jesus, the claims He made to be God in the flesh.  And here, in his presence, stood the risen Lord of the Light, shining a light on the darkened mind and sight of His apostles.  That light, for that moment, opened the eyes of faith in Thomas.  It illumined his path to India, the ends of the earth where he followed the Way of Christ.  That Way always, always is to the Cross for us.  Never around it, or through it.  We do not get to pick it up and lay it down.  We get to carry that Cross, the one that meets us at the beginning of our walk, just as Christ did for Thomas.  And in the darkest day of the year, a time of doubt and despair for many, we call upon the light of the Morning Star to shine in this world as He did for Thomas.

Anticipation: the Season of Advent

Yesterday marked the beginning of a new church year.  Advent, the season is named.  Advent means “coming,” and points toward the Second Coming of our Lord Christ.  Ironically, in the northern hemisphere, the season begins as death moves over the land.  Leaves fall from the trees;  the winds blow;  the temperature drops.  Animals retreat into warrens, burrows and dens to sleep for the winter.  Crops are harvested and stored for future use.  The land is barren, desolate.  Nothing grows.  Yet in this physical space and time, we are called to remembrance.  The season begins with a warning from our Lord to watch, wait and pray.  The times will be desperate, there will be trials and tribulations.  Wars and rumors of wars.  These are but the beginning of the signs of the end, culminating in that great and terrible day of the Lord.

Immediately following this warning, we are met with the last prophet of the Old Covenant, John, Jesus’ cousin.  He calls us to repentance and faith.  He prepares the way for Jesus preaching a baptism of repentance to receive the forgiveness of sins.  In much the same way the law prepares our hearts for grace and the gift of faith which we receive from the incarnate Word.  From there, it moves to the divine announcement of the coming of our Savior in the flesh.  Gabriel visits the young maiden, Mary, betrothed to Joseph to proclaim the Good News of God’s gracious plan for salvation of the world.  Mary, a woman, would be God’s chosen instrument to bring that Life into the world.  All of this leads to the Feast of Christmas, the second highest and feast day in the church year.

Happy Advent!

Joseph Rises to Second in Command to Feed Egypt and the World, Sunday School Lesson, October 2, 2011

Joseph made ruler in Egypt

Image via Wikipedia

Genesis 40-41

Click here to listen to the Issues Etc. interview with Tom Nummela of Concordia Publishing House.

This week’s Sunday School lesson focuses on Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams.  While he was in jail, two key persons in the Pharaoh’s service, his baker and cupbearer, were jailed because Pharaoh became angry with them.  Both had dreams while in prison.  Joseph was given the meaning of their dreams by God, and the interpretations came to pass — the cupbearer was restored to his position and the baker was executed.  The cupbearer soon forgot about Joseph as he went about the service of his master, the Pharaoh of Egypt.  After two years had passed, Pharaoh was troubled by some dreams.  He called together the magicians and wise men of Egypt, and no one could interpret them.  It was at this time that the cupbearer remembered Joseph.  He was brought before Pharaoh and was given by God the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams — 7 years of plenty, and 7 years of famine throughout Egypt and the world.  Pharaoh made Joseph the second in command, in charge of all Egypt

From the very pit of despair and humiliation, God raised Joseph, at the right time, to feed the people placed in his care as well as the known world at that time.  41:57 tells us that the famine was so severe that all the world came to buy grain from Egypt.  The story of Joseph is a story of the Christ whom God sent into the world to save mankind and to feed all those who come to him not with food for the belly, but with the bread of life.  This story also shows how God cares and provides for you and for me.  Joseph held fast to the hope that God would deliver him from this prison, that he would preserve and protect his life.  Joseph did not become bitter or curse God, and God did not forsake him.  Joseph confessed the truth of God in the very presence of the Pharaoh.  And God raised Joseph up to be the second in command, to sit at the right hand of Pharaoh, the father of Egypt.  Not because of what Joseph did or the confession he made, but because God’s plan for salvation had been working since before Joseph was sold in slavery in Egypt.

God took what was low and humble, and made him great.  Such is the work of our God, to create life from nothing, to make hope out of despair.  And we, like the magicians and wise men, are powerless in these divine matters.  And we can sit in awestruck wonder, and sing vague songs about God’s majesty and awesome power and love and how it makes me feel and seek that experience and encounter with the divine in some sort of mystical union with God, or we can take heed and listen to the Word He gives us that HE is at work in your life for you in Christ, providing, protecting, and preserving your very life.  Not so that you can stand before Him as He is in His full Majesty and Divine power and Glory, but so that you can live here in this world, today, carrying the Cross as a disciple of Christ, taking Christ to the world.

Be “Authentically Christian”

The Pope’s Remarks at the Augustinian Cloister in Erfurt | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

Paul McCain over at Cyberbrethren posted Pope Benedict’s remarks at The Augustinian Cloister where Martin Luther became and served as an Augustinian monk.  The Pope has a keen eye for Lutheran Theology, and, as some of the comments to McCain’s post suggests, BXVI knows our theology better than a lot of Lutherans out there.  Benedict observes that Christianity as we know it is changing dramatically.  Despite the fallenness of this world, the sin and depravity, even among Christians the primary question is no longer “How do I receive the grace of God?”  And yet, as it was for Luther, this question needs to be the question of our time:

The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.

Christocentric means Christ centered.  Martin Luther, and orthodox Lutherans that follow his example, preach the cross — Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification and the redemption of the world.  It is clinging to the cross and, as Paul teaches, seeking to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.  It is living your life in the shadow of death under the cross with the present reality of serving in the kingdom of God and His Christ as a son or daughter, bought with that life giving blood.  Being Christ centered means not abandoning the cross so as not to offend so-called seekers or visitors.  It means not hiding who you are so as not to turn people away.  For if we do, we abandon the very source of the Grace of God and the life giving power of the blood of our Savior.  And yet every ounce of our being as Christians should be dedicated to knowing Christ and Him crucified so that He can live and accomplish His saving work through us as His hands and feet in this fallen world.  Jesus will accomplish His work with or without me, and in spite of me and any obstacle I throw in the way.

Pope Benedict observes that Christ and His cause is the source of what we have in common as Christians.  He is the beginning and end of our faith and heritage.  This common witness to Christ is what has enabled Christians across denominational lines to make ecumenical progress toward unity.  Sadly, however, the impetus to water down Christianity, to remove the moorings of Christian denominations from the Body of Christ as grounded in time and space of this reality in which we live, the willingness to compromise doctrine in order to achieve so-called unity risks any ecumenical progress accomplished to date:

The geography of Christianity has changed dramatically in recent times, and is in the process of changing further. Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.

The second challenge to worldwide Christianity of which I wish to speak is more profound and in our country more controversial: the secularized context of the world in which we Christians today have to live and bear witness to our faith. God is increasingly being driven out of our society, and the history of revelation that Scripture recounts to us seems locked into an ever more remote past. Are we to yield to the pressure of secularization, and become modern by watering down the faith? Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task. Moreover, we should help one another to develop a deeper and more lively faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God. As the martyrs of the Nazi era brought us together and prompted the first great ecumenical opening, so today, faith that is lived from deep within amid a secularized world is the most powerful ecumenical force that brings us together, guiding us towards unity in the one Lord.

The task for Christians in any age of this world, as Benedict points out, is always to bring the person and work of Christ into our present reality.  Christ is a reality who is present and active in this world.  He is not merely an idea from a book.  Nor is He simply a historical fact or a mythical figure.  No person, idea, or thing has made such an enduring impression on this world and its inhabitants — ever!  God in the flesh made manifest for us to restore this fallen world and fallen humanity to a right relationship with Him — the Triune God.  Christ entered this world to bring truth and certainty to man, to bring light to the darkness brought on by our doubt and sin.   And yet we deny Christ when we say that to be a Christian is to know nothing, that all each of us has are questions, questions that lead us each, individually, to seek and find our own way.  Claiming to be wise, we become fools.  Even in the church.  Benedict’s point here seems to be that the roots of faith must be laid deep, nourished and fed so that we live it out to its fullest.  Put another way, we are so deeply rooted and steeped in the faith handed down through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles, that it makes us who we are called to be — carriers of Christ in this world.  Lights shining in the darkness, pointing to the cross.

So what is the Question of our time?  Are we concerned with what God’s position is toward us individually?  Or are we more concerned with standing before Him on our own two feet to experience something?  Is the question of our time here and now how can we make Christianity be “authentic” or “relevant” in the culture of today?  Or is the question, “What does Christ mean to take up your cross and follow me?”  What does it mean to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified?  Who is Jesus?  My buddy?  My friend?  My coach?    In our zeal for being relevant, do we sacrifice the reality of who Christ is and what He did in the past and accomplishes now in the present through His disciples?  I think it is a call to be “authentically Christian” or  really be a Christian — be who Christ called you and me to be.