What happens when a church needs its members to tithe more and the pastoral staff has a video camera and too much time on their hands?
What happens when a church needs its members to tithe more and the pastoral staff has a video camera and too much time on their hands?
Have you ever heard of “discernment ministries”?
Be thankful if you haven’t and if you haven’t, then my apologies for introducing you to this bizarre phenomenon.
I’m sure “discernment ministries” probably existed before the internet, but the world wide web has allowed this phenomenon to explode. Essentially, “discernment ministries” are self-annointed, often anonymous people or groups of people who believe that it is their mission from God to discern for the church who the false teachers are, what is or is not “Biblical”, and what the “essentials” of the faith are which one must believe in order to be a true Christian.
No one asked these people to do this and few if any of them have legitmate credentials to “discern” what is or is not orthodox. But they own a computer and a Bible, so apparently that is qualification enough.
The unifying cry of the criticisms that come out of all of these discerment ministries is the same: “It’s not in the Bible!” Of course, this cry isn’t confined to the margins of the internet. Pastors and layity in churches across the country cry foul if something is done in another church, or God forbid their own church, which isn’t specifically prescribed in the Bible.
To be honest, I just don’t get it. What does it matter if we do something in church that isn’t specifically spelled out in the Bible, so long as it’s not contradictory to Scripture?
Sunday school isn’t mentioned in the Bible. Those little plastic cups and cardboard wafers we pass off as communion elements aren’t Bible approved. The Bible certainly doesn’t make mention of church softball leagues, youth groups, or vacation Bible school, but no one seems to make much of a fuss about those things. Curious if you ask me.
I think what really frustrates me about this go to criticism, though, is the latent hypocrisy of those who employ it.
If you really want to be like the 1st century church and you really think that the 21st century church should only employ tools, resources, and practices specifically mentioned in the Bible, then you’re going to have to give up at least the following: electricity, sound systems, air conditioning, guitars, keyboards, pews, projection of any kind, Christmas trees, Passion plays, altar calls, and of course….using the internet to tell people that using things not mentioned in the Bible to spread the gospel is a sin.
Furthermore, the early church wasn’t the perfect model for emulation we’ve come to believe it was. If we actually read the letters of Paul, instead of merely focusing on a few verses here and there, we would see that the vast majority of Paul’s letters (which make up the bulk of the New Testament) are spent dealing with church problems. In short, the early church was just as screwed up as we are and it was filled with people who actually heard Jesus speak for themselves.
But if we are going to model ourselves after the early church then we should look at how they actually did things.
The early church was innovative. It wasn’t bound by tradition or even the Hebrew Bible. In trying to answer her call to take the Gospel to the very ends of the earth the church was constantly finding and wrestling with new ways to make the Gospel relevant for those they encountered. We see this clearly in the famous struggle between Jewish Christians and the inclusion of Gentiles in the church.
The battle was being fought over whether the Gentile believers had to keep the laws in the Hebrew Bible. The Jewish Christians were particularly upset because the Gentiles weren’t following the law to be circumcised. Ultimately, however, they were upset because these people had the nerve to claim Jesus as Lord but they lived out the faith in a way that was very different than how the Jewish Christians thought the Hebrew Bible commanded the faith be lived. In other words, it was essentially the same “it’s not in the Bible” debate that rages today.
In particular, Paul’s approach to missions was incredibly innovative.
Throughout his many travels as “the apostle to the Gentiles” he was continually adapting his approach for spreading the Gospel in each new culture he encountered. If Paul showed up on the scene today and we were behaving as if we still lived in1st century Palestine, I have to think he would be mortified. Such an would approach nullify our ability to spread the gospel in our own 21st century context and thus would be fundamentally contradictory to what seems to be a big part of Paul’s philosophy of ministry: share the Gospel by whatever means necessary. As he wrote to the church in Corinth,
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
We should certainly compare and contrast our theological ideas and conclusions against the Bible, but if the Bible doesn’t mention something we should tread lightly and not assume that the Bible’s silence is its implicit condemnation. Biblical contradiction, not Biblical approval is something we should be far more concerned about.
The very fact that the Spirit is alive and continues to blow through the church means that new and creative practices, traditions, and resources not specifically mentioned in the Bible will always find their way into the doors of the church. And that is a very good and holy thing. It frees up from the bondage of legalism and allows us to continue to fulfill our call to proclaim the Gospel in ways that are fresh and relevant to an ever changing culture.
So, if your pastor introduces something new at church next Sunday and it’s not clearly contradictory to Scripture, like erecting a literal golden calf in the sanctuary, don’t freak out. It may not have the explicit approval of the Bible, but there’s a good chance it’s been approved by the Spirit.
However, take caution when participating in new, Spirit led things.
They just may change your life.
Grace and peace,
Jesus may have told his followers that giving the thirsty something to drink was akin to giving him something to drink, but what he didn’t realize was that in the state of Louisiana you’ll need a permit for that.
By Todd Starnes, Fox News
A Louisiana church was ordered to stop giving away free water along Mardi Gras parade routes because they did not have the proper permits.
“We were given a cease and desist order,” said Matt Tipton, pastor of Hope Church in Metairie, LA. “We had no idea we were breaking the law.”
Tipton said volunteers from his church were handing out free coffee and free bottles of water at two locations along a Mardi Gras parade route when they were stopped by Jefferson Parish officials. The church volunteers were cited for failing to secure an occupational license and for failure to register for a sales tax.
“It kind of threw me for a loop because they weren’t in uniform,” he said. “But once they pulled the ticket out, I was conviniced.”
“We apologized,” Tipton said. “We didn’t know the rules.”
It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from the Chrisagis Brothers.
So, we figured it’s time to remedy that.
If you’re not familiar with these wonderous singing twins, here’s a small sampling of their work for you to check out.
Otherwise, get ready to jump up for Jesus!
Most of the time when we come across some “vintage” Christian music, it’s just a single song.
In this case, however, you get an entire mini concert!
So, if the first song from The Swilley Family Band doesn’t do it for you, just wait. There’s bound to be at least one song that’s not completely terrible.
And don’t forget to stay around for the end of the show for details about how you can pick up their album, available now on 8-track for only $6!!
So you really do learn something new everyday.
Yesterday, I learned about the practice of not saying the word “alleluia” during Lent.
I’ve been in the church my entire life, but this is something I’ve never heard of before. That’s probably due in large part to the fact that I grew up in a tradition that is not historically very liturgical or sacramental. So, something like this wouldn’t “fit” well in most of the churches in my tradition.
Not wanting to be the only person in church who didn’t know what was going on when the children’s pastor “buried” a piece of paper with the word “alleluia” written on it in an ornate box, I just smiled and went along for the ride as if I knew exactly what was happening.
As it turns out this burying of the alleluia is a practice that dates back to at least the 5th century. Lent is a time of penitence, of remembering our sinful nature and the great sacrifice that brought about our redemption. Traditionally, this time of sober preparation is not a time to celebrate. By not using celebratory words like “alleluia” during Lent, we allow the rejoicing on Easter Sunday to be the paradigm shifting moment of celebration it truly is.
So, for the next 35 days, “alleluia” is a no no word.
You know about no no words. We learn about them when we’re kids and come home, repeat something we heard at school, and then get reamed out by our parents for saying a no no word.
The FCC has a list of no no words too. That list has evolved over the years, but say the wrong thing on TV and they’ll either bleep you out or fine you.
Even the church has no no words, topics or issues that are not supposed to be talked about amongst good, God fearing people: suicide, porn, anger, latent racism, abuse, bigotry and misogyny, gluttony, the sex trade, eating disorders. And of course there are people with “issues” we’d rather not talk to or about: homosexuals, the depressed, people we hate or resent, the divorced, people of a different political party, those who have sinned publicly, the working poor.
We prefer our Christianity to be nice and easy and our churches to be pretty and clean. These sorts of issues and those sorts of people prevent us from living out our grand illusion. So, we ignore them in hopes that they’ll simply go away, letting us continue on in our blissful ignorance free from the burden of dealing with other people’s problems.
As creatures made in the image of a Creator who spoke creation into existence, I think we fear that we might echo this creative act when we speak about no no subjects. We fear, or know, that by talking about things we give them life and thus have to confront and wrestle with them.
This can be (and often is) a brutally painful process, which is exactly why these things became no no subjects in the first place. By not speaking about them, we ignore them, deprive them of life, and convince (or deceive) ourselves into thinking that we’ll never have to deal with them because they don’t exist. But of course they do exist. Ignoring them only delays the inevitable confrontation with our source of awkwardness, discomfort, and pain.
Despite our best efforts however, eventually everything that is kept in the dark will find its way into the light. Eventually everything will be spoken back into existence. Eventually we will have to deal with the things and the people we try so desperately to avoid.
So, we need to find a way to stop pretending as if there are not difficult, messy issues that good, Christian people must address. Only by doing so can we begin to do the arduous work of healing, reconciliation, and redemption. When we do this we are truly embodying the image of our Creature who brought about new life through the ordering of chaos.
Likewise, by being proactive about these taboo subjects we have a better chance of addressing them effectively and to some extent on our own terms, rather than being blindsided by them at the worst possible moment. By speaking our pain, discomfort, and awkward tension into existence we bring it into the Light and allow God the chance to do what God does best: heal our pain, end our suffering, and mend our broken relationships.
There should be “no no words”. At least in the sense that we should never speak words that tear other people down. However, we should also find the integrity to wrestle with the challenges that face us and, by through the grace of God, the courage to speak about the pain that haunts us. Such efforts are restorative, holy acts. In participating in these redemptive acts, we find hope for genuine healing and the promise of a future worth living in.
So during Lent this year, make an effort to talk about the no no words in your life. Refuse to let them continue to fester in your life. Speak them into existence so that they can be brought into the Light and redeemed. Face those issues and those people you fear with courage, grace, and humility, allowing the Spirit to heal you both. Then, when Easter morning comes around you will find yourself in a place where you can truly begin to celebrate resurrection and new life for those things will have become your reality.
Grace and peace,
The following is a guest post by our new friend Matt Barber, who’s worked on shows like Chuck and The O.C. as well as several music videos and many other projects. He’s currently working on a fascinating new film that looks at evangelicalism’s teachings about sexuality. After you read his post, make sure you check out the film’s website and find out how you can make help turn this film into a reality.
As a young Christian I was taught to preserve my virginity, avoid masturbation, and flee lust at all costs—for me, sexual purity equaled salvation; yet, I couldn’t bear the idea of going through life devoid of the experience of sexual pleasure.
Like most teenagers, adulthood (and marriage) seemed like an eternity away. It felt so distant that my evangelical soul was certain our Lord and Savior would whisk me away to heaven before I was able to even begin courting a female. And so, with burning tension, my 13 year-old self sat down on the brick flowerbed in front of his house, turned his eyes to heaven and earnestly prayed, “Jesus, don’t let me die before I’ve had sex!”
As the days and weeks progressed towards the inevitable end of my sexless life, purity before marriage was constantly reinforced: I was warned of the slippery slope of “make out” sessions, I sat through testimonies of women who had allowed themselves to get pregnant before marriage and I read books highlighting the threat that premarital fornication posed to my immortal soul. At the same time, sex was being elevated higher and higher on my pantheon of human experiences—reinforced by the culture, my friends and even my church. I recall one sermon where my pastor pulled an article from a newspaper and read the headline, “Studies show married couples tend to have better sex,” or something to that effect. The narrative being constructed was sex is dirty before marriage—however, after you say “I do” it’s an amazing, transformative experience. The flood gates open, sparks fly and the burning in your soul is quenched. That is what I believed.
I escaped singlehood relatively unscathed having only stumbled my way to second base (I fled any opportunity to go further.) Right before my 22ND birthday, when I thought my life as a celibate monk was surely sealed, I met a beautiful woman that rocked me to my core; I had met my soulmate. We dated for about 6 months, at which point I brought up marriage. She was hesitant to rush in—and she wanted nothing more than to spend her life with me. She made me promise that I would wait to propose until after our one-year anniversary. I complied by asking for her hand on the 366th day of our courtship. Once her surprise and amusement subsided, she said “Yes!” and we were engaged. My 13 year-old self leapt for joy. Soon, I was going to be having sex. Real, live, sex.
Imagine the surprise on my wedding night—after I had finally obtained the prize I had obsessed over—when I realized I felt like the same person.
“Where were the fireworks?”
“Why didn’t anything click inside me?”
“When does the ‘two become one flesh’ feeling happen?”
“Why, Jesus, didn’t I feel complete?”
Don’t get me wrong, many aspects of my wedding experience were great—but the reality of twenty-three years of false expectations hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m still married to the same woman. We’ve had our ups and downs, built a wonderful home together, and the sex has gotten much better (for your information, it takes practice). But I couldn’t forget the feeling that I was misled in some way.
A few years ago, I told my story to some friends who had also grown up in the Evangelical Church. They, in turn, told me their stories. I was struck by how similar the sexual message from our churches were, how closely our expectations lined up and how we prayed the exact same prayer as teenagers.
Exactly. The. Same. Prayer.
I thought I had been the only one. So, I started talking to more of my fellow Christians and many had similar experiences and prayed some form of that prayer. I listened to person after person tell me stories I had never heard in church. These experiences weren’t being shared because they didn’t feel safe talking about it in that setting. I realized something wasn’t right.
Adding to all this is the never ceasing, vitriolic sexual debate that our society is trapped in: the hows, whens, and whys people are allowed to have sex, use birth control, and get married. And the church is always at the center. I felt I needed to enter the fray, to add my voice to the debate, and to say “things have got to change.” But I’m not a politician. I’m not a pastor. I’m a filmmaker. I’ve worked in television for years as an editor and a director (most recently on NBC’s Chuck). My greatest talent is telling stories.
And so, I’ve embarked on a documentary project to examine what is going on; to analyze the disconnect between what is taught and what is practiced in the church. The title of my film is, you guessed it, Jesus, Don’t Let Me Die Before I’ve Had Sex. Along with my producers Chris Pack and Brittany Machado, we are entering this delicate conversation in the best way we know how—with an ear to all sides. In the tradition of Ira Glass’ This American Life, Alexander Payne’s Citizen Ruth, and Jimmy Carter’s Camp David peace accords we want to hear from everyone: single, married, gay, straight, divorced, chaste, and promiscuous. We want to hear the pains, the joys, the frustrations, the hopes, and the fears. And we want to provide a safe forum in which to do so.
We believe it’s of the utmost importance to talk about these things, not in a black-and-white, dogmatic way—but openly, honestly, and lovingly. It’s not our goal to judge, but to reflect back what is really going on in the lives of laity; hopefully, we’ll help to steer the discussion in our Churches, our political debates, and our daily lives in a healthy direction.
Please check out our Kickstarter video below and then visit our website for more information and to see some clips of interviews we’ve already conducted.
This is spot on and pretty hilarious.
Thanks to Charlie for sending this to us!
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Today is Ash Wednesday.
It’s the day millions of Christians across the world begin a 40 day season of preparation for Easter. Or as some of the students in my youth group will tell you, it’s the day we go to church and get dirt rubbed on our faces.
I love any good church service, but I think Ash Wednesday may be one of my favorites. The ritual of burning the palm leaves from the previous Easter and using their ashes to make a cross on believers’ foreheads is wonderful, but I like what happens afterwards even more.
For some reason, I’ve had the habit of going to the grocery store after church on Ash Wednesday for the past several years. It’s an unintentional tradition, but I would encourage you to try it out this year. If you do, you will be witness to a strange and wonderful phenomenon, at least if you’re in an area like mine.
The grocery store that was once a crowded mass of strangers suddenly takes on the feel of a family gathering, if only for a fleeting moment, as people with ashes on their foreheads walk past each other, smile, and say hello.
There’s no talk about denominations or doctrinal differences or anything of the sort. Instead, those dirty smudges remind us of our common bonds: we are all made from the same ashes and we all worship the same Lord. In that briefest of moments we are one people undivided by theological tradition.
So it got me thinking, what if in addition to all of the personal perpetration that has come to define the Lenten season, we also took this unique moment of unity to seek out opportunities to work together, cross denominatinoal boundaries, and try to live as if we are actually one Body?
What would happen?
Maybe there would be less infighting in the family of God and more love. Maybe people of different traditions would start looking for opportunities to work together, instead of chances to tear one another down. Maybe there would no longer be a need for 8 churches on 1 block. Maybe if we all began to live as if the kingdom of God had begun to dawn, the rest of the world would flock to our doors instead of running the opposite direction. Maybe if we remembered that unity doesn’t require conformity, we could actually be the Church.
Obviously, the fracturing of the Church would not change over night, but what if we began to take advantage of these unifying moments in the life of the Church? What if in these moments where we’re already doing the same things, saying the same things, acting the same way we allowed those things to begin to bridge the theological gaps that divide us? What if something as simple as a dirty forehead ceased to be a mere decoration and instead became a means of grace through which we finally rediscover the ability to be one Body?
Grace and peace,
Apparently this is one of Bill Clinton’s favorite songs.
I would have to assume that it is also Tim Tebow’s favorite song.
Dropkick me Jesus through the goalposts of life
End over end, neither left nor the right
Straight through the heart and them righteous uprights
Dropkick me Jesus through the goalposts of life
Thank you Lord for the gift of American Christianity.