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Archive for the ‘rethink’ Category

Unqualified

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11,12; ESV)

According to Jeff Dornik, “we have so many pastors who are not qualified in ministry. This is because the system of church is warped.” How so? Well, in most churches, the pastors (shepherds, elders, overseers) “are typically not raised up in that church family. Instead, it’s like a corporation. We need a pastor? Let’s put the word out and see who applies! It’s no longer a church family where the pastors are training up leaders to fill the needs of the local church.”

If we were to measure pastors’ success as to how well the congregation has been equipped for ministry, most would get a failing grade. And yet, the well-oiled machinery continues to hum merrily along. Habits and traditions die hard.

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Power Corrupts

Mary Hunt writes regarding the Vatican summit on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church:

By many measures it failed miserably. The gathering was too homogenous to be useful. It was framed in the same old top-down way that’s at the heart of the problem. Lay people, both women and men, experts in the law, psychology, theology, and the like were excluded. Clerics met in small groups to talk with other clerics. What could be more wrong with this picture?

Francis’ discussion of power fell flat. He claimed that the sexual abuse of minors is an abuse of power. He completely passed over the structures of vastly unequal power between clergy and laity that are the bedrock of this power differential, a causative factor in church-related abuse. Without changing those structures the chances of eradicating sexual abuse of minors by clergy are nil.

… this selective use of papal power, points to the fundamental problem at hand. It’s the need for new ecclesial structures rooted in a realistic theology that would mitigate power inequities and begin to reshape the global Catholic Church into safer, more participatory communities with the full participation of women and lay men in every facet of church life.

As I’ve said repeatedly before, the hierarchical top-down command-and-control structures that characterizes many eccesial communities is wrong and in the worse case, outright dangerous. But most sheep are dumb, so they will continue to throw their blind trust in wolves-in-sheep’s clothing.

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Bad Theology, Bad Behaviour

Another aspect of the recent #SBCtoo sex abuse scandal:

The young pastors at the center of the Houston Chronicle’s investigative reporting were given endless authority without a shred of spiritual formation. They weren’t allowed to grow in grace. No one warned of the pitfalls and temptations that have always been integral to pastoral ministry.

Southern Baptists, like most evangelicals, are immersed in a culture that celebrates the glory of instant conversion …

Discipleship, in this tradition, is simply a matter of getting other folks saved.

…. the clergy sex scandal proves that Moody was right when he denounced once-saved-always-saved as a dangerous heresy.

Clergy sex scandal proves Dale Moody was right about ‘once-saved-always-saved’ as a dangerous heresy

This distorted teaching (“once saved, always saved [no matter what]” or the “carnal Christian” view) is something I’ve observed in evangelicalism for awhile now. Some may recall the battle that John MacArthur (and others) waged in the so-called “Lordship salvation” debate in the late 80’s and early 90’s. A lot of the opponents of Lordship salvation (the so-called Free Grace side) were associated with Dallas Theological Seminary (Zane Hodges, Charles Ryrie, Chuck Swindoll, etc.); however, another name associated with DTS, S. Lewis Johnson, gave a more nuanced explanation in “How Faith Works”. He closes his article with these helpful words:

If we keep in mind that the Lord Jesus is he who has offered himself as a propitiatory substitutionary sacrifice for sinners, and if we remember that saving faith comprehends knowledge, assent, and trust, and if we see that the new life and standing given in justification must issue in a new submission to God’s will, then we shall have our gospel thinking in order.

It is discouraging to preach the gospel and see so little convincingly genuine and long-lasting fruit. The glory of the gospel of grace and a limited response do not seem compatible, but the solution is not to be found in inducing shallow professions that do not last by the questionable methods of “decisional evangelism,” or by introducing sterner demands that have problematic biblical support. Let us remember that our sovereign God alone saves souls, and he can be trusted with that work. Let us do our work of preaching his saving Word.

Similar debates have been ignited in the past, for example, the “Marrow“ controversy, which has bearing on this more recent debate. An excellent resource on this is Sinclair Ferguson’s book, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. Highly recommended!

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This past Saturday, at our church’s members’ meeting, I had the privilege to present my thoughts on leadership. My original slide deck was created on Oct. 1, 2018 and presented to the elders on Dec. 9, 2018. A slightly revised version was presented to the Personnel Committee on Dec. 22 at their request. This was followed by yet more minor modifications in preparation for presentation to our LMT (elders and deacons) meeting on Feb. 9, 2019. At that meeting, there seemed to be a consensus on adopting the biblical model of leadership (a plurality of elders) and therefore, I was asked to present my slide deck to the members’ meeting on Feb. 23, for which I revised the deck once more.

Based on a few of the questions that followed, there seems to be some doubt whether this approach would work (entrenched ideas are hard to overturn), and even the answers offered by one of the elders seemed to indicate hesitation, despite the supposed consensus arrived at on Feb. 9. Clearly, the elders need to meet and discuss further to either affirm this or else to offer an alternative.

This morning, I came across similar sentiments from Geoff Holsclaw:

For us, leadership at the highest level is structured as a co-pastorate.  There is no ‘senior’ or ‘lead’ pastor where the buck finally stops, where the decisions are finally made, where final authority resides.  While our community was planted by one person, David Fitch, he very quickly brought me on as a co-pastor.  And then later we brought on a third co-pastor to balance out the giftings among us.  Now Fitch is preparing to relocate and I serve alongside my wife and Ty Grigg.

We did this in order to spread out the ministry, offer opportunities for younger leaders to grow, but most importantly, as a structured model of shared leadership.  As co-pastors we had to practice the pattern of althoughdid not—but.  Although we were called as pastors and therefore elevated by a certain authority, we did not, we could not practice unilateral power, but mutually submitted to one another as we lead the community.  This was embedded in our pastoral structure because Christ-like leadership is not merely servant leadership. Rather we have given up having a ‘lead’ anything at all by creating an alternative structure.

The Death of Leadership: Christ and Co-Leadership

I love how Geoff also draws his inspiration from the carmen Christi of Phil. 2:6-11, which is how I concluded my presentation. Truly, I cannot understand how anyone can continue clamouring for someone to be “in charge” or an elder ambitiously clawing their way to the top for a “Lead Pastor” role in a spirit of competition after reading this passage!

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As I continue to reflect on my church situation, these “equations” come to mind:

Fear + Feelings > Faith + Fidelity

Tradition > Truth

{Reboot | Revitalization} => Resistance

Fear + Tradition + Control – Opportunities = Spectator Christians

Leadership / Competition = Disunity

 

For me personally, the equation I need to solve is:

Gifts + Wait + Discernment + Love = x(time) + y(direction)

Finding x to know God’s timing and y to know where He’s leading me …

 

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Ever since the event of Sep 13, I have been very restless and have had to endure many sleepless nights. So, I have been doing a lot of reading, reflecting and writing (yes, and praying, though not as much as I should). As noted in my earlier post, I have tried to emphasize the need to be still and wait. That said, it doesn’t mean that we can’t reflect and dream.

Anyone who knows me, knows that writing is therapeutic for me. Therefore, it should not be surprising that I have spent a lot of time writing down some thoughts about the recent situation. One thing that came out of my reflections was a “60 Day Plan”, i.e., my own ideas about what I personally feel should take place in this season of transition. I don’t make any prescriptive claims about my so-called plan; they are just my ideas, nothing more, nothing less. It is my conception of one way forward.

(more…)

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Desire

“Revelling in our ravelling”:

 

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Creativity and Community

“… Pixar’s fifteen-acre campus, just over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, was designed, inside and out, by Steve Jobs. … It has well-thought-out patterns of entry and egress that encourage people to mingle, meet, and communicate. .. the unifying idea for this building isn’t luxury but community.” (p. ix; emphasis mine)

– Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (Random House; 2014)

creativity

When I was part of a house church, the contrast was such that it was quite apparent to me how church buildings spoke of our corporate life together as a spectator sport—what with rows of (uncomfortable) pews, all of us sitting and staring at the back of someone’s head and the packaged program. What a far cry from the intimate, interactive and participatory nature of church meetings in homes that we read of in the NT!

That said, I’ve come to accept that church buildings aren’t going away anytime soon. I do wish however, I could rennovate our church building, with a view to proxemics, the functional use of space and the principles of aesthetics and design thinking.

I can dream in the meantime, can’t I?

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Troubled Waters

When I applied for membership in a church over a decade ago, it seemed that tithing was a sine qua non – which prompted me to undertake a personal study of tithing. I recall how I was accused of being a heretic by one of the elders just because I did not acquiesce to their simplistic and legalistic view of tithing. Despite forwarding my paper (which took a lot of time and effort to research and write) to all the pastors/elders, only one attempted to directly engage with my study (I suspect many did not even bother to read it) but he was more intent on carrying on a diatribe against me instead of engaging in dialogue. They just assumed that the “truth of tithing” was so obvious that they viewed me as obdurate and my paper as obfuscating the “clear teaching of Scripture”.  This issue was such a bone of contention that it was clear that unless I affirmed their statement “I will practice the truth of tithing” on their membership form (which, incidentally, didn’t even include a full statement of faith, other than 3 brief points), I would not be accepted as a member.

Although I had demonstrated that my nuanced understanding of giving under the new covenant embraced and actually extended the obligation of tithing, in the end, sad to say, I felt I had no choice but to quietly leave. In hindsight and retrospect, could I have stayed and sought to find a way to compromise?  Perhaps. But given that the power dynamics of the church leadership, I doubt that I would have had any opportunity to serve there and exercise my gifts, but would be reduced to just a tither and a pew warmer.

In light of my experience, you can imagine the burden I feel for the situation that arose at my present (Baptist) church, whereby a pastor from a Presbyterian ecclesial background is faced with the decision to be “re-baptized” by immersion before he can officially carry on as a pastor of this (Baptist) church. This signals of course that his previous “baptism” by aspersion (sprinkling) is invalid in some way. Obviously, given that it is a Baptist church, I can understand why he has been requested to submit to immersion.

While my personal view is that the evidence favours immersion as the practice that aligns closest to biblical teaching and early church practice (although affusion [pouring] was commonly practiced fairly early on as well), I confess that I have not personally studied baptism as thoroughly as I ought to have. In the past I joked with some of my friends that perhaps tri-modal baptism would go a long way to ending the divisiveness and bloodshed that the issue of baptism has caused; after all, this would nicely align with the Trinitarian formula (“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) of Matt. 28:19. Furthermore, each of the 3 modes highlight different realities that baptism signifies: participation in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, incorporation into the body of Christ,  cleansing from sin, receiving the gift of the Spirit, etc. In other words, the rich meaning of baptism cannot be captured by a single mode of administration.

While I am grateful that my church leadership has graciously granted a generous length of time for this brother to study the matter before arriving at his decision, I feel that it would be profitable and proper for the whole church to study this as a body. Some may feel the matter has long been settled, but I would venture to guess that few church members could articulate their view clearly and defend it robustly. In this regard, I am heartened that a number of Baptists in the past decade or so, have instigated a renewed study of baptism (more on this in future posts). Furthermore, the various ecumenical dialogues have shown some promise towards a broader unity, despite further work to be done.

In the case before us, I pray that as a church we would all seek and work for peace and unity. Love and humility must ever be paramount. It would be easy to gossip and pronounce judgment on this dear brother, as if his “invalid” baptism made him a less godly person. Given the recent difficulties and departures, I hope and pray we can see a happy ending to this situation. I am not comfortable with us waiting by idly while he is asked to study the matter in solitaire. Rather, I feel as a body we need to prayerfully and patiently search the Word together with an open mind and open heart to discover and discern the teaching on baptism. It is gratifying that we are extending love and grace towards this brother and his family, but let us show further support by engaging in dialogue with him as we ponder the Word together.

If the church is right to insist on obeying the truth of baptism as Baptists have historically understood and practiced it, then what about other areas of theology or church practice? Are we willing to subject our traditions to the careful scrutiny of God’s Word?

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