what is a denomination?
4/27/2006 01:58:00 PM
I posted this mainly in response to "Systems: Change/Redirect or Build New?" on the Missional Baptist Blog. I wanted to investigate denominational thinking for myself, and here is some stuff I compiled.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition: A large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy.

WordNet ® 2.0: a group of religious congregations having its own organization and a distinctive faith

Wikitionary.org: A class, or society of individuals, called by the same name; a sect; as, a denomination of Christians.

Wikichristian.org: Although there is only one universal Christian Church, there are tens of thousands of Christian denominations or churches. These denominations have formed and divided since the time of Christ, because Christians have had differences in beliefs and practices. Some of the main groups include the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Roman Catholic Church, Protestant churches, and Pentecostal churches.

Wikipedia: Religious Denominations
A religious denomination, (also simply denomination) is a large, long-established subgroup within a religion that has existed for many years. However, in Islam such subgroups are referred to as "sects", not denominations.

Denominations usually have a significant degree of authority over their member congregations, although the term is also used to describe religious groups when the congregations have authority over the "denomination", such as Congregationalist church governance such as the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ and the numerous Baptist associations.

Denominations often form slowly over time for many reasons; due to historical accidents of geography, culture, and influence between different groups, members of a given religion slowly begin to diverge in their views. Over time members of a religion may find that they have developed significantly different views on theology, philosophy, religious pluralism, ethics and religious practices and rituals. As such, in any of a myriad of ways, different denominations eventually form. In other cases, denominations form very rapidly, either as a result from a split or schism in an existing denomination, or as people from many different denominations share an experience of spiritual revival or spiritual awakening, and choose to form a new denomination based on that new experience or understanding.
Wikipedia: Christian Denominations

Expressions of Christianity, in modern times, exist under diverse names. These variously named groups, Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Catholics, etc. are colloquially called denominations.Some denominations are large (e.g. Roman Catholic, Lutherans, Anglicans or Baptists) while others are just a few small churches, and in most cases the relative size is not evident in this list. Also, modern movements such as Fundamentalist Christianity, Pietism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism and the Holiness movement sometimes cross denominational lines, or in some cases create new denominations out of two or more continuing groups (as is the case for many United and uniting churches, for example). Such subtleties and complexities are not clearly depicted here.

What Is a Denomination? By D. Gene West

...As a matter of fact, when one begins to read the history of the religion called "Christianity," he will find that from almost the time of its beginning heresies arose in the midst of Christians that eventually divided the church and formed new churches, or what we call denominations. The biblical word for heresy and heretics has reference to those teachings (doctrines) and teachers who "split" the early church with their false views, forming new denominations...
...The source (dictionary) then names a religious body as an example. However, when this has been said, we have insufficient information to really tell us what a denomination is. Two other important things must be added. (1) There must be an organizational concept added into which the local churches are drawn for the purposes of identification and function. Hence, denominations are organized collections of churches. (2) There is collective function (government) or activity.

...Still another characteristic of a denomination is that it has some kind of formal creed that sets forth, usually in few words, the fundamental beliefs of that body....

...In addition to these things, denominations wear special and peculiar names that designate such things as one of their outstanding ceremonies (baptism), their form of church government
(presbyterian), the name of the person whom they claim as founder....
The common thread in all of these statements goes back to the first two definitions that I gave: faith and organization. Faith is the common beliefs that a group of churches large or small have in common, and organization is how they unite themselves together. Even these characteristics of denominations still leave a great deal of ambiguity. It seems that it would allow for a denomination of denominations. Such a group would be something like he Baptist World Alliance which is a grouping of smaller Baptist denominations from all over the world. And even larger than that is the World Council of Churches. These structures are somewhat stratified, but there are also networks of churches, such as the Willow Creek Association. This group is formed from churches that are part of other groupings. Overall, the term denomination is somewhat ambiguous.

Because of the perceived trappings and discontentment with denominational thinking, some churches have declared themselves nondenominational. Nondenominational means "not restricted to a particular religious denomination." A nondenominational church then under this context in does not subscribe to a particular grouping, but is independent. In order to truly be nondenominational, the particular church could not cooperate on any level with any church. If the church were to agree with another church on a common goal, and pooled their resources (monetary or not) with another church to accomplish the task then they would in essence be part of a denomination. Even nondenominational churches, although they may not officially subscribe to a particular sect, often doctrinally will agree with a particular denomination, although the denomination may not be officially a denomination, such as Baptists.

Interestingly enough, many mainline denomination where formed based on the doctrinal persuasions of certain theologians although they themselves had no desire to be separatists.

Martin Luther: "I ask that men make no reference to my name, and call themselves not Lutherans, but Christians. What is Luther? My doctrine, I am sure, is not mine, nor have I been crucified for any one. St. Paul, in 1 Cor. 3, would not allow Christians to call themselves Pauline or Petrine, but Christian. How then should I, poor, foul carcass that I am, come to have men give to the children of Christ a name derived from my worthless name? No, no, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names, and call ourselves Christians after Him Whose doctrine we have."

John Wesley: "Would to God that all party names, and unscriptural phrases and forms which have divided the Christian world, were forgot and that the very name [Methodist] might never be mentioned more, but be buried in eternal oblivion."

Anti-denominational thinking among Baptist is nothing new. Charles Spurgeon wished that the Baptist name would disappear. "I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living! I hope that the Baptist name will soon perish, but let Christ's name last forever." The idea of only church denomination being the church that Jesus started in the first century is nothing new either. Their are many denomination that trace their lineage back to this church and not through the schisms that happened over the centuries.

I personally have mixed feelings about denominations, even my own the SBC. But anytime there is a group of churches gathered together whether 2 or 200,000, there is always going to be bickering and politics involved. Cooperation at the cost of politics may be the only way to cooperate. And avoiding cooperation because of politics doesn't seem to be biblical and downright impossible in some regards. I do like what C.S. Lewis said, "Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is his only Son." If somehow those who have never believed could see the church without seeing the denominations and schisms, then it would be great. And rather than trying to share the Baptist Faith and Message with someone, I think I would be better off sharing the gospel.
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too emergent?
4/26/2006 10:39:00 AM
Interesting: an emergent community swapping liturgy for drama. Here is the original article published by the Wall Street Journal.
No one preaches at Hot Metal Bridge. Plays are its liturgy. Mr. Walker, a soon-to-be ordained United Methodist minister, leads the church with his friend Jeff Eddings, a Presbyterian seminarian. "Instead of coming to our church and listening to a sermon, you can be part of the sermon," Mr. Walker says. On Sunday when many ministers all over the country will be complaining about church attendance the rest of the year, Hot Metal will be grappling with where to put the 300 people who pack the Goodwill Industries cafeteria every Sunday, not just Easter and Christmas.

Hot Metal Bridge is part of the emergent church movement that rejects rigid orthodoxy and strives to use hip language and culture to draw in young Americans who stopped, or never started, attending church.

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4/24/2006 10:51:00 AM
some say ignorance is bliss
i'd agree
reality-- how can I make sense of this

reality is cold
i'd agree
when life gets tough it all will unfold

so what do i do?
i'd ask
if i was sitting, i'd make life a padded pew

comfortable, reserved, inviting, warmed
i'd slouch
and eat up a message so misinformed

pitiless, rich, lavish, and confined
i'd become
but in reality i'm wretched, pitiful, poor, naked, and blind
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playing with the camera
4/21/2006 11:35:00 PM


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bible in the classroom
4/21/2006 02:47:00 PM
A bill in Georgia allows for the Bible to be used as a textbook in public classrooms:
The bill, which was overwhelmingly approved by the legislature and is expected to be signed by Republican Governor Sonny Purdue later this month, would make Georgia the first state in the nation to require that the Bible itself be used as the core text in classes on the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The measure supplanted a proposal, introduced in January by three Democratic state senators, that would have instructed the Georgia Department of Education to develop a state-funded elective course on the Bible and approve a textbook to be used in the class.

The purpose of the new courses, according to the bill, is "to accommodate the rights and desires of those teachers and students who wish to teach and study the Old and New Testaments." Local school systems would decide whether to offer the classes.
Here is an excerpt from the bill establishing the guidelines and purpose of the course.
(1) In implementing this Code section, it is the intent of the General Assembly to accomplish the following objectives:

(A) To equip the student with a fundamental understanding of important literary forms contained in the Bible as well as people and symbols often referred to in literature, art, and music;

(B) To equip the student with a fundamental understanding of important biblical contributions to history, law, American community life, and culture;

(C) To give insight into the world views of America's founding fathers and to understand the biblical influences on their views of human rights;

(D) To provide a greater knowledge of Middle Eastern history, geography, religion, and politics; and

(E) To inform the students of the importance of religion in world and national history, without imposing the doctrine of any particular religious sect.

(2) In implementing the course provided for in this Code section, it is the intent of the General Assembly that the following terms and guidelines shall apply:

(A) 'Secular purpose' is defined as those studies which instill in students values such as independent thought, tolerance of diverse views, self-respect, maturity, self-reliance, and logical decision making, and those studies which give students great insight and appreciation of literature, the arts, politics, history, law, social studies, and current events. Secular purpose, for example, should not mean 'nonreligious purpose' but 'general public purpose';

(B) The studies shall be structured and presented in such a manner that the presentation of material neither enhances nor inhibits religion. Inculcation or proselytization of any particular doctrine, dogma, religious belief, or theory is prohibited;

(C) There shall be no requirement that a teacher shall have a particular religious belief (or nonreligious belief) or persuasion in order to conduct religious studies;

(D) Funds for the presentation of instruction shall be provided by the school board. If school board funding is not available, then the funds may be raised by the private sector;

(E) The teaching about religion in public schools and the presentation or offering of an elective course in Bible study, comparative religion, or both in the secondary schools is expressly permitted and is constitutional;

(F) Study of the Bible should stress the influence of the Bible on history, culture, the arts, and contemporary issues;

(G) Study of the Bible should permit and encourage a comprehensive and balanced examination of the entire spectrum of ideas and attitudes pertaining to it as a component of human culture;

(H) Study of the Bible should examine the religious dimension of human experience in its broader cultural context, including its relation to economic, political, and social institutions as well as its relation to the arts, language, and culture;

(I) Study of the Bible should be objective and nonsectarian;

(J) Study of the Bible should be academic in nature, stressing student awareness and understanding, not acceptance and conformity;

(K) Study should be descriptive and nonconfessional and should be conducted in an environment free of advocacy;

(L) Study should seek to develop and utilize the various skills, attitudes, and abilities that are essential to history and the social sciences, that is, locating, classifying, and interpreting data; keen observation; critical reading, listening, and thinking; questioning; and effective communication;

(M) Study of the Bible should be academically responsible and pedagogically sound, utilizing accepted methods and materials of the social sciences, history, and literature; and

(N) Study about the Bible should center on the biblical text itself rather than extraneous material and theories which might express a particular theological position rather than the historical presentation found in the Bible.
My initial reaction was objection. I questioned whether or not I really want the Bible to be taught in high schools, but after reading the bill, I think the intent was to show how the Bible has influenced culture. The bill says that the Bible should be taught objectively, and is not a matter of teaching doctrine or dogma from a sectarian point of view.

On paper, this sounds good, but in reality, I am not sure that it is possible. The Bible nowadays is a polemic device that is being used to garners supporters for certain candidates. In Georgia, the bill received a large Democratic backing because of the democrats are anxious to get the religious vote. Georgia has traditionally been a stronghold of religious conservatism.

The only problem this bill may create is it will open the door for other religious texts to be taught in high schools, such as the Koran, Hadith, Apocrypha, pseudopygraphal writings, and extra-canonical texts. I hope that it will remain objective, and teachers will not give Christians a bad name by being dogmatic about their approach, and that the students who listen will receive the instruction critically, not from a predetermined mindset.
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the blender in my brain
4/20/2006 11:50:00 AM
this used to make sense until somebody hit [LIQUIFY]
scattered now thoughts are my
things us-u-al-ly start out chu-nky
b u t t h e n g e t b r o k e n i n t o l i t t l e b i t t y p i e c e s
Is the blender a bad thing?
mAyBe NeXt TiMe, I wIlL gEt A mIcRoWaVe To NuKe My ThOuGhTs...
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praticalithe turns 500
4/19/2006 11:21:00 PM
Well, at least in terms of visits. Thanks to everyone who has made this possible.
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4/19/2006 09:51:00 AM
Why are you 3?

?1 ouy era yhW

How do you choose people to be saved?

?lliw eerf evah ew nac woH :lla wonk ouY

You are immortal.

?eid ouy nac woH

You are all loving.

?etah ouy nac woH

You care for everyone.

?elpoep doog ot neppah sgniht dab od yhW

You are everywhere always.

?nis si ereht erehw eb ouy nac woH

Who am I?

.srouy ma I
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thoughts on starbucks
4/18/2006 11:03:00 AM
This is posted from Kevin Lee's Blog, a pastor of a church in New Orleans destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

I have to begin these thoughts by giving full credit to our Pastor of Worship, Byron Townsend. The guy finds the best articles out there. He sent me an article concerning research that has been done on the global impact of Starbucks. The primary researcher determined that the draw of Starbucks is the sense of community it affords to people. In a world that is unstable and inconsistent, Starbucks' setting provides consistency and stability for people.

I thought about how true these observations are. I am a coffee shop fanatic. My two favorite coffee shops in the world are Rosie Lea's Bubble Tea Room on Maple Street and Flora's Coffee House in Bywater (both New Orleans classics). These are hands down the two best coffee houses in the world. But I don't go there for the ambiance or the coffee even though both are great at both places. I go there for the people. I go there because I know I can sit down with a cup of coffee and strike up a conversation about the arts or ethics. Even Jesus is welcome conversation at coffee houses. There is a sense of belonging at coffee houses. A sense of community.

As I read this article I thought about what this should say to the church. I think it tells us that deep down where the image of God still resides in people there is a hunger for authentic life. Life that is experienced in deep and meaningful relationships. First with God and then with neighbor. When we look past the frantic pace of life in our culture we see coffee shops where people gather for the purpose of living real life. Life that comes in the form of conversation with people who love one another and are willing to be open and vulnerable about who they really are. And this is what I love about coffee shops. More than that it is what I love about the church.

The church is a community of the walking wounded. People with the scars of sin who have been healed by the grace of God. The church is the place where fragmented people go to experience the wholeness that comes through the reconciling work of Jesus on the cross. The church is the community where people can come with all of their junk and wrestle with God. I desperately want an article to be written about how the church in America is growing at an alarming rate because of the sense of community it provides for a broken and fragmented world. Because it is a community where busted and broken people experience healing and restoration through the beautiful story of the gospel. Coffee shops are great. But coffee shops aren't the church. The question I ask myself is, "Why should we let Starbucks have all the fun?"
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easter -- a syncretism or contextulization?
4/14/2006 09:12:00 PM
This is an interesting article, with a different take on chocolate bunnies, easter eggs, and the like. It quotes Susan Richardson, author of Holidays and Holy Days.
As Richardson says, "the new Christian might look at a familiar symbol and see it with new meaning." For example, the hare, which has evolved into the modern day bunny, was seen as a symbol of fertility and spring. A Christian could view the hare?s coming out of the burrow, as representative of the burial and resurrection and a completely different form of "new life."

As the early church began to expand into new lands, there were diverging opinions on how to handle local customs. One school of thought was to require converts to abandon their cultural traditions in order to embrace Christianity. Another tactic was to maintain local customs as much as possible but to give Christian meaning to them.

Richardson explains that the second strategy "was not an attempt to mislead, but more a cultural sensitivity to the people that were there." She says that this is much like the missionaries today who try to take the gospel and put it into context that is meaningful to people within their frame of reference.
Here is an oposing view:

Can we imagine that God would be pleased with those that are commemorating the resurrection of His only begotten Son - on a day devoted to the worship of the sun.....or to a pagan goddess of fertility, Ishtar? In fact, God, the Father, has never asked His people to celebrate the resurrection at all - on any day of the week. A celebration of the resurrection is not taught in the Bible, but people do as they choose. They celebrate a day of their own making, in the way they please, while ignoring the request and example of their Savior.

The modern celebrations of Christmas (as celebrated in the northern European tradition, originating from Pagan Yule holidays), Easter and Halloween are examples of relatively late Christian syncretism. Earlier, the elevation of Christmas as an important holiday largely grew out of a need to replace the Saturnalia, a popular December festival of the Roman Empire. Roman Catholicism in Central and South America has also integrated a number of elements derived rom indigenous and slave cultures in those areas (see the Caribbean and modern sections); while many African Initiated Churches demonstrate an integration of Christian and traditional African beliefs. In Asia the revolutionary movements of Taiping (19th-century China) and God's Army (Karen in the 1990s) have blended Christianity and traditional beliefs.

I looked up Syncretism and Contextualization , and here are some good definitions

Syncretism is the reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion, especially when success is partial or the result is heterogeneous.

Syncretism can be contrasted with contextualization or inculturation, the practice of making Christianity relevant to a culture.

Contextualization is a word first used by linguists involved in communicating the translation of the Bible into relevant cultural settings. It was adopted formally by a gathering of scholars in the Theological Education Fund in its mandate to communicate the Gospel and Christian teachings in cultures which had not previously experienced them. Prior to the usage of the word contextualization many cross-cultural linguists, anthropologists and missionaries had been involved in such communication approaches such as in accommodating the message or meanings to another cultural setting.

The Catholic view is somewhat mediatied between contextualization and sycretism
The process of the Church's insertion into peoples' cultures is a lengthy one. It is not a matter of purely external adaptation, for inculturation "means the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures." The process is thus a profound and all-embracing one, which involves the Christian message and also the Church's reflection and practice. But at the same time it is a difficult process, for it must in no way compromise the distinctiveness and integrity of the Christian faith.

Through inculturation the Church makes the Gospel incarnate in different cultures and at the same time introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community. She transmits to them her own values, at the same time taking the good elements that already exist in them and renewing them from within. Through inculturation the Church, for her part, becomes a more intelligible sign of what she is, and a more effective instrument of mission.

For me, what would seperate the sheeps from the goats is, "What is being worshipped?" If I answer "Jesus" and use the easter rituals to point to him, then I'd say that I am being contextual. It's a tough question, and missionaries have struggled with this notion since missionaries started taking the gospel to the world. I have heard various opinions at Acts 17 where Paul used the "Unknown God" to point to Christ. Some people say, it is a beautiful peace of rhetoric, but an example of what not to do. You should just preach the gospel. Others have used it as a reference point to saying Paul used a familiar item to point to Christ. We should too. Who's right? We do know that a few people wanted to know more and some got saved as a result of it. Do the ends justify the means?

Today, we say we are "culturally relevant." By this we mean that we addresses issues cultures deal with and integrate culture elements in our churches so that people don't seem disconnected from the world when they enter a church. In America, this may be rock music, lights, coffee, multimedia while in rural East Asia, it may be folk dacing, operas, and presentations on embriodery. Is this "in the world" or "of the world?"

What do you think?
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4/13/2006 03:51:00 PM

hours? Days? YEARS?
how long has it been?
how can i still know
yet there is nothing to know
a blob of darkness in darkness
is still darkness


what is that?
wait...i can faintly see my edges
a faint against the abyss
is it possible?
am I still here?


it's me!




wait! the void! no! go away!
come no closer!


you are going in THERE?!?
there is no escape
not even for me
who are you?




what? What? WHAT?
this is impossible
i am not...empty...


my members...
my face...my arms...my soul
wait...the mirror!
the light...is radiating


What's this i see?
spots...faint against the abyss...


what? What WHAT?
are you mad?
i am not going close to those


did they say something?
i thought i heard...



they can come here...
i'm not going




where? Where? WHERE?
are you going?


wait! come back!


i udnerstand now!
come back!
don't leave me!
i will go!
i will take you to them!


forgive me!
for far to long have i waited for you
only to reject you now!


i am going

i am coming


i am here!

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4/13/2006 10:30:00 AM
why? Why? WHY?
the question that bounces
off the walls of my hollow existence
i'm staring into the emptiness i see in the mirror
my face, my arms, my soul --
an all consuming machine
a black hole --
whatever can be thrown in is
and nothing ever escapes
not even me

who? Who? WHO?
can reach in and save me
not you

how? How? HOW?
can this be?!?
a larger emptiness
a broader gulf than mine?
the cosmos
the cloudy pitch sky falling on top of me!
i am holding out my arms
"back i say you, back!"
i'm flailing, but the void is ethereal
i see nothing now
not even my own emptiness
for it has been swallowed by something else
a darkness the larger than space and time

whose? Whose WHOSE?
is it?!?
not mine

i'm suspended now
just my nothingness suspended in nothingness
i am worthless, now part of the abyss
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a review of "the present future"
4/10/2006 10:13:00 PM
Reggie McNeal's book, The Present Future is an intentional piece to attempt to "galvanize church leaders to action before it's too late."(xvii-xviii) As McNeal sees it, the church in North America is on the brink of extension. As he puts it, the church is living on "life support" (1) McNeal's entire work is an attempt to wake church leaders up and make the realize that these realities. McNeal says, "I'm talking about the church world in North America. A world that has largely forsaken its missional covenant with God to be a part of kingdom expansion. It has, instead, substituted its own charter as a clubhouse where religious people hang with people who think, dress, behave, vote, and believe like them." (xv) Simply stated, the church isn't doing missions anymore, but rather just does church activity. The club-house religion that McNeal is talking about are the churches that spend most of the their time and effort on themselves and not on the community surrounding them. The churches act more like exclusive clubs rather than places that want people to know about Jesus.

McNeal is the director of ldeadership development for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. He received his PhD. and M.Div from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He has worked with numerous churches for over 20 years. 10 of those years were in various staff roles at different churches and 10 years as a senior pastor of a church. He teaches in the D.Min program at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of Revolution in Leadership and A Work of the Heart in addition to the Present Future.

McNeal's entire book seems to be based dichotomy between ministry and missions. There seem to be, for McNeal at least, two places to be: the church building and the street. McNeal strongly delineates between ministry and missions and also institutions and movements. If churches have some how separated these pairs, then everything in McNeals book is true, and there is no need to write anymore. But if the pairs are inherently connected, there is a problem with McNeal's argumentation, and the entire book really misses the mark; he is addressing the wrong thing. Based on Matthew 28:19-20, there doesn't seem to be a disconnection between ministry and missions as well as institutions and movements. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus, tells his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. The imperative in the Greek is "make disciples." Making disciples seems to be an all-inclusive approach where the mission and ministry are really the same thing, and cannot be separated. The process put rather simply is proclaiming the gospel, bringing people into the church, and preparing those who are brought in to proclaim the gospel. This is very basic, but in essence is what the church is called to do. In terms of institutions and movements, these two are also mutually inclusive. The church, whether McNeal agrees or not, is an institution. It is a body of people with officers that fulfill ministerial needs and offer logistical support to the church's expansion. The expansion would be the movement, which is both qualitative and quantitative in nature. As the church ministers to the world, it gets more and better followers of Jesus. The church in Acts and beyond expanded through a series of church planting movements. A church planting movement is a movement to multiply the institution of the church to different areas. Trying to delineate between the movement and the institution doesn't seem to fit the motifs in the Bible. The real problem isn't that the church isn't doing missions, it's that the church has stopped functioning. It's not that the machine is breaking, it's that it already has somewhere. Also, this critique and McNeal's as well are speaking in generalities. There are many exceptions to what McNeal states. The purpose of stating this critique early on is because the framework of McNeal's book and the analysis of it hinges on the contentions.

Church Culture vs Culture in General

McNeal's book outlines six problems that the church in North America is facing. The first problem that McNeal states is there is strong separation between church culture and culture in general. McNeal states that, "Church activity is a poor substitute for genuine spiritual vitality" (7) and he gives a laundry list of what the churches in North America are doing in terms of providing activities. Among these activities are small groups, contemporary worship, service marketing, focus on customer service, create a spiritual experience, and being seeker friendly. Although these things may seem outwardly focused, as McNeal sees it, the church has created segregated itself from culture by creating its own sub-culture and using the "come and get it" mentality. McNeal says, "Those who hold to this perspective (refuge mentality) frequently lament the loss of cultural support for church values and adopt and 'us-them' dichotomous view of the world. Those with a refuge mentality view the world outside the church as the enemy. Their answer is to live inside the bubble in a Christian subculture complete with its own entertainment industry. Evangelism in this worldview is about churching the unchurched, not connecting people to Jesus." (9) Rather than getting people to come to Christ, churches have been come more focused on getting people to come to their churches. Following McNeal's thinking, he seems to draw a line between church and Christ or he is overlooking the fact church is where people meet Jesus. The church is the body of Christ, and in order to be a viable part of the body of Christ, one has to be connected to the body. McNeal is right in that he says that people need to be connected to Jesus, but people are best connected to Jesus through the church. Thus, it comes down to the intent of what the church is trying to do. If the intent of the church is bridge the divide between Jesus and people by using things like small groups and contemporary worship, then they should. These things done for the sake of doing these bites McNeal critique, but if these ministries are done with missional implications, then they don't bite his critique

Church Activity vs Community Transformation

The second problem that McNeal's book is seeing church growth as kingdom growth. McNeal's contention here is that churches are more interested in getting more people on the membership role than they are getting they are getting people to know McNeal says, "The church growth movement was a missiological response to the initial warning signs that the church in North America had lost its mission." (20) McNeal draws a line between "church activity" and "community transformation" It seems that McNeal is saying that Churches increase the number and qualities of their programs in order to attract more members to the church. The members are heavily involved internally, not externally. McNeal says this leads to busyness rather than transformed lives. This critique is only true if the church activities are strictly internally focused. Many church activities are geared more internally, but the intent is to meaningfully connect people to the body of Christ, not strictly to keep them busy. If activity is the end, not the means, then what McNeal says is true. Additionally. McNeal seem to ignore church activities that are outwardly focused. This seems to stems from his thinking that ministry and missions are somehow separated.

Ministers vs Missionaries

Directly related to the critique already given is McNeal's third contentions, the struggle between making more "ministers" and more "missionaries." McNeal says from experience, "Every time I see the slogan, 'every member a minister,' I cringe. It usually means that there has been a lot of effort put into getting church members to get onboard" (45). McNeal later follows this with the question, "How do we deploy more missionaries into community transformation?" (48) One can cross apply the analysis given in the second problem and the original critique, except here, it should be applied the persons rather ministries. It seems that McNeal is restating the same problem from a different perspective. Following the problem, McNeal lists several suggestions for getting a church connected to the community. The suggestions are outwardly focused, and he seems to be implying they are missions as opposed to ministries.

Better Church Members vs Spiritual Transformation

McNeal states that the fourth problem is the tension between developing better church members and spiritual formation. In short, McNeal sees churches fitting their members into certain molds so that being a church member is about giving offering, church participation, and membership status. The churches are calling spiritual vitality with these things. Rather than developing better members, churches should have "life coaching" Life coaching is the practice of developing Christians to have good spiritual disciplines. McNeal lists worship, biblical truth applied to life and relationships, and ministering to others in the name of Jesus. This sounds a lot like Rick Warren in the Purpose Driven Life where he says people were created for worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and missions. McNeal's points are right if he being a good member is left to itself. The disciplines of being a good church member are inherently connected to spiritual discipline if churches teach them as such. The responsibility then lies in the hands of church leadership to teach church members how to do these things in such a way that they see them as being connected to spiritual formation and the purpose of going out and connecting more people to Jesus.

Preparing vs Planning

The fifth problem as McNeal's sees it is that churches do planning apart from God. McNeal says,"The difference between planning and preparedness is more than semantics in the biblical teaching. God does the planning; we do the preparing. It is God who declares: 'I know the plans I have for you,' he says in Jeremiah 29:11. He does not say, 'I am waiting for you to develop plans I can bless' "(95). Because of the differences between preparing and planning, McNeal goes onto explain that instead of planning, churches should catch visions and implement those visions. The problem here is that the Bible doesn't reveal how the church is going to reach the homeless population in New Orleans or plant a church in Alaska. This takes vision. This takes planning. It hardly seems that they are different, except maybe in a rhetorical since. Simply put, if vision and plans aren't God's plans, then they won't prosper.

Apostolic Leadership vs Other Forms of Leadership

The last critique McNeal gives is on leadership itself. McNeal is a renowned leadership developer. He function in the South Carolina Baptist Convention is leadership development. McNeal thinks that the form of leadership that church leaders need to embrace is apostolic leadership. McNeal describes apostolic leadership as follows: "The focus of apostolic leadership is not on office or gifts, but on content of leadership that responds to the new spiritual landscape by shaping a church movement that more resembles the world of Acts than America in the last half of the twentieth century." (125-126) He focus in on a "Learning Community" which connects "life to life" and "hearts to heart" (137) McNeal seems to want to make leaders the facilitators of groups embracing one another. This is what churches leaders are suppose to do. It doesn't require new buzzword to make it sound revolutionary.

Are Buzzwords Neccessary?

Apart from the original critique, the only thing that McNeal does that seems out of place is rhetoric. McNeal's stated purpose in writing the book was to be polemic, so that might be the reason he chose to write in the manner he did. It seems that McNeal uses as lot of buzzwords to make what he is saying something dynamic. Such wards are "post-congregational", (4) "missional" (all over), "transformational" (17), "organic community" (137), "chief learning officer" (118), "pre-Christians" (82), "life coach" (72), and "apostolic leadership" (125). In addition to a few new words, he seem to use a lot of postmodern ideology too. Among these are things like "journey" (xix) and "story" (xvi) which related to whole concept of meta-narratives and "movements" (16), "emerging" (23) which are related to deconstruction, decentralization, and de-institutionalization. Most of these words aren't used regularly in even in churches. When writers use this kind of rhetoric, they sound like they are coming up with new ideas.
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politicizing the 10 commandments
4/07/2006 11:36:00 AM
I was driving down a dirt road one day that dead ends. There are 3 houses at the end of that road. 1 of them had a sign. That means only 4 other people see the sign. I almost laughed...I was like, $10 for a sign for 4 people to read...that's $2.50 a person. Wow. Also, I was driving by a church, and out in front of the church with a multi-million dollar facility was a granite monolith with the 10 commandments engraved on it. I couldn't help but ask, how much did that cost?

I've been thinking for a while on this whole issue of rhetoric and polemic devices that Christians use to rally the masses to support particular ideologies. It is the same device the Pat Robertson and the Muslim clerics used to gain supporters for their views about the opposing religions. It seems that the 10 Commandment activists do the exact same thing. The intent of putting up signs is to fly in the face of court decisions made to remove the 10 Commandments (and references to God for that matter) from public buildings.

I've been reading "The Present Future" by Reggie McNeal. While I disagree with his philosophy of ministry, I think he makes some good observations about church.
Many congregations and church leaders, faced with the collapse of the church culture, have responded by adopting a refuge mentality. This is the perspective reflected in the approach to ministry that withdraws from the culture, that builds walls higher and thicker, that tries to hang on to what we've got, that hunkers down for the storm to blow over and for things to get back to "normal" so the church can resume its previous place in the culture. Those who hold this perspective frequently lament the loss of cultural support for church values and adopt an "us-them" view of the world outside the church as the enemy...Evangelism in this worldview is about churching the unchurched, not connecting people to Jesus. It focuses on cleaning people up, changing their behavior so Christians (translation: church people) can be more comfortable around them. Refuge churches evidence enormous self-occupation. They deceive themselves into believing they are a potent force.
I just finished Richard Land's "Imagine! A God Blessed America" In that book, Land makes a great point about Christian involvement in political issues.
An 'issues only' focus narrows our sight to temporal political agendas. A truly biblical vision opens our sight to the transforming power of the gospel in all of life.
First, things like the 10 Commandments being removed from public buildings is the symptom, not the problem. The problem is that we have of lost our commitment to share the gospel and substituted political activism for missions. I don't recall anywhere in scripture where Jesus tells us to make a Christian Utopia (Land would say otherwise), but rather the tells us to be submissive to government and pray for those in authority. I quoted Piper earlier, and his observation says that in doing so, make inroads to sharing the gospel.

Second, polemic devices further polarizes Christianity from the culture Christ wants to redeem. This is McNeal's main gripe in his book. This is "us-them" mentality he is speaking to. Christians are counter-cultural (as Land says) but they are also culturally relevant, in that they address the issues the culture is dealing with rather than separating themselves from the culture in a pseudo-Christian Utopia, which is the subculture built around para-church organizations. America is probably the only nation in the world where a person can do business without ever having to set foot in a secular business.

My question then is, how do we use the 10 Commandments? I think the answer to this lies in the purpose of the Law. Galatians 3:
(19)What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed (Jesus) to whom the promise (made to Abraham) referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.

(20)A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one. (21)Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. (22)But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

(23)Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. (24)So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. (25)Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
Notice the motif Paul is using: a school teacher. The purpose of the law was two fold: to reveal sin and to show the need for Christ. The law cannot impart life, which can only be given through Christ. If the law reveals our sin all the more, it makes us all the more aware of our need for a savior. Elsewhere in Romans 1, Paul talks about how conscience does the same thing. It reveals our need for a savior. With this said, instead of turning the 10 commandments into a polemic device, use the 10 commandments to show people their need for a savior. So what if the courts remove the 10 Commandments from public buildings? How does posting the 10 Commandments on public buildings do anything to advance the gospel or advance the Kingdom of God?

This is a little something extra: If you are going to list 10, why not all 613 commandments? If you only list 10, then you are missing 603 others. I stumbled across a website that is declaring May 7th "Ten Commandments Day." I think I want declare May 7th "613 Commandments Day" instead. That way we don't leave anything out.

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a bad day of blogging
4/06/2006 12:43:00 PM
This is PG-13. I don't recommend clicking the link if you don't like gore. Not Al Gore that is. click here...
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a flower...since everyone else posted one
4/04/2006 10:59:00 PM
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incarnational ministry (with muslims in mind)
4/04/2006 12:04:00 AM
I started to write this post last week, and I am just now getting around to finishing it. Joe and I must have been on the same wavelength. He posted an article on incarnational ministry. I realized that I had been talking about Muslims without giving an alternative to bashing the religion. The more I thought about this stuff, the more I realized that I could really use the same lines of thinking for anyone. Although this post will primarily focus on ministry to Muslims, I think the principles are timeless, and have application beyond just sharing with Muslims.

The incarnation of Christ is the union of God and man in a single being. The being of Christ was not two separate being or some form of hybrid god-man. As Christians, we are incarnations of Christ. If one does a little etymology on the word Christian, you will see that it comes directly from the Greek word, "Christianós." A "Christianós" on of the "Christos", who is the Anointed One. Christos comes from the word, "Chrio" which means anoint. To a Jew, the "Christos" would be the anointed one (king) from God. Being of the "Christos" means that he basically owned them. Their identity was found in Jesus, and no other. In the first century world, followers of a particular teacher would try to me like that teacher in every way they could be. So the followers of Jesus being called "Christians" would mean that they were mimicking him. An incarnation is one who is believed to personify a given abstract quality or idea. So in terms of being an incarnaitonal witness, we are trying to be "Christianós," or of Christ, to the point we imitate what he did.

With this said, incarnational ministry is not as much an approach to sharing Jesus as it is a way of Life, because by living like Christ, we are sharing our lives, which should reflect Jesus. There are plenty of methods for sharing the gospel that have already been written. I don't think I need to make a new one, because I think it would just add more stuff to an already large pile. What I want to do is describe what I think an incarnational witness would look like in a Muslim setting.

But first and foremost, we have to realize that sharing Jesus isn't just the task of trained missionaries. The call to make disciples of all nations is for every believer, so in essence, every person is called to minister. What we do for avocation (our jobs) are extensions of our calls as Christians. We cannot be Christians on the weekends or after work, but we are Christians everywhere you go. This means that our lives have to be in order spiritually. This doesn't mean that we are perfect, but that we are allowing God to shape and mold us to me more like Christ.

Before we can start sharing with Muslims, or anyone for that matter, we should have a constant, consistent walk with the Lord. We'd be surprised how telling people about our relationships with God can change their perspectives about God. Muslim don't see themselves as being in a relationship with God, but that God is a distant judge who you can't relate to. To have a relationship with him foreign, and can even be blasphemous to Muslims. But the reality is that God wants a relationship with us, and he did everything to make that possible. If we are indeed in a relationship with him, then we must build that relationship before telling others that they need that same relationship. Before you can share the first word of doctrine with them, you should have a legitimate, transforming relationship with God. This will speak more to them than any explanations of complicated doctrines. Muslims value and revere it deep devotion to faith.two of the pillars of faith in Islam requires faith.

Working with Muslims takes prayer. Prayer is quintessential to all things we do as Christians, and especially when we start to engage the world in an attempt to transform it with the gospel. Transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit, not believers, so pray that the Holy Spirit would work in the life of your Muslim friends.

When we start to build relationships with Muslims, we should be learners. We can never assume that we know all there is to know about Islam or a particular person's beliefs about Islam. Islam like Christianity is diverse and complicated, and Muslim theology can very Muslim to Muslim, person to person, sect to sect. Be open to what you can learn from your Muslim friends.

The best way I know to summarize is to use the old cliché, "They never care how much you know until they know how much you care." There is a lot of truth in that statement when it comes to working with Muslims. Most Muslims find their identity in their families networks and with their faith, which is contrary to the West, were individualism is how people find identity. For a Muslim to leave this identity and embrace something entirely different usually ostricizes them from their families, friends, and communities. If Muslims are going to embrace Christ, they are going to have convinced that Jesus is better than anything they have ever experienced or have. This is why being incarnational is so important.

Here is a good resource with some practical suggestions for sharing with Muslims.

Any suggestions would be welcome. I know that this isn't the ultimatum on sharing with Muslims, but just some thing I had on my mind.
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incarnational ministry
4/03/2006 09:40:00 AM
My friend Joe (re)posted an article on incarnational mininstry. It's a good post with some great comments. Check it out.
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