October 20, 2020

A Suggested Program for the Church

By Chaplain Mike

Let me be honest. Sometimes the designation “Post-Evangelical” can be unhelpful. If we only focus on what has been left behind rather than looking forward to new possibilities, we will never find a way out of the wilderness.

I don’t want to be known as someone who just levels criticism. I won’t shy away from it when appropriate, but that can’t be the whole package. So, when I rant about:

  • churches that have turned into Christian activity centers, offering everything from applique to Zumba dance classes,
  • when preaching focuses on life principles or prosperity nonsense and it appears to be more about style than substance,
  • when worship has been transformed into a religious stage production,
  • when youth meetings resemble “Survivor” more than Sunday School,
  • when discipleship comes packaged in programs and adult education is utterly devoid of serious Bible study, theological depth, and historical awareness,
  • when pastors abandon pastoral care and the cure and formation of souls as their calling,
  • when evangelicalism offers an alternative culture that is “of” the world but not “in” the world, and separated from real world of life, work, neighbors, and community,

then I also want to be able to offer an alternative program for the local church.

What I want to share today is humble and simple; more a blueprint than fleshed-out reality, more theory than practice at this point. I’d like for us to brainstorm about these matters, to have a good old fashion bull session about our hopes and dreams for the church.

So, I’ll begin. I would love to see a church that organized its “program” (just a word for what we actually do) around four primary practices.

The gathering of believers for worship on the Lord’s Day should always be the central meeting of the church. It should be designed for believers, though any gathering of the church should be open, welcoming, and hospitable to anyone who comes. As a pastor, I have always enjoyed having all ages present for the entire service, though I don’t object if younger children have their own teaching time for which they are dismissed during the sermon. If children are present in the service, there should be some parts that are designed to be accessible to them, and parents should receive training and help to assist their children in learning what worship is and how to participate.

Since the purpose of worship is to reenact and celebrate the Gospel by which we have become God’s people, the service should be ordered around Word and Table. I’m not so concerned about style as I am that we include the elements that will renew believers in the Good News of God’s grace in Christ each week. Confessing our sins and receiving absolution, singing the praises of our creating, redeeming, and sustaining God, hearing the Scriptures read, professing our faith through the creeds, lifting our hearts together in prayer, hearing Christ proclaimed in the sermon, and meeting with Christ and receiving his benefits anew through the Lord’s Supper should, in my view, be what we do at each Sunday worship assembly. None of these elements should be sacrificed no matter what style of music or presentation is used.

Services should be as participatory as possible. Congregation members should sense that they are actively encountering and interacting with God and not just sitting there as an audience receiving a presentation from the “stage.” Representatives from all generations should be given opportunity to be participants. A warm, hospitable atmosphere should be cultivated by the pastor and worship leaders but it should never degenerate into chattiness or overfamiliarity. Those who speak, pray, or read Scripture should receive instruction on speaking clearly and reverently. Variety and creativity is good, but there is also something to be said for being formed by habitual practices.

Paul wrote in Colossians 1, “So, naturally, we proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ. This is what I am working at all the time, with all the strength that God gives me.” (Phillips)

God designed it so that babies would be born into families. The growth and development of human beings is meant to happen within a community of love, support, and mutual service in which all members, at different stages of life, are being nurtured into greater health and well being, becoming wiser and more loving. And so it is with spiritual growth. The church is the family in which those who are born from above grow to maturity in Christ.

I would suggest a few ways of practicing spiritual formation in the local church. First, I would encourage that the church follow the Church Year. The liturgical calendar provides a wonderful overall structure in which to live the church’s life. The repetition of the Gospel story week after week, year after year, can keep us focused on Jesus as the context for all we’re learning together.

Second, I think it would be wise to restore the practice of catechism teaching in our churches. This would represent a return to our Protestant heritage, for it was through parents catechizing their children and pastors using catechisms to instruct their congregations that the Reformation took hold on ground level. Using the traditional form of having people memorize, study, and pray the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer gives Christians a foundation in Law, Gospel, and spiritual practices that is rich enough for a lifetime of contemplation.

Third, pastors must recommit to their calling of pastoral visitation and spiritual counsel. Pastors must get out of the office and into people’s homes, workplaces, and public meeting places and have conversations with them about their lives—listening, supporting, encouraging, and continually pointing them to the cross and Christ’s provision for them. I recommend a renewal of the practice of confession. Pastors should become wise in the ways of spiritual friendship and learn, when appropriate, to help others find spiritual practices that will assist them in their growth in Christ. Like Paul in 1Thessalonians 2, we must be able to say to our people, we are “well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives.”

We have quoted Gene Edward Veith on this subject before: “This is the doctrine of vocation. God works through people, in their ordinary stations of life to which He has called them, to care for His creation. In this way, He cares for everyone—Christian and non-Christian— whom He has given life. Luther puts it even more strongly: Vocations are “masks of God.” On the surface, we see an ordinary human face—our mother, the doctor, the teacher, the waitress, our pastor—but, beneath the appearances, God is ministering to us through them. God is hidden in human vocations.”

The church must get back to encouraging this view of life. Over the past generation, the church has created a subculture that has separated itself from the world in unhealthy ways. The word “Christian” has become an adjective for a way of life that has developed into a ghetto. The sad thing is that it looks an awful lot like the world from which it separated, only slightly more sanitized. We have our own “brands” and by this we know that we are believers. In the process, we have become farther and farther removed from the life of our communities and more and more out of touch with our neighbors. Churches have contributed to this by becoming “Christian activity centers” that are open almost 24/7 to provide a family-friendly, full-service program for all ages. And so, we basically live in and around the temple, avoiding the dirt and grime of the outside world.

The first step to restoring the doctrine of vocation is to shut the church doors more often. Encourage people to get involved in their neighborhoods and school districts. If your town offers sports leagues, don’t build a “Christian” sports ministry and take all the believers off the municipal fields and courts. Encourage Christians who are musicians to participate in community bands, orchestras, and choruses. In our preaching and teaching, highlight and honor those who exemplify real-world Christianity. I’ve already mentioned the pastor’s duty to visit people in their homes and workplaces to learn about what they face day in and day out so that he can pray for them and encourage them in their callings. We must also challenge our young people to pursue “secular” callings with the same fervor as religious vocations.

Though living out the doctrine of vocation is a major way believers show God’s love and truth to the world, there is also a place for intentional mission activity to spread the Gospel, help those in need, and show compassion to those who are hurting. A local church should organize some specific efforts to use the resources of God’s family to reach out to others and give them Jesus.

First of all, this can be done on the neighborhood level. I heard of a rather large church recently that decided to focus on its neighborhood. So the leaders sat down, drew a three-mile circle around the church on a map and said, “This is our mission field.” Last I heard, they are in the process of learning the needs within that circle, making contact with other churches in the neighborhood to see how they might partner in mission together, and determining how to go about working to confront the challenges that people there are facing. That’s a great approach! Identify your mission field, get to know your neighbors there, organize your resources and learn what you can do to show Christ’s love among them.

Secondly, I believe that churches should be forming “world-Christians,” believers who have God’s heart that the whole world know the name of Jesus. I’m for anything we can do to grow people who learn, pray, give, and go so that the Great Commission be fulfilled. That starts in our own neighborhoods, of course, but it cannot end there.

There you have it, my friends. This is a suggested “program” for the local church. I hope you’ll join the discussion and help us dream some dreams of what could be.


  1. “I’m not so concerned about style as I am that we include the elements that will renew believers in the Good News of God’s grace in Christ each week. Confessing our sins and receiving absolution, singing the praises of our creating, redeeming, and sustaining God, hearing the Scriptures read, professing our faith through the creeds, lifting our hearts together in prayer, hearing Christ proclaimed in the sermon, and meeting with Christ and receiving his benefits anew through the Lord’s Supper should, in my view, be what we do at each Sunday worship assembly. None of these elements should be sacrificed no matter what style of music or presentation is used.”


    This is what’s so absent today. You’ve laid out a great foundation for any new church plant with your post and certainly a blueprint for any fellowship looking to recover what the church should ever be commited to when they meet together (see Jeff Dunn’s most recent posts if you’re looking for a list of what it should not).

    Especialy appreciated your mention of confessing our sins as I just read Tullian Tchividjian tweet, “This world needs our confession not our competence.”


    Thank you so much.

    • I heartily agree that this is a great foundation for a church, but let me caution anyone out there who wants to use this model for a ‘church plant’. A ‘church plant’ is a different beast than an established congregation. It has financial needs and startup needs that can only be met through many of the ‘church growth’ practices that we all rail against on this website. I know from experience that you will not be able to finance a full time pastor and build a building using the foundation Mike talks about.

      The only way to reform is within established (but perhaps dying) churches. Many of these churches built buildings years ago when building costs were much lower, and are in older established neighborhoods. If a pastor has this type of ministry in his/her heart, I would recommend seeking out an older church that has little to lose. Try one of these items that Mike mentions at a time, over a period of years. Start with pastoral visitation and counsel, then gradually add the rest.

      • Allen, why not? Although I’ve never planted a church, I would assume that a solid plant would be built on the basis of a lot of the personal pastoral work I have talked about, gathering a group together, and gradually growing into a family that begins to add various program elements as they become more established. The three elements of the catechism—the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer—would, in fact, be a wonderful way to start teaching people what the Christian faith is all about.

        I guess I would need to know more of your philosophy of church planting before saying any more. The groups I have been involved with always sent out a healthy core group from an established church to start a new congregation, so you already had a group of people theoretically committed to the kinds of things I’ve written about here.

        • It is a economics/math problem. Due to cost of land and cost of building/remodeling to current building codes, a group of 100-300 people cannot afford a new or remodeled building. To get into a building, you need to get in the 500+ range very quickly, and your approach doesn’t happen quickly.

          Only a production based church with charismatic pastor can get into that range quickly. Your approach is better, but slower. You can’t find a consistent place to meet that meets building codes.

          • Let me clarify some more. Not only are there theological essentials, at some point the church must interact with the govt authorities. As an extreme example, consider China or the former Soviet Bloc nations, the church had to be registered and had guidelines to follow. In Western countries, this intersection is different but cannot be ignored. Western style capitalism and building codes impact the intersection between the ‘two kingdoms”.

            In the United States, let’s say you rent an office front for a church. 100 people show up for a service, and the fire marshal kicks you out because the building doesn’t meet code for type type of gathering. Or, you lease a building, build a church of 150 people, then the landlord kicks you out because he has a higher paying customer. Now, with 150 people, no other space is available in the town in which you worship. You are forced to dissolve.

            It is this interaction between the “two kingdoms” which helps fuel the sprawling megachurches in the suburbs based on a production or program model. It takes large financial and human resources to deal with this interaction, and a small but slow growing church cannot get past this interaction.

            The only way it might work is that a ‘mother’ church financed the upfront costs of getting past these barriers.

            That is why I recommend older/established church and develop a 10-20 year plan for reform. Pace is slower, but they have already gotten past the building code and financial problems.

          • What part of the country are you talking about? I know code enforcement can be inconvenient, but I can’t imagine it being the obstacle that you described. Also, if you have 2-3 contractors in your church they can direct the rest of the group in a sweat equity project. There are also plenty of high school gymnasiums available on the cheap. I’m all about “doing the arithmetic” as my grandfather is fond of saying, but it seems that you are stuck in a box. Here’s my math: 50 families with an average annual income of $30,000 who tithe faithfully is $150k a year divided by 12 is 12,500 a month. Subtract 4k for pastor’s salary, 2k for part time help, and you still have $6,500 a month for rent/mortgage, utilities and other ministry. In my city of Fort Worth, TX that kind of money can go a long way in the the neighborhoods that families making 30k a year live in. Of course real estate is cheap here, especially old, empty churches in poor neighborhoods.

          • I tend to agree with Allen’s recommendation, but I believe demographics play a large role. I live in a Southern California suburb where land and building cost / rent is very expensive. My church for the past seven years has fluctuated between 125-150 people, we rent a school auditorium and classrooms that for the most part has meet our needs. However, it requires a huge investment of time & energy to set up and tear down every Sunday (speaking from experience, I finally burned out after years of being on Set Up Team and Worship Team and working a full-time job during the week). Our church leadership has been actively looking for a permanent church building to rent, but the financial hurdle has been too high. It might be a different story if our congregation consisted of 75% families with one or two full-time incomes. But, being located next to several community colleges and a university, at least half our members are penniless college students.

        • I have planted a church and pastored a more traditional church both. I have also trained pastors for both models and mentored young leaders. I believe the church planting work requires some spiritual and emotional gifts not requisite in a more established work but on the whole you are right Mike. The “essentials” of life together, worship and neighborhood are all the same. This also seems self evident in the New Testament itself, where we do see church planting as a normative activity in the first decades after Pentecost. Planters in every cultural context do the same essential things just with a different missional theological strategy in terms of reaching their neighbors with the gospel. The church does not fundamentally look different in the ways you have described as basic to our life together.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The only way to reform is within established (but perhaps dying) churches. Many of these churches built buildings years ago when building costs were much lower, and are in older established neighborhoods. If a pastor has this type of ministry in his/her heart, I would recommend seeking out an older church that has little to lose.

        The flip side of this is that the established/dying church may be dying for a reason. The people there are so set in their ways they will refuse any and all changes and only want to be kept comfortable on the way to Homegoing. Any change is Sin. “If it’s good enough for Grandpa, It’s good enough for me!”

        My writing partner pastors an additional greying and dying church (less than two dozen members, youngest in their sixties, no social contact outside that church) besides his regular one; he runs into this all the time.

  2. We’re heading off to church for “vision” Sunday tonight. Sigh.

  3. “Services should be as participatory as possible. Congregation members should sense that they are actively encountering and interacting with God and not just sitting there as an audience receiving a presentation from the “stage.”

    My oh my, Chaplain Mike. You left off preachin’ and gone to meddlin’ now…

    If only this could be…

    • Dan Allison says

      I may have posted this before — if so, sorry to harp on a point. I’ve really found that PowerPoint impairs participation. Actually opening the hymnal and the Bible, turning the pages, reading the words and following along — as a group — fosters engagement and directs the attention. PowerPoint lets people disengage, as if they’re at home watching the whole thing on television. It seems minor, but I think it’s important. I finally got tired of my pastor saying “new technology, same message” as if McLuhan had never existed or explained this stuff.

      • ita about powerpoint. It really does cause people to disengage. The funny (?) thing is that now many people do watch church on t.v. or online from home, or watch a simulcast on the big screen at church.

        Personally? I have our liturgy memorised (and the majority of it is sung). The words at first were foreign, then they began to embed in my heart and now they flow from my heart. I used to think doing the same liturgy every week would be boring and mindless, but it is exactly the opposite for me.

        • Disengagement by powerpoint? Personal taste, I think. I have an older brother who says he loves having an outline of the sermon on a screen in front of church during the sermon. I find it distracting, but he says it helps him focus. I would agree that far too many churches think cool technology equals a great message, but not always.

          • Not many people use the medium of PowerPoint well. I’m not sure if PowerPoint should ever be used in church. But if it is used it ought to be used well.

      • I would allow that all lecture-style church gatherings make disengagement too easy. Sermon-centric, pastor-centric practices of all kinds. The more I think about these things, the more I think a guy talking for 45 minutes is generally not the way to go. Possibly on occasion. Generally, this format feeds the consumerist impulse.

        • So, all the public preaching/teaching that Jesus, as well as Paul and the other apostles did is not an example for us?

          Also . . . no one in this post talked about the need for 45 min. messages. I talked about essential elements in a worship gathering, and “hearing Christ preached” is one of those elements.

    • Jeff, I think it can be — but maybe the context of formal services is not the right place to put it. I really think most churches place too much of a burden on and try to cram way too much into these two-to-three-hour timeslots. And, by doing so, we limit the life of the church and our identities as church families to these appointed timeslots. However, I don’t think the answer lies in abandoning formal services — but, as Mike outlined, skim these services down to the most basic, essential elements. Keep services simple and as Jesus-centered as possible — and take care not to let them become hungry monsters that consume most of the time, energy, and resources of the church body.
      But when it comes to real, every-member participation and contribution, I just don’t think that’s really practical or even possible within the context of formal services, no matter how skimmed down. But this kind of participation — people verbally sharing what God is doing in their lives, confessing their sins to each other, encouraging each other, praying specifically for everything that needs prayer, ministering to each others needs, and freely discussing everything that needs to be discussed — is vital, and, far too often, missing from the life of many churches. This part of the life of a church can really only happen in smaller groups, in a mostly unscripted context, and with less confining time restraints.
      Many churches answer this problem with cell group meetings in homes throughout the week. And this can work, as long as church leaders don’t try to micromanage them and turn them into home-based Sunday School classes or book clubs for the latest Christian best-seller. But regardless of how a church does it, I think it’s vital that church families make a real, determined effort to function and exist as spiritual families beyond the context of formal services and outside the walls of the church building. And then the liturgists can relax a little and focus on designing services that focus hearts and minds on Jesus and celebrate a collective life in Him that really does exist, even when the lights are out and the church doors are locked.

  4. THANK YOU! This is the kind of church I want to see and be a part of. So many times I leave church feeling unfed and hungry… that’s not cool.

  5. In response to Allen, I say that Allen is probably right, as the costs of building a new church and paying a new pastor in a new neighborhood have risen exponentially over the years. This has to do with market forces and government regulations that are difficult to control.

    My next point would then be: at what point does it become uneconomical to start new churches the way we have been accustomed to doing it here in the West? At what point do conclude that it’s simply too demanding to business with the Kingdom of Mammon?

    For me, the answers lie in looking to churches who are already established in neighborhoods or in starting up house churches, as was done in the Apostolic Age. I disagree with some who seem to think that anything done in a building is bad and “pagan,” but I also see the economic sense in house churches, as well as the sense of community they would likely foster.

    Personally, I have always gone to a church that met in a designated church building, so I’m not qualified to speak about the effectiveness of a house church model.

    As for Chaplain Mike’s recommendations, I agree 95% (if I agreed 100%, Chaplain Mike would have good reason to think that I was lying to him. Authors have the right, after all, to disagree with themselves too.).

    • I’ve done the “designated church building” thing for much of my life, but for 5-6 years have been participating in a house church motif.

      You asked about “effectiveness of a house church model”…I guess “effectiveness” depends upon what is perceived as “the purpose”. So, what do you understand to be the purpose of Believers having scheduled gatherings?


  6. David Cornwell says

    Wonderful outline. If one is going to start step-by-step, celebration, in my opinion is the place to start. But there is no reason why elements of each can not be used until some kind of fullness is developed. How it is all handled would depend on the history and tradition of the individual church. The practice of some kind of basic catechism is woefully lacking in many churches. Visitation is difficult in some ways, but is very fulfilling– and hard work.

    Every pastor and every church would have a different starting place, and would have to use prayer, diplomacy, and skill. But it has the potential power to transform the Church.

    Reading this I can easily see the areas where I was lacking when a pastor.

  7. How can we find out about the church year? I spent my life in churches that didn’t recognize that.

    • Norma,

      I hope that some of the others will be glad to provide book titles, but here’s a summary from the Catholic view.

      We just started Ordinary time, where the Scriptures are about the teachings of Jesus. that lasts until

      Ash Wednesday (March 9th, 2011) which begins Lent

      Lent ends at the Easter Vigil (April 22) and the

      Easter season runs until Pentecost (when we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit and birthday of the church) Pentecost is June 12th.

      Then back to Ordinary time until Advent begins on November 27th.

      Advent lasts until Christmas and Christmas runs until January 15th 2012.

      If you were to visit a Catholic church, there are different colors for the different seasons, and the Scripture readings match up with what is being celebrated.

      Hope I’ve helped and not confused.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      Norma, you might wanna grab some books by Robert Webber on this. Among his many books, he has a whole set of books titled Ancient-Future _____. He usually touches on the Church year in each. I’ve read Worship is a Verb, Ancient-Future Faith, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, and Blended Worship. Each of these touched on the subject. Ancient-Future Time, however, is devoted to discussing the use of the Church Year in spiritual formation and evangelism.

    • Thank you both, you’ve helped me!

    • One book I’ve particularly enjoyed is Laurence Stookey, “Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church.” It is short and gives an overview of each season, along with descriptions of how the various holidays were/are traditionally observed. The style is very light and easygoing – I think you may find it helpful.

  8. I agree with the post, but I got one question for y’all. It’s about confession of sins. How would you respond to somebody in ministry who insists that he shouldn’t confess his sins because since he is in Christ they are already forgiven?

    • Miguel, I would remind them that Jesus taught us how to pray (the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father) and in it he has us asking for God’s forgiveness for our trespasses or our debts or our sins or our wrongs depending upon your translation of the Bible. I don’t think Jesus taught his disciples to pray that way just one time in their lives. It was a way to pray throughout our lives. And Jesus says we are to forgive one another over and over again. So, he was aware that we would continue sinning and needing forgiveness even though he also knew that God would send the Holy Spirit after his resurrection to guide and teach us. I think Jesus was aware that it takes most of a LONG time to really let the Holy Spirit rule in our lives. It takes us a while to figure out how to get out of the way. In the meantime, we will make errors. We will miss the mark. We will sin. We will need forgiveness.

      • Tried that. I’ve actually received two objections to that: First, that the Lord’s prayer is allegedly an “old covenant” prayer, because, secondly, in the new covenant, all our sins, past, present, and future, have already been forgiven at the point of conversion, and therefore there is no need for us to ask for what we already have.

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

          Frankly, it sounds like the person you’re talking to needs to humble themselves enough to do his or her homework. If he or she is not teachable, if he or she deep down believes he or she knows all the answers, you’re not going to get anywhere in that discussion. At that point, you say your peace and pray and let God deal with ’em.

        • Our future sins have been forgiven? That’s… convenient. And I thought us Catholics were supposed to have it easy with the sacrament of Confession which meant that we could just go out and commit the same sins over and over because we were assured of buying forgiveness from the priest?

          I think Guido da Montefeltro, in Canto XXVII of Dante’s “Inferno”, would disagree: he was offered absolution before committing treachery by the Pope and – well, it didn’t work out:

          “Afterwards, when I was dead, Saint Francis came for me: but one of the Black Cherubim said to him: ‘Do not take him: do not wrong me. He must descend among my servants, because he gave a counsel of deceit, since when I have kept him fast by the hair: he who does not repent, cannot be absolved: nor can one repent a thing, and at the same time will it, since the contradiction is not allowed.’ O miserable self! How I started, when he seized me, saying to me: ‘Perhaps you did not think I was a logician.’”

          I suppose I would say that Matthew 5:23 applies here: “23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” as well as Matthew 18:15 ” 15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

          Here we have Our Lord instructing the church and there does seem to be the expectation that people will need to forgive and be forgiven for their offenses, even when they’re believers. But if that’s ‘Old Covenant’ and doesn’t apply any more to us (and can I just throw in a few exclaimation marks of incredulity here?), how about St. Paul in his Epistles? He is certainly still rebuking and instructing the Church in those.

          • Martha, your comment is good, but my situation is dealing with Protestants. They cannot be expected to drop 400 years of dispute and adopt a Catholic view of harmitological economy. The examples from matthew seem to be regarding our confession to and forgiveness from each other as members of a spiritual family, and not necessarily between the individual and God. Oh, and Inferno makes a great book, but a poor theological debate point, especially with Protestants who dismiss it as popery.
            The problem is that some protestants cannot distinguish from the sacramental nature of catholic confession and the more celebratory nature of protestant confession. Lutherans, Anglicans, and Catholics have drastically different understandings of what takes place in confession, and Baptists ought to be able to use a Lutheran or Anglican understanding without too much theological contradiction.

        • Heh. Talk about coincidence: your post, Miguel, was the first time I’d ever come across this notion and now elsewhere (in the context of a – let us say, full and frank exchange of views – about the Mass and what Roman Catholics believe is going on there), this is part of a comment:

          “If so, I think there is a real point of difference—for most evangelicals the salvific benefits of the atonement are fully and completely conveyed once through the instrument of faith. He or she is from that moment “justified” not only because of Christ’s imputed righteousness but also because ALL of the eternal consequences of his or her sins, the stain, have been dealt with. The sinner is washed clean once and for all.

          Since the eternal consequences of future sins are already taken away, there is no need to repeat the application of the sacrifice.

          There is, of course, temporal or relational consequences to sin but that is dealt with through repentance…there is no lasting stain to be atoned for via the mass or purgatory.”

          I presume this is the sophisticated version of what you are talking about when you speak of someone telling you “all our sins, past, present, and future, have already been forgiven at the point of conversion, and therefore there is no need for us to ask for what we already have.”?

          I think I’m not quite appreciating the point this person is trying to make (I have a notion I understand ‘imputed righteousness’ about as well as he seems to understand the concept of Purgatory, which is not a means of atoning for the ‘lasting’ consequences of sin but instead deals with the satisfaction of the temporal penalties) but I imagine that it can be skewed into “I don’t need to confess or repent because all my sins have already been forgiven, so even if I commit more in future, I don’t need to do anything else about them!”

          • Martha, this gets at the fundamental Protestant-Catholic debate several levels above my pay grade. But FWIW, I’ll take a stab at it. If there is anything that we as Christians “have to” do in order to merit salvation, then it is inherently a works-righteousness. The protestant claim is that we are saved by Christ perfect life, death, and resurrection, despite our performance or cooperation, and not because of it. If me confessing my sins is the manner in which they are forgiven, then by simply doing enough confession I can earn God’s forgiveness, which is a direct contradiction of Ephesians 2:8-9. Protestants make a distinction that I believe Catholics do no: Salvation comes in three parts: Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification. Justification is God’s removal of the penalty of sins, and takes place at the moment of conversion, or faith. Sanctification is the growth that takes place in the life of a disciple of Christ, as one is free from the power of sin, and Glorification is when we are finally with Christ in heaven and fully transformed into His image, thus free from the very presence of any sin. Roughly speaking. So the concept is that once “:saved”, or “Justified”, “born again”, “having accepted Jesus into my heart”, etc…., we are completely forgiven of all sin, regardless of performance afterward. It’s one of the fundamental differences between Protestants and Catholics, but not quite the core of the issue I’ve been dealing with. My friend fully believes in the doctrine of justification. However, unlike Luther, he sees no value in confessing sins and asking for forgiveness since he believes he already has it. If confessing my sins was a mandatory prerequisite for being forgiven, then by confessing them I would be earning my salvation, which is supposed to be free.

    • Steve Newell says


      In 1 John 1, we are taught that we are to confess our sins as Christians to Christ and he will forgive our sins. This is in the present tense. This applies to those are in the light of Christ. The ability to confess sin is a gift of God that only Christians can do since it our faith in Christ that makes our confessions “effective”.

      • But effective for what? What happens if we do not confess our sins? Are they then not forgiven? Must we confess ALL our sins? What if we do not remember some? If it is not necessary to confess them all, then why is it necessary to confess some? If it is not necessary at all, then why confess if one is already saved? Help me out here, I’m playing devil’s advocate.

        • Steve Newell says


          You are making this more complicated then it need be.

          First, we are not required to confess each individual sin since we commit sins that we are not aware off either by omission or commission. We are simply acknowledging that we have sinned.

          Second, we are acknowledging that even in our state of grace, we continue to sin and we need to hear that our sins are forgiven in Christ.

          In the Lutheran Divine Service, this is how we confess our sins and hear the forgiveness of our sins:

          Pastor: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

          Congregation: But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (moment of silence for personal examination)

          Pastor: Let us then confess our sins to God our Father.

          All: Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of your Holy Name. Amen.

          Pastor: In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for His sake God forgives us all our sins. To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become the children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit. May the Lord, who has begun this good work in us, bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

          I hope this helps.

          • I agree with you 100%. I personally don’t understand how somebody can miss that. I hope someday to be at a church that teaches and practices that.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            It is worth noting that the first two sections of that confession is verbatim scripture: 1 John 1:8-9.

        • In one of his psalms, David expressly asked God for forgiveness from his sins that were unknown to him. He asked repeatedly to have it revealed to him, also. I think he’s a pretty good rolemodel on this point.

          • Matthäus says

            (Psalm 19)

          • Or psalm 51. I agree on that, but I have not been able to convince some protestant friends that psalm passages like that are for us as New Testament believers. And to think that the New testament commands us to sing the Psalms in worship! Twice! This to me is just a glaring example of evangelical inconsistency.

    • Miguel,
      I coped with a fringe missionary group when I was overseas, one that taught this exact thing. This is what I told the baffled Kyrgyz Christians who came to me after being stirred up by these teachers. We have a relationship with God. Our Christian life depends on this relationship, which I can compare with my relationship with my husband. I know my husband loves me and always will. I don’t doubt that. But if I do something wrong against my husband, the relationship is damaged. I know in advance that he’ll forgive me, because I know his nature; but I have to confess and ask forgiveness to restore the relationship — and because I love him and I love truth.

      Most people I spoke to understood and accepted the analogy. There were those, however, who thought that they could not sin. Only the Holy Spirit could deal with them. Some even went so far as to say that confession of sins was a “work” by which we tried to buy our salvation. At that point it got so nutty that I just left it alone. It’s hard to break someone’s cast-iron excuse for continuing to sin.

      Good luck. I’d say be careful around this person. This isn’t a healthy way to be.

      • According to my friend any use of the law is works-righteousness. It’s not necessarily an excuse to sin in his case as it is an over-reaction of ultra-legalistic fundamentalism (i.e. women cannot wear pants). Nutty is hardly the right word, it is a gross understatement. Sometimes I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. We confess our sins to God for US, and not for him. I know his forgiveness is infinite and he won’t hold it against me if I die with some sins outstanding. But by confessing them I learn to walk in and celebrate his forgiveness. Personally, I’m about 3 inches away from just heading down to my local lutheran or episcopal church just to find a place where I can do confession and receive forgiveness.

        • Miguel, I believe that until we have been perfected, totally sanctified, we will still sin. I just finished reading George McDonald’s Unspoken Sermon titled, “Abba, Father,” which youcan read in full at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/macdonald/unspoken2.viii.html and one of the things he writes is, “We are the sons of God the moment we lift up our hearts, seeking to be sons—the moment we begin to cry Father. But as the world must be redeemed in a few men to begin with, so the soul is redeemed in a few of its thoughts and wants and ways, to begin with: it takes a long time to finish the new creation of this redemption. Shall it have taken millions of years to bring the world up to the point where a few of its inhabitants shall desire God, and shall the creature of this new birth be perfected in a day? The divine process may indeed now go on with tenfold rapidity, for the new factor of man’s fellow-working, for the sake of which the whole previous array of means and forces existed, is now developed; but its end is yet far below the horizon of man’s vision:—”

          I love that.

          • That should be MacDonald, not McDonald. Darn typos!

          • Good point. I’m not denying that anybody sins, that is inherently obvious. Try making an existential argument against that! The concept I am wrestling with is, if we sin, are we already forgiven because we are in Christ, or must we confess in order to obtain this forgiveness? It seems to me the former is true, but if so, of what necessity is confession? This to me seems to be the reason many evangelicals despise liturgical confession. I am trying to harmonize the two concepts, those being a healthy practice of confession and an evangelical understanding of justification and forgiveness.

          • Miguel, there ARE Christians who say they are incapable of sinning. I have been on blogs and seen that. Other Christians tried telling the person that he was wrong, but he was having none of it. He said once you became a Christian, you could not sin. He said it only LOOKED like sinning!

    • Richard Hershberger says

      FYI, if you want to seek out additional reading, the keyword is “antinomianism”. It is an old heresy, but Protestant theology provides a particularly fertile ground for it. Luther coined the word and wrote a tract against it.

  9. The Seeker says
  10. You pretty much described my local catholic church.

  11. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    Not to sound like a broken record, but a lot of this is basically the ideal for which the many of the traditional churches have historically striven. Unfortunately, many of them seem to have lost their roots. I look at all of the above and think, Yep, that’s what my Book of Common Prayer recommends. Indeed, a lot (though not yet all) of that stuff is being done by my (rather Evangelical) Anglican parish. All that is to say that rather than completely reinventing the wheel, perhaps Evangelicals ought to explore the Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, etc. traditions and see if we can get back to those roots. Heck, I think that those of us in those traditions should know our roots a lot better than most of us do. For us Anglicans, that means being familiar with the 39 Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the King James Bible, among other things. Know how we got into the messes that we’re in so that we don’t make the same mistakes that our spiritual forefathers did.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      Note to self: close your HTML tags :p

    • Richard Hershberger says

      I noticed early on, when I first started reading this blog, that Michael Spenser’s post-evangelical search looked an awful lot like he was searching for the pre-evangelical church. I don’t see that as a bad thing, but many Evangelicals seem to regard traditional Protestantism nearly like Protestants regarded Catholicism, back in the Bad Old Days.

      • One of the points Michael always made (and I agree) that the way forward is to reclaim many of the practices we threw out, like the baby with the bathwater. One key to evangelicalism’s reformation is to reunite with the historic tradition we abandoned. It’s not strictly “going back,” but rather reconnecting.

    • It depends on the Anglican church. The Episcopalian church I briefly attended was definitely not enthused with either the King James or the 39 Articles. It was definitely a child of the Oxford movement and heavily stressed the Catholic in Anglo-Catholic in practice. We’re talking weekly Adoration, tabernacle and tabernacle light, sacrarium, confession to the priest by appointment along with anointing of the sick services.

      The 1rst mass of the day is Book of Common Prayer, the 2nd one is Rite 2 and the similarities to a Catholic mass are striking.

      Then again, this church is in a highly Catholic area (near west ‘burbs of Chicago) and its congregants are at least 25% former Catholic, I would imagine an Anglican church in a more evangelical area would tilt toward the evangelical side of Anglicanism.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

        I actually rather respect the Oxford Movement and the Tractarians for helping Anglicanism to regain a sense of historic catholicity rooted in the Fathers, etc. I like that they helped make weekly Eucharist the norm. I like that they helped re-introduce a sacramental understanding of the faith into Anglicanism.

        BUT, as good as some of the liturgy from alternative texts (such as Common Worship in England, and the ’79 “BCP” here in the states) is, I’d submit that Anglicanism really needs to be rooted in its historic texts. I’m not saying that we all need to do our services in Elizabethan English, but I do think that our greatest heritage as a unique tradition is its historic texts. ACNA Abp. Robert Duncan called the 1662 BCP Anglicanism’s “practical magisterium,” and I think he’s right. We can still have our connection to the Fathers and to historic catholicity while retaining a connection to those historic texts.

        That’s my 2c anyway 🙂

        • I think the “genius” of Anglicanism is the very flexibility that Queen Liz built into it. She wanted a religion that could satisfy both the Reformers and the Traditionalists. That was the point of the 39 Articles, which I think are still binding in England due to that whole established Church business. Once out of England (or maybe the UK) it is free to morph into whatever shape works for the parish. I mean, you have to admire a faith that can claim both Archbishop Cranmer and Bishop Spong! I met Episcopalians who had different soteriologies from one another. Certainly different eschatologies. Probably the only thing they all agreed on was ecclesiology, though there was some grumbling from some people regarding election of Bishops.

  12. S. J. Gonzalez says

    I think I remember Mike writing almost the same post (or Dunn?) once.

    But, yah. I think many issues in American Evangelicalism would be solved if the Church remembered that the whole point of her existence is to proclaim the mystery of God, that is, Christ as mediator.

    And those four elements sum up the most effective (and more importantly, Biblical) way of doing things.

    A focus on the ministry of Word and Sacrament emphasizes the pastor’s role in equipping the saints with objective knowledge of the Gospel.

    The focus of discipleship in the context of relationships allows us to experience the Gospel subjectively.

    And with reminding the local church of the concept of vocation and missions we have the contextual background of the proclamation of the Gospel.

    But I do want to say one thing, pastors have alot of influence on folk, if only because they preach. I’d love it if pastors asked me how I was doing, it makes me feel loved. Then again, I come from a church culture where that was rare.

    • S.J. you are right. This is an update of “Ecclesiastical Dreamin'” from Oct. 11 of last year. To be honest, I’d forgotten that I had written it. But this one updates that first post, and is more to my thinking now.

  13. Sounds not-so-surprisingly conservative mainline. This is no longer evangelicalism as we know it but a complete return to traditionalist Christianity. This is 19th century churchianity. like 20th century evangelicalism, it has its good intentions and its positive potential but this mode of church failed all across the Western world. I really want to believe this is more than greener grass-ism, but I don’t think joint a LCMS or ACNA church is really going to change people.

    • Sorry for the typos and bad grammar, touch screen + 1 year old son = tough time typing

    • @ brendan,

      mainline churches have seen drastic drops in numbers ( I think this is what you must be referring to when you say they “failed”) for many reasons. If anything, it is their adherence to liturgy and tradition that keeps them afloat. Your comment seems to overlook the fact that the Church survived for 2000 years following the same prescribed structure and that, by contrast, evangelicalism is a modern, western fad. The apostles handed down the faith through liturgy. In fact, what Chaplain Mike is describing is nothing new; it’s not a new program; it’s just the old program. This post describes exactly how my Orthodox church operates. I don’t think it’s a matter of fixing the evangelical church, but rather returning to the original Way.

    • David Cornwell says

      Mainline churches have failed for a lot of reasons. There has been a lot of shallowness in mainline theology / practice in the past. Spiritual formation is an example. Pastors become involved so much in community and denominational concerns that pastoral visitation is ignored. Sometimes liturgy seemed watered down. Concern with social issues became a driving purpose rather than a result. I can’t help but think that if some of these elements that Chaplain Mike had been present in better balance and depth things might have been different. Or maybe not. The most important thing is being faithful.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

        Just to dovetail off of David’s comments, it may be wise to examine the reasons why the “conservative mainline . . . traditionalist Christianity” seems to have failed. My reading of history suggests that a lot of that failure can be attributed to embracing alternatives to the traditional understanding of the gospel, embracing the mainstream culture’s methods and worldview, The gospel gets defined in primarily social terms, the Scriptures’ standards for morality and behavior get interpreted relativistically, theology gets watered down in an attempt to make Christianity relevant to “modern man,” etc.

        I can’t speak for LCMS or other groups, but I know that in ACNA, what we want most to see is a Reformation within Anglicanism. And that means returning to the basics, learning from the past, and (most of all) returning to a gospel-centered faith.

        • David Cornwell says

          Isaac, I think you are on to something here. Wanting to relevant, sometimes we become too much a part of the culture, changed by it and conformed to it and rather than gain relevancy, we lose it. This is truly a challenge because we want to be in our world, our culture, or surroundings, but not made into its image. When we examine our politics, our music, and all the rest, which way is it? There are a couple of issues that I attempt to constantly examine that I’ve not come to terms with myself. I won’t mention it here because rocks might be coming from both sides!

      • David, your reasons for possible failure of the mainline is pretty much identical to the reasons I would give for failure in evangelicalism. This is where I would disagree with the idea that this argument is about substance and not style. If two “substances” produce the same failure then I’d called this is an argument about style.

        • I would also say these 2 substances have created the same successes, in terms a bringing faith alive. It is the fact that these two styles have historically produced the same results I would disagree with the good Chaplain that their substances are really any different.

          • Are you looking at the same church I’m looking at, Brendan?

          • IDK Chaplain, but the truth is as much as I dislike evangelicalism I haven’t met a single person who came to Christ in a church other than an Evangelical church. I’m sure historically people came to faith in the liturgical/traditionalist setting… but I personally know not a single one. The only growth I’ve seen in traditionalist churches is either biological or transfer growth. I’m sure that’s not always the case but I would be curious to see how many iMonk readers came to Christ with in the last 30 years in a traditional church that didn’t grow up in one.

            • Brendan, actually I tend to agree with you here, and I’m sorry my earlier answer missed your point.

              I have long thought that evangelical churches were strongest at attracting people. After all, most of them grow out the “revivalist” tradition, and that’s the basic point—bring them in.

              I am speaking more as a pastor who cares about the church coming to maturity in Christ. And what I have seen is that many, many of us who were originally attracted by _____________ (fill in the blank) have ultimately hungered for more than the glitz and pizzaz, the superificiality and youth group atmosphere. Willow Creek’s famous study of a few years ago said as much.

          • Brendan — Just for the record, I came to faith in high-church Anglicanism. I do know people who have become Christians within the Catholic and Anglican churches, some who are beginning their journey just now.

          • I actually meant to say Orthodox, not Anglican, but both are true.

          • Damaris, praise God. It’s not that I doubt the possibility, its more of the commonality that concerns me.

  14. Participatory worship services? Not here in the Bible Belt. This is one of my pet peeves. So much of the way we do worship in evangelical churches is reduced to a two man show – the music leader and teaching pastor. No wonder so much of the congregation mentally checks out.

  15. Great post Chap. Mike – I would like to know more about the practice of catechism teaching in the Luthren church. I thought they have Children’s Sunday school like most other churches.

    • I’ll ask some of our more seasoned Lutheran pastors and people respond to this. Please tell us about catechism!

    • Steve Newell says


      There are several ways that we catechize children. The first place that this occurs is in the home. Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism so that fathers could teach their children the basics of the Faith. The second place is their education. This can occur in a Lutheran school or Sunday school. Third is by having our children in corporate worship so that they can hear and see the words and actions of the Faith through Word and Sacrament. Next is through “formal” process called confirmation were they are are instructed in the Faith over the course of 2 to 3 years while in middle school (7-9 grades). Finally, we are called to continue in our gathering for worship and our studying of Holy Scripture over the course of our life.

      I hope this helps.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

        There’s definitely something to be said for the traditional catechisms. Luther’s Small Catechism is great and ought to be taught more often.

  16. Joe Rutherford says

    There are problems within the Church which need to be resolved. Just about everyone in the Church would agree to that statement. But from there, many begin to disagree as to how to apply the fix, and struggle to understand exactly what the solution is. My response is to the general topic and not an effort to weigh each proposal within the blog.

    One question I would like to ask every Church pastor is, “Do you want the local Church in your town/city/community to be united in Christ, or do you like being the head hancho in your own little fragmented Church group?” It is obvious that many simply want the position of solo Church pastor or at least they want to be the clear cut head guy among other leaders within the group. But this practice is so wrong and is one of the major problems and has been for a very long time.

    Leaders in the RCC, Protestant, Evangelical, Charismatics, Pentecostals, etc; would likely come down pretty hard on me and what I’m saying here. They will claim that Timothy was the first “Pastor” at Ephesus. Some also think that the angels of the seven Churches in Revelation, are the solo Pastor/Bishop/ Priest in each of those Churches. But the truth is that the angel of each Church in Revelation is John. Timothy was not the pastor at Ephesus in the sense of the modern “Church Pastor”. Timothy did have certain pastoral duties there, yes, but that in no way altered the original and permanent governing body of the rightly appointed Elders at Ephesus. This eldership was to function in the way of shared ministerial duties, in the same manner as the Apostles were to work together in unity, teamwork, and godly service.

    But the right way is far removed from most Churches today. Please let us return to the original manner of Church Pastoring.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      I’m not completely sure what the “right way” you’re advocating looks like. I.e. are you advocating a single parish for each locale or are you advocating a mindset where each parish views itself merely as the local expression of the Church Universal? Some of that goes to the question of what the proper biblical ecclesiological polity looks like. For those who understand an episcopal polity to be the way to go, the local parish is indeed just the local expression of the Church Universal. For those who understand congregational polity to be the biblical pattern, the local congregation is the basic unit of the Church; the Church Universal is something invisible and corporate.

      At any rate, a plurality of local congregations doesn’t seem to be a bad thing to me. I once belonged to a denomination (I use the term rather loosely) that would not allow two member congregations to be any closer than 50 miles in distance from each other because they wanted a single congregation to serve that 50-mile area. All that model seemed to do was breed arrogance, competition, and a good ol’ boys club for leadership. A church-planting model, by contrast, tends to keep congregations relatively small and views planting new congregations to be a blessing as it means that there are more laborers to do more gospel work. Granted, that kind of charitable view often doesn’t extend to plants from other denominations, but that’s a different story.

      I honestly don’t think the fragments of denominationalism are likely to be healed before Jesus comes back. The best we can hope for is friendly or civil relations between the denominations. Fortunately, that kind of friendliness isn’t as abnormal as it once was. We may have the mainstream culture’s increasing hostility toward the gospel to thank for that.

      • Joe Rutherford says

        Issac, the New Testament teaches unity among believers. Today there are two interpretations of that. One is that the Church is universal, regardless of the degree of superficial schisms. The other is that visual unity or solidarity should be practiced, and that just stateing or assuming that the Church is one, is not enough. I agree with both views. We must understand that the Church is universal, so we ought to practice unity and not just talk about it.

    • Joe, as a Pastor, I can’t tell how deeply I would like to more deeply share pastoral and leadership roles with my elders. I think you are mistaken in thinking the obstacles to this are primarily on the side of the Pastor.

      If your larger point is that their is no call for vocational pastors, well I think that is another issue and another post. Suffice it to say that the program outlined above would not likely work too well without someone with the time and training to lead it.

    • I was curious as to why you think John was the angel of all the churches of Revelation. I have been reading the most substantive commentaries on that book lately, and don’t recall that being an option discussed.

      • Joe Rutherford says

        John was the first person in the world to be given the Revelation. He was the first saint to recieve each message to each of the seven Churches. We should indeed be able to agree that John was serving as a ministering angel apointed by God. The message was given to the messenger. Once the messenger recieved the message, He was then, as a ministering angel sent by God, reqiured to deliver the message to each Church. Thus in each case to each Church the message begins with, “To the angel of the Church at…….write” The message was given to John. He was to write and send the book to the seven Churches.

        The seven Spirits in Revelation is the one Holy Spirit. Many scholars agree with that. But the seven stars/angels in Revelation, are also one…..John.

      • Joe Rutherford says

        I’d like to add that there could be multiple meanings. There may have been , for example, individual angels for each Church. But the thought that the angel was the Pastor, or the Bishop, is a wrong interpretation. That thinking may have help lead to the Roman Catholic tier system culminating with a Pope. By extension we should all seek to be angels doing the good will of God. But Churches should have an eldership, not a dictatorship.

    • I’m just wondering what what your Biblical basis is for saying churches should be governed by a board of elders (this is what you’re saying, right?) Please share Scriptures so I can understand better. From my understanding, the church has always had presbyters, deacons and bishops. I always found it difficult when I was a part of Congregational churches because there was no bishop overseeing the board of elders or senior pastor. Lack of accountability led to many problems, not the least of which was stagnation. Certain people of influence ran the show behind the scenes, elders and board members were instructed how God was leading them to vote on certain issues and it all boiled down to paranoid elders and pastors wanting to hold onto power. My family was the casualty of such a church. How we wished we had a bishop to appeal to at that time. There was no recourse; we simply had to pick up the pieces of our life and move on to another church. I personally think that a chain of authority and accountability is a more healthy way to operate and it also happens to be how the Apostles operated.

      • Joe Rutherford says

        The Church should be governed by Jesus Christ. The Church is governed by the Lord Jesus. I’m saying that in the original setting of the Church, elders (plural) were apointed in each local congregation. Titus was left on the Isle of Crete for that purpose (see book of Titus). When Paul said farewell to brethren from Ephesus, it was to “the Elders” (from the book of Acts). That’s just two important points in what is a very involved study. Some scholars would agree with these things, but point out that later the Church changed into more of the leadership structure we see today. Some seem to accept those chages as valid. My point is that the first, or original prescription for Church leadership, should have always remained the same. Local Churches can be aided by itenerant ministers as Paul or Titus or Timothy, etc., But to create a single Church Pastor or Bishop with higher authority than all others, is against the teaching of Christ. He would not even allow the Twelve Apostles to have a chief Apostle. They were all equal in calling. If one would be greater, he would need to express that in humble servatude, not in some appointed office of superiority. Pastor/ Elder/ Bishop/ Presbyter/Overseer in the scripture are the same position. Those words are synonyms, not 3 or 4 different offices. A Deacon is a different office.

        • Ok, I see what you are saying. My thinking was relating to the Greek words that are sometimes translated “elder.” I need to go look at that. I do know that the words translated as pastor, bishop and presbyter are different words in the Greek – not the same word. Do you see how some interpretation comes into the translation then? If you read the early history of the church, you’ll see there were bishops from the beginning. Take Ignatius of Antioch, for example. He was ordained Bishop of Antioch by Peter and Paul. You’ll see in early writings that the church was divided into major areas and over those areas presided bishops. Under the bishops were presbyters (later “prests” and eventually “priests”) and deacons. The bishops of the church were put in place to maintain a direct lineage to the apostles; this is how apostolic teaching was maintained. Timothy was actually the Bishop of Ephesus. I agree that the apostles were equals and that there is not one that is greater. Although the Church always gave the See of Peter in Rome highest respect, it would not acknowledge a single head of the Church other than Christ.

    • Joe,when I talk about “the pastor” I’m referring to everyone in pastoral leadership in the church, including elders; but particularly a pastor with full-time vocational responsibilities. I don’t think a particular form of church government is prescribed in Scripture.

      • I think you’re right, Mike, that Scripture doesn’t specifically prescribe a particular form of church government, but it certainly does make it clear as to the kind of character required for leadership within that government — the heart and attitude of a servant being foremost. So, whether one is called an elder or a pastor or a bishop or a priest or a pope, legitimacy of leadership (in my opinion) depends upon whether or not the leader or leaders submit to Christ’s model and example of leadership and lay their lives down for their sheep. Throughout church history, we Christians have spent a lot of time and effort debating and even killing each other over the matter of “correct” church government and authority, when our real mistake was that we stopped requiring, seeking out, and following true servant leaders. Time and time again, we’ve fallen into the trap of exalting those who exalt themselves.

  17. I would like to start with a slight side-track examination into the etymology of the term “worship service”. Take this sentence from the beginning of post and subsitute the term “worship service” for “post-evangelical” and you’ll see what I’m getting at: “Sometimes the designation “Post-Evangelical” can be unhelpful. If we only focus on what has been left behind rather than looking forward to new possibilities, we will never find a way out of the wilderness.”

    We have left something behind in our worship and service to God. My examination God’s Word and the lexicons yield something about worship and service entirely different from what is posted here (and commonly used throughout Christiandom). It seems to me we have entirely abandoned what God calls worship and service for something we have renamed with many terms – going to church, music, praise, and a myriad of other things that we do.

    Worship and service seem to me to be not something we do, but something that we are. From an OT perspective where we first encounter the commandment to worship God and serve no other, the pages are full of living examples of what this means. It is all pictured in the priesthood. As NT saints, the priesthood of the believer is equated with this same picture with one addition. Our High Priest Jesus indwells us. Hence we move from activity to relationship. The work of worship and service do not change however.

    As “one” with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we worship (in His presence) bowed down (kneeling) or prostrate. These are the lexical meanings of the OT and NT words for worship. While the action is physical, the relational is what we are after here, the “one” we have with Him. Is there something special about this position? Yes, two things I believe. First, obedience to the specific Word of God. Second, acknowledgement of His superiority to us. He is God. We are gods. We must physically practice bowing to the superior in order to maintain a right perspective of humbleness towards and glorification of God.

    The service piece should also remain intact. In this case, service means, as it always has in relation to the priesthood, prayer. The interesting thing about prayer is the perseverence of the saints in that we are to pray without ceasing just as the OT priests conducted their work 24/7/365.

    Some may say that they include these things in their church and so all is well. I suggest that while that may sound OK on the surface, problems lurk below when we add all the other churchy stuff. Therefore, leave loud and clear what God has called His worship and service and silence all else where He likewise has offered no input (in other words, exclude and do away with all else). Let’s learn to worship and serve God as He has called us. And let’s certainly not contain it to one day a week.

  18. The other Chaplain Mike says

    So basically we should become liturgical Protestants.

    • that was my point as well

    • Yes . . . but . . .

      . . . you have loaded the word “liturgical” with a meaning that I have not. First of all, I said that it is the “elements” of the service that are important, not the style, so you can get any “high church” visions out of your mind in terms of what it should sound and feel like. Second, every church is “liturgical” in the sense that they have certain forms by which they order their services, so you can forget the dichotomy of “spontaneous” or “free” worship vs. structured “liturgical” worship. Go to YouTube and watch the Northpoint Community Church spoof on their own worship, called “Sunday’s Coming” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ys4Nx0rNlAM&feature=player_embedded), and this will become perfectly clear.

      • Chaplain, most of is here believe the argument that all churches have liturgy… I think the point was a Protestant Church following the historic Western Liturgy complete with rote reciting of words out of a book follow by scripted prayer followed by scripted response from the congregation.

        • While I definitely think there is a place for that—for example C.S. Lewis’s famous quote about wanting absolutely no innovation in worship—that’s not really my point. I’m happy to have the elements in place, no matter what style is used.

        • Brendan, most Western liturgy is based on the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the form of which dates back to the Apostolic era. In other words, liturgical Christians have been doing basically the same thing since Peter and Paul were doing it. Sure, you may call it a script, but it is the script that was ordained by God. Each word is meaningful and reverent, each movement expresses a heavenly reality. It engages all the senses and directs all the attention, worship and glory to God alone. Now, I grew up in a liturgical church that had gone wishy-washy. The liturgy kept getting updated and modernised and the church was more like a seniors club than a house of worship. Mind you, I love all those people and I did gain something from being there. But, I was turned off by the lifeless liturgy and went looking for God in the Evangelical church. 15 years later I was disillusioned with church all together and ready to give up on it. My last ditch effort was to try an Orthodox church per my husband’s request. I went because I had nothing to lose. What I found was the faith of the Apostles, a faith so deep and rich and profound I feel I could spend the rest of my life in liturgy and only learn a fraction of it’s full meaning. I am now finally truly coming to Christ! So, my point is, explore what the liturgy really is and make a judgement based on God’s Word. No one really knows who is coming to Christ, or who will come, or who will even fall away. So we cannot make judgements about which church brings more people to Christ – who are we to judge that? Some people lead very quiet lives of faith, doing their good deeds in secret and not evangelising with words, but rather with loving actions. Such saints may go unnoticed. We can not assume things about people’s hearts.

          • I understand the history of Divine Liturgy, though I would beg to differ on the point it being scripted by God. I don’t doubt that it can be used by God, but then again we’re talking about God who made a donkey talk. I would also argue that it is in fact our responsibility to judge faithfulness in outreach. I by no means think filled seats = faithfulness, but continual emptying of seats speaks volumes. I’m still very post-evangelical and I don’t believe that song and dance of the rock concert “worship”, I’m just not sure that going “pre-evangelical” is going to solve the problem for the Church at large. Ultimately I disagree with Chap. Mike, Old Liturgy vs. Modern Worship is much of a style difference than a substance difference.

          • to Brendan’s above comment (not sure why I can’t reply directly to it)

            I don’t think it’s fair or right to compare the Divine Liturgy to Balaam’s Donkey – ouch.

            Liturgy came out of Judaism, so it was there to start with. God makes it known what he likes in Scripture: he does like rich fabrics, golden lampstands, ornate carvings, incense, vestments, people standing to pray with uplifted hands, etc. The Christian liturgy is just a continuation of the greater story of the Kingdom.

            As for your comment about faithfulness in outreach with respect to church attendance; our job is not to bring people in the doors. We don’t do that; Christ does that. The job of the Church is to bring the people of God into the Kingdom. The Divine liturgy is all about entering into Kingdom realities, so through it, we experience truth in the Spirit; we can come to see ourselves for who we really are, to see what our true roles in the world are and little by little that communion with God is restored and perfected.

  19. I’m really in favor of this breakdown. It reminds of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, actually. I also think there will be difficulties of at least 2 kinds: 1)convincing people(possibly ourselves) that they’re not actually doing these things already (what do you mean our 3-minute altar call at the end of service isn’t “mission?”), and 2) finding a living expression that’s satisfying and life-giving. This will take practice, and long-term engagement, practice, willingness to back up, reboot, try a new path, and more practice. I’d love to hear a conversation on developing these elements.

    • I agree w/ you. Richard Foster really has a wonderful vision on how to worship as the Church. He calls for Churches to drip their toes into all the wonderful “streams” of Christ’s Church thru out the whole world! I think one problem w/ the Ancient/Future movement can be when people bring the idea that “old is better”, “European Liturgy is the only liturgy”, or acting like children w/ a new toy (smells & bells). I think churches should try and show every Sunday that our faith is a global faith. Sing african spirituals, try incense & explain why our brothers & sisters in faith use them, make references to Holy days in other churches (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, & other) & explain why they celebrate. It helps the Church know they are not alone & we are one BIG family w/ one Father.

  20. Respectfully, I don’t think more/different programs are a good solution for churches. People are leaving churches because programitus just doesn’t achieve its grandiose promises and aspirations. And when it fails, who gets blamed? The very people who saw it wouldn’t work in the first place and pulled out. There’s so much emphasis on org life that real life, the way Jesus lived it, making a difference in the people he met as he went on his way, is long left behind.

  21. Re: elements of worship: I’ve been reading Marva Dawn’s book “Reaching Out without Dumbing Down — A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Church” (Eerdman’s, 1995). Has anyone else read it? Much of what she says seems very relevant to this (and other) IMonk conversation(s). And yes, she’s Lutheran 🙂

    As much as I agree with the direction of this post, I have a nagging feeling a key part of the picture is missing. The structure and focus of the worship gathering of the church is hardly neutral, but it’s tied to perhaps a greater crisis we have, that of corporate identity. I guess I have a difficulty with identifying pastoral care with “spiritual” or “soul” care, with the implication that the church’s primary role and bond is in dualistic terms – that is, the “spiritual” realms of prayer, counsel, doctrinal teaching – all essential and fundamental, but we humans are not so divided; our physical, emotional and practical needs are integral. As someone who’s been removed from the normal flow of life by trials of health and circumstance, I was astounded at how quickly the lack of real, substantive connection with the church evaporated. At best, I’ve been told that churches wish they knew how to help; at worst, I’ve been met with outright rejection and hostility. It wouldn’t be that bad if I was the only one, but sadly it seems to be common experience for those Christians going through long-term, complex trials. Does our worship and teaching lead us further into our encompassing individual and corporate identities as the real body of Christ, belonging to each other in gifts and trials, built together in worship, mission and life, a living testimony of God’s character, love and kingdom? Do we even have a coherent vision of what such a life looks like?

    The call to vocation as legitimate spiritual work counters the tendency toward dualism in mission. What would correct the perhaps deeper dualism in identity, fellowship and community?

    • again, please forgive my eccentric grammar. I wish the lack of connection would evaporate instead of the connection itself!

    • Marva Dawn is exceedingly wise, and I trust her insights doubly because they arise from a life of suffering upheld by God’s grace. Thanks for the comment. I recommend that book to anyone, and your reminder may lead to another look at it here at Internet Monk.

    • sg writes, “As someone who’s been removed from the normal flow of life by trials of health and circumstance, I was astounded at how quickly the lack of real, substantive connection with the church evaporated.”

      I am very sorry to hear that, sg. It’s the total opposite of what should be expected. I think your comments contain excellent insights. I have not read the book you mentioned. It sounds excellent.

      I don’t know the answer to your question. Perhaps if churches could be so concerned about their hurting members that each week people signed up to visit with the people who were ill, housebound, angry, that would help. It would not need to be too intrusive. The pastor/priest could announce at the end of service/Mass that so and so is in need of help and please see ________ to sign up for a day to visit this person for an hour of your time and comfort. If no one signed up, then a person within that church could call up folks asking if they could visit with the person. It’s hard to say no when someone calls you up and asks for just an hour of your time. If what the hurting person needs is money, then instead of having a second collection for Haiti or for any other cause, money could be collected for that person within the parish/community. There are likely churches that do this very thing. I hope so.

      • thank you and blessings, Joanie. I find your comments thoughtful and thought-provoking as well :-). A lot of the struggle comes from the knowledge that it *shouldn’t* be this way, especially in the Christian community. I take some strange comfort from the fact that if God’s people had ever done what they were supposed to do the vast majority of the Bible wouldn’t have been written to correct us, but still – not really an excuse. I’ve been sitting in my corner muttering for a few years now and the best I can come up with is that we do indeed have an identity crisis. There are very few good churchgoing Christians who wouldn’t provide love and support for a member of their immediate biological family in need, and most of them would have some fairly common-sense notions of what that means. But we’ve adopted an abstracted, “spiritualized” definition of what it means to be part of Christ’s family, to the detriment of both our fellowship and our witness. Not to say there haven’t been bright spots, but they’ve been pretty sparse and tend to come from those with few resources themselves – those who understand because they’re going through fire too.

        • sg, maybe part of the problem is that people see SO many problems as they look around that they decide they just HAVE to focus on their immediate family. Because even if we say that we should at least be family-like in our own Christian community, the question would come up as to why we would not offer as much love and assistance to those we may see an “enemies.” Jesus said we were to love our enemies. So, we take care of our families, send a little money to charities, support the church we are a local member of, and try to be good to people generally the best we can. But it can mean that the truly hurting among us get left out.

          • I agree – being overwhelmed is a huge part of it. However, I think part of the reason we get overwhelmed is that we believe that somehow we must *solve* the problems we see around us rather than simply serving in those ways we can. The lost art of walking alongside, of the cup of cold water in Jesus’ name rather than feeling we must remove thirst entirely.

            Another issue is lack of knowledge. I’ve talked to quite a few Christians who say they don’t know what to do. Of course many of these same Christians will say they don’t have time to peruse even minimal information on relevant subjects when it is handed to them, which leads me to believe it’s simply not considered a priority when there are so many “important” ministry things to be done.