August 12, 2020

iMonk Classic: An Ideal Evangelicalism?

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From December 14, 2008

Note from CM: In the light of Michael Bell’s thought-provoking and discussion-inducing post of yesterday, I thought this classic Michael Spencer post could aid us in continuing the conversation.

Somewhere in the previous orgy of comments I’ve had this week, someone asked me to write about “What do you see as the ideal evangelicalism?”

There is no ideal evangelicalism and there’s not going to be. It’s certainly not going to be ideal if I am the architect. So let’s not get out of hand here. I’m a blogger, which tells you about all you need to know on the subject of my credibility.

But that won’t stop me from answering the question in a slightly different form: “What would make for a much better evangelicalism?”

I promise the answers are going to be short.

1) Evangelicalism would be much better if it would admit that the Reformation and all subsequent divisions divided the one true church of Christ. None of those divisions created a new church or recreated the one, true church. All of Christianity today is the broken parts of what should be whole and entire.

2) Evangelicalism would be much better if it learned to see its own destructive, polluting entanglement in culture instead of trying to justify that entanglement as evangelism. Evangelicals have to live in culture, and I believe we should influence it, discern it and build admirable contributions to it, but the most essential attitude we should have toward it is to avoid the destructive, parasitic entanglements with culture that have sucked the life, power and distinctiveness from evangelicalism, especially in North America.

3) Evangelicalism would be better if it would admit and address its authority issue. Evangelicalism consists, to a large extent, of groups and individuals waving Bibles and shouting verses at one another. Evangelicals use terms like “Biblical Christianity” as if they could actually produce such a thing if asked. The assumption that our views are “based on the Bible” has produced a cacophony of contradictory, divisive and endless claims, counter-claims and wars. The evolution of evangelicalism seems destined to be toward the opposite poles of abandoning the concept of authority completely to the individual (usually the charismatic pastor) or creating an authoritarian hothouse where complete submission is obligatory to avoid exile or worse. Evangelicals have an authority problem. They will quite possibly never solve it as evangelicals, but they can make the situation considerably better by directly addressing the problems created in Protestantism and evangelicalism by our various approaches to authority and implementing serious measures to bring some coherence to the situation.

4) Evangelicalism would be better if it rid itself of every form of the prosperity Gospel and pursued spiritual formation and an imitation of Jesus that was consistent with what Jesus and the New Testament teach about money.

5) Evangelicalism would be better if it learned to see, in the various divisions of Christianity, the remaining diversity that once adorned the united church: liturgy, missions, evangelism, spiritual formation, theology, Biblical study, the work of the Holy Spirit, the power of the sacraments. Even if these divisions cannot be overcome, the visible remains of the once glorious body of Christ can still be seen and experienced, even in our broken condition. Evangelicalism should determine, like Merton said, to bring together in itself as many different aspects of the holistic church of Jesus as possible. As someone recently said, we are in a time when the basis of Christianity is being eroded in masse, yet we are still debating the issues of the 16th century divisions and ignoring how irrelevant these are to the world at large. I affirm with my own denomination the need for a Great Commission Resurgence, and it must encompass all Christian traditions, but especially evangelicalism.

6) Evangelicalism would be better if thousands of churches die and many thousands more are born via healthy church planting relationships.

7) Evangelicalism would be better if it brought out all of its riches of corporate worship and put them on display, rather than throwing out what seems old, selling out what seems out of fashion and denouncing what isn’t popular. Evangelicals have in the more ancient, broader, deeper, wider Christian tradition all those aspects and elements of worship that can not only end the worship wars, but bring the focus of worship clearly onto Christ being exalted in all things. Evangelicals are starving by the millions for Christ focused worship and gospel dominated spirituality, but at this crucial hour, we are determined to be trendy, innovative and to get more cars in the parking lot. A sad betrayal of all we know for the wisdom of the world. We’ll be very sorry in 20 years.

8.) Evangelicals would be much better off if, as a movement, they had a common set of confessional/creedal/catechetical documents. Further, evangelicalism would be much better if it recognized a shared ordained ministry.

9) Evangelicals would be be much better off it they were poor and had to proceed, in every way, without the assumption that they can easily generate millions of dollars to do whatever they want to do. We need to embrace poverty for the sake of Christ, and repent of our idolatry of all things big, successful, wealthy and powerful. In the midst of this, we should repent of and renounce our dreams of political influence.

10) Evangelicals would be much better off if the Charismatic movement were to become a mainstream part of every church, renewing and being renewed; giving and being nurtured itself. Christianity is not the dead, dry, dusty movement most of us see. It is alive with power and emotion; with human and divine energy. We should desire the full manifestation of the Holy Spirit and the continual empowering, freeing, healing, humbling work of the Spirit. Charismatic Christianity needs a Biblical/theological rescue, but mainstream evangelicalism desperately needs the spiritual movement that is at the heart of healthy third-wave and charismatic movements.

Comments

  1. I love this classic post . The key point is “Evangelicalism would be better if it would admit and address its authority issue. ” Fix this problem, and the others would fix themselves. Just as for Martin Luther the key problem was the unchecked authority of the Pope, today’s problem is the unchecked authority of a local pastor (or even the unchecked authority of an individual). We have created hundreds of thousands of “mini-Popes” This has created a conflict of interest where a pastors job security is dependent on his ability to get a crowd and control the crowd that does come in.

    If you look at the root of the “new Calvinism” movement, it isn’t about Grace, but about a theological framework for delegating God’s sovereignty to a local pastor.

    • Good points, Allen. It’s not just in the “new Calvinism” movement, though. Non-denominational pastors often refuse to admit that they have created their own denomination, with themselves appointed as the papal head. These pastors become slaves to the “deep pockets” in their congregations, rather than servants of the Gospel, not to mention the problem of lack of accountability.

      I once served in a non-denominational setting where the “elder board” was comprised of the pastor’s younger brother, father, and first cousin; in addition, the associate pastor/worship leader’s brother-in-law and father-in-law rounded out the group. There was one other “emeritus” member of the board whom I never saw attend a meeting. The first cousin of the pastor was the only member of the group who asked questions, and the only member of the group who was ordained into ministry himself. The first cousin, by the way, often wasn’t notified of meetings and routinely heard about decisions after the fact.

      I’ll never forget the pastor once telling me about some open sin he felt should be addressed in an elder’s family, but then stated, “But if we do that, we’ll all have to get second jobs, because they will stop giving.”

      I had to remind him that I already had a full-time job, in addition to the work I did at the church.

      (Heavy sigh…)

      • There is indeed some irony here. The pastor has stacked the board with his family members to dominate the decision-making of the church. Yet, he is afraid of acting in any way to disclose sin, which might upset the gravy train they are all riding. Accountability and authority. They have both been sacrificed throughout the church at the altar of self-interest, to the point where I fear they no longer have any relevance in evangelicalism.

    • I’m sorry, but as a typical evangelical Pastor, the idea that I have “unchecked authority” is laughable. This “min-pope” can’t make an important decision about the Church without the elders, nor can I spend money. I can’t even invite a missionary to speak without checking with the Mission’s committee. I’m not complaining, just describing reality.

    • I’m sorry, but as a typical evangelical Pastor, I find the idea that I have “unchecked authority” to be laughable. This “mini-pope” cannot make any substantive changes to the church without the approval of the elder board. I cannot spend money (and I have no idea who gives what). I can’t invite a missionary speaker without going through the mission’s board. My preaching is de-limited both by the scriptures and our church’s doctrinal statement. I’m not complaining, just stating reality. And most of the Pastor’s I know operate in a similiar milieu.

      Some commentators on this blog may not realize how hurtful their generalizations about Pastors are to the imperfect but earnest ministers who sometimes read here.

  2. “Evangelicals would be be much better off it they were poor and had to proceed, in every way, without the assumption that they can easily generate millions of dollars to do whatever they want to do.”

    Well, sorry, but when I defined myself as an evangelical, I had to be bi-vocational for 5 years as I was trying to plant a church in a big european city. Trust me: it’s not easy and burn-out finally stroke hard.
    At some point, three churches wanted me as their pastor, but none of them could salary me.

    I also know by first-hand experience that even in the States, many evangelical churches struggle financially.

    So it would be nice not to generalize this type of comment. Maybe it’s valid for First Community Church somewhere in Suburbia, but not for the church as a whole.

    • In my experience as a ministry leader in evangelical churches, I’ve found that those ev. churches without much money are ashamed to be poor….no one will admit it, but everything in the evangelical world is measured by money, and the megachurches and TV ministries are winning….so the small churches are disingenuous about how well-off they are, try to act like the big guys, and tell everyone how generous they are and how money doesn’t matter when their actions all scream how stingy they are….for instance, when you start talking about compensating skilled church workers, the leaders all give you the evil eye and say something about how, as a good Christian, you’re supposed to just volunteer for all that work and let the church use/exploit you like one more piece of equipment.

      • Our church has a bit of the opposite set up… every year, we budget a small salary for our organ player, for instance, but he has never chosen to collect it. I think it’s good that it is always there if he chose to do so.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        My writing partner (the burned-out country preacher) has to support a wife and three kids on what’s effectively minimum wage. And he keeps getting cut — after all, It’s A Ministry (TM).

        He says in his denomination, pastors’ widows routinely end up having to eat out of dumpsters. (But I’m sure they hear “We’ll Pray For You”…)

      • no one will admit it, but everything in the evangelical world is measured by money, and the megachurches and TV ministries are winning….

        Well, sure. After all, we’re talking about good Free Market Republicans here.

    • struggling to think of any Evangelcials I know personally who can easily generate millions of dollars…

  3. “Evangelicalism would be much better if it would admit that the Reformation and all subsequent divisions divided the one true church of Christ.”

    What a great point. The trick here is finding pastors and church leadership that are actually knowledgeable enough about church history to realize that their own particular denomination didn’t actually invent Christianity. Everyone seems to have some claim of ownership over “worshipping in the way the early church did”…You hear this in churches that call themselves “contemporary” because there is shouting and hand clapping, house churches that eschew all forms of episcopal structure in favor of “authentic community”, churches that define themselves as “traditional” because they use a tattered hymnal, etc., etc. Everyone has their own idea of what “real Christianity” is, usually suited to fit their own personal preferences, likes and dislikes.

    I encourage folks to really examine the early church with an unbiased eye. It was only after I took a year off from ministry to do this that I found peace and a restored love for the Church.

    “Evangelicalism would be better if it learned to see, in the various divisions of Christianity, the remaining diversity that once adorned the united church: liturgy, missions, evangelism, spiritual formation, theology, Biblical study, the work of the Holy Spirit, the power of the sacraments.”

    Completely agree. I believe that we live in a culture where nothing is regarded as sacred and holy, and the result is moral relativism…nothing is off-limits. We also lack a sense of divine calling, which leaves us without direction and focus in life. Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.

    • “I encourage folks to really examine the early church with an unbiased eye. It was only after I took a year off from ministry to do this that I found peace and a restored love for the Church.”

      Which resources did you find most helpful in your examination of the early Church?

      • I can recommend a few that were helpful to me:

        – A 40-day reading of the Church Fathers at churchyear.net for Lent. The Didache and Justin Martyr’s Apology were probably the most thought-provoking of those readings.
        The Story of Christian Theology by Roger Olsen. It discusses theology in light of how it developed throughout church history. I’ve used it as a resource for several papers in my graduate studies.
        The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzales. The first volume is essentially pre-Reformation, while the second is the Reformation through modern times.

        Also, at newadvent.org/fathers you can download just about all of the writings of the Church Fathers. It’s organized alphabetically by author, and some of the authors have dates for a frame of reference.

        • @ isaac: ALL great posts! just wanted to piggy back this comment and say a resounding YES! to ‘The Story of Christianity’ by Justo Gonzales!! Those books changed me!! I’ll never forget the opening lines in the first volume (paraphrasing): ‘For every Paul and Peter and great Christian figure that is responsible for spreading the Gospel, the reader needs to bear in mind that it was the countless nameless, faceless individuals who led ordinary lives and who were Christians that spread the Gospel.’ This freed me from the temptation to be a superstar Christian. ‘You mean I don’t need to be like Paul, I can just be myself and that’s enough?!?’

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            That’s why All Saints’ Day is in the Church calendar.

            It celebrates all those Saints (as in God’s people) who were never officially recognized like the formally canonized Saints.

        • Discovering the Didache was huge for me! I wept as I read it, thinking aloud, “How has the church forgotten these principles? How have we strayed so far?”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Somebody told me once that a third of the Didache was about how to recognize a con man pretending to be a preacher/apostle. I was thinking of Benny Hinn and Tatted Todd when I read your “How has the church forgotten these principles? How have we strayed so far?”

        • Some great resources for me during my time off from ministry….

          The Book of Common Prayer (I use the 1979 version, even though some would call me a heretic for it). I purchased a BCP long before I had ever visited an Anglican or Episcopal church. My wife and I lacked a church home, were visiting place to place, and I bought it to use for personal devotions.

          Christian Classics Ethereal Library…. http://www.ccel.org/fathers.html …tons of writings from the early church. Volume I is enough to digest for a lifetime, just by itself.

          “The Younger Evangelicals” by Robert Webber

          “Ancient-Future Time” by Webber, and “The Liturgical Year” by Sister Joan Chittister

          “In Constant Prayer” by Robert Benson

          “Fasting: The Ancient Practices” by Scot McKnight

          “Giving Church Another Chance” by Bishop Todd Hunter

          “Beyond Smells and Bells” by Mark Galli

          “The Sacred Way” by Tony Jones (deals more with practices than anything else)

          There were many, many others. No time devoured by sermon prep and program development left me with many, many hours to read about the early church and ancient practices.

  4. So basically, what he’s saying is that evangelicalism needs to be more Catholic.

    Seriously, if I hadn’t read his posts about the reasons why he wasn’t going to convert, I would think (based on this post) he had converted long ago.

    • That’s catholic with a small c…..

      • Agreed. You don’t have to be Roman to meet these conditions.

        But here’s a question: would church that met all these conditions really be identifiable as evangelical at all? Most evangelicals that I know would find a church like the one described in this post too catholic (little c) for comfort.

        • Since I began visiting this site about one year ago, I’ve seen a lot of folks come and go who have the idea that IM encourages us to be “more Catholic”. Unfortunately, as Protestants, we’ve been trained to distrust anything that we define as “Catholic”…the church calendar, the sacraments, episcopal oversight, vestments, common prayer, etc.

          The fact is, all of these things predated Roman Catholicism. We American Christians are very egocentric in terms of our spiritual practices…we consider the way we experience faith as “the right way”, ignoring the fact that four of the five largest denominations in the world…

          1) Catholic (almost 2 billion)
          2) Eastern Orthodox (200 million…and the fastest-growing denomination in the US)
          3) Anglican (82 million)
          4) Lutheran (66 million)
          5) Baptist (43 million worldwide…33 million in the US)

          …”do spirituality” in markedly different ways than we are accustomed to.

          The only thing that I can figure is that we’ve been trained to mistrust the practices that these denominations adhere to because of the deep-seeded animosity that dates back to the 16th century…Protestants saying that Catholics are heretics, Catholics saying that all Protestants are Hell-bound. Honestly, most Protestants probably can’t even tell you why they distrust the RC, they just know that they are supposed to.

          BTW…the numbers come from a Pew Council Research report a few years back. There may be some subtle changes, but I’m betting current numbers would be similar.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Honestly, most Protestants probably can’t even tell you why they distrust the RC, they just know that they are supposed to.

            Bud of mine in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley said that in his Lutheran Sunday School they were heavily into “The War” and what The Enemy did to them in “The War” — not World War Two, the Thirty Years’ War (early 17th Century).

          • Slight quibble: Pentecostals tend not to feature very prominently on such lists, since they are scattered across various smallish denominations and independent churches, but if we lump them all together (which I am not sure we should do), they would probably qualify for second place, after the Catholics.

        • I once heard an Anglican priest say in response to the accusation that his service was too Catholic something to the effect of “We need to remember that for the vast majority of us, our ancestors were either pagan or Catholic. I kinda hope mine were the latter.”

        • The Roman Catholic church is just one of the Catholic churches around the world (and present in North America). The RCC is the latin rite of the Catholic church which is the largest, but there are also a number of sui iuris Catholic churches such as: Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (India), the Maronite Catholic church (Lebanon), Melkite Catholic Church (Syria), the Coptic Catholic Church (Egypt), Ethipian Catholic Church (Ethiopia), Syriac Catholic Church (Lebanon), Syrio-Melankara Catholic Church (India), Armenian Catholic Church (Armenia), Chaldean Catholic Church (Baghdad), and a whole slew of Byzantine Catholic churches including the Ruthenians, Albanians, Belarusians, Bulgarians, et al).

          I get frustrated when I hear the folks on the local Catholic radio stating that only the Roman Catholic Church has the fullness of the faith, when that contradicts their OWN theology.

          • I get frustrated when I hear the folks on the local Catholic radio stating that only the Roman Catholic Church has the fullness of the faith…

            The argument/posturing of claiming the “fullness of faith” sounding more like a chest-thumping display meant to impress those not part of their particular gorilla band.

            I’ve pondered the doctrinal claims & counter-claims of those that are much more educated than I. Apologists on both sides of the aisle so-to-speak make it their business to keep their particular gorilla preened. Greater minds than mine have carefully weighed the pertinent points brought up by both sides & the result has not built thee bridge of acceptance-respect I would think could be acheived by the more scholarly types. The higher theological nuances mostly lost to those in the pew no matter what side of the aisle they warm. They get some vague idea of why the other side of the aisle is wrong, but it does not affect their behavior or faith-in-practice. If the attitude of doctrinal/traditional purity+superiority is constantly going to be the bridge breaker, then I will simply choose to remain uninvolved. However, if I can join together with believers of every stripe in helping the helpless in my town then I am a cheerful participant. I think Jesus much more interested in our behavior than our theological correctness. At least that is what He seems to address more in the gospels in my opinion…

          • well yes, it is chest-thumping and I expect when hearing religionistas talk. But I do expect them to reflect their actual doctrinal or dogmatic records when they do. In this case, all those sui iuris churches are in full communion with Rome. Meaning, under Catholic theology, they have every bit as much “fullness of the truth” as the Roman Catholic Church.

            I mainly listen to both Catholic radio and evangelical radio in order to argue and pick nits with their points. I know this is odd, but I’m not even the only one who does so. I would imagine the pack of listeners of these channels to overwhelmingly be the faithful, followed by the falling out of faithful, followed by the completely out, people looking to get in.

  5. I agree with Michael that evangelicals would be better off if they admitted and addressed the authority problem. But if that means that all evangelicals should work towards coalescing under one authority, it begs the question of which authority? I don’t see any possibility of answering this question from within evangalicalism since the idea that the individual’s interpretation and application of scripture is so foundational. I don’t see how this road does not lead to anywhere other than somewhere other than evangelicalism – likely Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy. I’m sure Michael saw it differently since he did not end up there, so I would appreciate it if someone could give me a different perspective.

    • This is something I’ve thought a lot about recently while finishing up my graduate studies in Christian Ministry at a Baptist university. From the 2nd Century to the Reformation, one of the main unifying elements of the Church was the concept of Apostolic Succession through the historic Episcopate (i.e. the bishops). As I studied Church History, that became obvious (which is one reason I chose a denomination that acknowledges Apostolic Succession). It seems to me that a good starting point for unity is to study the common history of the Church, especially the first five or so centuries. And then figure out how to deal with some of the questions that the study will inevitably bring up with regards to unity.

    • Clay, I agree with you. Saying evangelicalism has an authority problem is a bit like saying America has a unity problem. Hard to argue with, but every imposed solution is worse than the problem. I will take the cacophony of competing voices over the silence-inducing pronouncements of a human authority every time.

  6. David Cornwell says

    “8.) Evangelicals would be much better off if, as a movement, they had a common set of confessional/creedal/catechetical documents. Further, evangelicalism would be much better if it recognized a shared ordained ministry.”

    Indeed this would address many issues that have brought us to the state of affairs in which we find ourselves today.

    • The Apostolic, Nicene, and Athenasian Creeds seem to be a good start for a baseline common orthodoxy and a foundation to some of the other stuff.

      • Absolutely!

        • Are those who do not agree with one or another of their articles, then, to be excluded from this “common” understanding of Christianity?

          • Well, I’d have to ask which article y’all disagree with and why. It may be an issue of misunderstanding the article in question (time, language, and culture barriers and all that). Truth be told, in the Patristic period, the Creeds were indeed used as a way of defining orthodox, apostolic Christianity from heresy. FWIW, the first two pre-date the formal canonization process of the bible.

    • one more Mike says

      A bit late to the discussion with traveling and all, but aren’t the evangeligal creeds all neatly wrapped up in “Purpose Driven Life”? And isn’t Rick Warren the voice of evangelical authority? Or was I suffering some sort of cognitive dissonance in the last evangelical church I was a “member” of?

  7. “…if it would admit that the Reformation and all subsequent divisions divided the one true church of Christ.”

    I think it would be better said that they “…continued the division…”

    A big division had already taken place long before that.

    • That particular division seems to be a lot smaller than it was 1000 years ago. The RC and EO churches recognize each other as faithful expressions of the historic Church, they recognize each others’ orders, they recognize each other’s rites. The main issue of disagreement is on the status and authority of the Bishop of Rome. Even the old filioque clause is less of an issue, as most theologians on both sides understand that the problem was one of language (i.e. how the Latin and Greek were translated into each other) and theological emphasis (i.e the sovereignty of the Father for the East and the job/role of the Holy Spirit as described in John’s Gospel for the West) rather than of core doctrine. While not in full institutional communion with each other, the RC and EO seem to have a lot more unity than most of the rest of the Church.

      • Agreed, although that is more of a recent (relatively speaking) development. Likewise, ties between Anglican and RC’s, and Anglicans and EO’s have also improved to a degree.

        I was just pointing about that “division” did not start with the Reformation as that particular sentence seemed to indicate.

        • donald todd says

          Actually the official Anglican positions have moved that body further afield from the Catholic perspective, because of the consecration of female bishops and ordination of female clergy. Those positions are non-starters for a dialog with the Catholic Church, and tended to inoculate the discussions between the two churches. As is recognized by anyone who follows religious occurrences, it also tended to drive a stake into worldwide Anglicanism. The schism in that church is best seen by the division between the lax bodies in the West and the growing Anglican bodies in places like Africa. The African branch of Anglicanism rejected consecration and ordination for women, and are against the ordination of practicing homosexual persons.

          This led to several occasions where particular Anglican communions, (for the sake of scope of size, think of a diocese or archdiocese) petitioned Roman for acceptance into the RCC. This led the current pope to set up a function whereby Anglican communions can be brought whole cloth into the Catholic Church, at which point those communions would be Catholic in the Roman sense. The Anglican communions which are taking this offer to pope are estranged from the kind of Anglican practice now evident. One might say that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the flexibility of the Anglican communion to accommodate the current crop of popular social positions is not their cup of tea, and their ability to swallow those accommodations has been exhausted over the past several decades of decline within Anglicanism.

          They don’t want female clergy or bishops. They don’t want scripture watered down to justify the current social pathologies and anti-Christian positions.

          In that process of determining those facts, they also determined that they want Peter’s successor, and recognize the RCC as the church, and recognize the validity of seven sacraments. In short, they want to be Catholic in the Roman sense.

          They will be allowed to maintain the Anglican rites with some minimal changes in wording and understanding, but it will be the rite that they have held and loved for ages. It is the kind of ecumenism which works for both parties, at the detriment of neither. Their clergy, male only, married or single, will be retrained and ordained as Catholic priests and kept in service of those Anglican rite congregations.

          The accommodation for married clergy coming in from other religions (eg, Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran) is called the Pauline provision and it is handled by the pope.

          Of particular interest is that a priest of any religion has two imperatives: 1. Offer the sacrifice, and 2. Guard the rites. The Anglican/Episcopal rite did not involve a sacrifice, hence the use of the word “priest” for an Anglican or Episcopal clergyman would be wrong.

          A Catholic priest, offering the holy Sacrifice of the Mass (eg, offering Jesus to God the Father for our eternal benefit) meets both of the criteria above.

          There are already several Anglican rite bodies in the US. When their original clergy retire or die, they will be replaced by celibate clergy who come from and are practiced in the Anglican rite.

      • Isaac,
        The status and authority of the Bishop of Rome is only the major symptom of the biggest problem. Reunification, for which I pray, is not going to be easy. At bottom, the Roman church has a very different starting point for the understanding of what the church is than the Eastern church has. Great (and not overly-long) book for understanding this is “Church, Papacy and Schism” by Philip Sherrard (third ed., purple cover). There is also the theophilosophical lineage of Scholasticism, which posits that we can know something about God’s essence, even minimally; EO would not affirm this. This is only the start.

        The attitude among RCs seems to be, “We have so much in common; what’s the problem?”, whereas EOs would say, “Hold on; there are still significant problems, and y’all need to understand and acknowledge them. and why they represent such difficulty, before we can even begin to seriously consider moving forward toward unity.”

        Dana

      • I think that’s true in the circles of Western intellectual leadership, Isaac, but less true among Orthodox in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Have you read “Down from the Holy Mountain?” The author, a Catholic, started at Mount Athos and traveled east and south, ending at St. Anthony’s monastery in Egypt. He found almost universally that the monks and other Christians he met saw the Pope as the Whore of Babylon and the Antichrist, and himself on the brink of hell. Even here in America I hear much more tolerance for rapprochement among Catholics than among Orthodox. I wouldn’t say that my reading and experience are representative, but it’s thought-provoking, anyway.

  8. There was a time when the church was very powerful, a time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.

    Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

    But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

    Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world.

    mlk, jr – letter from a birmingham jail

    • Wow. Thanks for bringing that to our attention.

      • yup yup. glad to share. i truly believe that there is no clearer example for the church than the efforts for justice and non-violence that mlk,jr exemplified in his life. truly he was an inspiration and a voice in the wilderness. moreover, he was a living, breathing example for the church; there is much for the church to learn from that era of north american history in the way of both orthodoxy but especially in orthopraxy. in my humble estimation the church en masse in north america has chosen to fight “injustice” from behind the safety of their pocket books, their curriculum and from behind the confusion that their arguments with both believers and non-believers creates.

        i think the reason why this portion of mlk, jr’s letter has always stood out to me is because it is true. it is prophetic and it is true and it is difficult. the church has been dismissed as an irrelevant social club because there is no meat on the bones so to speak. from both an outside and inside perspective it is the equivalent of a wealthy, insulated and protected elitist commanding others into battle while he himself remains safely and securely distanced from the actual conflict. non-believers laugh and walk away from the battle. and believers, ( i know not all, but a growing majority ) believers become so anemic that they either listlessly and dispassionately go along or they just wander off into the unknown, aided by the hope that ‘the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia (is) the hope of the world.’ the gospel message as a result has been the chief casualty, and there is no hope for a good outcome in this if one cannot first admit that they are injured and sick and in need; that something is wrong. why is it so hard for christians to do this? why is it so difficult for christians to confess before God that we have made a ^@!%&^g mess of the body of Christ and of Christ’s gospel? rather than do this simple and honest thing, the church seems to opt instead to move headlong in the opposite direction of convoluting the whole affair with issues of creationism vs. evolution, the need/duty of believers to vote republican and get republicans into the supreme court and such. the most condemning voice to the church in our day and age is not coming from outside the church. i hate to break it everyone, but there really is no persecution against christains in north america. a secular community opting to not display a nativity scene or display the 10 commandments at the local secular courthouse is not persecution. the voice that condemns the church? well, it is its own voice – namely the silence that fills the air regarding violence and war. 10 years and counting now, engaged in 2 wars, and the church is virtually silent on this. it is both tragic and sad. for sure there are a select few who speak, but really, truthfully, there should be a resounding and unanimous cry against war from the body of Christ. can we not look back throughout history and see that the reasons for countries waging war against one another was never about the reasons that are stated during actual war time? and who is always the greatest casualty in these conflicts? civilians. innocent people. how can we claim to worship the ‘Prince of Peace’ yet sanction war? the world sees this duplicity and dismisses the Gospel. believers don’t see it because they are too close to it. it’s like a picture in a newspaper being comprised of thousands of tiny little dots. if you are too close to the picture you will not be able to see it in its entirety and make sense of it and see it for what it actually is. if you back up, however, you can see clearly and wholly.

        • i should add, i believe that the disproportionate number of people in this world are tired of war and are just waiting to stand behind a voice calling for peace.

        • Paragraphs please.

        • Jason: I disagree with you about the evangelical church being silent for the last 10 years about the 2 wars we are involved in. In my area of the “evangelical church ” there is a whole lot that has been said…supporting it…and on and on… I know you get the point, and my “disagreement” with you is meant to be tongue in cheek. Here’s another thing my evangelical brethren become very vocal about. For the last president, we were told anywhere and everywhere that we should be so thankful for the man who led our country and how we all should pray for him. Well, 3 months ago at the early Wednesday morning prayer group with the boys at the church, I thought it would be good and right to pray for our current president and to express thanks for him. So I prayed for him and his wife and his family. I wanna tell ya, the boys became very vocal about that one after prayer time finished. I was mocked, rebuked and…holy mackerel!!

          • hey ronh: thanks for the tongue in cheek! for sure there are Christians out there who are speaking out against war and who are speaking positively in favor of indiscriminate, non-violent enemy love; i.e., there are Christians who are preaching the Gospel of Jesus. Shane Claiborne, Greg Boyd and Bruxy Cavey come to mind right off the bat, though there are others. my attempt was to draw attention to the sad reality that the majority, and definitely the loudest voices within north american Christendom are the ones who are in favor of war and not opposed to it. this is a very, very, VERY black eye on the face of the north american church that before it can be healed has to at least be acknowledged.

            for me, it was the onset of the iraq war. i remember the pastor at the church that i was attending standing in front of the congregation saying things like, ‘thank God we have a christian president who is willing to do something about evil in this world. and make no mistake about it, saddam hussein is evil.’ i was just like…… ‘what!?’ i remember distinctly, thinking to myself, ‘what happened to love? what happened to the prince of peace?’ after that, more and more it was like i was attending a republican rally, and i just stopped going. talking availed me nothing, the zeitgeist of that congregation was firmly established and that was that.

            whatever happened to the church being comprised of believers who identify themselves as strangers and aliens here on this earth who pledge no national, ethnic or gender allegiance?

        • King is often treated as though he were some sort of saint (indeed, Americans face great social and political pressure to revere him), when in fact he had much the same set of strengths and weaknesses as Bill Clinton. Had it not been for his assassination, he would have become just another scandal-prone religious leader / politician (like his supposed protege, Jesse Jackson).

          • You don’t know that.

          • That is one of the most cynical statements I’ve ever read, Werner. The human flaws were there, yes. But to deny that MLK had a special and significant power to inspire others is just silly.

          • If it offends you that God might use someone who is human and flawed, just like the rest of us, by all means avoid reading the Bible. It’s full of those types, with only one exception of course.

          • Well, his weaknesses put him smack in the middle of the company of saints. Find me a saint who was uniformly “saintly” and I’ll suspect you’ve found a legend, not a person.

    • “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” may be one of the greatest pieces of written work ever composed. “The question is, ‘What type of extremists will we be?’ ”

      Gives me chills….

      • We will be the worst sort if we buy into kidnapping King’s legacy along with culture-warriors who claim to be ‘Restoring Honor’.

        • good point stuart. so is it just a hopelessly hopeless situation then? where should we turn to for inspiration?

          i think the difference lies in this: if we “kidnap” king’s legacy without the actual sacrifice that corresponds to it then yes, we will definitely be the worst sort. but, if we actually do recapture a sense of self-sacrifice, then i believe we enter into a long, deep, rich and noble heritage of the best sort.

          • I would say the problem with evangelical activism, in any form, is it will be hopeless unless “we” regain an understanding of the person and work of Christ. We too often are constructing a theology to fit our cultural priorities.

  9. I could be wrong and hopefully Denise will correct me if I am, but I think Michael Spencer was very much a Lutheran in his beliefs with admiration of much of Anglicanism as well. He also liked much about Catholicism, but there were at least three major blocks to his being a Roman Catholic. I know he loved liturgy and he tired of having to sing song after song after song as a type of worship. But, he felt he must stay where he was and continue loving the evangelical folks he was with as well as he could.

    • That was my sense too. It seemed to break his heart when the church gave up so much (liturgy, Christ/cross focused preaching, forgiveness brought to the sinner in sacraments etc).

  10. 4) Evangelicalism would be better if it rid itself of every form of the prosperity Gospel and pursued spiritual formation and an imitation of Jesus that was consistent with what Jesus and the New Testament teach about money.

    10) Evangelicals would be much better off if the Charismatic movement were to become a mainstream part of every church, renewing and being renewed; giving and being nurtured itself.

    Okay, these are definitely the worst of the “weird uncle” types & probably the ones that get the disproportional attention of those outside The Church due to their eccentricity & sensationalism. The WoF types, the prophetic-rhetoric types, the Bentley & Crowder/Dunn types, the bad hair Hinn types, etc. need to be disregarded. Anyway, they are the cause of more confusion, division, distaste & revulsion by those both inside & outside The Church than the other 8 in my opinion. The extreme abuses of scripture, the crazy antics, the “me-centered” mantras, the elitism, the “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good” principle, the just plain common sense inanity it not only permits, but encourages, the disregard of the gospel & misrepresenting Jesus to the world. Lord have mercy. As a post-charismatic (Rob McAlpine) the idea of incorporating charismata rightly into a fellowship without it spinning wildly out-of-control as I have personally witnessed the one consideration that would have to be Holy Spirit directed. But if God allows the most extreme abuses in His name to go on unchecked now, is there any hope it could rightly reestablished within every church?

    • Michael did qualify number 10 with: “Charismatic Christianity needs a Biblical/theological rescue…”

      • Which is something I’ve seen in our diocese. The bishop is solidly charismatic, while also being solidly biblical and solidly Anglican. I thought I’d find that combination very weird (or at least somewhat of an exaggeration), but it wasn’t. It was actually really neat. In fact, some of my barriers against a more charismatic expression are softening because of it.

        • I do believe, when ‘church’ is in its fullest expression, it’s a joy to behold. Blessings on your faith community. It sounds like a healthy fellowship with right oversight to permit expression of the Spirit’s extravagant diversity thru unique personalities. And it should be safe, accepting, correcting in love, encouraging. Thanks for the good report!

        • My favourite church service of all time was in an Evangelical, Charismatic, Anglican church. I found the Charismatic elements of the service brought the Liturgy to life, and the liturgy tempered the charismatic elements of the service.

    • Joseph, After I read Michael’s posting, I was in so much agreement . . . except, like you, this one point. I pondered in my mind how to state my disagreement. You have stated it beautifully.

      I will add my words, only to accent your words, that the two years I was involved with the charismatic movement, were the most dishonest two years of my life. They were also my most dualistic. The laws of nature (which, in my opinion God has created with great beauty) were inferior in our view, if not frankly evil. If aunt Mildred got over her pneumonia it had to be a supernatural healing, or a demon cast out . . . it could NOT have been the powerful and extremely complex immune system . . . which, in my opinion God created as good. We did not recognize mental illnesses, which the effect of the fall on the brain’s biology. Some mental illnesses were were seen as a supernatural gift (like the pastor with manic-depressive disorder who had church meetings at eight PM and continued until 6 AM, during his manic phase, then we had to go off to work to somehow function). The leadership was also very manipulative. It is always hard to argue against a pastor or other spiritual leader when they tell you that God Himself spoke directly to them, telling them that you must do such and such.

      Not only did I speak in tongues through incredible group coercion but we started hearing God’s voice coming from trees and symbols appearing (in our imaginations) in the midst of our fireplace fire.

      I will add, that both charismatic pastors, whom I was involved with, were caught having sex with women in the church. The women were manipulated through that strong–God told you to do this–supernatural manipulation. So that level of extreme dishonesty is not a healthy environment for healthy church in my humble opinion. Maybe Michael Bell (below) has qualified this better and eases my concern . . . a bit.

      • j. Michael Jones: Yes, the story you tell not that uncommon. I believe there are more “post-charismatics” that are really cautious charismatics after living thru some God-awful abuses & craziness. Some very serious abuse as you have highlighted. Other abuse disguised as accusing of a Jezebel spirit that is nothing more than personality conflicts or theological differences. Using the prophetic gifting to accuse those in disagreement or simply announcing they are in rebellion & to be shuned by the rest of the congregation. The uber-spiritual types the ones that wield their supposed 3rd Heaven credentials as a club. Hey, been-there-done-that & exited for obvious reasons. Not sure how this really bad stuff is going to be dealt with honestly & authoritatively if there is no real oversight or accountability on the rogue rangers out there in charismania land… 🙁

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        It is always hard to argue against a pastor or other spiritual leader when they tell you that God Himself spoke directly to them, telling them that you must do such and such.

        It’s not just Islam where God is the Ultimate Trump Card in a fight.

        …we started hearing God’s voice coming from trees and symbols appearing (in our imaginations) in the midst of our fireplace fire.

        Question: How does that differ from Oracles or Magickal Scrying?

  11. This can’t happen because there is really no such thing as evangelicalism in my opinion. What falls under that umbrella is believers from thousands of different churches or parachurches or non church goers but believers nonetheless with a few common denominators but I think it is truly impossible for “evangelicalism” to do anything.

    Look at “Catholicism” Organizationally is is one church but it is extremely diverse from liberal feminists to patriarchal traditionalists to every nation inculturating the gospel in its own way. Any two churchgoers within any church group will not have the same opinions.

    • Perhaps it impossible for “evangelicalism” in doing anything is because “we” have forgotten our central purpose in being something.

  12. Look at “Catholicism” Organizationally is is one church but it is extremely diverse from liberal feminists to patriarchal traditionalists to every nation inculturating the gospel in its own way. Any two churchgoers within any church group will not have the same opinions.

    Which brings up a good point. There are some within the RCC that have bucked the trend: women ordained as priests, or priests marrying. There are even a few ‘alternate’ popes out there all claiming to be the legitimate heir to Peter’s throne. I have to think that there are quite a few Catholic couples using birth control or committed same sex couples attending Mass. Can one be a ‘true’ Catholic but neglect its teaching/authority? Is this really intellectual dishonesty? “I will claim to be a member of this team, but secretly not play by the rules” type? Seems too obvious to me that one wanting to play Catholic is not the same as being a devout/committed Catholic. Same with Christianity in all its expressions. Within each apostolic & denominational faith expression there must be members of The Body of Christ. Not those simply going thru the motions, but those that are disciples. Would all of these agree on all 10 points? Would there be sufficient room for a grander expression than the high church liturgical types? I am neither Greek or Serbian or Russian so do I need to conform to these Orthodox expressions to be considered part of the ‘true’ church? Once The Church grew to a certain size incorporating more & more different ethnic types & cultures, did the idea that one size fits all become organizationally outmoded? Just thinking (or writing) out loud here…

    • perhaps it is like this: the only thing that we need to agree on is that Jesus is savior. aside from that, it is like any other family. both of my boys are equal members of my family, both know me as Daddy, though they are completely different and unique in every way. each boy understands, conceives of and relates to the family differently. from this perspective it becomes clear that it is a relational principle, and in that vein of thought i have to relate to them both differently. when one boy does something that he is not supposed to do, it is enough for me to say ‘stop it.’ for the other, i have to get down on to his level and talk it out with him. we see this in Jesus’s ministry and in his interactions with wealthy individuals specifically. whereas one wealthy person is told to sell everything that he has, another is told that it is enough for him to give half. relational principles. it may sound cliche, but it is true… Christianity is a relational religion. the problems come when we try and say, ‘THIS way and no other! All must conform to it!’

      • It seems like an over-simplification to say that the only thing we need to agree on is that Jesus is savior. Who is Jesus? What do we mean by savior? How does Jesus save us? What is our role, if any, in the salvation? How do we answer these questions? To what extent are we really part of the same family based on our different answers to these questions?

    • I think the Catholic Church’s position is that they do not tolerate open heresy (teaching that disagrees with the church’s theology and presents itself as Catholic teaching). It also does not tolerate illicit acts (such as ordaining women). Every bishop who has done that has been ex-communicated or otherwise disciplines pronto. The alternate Popes are no longer considered Catholic for the same reason. Neither are the sedavacantists.

      But the Church does not kick out people who just disagree with the Church’s teaching .The Church requires the priests and bishops to affirm all Catholic teaching. It asks no such thing of regular pewsitters. The only thing the laity has to affirm is the contents of the creeds. No laymember must affirm Humanae Vitae and while, yes, the Church may believe her members are sinning when they artificially limit their family, it does not kick them out. Same with the pewsitters who believe in women’s ordination, are in gay unions, support gay unions, vote Democratic, have abortions (ok if they confess it they have to be absolved by a bishop)…

  13. It seems like an over-simplification to say that the only thing we need to agree on is that Jesus is savior. Who is Jesus? What do we mean by savior? How does Jesus save us? What is our role, if any, in the salvation? How do we answer these questions? To what extent are we really part of the same family based on our different answers to these questions?

    • in my opinion these questions get worked out between the individual and God; i.e., that is the Holy Spirit’s job. as paul said,

      ‘So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.’;

      and elsewhere,

      ‘Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.’

      paul was able to see clearly enough the bigger picture, being that it is Christ alone, and not necessarily our answers which are important. as long as Christ is espoused God will handle the rest.

      also, no answer to any of the questions you posed changes the reality that Christ is savior. when i was first saved, i thought about God differently than i do now. who changed? God or me? obviously i did.

      as i stated earlier, both of my son’s have different answers to the same questions regarding who i am to them; i.e., they understand me and see me differently from one another, which results in a different articulation of what it means for me to be their Dad. however, that does not change the fact that they are my children, that i am their Father, that my heart is the same toward them both and that i would die for them both. difference is o.k. we all don’t have to understand God in the same way for him to be the Father and savior of us all.

  14. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    The evolution of evangelicalism seems destined to be toward the opposite poles of abandoning the concept of authority completely to the individual (usually the charismatic pastor) or creating an authoritarian hothouse where complete submission is obligatory to avoid exile or worse.

    You know what those two alternatives remind me of?

    Naziism and Communism.

    Naziism in total submission to the Charismatic Pastor in his Nuremburg Rally/service and Communism in total submission not to a Fuehrer but to a faceless abstract System. And both types run on Secret Police Informants.

    • HUG, thanks for your comment; I didn’t understand Michael’s dictonomy at first, but your analogy helped.

      To be honest, though, Michael’s words just don’t match up to the reality I have experienced in the evangelical world. Yes, I see a few big names drawing a following, but this is nothing new, nor do I see it as more prominent than, say, a hundred years ago. I know dozens of Pastors, and NONE of them fit the mold of the charismatic, authoritarian despot regularly decried on this blog.

    • I think Arnarchy versus Naziism might be a better analogy.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        From my observations (I was involved in such groups during my college years), any Anarchy you get is on the Macro level between groups or cliques within a group, with each such group/congregation/fellowship being proudly independent — “Just Jesus and Us.” But within the group or clique, on the micro level, you often get crushing total conformity.

  15. “Evangelicalism would be much better if it would admit that the Reformation and all subsequent divisions divided the one true church of Christ.”

    I find this statment to be extremely problematic. Not only does it ignore the great schism, it suggests the medieval church was more united than any close reading of church history will bear. Also, it seems to identify “oneness” in structural terms alone. Finally, it seems to suggest (at least to me) that we should head back to the Pope, since he was the head of “the one true church”, at least in earthly terms.

    • I think your problems are because you’re reading it to technically. I think that Michael was simply saying that we are one Church (not that the Pope is head). And the Reformation is simply the spit that is most recognized by evangelicals, considering our relative ignorance of church history 😉

  16. I enjoy this website and I have appreciated Mr. Spencer’s book – but I find a bit of the bashing a wee tad hypocritical. You are telling me as an ‘evangelical’ Baptist that I have to become you (catholic, Catholic, Lutheran, high church) to have any real meaning in my worship. All of the “…would be better if…” could equally apply to the more high church settings. There are affluent Anglican churches that do not center on Christ even while using the common book of prayer. Historically the Catholic/catholic church has splintered just as badly as the protestants. There have been sex scandals that have plagued both sides and lest we forget that the selling of indulgences was a rouse used to fund the ‘Crystal Cathedrals’ of the day – that were void of any real Christianity. Let’s be honest – it is in the moving away from the message of the Gospel that will take down a church. It is majoring on the minors that will keep us from enlarging the Kingdom of God. That can effect both sides of the coin. Are you telling me that the creeds and confessions would not be considered ‘Biblical Christianity?’ Just a form that you find more appealing. I see the merit in ritual and I see the merit liturgy and I see the merit in free-form worship. Turning everyone into your form of Christianity is not the answer. Keeping Christ central, preaching Christ crucified/resurrected/repentance, grace, and forgiveness will be the way all faith traditions will do the work of the Gospel. No one has the corner on the true nature of the Church. Perhaps a little more grace and understanding for those of us in the “Evangelical Church’ striving to do God’s will.

    • Being both Catholic for 20 years (baptized on the 8th day of my birth) & a menagerie of Protestant Evangelical expressions for the next 16 years, I am of the opinion that there was both good & not-so-good in their doctrines & worship expressions. In as much as my faith & relationship with God a very personal matter, I must also conclude that I am not an independent member of The Body of Christ. There is much of the liturgical worship expressions both of the RCC & EOC that frankly I cannot sit thru comfortably. Yet there are elements of reverence & awe & what I would call a ‘weightier sacramental experience’ in them that is missing in the Evangelical churches I have attended. One big issue I have is the central worship expression of Christianity: communion. No matter how it has been translated into a worship expression it seems to be missing that ‘common union’ dynamic that was more than just symbol or ritual or activity for the early believers recorded in New Testament writings. Anyway, I can appreciate aspects of most of my faith journey seeing them as not conflicting but valuable in my spiritual formation. I know in my mind there is no effective way to ‘cherry-pick’ traditions & expressions & credal statements or scripture verses although it has been attempted throughout history in some form or another. I could not come up with any “New-and-Improved” version to become the new gold standard of The Church catholic. It could be such a consideration not as much of priority for God either.

    • Richard, we speak more of what we know than what we don’t know. Michael remained a loyal evangelical (doctrinally) while exercising his prophetic ministry of critiquing the systemic problems besetting the religious system of American evangelicalism. He (and many of us as well) find ourselves in a “lover’s quarrel” with the expression of faith that we know best, and in which we have participated. I don’t find that so hypocritical. Certainly there are problems (in some cases, disastrous problems) in the Catholic, Orthodox, and mainline Protestant expressions as well. No one is saying the grass is greener. What we are saying is that we have abandoned much that is good in those traditions in the stubborn pursuit of our own entrepreneurial way. Neither is anyone saying that everyone should conform to a “one-size fits all” kind of expression. Taking Michael’s recommendations seriously would in no way produce that.

  17. An unspoken assumption behind the question is that there is any such thing as an “ideal’ evangelicalism. (Is there, then, an “ideal” form of Mormonism as well?) The phrasing assumes that evangelicalism, rather than Protestantism or Christianity in general, is the salient identity which must be reclaimed.

  18. A great place to start would be to ensure that churches actually do what they where told to do. Proclaim Christ crucified for sinners and bring this word of forgiveness to sinners in very ordinary means, the word, and the word tied to baptism and communion. Proclaim the gospel, that Christ died for sinners, to the believers and non-believers in the crowd every week.

    Churches assume the gospel and focus all effort on making righteous Christians who follow the law.

    Preach Christ crucified for the sinner every week and let the power flow from this. Gods word promisses us that the gospel message saves and bears fruit. We don’t need to focus on “creating fruit”.

    The mega church in our neck of the woods is preaching “great sex” in a series. Are you kidding me? I don’t need a “program” I need forgiveness. So does everyone who shows up there on Sunday morning.

  19. No strings (at all) attached to Christ and His forgiveness of sins for sinners.

    No decisions for Christ, no tests of seriousness, or fruits of the Spirit (necessary), no levels of sanctification, no anything at all other than the Word and the promises contained therein.

    This leads to freedom.

    The freedom of the Christian…and the freedom of God to be God, to save whom He will.

  20. 1. Get rid of the whole Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh thing. These guys aren’t even Christians.
    2. Issues like creationism vs. evolution, the Rapture, all that, have gotta go. We need to clearly see the political subtexts behind these debates.
    3. Just this moment saw a TV news story about another church spending half-a-million to renovate their sanctuary. What’s the matter with people? Put on a fresh coat of paint, update the electrical work, and that’s enough. Missionaries need this money worse than we do.
    4. Get rid of PowerPoint. It’s poison. People need to engage with what’s going on in a service. They need to find the hymn and sing it. They need to open a Bible and find the verse. They need to be part of the service. PowerPoint lets people disengage — you might as well watch a service at home on TV.
    5. Women must be an equal part of leadership. How any church can deal with matters like spouse abuse or abortion without female leadership is beyond me. When I see a picture of a dozen middle-aged guys in blue suits and I’m told “these are the elders” — I’m running the other way.
    6. We must get rid of the idea that people are saved by anything other than being born again and accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. While it may “theoretically” be true that people can be saved by following “whatever light God gives them,” the fact is that no one actually does that and no one is actually saved that way. It’s only through the conviction that we are sinners that people give their lives to God. We must understand that missions are the most iumportant thing we do,
    7. Get rid of “Christian” television. If we don’t know how to use a medium properly, we have no business using it at all. And we need to run all the Benny Hinns out of public eye with whatever force it takes.

    • Agree with your first and last points completely

    • amazing!! well said. i would only add that the entire christian consumer industrial complex needs to go. seriously!?! so, the answer to the problems facing north american culture is to leave everything the same essentially, but instead of consuming secular magazines we would be better off consuming christian ones!? instead of consuming secular this or that, everything will be better if it is christian stuff that we are consuming?

    • My son is visibly much more engaged when powerpoint is part of the service. He, like me, are visual learners. I agree with the Bible point though.

      • How do you as a visual learner feel about books versus powerpoint? I mean hymnals, Bible, etc.

        • Both have their strengths and weaknesses. When we sing hymns we tell people where to find it in their hymn books, and we display it on screen. When we read scripture we tell people where it is found, and we display it on screen.

    • 1. Get rid of the whole Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh thing. These guys aren’t even Christians.

      Amen! What is this odd fascination with these media darlings? The Americanization of Christianity & elevating our nation to a neo-theocracy not innocuous. It is really disturbing…

      2. Issues like creationism vs. evolution, the Rapture, all that, have gotta go. We need to clearly see the political subtexts behind these debates.

      Amen! The elevation of ‘disputable matters’ to the new theological mountain to die upon quite remarkable. And using such things as litmus test markers identifying who is in vs. who is out of the true believer club a heinous abuse against the Body of Christ. Lord have mercy… 🙁

  21. Hi I Monk,

    “4) Evangelicalism would be better off if it rid itself of every form of prosperity Gospel and pursued spiritual fomation and an imitation of Jesus that was consistent with what Jesus and the New Testament teach about money”.

    The prosperity gospel has seeped into many Pentecostal and Charismatic churches over the last 30 years through a synthesis of New Thought metaphysics and Pentecostal theology. But it contradicts the story of Jesus. Jesus never became rich in worldly goods and his whole lifestyle contradicts the opulent lifestyles of many televangelists who propogate the false “word faith ” theology.

    2 Cor.8:8-9 is ripped out of its context to justify prosperity theology. If the” riches” referred to here is worldly wealth, then why are the Macedonian Christians (who were extremely poor) recommended for their astounding generosity? There is no evidence that their generosity made them financially wealthy.

    I would not want to see the Charismatic movement take too much hold unless the pastors are more thoroughly educated in Refomation (including biblical Anabaptism) and post Reformation evangelical theology and that they take the time to teach their congregations. Then, I think that this latter form of Charismatic renewal could revitalise congregations.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

  22. donald todd says

    I read the article and then the responses.

    I was taken back to a statement made by Luther: Any man inhabited by the Spirit of God is capable of apprehending and expounding the Scripture. A lot of people accepted Luther’s dictum and produced a lot of interpretations at odds with Luther.

    Was Luther right?

    I live in a small city. There are 61 unique denominations listed in the Yellow Pages of my city’s phone book, with one or more congregations each. For instance there are four Lutheran, three Methodist and four Presbyterian Churches listed. It would appear that Luther, in spite of his relative nearness in time, has spawned a number of divisions over how he should be understood.

    The same might be said for the founders of Methodism, and for Calvin with the Presbyterians (and with the Reformed, none of whom appear in my small city’s Yellow Pages).

    If we cannot trust our understanding of Luther, Calvin and of the founders of Methodism, what might that indicate for our understanding of scripture?

    That took me back to a recent endeavor, who can claim to be Protestant? We looked for a common belief in Protestantism as a means to determine who might truly be Protestant. Trinitarianism is not such a touchstone. The Unitarians and the Oneness people claim to be Protestant.

    Is Pentecostalism or anti-Pentecostalism a common belief? Nope. There are churches which claim sacraments, such as the Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Reformed, but there are others who eschew the term “sacrament” and who claim injunctions (another word which appears to lack scriptural citation).

    We managed to determine the single point on which all of these groups claim to be Protestant: sola scriptura. The vast divisions within Protestantism, the chasms between beliefs, are bridged by that single principle. The Oneness people point to the gospel where Jesus states that “the Father and I are one.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses are all sincere Bible students.

    God is limited by the scope of the individual person under this particular mode of thought. Trinitarian? Oneness? Unitarian? Pentecostal? Anti-Pentecostal (after all “the gifts will come to an end”). A warrant for sacraments? A warrant against sacraments? Once saved always saved? Me and Jesus? An invisible Church holding to no unifying set of dogmas except sola scriptura?

    If the scripture notes that the “gates of hell won’t prevail” against the Church, can they be ignored because they do not comport with what I believe?

    If Jesus guarantees that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church to all truth, does that guarantee my position? My mind? My interpretation? My bias? Does it guarantee that whatever I deem acceptable is the right thing?

    If Jesus is the Head of the Body which is the Church, what does that mean? Who sets the beliefs?

    Where did the bible come from? How do we justify the 66-book bible from the 73-book bible?

    What kind of a witness is 40,000 unique Protestant denominations to anyone who is graced to start that journey to the Son of God? What kind of witness are we offering to that person who is seeking the truth with our competing and antithetical beliefs?

    Any man inhabited by the Spirit of God is not capable of apprehending and expounding scripture. As Peter noted about Paul, some things are very difficult to understand. That is why the Holy Spirit is sent to the Church for those purposes for which the Church exists. Those are purposes outside of the calling of many of us.

    A lot of the people who wrote might best understand the difference between a private and a general. So far as I can tell, a lot of privates are imitating generals. I am merely a private but I have the privilege of understanding what I really am. That is a gift of the Holy Spirit to me.

    Merry Christmas

    dt

  23. Clay said: “I agree with Michael that evangelicals would be better off if they admitted and addressed the authority problem. But if that means that all evangelicals should work towards coalescing under one authority, it begs the question of which authority?”

    I don’t think Michael meant that everyone should agree on one “authority.” I think he meant that evangelicals should acknowledge openly that authority problems exist, define what they are and where they come from, and — wherever possible — put in place some checks and balances to prevent or at least ameliorate them.

    For instance: it would be better if individuals acknowledged that their own personal interpretation of scripture needs to be checked against that of others in the community and in the history of the church: if no one else agrees with you, you could be right, or it could be a warning flag, but either way the disagreement needs to be carefully and prayerfully considered.

    It’s better if a council of elders is genuinely representative of the diversity of opinion in the congregation and not dominated by one family or faction (and to address this, it has first to be admitted that factions exist).

    It’s better if the pastor of a small independent congregation has a thorough knowledge of church history and thought, and it’s better if each pastor has a group of colleagues (again, colleagues who don’t all have the exact same opinions) to whom they are accountable (by which I mean that they consult seriously with each other, not that there is some group whose decisions are binding).

    In order to solve authority problems, people have first to be willing to admit they exist — and the “success” mentality of modern culture makes it very hard for people to openly admit there are problems like these.