Saturday, 23 January 2010

Evangelical US megachurches like Saddleback are market-driven, with transcendence not on the menu

By Harriet Baber of the Guardian Newspaper,England.

'O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us'. Robbie Burns

This is a critique of one of the 'show pieces' of American evangelical Christianity and one which many evangelical churches would aspire to be like. Also with it being 'Burn's night' it is perhaps apt to listen to the views of someone who holds a different perspective. Harriet does not mince her words here and I think many of them are well spoken. Certainly the business/ money aspects of many churches seems a far cry from the time when Jesus had nowhere to lay his head or when St Paul had to go through times of hunger through lack of finances!Tozer was also not behind the door when he wrote the following words about an old preacher called Meister Eckhart: 'Eckhart once preached a sermon on Christ cleansing the temple. He said, “Now there was nothing wrong with those men selling and buying there. There was nothing wrong with exchanging money there; it had to be. The sin lay in their doing it for profit. They got a percentage on serving the Lord.” And then he made the application: “Anybody that serves for a commission, for what little bit of glory he can get out of it, he is a merchant and he ought to be cast out of the temple.” Hard words indeed from Tozer that can and should cut us to the heart!

In a similar vein it has been said that if we want an example of how to be a good business manager we could well look to Western church leaders/Pastors, but if we want to meet a holy man or a really spiritual person we must look to the East but not to Christianity!If this is true should we not say: 'shame on us'!

Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Last Sunday we drove up to Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Orange County, a collection of affluent, politically conservative suburbs south of LA. The model of a modern megachurch, Saddleback boasts over 112,000 "unchurched occasional attenders" as well as 22,800 active members – many initiated in the temperature-controlled baptismal pools on its 120-acre campus.

Megachurches are market-driven. They study demographic data and plan marketing schemes tailored to their local target audiences. The oft-cited example of a target profile, developed by Warren, is Saddleback Sam: "A well-educated young urban professional … [he] is interested in health and fitness … but is overextended in time and money, and is stressed out. He carries a lot of debt, especially due to the price of his home. He is married to Samantha, and they have two kids, Steve and Sally."

Judging from Saddleback's promotional literature, Sam and Samantha have an insatiable appetite for therapy and self-improvement. Saddleback offers a generic "Celebrate Recovery" programme and customised support groups for "ADD Adults," "Diabetics in God", "Families with Incarcerated Loved Ones" and victims of other ills.

We entered the Worship Centre, an immense auditorium shell, where Warren was preaching from a stage at the front, where an altar might have been. Saddleback assiduously avoided traditionally churchy architecture, costume and decor. Its campus was relentlessly quotidian, designed to suggest the shopping malls and office parks where members spent their time during the week.

Warren described Saddleback's programme for "spiritual growth", with numbered headings. Spiritual growth, he explained, was (1) a lifelong process, (2) measured by obedience, (3) based on God's word and (4) would set me free. Free from what? From habits, hurts and hang-ups, from painful memories, worry, bitterness and guilt. How would I achieve that? According to Warren, Jesus had the plan. At Saddleback, he assured us, we would learn to follow his plan "systematically, sequentially and in a process" through the classes Saddleback offered.

This is the future of middle-class US Christianity, according to the latest American Religious Identification Survey (Aris). If the trend identified in the Aris study continues, we will see a country divided between conservative evangelical Christians and secular liberals – the latter hostile to religious belief, identified with evangelical Christianity. This is bad news because popular evangelical Christianity is religiously vacuous. It is directed to secular ends which, arguably, should be promoted by secular means. Saddleback is religion for people who don't like religion: transcendence is not on the menu.

Although almost half of Americans say they have had a religious experience, mysticism is likely a recondite taste. For the minority who have that taste – who seek God as an object of contemplation – Saddleback has nothing. Evangelical and mainline churches promote activism and are contemptuous of navel-gazing.

As a navel-gazer, I was depressed by Saddleback. It seemed the butt end of Christianity: stripped of history and icon?ography, wholly immersed in its secular surroundings, constructed according to a business model and promoted by motivational speakers – bland, cheerful, dull.

We drove away, past immaculate housing estates and strip malls iterating chain restaurants and shops, replicated in every suburb from coast to coast. I wondered why anyone would want to live in that charmless place, much less to get more of the same at church.

The Prodigal Daughter

This is a great short story by Philip Yancey: like Jesus' 'prodigal son' it not only speaks of those who have physically left home and wasted their lives, but in a sense it is what we have ALL done spiritually.As in the parable of Jesus the ending portrays God's great love for the returning child.AK

“A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to over-react to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside. ‘I hate you!’ she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times. She runs away.

She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play. Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid detail the gangs, the drugs, and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her. California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.

Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun.

The good life continues for a month, two months, a year. The man with the big car –she calls him ‘Boss’– teaches her a few things that men like. Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there.

She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on the back of a milk carton with the headline “Have you seen this child?” But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup and body-piercing jewelry she wears, nobody would mistake her for a child. Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Detroit.

After a year the first sallow signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean. “These days, we can’t mess around,” he growls, and before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit. When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores. “Sleeping” is the wrong word – a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard. Dark bands circle her eyes. Her cough worsens.

One night as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. She begins to whimper. Her pockets are empty and she’s hungry. She needs a fix. She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she’s piled atop her coat. Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind: of May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees bloom at once, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy trees in chase of a tennis ball.

God, why did I leave, she says to herself, and pain stabs at her heart. My dog back home eats better than I do now. She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.

Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Dad, Mom, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.”

It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan. What if her parents are out of town and miss the message? Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.

Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. “Dad, I’m sorry. I know I was wrong. It’s not your fault; it’s all mine. Dad, can you forgive me?” She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them. She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years.

The bus has been driving with lights on since Bay City. Tiny snowflakes hit the pavement rubbed worn by thousands of tires, and the asphalt steams. She’s forgotten how dark it gets at night out here. A deer darts across the road and the bus swerves. Every so often, a billboard. A sign posting the mileage to Traverse City Oh, God.

When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, “Fifteen minutes, folks. That’s all we have here.” Fifteen minutes to decide her life. She checks herself in a compact mirror, smooths her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice. If they’re there.

She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect. Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepares her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot. They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads “Welcome home!”

Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad. She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know…”

He interrupts her. ‘Hush child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies. You’ll be late for the party. A banquet’s waiting for you at home.’”

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

'THE ROAD' as a tool for Outreach?

The other night I took my wife to the pictures and, against my wife's preference, she wanted something lighter, we decided to see 'the Road' a much hyped film based on the book by Cormac McCarthy. Light it was not and left me regretting I hadn't gone with her choice!Though reflecting on the film later, despite the cannibalism etc, there were aspects to it which were quite inspiring. My son saw it the next night and said it reminded him of 'a father and son' weekend I'd taken him on in the Mourne mountains when he was about five. Certainly I remember the weather - it was very,very wet!Men will enjoy this film more than woman as it focuses on the relationship between a man and his son in the context of an end of the world scenario! My favourite theme in the film was that of the father teaching the son to keep on carrying 'the fire', or as they say in Northern Ireland: 'to keep her lit'.Can this film be used as a tool for outreach? The following article written by Lillian Kwon a reporter for the Christian Post believes it can. AK

WASHINGTON – The production company behind "The Road" is reaching out to the faith-based community, asking them to consider the much-anticipated film as something that could possibly be of value for ministry.

Viggo Mortensen plays The Man in "The Road," a film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. "The Road" is rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language.

Though the rating alone may be reason enough for some Christians to skip the film, some are giving it a chance and even calling it a more powerful tool than Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" because of its wider appeal.

"We need to look at it as a cultural key to build bridges and start spiritual conversations ... about the truth," Phil Hotsenpiller, teaching pastor at Friends Church in Yorba Linda, Calif., told The Christian Post. "People will see it. You'll miss the opportunity to have a spiritual conversation ... and give a biblical interpretation."

The movie, which opens in theaters nationwide Nov. 25, follows a father and his young son in a post-apocalyptic world. As they move south toward the coast to escape the cold, endless winter, they eat what little scraps they find, find shelter in abandoned cars and the woods, and encounter cannibals as well as other refugees. The journey is a struggle to survive in a world that is dying.

"It's more than your average zombie flick," screenwriter Joe Penhall said at a recent media roundtable in Los Angeles.

One of the major themes drawn out in the film is humanity/inhumanity, Penhall noted.

"What's in every single scene of that film is coping with the disappearance [of] humanity," he said. Religiousness, spirituality, music, and love all constitute humanity and the film depicts the horror of its gradual disappearance.

"How do we continue to generate humanity when humanity as a concept is fading into history?" Penhall posed.

While struggling to survive and protect his son, the father (played by Viggo Mortensen) finds himself losing his own humanity. But director John Hillcoat believes the boy saves his father because he gives humanity back to the man through his innate goodness.

At the heart of the film is the love story between the father and son. Even in the midst of their overwhelming struggles in a world where nothing is left, it's their love that keeps them going. But with that love, the father has a constant fear of being unable to protect his son and even worse leaving his son in a world where he can't protect himself.

Though such familial love is admirable, Dr. Reg Grant, professor of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary, hopes Christians will use that story to "redirect those who fear that the best we have to hope for is the strength of human love."

"'The Road' provides Christian an opportunity to offer a better way to those seeking real hope," he said.

"The Road" is not a religious film, let alone a Christian one. But the deep questions raised and the spiritual themes embedded present "a unique entry point for those in the faith community to share the hope of the Gospel in a hopeless world," said A. Larry Ross, president of A. Larry Ross Communications, the Christian media company that was asked to take the film to the faith-based community.

While Christians typically work with films that either "edify" believers or can be used for general outreach, "The Road" presents a different opportunity, said Ross. C

Given that the movie is expected to be a significant media and cultural event and a huge success (there's already some Oscar buzz), Ross believes Christians should take advantage of that opportunity.

"The impact [of this film] will not be in the theater but over coffee when discussions happen," he said.

He also noted that although "The Road" is not didactic in style nor forthright with the Gospel message, like many Christian films are, the director and others who worked on the film have said it would not be presumptuous for faith audiences to view the film through a biblical filter.

Hotsenpiller of Yorba Linda believes that all things, including this film, can be used as vehicles for Gospel distribution and reception. He has developed a discussion guide and sermon series for the movie around such topics as life and death, good and evil, love, and the environment, and has been traveling to cities throughout the country hosting screenings for pastors and other faith-based leaders.

But other pastors have not been as quick to take up the film as an outreach tool. Christof Weber, pastor of Rockland Community Church, in Front Royal, Va., sees the film as powerful and moving, but does not plan to show it at his church.

Instead, he believes the movie is "fertile ground for having deep, soul-searching conversations."

"Films are the lingua franca of younger generations," Weber said. "If you want to dialogue with people under 40 about spiritual issues, it is almost impossible to do so without discussing the movies they watch."

"That said, I don't like the idea of trying to use any film as an 'outreach tool,'" he continued. "I'm not interested in trying to find just the right bait to get people interested in the Gospel. What not-yet-believers need are far more Christians who are willing to really listen and who are interested in genuine relationships and conversations that don't hinge on whether they 'make a decision for Christ.' I don't feel a need to be a 'closer' when it comes to evangelism, but I do want to be able to engage people in meaningful conversation. And to do that requires that I watch movies, like 'The Road,' that explore truth and meaning from new, and even disturbing, angles."

Brian Wilbur, pastor at BridgeWay 242 in Arlington, Va., is more open to using the film as an outreach tool. He said it presents an opportunity to bring Christian answers to all the questions the movie raises.

So while “The Road” may not be a film like "Passion of the Christ" or "Fireproof" that churches would buy out theaters for, a number of Christian leaders and those involved in the movie believe “The Road" will force people to look at what really matters in life, make them think twice before wasting another bottle of water, and challenge them to search for hope not in the world but in God.

The hope presented in the film "is horizontal, and there's a limit to that," acknowledged Ross.

"[But] we can talk about the vertical hope," he added.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

When I Became a Christian:

When I became a Christian I said, Lord, now fill me in,
Tell me what I’ll suffer in this world of shame and sin.
He said, your body may be killed, and left to rot and stink,
Do you still want to follow me? I said Amen - I think.
I think Amen, Amen I think, I think I say Amen,
I’m not completely sure, can you just run through that again?
You say my body may be killed and left to rot and stink,
Well, yes, that sounds terrific, Lord, I say Amen - I think.

But, Lord, there must be other ways to follow you, I said,
I really would prefer to end up dying in my bed.
Well, yes, he said, you could put up with the sneers and scorn and spit,
Do you still want to follow me? I said Amen - a bit.
A bit Amen, Amen a bit, a bit I say Amen,
I’m not entirely sure, can we just run through that again?
You say I could put up with sneers and also scorn and spit,
Well, yes, I’ve made my mind up, and I say, Amen - a bit.

Well I sat back and thought a while, then tried a different ploy,
Now, Lord, I said, the Good book says that Christians live in joy.
That’s true he said, you need the joy to bear the pain and sorrow,
So do you want to follow me, I said, Amen - tomorrow.
Tomorrow, Lord, I’ll say it then, that’s when I’ll say Amen,
I need to get it clear, can I just run through that again?
You say that I will need the joy, to bear the pain and sorrow,
Well, yes, I think I’ve got it straight, I’ll say Amen - tomorrow.

He said, Look, I’m not asking you to spend an hour with me
A quick salvation sandwich and a cup of sanctity,
The cost is you, not half of you, but every single bit,
Now tell me, will you follow me? I said Amen - I quit.
I’m very sorry Lord I said, I’d like to follow you,
But I don’t think religion is a manly thing to do.
He said forget religion then, and think about my Son,
And tell me if you’re man enough to do what he has done.

Are you man enough to see the need, and man enough to go,
Man enough to care for those whom no one wants to know,
Man enough to say the thing that people hate to hear,
To battle through Gethsemane in loneliness and fear.
And listen! Are you man enough to stand it at the end,
The moment of betrayal by the kisses of a friend,
Are you man enough to hold your tongue, and man enough to cry?
When nails break your body-are you man enough to die?
Man enough to take the pain, and wear it like a crown,
Man enough to love the world and turn it upside down,
Are you man enough to follow me, I ask you once again?
I said, Oh Lord, I’m frightened, but I also said Amen.
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen; Amen, Amen, Amen,
I said, Oh Lord, I’m frightened, but I also said, Amen.

Adrian Plass

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Are their False Teachers in your (the) Church?

This post is taken from John Stott's commentary on 1 Timothy instructing us on important truths that Christians should be aware of regarding false teachers.It also has relevance for both our own local church as well as the Church of Christ in general. At the present time can you see or have you seen false teaching or false teachers 'creeping'into the Church: either through a)trying to turn people from the truth of Scripture, b)bringing division in the church or c) being greedy for financial gain?
A charge about false teachers (6:3-5).
The apostle evaluates the false teachers in relation to questions of truth, unity and motivation. His criticism of them is that they deviate from the faith, split the church, and love money. They are heterodox, divisive and covetous.

a). The false teachers are deviating from the faith.
Once again Paul implies that there is a standard of Christian belief which in this chapter he calls the ‘teaching’ (1, 3b), ‘sound instruction’ (3), ‘the truth’ (5), ‘the faith’ (10, 12, 21), the ‘command’ (14) and ‘what has been entrusted’ (20), From this norm the false teachers have turned aside. Paul individualizes them for emphasis: *If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to (‘does not loyally adhere to’)....sound instruction...* The first of these verbs is *heterodidaskaleo* (as in 1:3), in which *heteros* means ‘other’, ‘different’ or ‘some doctrinal novelty’ (JBP). It is false because it deviates from apostolic teaching, which is *sound (healthy) instruction*. Paul characterizes his healthy teaching in two ways.
First. it consists of sound words (literally) *of our Lord Jesus Christ*. Some think that this genitive is objective, meaning that the teaching is about Christ. But Paul’s instruction did not focus exclusively on Christ. Others take the genitive as subjective and suppose that Paul is referring to words spoken by Christ, perhaps to an already published gospel or a collection of the sayings of Jesus. But Paul seldom quoted Jesus’ words, 5:18 and Acts 20:35 being exceptional.
The third and most probable explanation is that Paul regarded his own words as the words of Christ. ‘He who listens to you listens to me,’ Jesus had said when he sent out the seventy (Lk.10:16), and Luke implied that the ascended Christ would continue to act and speak through the apostles (Acts 1:1). This was certainly Paul’s conviction. He could command and exhort in the name or with the authority of Christ (E.g. 2 Thess.3:6, 12). He claimed that Christ was speaking through him (2 Cor.13:3), and he even commended the Galatians for having welcomed him as if he were Jesus Christ (Gal.4:14). As Chrysostom put it, ‘Thus says Paul, or rather Christ by Paul’.
The second characteristic of ‘sound instruction’ is that it is *godly teaching* (3b), literally, ‘the teaching which accords with godliness’. A similar expression occurs in Titus 1:1, which the NIV translates ‘the truth that leads to godliness’. Here then are two essential marks of sound teaching. It comes from Christ and it promotes godliness. Anybody who disagrees with it, therefore, *is conceited and understands nothing* (4a). Or, putting the two phrases together, he is ‘a conceited idiot’ (JBP) or ‘a pompous ignoramus’ (REB). This is strong language. But then the false teacher is guilty of a serious offence. For to disagree with Paul is to disagree with Christ. Indeed, in the end there are only two possible responses to the Word of God. One is to humble ourselves and tremble at it; the other is to harden our hearts, stiffen our necks and reject it.

1 Timothy. 6:3-5. b). The false teachers are dividing the church.

In addition to being arrogant and ignorant, the false teacher is divisive. *He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words* (4a), or ‘a morbid enthusiasm for mere speculations and quibbles’ (REB). It is noteworthy that Paul portrays him as ‘sick’, whereas he has called apostolic teaching ‘sound’ or ‘healthy’. The false teachers’ relish for profitless argument is positively pathological.
Petty quibbles and quarrels of this kind lead to a complete breakdown in human relationships. Five results are listed: *envy* (the resentment of other people’s gifts), *strife* (the spirit of competition and contention), *malicious talk* (abuse of ‘rival teachers’), *evil suspicions* (forgetting that fellowship is built on trust, not suspicion), *and constant friction* (The fruit of irritability). These evils characterize *men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth...* (5a). When people’s minds are twisted, all relationships become twisted too.

c). The false teachers are lovers of money.
Another symptom of the false teachers’ depraved mind and loss of truth is that they *think that godliness is a means to financial gain* (5b). They have no interest in godliness itself, but only if it proves to be financially profitable.
Precisely how the false teachers whom Timothy had to combat were exploiting godliness for gain is not divulged. But we do know that Ephesus enjoyed great opulence, inflated by the trade which the cult of Diana brought to the city. On Paul’s second visit there it was a silversmith and his craftsmen who were his main opponents. Their sale of silver shrines of Diana had brought them ‘no little business’, but now their income was dwindling under Paul’s polemic against idolatry (Acts 19:23ff.). So it is not surprising that in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul needed to warn them against greed (Eph.5:3).
The history of the human race has regularly been stained by attempts to commercialize religion. It was when Simon Magus thought he could buy spiritual powers from the apostles that the term ‘simony’ was coined, to denote the purchase and sale of spiritual privilege or ecclesiastical office. Paul himself found it necessary to declare that, unlike many, he did not peddle the Word of God for profit (2 Cor.2:17), that he had never coveted anybody’s silver, gold or clothing (Acts 20:33), and that he had never used religion as a clock for greed (1 Thess.2:5).
Yet the church was discredited during the Middle Ages on account of the disgraceful sale of indulgences; religious cults still charge exorbitant fees for personal tuition in their particular tenets; some evangelists appeal for ‘love offerings’ which are never publicly audited; and some television preachers promise their viewers personal prosperity on condition that they send in enough ‘seed money’.
Looking back over verses 3-5 we note that Paul has given us three practical tests by which to evaluate all teaching. We might put them in the form of questions. Is it compatible with he apostolic faith, that is, the New Testament? Does it tend to unite or divide the church? And does it promote godliness with contentment, or covetousness?