My wife and I spent hours during our recent vacation in England looking at church buildings. We visited my sister- and brother-in-law in Lincolnshire and viewed everything from old stone village churches to cathedrals. Two churches stood out. Let me explain why.
We celebrated the Compline Service Sunday evening in a village church a few miles north of Lincoln. The church tower dates back to Anglo-Saxon days. Church attendance is so low that Sunday morning services are held here only once a month or so. Only a handful come to services. The ancient stone building is cold and damp and empty. How very sad.
The other church that struck me was Holy Trinity Church in Coventry. It dates from the 12th century with a huge spire that climbs to the sky. Upon entering I could sense the presence of the Holy Spirit. This was a church with a living, vibrant, evangelical congregation, more than just an ancient building. In one corner was a bulletin board was a group picture of their smiling faces. Ah! This is why I could sense the Spirit in this place. The Church meets here.
I think of the dead church and the living one. Christ’s Church is so much more than a building! The essence of the Church is the faithful souls who make up the community of believers in a place.
Who love each other.
Who reach out to their neighbors with Good News.
Who make love sacrifices for the Lord of which no one knows.
Who serve Christ with the spiritual gifts they have been given.
Who are faithful to Christ in their community.
The church is not the building. It’s Christ’s people. Christ’s precious people.
In the past few years we’ve seen marriage eroded on several fronts. Gay marriage advocates would have us believe that marriage is about economic and legal fairness and a stable relationship between adults. The young are increasingly abandoning marriage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May 2009 that births to unmarried women have reached an astonishing 39.7%.
This week I read two excellent, hard-hitting articles on marriage, one after another. I recommend that you read them in full. Here are brief highlights:
Caitlin Flanagan, “Why Marriage Matters,”Time, July 13, 2009, pp. 45-49. “On every single significant outcome related to short-term well-being and long-term success, children from intact, two-parent families outperform those from single-parent households. Longevity, drug abuse, school performance and dropout rates, teen pregnancy, criminal behavior and incarceration … in all cases, the kids living with both parents drastically outperform the others.”
“Is [marriage] simply an institution that has the capacity to increase the pleasure of the adults who enter into it? … Or is marriage an institution that still hews to its old intention and function – to raise the next generation, to protect and teach it, to instill in it the habits of conduct and character that will ensure the generation’s own safe passage into adulthood?”
Mark Galli, “Is the Gay Marriage Debate Over,”Christianity Today, July 2009, pp. 30-33.
Quoting David Blankenhorn: “Among us humans … marriage is not primarily a license to have sex. Nor is it primarily a license to receive benefits or social recognition. It is primarily a license to have children…. Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. Marriage says to society as a whole: For every child born, there is a recognized mother and a father, accountable to the child and to each other.”
Quoting Margaret Somerville: “Reproduction is the fundamental occurrence on which, ultimately, the future of human life depends. That is the primary reason why marriage is important to society.”
Marriage isn’t about us adults. It’s about our kids. Sobering thoughts.
I spent several happy hours perusing A Visual History of the English Bible. The author, dean of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, is an addicted rare books collector, so his love of the story of the English Bible comes from caressing the books in his own collection. I especially enjoyed reading the sidebars highlighting his collecting exploits.
The book begins with John Wycliffe (ca. 1325-1384) and his desire to translate the Bible into English – at this point only available in Latin to the clergy. Wycliffe was vehemently opposed by the Church. To put the Bible in the hands of the common man would be to reduce the power and monopoly the Church had on dispensing truth as it pleased them. As we see in our own day in places such as China, the presence of truth available to all is a serious threat to tyrants.
Wycliffe was finally burned at the stake in 1384 as was William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536), who translated the Bible into English a century and a half later – when the printing press made wide distribution possible. When Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1535, the rise of the Puritans changed the religious climate and made way for reformation. By 1537 Henry VIII had granted approval for two “authorized” Bibles, Matthew’s Bible and the Coverdale Bible.
One interesting section is Brake’s account of the translation, printing, and various versions of the King James Version (1611). I learned that the King James Version was revised twice – in 1638 and 1762. He outlines some famous editions of the Bible, named after their mistranslations:
“Wife-beater’s Bible” (1549) A note on 1 Peter 3:2 says, “And yf she be not obedient and helpful unto hym, endeavoreth to beate the feare of God into her heade.”
“Judas Bible” (1611) includes a misprint where “Judas” is substituted for “Jesus” in Matthew 26:36.
“Unrighteous Bible” (1653) renders 1 Corinthians 6:9 as: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God?”
The book has weaknesses, however. Brake’s accounts of the history of the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries seemed weak and sometimes repetitious. His treatment of translations since the Revised Version of 1887 is merely cursory. His comparison and evaluation of modern versions is flawed, relying too much on others’ opinions and not enough on his own research. He tags the NIV as “sometimes inaccurate,” while the RSV is “considered liberal, often wooden,” and the NRSV is accused of “liberal bias.” In my own study of the original languages, I’ve found every translation inaccurate or biased here and there. But overall the NIV, RSV, and NRSV are excellent, trustworthy, faithful translations.
The book is abundantly illustrated with photographs of various editions of the Bible, which adds greatly to the book’s appeal. If you want to learn the fascinating and courageous story of how the Bible was translated into English, this book is an excellent and entertaining source. Recommended.
If you’ve spent much time in a medium size to larger church, then simplicity begins to sound very good. But simplicity is neither easy nor cost-free according to the authors of Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples (Broadman & Holman, 2006, ISBN 0805443908, hardback, 257 pages), by Thom S. Rainer and
Thom Rainer, Ph.D., is a church consultant as well as president and CEO of the LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptists. Geiger is a young researcher. In a study of over 400 churches from a variety of evangelical denominations in 37 states, the authors determined that the healthiest churches in America tend to have a simple process for making disciples.
It’s easy to misunderstand this book and think that it’s about simplifying church life. That’s not the point. It’s about defining and then implementing a simple, clearly-stated process of making disciples. This isn’t a book about doctrine or style or denomination or church size. It’s a book about clarity concerning the process of making disciples.
Here is the authors’ definition:
"A simple church is a congregation designed around a straight-forward and strategic process that moves people through stages of spiritual growth."
In other words, this is a strategic process tied carefully to the purpose or the vision of the church.
This isn’t a book about developing a purpose statement, however. It is about developing a process statement — describing a sequential process of making disciples that intentionally moves people from one stage of discipleship to another. From the examples in the book, it’s likely that a church’s process will have 3 or 4 steps or stages.
To be most effective, say the authors, the discipleship process have four elements:
Clarity — the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by people. The authors recommend that either a metaphor or visual diagram by used to illustrate the process so that it is clear. The most famous example of such a process diagram and metaphor, of course, is Rick Warren’s baseball diamond with four bases that people move around.
Movement — the sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment. Here is where the authors’ concept varies from a purpose statement (which focuses on the result) or an entry-points diagram (which focuses on doors through which people come into fellowship with a congregation).
Alignment — the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple processes. Instead of each ministry doing its own thing in its own way, the same processes guide each ministry.
Focus — the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process. Here’s the hard part for most churches, getting rid of sacred cows that don’t contribute to the discipleship process. But the result of the pain of discarding the non-essentials is a leaner, simpler, more effective, more vibrant congregation.
This isn’t simplicity for simplicity’s sake. It is simplicity in order to be effective in making disciples. I think that the concepts of Simple Church are exciting and powerful. For those churches that will discipline their life and ministry using these guidelines — embracing all the struggle and change that this will involve — there is a great deal of hope for vitality and health.
I was a student of Dr. Ladd’s from 1973-1976, during his final three years of active teaching at Fuller Theological Seminary before retirement. He profoundly influenced my understanding of the New Testament and challenged me to grow both in faith and in a critical examination of the text. He even paid me the compliment of suggesting that I pursue graduate studies at the University of Heidelberg — a direction I did not pursue.
I found A Place at the Table at once fascinating, insightful, and sad. Ladd’s brilliant mind and quest for Christ-honoring scholarship was crippled by his emotional weaknesses and personal demons.
I came away from the book with a renewed awareness that we ourselves are often not capable of assessing our impact. We’re often discouraged, sometimes in despair. Ladd saw himself as a failure, but God used him and still uses his influence to bring evangelical scholarship to a new level — and touch many lives through the preaching and teaching of those he trained. God’s plans for our lives are often not our own — and God is quite able to use us in spite of ourselves.
I recently watched “Bella” (2006), an independent film that I found well-acted, moving, and with a strong pro-life theme.
Nina, an unmarried waitress, is fired from her job shortly after finding out that she is pregnant. The chef, whose brother owns the restaurant, takes the day off to be with her. It isn’t a story of romance so much as a story about love and caring for another human being.
This isn’t your typical “Christian” film, with all the predictable syurpy dialog that I associate with some I’ve seen. In “Bella” you’re seeing the grit and pain of real life. However, the filmmakers are committed Catholic Christians. The production company is named Metanoia Films. (Metanoia means “repentance” in Greek.) And the message of love, healing, and redemption comes through loud and clear — though unexpectedly.
The movie stars Tammy Blanchard and Eduardo Verástegui, actors I had never heard of, who did a very convincing job with their parts. Verástegui is also part owner of Metanoia Films.
“Hollywood belongs to God,” said Verástegui in an interview.” And we need to take it back. And that’s what I’m trying to do, by example first, trying my best every day to be involved in projects that will inspire people to use their talents to do something positive for the world.”
I recommend “Bella” to you as a DVD worth renting and watching. It is rated PG.
I had the privilege of hearing Sara Groves during the Doing Church Conference, May 8-9, in Pleasant Hill, CA. She doesn’t write praise-chorus music. Her songs are honest — sometimes painfully honest — reflections on how God has been working her life. She has a tremendous gift of combining emotion with depth of insight and weaving them into words and song in a God-glorifying way. I strongly recommend that you get some of her CDs and reflect on the words!
One song that struck me on her “Add to the Beauty” album is “Kingdom Comes.” The chorus has been going over and over in my mind since I first heard it:
That’s a little stone, that’s a little mortar
That’s a little seed, that’s a little water
In the hearts of the sons and the daughters
The kingdom’s coming
I think of Jesus’ words:
“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)
The Kingdom grows usually in small increments, so small that most people discount them — we discount them. But God is at work growing, building in our lives. And before we know it something beautiful is built. Ours is not to do great things for God, but day by day to seek God and let him build what he is building. He is the incremental Builder and we must trust him.
I was touched last week when a new song was introduced at our church — “God of this City” popularized by Chris Tomlin. Sometimes we give up on our cities, but this is a song with so much hope.
You’re the God of this City
You’re the King of these people
You’re the Lord of this nation You are
You’re the Light in this darkness
You’re the Hope to the hopeless
You’re the Peace to the restless You are
There is no one like our God
There is no one like our God
For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to
be done in this City….
Copyright 2006, worshiptogether.com songs, authors: Andrew McCann, Boyd Aaron, Ian Jordan, Peter comfort, Peter Kernaghan, and Richard Bleakley)
St. Paul had a history of causing riots in cities and being kicked out, sometimes stoned. But in Corinth, when he was probably afraid of history repeating itself, we read:
“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’ So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.” (Acts 18:9-11)
On May 8-9 I attended the Doing Church conference in Pleasant Hill, California. One of the speakers, Michael Frost, Professor of Evangelism and Missions at Morling College, Sydney, Australia, was particularly stimulating.
He spoke about the missional church. He mentions that all churches have four main functions: worship, fellowship, discipleship, and mission. For most of its history, the Christian church has been organized around the worship function. Worship has been the central organizing idea from which the other functions radiate. What if, he says, the organizing function of the church is mission, rather than worship? What would the church look like then? Radically different and much more motivated.
On April 19 I spoke at Sierra Christian Church in Loomis on the subject, “Getting Unstuck from Pride.” The message traces four incidents of pride in the disciples during Holy Week and how Jesus responded in each case. God’s desire is to get us un-stuck from our pride hang-ups so we can keep growing as disciples.
You can listen to the sermon online.
I’ll also be interviewed on the John and Kathy radio show on Pittsburgh WORD-FM on this topic on Thursday, April 23, at 4:15 pm Eastern time. If you’re in the area, listen in.