Thinking Out Loud

January 31, 2012

60 New York City Churches Face Closure in Two Weeks

The countdown is down to final days, so churches grouped together to appeal to the Mayor of New York City to stop the eviction of 60 churches from public schools.  CBN News has the details (use the link to watch the video). Imagine this scene multiplied in cities across the U.S. and Canada…

More than 60 church congregations hold services inside a New York City public school each Sunday. Many, however, may soon find themselves without a place to worship.

The city’s Department of Education is set to evict the estimated 17,000 people in just two weeks because of a policy banning worship services in public schools.

New York City churches are uniting to urge their lawmakers to reverse the ban.

More than a thousand churchgoers rallied against the measure Sunday, marching from the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan and on to City Hall…

…One of the demonstrators, Pastor Sal Sabino of Heavenly Vision Christian Center, urged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to step up to the plate and defend the city’s Christian population.

“Mayor, you know that we have over 60 congregations that will be homeless as of February 12, 2012,” Sabino said. “We know you know. You are our mayor, and we love you. But you have the power to stop this.”

…The state legislature could take up a measure this week, reversing the policy that now bans worship services in public schools.

One Less Elephant in the Room

Just desserts in my opinion.

A certain discernment ministry dude who has a certain discernment radio ministry thing apparently paid his $99 registration fee to attend The Elephant Room at the mother ship in Rolling Meadows, IL only to arrive and find out his registration had been revoked.

He blogs the experience, but I really, really don’t want to include the link to this guy — first time I’ve ever done this — so I’m copying and pasting without it:

Today, I traveled to Rowling Meadows, Illinois to attend James MacDonald’s Elephant Room 2 conversations. Upon entering the event venue I was met by a security guard and Jim Rowan, an elder at Harvest Bible Chapel and was promptly told that my entrance to the Elephant Room had been revoked and that I had to immediately leave the premises or I would be arrested for trespassing.

This is truly ODD, because the Purpose Statement of the Elephant Room states:

The Elephant Room is more than an event. It is the outgrowth of an idea. The idea that the best way forward for the followers of Jesus lies not in crouching behind walls of disagreement but in conversation among all kinds of leaders about what the scriptures actually teach. We must insist on the biblical Gospel, right doctrine and practice but not isolate ourselves from relationship even with those who believe much differently.

So, I ask the very logical question how is threatening to arrest me if I didn’t leave the premises of the Elephant Room an example of NOT “crouching behind walls of disagreement”?

Seems to me that the Elephant in the Room is the fact that the ONLY voices that James MacDonald and company are willing to hear are those that agree with them.

…First of all let me say that I do not automatically endorse everything that James MacD. does.  I love the forthright style of ministry he projects on the radio and I’ve visited his church in two locations in northwest Chicago, but I’m equally convinced that back in his elementary school days, he was the schoolyard bully. Sorry. That’s just my opinion, and last I checked, I’m entitled to it. Maybe this little bit of conference theater is just what happens when two bull-headed personalities clash.

However, I’m going to side with Harvest Bible Chapel and The Elephant Room on this one.  The particular Discernment Dude in question is trouble with a capital T.  A ticking time bomb in an event like MacDonald’s one-day live broadcast conference.  A person whose spirit runs counter to the spirit of the event.

You may not agree with J. MacD. on countless issues, but the motivation for this event is simple enough that even a child can understand it, and James MacDonald paid a fairly high price to forge ahead with it against criticism from various sides. I’m sure all the pastors and leaders in the audience had varying opinions on things, but I’m betting they were more aligned with the day’s central purpose than the one — and only one as far as we know — who was refused admission.

The MacDonald/Driscoll event was complex enough as it was.  There simply didn’t need to be one more elephant in the room.


HT: FBC Jax Watchdog, a blog we link to at this one, but one which, as far as The Elephant Room is concerned, disagrees with its presenters, disagrees with the denominational heads who permitted their pastors conference to link with the event; but seem to think nothing of siding with Discernment Dude on this one. The politics of hatred can get really complicated at times.  I think everyone involved in reporting this conference sidebar — absolutely everyone — missed the whole point of The Elephant Room.

January 30, 2012

When Education Trumps Experience

A Church Parable.  Or Fable. Or Analogy. Or Something.

As churches wrestle with the rapid and sometimes radical changes taking place in Evangelical circles, Third Street Congregational Church is no exception.  Located in the part of the U.S. called “The Heartland,” there’s been a move lately to change the name of the church of 400 members to “Heartland Christian Church,” with some preferring “The Gathering Place,” and minority votes coming in for “The Gathering Spot,” “The Gathering People,” and “Third Street Gathering.”

But the latest round of friction-generated heat has been over Sunday School.  TSCC decided long ago to stick to the tradtional model of keeping the Christian Education hour separate, at 9:15 AM, followed by “big church” at 10:30, though smaller children are dismissed around 10:50 for a shorter, less-intensive time that church members are quick to tell you is “definitely not a substitute for Sunday School,” and usually involves the eating of goldfish crackers while watching Veggie Tales DVDs.

No, everyone agrees that keeping the more traditional model offers an alternative to what all the other churches are doing, and allows most adults to be present for the main event at 10:30.  The heat involves what the adults are doing at 9:15, and I’m not referring to the Clements and the Saduccis penchant for using the time to enjoy a late breakfast at Third Street Family Restaurant.

Typically, the adults were divided into the Men’s Bible Class and the Women’s Bible Class, with the occasional inserting of a Baptism Class and New Members Class for four-week runs as needed.  The women have enjoyed a mix of teachers including some women, men and material sourced on DVD, while the men have always been taught by Scott Harmber, a lay-person in the congregation who can find Bible verses while blindfolded and his hands tied behind his back.  Scott’s the kind of guy who really should have gone into ministry, but possibly missed his calling.   He taught most of the year; Pastor Elkins does one session with the guys each quarter, and any other mornings are filled in by Blake Streed.

So when Scott announced that, with just five years to go to retirement, he and his wife were buying a distribution business on the west coast, everyone figured that Blake would take over the Men’s Bible Class.

“Not so fast;” said the pastor.  He explained that while the church was strongly committed to keeping a Christian Education hour at 9:15, having separate classes determined by gender was rather awkward considering the influx of new families coming to TSCC.  Instead, he proposed a model where there would be four mixed classes (five in baptism and membership months) with each one having a slightly different emphases, including traditional Bible study, a class called “Christian Living in the Modern World,” a class for developing Christian leadership, and one other to be named later, that might appeal to a younger demographic.

Furthermore, he said that their adult Sunday School was not a suitable substitute for what other churches were accomplishing in mid-week small groups, and that for each of the four classes, there would be three small groups established, for a total of twelve, though there would be some allowance for people who wanted to do one thing on Sunday morning, but something very different during the week.

So, for awhile, the Men’s Bible Class continued with a variety of teachers, including a DVD that Scott Harmber made in a park near his new home; a park which overlooks the Pacific Ocean, the crashing of the waves making for occasional audio problems. 

When the restructuring of the adult program never happened, people again suggested that Blake Streed was best suited to continue the depth and quality of teaching expected in that class.  And Blake expected this himself, and was more than willing to, in great humility, take on the task.

So no one was prepared when one Sunday morning in the main service, Pastor Elkins introduced Jerrett Westin as the new teacher of the TSCC Men’s Bible Class. 

Jerrett had taught the class on a couple of occasions.  He and his wife had not grown up in church, but both of their lives had experience a dramatic turnaround in their late teens, and now, with four children and approaching their mid-40s he was taking a part-time seminary course with a mix of online courses and intense two-week sessions in July and January taught at a satellite campus an hour away, all of which would culminate in a Master’s degree in Christian Studies in about six years.

Frankly, Pastor Elkins, who was working on a doctorate himself, identified with Jerrett Westin’s love of learning and they met weekly to compare notes on what it was Jerrett was learning throughout the week.  This was a good thing, since many of Jerrett’s courses were completely over the heads of everyone else in the church.  They loved the seminary — in fact the church supported it financially — but it seemed to be equipping Jerrett with an artificial version of something Scott Harmber and Blake Streed came by naturally.  Jerrett could explain things in both the Old and New Testament that were extremely interesting, but no one was sure if those things had any relevance to their everyday lives.

…Two years later, the Men’s Bible Class continues on.  Jerrett isn’t really that bad, people have gotten to know him better; but there’s still a few people with the sentiment that the choosing of him wasn’t very democratic.  The Men aren’t so much loyal or supportive as they are a captive audience; many have children in the Sunday School program, though the Third Street Family Restaurant did pick up a few regulars.  

Plans are now in place for the change to four mixed classes, and a prototype of the mid-week small group program is already up and running and the church is continuing to see growth that is starting to strain the physical facilities.

Blake and his wife still attend TSCC, but is heavily involved with a Saturday morning men’s group run by another church. His gifts and talents are greatly appreciated and he does visit there occasionally, as they have three weekend service times.

But if you ask people at TSCC why this all matters, they would tell you that they learned through this that, at their church, education trumps experience and giftedness. They also learned that you can’t expect that if you are serving in a particular role that greater opportunities will open up; you can just as easily find yourself sidelined.  But most, including Blake are very gracious about it and recognize the need to support Jerrett who is viewed as “a work in progress.”

Still, it’s funny how things turn out in churches. It isn’t so much that some people get hurt as it is that often everyone gets surprised.

I know Scott Harmber was surprised when I told him all this yesterday.

January 29, 2012

A Most Important Book You’ve Never Heard Of

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways.

~Didache 1:1

While New Testament scholars always knew it existed, it was not until 1873 when a dusty, worn copy was pulled off an Istanbul library shelf by an Archbishop who promptly left it on his desk to attend to other matters, where it sat for months before he finally grasped what it is he had discovered. In fact, the document whose lost text he had discovered was once considered for inclusion in the Biblical canon.

The Didache (pronounced DID-ah-kay) is only about half the length of the Gospel of Mark, but it provides an intimate view of Christian life and Christian community for the early church. There are many books on the subject, but a simple introduction — along with a copy of the complete text — is Tony Jones’ The Teaching of the 12 (Paraclete Press, 2009).

(Random) Highlights:

  • Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give them. (1:6)
  • Do not be one who opens his hands to receive, or closes them when it is time to give. (4:5)
  • Do not give orders to your servants when you are angry, for they hope in the same God… (4:10)
  • Your fasts should not be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays. You should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. (8:1)
  • [Concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way] “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom…” (9:4)
  • Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he must not remain more than one day, or two, if there’s a need. If he stays three days he is a false prophet. (11:4,5)
  • Concerning Baptism, you should baptize this way: After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in flowing water. (7:1, italics added)
  • Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life. (2:7)

The early Christians were also told to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times daily (8:3) and if they baked bread, to give the first loaf to the prophets (13;5). The translation above is from Tony Jones’ book, and seems to be closest to one online by Charles Hoole.

So in a post-DaVinci Code climate, where does a document like this fit in?

First of all, we have all we need in the Bible, and no one should feel compelled to read extra-Biblical writings like this, much less those on the periphery such as The Gospel of Thomas.

But for those who want a snapshot of post-New-Testament life, this document has the recommendation of many respected pastors, though don’t expect a movie anytime soon.

DVD: There is a 6-week curriculum DVD available based on Tony Jones’ book. Here’s some info — and a 2-minute promo video — from Tony’s blog, Theoblogy.

This post first appeared on Jan 26/11 at Christianity 201

Update: The first response in the comments section is worth reading for those who want to know more.

Hamburger Chain’s Subliminal Advertising on Clergy Robes

Filed under: Church, worship — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:11 am

This has definitely got me craving a burger, but not sure if I should be heading to McDonald’s or Burger King.

Actually it’s from the blog Bad Vestments, which has been celebrating stoles and chasubles and albs (oh my!) since 2009. Here’s another one that even had them mystified:

January 28, 2012

Are These Realistic Expectations?

Filed under: family, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:44 am

Later today, the Drew Marshall Show is introducing another God-blogger,  Rachel Snyder at The Lazy Christian.  I’m not sure with a blog name like that if Drew is providing role models or anti-role models — a few months ago it was Jamie, The Very Worst Missionary.

Anyway, you can catch the show live starting at 1:00 PM EST (until 5:00) or wait a week and catch the segments from the week before which are always posted on Fridays.    Meanwhile, he’s a sneak peek at something from the Rachel’s blog:

A Short Play by Rachel: Great Expectations

Scene opens on RACHEL and FRIEND riding in RACHEL’S car. They are discussing raising RACHEL’S future daughter.


RACHEL:    I think that while they’re growing up, I’ll have my son open my daughter’s car door for her when we get in the car. 

FRIEND:     Why?

RACHEL:     Well, I want my son to know how to treat a woman, and I want my daughter to know how a gentleman should treat her.

FRIEND:     Don’t you think that’s setting up unrealistic expectations for her?

RACHEL:     In what way?

FRIEND:     Well, not all men open car doors for women. That’s not something she should expect.

RACHEL:     And why not? My husband opens the car door for me. If we teach our son to do it, there are probably other moms out there teaching their sons to do it. It’s those little niceties that make all the difference sometimes.

FRIEND:     But maybe she won’t meet one of those guys. Or date one. You’re setting her up with unrealistic expectations.

RACHEL:     I don’t think it’s an unrealistic expectation. It’s a high expectation. 

FRIEND:     Well, maybe it’s too high.

RACHEL:     And why wouldn’t I want my daughter to have high expectations? I want her to end up with a man who treats her the way my husband treats me—the way a man should treat a woman. I don’t want her to settle for some schmuck who doesn’t know how to treat her well. I wouldn’t raise her to think she should only marry a rich man or someone who falls at her feet. But opening a car door for her? That’s something small that says, “I care about you,” every time she gets in the car. 

FRIEND:     Well. My husband doesn’t do it for me.

RACHEL:     So you think I’m giving my daughter unrealistic expectations just because your husband doesn’t open the car door for you?

FRIEND:     I—I guess.

RACHEL:     Well, he should open the door for you. It’s not that hard. You tell him I said that.

END SCENE.

January 27, 2012

Close Up: How Church Discipline Happens at Mars Hill Seattle

This is an article about how Mark Driscoll’s church — Mars Hill in Seattle, WA — handles church discipline issues and excommunication, presented anecdotally and in painstaking detail.

I have no hesitation in importing large amounts of text from other blogs if I think it means that people will actually read the subject matter in question, but in this case, you are indeed going to have to click, because the narrative is lengthy; but also because you need to reward all the work that went into making this story available.

In a two-part blog post,  Mark Driscoll’s Church Discipline Contract: Looking For True Repentance at Mars Hill Church? Sign on the Dotted Line and Mark Driscoll’s ‘Gospel Shame’: The Truth About Discipline, Excommunication, and Cult-like Control at Mars Hill author Matthew Paul Turner introduces us to a young man named Andrew.

Shortly after graduating from high school (he was homeschooled), Andrew wanted a change in scenery. The then Tennessee resident says he needed a change in scenery. He needed to get away. He needed to grow up. He needed to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life.

So when he turned 20, Andrew moved away from his quaint life in America’s Bible belt, and he moved to Seattle, and yes, in hopes of finding himself.

Once he was settled into life in the great Northwest, Andrew took the advice of an older sibling and visited Mars Hill Church, the congregational home of Mark Driscoll.

Andrew was born and raised Independent Fundamental Baptist, so not only was Andrew accustomed to Mark’s anger-laced fiery style of sermon, he had a deep appreciation for it. In the beginning, some of Mars Hill’s reformed theologies rubbed against Andrew’s Baptist roots, but Mark’s enthrallment for preaching “Jesus Christ crucified” eventually was what relieved Andrew’s doctrinal concerns, and it wasn’t long before he became a member. Soon thereafter, he was wading heart deep amid the friendly, committed Mars Hill community, becoming more and more comfortable in his born again reformed skin, guzzling the Driscollized water.

According to Andrew, joining Mars Hill was a good move for him. While he didn’t agree with every theological declaration that came out Mark Driscoll’s mouth, he loved his community, a devoted group of believers who seemed to love, support, and value him the way Jesus commanded. Over the next couple of years, Andrew became well connected. He volunteered. He became active in a community group. He even volunteered on Sundays as church security.

Toward the beginning of 2011, Andrew met and eventually began dating the daughter of a church elder at Mars Hill. The two fell in love quickly. Last fall, they were engaged to be married.

But shortly after becoming engaged, Andrew made a costly choice…

Again, here are the links:

The Elephant Has Left The Building

I was going to devote this space today to a collection of blogger reactions to The Elephant Room 2 satellite conference presented by James MacDonald.  However, the reactions among bloggers at the two Alltop aggregators (church and Christianity) were much more sparse than I expected, and the whole thing has been somewhat overshadowed by MacDonald’s resignation from The Gospel Coalition, an organization we choose not to track here. A greater degree of research is obviously required, and some attendees are still making their way back to their home computers.

So, rather than do a superficial job of this — like what you’re reading now — we’re going to put coverage of Elephant 2 off for a day or two, or longer.  If you can’t wait, Trevin Wax has expended massive amounts of verbiage on all seven sessions, and possibly used up all of the internet’s available electrons for this topic. 

Of course, if you want the closest thing to a full transcription of the whole event as a .pdf file, there’s always Tim Schraeder’s notes.

January 26, 2012

Choosing My Religion (On the Basis of Music)

Filed under: Humor, music, Religion — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:20 pm

This classic bit from Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers is old, I know; but I figured someone out there may be in need of a laugh right now.

The Discussion They Never Had

Filed under: Faith, family, marriage — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:09 am

They were married for 37 years.

After she passed away, he says — and friends confirm — he cried ‘buckets and buckets of tears.’

“I don’t know where she is right now;” he told friends, referring his lack of insight into her eternal destiny.

They never had that conversation.

They simply never discussed faith-related subjects.

And here’s the surprise ending: They went to church almost every Sunday.

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