Thinking Out Loud

February 15, 2013

The Wartburg Watch

The Wartburg Watch

Over the years I’ve linked to articles at The Wartburg Watch (TWW) but only in the last few weeks am I developing a deeper appreciation for the site itself. This article constitutes some highlights from things I looked at this week.

The earliest post from March 2009, sets out the purpose:

Are you sitting in your church thinking that something is amiss? Do you think you are the only one who feels this way? Did you try to express your concerns to your pastor?  Did he claim you are the only one who has come to him regarding this matter? Did he seem annoyed that you are questioning him? Did he make you feel like you had done something unbiblical by speaking with him?

Well, join the club! You are not alone. There are HUGE changes occurring in evangelical circles, and they are drawing national media attention. Time magazine just published an article on “The New Calvinism” in its March 23, 2009 issue.  There are new websites and blogs written by average churchgoers who are very deeply troubled by these trends. A rise in authoritarianism and far reaching church discipline are having a detrimental impact on many congregations.  When a little old lady is perp-walked out of her church for simply asking why the church she has attended for 50 years no longer has deacons, you can rest assured that something is terribly wrong in Christendom. We’ll link to the 911 call in an upcoming post.

Wartburg Watch is primarily the work of two people, Darlene Parsons and Wanda Martin, or as they’re known at TWW, Dee and Deb.  They define their goal “is to shine a light into the darkness, exposing hypocrisy, heresy, and arrogance while also examining trends that affect the faith in the public square.  Truth and transparency are of utmost importance to us.”

And the name?

“Remember where Prince Frederick hid Martin Luther when Pope Leo wanted him killed? It was Wartburg Castle. It was here that Luther translated the New Testament into German. This coincided with the invention of the Gutenberg Press. Luther’s writings dominated most of the publications from this press. We believe the Internet is today’s Gutenberg Press.”

I suppose if you’re going to reference Luther, references to the Wittenberg Door (spelled rightly or wrongly) were already taken.

TWW has a huge following. It’s not unusual for an individual article to generate 300 or even 400 comments. (Thinking Out Loud readers, please take note!)

A look at TWW’s home page on Wednesday yielded some interesting stories…

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When Sherwood Pictures emerged as a powerhouse in Christian film, my wife lamented that the role of women in these pictures was secondary if not tertiary. There’s always the aspect of men being strong leaders in their homes and not allowing other things to distract from their commitment to spouse and children, but the films (Facing the Giants, Courageous, Fireproof) are about men (police, firefighter, football players) and the popularity of the movies with women is largely due to the opportunity of being able to go to a Christian film with their husbands knowing the men will enjoy the (sports, suspense, law enforcement) content.

TWW connects the dots between the Kendrick brothers of Sherwood Pictures to an independent film festival, and the Vision Forum, part of Vision Forum Ministries, a conservative, fundamentalist organization which, according to TWW advances:  militant fecundity (no birth control of any kind), patriarchy, what’s called ‘the Quiverfull movment’ (large families), homeschooling, stay at home daughters, no college education for daughters, hyper-Calvinism, young earth creationism.  TWW documents the Kendrick brothers as having an association with the Vision Forum going back to 2009.

It would explain some things, wouldn’t it?

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In between the articles about Bill Gothard, Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Calvary Chapel and even Michael W. Smith (don’t worry it reflects on him positively), is this a little gem of a piece which shows that TWW isn’t just about hard-hitting Christian scandal stories.

The title sums it up: Why a Father and Daughter Changed Their Opinions About Abortion. Not your average Wartburg Watch article; but I’m so glad I read it.

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C. J. Mahaney and Larry Tomczak, together again after all these years, but not for the best of reasons. In the 1970s, the two were frequent speakers at the early Jesus Music outdoor youth festivals, founded Take and Give Ministries and a church in Washington, DC known as Gathering of Believers. The church would go on to become the genesis of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). For whatever other reasons they parted, doctrinally, Mahaney embraced — and was embraced by — the New Reformed movement, while Tomczak is decidedly charismatic.

But they share the home page links on TWW because of lawsuits and accusations.  Mahaney is central to stories of the entire SGM movement unraveling, while Tomczak is accused of spanking and depriving a female of food.

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In a world where everybody vents their anger issues and doctrinal preferences online, TWW is a balanced and thoughtful look at the things that take place in the life of the (capital C) Church. It offers original reporting and commentary on a variety of topics such as you do not see elsewhere.

Thanks, Dee and Deb for the hours of work you pour into The Wartburg Watch.

January 14, 2013

What Motivates The Haters?

Watchdog ministries. Lighthouse ministries. Appraisal ministries. They go by many names. They are full-time Christian snipers. Let me back up. There are certain ministries that exist to find and expose false teaching. I have no problem with exposing false teaching. Indeed, it is part of what we are to do as teachers…correct false doctrine. However, it is very rare to find a ministry or a person who does this well. Most of the ministries and people who do this are arrogant, ungracious, and counter-productive and themselves need to be exposed. I have worked for one of these ministries (a long time ago). After a while, the ministry becomes obsessed, concerning itself with nothing else other than beating someone up in the name of the Lord. When there is no controversy, like a drug addict in withdrawals, they begin to create controversy ex nihilo or go back to dead horses and kick them. Their goal soon loses the priority of truth, learning, and understanding. I think that many people would have nothing to talk about if there was not someone to kick.  ~C. Michael Patton, Parchment and Pen.

I’m continuing the thread of posts here on Friday and yesterday.

After listening to the sermon of a popular pastor, speaker and author on the weekend, I decided to see what else by him YouTube had to offer.  I quickly noticed a dissenting one-hour piece by the proprietor of a self-styled “discernment ministry,” but decided to pass. I didn’t need that. But then curiosity got the better of me.

The upload was the audio-only of a podcast in which the perpetrator in question plays brief snippets of copied sermon or conference material and then frequently stops the playback in order to insert their criticisms.

There ought to be law.  Specifically: There ought to be a law preventing this kind of misuse, but in the U.S. it would never fly given free speech, etc. That constitution keeps coming back to bite us, doesn’t it?  In an ideal world, a pastor’s sermon audio would be treated with a bit more respect, if not out of respect for the man, out of respect for the office he holds.

Try this yourself. After church next Sunday, buy the CD of your pastor’s sermon, put it in the machine and each time he makes a significant point, pause it and say, “That’s a complete perversion of scripture.”  Do it enough times and you might even convince yourself. You’ll certainly sound like an authority as you interrupt the pastor each time.

Then again, don’t try that.

Browsing this podcaster’s blog, the thing that immediately strikes you is his hair-trigger reaction to anyone who feels that God spoke to them or that God has been impressing something on them. This type of extreme cessationist view has the effect of greatly elevating the printed, Biblical text, while at the same time ignoring some of what it teaches; not unlike the Biblical scholars in Jesus’ day who “searched the scriptures” diligently, but failed to see that they pointed to Him.  (Ref: John 5:39)

So I gave the guy nine minutes. Just as the Bible college address by the pastor in question had resonated with me so well, the podcaster’s critiques were slowly raising my blood pressure. I realized that this type of thing is toxic, and when I finally shut it off, my wife basically asked, “What took you so long?”

For the rest of the weekend, I contemplated the question, “What motivates a person to dedicate all their energies to tearing down the ministry of others?” I’m not talking here about ministry watch organizations that report items about clergy that appear in mainstream media. Somewhere, someplace, the family of faith needs to make notation of these moral failures or financial scandals. This is about self-styled watchdogs who feel it necessary to do their own doctrinal investigative reporting; who go looking for problems where there are none. 

Why would a person get up in the morning and start downloading the sermon content from major authors and megachurch pastors with the aim of looking for doctrinal nits to pick? Who does this?

The answer came last night when I was brushing my teeth. While the subjects of this essay would quickly dismiss this type of revelation, I have no problem putting forward the main motivational factor:

Jealousy.

This is ministry envy in its highest form. ‘I didn’t get my books published by a company with a major distributor, and I never got to be a pastor of a major church, therefore I will tear down those who did and those who do.’ Or, ‘I never had that measure of platform at that early an age, nor did we have that type of media proliferation.’

The question you can’t ask is, “Who called you to do this?” Or, “Who trained you to do this?” Or, “To whom are you accountable?” Because in each case the individual in question would have to concede that they felt that God was leading them into this type of ‘ministry’ and in so doing, they fall into the very pattern they accuse others of: Having received a call or revelation directly from God.

The thing I would fear the most would be waking up one morning and realizing you don’t know how to do anything else. And today, with the internet, the discernment crowd has access to a never-ending world of sermon audio and video.

They aren’t going away. But you can stay away. Keep your distance. This sort of thing is toxic. If you start to hear multiple reports about the ministry integrity of an individual or organization, that’s one thing; you should take that seriously.  But don’t let a discernment ministry undo the good that God is doing in your life through a particular Bible teacher.

I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a ho, heave, ho and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and a wall fell.

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled?
Like the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He laughed as he replied, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.

I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builders have taken years to do.”
I asked myself as I went away
Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?

Oh Lord, let my life and labors be
That which build for eternity.

April 21, 2010

Wednesday Think Links

Here’s the list for Wednesday the 21st: That means spring is one-third gone already!   (Or autumn for all our mates down under.)

  • Gotta love the new style of church names, right?   Okay, maybe not all of them. The blog Out of Ur has put them all in this collection.
  • What’s the worst thing a Methodist preacher can do?   Re-baptize someone, according to this piece by Talbot Davis at The Heart of the Matter.   Mind you, I can think of worse things!
  • Cornerstone Church without Francis Chan?  Tell me he’s just testing his congregation again.  Here’s the 11-minute video at Resurgence.  Or listen to the message on 4/18 here.
  • David Kenney went to church on Good Friday and Easter, only Jesus never died at the one, and never rose again at the other.   In this piece, he suggests that it’s all about life.
  • Tom Datema sets the bar low enough on church “purpose statements” that any local church can attain, in this piece at Brain Twitch.
  • Can you handle one more Jennifer Knapp post.  “…Let’s assume that it is a sin.  Then my question is: Can a sinful person love Jesus?  Oh! We’ve got to be so careful how we answer that question.  To me, the answer is an obvious “yes”.  It is obvious to me because my own life testifies to it.  In every season of my life, I have struggled with different sins. But in all of those seasons I have still loved Jesus.”  Read in full at Upwrite.
  • All those progressive Christian radio stations can keep playing Owl City, now that Adam Young has hit the online pages of Christianity Today.
  • Colin at the blog simply titled Words has an analogy on the subject of “constructive reconstruction” of faith with the piece, My Brother the Bike Mechanic.
  • Jon Acuff from Stuff Christians Like finally gets around to doing a book promo video, but you might draw more from this CNN clip of a piece he appeared in.  (Canadian readers:  Does John Roberts hint at the end that he attends North Point?)
  • Allen Flemming, who claims an intimate knowledge of the family says that Canadian David DiSabatino’s DVD documentary on Larry Norman has got it all wrong, setting up a website refuting Fallen Angel called Failed Angle.
  • Pastor Craig Groeschel of Lifechurch.tv re-establishes his church’s purposes in The Code, a series of 13 statements spread out over three blog posts at Swerve.   You’ll have to click here and then head for April 14, 15 and 16 posts; but they’re good reading.  (Or see them all in the comments section here.)
  • Andrew Jones aka Tall Skinny Kiwi, has a balanced look at discernment ministries in 10 Ways to Keep Watchdogs from Barking.
  • Jason Wert is thankful for Anne Jackson drawing attention to the issue of human trafficking in Moldova, but suggests this event has been going on for a long while, even in the United States.
  • Adrienne at the blog, Contemplative Life, has a short post here introducing a piece by Ann Voskamp about Ann’s daughter’s baptism.   Start here, and then click the link to Ann’s piece.
  • Bill at the blog, A New Language for Christians, puts a more modern spin on the story of the good Samaritan.
  • This week’s cartoon is from Thom Tapp at Baptist Press:

March 23, 2010

Quote of the Day: Discernment Ministries

This is from C. Michael Patton at the theology blog, Parchment and Pen.

Watchdog ministries. Lighthouse ministries. Appraisal ministries. They go by many names. They are full-time Christian snipers. Let me back up. There are certain ministries that exist to find and expose false teaching. I have no problem with exposing false teaching. Indeed, it is part of what we are to do as teachers…correct false doctrine. However, it is very rare to find a ministry or a person who does this well. Most of the ministries and people who do this are arrogant, ungracious, and counter-productive and themselves need to be exposed. I have worked for one of these ministries (a long time ago). After a while, the ministry becomes obsessed, concerning itself with nothing else other than beating someone up in the name of the Lord. When there is no controversy, like a drug addict in withdrawals, they begin to create controversy ex nihilo or go back to dead horses and kick them. Their goal soon loses the priority of truth, learning, and understanding. I think that many people would have nothing to talk about if there was not someone to kick.

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