Thinking Out Loud

June 13, 2021

I Have Become a Senior Ageist

I realized this morning that I have become an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms when it comes to which voices I look forward to hearing preach and teach each week.

For the record, an ageist is someone who is “Unfairly discriminatory against someone based on their age,” and while this usually is applied as working against the elderly, I suppose that reverse ageism is also popular.

Also for the record, I’ve reached an age where, when it comes to Bible teachers and authors I should be resonating more with the “men in suits” crowd. But I don’t. I gravitate toward younger communicators. John Mark Comer recently introduced me to Tyler Staton, and as an egalitarian, I will always tune in if Danielle Strickland or Tara Beth Leach is teaching.

I get what it’s like to be on the opposite side of this issue. A local church where we spent many years buys into the philosophy of, “Never put someone older 40 on the platform or picture older people on your website.” At least, they buy into it theoretically (and selectively) but both their own leadership and congregation is aging as well. Another local church member commented that he has a hard time picturing his church bringing back many of the younger families they had, because the Sunday morning services are planned and shaped by an older mindset.

And yet a third local church has now encountered a pastoral vacancy. In my heart, I keep hoping they can snag someone mid-to-late 30s. It would be a breath of fresh air. But then I ask myself why someone that age would want to move to the small town we’ve called home for the past several decades. True, we’re an hour from Toronto, but I know that many younger leaders want to stay close to the city and all the networking and potential it appears to offer.

So I am an anomaly; some type of reverse-ageist. But I’m not alone. I remember being a much younger person in churches in Toronto where the teens and twenty-somethings would grab all the front seats and the older individuals and couples would sit further back cheering them on. Okay, not literally cheering; maybe praying is more accurate. It was good to see. These churches had an enviable demographic for preachers.

If your church happens to have a younger teaching pastor, or lead pastor, you need to cheer them on.

I think the Bible’s word for that is encouragement.

 

June 10, 2021

The SBC: Breaking Up is Hard, But Necessary to Do

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:56 am

If we have an appliance that stops working, we face the decision as to whether we’re going to repair it, or if we are going to discard it. The surrounding questions include, “What are the costs of repair?” and “What are the advantages of starting from scratch with something new?”

To me, this analogy applies directly to the state of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. “If it ain’t broke…” goes the saying, but in this case many would argue that it is most certainly broken in many ways and that even as a loose affiliation of churches, its sheer size and media influence suggests that presently more harm is being done than good.

Dissolving the entire enterprise seems appropriate. End the capital “C” Convention and the small “c” conventions. Allow each church to go their own direction and find an accountability structure (denomination) with which they can identify in terms of doctrine and structure. I’m betting that each and every church now, if forced to, could name a denominational body for which a significant number of their leadership and parishioners have at least some admiration.

But keep the Department of Missions. This is the part of the SBC that even its fiercest critics admit “ain’t broke.” Give it a new name and allow it to continue to flourish in the various countries it presently serves. Keep those mission workers on the field and sufficiently funded and resourced.

But don’t call it Southern Baptist. My wife, who can be quite cynical, reminds me that if the status quo is maintained, all you are doing is going to other nations and “making more of them.” I did warn you she was cynical.

The analogy I wanted to work with here was Bell Telephone. Wikipedia explains,

The breakup of the Bell System was mandated on January 8, 1982, by an agreed consent decree providing that AT&T Corporation would, as had been initially proposed by AT&T, relinquish control of the Bell Operating Companies that had provided local telephone service in the United States and Canada up until that point… The breakup of the Bell System resulted in the creation of seven independent companies that were formed from the original twenty-two AT&T-controlled members of the System. On January 1, 1984, these companies were NYNEX, Pacific Telesis, Ameritech, Bell Atlantic, Southwestern Bell Corporation, BellSouth, and US West.

Is this a model that is applicable? It breaks down in several respects, and some question how effective the breakup was. It should also be said that the SBC is large, but nothing close to a monopoly — though perhaps it as a monopoly on political influence — but returning to my original analogy, it is broken. Smaller regional SBC-related associations already exist which could continue without a connection to the larger body; or again, each local congregation could be freed to chart its own course.

When the Ravi scandal escalated, there were questions as to the organization continuing to use his name, or continuing at all. If the SBC brand is tainted, I would say both questions are pertinent. Should the entity continue at all, and if it is deemed worthy of continued existence, should there be sweeping changes in hierarchy, policies, centralization, and branding?


Caveat: Assuming the premise as stated, many believe that in the past decade, Reformed or Neo-Calvinist doctrine as become the SBC theological default. If a significant number of churches moved toward those bodies, then you’ve just simply the concentration of ecclesiastic power and influence to a situation that I honestly believe would be worse.

Postscript: The appliance analogy is ironic. As I was typing this the motor in our table saw stopped working.

May 20, 2021

The SBC’s Old Guard | The GOP’s Old Guard

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:14 pm

Forgive the generalizations today.

Living one country removed from all the action means you form certain opinions and stereotypes without physically interacting with the people concerned. It also means that news and current events are distilled to their basic essence. True, we can tap into the legacy U.S. networks just by turning on the television, and we can find hours and hours of recent broadcasts by the U.S. cable networks just by doing a quick search on YouTube, but I think that if Americans really want to know what their country is up to, they should see how they’re covered by the BBC (U.K), CBC (Canada) or ABC (Australia).

These days, when I hear about Republicans, I immediately think of Mitch McConnell. If I found myself seated next to him on an airplane, I would not ask to change seats; I would ask to change planes. To view him on my screen casually, matter-of-factly proclaiming that black is white is usually more than either my brain or my spirit can tolerate.

Or the guy who said that the January 6th ransacking of the U.S. Capitol building was just some families out for a walk in the park. Okay, Andrew Cylde didn’t say those exact words, but it’s not much different:

“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall, showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures. If you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from Jan. 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit,”

But later a picture surfaced showing him and others frantically trying to barricade the doors so rioters couldn’t enter. That’s the trouble with a lie, sooner or later you get caught.

I also get my U.S. religious news one country removed. Sure, the blog you’re reading right now has a 75% American readership and with American spellings and the use of words like freeway instead of the more common Canadian highway, I’ve blended in to the point many readers assume I’m writing from Dayton, or Sacramento, or Springfield (not that one, the other one); I still have stereotypes and caricatures of what the Evangelical landscape looks like when having those after-service conversations in the lobby (again lobby not foyer) and lunch at Cracker Barrel.

And in those terms, my mental image of Republican leaders ends up eerily similar to my mental drawing of Southern Baptist (SBC) leaders. I’m not saying that they would stand up and tell you that January 6th was just a walk in the park but rather … okay … that’s exactly what I’m telling you.

Their unwavering support for a recent leader of the free world, in spite of overwhelming evidence of a character that would disqualify the man from ever being hired by one of their churches, shows their willingness to disregard both facts and logic for the sake of … tell me again … what was it they chose to gain by backing him? Oh, right: Power.

[For those of you who disagree reading this by email, the unsubscribe prompt is at the bottom. I don’t mind at all.]

There have been and are still some exemplary SBC leaders. Billy Graham was a member of the party, er, denomination and so is Charles Stanley. But it’s others who make headlines and give Christianity a bad name, and wannabees of their ilk who pick all manner of fights on social media and constrain their subjects, er, parishioners with all manner of legalistic limitations.

And that’s the thing: I don’t understand how one actually does this. How do you look into the camera or stand up on the floor of the Senate Chamber or the House of Representatives and say things which your six-year-old grandchild would recognize as patently untrue?

I’m not saying that all Southern Baptists are Republicans or that all Republicans are Southern Baptists. From this perspective it simply appears that there are immense similarities — again in terms of the distilled images of America we see — that I would think a Jesus follower would want to distance themselves from; that a Christ follower would want to work tirelessly to compensate with extra doses of agape and hesed and shalom and charis and tov.

May 19, 2021

Denominations Losing Internal Influence

Saddleback Ordination Service; Screenshot via Baptist Standard; click image for story

In the last several days we’ve witnessed two serious breaches of denominational policies and protocols, both involving large, significant denominations and both involving gender issues.

In one, Saddleback, a California megachurch, which is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) ordained three women earlier this month. Albert Mohler, who just yesterday announced his resignation as President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Committee, was quoted earlier by Religion News Service saying, “Saddleback has taken actions that place itself in direct conflict with the stated doctrines of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

In the other, members of the progressive wing of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) in Germany have defied a Vatican edict forbidding the blessing of same-sex unions. A Jesuit priest there told Associated Press, ““I am convinced that homosexual orientation is not bad, nor is homosexual love a sin.”

As denominations lose influence over their congregations, and an entire generation of Millennials and Gen-Z reject affiliated churches in favor of house fellowships or independent congregations, the open defiance is a serious crack in the denominational fortresses. Though the RCC and SBC are very different on many issues, the RCC is very hierarchical, with The Vatican seen as the supreme authority, even overriding scripture on some points.

By contrast, the SBC has always been a much looser network of congregations, though continuing to use operate under the SBC banner has always required absolute adherence to its statement of faith, which includes the position that women cannot be pastors.

In both cases, there are semantic elements, such as whether the role of pastor implies the title of Senior Pastor or Lead Pastor or whether the blessing of same-sex unions is the same as approving of same-sex marriage. The words marriage and pastor create both theological and emotional responses from people on both sides of the issue in SBC and RCC congregations and leadership.

May 4, 2021

The Church: Before and After

by Ruth Wilkinson

This is something I’ve been thinking about. See what you think…

There’s been a lot of discussion about what ‘church’ will look like after Covid-19, having experienced so much time away from in-person weekly gatherings. Previously, Sunday morning services were the hook on which many other programs and activities hung. It was where we started getting to know new people, and finding our place in the faith community. It was the forum in which we crystalized our shared identity.

Right now (with a very few exceptions) local congregations are operating without that centerpiece. We’re doing everything we did before, but in new ways. We’re building new relationships without necessarily making in-person contact. Some ministries are doing quite well online or in lawn chairs (weather permitting) which is an indicator, I think, that many churches are more healthy and organic than we might have given them credit for.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next few years. Will our music and other creative arts continue to grow into the rest of the week, and online? Will we have board members and elders who seldom if ever sit in a pew? Will programs and ministries continue to be financially supported by people who never meet a Sunday School teacher, but who pitch in at the soup kitchen? Will we need to adapt our policies and practices to allow for this evolution?
I guess we’ll see

April 30, 2021

Change: Resisting vs. Embracing

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:25 am

A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend…

Ecclesiastes 3:2-8 – The Voice Bible (selected)

A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up;
a time for a warm embrace, a time for keeping your distance;
A time to search, a time to give up as lost;
a time to keep, a time to throw out;
A time to tear apart, a time to bind together

Ecclesiastes 3:2-9 – The Message (selected)

I am creating something new.
There it is! Do you see it?
I have put roads in deserts,
streams in thirsty lands.

Isaiah 43:19 – CEV

I think it was Skye Jethani who I first heard use the phrase, “The Myth of Continuity.” The meanings I just looked up are above my pay grade, but I believe he was referring to the more common state of believing that things will always continue just as they are. This can be true in both a micro and macro sense.

In my lifetime, I’ve known people who seem to thrive on change. Perhaps you know them also. People who have had several quite different careers. People who have lived in very distant cities. People who can re-invent themselves at the drop of a hat to adapt to new challenges and new situations.

Then there are those who are happy for each day to be somewhat the same; somewhat predictable. They take the line in the poem attributed to James Francis Allen, “One Solitary Life” which says that Jesus “never traveled more than 200 miles from the place he was born” as prescriptive, as a model for life.

In Greek culture there were four different concepts of love. Growing up in the church I heard many sermons that helped me remember philia (the love we have for a brother and maybe the hobby or activity about which we are most passionate); eros (the sexual love that the kids in the youth group were told to save for marriage); and agape (the unselfish love which when lived out places others above ourselves.) But I heard rather varied definitions of storge.

Storge (stor•gee) is described in the things I’m reading as I type this as a love between parents and children, but although the usage isn’t common, I was taught it can also mean the love of things familiar. And we all see that. The familiar, the routines, the rituals, the personal traditions. It’s that feeling you get when you attend the family reunion each year, or that particular sequence of events on Christmas Eve that start with the eggnog — that’s strange, I seem to have set my glass down somewhere and now I can’t remember where — to the reading of Christ’s birth narrative and the opening of gifts.

The enemy of storge when used in that sense would seem to be change and disruption. The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory takes the events one might encounter in a lifetime and gives them a stress rating from 11 (receiving a minor traffic ticket) to 100 (the death of one’s spouse.) Even seemingly positive events like an outstanding personal achievement (25 points) or taking out a loan to purchase a new car (17 points) or the birth or adoption of a new family member (39 points); each of these can be stressful in their own way.

Personally, while (for example) I love to travel, I don’t think that overall I relate to change well. Especially the unexpected kind. Or the changes that bring with it an entry into the unknown. I want to be in control.

My first roller coaster ride in my life was Space Mountain at Disney on a day that they were doing a fuller “lights out” ride through the darkness than what they provide today. (I should also add that nobody told me ahead that it was a roller coaster.) I don’t care if the coaster jerks or drops but I want to be sitting so I can see the track or see the car ahead. I want a road map. I want a copy of the program for the play.

Changes are inevitable, however. Heraclitus (you remember him, right?) said that “The only constant in life is change;” and commenting on this Plato added, “Heraclitus, I believe, says that all things pass and nothing stays, and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river.”

On our trips to Cuba, the tour guides will often remind the Canadians and the Europeans that Cuba doesn’t have the seasons we know: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Rather they have the “regular” season interrupted by the “rainy” season and “hurricane” season. When I was in California the first time, it was strange to see the Christmas decorations being placed without the atmospheric and meteorological markers I associated with them.

But at least Cuba has some variance. I do suspect there are parts of equatorial Africa where every day is truly the same. Still, people who have moved to these type of climates will tell you that after a certain number of years, they began to miss winter; they began to yearn for some snow, not in the storge sense, but in terms of needing the escape from the sameness; from the too easily predictable.

Sometimes we need things that get our adrenaline going, and while the stimulus may not be positive at the outset, much depends how we challenge that energy; how we choose to dissipate the stress.

Which brings us back to the concept of seasons. In the Evangelical milieu in which I find myself, seasons of life is a phrase often repeated. Something ends, and the conclusion is that “it was for a season.”

The question is, do we embrace such changes of season or do we resist? I think our personality types (God-given personality types, I should add) determine that outcome. 

From Christianity 201:

If God uses seasons to prepare us, then I believe that you can be fruitful no matter what the season is in your life. You can glean from each season of your life things that will grow you and produce fruit for the future. You may be looking at your life right now and see a desert wasteland, but Isaiah 43:19 says that God is about to do something new. He’ll make rivers in the desert so that you can produce fruit and grow. No matter how dark life gets or how abundant your blessings are, God has a design and a purpose to grow you through this season.
– Chris Hendrix

From an older article here:

You can’t go back and re-live seasons gone but you can learn from them. You really don’t want to fast forward to future seasons because when the ones you are in are gone, like flowers when they have flourished, they are gone for good. The key for us all today is to carpe (seize) the one you’re in! So choose today to learn from seasons gone, love the one you’re in and, with faith and expectancy, have excitement concerning the ones yet to come that are promised by your God. Every season has something for you so make sure you harvest it out!
– Andy Elmes

If we really believe that God is moving us on to the next stage of life, we’ll thrive on the challenge, even with its short-term pain. If we’re really trusting Him, we’ll see where the next chapter takes us.

Today’s blog post is dedicated to … well, you know who you are.

April 21, 2021

Wednesday Connect

Christianity and Culture

Some insider humor.

Welcome to #95! We’ll get there eventually.

  • Ole Anthony has died. The head of the Trinity Foundation single-handedly exposed televangelist Robert Tilton and is beloved by many for purchasing The Wittenberg Door, a Christian satire magazine. (Yes, well he always thought your first name was strange also.)
  • The UK’s popular Spring Harvest music and teaching festival is launching EC-GO, a Christian streaming service. It goes live May 3rd. I don’t have a final price, but for £77 you can have unlimited access to all the sessions from this year’s festival, and get the first year free.
  • Hendrickson Publishing of greater Boston, which four years ago purchased Rose Publishing of southern California (someone earned a lot of frequent flyer miles negotiating that one) has now itself been purchased by Tyndale House Publishing. Each company will maintain its own location and autonomy. Hendrickson was owned by members of the same family that owns ChristianBook.com.
  • The funeral for Prince Phillip, at his request contained, “no homily, no sermon, no preaching.” Yet there was a strong spiritual tone through the music and the readings which the Prince chose himself.  It was midnight in Melbourne Australia when this writer observed, “The television presenters spoke of Prince Philip’s ‘faith’. For a moment, one commemorator referred to Duke of Edinburgh’s ‘Christian faith’, but quickly corrected his social faux pas by returning to the vague universal category of ‘faith’.”
  • With artists like Carrie Underwood and Harry Connick, Jr releasing faith-focused albums, it’s easy to ask if it’s real or if it’s a marketing stunt. And then there was Justin Bieber‘s surprise EP that dropped on Easter. And what if the message is solid but the language is a little too crude? …
  • …And the writer of the GQ cover story on Justin Bieber says sitting down to interview him was more like being in a confessional booth with him. Key quote, “Being famous breaks something in your brain.
  • No surprise: That jailed pastor in Alberta, Canada who refused to shut down his church services, got a letter of commendation from John MacArthur. But then, he’s a graduate of MacArthur’s seminary. (Plus, I don’t think this qualifies as what the Bible calls persecution “for the sake of the gospel.”)
  • The debate on homosexuality continues in the Catholic Church, with some voices saying it’s time to change the catechism.
  • From last week, ICYMI, Hillsong has shut down its Dallas campus. And as Julie Roys reports, there are stories implicating founders Brian Houston and wife Bobbi have misused funds and were involved in a $1.4M real estate deal.
  • Which is it? “Liberal Christian?” Or “Progressive Christian?” Roger Olsen wants to write a book about the former, but his publisher wants to call it the latter. He thinks the latter just means pro-LGBTQ and pro-egalitarian.
  • Having emancipated herself from LifeWay, author and speaker Beth Moore‘s first curriculum project is Now That Faith Has Come, a study of the book of Galatians.
  • Is this statement a tautology? “Joe Carter of [The Gospel Coalition] and Johnathan Leeman of 9Marks appear to have the cure for this decline in church membershipformal church membership!
  • …However, that story might be related to this story: One popular Reformed pastor believes churches should delay immersion baptism to age 18.
  • Newsworthy: “After nearly four decades of work led by Deaf Missions and collaborations between American Bible Society, Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, Deaf Harbor, DOOR International, Seed Company, Pioneer Bible Translators and the Deaf Bible Society, the Bible was completely translated from original sources into American Sign Language last September.
  • Remember that story from April 7th where a man and his wife and two of their grandchildren were shot and killed? The man was Dr. Robert Lesslie, a doctor and Christian author who wrote medical-themed collections of real life miracles such as Angels in the ER.
  • Admittedly I don’t do these roundups very often anymore, but you can always check out my Twitter which is updated a few times a day.

April 19, 2021

Some Social Media Tension Could Be Lessened

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:06 pm

During the last few months I’ve watched two very longtime relationships erode; people with whom we’ve enjoyed close fellowship since we moved to our small town over 30 years ago.

Not everyone sees everything the same way. I get that. And I enjoy good and healthy debate, provided the basic premises of debate are followed, one of which is logical argument. If the reasons given for a particular position are worthy of consideration — even if I disagree — I’m willing to entertain the conversation.

I’m also willing to listen to someone if they have a portfolio of concerns, but often someone is like a one-issue candidate; the guy running for mayor but really only cares about expanding the baseball diamond in the park, and when asked about road construction or taxes is simply unable to articulate the issues.

But sometimes that’s more subtle. The issues seem varied, but the common theme is preaching to their social media audience. I suppose there is the unlikely chance they might convert someone to their positions, but it’s rarely seen. Often they think the strength of their viewpoint is going to be measured by the volume of their online posts.

I really want to send this to my friend. But I still value the friendship more than anything. However, if I did, it would look like…

Dear ________;

I see you’re once again posting about the _____________ issue. I see it differently, but I also see the frequency of these posts to be concerning.

Your friends and relatives know where you stand. And you know they don’t necessarily agree with you on this subject. Personally, I would think a reminder maybe once every 2-3 months would be sufficient. Not every other day. Especially when a few of them are stretching to make a point.

On a personal level, I do wonder how many people or organizations you are subscribed to that provides you with the vast number of sources from which you gather the various content items. I think about the time this must involve, time that could be spend taking a walk in the fresh air, or doing something different. Your best friend on social media is the button that says, “Log Out,” and you might want to consider using it more often.

I also worry because this rather huge number of social media sources you follow is creating a giant echo chamber which prevents you from hearing from the other side. If we surround ourselves with people who agree with us on everything, we never experience growth.

Last week I had an insight that helped me to see this differently. I’m wondering how much of this is just done for the (predictable) reactions you get. Being deliberately provocative. Poking the bear. Raising peoples’ blood pressure. Being a troublemaker.

I’m reminded of the boy sitting at the back of the middle school classroom making fart noises because it makes the boys laugh and it makes the girls yell at him to knock it off. Either way he gets a reaction. He gets attention.

I am convinced you’re on the wrong side of history on this subject, but neither of us will be around to see the outcome. We can only estimate based on current trends and statistics. But I wouldn’t want to be known as the _____________ guy. Especially if my position could be construed as simply based on my personal preferences.

I’m not going to block you. Not yet. I still consider you a friend. It is amazing though how out of what I always thoughts were common roots we shared we have diverged along very different paths. We need to strengthen the things that remain instead of working toward division.

Your friend,

Paul.

 

April 17, 2021

Vincent S Artale Jr. Reblogged Your Post

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:46 am

A picture of the man of the hour, no doubt taken in a rare moment he didn’t have his finger on the “re-blog” button.

The title of today’s article is also the subject header for an email I receive frequently from WordPress, this blog’s host. While it’s usually an honor to have another blog want to share our material, Vincent is relentless.

To date — starting mid-August 2014 — he has re-posted the work of others on over 116,000 blog posts. To be fair, these are usually first paragraphs followed by a link, but since my Christianity 201 blog highlights the work of other writers, it creates a situation where normally a blogger would themselves, having appreciated the content, gone direct to the original source of the material.

Furthermore, some of the re-blogs make no sense, as they are more information items intended to reach regular readers. This makes me wonder if the blog is simply programmed to follow certain content creators and post their material automatically, without any editing, and never with any introduction.

I just don’t get the point.

If I’m supposed to be honored, I’m actually more baffled.

So today’s post here is a grand experiment; an attempt to see if Talmidimblogging has enough filtering to realize that they are the object of today’s writing. To see what happens when you hold up a mirror, so to speak.

I’m not going to tell him to stop. I tried that. “Be selective;” I advised “and don’t use material that I myself have obtained from other writers.”

This isn’t about traffic and statistics, though it most certainly does weaken search results. It’s the reason why, in 4,000 posts, two writers (but only two) asked me to remove their material from C201. One of these is now a recognized jerk by the online community. The other one I still follow on Twitter because I do respect her work, though she is a one-issue writer who loses credibility by never speaking up on any issue not related to her mandate of promoting women in ministry.

Of course, this may be all about traffic and statistics; mainly Vincent’s attempt to drive traffic to his site which he sees as a hub or a portal to other content.

Except that it doesn’t work. The material isn’t vetted at all. I’m not even sure he reads the posts.

Which of course, we’re about to find out.

April 15, 2021

An open letter to open churches

by Ruth Wilkinson

An open letter to open churches:

There are many day to day issues and decisions that we face that are not directly prescribed or proscribed in Scripture. Situations in which we need to ask ourselves WWJD and do our best.

Ministry during this season of pandemic guidelines has presented us with a need to be flexible, and to understand and perhaps rediscover our priorities.

I don’t know how many times I’ve had people quote to me Hebrews 10:25, which says, “Do not stay away from our worship meetings as some habitually do…” as a push back against government mandated or requested suspensions of Sunday gatherings. “See?” goes the argument, “we are commanded to gather! We aren’t going to disobey God just because the government tells us to.”

On one hand, I agree. If the government were commanding us to disobey God, I hope we would stand up against that. Christ has had His enemies throughout history and will continue to do so until the end, and the Church must declare her allegiance.

Except that’s not what the government is asking us to do today. In the Hebrews passage, the word variously translated “neglect” or “forsake” (enkataleipō) in the original language has a context of permanence. It speaks of abandoning or leaving behind. Not of temporarily finding other ways to connect with each other. Not of telling the worship team to stand down for a while. Not of expecting the preacher to do without an audience for a time. But (and this is a ‘worship leader’ speaking) Sunday mornings are not the Church. Those gatherings are good, healthy and powerful. I would argue that they aren’t who we are. They are not Christ’s kingdom.

I choose instead to consider passages like 2 Corinthians 10:23-24:

“”I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. 

“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

The believers to whom these words were written were having to make difficult decisions around personal freedom, and relational influence. The idols in question for them were enculturated false gods. For us, liberty itself can be a false god. We insist on indulging in the pleasures it provides, while demanding that everyone recognize our right to do so, regardless of the effect it has on the people around us and their perception of the Body of Christ.

Even more strongly worded are passages in Amos 5. God expresses His distaste toward the gathered worship of Israel, ostensibly an act of obedience and honor. True, God has Himself instituted these “festivals” and inspired the writing of these “songs,” but when practiced without humility and in the face of a callous disregard to the vulnerable in their society, God refuses to receive that honor. And of course, Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Given the principles at work in these scriptures, my choice is clear. To suspend my rights in solidarity with those around me, to do the hard work of finding other ways to connect with people in need, to “stay home.”

True, the government has, in this most recent lockdown, given houses of worship an almost exclusive exception. But just because I am offered privilege does not mean I have to accept it. I am a member of my community. I will live as such.

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