Thinking Out Loud

April 20, 2020

Author’s ‘All Inclusive’ Church Actually Favors One Approach Above the Others

For the past twelve years, most of the books I’ve reviewed here have either been popular titles or books which went on to become bestsellers. I generally don’t consider anything that isn’t going to end up on my personal bookshelf, which is currently quite crowded.

About a year ago I realized that I needed to go a little deeper in my personal reading and kept eyeing titles which all had one thing in common: InterVarsity Press (IVP). Book reviewers get their copies for free and no amount of pestering people at IVP would produce results, so just before the lockdown, I decided to bite the bullet and for the first time pay for copies of books to read and review and chose four titles.

This in turn freed me up from the restriction of having to focus on recently-published titles, so I reached back to 2017 for Evangelical, Sacramental & Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three by Gordon T. Smith (IVP Academic). I tend to select books I know ahead of time I am going to review positively and this one had three things going for it:

  1. The writer is Canadian. Gotta support the home team, right?
  2. It was published by IVP, where I was once a warehouse manager for their Canadian operation.
  3. The writer is from my denomination: The Christian and Missionary Alliance.

In other words, this can’t miss. Or so I thought.

However, as I progressed through the book’s scant 133 pages of actual text (at a $18.00 US list, or a whopping $23.99 Canadian) I found the premise of the book wearing increasingly thin.

On a personal level I’ve admired churches which can not only blend worship with ancient and modern, but can blend the somewhat relaxed form of contemporary Evangelicalism with some more deliberate acknowledgements of liturgical forms such as more than one scripture reading, or call and response readings, etc. That my wife does this each week in an otherwise Evangelical church just confirms my bias.

Right there I had a problem. I was reading the title of the book as though it said, ‘Evangelical, Liturgical, Pentecostal…’ whereas the author is contending for a hardcore sacramental inclusion even though Evangelicals and Charismatics no more teach a sacramental approach than they confer sainthood on pillars of the church. (Tangentially: I think there’s a case to be made for Evangelicals having a sacrament of preaching, but that’s outside the scope of this article.) As I got deeper and deeper, it appeared that Gordon Smith not only sees a local church being influenced by all three ecclesiastic streams, but importing bulk-sized elements of each into their worship routine. (To fully do this justice, I believe you’re looking at a 2-hour worship service.)

I am confident there are churches out there who have successfully followed this model though the book offered absolutely nothing in the way of case studies or positive anecdotal accounts. However, the Apostle Paul’s words notwithstanding, I think that in trying to be “all things to all people” a church might miss out on their unique calling, especially in an urban situation which already offers a broad selection of churches.

The book is arranged in six, easy-to-follow chapters. In the first three shorter chapters, Smith looks at the themes of abiding in Christ, the grace of God, and the significance of the ascension; as they are found in John’s Gospel, the Luke-Acts narratives, and the writings of two key figures, Calvin and Wesley.

Chapters four through six are the meat of the book, looking at the principles of Evangelicalism, Sacramental liturgy, and Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

In examining what it means to be Evangelical, there is already an emphasis on the importance of Baptism and the Eucharist (Communion). In the Sacramental section, I saw this bias more clearly and when he declared that The Lord’s Supper is something that can only be practiced under the “authority” and “administration” of the church — and remember I’m reading this during the Covid-19 lockdown where we’ve all had to exercise all manner of grace on this matter — I wrote in the margin, “He just lost me.” (p 80)

Not at all fearing that Communion could run the risk of being a postscript to a worship service, Smith insists that it must occur after the sermon and feeling he needs to state this despite widespread agreement, that the words of institution must be read each time. (Personal Rant: Pastors, please do the more seasoned believers in your church a favor and at least vary the Bible translations used in the I Cor. 11 reading.) He also appears somewhat opposed to including any type of teaching on the meaning of the sacrament with the terse dismissal, “We certainly do not need a second sermon and we do not need an extended explanation of the meaning of these symbols.” (p 91) As in, never? He also seems to confuse the liturgical approach of more liberal churches with those who are truly Christ-focused, suggesting, but not overtly stating, that the passages in the Lectionary are simply pretext for the pastor to express a personal opinion. It’s a rather sweeping generalization.

The final chapter on the Pentecostal principle is where Smith shows himself to be least comfortable. At least nine times he begins a paragraph or a sentence with “And yet…” his personal equivalent to ‘On the other hand…’ not unlike a politician writhing on the stage in an attempt to satisfy all his constituents.

He suggests there might be Pentecostal churches where no preaching or communion are present. (p 105) and while I concede such events occasionally occur, they are clearly the exception, not the rule. He believes in an experience of the Spirit that is felt and acknowledges the possibility of God’s Spirit moving in our services spontaneously, and in the prayer for healing of the sick — this is consistent with Christian and Missionary Alliance history and doctrine — but is clearly unwilling to give this section of the book the wholehearted endorsement he gives to Evangelical and Sacramental emphasis, even going so far as to state, “We are not truly pentecostal, in other words, unless we are sacramental.” (p 116)

In a short concluding chapter the book loses all academic pretense and moves to the ranting of a grumpy old uncle.

Even the lectern has been replaced by the bistro table and bar stool, while the equivalent of the sermon has become a more casual chat, downplaying the authority of the Scriptures in an attempt to make the Word more accessible. As often as not, the communion table which for my upbringing was always viewed an important item of furniture even when not being used, has been removed. And now what is front and center — with the pulpit and the communion table gone — is, I say this without any exaggeration, the drum set. (p 127-128)

In the margin of my copy, I have written, “Yikes!” …

…So perhaps I misspoke earlier. There is an example in the book of a church doing all three — being Evangelical, Liturgical and Charismatic — and it exists in the author’s mind. He pictures it vividly complete with a “baptismal pool” at the back of the church and not the front, and banners hanging from the walls. This is the author’s personal Walden and it might have been better served if the title reflected this — or more truthfully using must instead of should in the existing subtitle — instead of suggesting something being more widely and gently advocated.

 

 

 

 

December 29, 2016

The Opposite of Infant Baptism: Why Evangelicals Opt Out

This article was a link list item two weeks ago, but I found myself thinking about it somewhat continuously since, and last night it came up again at the supper table. The writer blogs at Patheos under the banner Troubler of Israel but I’m otherwise unfamiliar with his work.

I’ve quoted this in full, though you are strongly encouraged to read it at source and join the over 300 comments; just click the link in the title below. The only difference here is that I’ve placed one paragraph in bold face type which I believe deserves special attention.

The Real Reason Evangelicals Don’t Baptize Babies
by G. Shane Morris

Friends (especially those expecting children) ask me with surprising frequency why I believe in infant baptism. For a couple of years, I replied by giving what I think the best biblical reasons are. But I usually don’t take that route anymore, because I’ve realized that’s not what convinced me.

For most evangelicals, what stands in the way of baptizing infants isn’t a lack of biblical evidence, but an interpretive lens they wear when reading Scripture. That lens–shaped by revivals, rugged individualism, and a sacramental theology untethered from the church’s means of grace–makes conversion the chief article of the faith. We should expect this, since American evangelical theology was forged on the frontier, in camp meetings, to the sound of fire-and-brimstone preaching.

For Evangelicals, this is the far more familiar image which comes to mind at the mention of the term 'baptism.'

For Evangelicals, this is the far more familiar image which comes to mind at the mention of the term ‘baptism.’

The core assumption here is that you must have a conversion experience to be saved. You must turn away from a past life toward a new one, usually with tears and laments attesting your sincerity. And this view of Christianity works well in an evangelistic setting, where many have lived as open unbelievers. The problem is it’s an awkward fit when it comes to multi-generational faith.

Anyone who was raised in a Christian home and still believes in Jesus knows that there wasn’t a time when he or she transitioned from “unbelief” to “belief.” We were never “converted.” It was simply inculcated from infancy, and for as long as we can remember, we have trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, whether we were baptized as a baby or not.

But because of the baptistic emphasis on conversion, many (if not most) raised in those churches found ourselves “converting” over and over, reciting the “sinner’s prayer” at countless altar calls during our childhood and teenage years, certain that each time, we were truly sincere, but always finding ourselves back at the altar. Some of us even asked to be re-baptized upon our fresh conversions. And everyone raised in evangelical churches will know what I mean when I say “testimony envy,”–that real and perverse jealousy you feel when someone who lived a nastier pre-conversion life than you shares their story.

This is where I think the chief difficulty with infant baptism lies, at least for American evangelicals. I don’t believe baptistic evangelicals really view their children as unregenerate pagans before their “credible profession of faith.” If they did, they wouldn’t teach them to say the Lord’s Prayer or to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” I think what’s really going on is a kind of alternative sacramentalism, where a dramatic conversion experience, rather than baptism, is the rite of Christian initiation.

Thus, children raised in this setting feel the need to manufacture tearful conversions over and over to prove their sincerity. And rather than their present trust in Christ, they’re taught (implicitly or explicitly) to look back to a time, a place, and a prayer, and stake their salvation on that.

Infant baptism runs counter to this entire system. It declares visibly that God induces a change of heart and a saving faith in those too young to even speak or remember their “conversions.” It illustrates that the branches God grafts in to His Son aren’t sterile. They bud and blossom, producing new branches that have never drunk another tree’s sap. And most importantly, it matches the lived experiences of believers’ children, rather than continually imposing a system on them that was designed for first-generation converts.

Almost always, I see the lights come on after explaining this point to an evangelical friend. And in most cases, their acceptance of infant baptism isn’t far behind.

 

December 17, 2016

Chickens and Eggs: Which Comes First, Belonging or Believing?

Try Before You Buy?

Later today at Christianity 201, we’re doing a video post from Seven Minute Seminary at Seedbed.com. We did this about a year ago, and while choosing something for today (it’s on the destiny of the unevangelized) I found this one. At first, I found the reference to “postmodernism” a bit dated. Surely everybody gets that mindset now and its continued pervasiveness among Millennials, right? But as Jim Hampton got into this 6½ minute explanation, I realized that is take on believing vs. belonging was something I hadn’t seen before; the notion that a new generation of seekers really wants to embed themselves in our communities to see if our faith is genuine; if our belief is authentic enough that it translates into our everyday practices. 

But embed themselves to what extent? Singing on a worship team? Partaking of The Lord’s Supper (Eucharist)?

Click the title below to read the article and watch the video at source:

Belonging vs. Believing: Postmodernism and Its Implications for Discipleship

Postmodernism has many implications for how churches understand and approach discipleship. Using youth culture as a model, Dr. Jim Hampton explores how those who have a suspicion of authority and dogma might be included in the process of discipleship by allowing them to participate in community in significant ways.

James Hampton is Professor of Youth Ministry at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is an editor for the Journal of Youth and Theology.

View the growing playlist of Seven Minute Seminary.

May 30, 2016

Can You Be Spontaneous and Liturgical at the Same Time?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:45 am

liturgy 1

Okay, let’s get the title question out of the way quickly: The answer is ‘no.’ To adopt a liturgical form is by definition to do away with spontaneity completely. Why pose the question?

If you were a fly on the wall at our house last night, the discussion was about the churches that would call themselves “spirit-led” vs. the ones which follow a more “scripted” worship order at weekend services. There are advantages to both of course. Many — dare I say most? — Evangelical churches lack the richness and depth one finds in an Episcopalian or Anglican setting. But when it comes to prayer, particularly if the prayer is for you and some need you are facing, you want someone who doesn’t need to read a prayer out of book.1

In many Evangelical environments, every word that is spoken is not written out ahead of time.2 This produces a tendency to “wing it.” On the other hand, those same Evangelicals often enter a liturgical environment and find it too sterile. Let’s face it, you can tell when someone who is reading something is just reading it.

On the other hand, we have Millennials reporting to be preferring a more traditional worship environment. Does this do away with extemporaneous praying? Eliminate the pastor being led to introduce a new direction into the sermon? Or is the desired outcome more a blend of what we have now, and what we had 100 years ago? 3

Cruising the interwebs, we found a piece by J.C. Holsinger at the Assemblies of God website. It’s too long to post in its entirety here but I hope some of you will click through. (Click the title below.) I like the way — from the perspective of his denomination — this article bridges the divide.

Pentecostal liturgy?

…When the Assemblies of God was formed, the founders deliberately avoided using the words sacrament and liturgy. In fact, the founders carefully called the ceremonies of the church ordinances to avoid any sacramental connection. Hence rather than sacramentalism which the word liturgy historically brings with it, Pentecostals more accurately have ordinances and ceremonies. However, these ceremonies are important in educating and binding the generations of Christians together. Therefore, continuity and carefulness in performing these ceremonies should be practiced.

I attended a wedding recently where the pastor opened the ceremony with a prayer: “As we hear these young people repeat their vows, may those of us who are married be reminded of the same vows we once took. Lord, help us to reaffirm our vows to You and to each other.” When he finished the prayer I almost shouted “Amen” because that is one of the most valuable purposes of ceremony–to educate and reaffirm important truths held in common, not just to provide a private or personal experience.

Modern society attempts either to personalize or individualize everything… A common question is, ‘What does that mean to you?” The implication is that your experience and other people’s experiences are equally valid…

Can such tendencies to personalize and individualize everything ultimately destroy the purposes and continuity of ceremonies in a society?

Consider God’s command that Joshua require the leaders of the 12 Tribes to take a stone from the Jordan River to create a memorial. What if each of the 12 leaders or the 12 Tribes themselves had said, “We want to personalize our part of the ceremony.” Or, “I would rather bring a log,” or “I’ll pick up a pretty shell from the river that is special and meaningful to me.” Instead, they heightened the meaning with all the leaders repeating exactly the same ceremony. This made it possible for the next generation to ask, “What mean you by these stones?” and to be educated about God and their responsibilities to His purposes.

Repetition and consistency of common procedures heighten the meaning and importance of ceremony…

For example, if a respected Christian couple brings their child for dedication and the minister says, “I know you are good Christians, so I am not going to ask you whether you will bring up your child in church,” does that not destroy the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to prick the hearts of all parents present as to whether they are carrying out their vows?

Do we as church leaders affirm the importance of godly homes if at a Pentecostal church wedding the bridesmaids and bride come down the aisle more appropriately dressed for a nightclub than a church? Or music is sung at a Pentecostal church wedding that has sexual overtones more in keeping with a cabaret?

What about our ceremonies for the ordinance of water baptism? Is the meaning of “being buried with Christ and resurrected with Him” lost if we allow silly comments about the coldness of the water or ask, “Are you scared?”

Ceremonies need not be formal or stiff, of course. Given our church’s history and theology, ceremonies can be relaxed and natural. However, is it not easy to cross the fine line between relaxed and natural and instead produce silliness that destroys the basic teaching purposes of the ceremony? …

Also interesting was information about an academic book releasing in 2017 by Mark Cartledge and A. J. Swoboda, Scripting Pentecost. You can read about that at this link.

Your comments are welcome. We’ll return to this topic soon!


1 There are always exceptions to everything and one is a book that is a favorite among Pentecostals and Charismatics, Prayers that Avail Much which uses what would be termed Spirit-filled language, but consists entirely of pre-formatted prayers which can be used in a variety of life situations.

2 For a look at a brief period where something resembling liturgy overlapped Evangelical history, check out the Responsive Readings section of old hymnbooks.

3 For one approach to creating liturgy in a more current culture, check out my brief 2011 review of Common Prayer: Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne et al.

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 24, 2014

All the Room Was Hushed and Still

To my American friends:  You’re not getting enough Graham Kendrick in your diet.

All the room was hushed and still
And when the bowl was filled
He stooped to wash their feet
And when it was complete, he said

This is what I’m asking you to do
This is why I’m kneeling here beside you
This is what I want my church to be
This is what I want the world to see
Who it is you follow

Love each other
One another
Love each other
In the way that I have loved you
Walk together
And whatever comes
Love each other
In the way that I have loved you

Let the room be hushed and still
Let us go to where he kneels
And join him as he serves
And learn his ways of love

Graham Kendrick
Copyright © 2009 Make Way Music
http://www.grahamkendrick.co.uk

Most of us take communion on a regular basis and most of us are baptized in one form or another. But how many of us have ever experienced foot-washing? Was Jesus not establishing a pattern [insert words like ordinance or sacrament as it fits your tradition] with this as well?

This is also a great song for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.

  • We featured a Graham Kendrick song (or two) here several years ago. Click here.
  • For those of you know those two, here’s one of my favorite lesser known GK songs from the early ’90s, Heaven is in My Heart.

October 5, 2008

The Sacraments (2): How Sacramental Is Your View of Bible Teaching?

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:30 pm

Today I had a different thought on how those of us who grew up in non-sacramental churches can approach the topic of sacraments.   If you missed the earlier post on this, read it first, you can read it here.

In Evangelical churches, the hallmark of a great church service is the sermon.   If the message goes well, the whole service is said to have gone well, regardless of how lame the music and the readings might have been.

In mainline Protestant churches, often the benchmark of a great service is the liturgy.   If the liturgy goes well, it doesn’t matter if the homily isn’t great; the whole service is considered to have gone well.  In fact, the sermon is often a short meditation running less than ten minutes.

I think Evangelicals, instead of trying to meet the idea of liturgical sacrament half way, should take their own concept and push it to the nth degree.   We should see the sermon as sacrament, and expect ourselves to be changed by it, and allow ourselves to be changed by it.   The sermon should cause us to leave as different people than we were when we entered.

I know that some will see that as a cop-out; that it misses the point of sacramental worship and simply reinforces an Evangelical stereotype.   I don’t deny that.   I simply see this approach as a good thing. The Word of God should change us.   Just as “faith comes through hearing… the Word of God;” so a lot of other measurable growth comes by hearing.

Here’s how Aaron Niequist of Mars Hill (MI) puts it in the 2003 worship song, “Changed.”   Part one of the gospel is “taste and see.”  Part two of the gospel is “go and tell.”

I have been blessed — now I want to be a blessing
I have been loved — now I want to bring love
I’ve been invited — I want to share the invitation
I have been changed — to bring change to bring change.

We have been saved — we’re gonna shout about our Savior
We have been found — we’re gonna turn over every stone
We’ve been empowered — to love the world to Heaven
We have been changed — to bring change to bring change.

September 25, 2008

The Sacraments: How Sacramental is Your View of Worship?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:40 pm

Sacraments.  To some of my readers that’s a foreign word.  It was to me until a few years ago.  I was raised with the concept that there were two ordinances of the church, namely

  • Baptism (and always of believing adults at that)
  • Communion (a.k.a. The Lord’s Supper or Lord’s Table, but rarely referred to as Eucharist)

We grew up believing that Baptism was “the outward sign of an inward change” and that Communion was “a time of remembrance” for what Christ did for us.   (And we “took” communion; there was no language about someone’s son or daughter “making” their first communion the way a daughter might “make” the cheerleading squad, a son might “make” the basketball team, a lawyer might “make” partner, a chef might “make” chicken soup, or a husband and wife might “make” love.)

Those two events in the life and liturgy of the church are understood by others as sacraments.   This means that in participating we are somehow changed by what is enacted; and in so doing we leave the service different people than when we arrived.   (But ain’t that also the goal of every Evangelical pastor I know?) (The Wikipedia article, linked above, takes a more middle theological definition that would sit better with most Evangelicals.)

I was reminded of this today on the blog Everyday Liturgy, which picked up the distinction in a rather obscure place, a CT book review of a general market title on the sexual marketing of girls.

Take this quote from Christianity Today in an article about the sexual marketing of young girls, a topic usually viewed as being very far from discussion of the sacraments; however, the authors Todd and Sara Ream write:

Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Scripture teach us what it means to be human and how that shapes our understanding of sexuality.

Five years ago I am sure that the sentence would have read: “Scripture teaches us what it means to be human and how that shapes our understanding of sexuality.”  This is not to say that the role of Scripture should be diminished, just that the role of the sacraments must be heightened if we are to truly understand the revelation and presence of God.

So what about you?  Can the sacraments ‘teach’ or ‘instruct’ us?  Even on topics like the one mentioned?   My response — contained in a comment linked with the article — was that on a topic like this, the sacraments can do little apart from the context of scripture.

I’m not necssarily looking for a “yes” or “no” black-and-white response, either.   Let’s phrase it, How sacramental are you?  Is there any disconnect on this between your personal take on this issue and that of your church?

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