Thinking Out Loud

March 12, 2018

Cruising the Denominational Spectrum

Over the years we’ve known people who remained loyal to a single church over the course of their lifetimes. This degree of faithfulness is certainly commendable in some, while with others it seems to represent a measurable amount of stubbornness. In a few cases, it cost their children access to children’s and youth ministry which would have served them well; the absence of it having detrimental effects.

Others have simply packed up and moved on a regular basis. One couple I knew had a three-year rule. It wasn’t written in stone — sometimes it would be four years — but when they felt they were “getting too close” a particular church (their words) it would be time to hop somewhere else.

My thoughts today are about an aspect of this which is particular to the denominational choices implicit in moving from one church to another. In other words, we’re not consider church politics here, or situations where someone was hurt by a church member, or a pastor whose preaching was simply deficient. All of those are significant, but we’re looking at choices made for purely theological reasons.

Generally speaking, many of us will choose a church which is simply like the last one we attended. We may be moving from large church to small church (or the other way around) or moving from traditional music to contemporary music (or the other way around) but we’re not looking to rock our personal boat in terms of core beliefs on both primary and secondary matters of faith.

But there are others who want to shake things up and spend a season of life in a congregation which is quite different — perhaps even the total antithesis — of their current church home. Like these people:

Brett attends a church which is planted smack in the center of Evangelicalism. But he keeps hearing about assemblies which identify as Spirit-filled, move more in terms of gifts like prophecy and healing, have a longer, more dynamic worship time, and are equipped to handle issues in spiritual warfare and deliverance. He decides to check it out.

Amanda attends the same church as Brett. Increasingly she’s finding the services too unstructured. She keeps hearing about churches which follow a more pre-planned order of service including readings from both Old and New Testaments, the gospels and epistles. There are written prayers including classic ones from people long departed. For her this isn’t about superficial worship elements, it is a doctrinal thing. It’s about propriety in worship and she’s found a church that offers that without moving into liberal theology.

Both of these people are moving in different directions along the doctrinal spectrum.

There are also people making greater moves. Imagine someone moving from Brett’s new church to Amanda’s new church. That’s a rather significant change of address. Is this a bad thing?

I would be worried about people whose moves from one extreme to the other are more like pendulum swings. I would also want to watch out for people who are making moves too often; too frequently.

Where I would find value is with people who have spent time at various points on the spectrum; people whose background includes a variety of Christian experience.

The people in my opening paragraph have been, in my opinion, simply stubborn. I say that in their case because it has involved a price to pay — their kids’ lack of good youth ministry exposure in their teens and the results of that — that I would say is too high.

On the other hand, if your church gets high marks in all areas that are relevant to your family, you may find no need to move on. If you’re on board with the church’s programs and priorities, if the teaching and worship are to your liking, and if the community involves people you’ve been doing life with and you continue to be invested in their lives (and they in yours) then there’s no need to move on…

…Most people leave a church because of push factors or pull factors. In other words, there is either something happening where they are that has created in them a need to immediately vacate, or this something attracting them somewhere else that has created a desire to want to not simply check that out (for a visit) but to immerse themselves in such a community for a period of months or years.

The challenge comes when the desire is more of a pull, but the destination is not certain; when the name of the church being sought is an unknown quantity. That may ultimately involve some church-hopping. One does need to try some different flavors to know what one might like. That’s not a bad thing. As long as we’re worshiping God somewhere each week, we don’t have a problem. We are members of a worldwide family of Christ-followers and we should feel welcome anytime we drop into any branch of that family.

Eventually God will show us and circumstances will give us the language to describe what we’re seeking. In a large metropolitan area there will be greater choice. In non-urban situations, it may mean driving a half-hour to get to where we need to be…

…In the pendulum pictured above, there is an apple core. That represents our core beliefs. These are being shaped and formed over the course of our lives. Individual doctrinal spectra might have extremes, but I’ve deliberately chosen to rest the pendulum in the middle. Our core beliefs are formed from a balance on various issues.

Where I stand on issue “X” and “Y” and “Z” might be different from you. Hopefully we all agree on doctrines “A” and “B” and “C” and “D” which form the Statement of Faith of most of our churches. I hope even on “X,” “Y,” and “Z” I’m balanced in my perspective.

If you feel it’s time to move on, leave gracefully.

If you feel it’s time to simply to do some visiting for a season, then don’t burn your bridges. The place you currently call home represents family, and neither they nor God wish to see relationships fractured. You may want to return at some point, and you’ll do so bringing your charismatic or liturgical experiences back with you.

Like Brett and Amanda, be prepared for some new adventures.

Finally a caveat: Avoid chronic church hopping. When you find a landing place, be prepared to stay. Let some roots — even if they aren’t deep roots — sink in.

 

 

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January 12, 2018

Theological Comparisons: What Type of Church Do You Attend?

I’ve been amazed recently at people who attend a church which has a denominational affiliation, but they don’t know what it is. Visiting? Maybe. You’re just passing through. Attending frequently? I would have thought it was a basic question. When it comes to actual doctrines, overarching theology, spiritual values, church culture and core beliefs1 I would think people would want to know where their church fits in across various spectra2 but apparently if the worship is good, the children’s ministry is high quality, and the sermons are engaging, people are happy not knowing whose name is on the door.

A few days ago we asked the question, “What is a Charismatic.” It seems to me that a diligent blogger could start a series on this, “What is a Baptist?” and “What is an Episcopalian?”3 being next in line. Unfortunately I am not that writer. However…

We started the work week on Monday with Michael Patton, so it seemed like a good place to end the work week. First of all, for those of you who are subscribers, I need to clarify something that we updated a few hours after the piece appeared, and that is that Michael’s blog Parchment and Pen migrated to CreedoHouse.org. The specific article, What Does it Mean to Be Charismatic which we quoted, is available in full at this link.

In the interest of getting it right this time, while I couldn’t find the image below at the new site, a full explanation of it appears at this link.

My motivation in all this is often very perfunctory. As regular readers know, I spend at least two days per week serving customers in a Christian retail store. So when the above chart first appeared, I introduced it as follows:

Sometimes, I have to admit, I need to be able to put people into a box.

It’s not that they will necessarily fit into the box comfortably, but frankly it saves time; it lets me know what set of terminology to use; it indicates to me what schools of doctrinal thought are off limits; it helps me find common ground with authors or worship styles or even Bible translation preferences.

This is not good.

However, sometimes it does cut to the chase. Give me some indicators and let me make assumptions. Is that the ESV Study Bible you’re holding? Here’s a new book from John Piper you might enjoy. You attend the Revival Center? You might enjoy the new Jesus Culture album.

Stereotyping, as we once called it; today it’s called profiling.

The same day as that ran, I also ran another chart, this one from Matt Stone. His blog has also migrated, but at the risk of making the same mistake twice, I did more research this time, and the chart can now be located at this link. The new website is called Curious Christian (and he’s still very much into visuals.)


I hope this helps somehow! I realize the title of today’s piece asks a question and only gives you a minimalist framework to formulate an answer, but such as the two graphic images are, they help us get back the superficial (see cartoon above) and think about things in more important terms.


1 This phrase is all about the cadence and rhythm of the sentence. Some of the words themselves are redundant. Speaking of words, it’s interesting that the modern dichotomy of Calvinism and Arminianism is nowhere to be seen in the two graphics.
2 Spectra, as in plural of spectrum. Usually churches can be measured in terms of where they land on the spectrum for three or four major discriminators. Instead of a double-axis graph, picture something that looks more like an asterisk.
3 Or, if you prefer Anglican; but although based in Canada, I’m writing for a dominantly U.S. audience, so Episcopal it is! Some would argue that only those within a particular movement can accurately describe it or write about it. What do you think?

November 24, 2010

Wednesday Link List

Here we link again!…

  • Five screen pages is longer by Christianity Today standards, but you should take the time to read this article by Drew Dkyk about “The Nones” and in particular, the group of people in their mid-to-late teens and early twenties who are exiting the church in droves who are termed “The Leavers.”
  • If micro-finance is a key tool for lifting people out of poverty, Shane Claiborne of The Simple Way and Peter Greer of Hope Internationalare featured in this CNN piece asking Was Jesus a Communist or a Capitalist?
  • Is the Pope Catholic?   If you missed this week’s condom controversy, here’s where it all began.
  • Donald S. Whitney brings a list of the top ten things a church can do to have the best worship services.   #2 – Have clear Biblical support for every element in worship.  Read the other nine here.
  • Tim Stafford travels to a would-be “international” Christian conference only to discover that a very western mentality governs all the proceedings.   Read his report from Lausanne.
  • Bene at Bene Diction Blogs On (BDBO) is tracking ongoing developments in the Crystal Cathedral story, and concludes that with the level of compensation the CFO received, “The flock got fleeced.”  Link here.
  • Here’s a second link from BDBO.   It concerns the reaction of a Canadian Christian talk show host to the “It Gets Better” campaign to try to prevent the suicides of gay teenagers.   The typical response which alienates non-Christian gays (and Christian ones alike, of which there are surprisingly many) lacks compassion.  Watch what Michael Coren said and a contrasting response from Wendy at New Direction.
  • Got introduced this week to a new band which does some very current hymn cover tunes.  Check out the MySpace page for Ascend the Hill.
  • Okay, if you didn’t guess by now, the graphic at the top of the post is from Stuff Fundies Like.   Click the image to link.
  • First saw this at Darryl Dash’s blog, but it’s easy to read here at Zach Nielsen’s:  The latest statistics on internet p0rn0graphy.
  • While the radio announcer reports the latest crashes on the rush hour drive home, he could be kept just as busy reporting the moral crashes of movie- and music-industry teen idols.   Here’s some discussion at Streaming Faith with a media and culture specialist at Focus.
  • And what better place to insert this link:  The blog On The Fence With Jesus, where a skeptical screenwriter and a Christian pastor discuss faith, asks the musical (pop music) question, Is Justin Bieber Really Religious?
  • Bieber also talked about how his faith keeps him grounded in the madness of Hollywood and celebrity. He told the AP[Associated Press], ‘Like, I’m a Christian, I believe in God, I believe that Jesus died on a cross for my sins. I believe that I have a relationship and I’m able to talk to him and really, he’s the reason I’m here, so I definitely have to remember that. As soon as I start forgetting, I’ve got to click back and be like, you know, this is why I’m here.'”
  • Church in a box department:   If you want to know where your denomination fits in with all the others, you could do worse than clicking through a couple of times to view The Great Chart of Denominations.   Hey, you’re curious aren’t you?
  • Or maybe you’re more into statistics on mega-churches; after all there’s a whole book in the Bible about Numbers, right?  (Warning to readers outside the 50 states:  The relevance of all this is somewhat geo-blocked beyond the borders of the U. S. of A.)
  • Here’s a great piece on “The Sinner’s Prayer” that is actually part one of two.    This was also at Christianity 201 last night, as I’m really in awe of how this writer cuts to the heart of this issue.
  • For all our U.S. readers who are heading into a weekend of massive gorging on food and massive consumer spending; here’s a re-run of last year’s TG cartoon from Joyoftech…

…Of course, regular readers will despair that this is our first Wed. Link List repeat cartoon, so we’ll have to have a new one — the newest, in fact…

…This, of course will just frustrate my more spiritual readers who will contend that with this addition, I’ve gone off the blog’s mandate; so…

…That one should be sufficient to be offend everyone, not the least of which is Nitrozac and Snaggy, the JOT creators who probably have a two-panels-per-blog limit.

October 18, 2010

The Place for Christian Critique

If anything characterized the Christian publishing market during the first decade of this new century, it was the glut of books falling under the general category of ecclesiology.     Once the domain of pastors and seminary students, suddenly every Tom, Dick and Harriet was interested in church growth strategy, church planting, home church, organic church, postmodern ministry, et al.

And many of these books were very critical of church as we know it.   Some writers believed it was better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, but others, spared nothing to launch their complaint against the irrelevance of church in the previous century including even tearing down more recent models which were attempting to remedy that very situation.

Can you imagine an author walking into a publishers agent’s office today with a manuscript about church life?   It would be a hard sell with the titles already available.

So what of this particular genre?

I chose the word critique over the word criticism, because most writers self-justified their efforts that they weren’t trying to be “critical,” but were attempting to simply put the church under the microscope in light of contemporary culture and statistical surveys.    But some of the books left you more pessimistic than encouraged.

I also chose this topic in light of the discussion that began Saturday here (two posts back) on the place for Christian humor.   Humor is, in many ways, a form of critique, and the humorists and the critics have a lot in common.   It’s my opinion that we need both, and that overall, the discussions in various books published from 2000 – 2009 have been helpful for refocusing and re-visioning the role of the local church moving forward.

But I learned on the weekend that not everyone is going to agree.

I guess a fuller title for this would be, “The Place for Critique in Christian Writing;” since it’s not Christianity — the doctrine and theology — that’s being reconsidered.   Hopefully.   Although it’s often the doctrine and theology as we came to understand it, or as it was taught to us, or as it was impressed on us that can be the issue.

So here’s what I want you do:   Check out both Saturday’s post and the comments; and then answer the following question which is similar, but different.

What’s your take on books or online media — such as blogs — that are highly critical of traditional church?

And let’s add a question about the issue that was raised on the weekend.

What controls should exist regarding the possibility of new believers or even seekers stumbling over material that was meant for church veterans?

The difference is that here we’re looking at writers who aren’t trying to be funny, though maybe humor might have softened their blows!

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