Liturgical Church is Weird For People Here…and That’s a Good Thing

Liturgical Church is Weird For People Here…and That’s a Good Thing
Liturgical Church is Weird For People Here…and That’s a Good Thing

New Guest Writer, Fr. Gary Ball

Is it possible to plant a liturgical church? This is a question I had to ask myself just over a year ago as we began our effort to plant an Anglican church in Asheville, North Carolina. I had to evaluate whether I was forcing what I valued onto a culture that had no interest—that it would it not resonate with, or be formational in the life of our neighbors. What I’ve come to believe is that it is not just possible to plant a liturgical church, but it is beneficial. In fact, what makes us ‘attractive’ is that we are different. Let me explain.

Asheville

I minister in an environment that would not exactly be labeled as receptive to the gospel. However, many in their varied ways are looking for answers; for something. Perhaps this explains the therapeutic massage, health stores, and yoga studios that line our streets. On many of the porches of the old, recently rehabbed houses hang Tibetan prayer flags, and statues of Buddha are proudly displayed. It’s true, they are grasping for something, and it seems to be happiness. Their bank accounts emptied in the pursuit of peace, reaching to accomplish for themselves a sort of justification, to atone for that which is keeping them from rest.

At first glance this can be discouraging for those of us hoping to draw our neighbors to our churches, and often leaves the faint of heart hopeless. However, this isn’t all bad news for us bearers of the gospel. Culturally, our neighbors are ritualistic, perhaps much like those Paul encountered at the Areopagus in Athens, and this can work to our advantage. They have rhythms incorporated into their lives—meditation, chant, certain food customs, etc. What if we sought to redeem these already established rhythms? While the structure of our worship—rote prayers, postures, and the like, may be off-putting to some, they actually resonate well with our neighbors.

Many missiological diagnoses of our culture have suggested we employ a strategy that casts ourselves in as ‘un-churchy’ a fashion as possible—to portray ourselves as ‘just like them’ and then drop the bomb after they assimilate comfortably into our community. Those who make up our demographic quickly see through our shallow attempts to emulate their world in our worship; a shameless attempt to coax them in our doors.

When I moved to Asheville I asked several in the community for advice, they all gave similar answers, “Ashevillians will not be fooled by theatrics!” I agree, though what I have just described may be attractive to the backslider, our unchurched neighbors will not take the bait.

We are working from the premise that there are very few in our neighborhood that wake up on Sunday and suddenly decide they need to go to church. Mailers don’t jog their memory, and unfortunately, we have no one wander in off the sidewalk. No, if they come through the doors of our church, it is because they have made a conscious decision that they need what is offered inside. They don’t want a version of what they already have, they want church. And the distinctive differences between the church and the world from which they come is actually refreshing.

Distinctly Christian/Distinctly Asheville

Worship should first be for worship. Our plan for mission is embodied in our people, not our worship style. Therefore, the way we worship is not dictated by culture, but should first serve to form a particular kind of Christian—one that is an evangelist in nature. This is our strategy.

Many churches start backward, they use worship as the primary means of attraction, never fully forming the participants in the image of Christ, because we’ve formulated worship according to the image of the world. Our expression of worship is enculturated, not in the sense that it is remade to reflect our people, but that it effectively remakes us into the image of the church and the Christ we love and serve. However, as seen particularly in the reformation, the way we worship can and should serve to convert worshipers. This necessitates that we worship in a way that is distinctly Christian, while also being distinctly Asheville—worship in the vernacular.

Making a visitor a bit uncomfortable is not always bad. A little confusion, as you will see, can actually be a good thing.

Newcomers see that those gathered for worship actually care enough to learn the things they are participating in, and onlookers feel compelled to belong to such a group—where people pray together, and observe certain practices that distinguish them as a ‘people’. That we are distinctly Christian in our worship expression is not a bad thing. Blurring the lines between our world and theirs can be confusing, seen as a ploy, and is often considered disingenuous.

However, while newcomers may feel slightly unfamiliar with the Christian ‘thing’, there should be elements that make them feel at home as well. Our processional cross and torches have been made from recycled materials, and our altar is live edged wood. This is sacramental in that we have employed the natural materials given to us to communicate the timeless truth of the gospel, in the language of our worshipers. Music may be the easiest way to span the distance between an otherworldly liturgy and the culture represented in the lives of those attending our worship time. Our music is rich, old and sacred, but purposely echoes Appalachian mountain harmonies and rhythms.

Counter Cultural

It doesn’t take long to realize our neighbors are protesters! What we do in our worship time appeals to the counter-cultural nature of our community. We have not shaped our worship to do so, using it as a marketing technique, but it has been shaped through the generations to function in such a way. This is the heart of what God does in the Sabbath, to slow us, and refuse to let a persons worth be dictated by what they produce. Our worship confronts a way of life that has been culture driven, often leaving us longing for rest. I often say to those who worship at Redeemer, “You being here is saying to the world:”

  • You don’t dictate my schedule.
  • You don’t determine the pace by which I live my life.
  • I am not defined by what I produce.

Space

Defining space is important to our worship on many levels. It certainly sparks our imagination and creates an environment that points us heavenward. For our demographic it is important that space communicates leaving something behind, and stepping into something new. It’s apparent that for the last couple of decades we have made coming into the church easier and easier, but as we have accomplished this, we have also made leaving the church just as easy. Sure, we want to eliminate barriers to entering into the life of the church, but in doing so, we must evaluate if we’ve eliminated all rites of passage, thus making the door to the church a slippery place where people easily slide in and out of the church.

Our rich Anglican aesthetic helps us to use metaphorical imagery to simulate the stepping into something new. We use incense as one such marker. Someone walked in to the church the other day and said, “smells like church in here!” It is refreshing for them to step off of the busy street in front of the church and find themselves in a sanctuary.

Appealing to the senses is a serious matter for us, from the colors of the season, to the smell of incense and the flicker of candles, to the sweet taste of wine. These aspects of our worship do not serve as gimmicks, but we truly believe them to be both appealing and formational in the life of our community. While many might think the ritual of Anglicanism to be strange, or even empty, it’s not such a stretch for our unchurched, artistic neighbors to appreciate it—in fact, I think they appreciate more so than many curious Christians who walk into Redeemer. The appeal to senses has a lot to do with it.

Identity

It is clear that our culture is longing for identity, and we are uniquely situated as a church to give them just that. I find that the distinctive way of Anglicanism is especially effective in the way it shapes identity. Our congregants, and even our unchurched neighbors, are surprisingly open to adopting our practices. It is our common, rhythmic way of life they find enticing. To meet this need for identity and belonging we give each of our members a Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer Book serves as one more element of shared identity among those in our church. This is just one way we are tapping into our tradition, using the instruments we’ve been given to shape worshipers, and draw people into the life of the church.

A few final thoughts:

  1. Explain. What we do each Sunday is packed with meaning, but our congregants have to know why and what we are doing! From reading the Gospel in the center of the church, to dipping our fingers into the waters of our baptismal fonts, each week our faith should be enlivened. We are heirs to beautiful object lessons, let’s use them.
  1. Be Genuine. This is the most common complement we receive. In a worship style that often gets criticized for being stiff and empty, we should always seek to remain genuine. The liturgy is there to serve the church, not the other way around. Never sacrifice authenticity in an effort to stay on track with the order of service.
  1. Don’t Apologize. I’m often preoccupied with what visitors are thinking. It is always the thing I am most concerned about that they end up saying was the most meaningful part of the service! We cannot control what God will use or how He will minister to the hearts of those who visit. We are always surprised how much our visitors appreciate the way we worship.
  1. Give them a Prayer Book. Every young person that walks through the doors of our church wants a Prayer Book, and we give them one. It gives an added sense of belonging, something they learn how to use together, and hold in common.
  1. Formational. Don’t do anything that is not formational in the life of the worshiper. If it is empty, toss it. If it is a gimmick, it’s got to go. I have to admit, there are elements of worship that I wish we would do more…but it’s mostly because I think it’s cool, not that it is truly formational or God-honoring. Developing a filter to determine whether we are doing things for the right reasons is extremely important.

Photo: Mural in Asheville, NC by David Wilson via Flickr

How Not To Make Matters Worse For African Homosexual People

Chris Sugdensugdenwebpae

In the lead up to the Anglican Primates’ gathering from January 11-16, further pressure was brought to bear on African churches and nations on the subject of their laws on sexuality. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have made direct threats from their positions of enormous power to African states to remove funds for their education and health budgets if the laws are not changed. The Episcopal Church (USA), the Church of Canada, the Dean of Christ Church and lobby groups have pressed for this too.

Where would Jesus be found? – in the courts of the rich and powerful bullying the poor for whom families and children are their security in countries with no welfare systems, or in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya and Kampala,Uganda? Pope Francis has made clear where he stands.

There are many myths and misunderstandings on this topic.

The Gay Rights movement: the challenge
An archdeacon from Jos in Northern Nigeria writes:

In many African cultures, people with same sex attraction and those who have homosexual sex have lived within communities and not been challenged or harassed. In many Nigerian cultures they gain sympathy, as in the Berom and Anaguta tribes.

These small gay communities exist despite the introduction of Sharia law which, in northern Nigeria, proscribes death by stoning of any persons caught in homosexual practices. 

Homosexuality is therefore a discreet and personal lifestyle. Despite the laws, people acknowledge the practices and keep them private. They only become crimes when they are brought to public attention.

In many African cultures and tribes, especially among the Igbo tribe of eastern Nigeria, homosexuality was a taboo even before the coming of Christianity and colonialism. Families had their individual ways of managing those who appeared to be “gay” and helping them live their lives, but it was not generally considered a public matter. Indeed it was the coming of Christianity that provided a Christian community where people with same sex attraction were more readily accepted as Christians and were not necessarily segregated. The general understanding was homosexual practice was not to be encouraged for disciples of Christ, and that certainly a leadership position in the church would not knowingly be offered to a person in this category.”

Ugandans have discovered that UNICEF, UNESCO and liberal missionaries were teaching the affirmation of same sex relationships to children in their schools, also that teaching materials were being given out that reinforced this approval. Western funded LGBT offices have been set up in major cities throughout the country. It is widely believed that bright young people are being encouraged to join LGBT groups by being offered funding for the expensive local tertiary education which is only generally accessible to the elite.

In response to the negative ground swell against this activity among Uganda’s children, the President commissioned a major scientific study to find out if same-sex attraction is innate. The report concluded that it was not. Therefore the Government brought in the ‘aggravated homosexuality bill’ (AHB) which specially relates to schools and orphanages where these propagandists work as volunteers. The change in the law is that there are prison sentences where children are involved – this is the aggravated homosexuality.  When the death penalty was proposed the church stepped in to stop it.

Outcome
Ironically the liberal campaign precipitated the AHB in Uganda which is now the target of criticism by these same agencies.

The Archdeacon from Jos concludes: “What outside activists are succeeding in doing, in their campaign, is to put undue pressure on the church to accept openly what was a taboo in communities before even the arrival of the church in the 19th century and what the church itself would not encourage. This negates the Christian morality which the church has preached over the decades and simply says that the Bible is a lie. These communities would rather go back to upholding their pagan religion that protects their communities from this ‘cult’ and its unnatural practices.

Secondly, the pro-gay policies of outside activists are being quoted as an example of western imposition of ungodly practices.  As a result Muslim propagandists can condemn everything that has come from western countries, the church included, as unnatural practices introduced to destroy family values. Boko Haram and many Muslim clerics have used this against the church and western countries and culture.

Thirdly the consequence of the gay rights movement pushing so much money and political resource to enforce laws and legal ‘cover’ for gays is to set gay people apart from the rest of the community and runs the risk of portraying them as the enemies of society rather than as people to be understood and accepted.

The effect of the gay rights campaign is therefore  likely to  be increased resistance both from the churches and many African governments,  which the west is trying to use. In Nigeria for instance, because of the reasons set out above, it will be political suicide for any politician to be associated with a gay rights movement.”

Islam’s Sword Comes for Christians

  • “It was very difficult above all when they said, ‘Become Muslim or we’ll cut your head off.'” — Rev. Jacques Mourad, Syriac Catholic priest, Syria.
  • “The only reason they [Muslim authorities] let you go is when they torture you to death…. They don’t want you to die in prison, it’s not their responsibility, so they send you home to die.” — Helen Berhane, gospel singer, Eritrea.
  • “[I]f they fear that people are offended by being surrounded by Christian symbols, then perhaps those [Muslim] people applied for asylum in the wrong country.” — A speaker for the Progress Party, Norway, on being asked to remove crosses from Christian camp sites to accommodate Muslim asylum seekers.

Hostility for Christmas was on full display. On Christmas Day, Muslims in Bethlehem, as documented here, set a Christmas tree on fire and greeted the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem with a hail of stones; in Belgium, Muslim “refugees” set fire to a public Christmas tree; in Nigeria, Muslim jihadis attacked churches during Christmas mass and killed at least 16; in the Philippines, on Christmas Eve, Muslim jihadis slaughtered 10 Christians to “make a statement;” in Bangladesh, churches skipped Christmas mass, due to assassination attempts on pastors and death threats against Christians; in Indonesia, churches were on “high alert,” with 150,000 security personnel patrolling; in Iran, Christians celebrating Christmas in homes were arrested; and three Muslim countries — Somalia, Tajikistan, and Brunei — formally banned any Christmas celebrations.

Earlier in December, in the United States, in San Bernardino, California, Mohamed Ahmed Elrawi, 57, a Muslim, pulled out a sword and, saying he would “Die and kill for Allah,” chased his neighbor, Mark Tashamneh a Christian of Jordanian descent. Tashamneh escaped and called police. After they arrested Elrawi on suspicion of attempted murder, they found in his apartment evidence suggesting that he is a “radicalized Muslim.” While police were escorting Elrawi out of his apartment, Elrawi said in Arabic to Tashamneh that he would kill him. “I’m a Christian,” Tashamneh told reporters. “I’m happy … and I believe what I believe. I am not against what he believes, but he apparently has a problem with me and came and threatened me.”

In Uganda, in separate incidents, Muslims slaughtered two Christian leaders with swords. Patrick Ojangole, a 43-year-old Christian father of five, was hacked to death. He had also supported several children whose families had disowned them for leaving Islam. According to Ojangole’s friend, who survived, they had been traveling to their village when they saw Muslim women covered in burqas sitting on the road: “Because it was late in the evening, we thought they needed some help from us, so we stopped, and while we were still talking with them, a man arrived [followed by two more men] … The two women immediately pulled out swords from their burqas and gave them to the men.” One of the three Muslim men reproached Patrick Ojangole’s for refusing to cease his Christian activities. Then the Muslims killed him. “Patrick was a very committed Christian and a hard-working farmer,” said the friend. “From his farm work, he used to support 10 children from Muslim families who had been ostracized by their families.” Ojangole’s five children range in age from seven to sixteen.

Separately, a pastor was also hacked to death and beheaded after he and other church members resisted efforts by local Muslims to seize land belonging to the church. When pastor Bongo Martin, 32, confronted them, the imam of the Muslim group said, “We have told you many times that we do not want the church to be located near our mosque. Your church has been taking our members to your church.” Then a Muslim, Abdulhakha Mugen, pulled out a sword and struck the pastor’s neck. Martin instantly collapsed but Mugen kept hacking at him until he was decapitated. His body was later found floating the river.

In a predominantly Muslim village in Uganda, after a Bible study, an additional five underground Christians, including a pregnant mother, died from poisoning.

The rest of December’s roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes, but is not limited to, the following:

Muslim Attacks on Christian Churches and Symbols

Italy: While shouting “Allahu Akbar!” [“Allah is the Greatest!”], two Muslim men, one Palestinian the other Tunisian, attacked and tried to disarm soldiers stationed outside Santa Maria Maggiore cathedral in Rome. According to Italian media, “[W]hen police intervened, the two men aged, 40 and 30, called other foreigners in the area to their aid, and assaulted and threatened the arresting officers. After they were taken to the police station, they continued to speak out against law enforcement and Europe in both Arabic and Italian. They were charged with resisting and threatening an officer and instigation to commit a crime with intent to commit terrorist acts, slapped with an expulsion order, and taken to a migrant reception center in the southern city of Bari prior to repatriation.”

Egypt: A church which had obtained the necessary permits required for construction, and was under construction, in Swada village, Minya, was attacked on December 10 by a mob of at least 400 Muslims, incited by local officials. “They destroyed the marble, ceramics, cement, wood and church’s signs inside the buildings and destroyed the contents of the building, and attacked and injured some of the workers,” said a local man. After the attack, the same officials who incited the attack pointed to it as the reason to outlaw the church. The population of Swada is about 35% Christian, or 3,000 people, and there is not a single Coptic Orthodox church to serve them.

Separately, the ancient Paromeos monastery was threatened online by jihadists. The monastery, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built more than two hundred years before Islam overran Christian Egypt. Although the ancient monastery receives police protection, Christian activists are calling for greater security measures in response to increasing threats.

Yemen: Days after the Islamic State (ISIS) assassinated Aden city’s governor, an abandoned Catholic church was blown up. “The gunmen,” according to a resident, “who were probably extremists, blew up the [Immaculate Conception] Catholic church in the Mualla district of Aden… The building was completely destroyed.” The church had already been severely damaged after a Saudi-led coalition air strike last May. Reuters wrote: “Once a cosmopolitan city, home to thriving Hindu and Christian communities, Aden has gone from one of the world’s busiest ports as a key hub of the British empire to a largely lawless backwater. Its small Christian population left long ago. Unknown assailants had previously vandalized a Christian cemetery and torched another Aden church this year.”

Iraq: ISIS bombed a monastery that belonged to nuns in the Christian village of Tel Kepe. Ten Assyrian Christian homes were also bombed and several people injured. Separately, in Kirkuk, a cemetery used by the Assyrian Church and the Syriac Orthodox church was vandalized. Crosses and tombstones were broken, and graves opened. The identity of the perpetrators is unknown. Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako condemned the destruction of the cemeteries. He said, “We live in difficult conditions…”

rkey: Groups believed to be associated with ISIS issued death threats to at least 20 evangelical churches via social media, email, and mobile texts. They included “upsetting videos and pictures” said a human rights activist. Suspected Islamic State militants reportedly said they “are tired of waiting” for Muslims who had converted to Christianity to return to Islam. “Koranic commandments… urge us to slay the apostate like you,” said one message.

Bangladesh: “He who preaches Christianity must leave the country or die” were the words of an anonymous letter sent to ten leaders of Protestant Christian churches. An additional four church leaders narrowly escaped attempts on their lives, causing the nation’s churches to cancel Christmas Day church services.

Cameroon: Boko Haram jihadis invaded a Christian village and torched a church and several homes. Up to 1,000 Christians – men, women and children – were affected. Eight were killed. After reducing everything the villagers had to ashes, the jihadis also set their food supplies on fire. The villagers are struggling to survive.

Muslim Slaughter of Christians

Nigeria: Seven Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked two households and a compound for Christians who had already been displaced from earlier jihadi attacks. Fifteen Christians were slaughtered, including three children aged 1, 3, and 5, as well as their grandmother. According to her daughter, “My mother struggled with the gunmen until they finally shot her and the three kids,” said her daughter. “She died trying to save the three children.” According to one resident: “They had come to survey the village that Sunday morning while we were in our churches. The Fulani gunmen even asked our children to give them drinking water, which they did, but the kids did not suspect anything and did not inform us about this. It was only after the attack that we were told about the visit of the gunmen to our village.”

Central African Republic: Armed Muslim Seleka militants attacked a camp for internally displaced persons. They killed eight Christians and wounded one UN peacekeeper. Since Muslim Seleka seized power of the Christian-majority country in 2013, thousands of people have been killed. After months of massacres, rapes, and looting by armed Seleka, Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) armed groups emerged to counter the Seleka. Although they see themselves as a Christian militia, the nation’s churches condemn their violent actions.

Egypt: A 70-year-old Christian woman was found stabbed to death in her house in what is now a Muslim majority nation. She had 10 stab wounds in her chest. Police were informed and the matter was reported as being under investigation.

Dhimmitude

Norway: Christian camp sites offered as shelter for asylum seekers were told by local authorities to remove Christian symbols. According to the report, to accommodate “the large influx of asylum seekers to Norway, immigration authorities found it necessary to lodge asylum seekers in more places than ordinary reception centres. The Norwegian Missionary Society offered several Christian camp sites, which authorities accepted as long as the missionary society took down any cross or other Christian symbols.” It agreed. But a speaker for the Progress Party said, “I understand that asylum centres should be politically and religiously neutral, but I interpret it so that the camps would not engage in active ministry, which is said they will respect. The cross however, is not just a religious symbol, but also a part of our heritage and part of our flag…. [I]f they fear that people are offended by being surrounded by Christian symbols, then perhaps those [Muslim] people applied for asylum in the wrong country.”

Eritrea: After finding a new life in Europe, Gospel singer Helen Berhane shared her experiences in Eritrea. She told of how she was locked in a shipping container and tortured for being Christian. At a conference in Rome, she said: “The only reason they [Muslim authorities] let you go is when they torture you to death…. They don’t want you to die in prison, it’s not their responsibility, so they send you home to die.” Berhane, who was arrested for evangelizing and releasing religious music, was released only after she became deathly ill.

Syria: A Christian priest who escaped to the West after being held for months by Islamic State in Raqqa shared his “very intense experience, from the spiritual point of view.” According to Syriac Catholic priest, Rev. Jacques Mourad: “It was very difficult above all when they said, ‘Become Muslim or we’ll cut your head off.'”

Turkey: After widespread international criticism, the nation’s schoolroom textbooks appear improved in several ways, including how non-Sunni Muslims are depicted. But they still contain biases against non-Muslim religions, said a new study. The “major weakness” is that the “textbooks are still written through the paradigm of the officially-sanctioned interpretations of Islam and Islamic culture. All religious minority traditions in the country are depicted within the Muslim context rather than as distinct traditions. In addition, only superficial, limited, and misleading information is given about religions other than Islam, such as Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.” For example, instead of explaining that Christians view Jesus as the Son of God, an eighth-grade text depicts him as one in a line of Islamic prophets called by Allah, akin to the Islamic historiography about Muhammad: “When Jesus reached 30 years of age, Allah gave him the duty of being a prophet…. He then began inviting people to believe in Allah. At the start, only 12 people believed in his call. They are called the ‘disciples.'”

Pakistan: Mary Javaid, a Christian teacher at a female primary school in the Punjab, was accused of having “preached Christianity to Muslim girls.” A Muslim man, Muhammad Sharif, filed a complaint with the Department of Education containing accusations against Javaid which, according to human rights lawyer, Sardar Mushtaq Gill, are false, and instead represent yet another case of discrimination and abuse towards a Christian involved in the area of education. A few months earlier, a Catholic teacher, appointed headmaster at a primary school, was beaten and tortured by a group of Muslim teachers who spurned the authority of a Christian “infidel.”

Nigeria: Mercy, a 22-year-old Christian woman abducted by Boko Haram in June 2014 and rescued after five weeks, described her ordeal in the Islamic camp. In June 2014, members of Boko Haram overran her town and declared it an Islamic caliphate. At least 100 people were killed in the attack. She was seized from her home in the middle of the night. “Everyone in the town,” she said, “ran to save themselves. My dad and I were separated. I don’t know what happened to him. I think he died the same way many others died, because they refused to deny Christ.” She was marched off to a Boko Haram camp. “When we got to the place, there were about 50 other women. I recognised many other Christians, who had now become Muslims and were forced to undergo Islamic teaching…. My first day was like hell. I cried all day and all night. I prayed like never before and asked God to give me courage.” The next morning, Mercy and the others were taken to a clearing for questioning and asked to convert to Islam.

The four other girls were very scared and immediately agreed. I pleaded that they allow me to remain a Christian, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. They beat me and told me to never mention Christianity in the camp again. Then they told me that they would arrange a husband for me. … We were forced to attend prayers at 5am. After that, we were sent to a madrassa [Islamic school]. There was only a short break. After we were given a little food, we returned to the madrassa. They constantly told us to work hard for the advancement of Boko Haram. In the afternoon we were dispersed to do our chores, such as washing the men’s clothes…. I witnessed constantly how Boko Haram members killed innocent people. Christian men who were captured and brought to the camp were killed for refusing to deny their faith. [It was like] the fulfilment of the [things written in the] Bible played out in front of my eyes, as people died for their faith in Christ. But others, including me, could not endure the torture and gave in to their demands.

Mercy was eventually “married” off to a Muslim man and without giving any details only said, “Every single day came with tears and fears for the unknown.”

About this Series

While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians is expanding. “Muslim Persecution of Christians” was developed to collate some — by no means all — of the instances of persecution that surface each month.

It documents what the mainstream media often fails to report.

It posits that such persecution is not random but systematic, and takes place in all languages, ethnicities and locations.

Defamilialisation: an ideology that shapes our lives

The Economist magazine is perhaps the most influential publication on earth. One of its pet projects is promoting an ideology known as defamilialization, also known as post-familialism and post-maternalism. Though these unmarketable terms are kept to academic publications and out of the media, they have, without a doubt, impacted our lives.

In its January 2010 cover feature, We did it!, announcing that women would soon be 50 percent of the US labour force, the libertarian magazine summarized this global mega-project: “Welfare states were designed when most women stayed at home. They need to change the way they operate.” [1]

Of course, women have never simply “stayed at home”. They have always done essential work for their families and communities. The welfare state was created to support unwaged family care work. Defamilialization erodes the system that ensures care for the vulnerable, especially children.

In a more recent dossier, The Weaker Sex, The Economist tells us about weak men, and strong single mothers, employed and raising their kids without fathers. The mothers are “far from rich, but they are getting by,” and “Few women in rich countries need a man’s support to raise a family. (They might want it but they don’t need it.)”

The article suggests men will turn out better with “early childhood education” — state-funded daycare — as boys. The fact that “a Chinese steelworker is cheaper than an American” is mentioned, but without questioning the ethics or wisdom of politicians who approve trade laws that facilitate maximizing corporate profits at the cost of male unemployment.

Being a low-income single mother myself I know that the happy story of independent, low-income single motherhood is spin. It promotes a family situation that no one wants for themselves but which some policy-shapers see as an ideal type.

‘We did it!’ Keeping women at work

In the “We Did It!” feature, articles gushed about women’s “dramatic progress” and “empowerment”. Being dependent on an employer apparently gives women “more control over their own lives”. Women’s productivity outside the GDP is only mentioned in misogynistic insults: “the loss” and “wasted talent” until “millions of brains have been put to more productive use”.

Despite its libertarian posture of disdain for state intervention, The Economist believes that the “issue” of motherhood can somehow be resolved with state funded daycare. As for “benefits for parents”, “the answer is no.” The problem of “too little time for their children” is merely a “middle class couples” complaint. Poor children suffer most, not from lack of parental time (which apparently they don’t need), but lack of daycare so mums can get jobs — however “low-paying”.

Back in 1998 the magazine was frank about the motivations behind employing women: “It is perfectly possible to devise a system that will produce more children and still keep women at work”. Subsidized daycare increases the labour pool with mothers, a “godsend to employers [because it] …raises demand, not least for goods and services that will make a working woman’s life easier: labour-saving devices, convenience foods, meals out, child care….”

Even better for profits, “[W]omen usually cost less to employ than men, are more prepared to be flexible and less inclined to kick up a fuss if working conditions are poor. Far fewer of them are members of trade unions.”

Disregard for parental choice or evidence supporting defamilialism

– See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/defamilialisation-an-ideology-that-shapes-our-lives/17310#sthash.hwcLoWos.wXNJeBcz.dpuf

Are you ready to pay the price? The days of socially acceptable Christianity are over

Princeton Professor Robert George speaks at the Legatus conference.Steve Jalsevac / LifeSiteNews

John-Henry Westen

Princeton’s Robert George: Are you ready to pay the price? The days of socially acceptable Christianity are over

Catholic , Christianity , Robert George

ORLANDO, February, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — “It is no longer easy to be a faithful Christian, a good Catholic, an authentic witness to the truths of the Gospel,” said Princeton Professor Robert George to a large crowd at the Legatus Summit in Orlando, Florida last weekend. Professor George added that people can still safely identify as “Catholic” as long as they don’t believe, or will at least be completely silent about, “what the Church teaches on issues such as marriage and sexual morality and the sanctity of human life.”

He said “the guardians of those norms of cultural orthodoxy that we have come to call ‘political correctness,’” will still grant a comfort to a Catholic ashamed of the Gospel, “or who is willing to act publicly as if he or she were ashamed.”

The Princeton professor, who has been a leader in the fight for life and marriage, reminded his audience of Christ’s words: “If anyone wants to be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me.” “We American Catholics, having become comfortable, had forgotten, or ignored, that timeless Gospel truth. There will be no ignoring it now,” he remarked.

Are we “prepared to give public witness to the massively politically incorrect truths of the Gospel, truths that the mandarins of an elite culture shaped by the dogmas of expressive individualism and me-generation liberalism do not wish to hear spoken?” he asked.

For Catholics, and Evangelicals in America, he said, “it is now Good Friday.”  To a rousing standing ovation Professor George concluded:

The memory of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem has faded.  Yes, he had been greeted—and not long ago—by throngs of people waving palm branches and shouting ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’  He rode into the Jerusalem of Europe and the Jerusalem of the Americas and was proclaimed Lord and King.  But all that is now in the past.  Friday has come. The love affair with Jesus and his Gospel and his Church is over.

Fearing to place in jeopardy the wealth we have piled up, the businesses we have built, the professional and social standing we have earned, the security and tranquility we enjoy, the opportunities for worldly advancement we cherish, the connections we have cultivated, the relationships we treasure, will we silently acquiesce to the destruction of innocent human lives or the demolition of marriage? Will we seek to ‘fit in,’ to be accepted, to live comfortably in the new Babylon? If so, our silence will speak.  Its words will be the words of Peter, warming himself by the fire:  ‘Jesus the Nazorean? I tell you, I do not know the man.’

The saving message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ includes, integrally, the teachings of His church on the profound and inherent dignity of the human person and the nature of marriage as a conjugal bond—a one-flesh union….

The question of faith and fidelity that is put to us today is not in the form it was put to Peter—“surely you are you this man’s disciple”—it is, rather, do you stand for the sanctity of human life and the dignity of marriage as the union of husband and wife?  These teachings are not the whole Gospel—Christianity requires much more than their affirmation.  But they are integral to the Gospel—they are not optional or dispensable.  To be an authentic witness to the Gospel is to proclaim these truths among the rest. The Gospel is, as St. John Paul the Great said, a Gospel of Life.  And it is a Gospel of family life, too.  And it is these integral dimensions of the Gospel that powerful cultural forces and currents today demand that we deny or suppress.

One day we will give an account of all we have done and failed to do. …

One thing alone will matter: let me say this with maximum clarity—whether we stood up for the truth, speaking it out loud and in public, bearing the costs of discipleship that are inevitably imposed on faithful witnesses to truth by cultures that turn away from God and his law. Or were we ashamed of the Gospel?

If we deny truths of the Gospel, we really are like Peter, avowing that “I do not know the man.”  If we go silent about them, we really are like the other apostles, fleeing in fear. But when we proclaim the truths of the Gospel, we really do stand at the foot of the cross with Mary the Mother of Jesus and John the disciple whom Jesus loved. We show by our faithfulness that we are not ashamed of the Gospel. We prove that we are truly Jesus’s disciples, willing to take up his cross and follow him—even to Calvary.

But lest we fail the test, as perhaps many will do, let us remember that Easter is coming.  Jesus will vanquish sin and death. We will experience fear, just as the apostles did—that is inevitable. Like Jesus himself in Gethsemane, we would prefer not to drink this cup.  We would much rather be acceptable Christians, comfortable Catholics. But our trust in him, our hope in his resurrection, our faith in the sovereignty of his heavenly Father can conquer fear.  By the grace of Almighty God, Easter is indeed coming. Do not be ashamed of the Gospel.  Never be ashamed of the Gospel.

SAN ANTONIO, TX: Historic Protestant church reaches settlement with former denomination

 

By Elaine Ayala
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/
February, 2016

Officials with First Presbyterian Church said they reached an amicable “final settlement” to leave their denomination.

First Presbyterian Church, the city’s oldest Protestant church, has reached a settlement in its controversial decision to leave its former denomination.

In an extended battle with Mission Presbytery, the Presbyterian Church USA’s regional representative, the historic church will retain sole use, control and ownership of its name and property, it said in a press release. The church will pay $1.5 million to its former denomination.

VOL REPORTS: So if a Presbyterian church can settle its differences without recourse to lawyers and courts, and where everybody comes out a winner, why can’t The Episcopal Church do the same thing? TEC has spent over $40 million going after parish properties and Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno has spent some $9 million pursuing two parishes. One is forced to ask who is doing the Christian thing? Who is more obedient to Scripture, the Presbyterian Church or the Episcopal Church?

One of the Most Original Books on Homosexuality in Years

9781433687921The issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage just won’t go away these days.  Thus, Christians need to make sure they are well-equipped to meet the challenges of the post-Christian world we find ourselves in.

There have been many good books written to address this subject, but one of the most original I have seen is the recent volume by Don Fortson and Rollin Grams, Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition (B&H Academic, 2016).

Don Fortson is the Professor of Church History here at RTS Charlotte, and Rollin Grams is professor of New Testament at Gordon Conwell.

What makes this book unique is simple.  This book responds to those who claim homosexuality is compatible with Christianity by considering both the evidence from church history and the evidence from the Bible.

In other words, it considers not only what the Bible says, but what Christians have said the Bible says throughout the ages. I know of no other recent volume that does this.

And I can tell you, the result is absolutely devastating for the claim that Christianity and homosexuality go together.  A person might be able to convince themselves that the Bible allows it (by reinterpreting even the plainest of passages), but it is a bit hard to explain away 2000 years of absolutely consistent church history.

And that is exactly what we find in the historical record.  From the very beginning of the church, all the way to the modern day, Christians have uniformly declared homosexuality to be incompatible with the Christian faith.

This consistency is particularly noteworthy in the earliest centuries because the church was quite diverse and represented a variety of cultures, ethnicities, and pagan backgrounds.  Yet, with one voice, the church was unified it its opposition to homosexual behavior.

In essence, this forces the pro-homosexuality camp to argue that only in the modern day, really only in the last few years, have Christians, for the first time, finally understood what the Bible really teaches about homosexuality.  And, every other Christian generation, for two-thousand years, has been bigoted, discriminatory, and oppressive.

The arrogance and audacity of a claim is stunning.  But, that is precisely what the pro-homosexual camp is forced to believe.

Of course, some who are committed to the superiority of the modern will no doubt respond by saying, “Just because the church believes something doesn’t make it right.”  True. But, the key issue in this case is that the church believes something that is also clearly the plain teaching of Scripture.  Thus, we have both the testimony of Scripture and the church on the same side.

And if the Bible and the history of the church both seem to be saying the same thing, then that is a compelling reason to think it is true.

For those who are intellectually honest, this just becomes too much to bear. After reading Fortson’s and Rollin’s book, they may not agree with what Christians have always believed.  But, they would have to admit that Christians have always believed it.

The Lofty Spirituality of The Old Testament: Romans 4:8 –15

By Roger Salter
Special to VIRTUEONLINE
www.virtueonline.org
February, 2016

The lofty spirituality of the Old Testament is illustrated in the rite or sacrament of circumcision. This divine imposition represented the highest obligations of man accompanying the supreme blessings of eternal redemption freely granted by God. Circumcision is of the utmost significance in its Abrahamic context – not so much as the minor operation on the male foreskin but as a physical token of the interior operations of divine grace within the human heart.

Circumcision committed man to obedience and holiness. He was to replicate in his person and life the perfection of the moral law; to maintain the image of God in human nature and behaviour. Emphatically under Moses circumcision imparted the conviction of sin. There was no-one capable of divinely required purity and perfection. Pronouncedly through the preceding experience of Abraham circumcision denoted the features of the way of salvation which even the waywardness of Israel, struggling under the law, could not annul. Both Abraham and Moses were men of the message of grace. Abraham learned that grace was unconditional. Moses taught that it could not be earned. Each taught grace via varying nuances. The Promise prevailed through the ministries of both men. Abraham preached the sovereign freedom and freeness of grace. Moses annihilated the human assumption that salvation could be merited. Promise succeeded in the salvation of man. Performance attained nothing but increased condemnation. Law, in Mosaic conviction, was a cul-de-sac on the precipice of perdition. Electing love was exhibited in Abraham and he displayed the raw material of the Covenant of Grace to be moulded to perfection by the Lord Jesus.

The initial stages in the rescue of man are regeneration and justification. These benefits were sealed to Abraham in his circumcision. The commencement of the purification of his nature and the amendment of his reputation from that of a renegade individual to a righteous person. Works were excluded from Abraham’s divine acceptance. His worth was not a factor. He could lodge his confidence in the work of God – regeneration and justification, signalled to him in the sign of circumcision, the certification of his salvation, but not of its essence. Circumcision encapsulated the greatest blessings that God would bestow upon his chosen ones i.e. Renewed nature (new birth), and Right relationship with God. Circumcision was no mean thing in its meaning, although it was no way equivalent to the interior works of grace – the act of renovation and the gift of faith. In effect it pointed prophetically to the salvation wrought by Christ. We share happily in Luther’s technical anachronism – the bold license to assert that in the final outcome Abraham was a “Christian” for we Christians are saved in the same manner as he. We may be allowed to be guilty of this sanctified incorrectness.

When Christ was circumcised he took upon himself the role of our Saviour (whose day Abraham saw throughout his life of revelation and responsive faith. John 8:56). Our Lord Jesus was pledged to exact obedience to the law for us and in our stead. The burden has been lifted from us. He made amends through perfect obedience to the law. We are saved by works alright – not our own but Christ’s. In recognition of “the end of works arrangement” circumcision is but one example of the lofty spirituality of the Old Testament. The New Testament cannot surpass the Abrahamic concept of grace but it spells it out exhaustively as divine favour wrought through Christ. The Old Testament is top level revelation now come to its own because its truth is confirmed and fulfilled by the Lord Jesus and it discloses precious information concerning him in uniquely captivating ways. Anticipation yields it own thrills.

True Old Testament saints lived on a high plane in their knowledge of and communion with God. Several reputable scholars posit the question as to whether many of us in this latest dispensation participate in an equal intensity of fellowship with the Lord in spite of our greater privileges. We may be witnesses to fulfilment of divine promises but not recipients of the fullness of the divine presence. Our forebears’ consciousness of God was acute. Their experience of grace was profound. Their faith was Messianic – focussed on the Redeemer to come. Their attainments as believers were remarkable. The psalms bespeak these facts with eloquence and clarity. If only we possessed their sensibilities and assurances. What companions to our struggling souls the psalmists happen to be. And how winsomely the Messiah speaks to us through them concerning his vicarious sufferings and victories gained in our interest.

Unconsciously and surely unintentionally, the bulk of Christendom is dismissive of the importance and richness of the Old Testament. It is the fault of leadership and the omission of scholarship not to extol the study and enjoyment of the entirety of Holy Scripture. Jesus refers us to it and that is sufficient authoritative commendation, and the apostles build upon it, but naively many churches and people pride themselves on being “New Testament” believers. From whence did the New Testament spring in its message and main concepts? The Testaments lock together and Jesus Christ is the Link. They are two instalments of his story and the united product of his inspiration (1 Peter 1:10-12). We are to understand the significance of circumcision spiritually comprehended, and to undergo its transformation of nature and status which is identical to the implications of baptism. “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead (Colossians 2:11-12).

Circumcision betokens the God-given qualifications for eternal life – a righteousness required by God for pardon and acceptance and a compatibility for fellowship with God provided through spiritual renovation. The badge of the faithful from the former covenant identifies those most highly favoured by God in ancient times through his Son. That tells us that Old Testament religion is not to be despised but emulated and even transcended by our more direct perception and grasp of Christ. The Old Testament is of infinite value in enabling us to attain the summit of union with the Jesus. We must climb OT steps hand in hand with those folk who craved the coming of the Messiah. Then we are at the stage of ascent to where the vision of the completion of the divine purpose is possible in an informed and intelligent manner. Jesus doesn’t just emerge on the scene suddenly without background preparation and credentials but from the deliberate and sustained programme of God in which predictions and clues were provided.

There is a wonderful consonance and continuity between the Testaments and the principle of unity is Jesus Christ. All the saints of every era, BC and AD find their salvation in the same Saviour in the same way – faith in his wonderful Person and the sufficiency of his work on our behalf outlined in its completeness in the petitions of the Litany which we can make our own: By the mystery of your holy Incarnation, by your holy birth and circumcision; by your baptism, fasting, and temptation, Good Lord, deliver us. By your agony and bloody sweat, by your cross and passion; by your precious death and burial; by your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, Good Lord, deliver us.

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church

Home » Catechesis » A Sort Of Apology to Our Catechesis Task Force A Sort Of Apology to Our Catechesis Task Force A Sort Of Apology to Our Catechesis Task Force David Roseberry June 08, 2015 Catechesis, Liturgy & Worship, Pastoral Ministry, Preaching 0 Comment Before I offer my “sort of” apology to the Catechesis Task Force of the ACNA, I should start with some background. When I became a believer in the early 1970’s, it was through osmosis, in a way. I went to summer church camp. I attended church youth group. I believed in the church leaders and youth mentors that God put in my life. I learned their faith from them by watching them operate in church. They loved me and accepted me. I fell in love with the church and then I learned what that meant later on: follow Jesus In those days, 40 years ago, it was said that Christian faith was essentially ‘caught’ and not ‘taught’. That was the adage that went around in my youth. And it made sense in the context of a church-friendly world. It meant that the Christian faith was transmitted person to person, heart to heart. Some significant leaders would say it this way, “People will not care how much you know (about the Christian faith) until they know how much you care (about them).” Therefore, this was the mantra, as it were, of the church leaders of my generation: Don’t preach, man. Don’t teach. Teaching is a drag, man. Just reach people with love. Be real and people will love what you love. They’ll follow and learn along the journey. Remember? But as our culture has shifted and bent, I think we all have seen the absolute importance of teaching the doctrines of the bible and of the Christian faith. Don’t we all see it now? A Christian faith that is transmitted heart to heart is great…but it is lopsided. It tends toward the heart; toward feeling and emotion. But that is not going to be sufficient in the days ahead. We should all see that now. It must also be transmitted from mind to mind. We must teach what we have received. We must ask God for the renewal not only of the heart…but of the mind. The Catechism is one way we can begin a parish-wide, comprehensive effort to instruct adults, older students, and children in what it means To Be a Christian which, gladly, is the title of the Anglican Catechism. Now, my apology: A few years ago, I thought developing a catechism for the Anglican Church in North America was a bad idea. I believed it would create theological camps and divide our fragile coalition. Let’s get down the road, I thought. Let’s get some history together, I reasoned, before we try to put something in print that will define us. catechist1-2 It was clunky, disorganized, and in a way, its format seemed old and oddly irrelevant. My worst fears and worries were confirmed when I looked at the initial version of the work which found its way into my inbox in late 2013. What I saw was a draft. It was clunky, disorganized, and in a way, its format seemed old and oddly irrelevant. It answered questions that I hadn’t heard anyone asking. It’s “voice” and “tone” seemed confused. It was a lop-sided in its churchmanship, if that word means anything to anyone anymore. I was right, I thought, about my initial concerns. I sent my unsolicited thoughts and objections to a few people I know on the Catechesis Task Force…and to a few bishops who were scheduled to meet in Florida in January of 2014. I forgot about it for a few months. What emerged at the Provincial Synod in June of 2014 was a completely different version. It was good. The committee had done wonderful work. The language had evened out into a nice style of prose. The ‘churchmanship’ issues has receded. I liked the bible passages that were included with each answer. There were fewer questions (still too many, in my opinion). And it was attractive in its ‘leatherette’ version. I was pleased to hear that Archbishop Duncan had presented a copy of it to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Well now, I thought, what do we have here? Then J.I. Packer sold me on it. His address at the Provincial Assembly was a full-on, wisdom-rich Packer-packed backing. Dr. Packer, who is a friend, has written more blurbs for books that any other living human being…but this was way more than a blurb. It was a serious endorsement of To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism. He challenged churches to get on board. He persuaded me to a higher vision. I trust him and he swayed me. I bought a few copies and started to read. Available at Amazon.com Actually, I bought more than a few copies. I ordered a few hundred of them for our bookstore and lastFall, I entered into a 3-4 year, multi-seasonal series of messages on the contents of the Anglican Catechism. I spent 5-6 weeks preaching the “Q and A” format in the book. I am looking forward to the next installment this summer. Here is the way it works for us. (See below.) I have copies available in the bookstore for everyone. We are not trying to make money on them, so we have them for sale at our cost. I select 5-6 questions for each Sunday and print them in our bulletin for everyone to have. We print both the question and answer, just as it appears in the book itself. The page in our bulletin looks just like the page in the book. I choose some of the bible verses in the section of the Catechism as the lectionary reading. At the sermon, it gets fun. I ask the congregation to look at their bulletin and I ask them to ask me a specific question. I engage them. “Ask me question 11.” They look at their bulletin and say, in unison, “How should you respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?” I answer, “I am glad you asked!” Then I begin my sermon! I’ll read the written answer in the catechism…and then preach/teach that topic and Scriptures for about 4-5 minutes. I will tie it to the Scripture passages, of course. Then I’ll go on to the next question. I finish each sermon with a wrap-up conclusion and bring out a ‘teaser question’ for the next week. I cannot address every question in the book. That would take years and years. But I will touch about 20-25 of them in a series of sermons over 4-5 weeks…and then wait for the next installment. We have sold hundreds of book and I will encourage our members to bring their copies. There will be more available in the bookstore. So, I am a convert to this idea of a catechism. To the Catechesis Task Force I now say, “I am sorry…it is a great resource for the church and I am thankful to have it. I am using it as a teaching/preaching guide and resource for my parish. There are, of course, dozens of other ways it can be used, but this is how we are beginning with it as a parish project at Christ Church.” (But there really are too many questions. :) )

A Sort Of Apology to Our Catechesis Task Force

Before I offer my “sort of” apology to the Catechesis Task Force of the ACNA, I should start with some background.

When I became a believer in the early 1970’s, it was through osmosis, in a way. I went to summer church camp. I attended church youth group. I believed in the church leaders and youth mentors that God put in my life. I learned their faith from them by watching them operate in church. They loved me and accepted me. I fell in love with the church and then I learned what that meant later on: follow Jesus

In those days, 40 years ago, it was said that Christian faith was essentially ‘caught’ and not ‘taught’. That was the adage that went around in my youth. And it made sense in the context of a church-friendly world. It meant that the Christian faith was transmitted person to person, heart to heart. Some significant leaders would say it this way, “People will not care how much you know (about the Christian faith) until they know how much you care (about them).”

Therefore, this was the mantra, as it were, of the church leaders of my generation: 

Don’t preach, man.
Don’t teach.  Teaching is a drag, man.
Just reach people with love.
Be real and people will love what you love.
They’ll follow and learn along the journey.

Remember?

But as our culture has shifted and bent, I think we all have seen the absolute importance of teaching the doctrines of the bible and of the Christian faith. Don’t we all see it now? A Christian faith that is transmitted heart to heart is great…but it is lopsided. It tends toward the heart; toward feeling and emotion.

But that is not going to be sufficient in the days ahead. We should all see that now. It must also be transmitted from mind to mind. We must teach what we have received. We must ask God for the renewal not only of the heart…but of the mind. The Catechism is one way we can begin a parish-wide, comprehensive effort to instruct adults, older students, and children in what it means To Be a Christian which, gladly, is the title of the Anglican Catechism.

Now, my apology:

A few years ago, I thought developing a catechism for the Anglican Church in North America was a bad idea. I believed it would create theological camps and divide our fragile coalition. Let’s get down the road, I thought. Let’s get some history together, I reasoned, before we try to put something in print that will define us.

catechist1-2

My worst fears and worries were confirmed when I looked at the initial version of the work which found its way into my inbox in late 2013. What I saw was a draft. It was clunky, disorganized, and in a way, its format seemed old and oddly irrelevant. It answered questions that I hadn’t heard anyone asking. It’s “voice” and “tone” seemed confused. It was a lop-sided in its churchmanship, if that word means anything to anyone anymore. I was right, I thought, about my initial concerns.

I sent my unsolicited thoughts and objections to a few people I know on the Catechesis Task Force…and to a few bishops who were scheduled to meet in Florida in January of 2014.

I forgot about it for a few months.

What emerged at the Provincial Synod in June of 2014 was a completely different version. It was good. The committee had done wonderful work. The language had evened out into a nice style of prose. The ‘churchmanship’ issues has receded. I liked the bible passages that were included with each answer. There were fewer questions (still too many, in my opinion). And it was attractive in its ‘leatherette’ version. I was pleased to hear that Archbishop Duncan had presented a copy of it to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Well now, I thought, what do we have here?

Then J.I. Packer sold me on it. His address at the Provincial Assembly was a full-on, wisdom-rich Packer-packed backing. Dr. Packer, who is a friend, has written more blurbs for books that any other living human being…but this was way more than a blurb. It was a serious endorsement of To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism.

He challenged churches to get on board. He persuaded me to a higher vision. I trust him and he swayed me. I bought a few copies and started to read.

Available at Amazon.com

Actually, I bought more than a few copies. I ordered a few hundred of them for our bookstore and lastFall, I entered into a 3-4 year, multi-seasonal series of messages on the contents of the Anglican Catechism.  I spent 5-6 weeks preaching the “Q and A” format in the book. I am looking forward to the next installment this summer.

Here is the way it works for us. (See below.)

  1. I have copies available in the bookstore for everyone. We are not trying to make money on them, so we have them for sale at our cost.
  2. I select 5-6 questions for each Sunday and print them in our bulletin for everyone to have. We print both the question and answer, just as it appears in the book itself. The page in our bulletin looks just like the page in the book.
  3. I choose some of the bible verses in the section of the Catechism as the lectionary reading.
  4. At the sermon, it gets fun. I ask the congregation to look at their bulletin and I ask them to ask me a specific question. I engage them. “Ask me question 11.” They look at their bulletin and say, in unison, “How should you respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?” I answer, “I am glad you asked!”  Then I begin my sermon!  I’ll read the written answer in the catechism…and then preach/teach that topic and Scriptures for about 4-5 minutes. I will tie it to the Scripture passages, of course. Then I’ll go on to the next question.
  5. I finish each sermon with a wrap-up conclusion and bring out a ‘teaser question’ for the next week.

I cannot address every question in the book. That would take years and years. But I will touch about 20-25 of them in a series of sermons over 4-5 weeks…and then wait for the next installment.  We have sold hundreds of book and I will encourage our members to bring their copies. There will be more available in the bookstore.

So, I am a convert to this idea of a catechism.

To the Catechesis Task Force I now say, “I am sorry…it is a great resource for the church and I am thankful to have it. I am using it as a teaching/preaching guide and resource for my parish. There are, of course, dozens of other ways it can be used, but this is how we are beginning with it as a parish project at Christ Church.”  

(But there really are too many questions. :) )

5 Big Mistakes I’ve Made in Preaching

5 Big Mistakes I’ve Made in Preaching

5 Big Mistakes I’ve Made in Preaching

I’m not the best preacher, but after 18 years of preaching, I’ve learned some from my own mistakes. To spare you, I’ve listed some of the biggest ones here:

Not believing in Preaching Itself

I would hope we all believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Believe it, and always preach it. If not, you shouldn’t be preaching at all. But we also need to believe in preaching.  If we don’t also believe that the Sunday sermon is a God-ordained way of proclaiming the Gospel, then we won’t be effective as preachers. Here is an interesting passage from First Peter: “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” Wow.

It makes sense. If you are a teacher, but you don’t believe that teaching makes any difference, or that a robot or a podcast could replace you, you won’t be very energetic and invested. As preachers, we need to re-focus, from time to time, on the uniqueness that is preaching.

There have been times in my ministry when I lost a sense of how powerfully God uses preaching, and was distracted by other things. Sometimes my sermons became more like lectures, or I wasn’t well prepared each week because the sermon seemed less important than sundry other tasks. Or I tried to get cute with hallmark illustrations or tell jokes, or be pretend cool, or anything but just preaching. My preaching always suffered, and therefore so did the people who listened to me.

Including All of My Research

Research is fun. At least for some of us. Greek, Hebrew, commentaries, history, theology. Most priests and pastors enjoy it, and wish we had more time for it. I enjoy it myself, but too often have included it in my sermon just because I hated to see it “go to waste.”

However, the place for us to display our research abilities and knowledge of greek verbs is not the pulpit. Preaching is not an exercise in wowing people, or perhaps compensating for low self-esteem (Just keeping it real, sorry).

Instead our research into Holy Scripture, theology, and the world in which we live should be a foundation for our sermon rather than the subject of it. If some point of language or history needs to be referred to in order to preach, then go for it. Otherwise, leave it in the study or take it to the Greek Language Lovers group meeting.

Telling People What to Feel

I am often tempted to tell people how to feel instead of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But our posture of attitude and our focus should be on showing Jesus to people. Like John the Baptist, we are always pointing to Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

If we are always in a mode of telling people what to feel, then we might be unintentionally obscuring Jesus. We need to be pointing to him, telling stories about him, listening to him, saying his words, trusting the Gospel to do its work.

We use stories from the Bible and from our own life and the lives of others to point to him. There is often a lot of emotion in those stories, and within us. That’s good. But we trust that to impact people, rather than trying to control their responses.

Telling people how to feel never works in real life. Have you ever felt more genuinely excited when a preacher said: “Get excited!” ?  Can a person make himself feel happy suddenly? Can a depressed person suddenly will herself to feel upbeat? Even if so, is that healthy? No. The gospel is not based on brief, quick emotional responses. The preacher might like that, because it feels reassuring to us. But the Gospel is for our whole lives, our whole person, around all of the ups and downs of our moods and feelings.

What I can do is focus on pointing to Jesus and the Gospel, and trust that no matter the emotional reactions of people, the Holy Spirit is at work.

Having More than One Main Point

Other people will disagree with me on this, and yet I see this as a mistake.

I’ve often tried to have three points, which somehow build on one another and transition and have supporting points, each with a relevant analogy or illustration based on an outline with an intro and a conclusion that summarizes…zzzzz. Sorry, I fell asleep at the keyboard just then.

Boring. Confusing. Distracting.

Yes, I’ve personally bored, confused and distracted people from the pulpit by trying to talk about 2-3 things instead of one main thing. I’m still working on this one and its tough to change.

Just talk about one thing, and tell stories and analogies that help people understand that one main point in various ways.

Each text will have many different aspects to it. You don’t have to cover all of them. Just one of them. And this One Main Point should aways  be about the One Main Point of the whole thing: The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Preaching At People

People are people, and you are a person too.  The preacher is not on a higher spiritual plane. We don’t have God’s viewpoint personally. We aren’t preaching at people, we are preaching as a person among people.

Maybe that sounds like semantics to you. But reflect on it. When I’m preparing a sermon, I have to remind myself of this every few minutes. Something about standing up in a robe in a pulpit, while people (pretend to) listen can stroke our egos. And sometimes we get frustrated at people and we preach at them in order to take out that frustration.

Been there, done that. To quote the words of the great Bono: “I like the sound of my own voice. I didn’t give anyone else a choice, an intellectual tortoise, racing with your bullet train.” (“All Because of You” from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb).

But Jesus walked among us, as one of us. We have a job to do as preachers. We have a high calling. We have a reverend office. Yes. But we never cease to be sinners, saved by grace. We know some things, but so does everyone in our congregation.  We might have some specialized knowledge of ministry, but that doesn’t mean we know more about sacrifice than the couple that cares for their elderly grandparents. It doesn’t mean we know more about trauma than the woman who has been abused. It doesn’t mean we know as much about theology as Alistair McGrath, or about the Bible as N.T. Wright.

Its okay for us to be human. In fact, its our only real choice anyway.  So we can just be that and move away from lecturing people as if we are on a mountaintop of piety.

In Conclusion

Bow your heads and close your eyes. Wait, no.

In conclusion, preach the Gospel as a sinner, saved by grace, through one main point that is simple but founded on your study of the Bible and told through stories of human life and trust the results to God.

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