Theological Musings

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Amazing Quote

I subscribe to an email newsletter and a print newsletter from Voice of the Martyrs. It helps me stay aware of what is going on in other parts of the world where people really know suffering for the cause of Christ.

(As an aside, I get a bit frustrated when people here in America talk about "suffering", because I think that we really know very little about what it means to suffer. Perhaps isolated cases do occur in our country, but by and large, we have it very easy here as Christians.)

At any rate, recently I received a card in the mail from VOM asking me to confirm that I still wanted to receive the printed newsletter and offering me a copy of a book written by the late Richard Wurmbrand, founder of VOM. The card included this quote by Wurmbrand. Read this and think about it. I'll resist the urge to comment too much on it.

"It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners... It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal: We preached, and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy."

This was obviously not a man who was self-focused in his suffering, moaning about how miserable it was. When I read this, it reminded me very much of the attitude of Peter and John, when they were painfully flogged for preaching the name of Christ:

"They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ." (Acts 5:40b-42 NIV)

Until next time,

steve :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Music in the Simple Church

I don't really have time to deal with this topic in its entirety right now, so I'll just tease you with it, and hopefully come back to it after the New Year and give some more of my thoughts. However, Bob Kauflin posted an entry on his blog today that I found very thoughtful with regard to the usage of pre-recorded (canned) music in a church service.

This is a topic that I think can be very important to the Simple Church concept because generally, we are talking about churches that are very small and informal. When people want to sing (and I think singing can be a great part of worship together, although I don't believe it has to happen every single time we gather), how do we handle that?

I participate frequently on a discussion group on the House2House site, and several months ago, we talked some about this topic. Because so many of us have come out of the institutional church experience, we often bring with us a mentality of what music has to be like. I think this can be problematic.

At any rate, I hope to dive into this topic more in the future, but wanted to link to Bob's blog today while his post is fresh. He anticipates dealing with it tomorrow, too, and if so, I'll post an update here with a link to the second entry as well.

By the way, Bob is not blogging from a simple or house church perspective. However, his thoughts on this topic can equally apply, I believe. And, as I said, I think this subject actually can have even more importance when discussed in the context of a simple church setting.

Update: Actually, I misread the date on Bob's post, and didn't realize he had already written part 2 of it today! Part 2 can be found here. He actually does tie his thoughts into small group worship, as well, and not just "big church" corporate worship, so it's very relevant to our discussion.

Until next time,

steve :)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Is There Really a War on Christmas?

Anyone who lives here in America surely has heard the term "War on Christmas". It's all over FOX News and Christian radio programs. Books have been written about it, and it's the new bandwagon to jump on. Well, maybe not so new. It seems to come up each year. This year, though, it seems more pronounced.

Now, it will probably strike some as really odd that I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon. (Then again, maybe it won't, if you've been reading this blog!) But I have some points that I want to make about this whole thing, as well as some commentary about the larger picture.

First of all, is there really a war on Christmas? What defines this war? What are the sides, and who is winning?

It seems that the "war on Christmas" is identified by Bill O'Reilly, James Dobson, and others as a push by "secularists" for retailers in particular to use a phrase such as "Happy Holidays", rather than "Merry Christmas". If a retailer opts for the more generic phrase, Dobson recently said on one of his broadcasts that he would refuse to shop there. Not only that, but the President of the United States has been soundly criticized for not saying "Merry Christmas" on the White House's annual holiday card.

Now, let's pull back for a moment and see what we really have here. There may, in fact, be some legitimacy to the idea that Christmas is not as publicly accepted as it once was. But what is the issue at stake? This seems to go along with Dobson's idea that we must legislate all of our Christian beliefs in order to save this country. This assumes that God is pleased with outward symbols of faith, rather than a heart that is set on Him. And if you read the Old Testament prophets, you'll find that this is entirely not the case at all! God is no more pleased with America's fake Christianity (I'm talking culturally here, not the individual hearts that may be sincere) than He was with Israel's ritualistic continuance of sacrifices.

There seems to be an underlying set of presuppositions at play here:

  1. America was, is, and must always remain a "Christian" nation
  2. Because of the previous point, Christian holidays must be observed by everyone, regardless of their own personal faith.
  3. If a retailer does not recognize my personal faith and holiday, then that retailer should be boycotted and, by extension, put out of business.
  4. If the Republicans want "the Christian vote" again, they must specifically support Christian holidays.

Now, this whole logic seems flawed on many levels. Consider this:

  1. President Bush is president of the United States of America, not the National Association of Evangelicals. As such, he is the president for Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, etc., etc., etc. So, why should he wish all those other people a Merry Christmas? If Joe Lieberman were President, would we expect him to wish the country a Happy Hannukah? And would it be acceptable to Dobson if he did? Instead, President Bush gave a greeting that is appropriate to the various groups of people over whom he has his position.
  2. Likewise, if a retail establishment is owned by a non-Christian, does it make any sense for them to wish us a Merry Christmas? If James Dobson owned a restaurant, would it make sense for him to wish people a Happy Kwanzaa?

My final thought in this rambling reactionary post is this: Does my culture's rejection of Christmas (if indeed, that is what is happening) diminish Christmas at all for me personally? No! This is where my frustration really comes into play. The idea seems to be that, in order for Christmas to be considered valid, it must be recognized by all.

Now, I do concede that sometimes, there appears to be a move toward a "freedom from religion" in our culture, but the solution is not public expressions of Christianity. The proper perspective on this country's history is that we should have freedom of religion. And there is a big difference! I still have the freedom to worship as I please and to celebrate Christmas. Why should it make a difference to me if someone who does not know Christ personally wishes me a Merry Christmas or not? I don't need them to wish me a Merry Christmas in order for me to have a merry Christmas! In fact, to go a step further, their greeting would really not mean anything if it doesn't come from the heart.

Once again, I find myself at odds with the way in which "Christian leaders" are presenting their arguments. Dobson actually was encouraging his "army" (his word) of listeners and supporters to boycott stores that would not use the word "Christmas" in their holiday decorations. Again, I have to ask, if the store is owned by a Jewish person, does it make sense to boycott them for not saying "Christmas"? And a follow-up question: would Dobson boycott this store at any other time of the year since they did not share his religious beliefs? What about a store that is open on Easter Sunday? Or what about a store that does not put a cross in their window on Good Friday? Where does it end?

Freedom of religion is a wonderful thing, and as long as we have it in this country, we are fortunate. But I will continue to state that I do not need the government's endorsement of my beliefs in order for me to celebrate those beliefs. And to try to force others in our country to celebrate, participate, or in any other way endorse my beliefs is to put the cart before the horse. That is not evangelism, and it is certainly not doing anything to advance the kingdom of Christ.

I hope some of this makes sense. I realize I'm ranting a bit, and I have not taken the time to form a very cohesive, logical progression of arguments here. But I do feel that the point needs to be made, and I did not want to delay posting any longer on this issue.

Until next time,

steve :)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Typepad is down

This probably won't mean anything to most of my readers, because I use Blogger, but I exchanged some emails today with David Wayne (JollyBlogger) when I noticed that his blog suddenly lost the last week's worth or so of blogs and comments. He uses Typepad as his blogging host, and apparently there are issues with Typepad today.

David asked me to post a note here letting my readers know about the issue, so that you will be aware that there are problems with other blogs today. I recently linked to a couple of David's posts in the previous entry about Sunday services on Christmas Day, and one of those is now lost in (cyber)space! Hopefully, all will be back to normal soon.

Since I'm giving David this free press, let me add a comment to say that David's is one of the more sane blogs I read on a regular basis. David and I have respectfully disagreed with each other on some issues, but I have found him to be very fair and kind in his analysis of others' opinions. If you haven't already checked his blog out, do so, and especially do so when Typepad appears to be working again!

Update (12/17/05): In this post, David informs us that it appears the problem is mostly resolved. Welcome back, David!

Until next time,

steve :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Christmas on a Sunday Spells Controversy

Well, a huge firestorm has erupted over the issue of churches cancelling services on December 25 this year. I've read a lot, commented on a couple blogs, and thought a lot about this topic before finally taking the time (more like finding the time!) to post here about it.

Here's the issue: It seems that some rather large, well-known churches decided to cancel their Sunday services because they felt it would be better to let their staff and volunteers spend time with their families on that day. I'm sure it's not just those big churches. I would guess that a lot of churches, even smaller ones, have faced the question of whether or not to hold regular services on that day. But for some reason, this has touched a huge nerve among a lot of bloggers. And for me, it has highlighted some of the concerns I have about the institutional church's mindset.

First, the bloggers that are talking about it. The Internet Monk, of course, put his thoughts out there. JollyBlogger (one of the ones I regularly read) posted two posts about it: This one, and this followup. (Update: I'm not sure what is happening with JollyBlogger's blog, but today [Dec 16, 2006] several of the recent posts were suddenly missing and the "followup" link I posted claims the article doesn't exist. Very strange...) In his posts, David Wayne (JollyBlogger) references several other blogs who have dealt with it. A Google blog search shows over 2,000 blog entries talking about this! I have no idea what the ratio of positive to negative posts is, but it gives the impression from the sampling I've read that about 98% of the posts written on this topic are coming down against the churches who have chosen to cancel. Comments are being made such as these representative quotes:

I think those three quotes right there give a pretty good indication of what is being said. And each time I read quotes like that, I get a very uneasy feeling inside. Not a feeling like "maybe they have a point", but a feeling like "something is terribly wrong with this picture." And it's not the cancelling of services that I feel is terribly wrong. It's the debate itself.

I'm not sure if I'm just not cut out for these online debates, or if my concerns really are legitimate, but I always get the feeling that when blogs put out these sorts of topics (primarily, I'm referring to Christian blogs here because that's the world I spend my time reading), issues are presented as extreme dichotomies of choices.

Now for those of you who know me, that may sound odd because I'm not normally a "gray area" kind of guy. I'm a right/wrong, black/white, either/or. However, it really is important to me that the choices being presented are accurate representations of the choices available. And that is what I feel is lacking here in this discussion about cancelling church services on Christmas Day.

The choices that are being presented in most discussions about this topic are: Either worship Christ at a formal church service, or sell out to the secularization of Christmas. But those are not the only valid options in this situation, and we do a great disservice to the dialogue by presenting it as such!

There are several presuppositions behind this issue that need to be addressed:

  1. Worship can only take place in a church building
  2. Worship must take place on a Sunday
  3. Cancelling a worship service that is normally scheduled means that one will not be worshiping
  4. Corporate church experience must be put above family worship experiences and interaction
  5. Cancelling a church service means that the Gospel will not be preached, and souls may be lost for eternity as a result (this point was made in the comments section of the Internet Monk post I linked to above)

These are not the only presuppositions at play, but they do comprise the bulk of the issue that I have seen. I think that these presuppositions illustrate much of what is faulty about the instituational church mentality. With the exception of number 2 above (the importance of Sunday worship) -- I understand the basics of how some believers arrive at the conclusion that Sunday is the Sabbath for Christians, and I respect their views on that -- I find that these presuppositions are not derived from reading of Scripture, but are mere traditions of men.

Jesus said it very well in John 4 when He said that God was seeking those who would worship Him in spirit and in truth. The context of that comment, in a discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well, was the issue of whether or not people should worship in a particular location. The Samaritan woman noted the different beliefs of Samaritans vs. pure-blooded Jews, and Jesus said that a time was coming, and now was, in which the location was not the issue, but the heart. (Actually, the Old Testament prophets made it clear that the heart was always the issue, but it became more apparent through Jesus's teaching, in my opinion.)

So worship can, and should, take place outside a church building. If we believe that we can only truly worship with the Body of Christ in a church building, we have missed the whole message of Christ being "God with us" -- Emmanuel. Jesus said that whenever two or more are gathered in His name, He is there with us. This was a very different relationship with the Almighty than people experienced in the Old Testament. They did not have the indwelling Christ. We do. That is a fact that is often overlooked in our churches that are built on the model of the Old Testament system of worship.

Well, I've written enough about this for now, I think. Perhaps I'll follow it up at a later point, but for now, I'll throw it open to you for comments. Am I missing something? Have I overlooked a key aspect to this debate? What are your thoughts?

Until next time,

steve :)