Tuesday, September 30, 2014

All Around the Web - September 30, 2014

Russell MooreIs Divorce Equivalent to Homosexuality?
This week my denomination, through its executive committee, voted to “disfellowship” a congregation in California that has acted to affirm same-sex sexual relationships. This sad but necessary move is hardly surprising, since this network of churches shares a Christian sexual ethic with all orthodox Christians of every denomination for 2,000 years. One of the arguments made by some, though, is that this is hypocritical since so many ministers in our tradition marry people who have been previously divorced.

The argument is that conservative Protestants already embrace a “third way” because we’ve done so on divorce. Couples divorce, sometimes remarry others, and yet are welcomed within the congregation. We don’t necessarily affirm this as good, but we receive these people with mercy and grace. Why not, the argument goes, do the same with homosexuality.

Andrew Walker - Does Brian McLaren Want a Conversation on Marriage?
Thanks for the note. “Human to human conversation” that’s “reasonable and open-minded” as you desire is, of course, welcome. Unfortunately, though, “conversation” as you often construe it, is simply a pretext and power play designed for endless speculation that never reaches an answer—unless it’s an answer that you find acceptable on your terms (which, more often than not, is an answer that rejects historic Christianity). Moreover, while “human to human conversation” is vital for fostering understanding and dialogue, it isn’t an argument that justifies redefining either a biblical or civil understanding of marriage—which is what this entire “conversation” is about.

To be entirely candid in the spirit of “human to human conversation,” I’m not convinced that you’re actually writing as an evangelical on matters such as these. You may think that you are, but the evidence you’ve provided in your many writings over the years lead me to believe that you have rejected what history has long considered orthodox Christianity. Now, I don’t say that joyfully; and I know you’ll reply in such a manner that subjects all aspects of “orthodoxy” to the unending regression of perspectivalism. You’re a terrific writer, but a writer whose views I couldn’t more strongly reject. So, admittedly, I’m reluctant to accept the scriptural presuppositions that you would use to make your argument.

Christianity Today - Pew Surprised by How Many Americans Want Religion Back in Politics
More Americans want more religion in politics, according to a new Pew Research Center study exploring the "growing appetite" for churches endorsing political candidates and other intersections of church and state.

While three out of four Americans (72%, a record high) believe that religion is "losing its influence on American life," a majority of Americans (56 percent) also believe this shift has been for the worse. White evangelicals are the most likely to view the change negatively (77 percent), but the majority of white mainline Protestants (66 percent), black Protestants (65 percent), and Catholics (61 percent) feel likewise.

Gregory Smith, Pew’s director of U.S. religion surveys, previewed a number of what he called the study's "surprising" and "interesting" findings at the Religion Newswriters Association’s annual conference on Thursday.

Chuck Lawless - 12 Reasons Why Churches Don’t Address Decline
  1. Nobody is counting the numbers. I realize numbers are only one means to evaluate growth, but they are an important means. If no one is keeping a record of growth and attendance patterns, few leaders recognize the first signs of decline. No one is monitoring health, and disease sets in.
  2. Leaders in “growing” churches don’t always recognize decline. This situation especially occurs when a church is experiencing additions, but the back door is even more wide open. The congregation sees people join often, but they fail to see the greater numbers of people leaving. The decline may be slow, but it’s still real.
  3. Members live in their own relational bubble. That is, most members have only few persons with whom they build strong relationships. As long as their friends are still present, they don’t get too concerned about others leaving.
  4. Leaders have given up on growth. Maybe the community is changing. Perhaps the young people have already left. It might be the leaders are just tired after unsuccessfully striving for growth for years. The need for rest trumps the call to reach others.
  5. Members love their pastor. Sure, they realize the church is declining – but their pastor has been good to them. Their lives are marked by his care and concern. No one would ever want to hurt him. Consequently, they remain loyal to him even as the church dies around him.
  6. The leaders don’t know what steps to take. They know how to parse verbs and formulate theological positions, but they do not know how to redirect an organization. They are captains who don’t know how to steer the ship into the right channels. Efforts end in failure, and failures become discouragement.
  7. The church still has a sufficient number to survive. The larger the church was in its heyday, the more likely this situation occurs. The church that averaged 300 five years ago may still appear to be comfortably full at 200 now. The crowds are large enough to ignore the decline, at least for now.
  8. Leaders over-spiritualize the situation. If you’ve read my posts before, you know how much I care about prayer – but “we’re just praying right now” can be a copout for leaders who fail to strategize. “God’s just reducing us to His remnant” may be true, or it may also be theological jargon to avoid taking responsibility for poor leadership.
  9. The church has money in the bank. As long as the bills are being paid, lower attendance numbers don’t matter as much. If the church has a strong reserve account, that’s even better.
  10. The congregation equates activity with life. Programs continue. Somebody gathers in the church building most nights of the week. The weekly bulletin is filled with events. The website carries current announcements. If all of these activities are going on, surely the church cannot be in decline.
  11. Ministries are siloed in the church. Individual ministries may be doing well. Some small groups really enjoy their fellowship and teaching. The choir or praise team is prepared every Sunday. Members cocoon themselves in a few successful ministries, and few people see the overall church decline.
  12. Even Christian leaders are filled with pride. That’s a primary reason leaders won’t seek guidance when the churches they lead are declining. “Surely,” the leader thinks, “I can come up with the solution. After all, I’m called. I’m trained.” And, ultimately, he may find himself alone because of his unwillingness to pursue help from others.

TIME - The Liberian Church Stopping Ebola With Gospel and Chlorine
“Lord,” shouts the Reverend Joseph T.S. Menjor into a microphone. “We are tired of this situation. We are calling on you to cast this abomination from our country. Jesus, we want our land to be free of Ebola. Cast out this disease!”


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