Saturday, August 16, 2008

HT to to Michael Spenser

Read them all and consider the second Ledger link in which Strader said he was assured there was no infidelity involved. Then cross reference this to Fresh Fire's own statement, quoted by Spenser: "we have discovered new information revealing that Todd Bentley has entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff."

Okay, so can someone explain to me how this works? What is it about people that allows them to rationalize saying that Bentley wasn't being unfaithful to his wife in any way but then turn around and explain that there was an unhealthy relationship at an emotional level with a female member of his staff. Is this like Nixon saying he wasn't a crook?

What's the deal? I'm puzzled by this happening in churches precisely because it seems like we, as Christians, are the ones who should be first to confess sin and confess that we're bad. But we don't do that. We prefer to justify our actions, we prefer to explain away the level and nature of our sin. So and so got fired but not for any moral or sexual impropriety ... except for the part about defying spiritual authority which is somehow now a moral impropriety but still bad enough to be fired for.

Then there's Bentley, someone sends some assurance that no infidelity happen when the bird looks like a duck and talks like a duck based on Fresh Fire's own published statements?

Something I'm struggling with is the awareness that Christ offers grace to those who admit they've sinned and I feel like I'm seeing people in prominent places of Christian leadership over the years just not admitting they have sinned, screwed up, not pulled it off, whatever it was.

Years ago a young black preacher was speaking as a church camp I went to and he made a point that has stuck with me for decades. This was back when I was Pentecostal and he made the point that no matter how much you think the annointing is on you, no matter how much work you think God is doing through you, you can NEVER TAKE THAT FOR GRANTED. You can never suppose that the work of the Spirit is enough for you to suppose that what you do is justified. Why look at Samson? He lived on the assumption that he was annointed by God to do this or that to defeat Israel's enemies and he let that be an excuse. He didn't share the secret of his strength to that many people and apparently no one bothered to ask before Delilah (or not) and when he finally slipped up he slipped up in a way so that he didn't realize the power of the Lord had left him and he thought he had that power in abundance to go fight the same fights he was picking year after year.

As Spenser put it:
There’s new writing at Jesus Shaped Spirituality: The Jesus Question and A Note to Todd Bentley. (The newest info from Fresh Fire says that Bentley is involved with a woman. hate to say it, but this is one of the worst problems Christians have when we elevate leaders AT ALL, whether it’s in Catholicism or evangelicalism: I’ve got the Spirit of God, so I can take a pass on sexual morality. The people who elevate men are as responsible as anyone for what happens in this instances.)

But I would add something, sexual sin is the pet anathema of evangelicals and American Christianity. The problem is that that's not the only sin that can bring down a leader. Love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. A love of power and the praise of others and self-regard is what brought down Satan. He didn't exactly have the chance to commit sexual sin or love money because those things, as such, didn't exist ... but they didn't need to.

When these things happen the Gospel gets hurt, even if we tell ouselves that the preacher in question is sharing a false gospel. I know, I know, it probably IS a different gospel in a lot of cases but that happens in every spot of Christendom. We mar the cause of the real Gospel when we replace it with parts of what we think the real gospel is. If we think the good news is really that Jesus underwrites colonial expansion we get Manifest Destiny and it doesn't much matter how we treat the Indians. If we think the good news is remolding society into the image we want we get the excesses of postmillenialism applied at the level of a social gospel that is bereft of its real impetus. If we have a messed up variation of dispensationalism we alternately move toward total withdrawal from the world around us to antagonistic engagement in the hope that the sooner things get worse the closer the Rapture will be. I haven't held to a secret rapture teaching for probably sixteen years. All it took was an AG youth pastor explaining what the preterist position even was to start me on the path to ignoring a lot of dispensationalist premillenial thought. And fo rthat I'm grateful.

But all. that is rather tertiary to these ruminations about Bentley. I hope the man can fix his marriage but there's no amount of public diclosure of anything by any evangelical or public Christian anywhere that persuades me. Public confessions of sin by prominent Christian leaders never prove anything. What did Jimmy Swaggart do after he confessed? What did Jim Bakker do after he got caught? The trouble is that the ritual of confession is too easy to be appropriated by leaders in sin, or more commonly those who would justify them, as grounds to say thatt person X or Y should KEEP DOING MINISTRY rather than step down precisely because we have a King Saul approach to the whole thing. Public confession is allthat is needed. No, it's not. Repentance isn't public confession when you've been caught disobeying God.

The reason I don't ever want to be a leader of any kind is because I'm just a stupid sinner. I don't have it in me to be a leader of anything and I know better than to think that I should be running anything. I'm not a minister of the Gospel in the pastor sense of the term. I can be an ambassador for Christ in my own small, pathetic way but ideally no one should see me at all if they see Christ. Yet I don't wish that in saying this that I justify the attitude that if Christ works despite me then my sins are something that should be glossed over. As a pastor I know was preaching, God used even Jonah's disobedience to glorify Himself among Gentiles, yet that doesn't negate that Jonah was acting in disobedience either.

I'm less worried these days about how Christian leaders handle sex because I feel like that's the red herring. It's how Christian leaders handle the cults of personality that rise up around them and their own responsibility before God to actually confess sin that concerns me. A leader who can confess that he has sinned against me or God's people, confessing to actual self-incriminating sin, that's a leader I can trust. A leader who confesses to sins that are so vague or general as to be nothing more than an "I'm only human, too", those leaders aren't necessarily being that vulnerable. It could be said in some circles that we want to model a level of honesty that makes people spill their nachos at some party function. If that is a level of honesty and vulnerability that leaders want Christians to have they need to model it. Question is, will they? Do they?

Does the Christian leader who shares this model of integrity as something to shoot for model it? Probably, but we are selective about our audiences before whom we share this level of uncertainty, doubt, and confession of sin because in the real world we don't think that level of vulneability is smart. And it blunts the power of such a would-be message of "being real" because it can end up being fake. Christians can be so set on wanting to be "heavy, deep, and real" that they forget that that level of trust cannot be obtained or assumed in a vacuum. There is sucha thing as building a foundation of light, shallow, and fun. The roots of deep vulnerability and confession of sin must first grow into the shallow soil, break the top soil, before the roots can, quite literally, take root. There are Christians who want, who presume it seems, that the roots can dig through the topsoil past some kind of bedrock into some magical place of being "real" without looking at what brings any meaning to this. It is possible to press for something in the absence of the Spirit's work and to suppose that obedience brings the Spirit when it may be precisely the other way around, the Spirit brings obedience.

But I'm rambling.

Friday, August 15, 2008

video franchising, church as Starbucks or McDonalds, pros and cons, a Slate summary

Summary point for discussion #1, does video feed create a situation in which the priesthood of all believers as professed by Protestants get compromised?

Summary point for discussion #2, does video feed create the effect of virtual fellowship in as much as the pastor has no meaningful, physical connection to the congregation he/she ostensibly preaches to?

Summary point for discussion #3, does video feed create a setting in which the Gospel is "contextualized" or does it simply contextualize the lead pastor across a "multisite church" that is effectively a nascent denominational network (yeah, I know, leading question, but it's my blog so I get to ask it).

Monday, August 11, 2008

more from iMonk, a few highlights I'm considering.
Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the apostolic teaching: these all originated with Jesus, and were put into the hands of the apostles in order to form an intentional movement; a visible church identified with Jesus in culture and history. They are the building blocks of the church, and they do not exist meaningfully in a freestyle, individualized “relationship with Jesus.”
Explanations of the origins of the church that assume Jesus himself had no intentions of founding a church are simply implausible.

This is so self-explanatory you would think there's no need to unpack it but embittered Christians who swear off "organized religion" often don't get that this is a non-negotiable aspect of corporate Christian life. Despite the occasionally flower rhetoric you and your family are not REALLY a self-contained church in the sense of being beyond the need to be held accountable, and for all the rhetoric some churches have about "intentionality" or "intentional living" there's not quite so much of it as advertised. Sometimes I think "intentionality" can be a fad limited to evangelical polemics against dating. But that's me at my crankiest. This paragraph probably needs a book or two of further explication that I don't assume iMonk has to write. :)

I start out here to make a very basic point: Jesus followers who wish to eliminate, reinterpret or reduce the church face the problem that nothing in the New Testament is on their side. Seeing Jesus as the guru of individual Christians, or the church as some kind of accidental fan club that institutionalized a spontaneous spiritual experience, simply cannot be done without doing radical surgery on Jesus himself. A church-less Christianity requires such an edited, reworked Jesus, that the New Testament could no longer be read with any kind of integrity. This needs to be faced squarely and honestly.

Not that this will stop people from claiming Jesus never intended to found the church as it now is. It's the ultimate red herring, simply assert without historical or exegetical evidence that whatever the local church looks like in America now can't possibly have been what was intended. The old axiom that it's impossible to prove a negative might be applicable here. It really doesn't matter that Paul wrote to Timothy about bishops, it only matters that the modern disgruntled Christian decides that bishops can't be what the most literal meaning of the term is and that overseers weren't ordained pastors. Not by the state, obviously, but by someone. Of course it may be that people who are inclined toward this particular anti-clerical route may have been on the receiving end of harsh or abusive treatment from a cadre of self-appointed leaders who don't really have any meaningful outside accountability. But then I suspect some of these Christians would argue that the abuse of male headship does not mean men do not have headship over their wives. One thing I'll grant to the liberal theologians is that they seem to be more consistent about the ethic of servility towards all (well, probably not, but they're more internally consistent in some ways in that if the man serves the woman and the woman serves the man people who are considered "liberal" on that theological application may produce perfectly happy marriages)--at any rate, it seems as though there can be a temptation to cherry-pick what institutions God didn't intend. A person can't defensibly claim that male headship is built into pre-Fallen humanity and simultaneously assert that most of contemporary Christendom's allocation of power is somehow unbiblical precisely because you can't defend pre-fallen authority as the basis for it's application now while simultaneously claiming that an institution Jesus personally established through the apostles was somehow never intended because the New Testament evidence for Jesus intending to found a movement and establish leaders is overwhelming and the exegetical grounds for saying that the wife was supposed to submit to the husband prior to the Fall and that subsequently that relationship ought to be maintained because it pre-dated the Fall is a bit more debatable.
There is potential for abuse and mischief in church covenants. The covenant I grew up reading at every Lord’s Supper said that it was our duty to abstain from the sale and use of alcohol as a beverage, a position that is nowhere taught in scripture. I have seen covenants that took away Christian freedom and meddled in areas where church leaders have no authority.

Still, covenants are much needed in today’s churches. ...

Really? Imagine my lack of surprise. :) What might the most common case of covenants being abusive and mischievious? Imposing requirements on members that have no defensible basis in Scripture? My concern would be if there was a covenant which was enforced in an unequal way. Say a member fails to live up to this or that element of a covenant and gets reprimanded while leaders fail to live up to the things they covenant to and either change what they covenant to uphold or simply don't discipline themselves when they don't keep the terms of the covenant. Depending on how one defines Jesus' polemic against "don't make any vows" even requiring the signing of a covenant might actually apply.
A church constitution describes the workings of congregational leadership and authority. It is an interpretation of what the New Testament says about what churches do together. For instance, a constitution would state and pass down the process for calling a pastor or electing deacons. It would specify the relationship of the congregation to its minister, other congregations and the state. It would describe the responsibilities of financial officers, and make clear how authority in the congregation is expressed.

Because many ministers have the tendency to abuse power and dominate congregations, a constitution serves as a covenant document protecting a church from abuse by a minister who has lost his perspective on being a shepherd and a servant.

That's handy. I haven't heard of this one too often, to be honest.

A constitution sometimes seems to be unnecessary if “Christians just love one another.” Such reasoning ought to make it clear why a constitution is important. It allows churches to survive their own sins and failures, and continue as a body of believers. If a church has serious commitments to mission, service and witness, a constitution will be a great blessing.

This bolded passage gets my attention. I trust I don't have to explain why. Are there churches that have covenants but not, as the phrase goes, constitutions? Are by-laws of the same stripe? If so some constitutions may better serve the purpose of protecting the church from its own failures.

A church that refuses to have some form of by-laws or a constitution is still a church, but it is not a wise church, and it is not a church that is seeking to be Biblical in all that it does. God is glorified in ways that sometime seem very unspiritual, but simply doing the right thing is sometimes very “ordinary,” and very needed.

Then again, the Soviet Union had a constitution and that reinforced abuse and destructive tendencies, didn't it? At the risk of being a gadfly I thoroughly appreciate Spenser's point and it strikes me that while by-laws "may" exist to prevent abuse within the church the by-laws and the covenant may actually be the means through abuse can happen. How would a church member necessarily be able to tell what sorts of by-laws or member covenants are potentially abusive?

Stuff to ponder.