Odd What Big Cities Do To Church Life

Is Tim Keller getting cold feet about “the city”? He bears his apparent burden to the other coolest guy in the Reformedish room, Jamie Smith:

JS: As a pastor, and now increasingly a theological educator, where do you most see a need for renewal and intentionality? If you could heal churches, what would you heal in them? What do you wish was stronger, deeper, healthier, more functional in local congregations?

TK: One challenge is pastoral care, primarily because of transience. There is an indication—though it’s hard to prove—that, say, thirty years ago, the average member probably came to church four out of five weeks or five out of six weeks. Now it’s like one out of two. People are travelling more; their attention is divided. Also costs are such that it’s very expensive to have a full-time staff. Frankly, it’s seductive to have a larger church with fewer pastors where people are basically consumers. They’re not really being watched or cared for. There’s pastoral triage, which means that when your life’s falling apart the good churches will be there. They’ll be at the hospital, they’ll be at the funeral parlour, they’ll be in the counselling office. They can do triage. But when it comes to the ordinary kind of positive, proactive pastoral care and intervention where you are actually examining people, only in a nice way—How are you doing? Where are you going? How much do you know about the Christianity? Where could you grow?—that’s just not happening at all.

Keller also seems to pine for a small church. But elders? Not so much:

JS: How much is that the weakening of the priesthood of all believers, do you think? Your point makes me think of a line from Klaas Schilder, a minor twentieth-century Dutch theologian who said something like, “Don’t underestimate the significance of the wise ward elder. He is a cultural force.” By attending to families, doing household visits, the elder is a culture-shaping force because he or she is forming people. I wonder how much what’s missing is not just a lack of pastoral staff but a failure to equip lay elders to do this care.

Several years ago, I was at Whitworth University, and they do a summer program for pastoral professional development—the Whitworth Institute of Ministry. But then alongside it, they do this elder leadership initiative where pastors bring some elders with them and they dive into theology and pastoral resources. I just thought, as go elders, so go the church. What are you seeing in terms of people’s capacity to be elders?

TK: I do think there’s a breakdown. In fact, I get where you’re going and I absolutely agree. The right thing to do is to have a layer of lay leaders; maybe there is an elite group that you can call your elders, but by and large you probably have more like 10 or 15 percent of your people who are mature enough and willing enough and maybe even have the time to be regularly trained by the pastors to do every-member ministry, every-member pastoral care—including evangelism, by the way. Those are the people who bring their friends to church and reach out. But there are also people who are out there just caring for people and then letting you know. They’re your radar system; they let the pastors know.

In a small church where you have maybe eighty people coming to church, then you need about eight or ten of those folks, and you should be meeting with them at least every month. So you’re catechizing them and you’re reading great books together and that makes them feel two things: (1) It makes them feel confident to pry a little bit into people’s lives and have conversations, otherwise they’d be afraid. Most of these folks are afraid to be asked a question they can’t answer. That’s the reason they don’t reach out both in evangelism and in instructing and caring.

So you have to give them (1); but then (2) they have to know that they can get right back to you. If I’m talking to somebody and they ask me a question I can’t answer, I need to be able to get right to you and know that you will get right back to me. So if you have eighty people in your church and you’re a full-time pastor and you have, say, eight or nine people like that and maybe two or three elders as part of that group—you’re going to be fine. Nobody’s going to fall through the cracks, people will lead probably proactively, the minister will visit people and see them, and they’ll also be getting other touches from the church, not just the minister.

So the priesthood of all believers is absolutely crucial. You know, by the way, in Geneva, what Calvin did—at least I’m pretty sure; you know the experts are going to tell me I’m wrong, but I’m almost sure I remember [laughter]. In Geneva the elders were responsible for wards, and when it looked like there was somebody that needed pastoral exhortation, they were brought before the consistory, which met every Thursday, and it was Calvin and the elders. Evidently, like ninety-five times out of one hundred, there was no real discipline. There was exhortation. So people were exhorted to come to church or to love their wife better and so on.

In a small church? If you have 80 people in your church? What is Keller talking about? Why not include observations about Redeemer?

The optics!

The reticence!

All Political Sermons are Bad

In the spirit of J. Gresham Machen, remember that if you don’t mix religion and politics, you don’t have to perform the contortions that allow you to affirm Civil Rights legislation (as a work of God) and oppose Prohibition (not as a work of God even though Protestants did think it was a work of God). Just keep politics out of the church.

But that’s not what Christians do.

And American Presbyterians have been guilty for a long time before liberal Protestants went all in on the Social Gospel. Mark Tooley reminds:

This week I studied at the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania, a fort dating to the 1700s, when President George Washington led an army there in route to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. Farmers in western Pennsylvania had revolted against the authority of the new republic to tax the whiskey they distilled from grain otherwise expensive to ship from their remote frontier.

Quickly realizing this threat to the new nation’s cohesion, Washington in 1794 summoned the militias from Pennsylvania and nearby states into an army of 13,000 that he personally led against the rebellion. At an evening celebration of greeting for the President and his army, the town of Carlisle illumined a special proclamation simply declaring: “The Reign of the Laws.”

Such a poignant and wonderful exclamation: “The Reign of the Laws.” The people saluted Washington, but they, like he, did not place their faith in his personal rule but in impartial law as the antidote to anarchy.

While in Carlisle Washington worshiped at the stone Presbyterian church, which I visited, and where he heard Dr. Robert Davidson preach “A Sermon on the Freedom and Happiness of the United States of America.” Washington described it in his diary: “Went to the Presbyterian meeting and heard Dr. Davidson preach a political sermon, recommendations of order and good government and the excellence of that of the United States.”

Washington’s summary was fair and succinct, but the sermon merits elaboration, both for illustrating how Christians in early America viewed God’s purposes for their nation, and for modeling, at least in part, how we today might view government, justice and nationhood providentially.

The sermon is based on King David’s question in 2 Samuel 7:23: “And what one nation in the earth is like Thy people, even like Israel?” Pastor Davidson warned against being “carried away by the spirit of the times, to substitute mere political harangues in the place of the Gospel of Christ,” recalling, per Proverbs 27:34, that “righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people.” And he noted the “duties of citizens are not to be considered as topics foreign to the Gospel” as the “Gospel views man in every condition in which man can be placed.”

Davidson heralded the “great goodness of God to our own state and nation in particular; our high and many privileges, the gratitude due from us to God for them; and the wise improvement which we ought to make of them.” As a national comparison, Davidson recalled:

The history of the Jewish nation, if read with suitable views, and especially in order to gain an acquaintance with the ways of God to men, would be one of the most instructive that could merit our attention. …We see how much superior, in point of privileges, the Jewish nation was, to all the other nations around them.

As God had showed unmerited and unprecedented favor to the Hebrew nation, Davidson urged considering the “great goodness of the Divine Being to our state and nation in particular; – our high privileges; the gratitude which we owe to God for them…” And he recalled:

This part of the New World presented itself as a place of refuge for those who wished to enjoy religious and civil freedom, unmolested, and to the greatest extent. They hoped that here they could worship God according to their consciences, and would be at a secure distance from all the insults of tyranny.

After reciting the British oppressions precipitating the American Revolution, Davidson declared the new independent nation had the “freest and best form of civil government, which could be learned from the wisdom and experience of ages,” and that with “all the imperfections” still “is one of the most free and excellent under the sun.”

Of the American republic, Davidson further rhapsodized:

This is a government, which all the real friends of freedom in the old world appear to admire; and under the wings of which the oppressed of every nation would wish to take refuge. Here is liberty and equality, according to the just acceptation of those favorite terms; liberty, civil and religious to the utmost extent that they can be, where there is any government at all; and an equality of rights, or provision made for the equal protection of the lives and properties of all. That all men should be equal, as to abilities, station, authority, and wealth, is absolutely, in the present state of things, impossible. But where every citizen has a voice in making the laws, or in choosing those who make them, and is equally under their protection, – there is equality.

I for one (why not five) am convinced that modernism did not begin with adapting Christianity to biology, higher criticism, or immigration reform. It began when Christians, like Pastor Davidson, started to adapt Christianity to modern nations like the United States. Once you start making the Bible say things it doesn’t, it’s hard to stop.

Social Justice according to Peter Berger

What Richard Mouw heard (not sure he learned) from the sociologist who died last week:

In an informal group discussion at Hartford Seminary, back in the ’70s, we were discussing social activism, and I made this comment: “Every Christian,” I said, “is called actively to work for justice and peace in the world.” Peter repied, “Really, Richard? You really mean that?” I assured him that I did. Then he told me about an elderly aunt, who lived in a retirement home. Every morning, he said, she struggled to work up the courage to go to the cafeteria for lunch. She had a problem with bladder control, Peter said, and she was afraid of embarrassing herself in the lunch line. Each day she prayed to the Lord to give her courage, and then she would go down to the cafeteria. For her, he said, the most radical act of faith for her each day was to summon up the courage to go to lunch. “Now, Richard, what do you want to tell her about her obligation also actively to work for justice and peace in the world?” Peter Berger taught me an unforgettable lesson with that story.

Is the lesson that the elderly get a pass from joining the social justice warrior ranks? Or that social justice isn’t what social justice warriors think it is?

What Would Trump Be Like as POTUS?

Think Jerry Jones as president of the Dallas Cowboys?

In charge but not and outspoken about it:

In the locker room after Sunday night’s 31-17 win over the Chicago Bears, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Dez Bryant had X-rays on his injured right knee. He said they revealed a sprain and the star receiver would have an MRI Monday.

However, during his Tuesday morning radio interview, Jones said Bryant still had not had an MRI.

“He hasn’t taken an MRI, to my knowledge,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan’s Shan and RJ show [KRLD-FM]. “I’m assuming that he’s on go [for Sunday]. Will he get an MRI here probably later today? Maybe.

“But he certainly finished the game out. That in and of itself is a good indication. It doesn’t mean he’s going to be free of the symptoms of the injury, but again, we may look at an MRI before this day is over.”

He’s rich, he hangs out with celebrities, and he’s outspoken about it:

Jerry Jones seems to have a story about everyone he’s ever met.

This includes Grammy Award-winning couple Jay Z and Beyonce. The two attended Sunday night’s Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium.

During his Tuesday morning radio interview, Jones said he’s known Beyonce since her former group, Destiny’s Child, performed at halftime of the Cowboys’ 2004 Thanksgiving Day game at Texas Stadium.

“As a matter of fact, they were planning to perform and it was so cold you couldn’t stand it out there on Thanksgiving Day,” Jones recalled on 105.3 The Fan’s Shan and RJ show [KRLD-FM]. “And I got them all coats from Neiman Marcus. And to this day, one of the things that we kind of smile about are those jackets that we got them so that they could go out there and do a good job and give us Thanksgiving Day halftime. Boy, I’m telling you, she’s phenomenal.

What does Jones think about her husband?

“He, as an individual, is one of the neatest people that I’ve met,” Jones said. “Make no mistake about it, he’s the real deal. He’s as easy to be around, talk to, as sharp as anybody I’ve met. I see what she sees in him.”

Don’t forget that Jerry Jones is a patriot and want a great America:

“I got to give a big pat on the back to our entire team, our coaching staff, our entire organization,” Jones told the Cowboys’ flagship station. “We strongly, strongly support the flag in every way we support — and it’s almost ridiculous to be saying it — the people who for generations and generations have given it all up so that we can get out here and show off in front of millions of people on television.

“We respect that so much. That’s the real business. The forum of the NFL and the forum on television is a very significant thing. I’m for it being used in every way we can to support the great, great contributors in our society, and that’s people that have supported America, the flag, and there’s no reason not to go all out right there. And for anybody to use parts of that visibility to do otherwise is really disappointing.”

Is there room in the Constitution for Jerry Jones?

Homosexual Militarism

When I think of gayness, I don’t think of weapons of mass destruction. Call me a homophobe, but the cause of gay rights and the promotion of alternative “lifestyles” has not usually been synonymous with a strong U.S. military or neo-conservative (read interventionist) U.S. foreign policy. Then again, if Gomer Pyle really was gay, maybe the Navy’s decision to name a ship after Harvey Milk makes sense:

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is expected on Tuesday to formally name a fleet replenishment oiler after gay-rights activist Harvey Milk, but one congressional critic says Mabus’ name choice is putting politics ahead of the Navy’s legacy.

Mabus will participate in a naming ceremony for the USNS Harvey Milk on Tuesday afternoon in Treasure Island, Calif. The oiler, which can carry 156,000 barrels of oil, is the first of six that will be built by General Dynamics NASSCO and will replenish Navy ships, as well as the aircraft deployed on them, while at sea.

Some conservatives are not happy, as you might expect. According to Congressman Duncan Hunter:

What this says to the men and women of the Navy is that there wasn’t one of you — at any time in history — who is more suitable for this honor. There are plenty of names out there to pick from, but Ray Mabus makes every decision with politics in his mind first and foremost, and that’s a real disservice to men and women of the U.S. Navy and the service’s legacy.

But are homosexuals also comfortable with having one of their heroes’ names painted on a ship that doesn’t make love but executes war? If, for instance, Equality California, one of the larger LBGT rights organizations, is currently soliciting support for a proposition against gun violence, are they comfortable with military violence?

Then again, if you want a seat at the table of the U.S. of A., for now that means cozying up to the nation’s military. Isn’t integration grand!

Confused but Not Dazed

Father Dwight has counsel for discouraged Roman Catholics:

4. Regarding Pope Francis – Many conservative Catholics are troubled by Pope Francis. They think he is a textbook 1970s liberal. He’s not. Take time to understand his context and background from Argentina. Read this post to put things into perspective. Get to know the man and pray for him. It is ok to disagree with him and question his judgement. He’s not infallible all the time you know, but you can do so with an open heart and a desire to understand and be with him and learn from him. What’s the alternative? You set yourself up as the judge of the Holy Father? Hmmm. There’s not much mileage in that now is there?

Once upon a time the western church had councils because Rome had three popes.

Also, it’s a free country, right? So separated siblinghood is an alternative. But being Roman Catholic means you have to accept whatever the bishops do? Fr. Dwight might make sense in a pay-pray-obey environment. But the world of immigrant parishes is long gone. Root-root-root for the Fightin’ Irish.

5. Regarding Cafeteria Catholics – Are you maddened by so called “devout Catholics” who openly endorse same sex marriage, women priests and are “pro choice”? Join the club. They annoy me too. Are you also annoyed by the bishops and priests who take the same view? I’m with you. However, remember that the Catholic Church is universal. We’re not a sect where everyone agrees. We’re inclusive and that’s why we’re Catholic. The Church has always had dissidents, rebels and downright bad Catholics. Have you ever read the Old Testament or taken a close look at the twelve apostles? The saints and sinners are all in together. The weeds and the wheat, the goat and the sheep are mixed. Jesus will sort it out one day, and stop for a moment and ask yourself, are you a perfect saint yet? I’m not. I’m still learning and growing and repenting. So I guess we must offer the mercy (and benefit of the doubt) to others that we would wish to receive.

Isn’t the church supposed to stand for the truth? And if observers of Pope Francis need context to understand him and his unwillingness to do something about dissent and error in the church, has not Fr. Dwight entered the cafeteria of choosing what he wants to believe? Why does he get to have perspective on the church’s problems that Pope Francis doesn’t because of his Argentinian background?

6. Regarding You and the Church – I’ve heard some Catholics grumble that the church has let them down. But what did you expect of the church in the first place? The church is divine, but she is also human. The church is a work in progress, an ark of wounded warriors, a tribe of troubled pilgrims, a family of lost children looking and longing for home. When you see the church like this, instead of hoping that the church will be the instant answer to all your problems you will be more content. Our role in the church is to be faithful, prayerful, hard working and stable in our love for Christ and his people.

But Roman Catholicism was supposed to be an upgrade, better than Protestantism. Isn’t that why Fr. Dwight left fundamentalism for Anglicanism and then left Anglicanism for Rome? So shouldn’t the standards for the bearer of the truth, the only true church, be higher? If converts knew that Rome was going to be as incoherent and liberal as the PCUSA or the Church of England, why leave Tim Keller? Or is it that this is godly mess and Protestants only have ungodly messes (and of course, having ONE mess is better than having many).

7. Regarding Priorities – The main thing is to stay close to Jesus and Mary. How do you do this? The Catechism says we experience Christ in five specific ways: 1) in the Sacred Scriptures 2) in the person of the priest 3) in the person of the poor 4) in the fellowship of believers 5) in the Eucharist. I can guarantee you, if you make these five things your priorities, then you will have a solid, sure and secure relationship with Jesus Christ. These five meeting places of Christ assume that your life is bathed in prayer and that you have as your main priority being with Jesus and Mary in these ways. If you get this right the other worries fall away.

Jesus is good and having his Spirit is really good. Mary is good but she is not exactly going to save. But is Fr. Dwight suggesting we can have Mary or Jesus apart from the Bishop of Rome?

Lots of sorting to do. Sure would be nice to have a hierarchy to do this for the faithful.

2k is Unobjectionable

Here’s why:

If all 2K people want is for Christians to speak as individuals rather than through the institutional church except in cases extraordinary, I have no serious objection.

The only qualification to make is that when Christians speak as individuals they do so not as the Bishop of Rome. That means that when Christian persons speak, they do not define the Christian religion or the normative, Christian view of gay marriage legislation, baking recipes, who plumbers fix leaks, or which method an accountant should use (accrual vs. cash). Just because a Christian is speaking doesn’t mean any other Christian needs to recognize or heed the person who invokes Christianity for his or her views. And just because a beliver thinks Christianity requires a certain curricular choice, a specific set of historical circumstances, a particular policy initiative, doesn’t make it so.

In other words, if the institutional church is near to your understanding of Christianity, as in you need to belong to the body of Christ, then what churches say about Christianity carries weight. What church members say is like just an opinion, man. (Remember, in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, study committee reports are merely pious advise.)

And when you look at what institutional churches say about public policy, you find surprising little or nothing, unless, of course, you belong to the Roman Catholic Church where for over a century popes have pontificated about almost every square inch.

Yet another reason why anti-2k is the gateway drug to Christendom and the bishops who created it.