From Sunday School to Reality TV

I have not been following the story, but Matt Pitt, a youth pastor in Alabama, who started a church called Basement, is in jail for resisting arrest (and before that, impersonating a police officer — anyone willing to jail him for impersonating a minister?) and he has generated a large following from Alabama’s young faithful. You can read about this here.

But what I found striking was this commentary:

When Willow Creek introduced the seeker-sensitive model in the 1970s, the Basement could not have been what it had in mind. The Basement is the ultimate example of seeker-driven services targeted at a very particular audience with an emphasis on the commercialization and commodification of religious practices. As a youth ministry run by a younger preacher, the Basement may signal the next step in the megachurch, seeker-sensitive movement. Combined with new reality TV programs and internet ministries . . ., popular religion is adopting more secular tools to reach larger audiences—and it’s working. Perhaps a better signifier would be plastic religion (rather than seeker-sensitive) for what’s going on at the Basement. In Chidester’s Authentic Fakes, he describes plastic religion as a commodified and flexible, a way to think about popular culture that is “biodegradable” and “shape shifting.” The Basement is unabashedly plastic while also claiming authenticity, which is a cunning way to reconcile the conflict inherent in its MTV/tent revival meetings. Drawing on the televangelist trends described by Bowler in Blessed, with emotional pleas that “ebb and flow” throughout the meeting, Pitt’s ministry takes the appeal one step further and amps up the revival atmosphere with smoke, lights, loud music, hip videos, and a liturgical call and answer that sounds more like a club chant.

If Bill Hybels, who started out as a youth pastor himself and forged a megachurch that would cater to those youth once they became suburbanites, could not have envisioned the Basement, it was only because he was limited to the programming of the three networks and various UHF channels available to U.S. television viewers in the 1960s. But youth culture has always forged a separate religious Christian identity, going all the way back to Jonathan Edwards and Gilbert Tennent, whose revivals drew followers precisely from the adolescent demographic. Sunday School was just another endeavor that isolated a group of Christians (or not) defined by age and tried to cultivate a Christian identity distinct from existing congregations and communions.

This is one case where I am no splitter. Lumping Tennent, Sunday school, Bill Hybels, and Matt Pitt makes perfect sense.

This Week in California and the Danger of Unconverted Ministers

I am glad to see that discussions continue at Oldlife without input or posts from (all about me). Apologies for not spending more time on-line, but I am in the midst of a week-long course on American Presbyterianism at Westminster (California).

I do not know how many times I have taught this material but I continue to be amazed by the consequences of the piety and concerns that prevailed in the First Great Pretty Good Awakening. The different understanding of conversion that the awakenings introduced — an immediate encounter with God versus the life long mortification and vivification taught in the Heidelberg Catechism (88-90) — as well as a different conception of qualifications for ministry, were huge for the future of Presbyterianism in the United States and beyond.

At the heart (no pun intended) of these differences is a piety geared more to subjective experiences as the ground for authenticity as opposed to objective promises and means. Arguably one of the best examples of this is to contrast Gilbert Tennent’s sermon, “The Danger of an Unconverted Minister,” in which he argues that critics of revivals are unconverted, to the Second Helvetic Confession on preaching done by wicked or evil ministers:

Even Evil Ministers Are To Be Heard. Moreover, we strongly detest the error of the Donatists who esteem the doctrine and administration of the sacraments to be either effectual or not effectual, according to the good or evil life of the ministers. For we know that the voice of Christ is to be heard, though it be out of the mouths of evil ministers; because the Lord himself said: “Practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do” (Matt. 23:3). We know that the sacraments are sanctified by the institution and the word of Christ, and that they are effectual to the godly, although they be administered by unworthy ministers. Concerning this matter, Augustine, the blessed servant of God, many times argued from the Scriptures against the Donatists. (ch. 18)

That also explains why ministers have power by virtue of the office as opposed to their character:

The Keys. For a lord gives up his power to the steward in his house, and for that cause gives him the keys, that he may admit into or exclude from the house those whom his lord will have admitted or excluded. In virtue of this power the minister, because of his office, does that which the Lord has commanded him to do; and the Lord confirms what he does, and wills that what his servant has done will be so regarded and acknowledged, as if he himself had done it. Undoubtedly, it is to this that these evangelical sentences refer: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). Again, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). But if the minister does not carry out everything as the Lord has commanded him, but transgresses the bounds of faith, then the Lord certainly makes void what he has done. Wherefore the ecclesiastical power of the ministers of the Church is that function whereby they indeed govern the Church of God, but yet so do all things in the Church as the Lord has prescribed in his Word. When those things are done, the faithful esteem them as done by the Lord himself. But mention has already been made of the keys above. (ch. 18)

Clearword Church Coming to Bloomington!

And it is going to build at the corner of South Endwright and West Gifford Roads, just down the street from where Tim Bayly struts his stuff as a godly, manly promoter of praise bands.

Actually, this is a fabrication, but I do wonder what Tim, who wonders where the Escondido men are — here’s one answer — would think of a rival church right down the road from his congregation. Tim recently tried again to tarnish the reputation of two-kingdom folks by asserting that someone like me would oppose Archbishop of Nigeria’s recent decision to form a diocese in Indianapolis.

Anglican bishops from Africa are violating parish boundaries here in these United States, planting orthodox Christian parishes where the presiding Anglican/Episcopal authorities have betrayed the faith. Is this good or bad?

Ask Darryl Hart and his fellow Escondidoites and it’s bad… Right? After all, this is the sort of thing that was done by Anglicans like Whitefield during the Great Awakening, and Darryl and his fellow Orthodox and Old Light Presbyterians oppose such violations of proper ecclesiastical boundaries. . . .

For myself, though, I’m not holding my breath waiting for Old Presbyterians to mount a campaign against men like Nigeria’s Anglican Archbishop Nicholas Okah for trampling on the proper local Anglican authorities here in Indianapolis.

Unlike Tim, I believe that the United States is and should be a free country. Unlike Tim, I don’t pine for the days of Calvin’s Geneva when civil magistrates would have run out of town priests and pastors who had come ministering without an invitation. Unlike Tim, I know what my response would be to this situation — which is, what happens in the Anglican church stays in the Anglican church.

And unlike Tim, I know that the Old Siders he disparages actually reacted the way that Tim Bayly would if a new church started right down the road, and if the new pastor said that members at Clearnote Fellowship should leave their congregation to worship at Clearword Church because Tim Bayly was an unregenerate hypocrite (which is what Gilbert Tennent said about Old Siders). I don’t know for sure, but I suspect Tim would exhibit some of his manliness and not sit by while a fellow minister called him names or took away his flock.

Funny how if you look at something you thought you understood, you end up identifying with the people whom you denigrate.

Tim Bayly Is Doing His Gilbert Tennent Impersonation Again

. . . and along the way denies the teaching and authority of Peter and Paul.

That is, if you use the logic that Tim does in his drive-by post (comments are closed), then you may reach the conclusion that he (and by implication, his brother, David) consider the apostles (except for Matthew) to be unworthy of contemporary Christians’ obedience. Here’s the exact reasoning:

If an officer of Christ’s Church today is not known, as all the Christians were known in the ancient Roman Empire, for taking up the cause of the children being slaughtered, loving the little ones as their Master does, he merits no reading, no listening, no following as a teacher of the church or shepherd of souls.

Tim’s pleasant little introduction to this deduction was another piece of generic slander against two-kingdom and spirituality of the church theology.

Reformed men who promote that hatred of God legislated by the judiciary these past fifty years or so, justifying their cuddly relationships with evil men under the rubric of “two kingdom theology” and “the spirituality of the church,” are unconcerned about the injustice, oppression, and bloodshed of innocents that has long been the foundation of our civil compact here in these United States. They simply don’t give a rip

It’s self evident on any terms a civilized man accepts for the foundation of common law that sending wives, sisters, and mothers off to fight our enemies is evil, but you’ll look in vain for the spirituality of the church men to address the civil magistrate condemning this evil. It’s self evident on any terms a civilized man accepts for the foundation of common law that ripping unborn babies apart in their mothers’ wombs for money, no less is an evil as great as the world has ever known, but you’ll look in vain for the two kingdom men to write about it on their blogs, speak against it in the public square, preach against it in their pulpits, or show up at the killing place to lift a finger to stop it..

Strong stuff. Tim claims that this is the “entire argument,” but he goes on to throw in comparisons with the Third Reich, I guess, just to throw caution to the wind.

Apparently, the Baylys have encyclopedic knowledge of the writings and thoughts of all 2k pastors. I’d have thought this was the kind of comprehension reserved for God. But I guess they have one of those worldviews.

Or maybe they are so right and righteous that they don’t need to be careful with the facts. Have they followed Tennent in donning a the attire and following the diet of John the Baptist?

But one fact they should consider is that the only mention of the slaughter of babies in the New Testament comes in Matthew. I am open to correction since my Bible knowledge could be better. Still, I don’t recall Paul or Peter addressing the slaughter of innocents or abortion in their epistles, let alone women serving as soldiers.

It is also worth mentioning that in the Roman Empire, slavery existed, as did human sacrifice, not to mention infanticide. And yet, the very same apostles who cautioned against the dangers of self-righteousness, also instructed Christians to be subject to the imperial authorities.

So, if the Baylys’ logic holds, since Peter and Paul were not known for condemning the evils the Baylys list, then Christians should pay no heed to the New Testament epistles (for starters). Apparently, Peter and Paul did not give a rip the way Tim and David rip.

Of course, there is a solution to this predicament. It is the teaching of 2k and the spirituality of the church. If the Bible commands something, or if it forbids it, then Christians must follow. If the Bible doesn’t speak to a matter, then Christians have liberty. This is of the essence of sola scriptura and the formal principle of the Reformation. The Roman Church, like the Baylys, tried to bind consciences with their own extra-biblical requirements. In the Baylys’ case, we must not only refrain from certain actions but we must publicly oppose it the way Baylys do – otherwise, you’re not a true minister they way they are. To this logic, the Reformers said that only the Bible should be heeded in matters of conscience because only Christ is Lord of conscience. When it comes to public life, the only real guidance to Christians is to submit to the ordained powers.

So the Baylys fundamentally misunderstand a basic building block of the Reformed faith and are grossly uncharitable in displaying their ignorance.

Of course, they are not wrong to oppose the slaughter of innocents or even women serving in the military. They may do that and likely have plenty of good reasons from the created order and even the sixth commandment (in the case of abortion). They stray when they beat their breast and bray that only those ministers are worthy of hearing are the ones like the Baylys. If they are right about their own example and reasoning, then the apostles – and even Jesus himself – stand condemned.

Strong stuff, indeed.

Two Kingdom Tuesday: Machen Was All Wet

The resolution endorsing the Eighteenth Amendment or the Volstead Act was introduced to the Presbytery of New Brunswick at the very end of the meting on April 13, 1926. The attendance, which had been large during the early part of the session, had dwindled until only a very few persons were present – y estimate would be ten or twelve, exclusive of the officers, though I believe someone else estimates the number at about five. Under these conditions, the resolution was put to a viva voce vote. I voted “No”; but I did not speak to the motion or in any way ask that my vote should be recorded. . . .

It is a misrepresentation to say that by this vote I expressed any opinion on the merits of the Eighteenth Amendment or the Volstead Act – and still less on the general question of Prohibition. On the contrary, my vote was directed against a policy which places the church in its corporate capacity, as distinguished from the activities of its members, on record with regard to such political questions. And I also thought it improper for so small a group of men as were then in attendance to attempt to express the attitude of a court of the church with regard to such an important question. . . .

Such are the facts about my vote. I desire now to say one or two things about my attitude regarding the issues involved.

In the first place, no one has a greater horror of the evils of drunkenness than I or a greater detestation of any corrupt traffic which has sought to make profit out of this terrible sin. It is clearly the duty of the church to combat this evil

With regard to the exact form, however, in which the power of civil government is to be used in this battle, there may be different of opinion. Zeal for temperance, for example, would hardly justify an order that all drunkards should be summarily butchered. The end in that case would not justify the means. Some men hold that the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act are not a wise method of dealing with the problem of intemperance, and that indeed those measures, in the effort to accomplish moral good, are really causing moral harm. I am not expressing any opinion on this question now, and did not do so by my vote in the Presbytery of New Brunswick. But I do maintain that those who hold the view that I have just mentioned have a perfect right to their opinion, so far as the law of our church is concerned, and should not be coerced in any way by ecclesiastical authority. The church has a right to exercise discipline where authority for condemnation of an act can be found in Scripture, but it has no such right in other cases. And certainly Scripture authority cannot be found in the particular matter of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act.

Moreover, the church, I hold, ought to refrain from entering, in its corporate capacity, into the political field. Chapter XXXI, Article iv, of the Confession of Faith reads as follows:

Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.

This section, I think, established a very great principle which was violated by the Presbyter of New Brunswick. . . .

In making of itself, moreover, in so many instances primarily an agency of law enforcement, and thus engaging in the duties of the police, the church, I am constrained to think, is in danger of losing sight of its proper function, which is that of bringing to bear upon human soul the sweet and gracious influences of the gospel. Important indeed are the function of the police, and members of the church, in their capacity as citizens, should aid by every proper means within their power in securing the discharge of those functions. But the duty of the church in its corporate capacity is of quite a different nature. (J. Gresham Machen, “Statement on the Eighteenth Amendment”)