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The “Chick-fil-A controversy” has caused many comments that have accused individuals of being biased/prejudiced. The Christian Church is one of the primary targets. How should we respond?

August 5, 2012 0 14 comments
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My father adhered to the old adage, “Spare the rod; spoil the child”.  He did not spoil many of his six children. In fact school faculties were not hesitant to use the same method of discipline.

July 25, 2012 0 0 comments
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This past week I questioned the content of one of the “praise songs” sung at the church I attended.  Perhaps I am wrong but I ask you as reader to give me some advice. Is God "untameable"?

July 16, 2012 0 28 comments
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One striking difference between pastoring and social work is the function and role of supervision.  Professional supervision consists of a candid review and empowering of both the social worker’s practice and personhood in order to practice ethically and therapeutically and “do no harm” to the clients. I believe that pastors need a similar kind of supervision.

July 12, 2012 0 17 comments
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Church Ministry vs. Church Numbers - Which is more important to measure? As elders how do you assess the effectiveness of your church’s ministry both within the walls of the church as well as in the greater community you service?

July 8, 2012 0 2 comments
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So what is "Mutual Censure" really all about? In a Council meeting if someone has an issue the sooner it is placed on the table, discussed and resolved the better future council meeting will be.  It prevents council members seeing each other from a bias perspective.

June 29, 2012 0 7 comments
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At one time preaching was judged in the Christian Reformed Church as to their theological content. The sermon needed to be theologically sound.  Theologically sound meant that the sermon reflected a "reformed" world and life view that was consistent with the three confessions of the church.

June 22, 2012 0 9 comments
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Is “confession good for the soul” still true in today’s society or for that matter in the church? Two out of three churches I attended recently did not contain “ a Call to Confession and Words of Assurance” in their order of worship. In fact two out the three churches seldom if ever have it in the order of worship.

June 10, 2012 0 3 comments
Resource, Webinar Recording

This webinar was recorded on: Wed, 06/06/2012 This webinar will discuss this issue and suggest that a more comprehensive view of the atonement can lead to a more comprehensive mission for the church - something we desperately need in our day and age.

June 6, 2012 0 0 comments
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I think what binds the Christian Reformed Church together as a denomination is not so much what we do as compared to what we believe. Over the years of our existence our confessions have not changed much (if at all). However, how we practice what we believe as changed. One area that has changed significantly is our worship services.

June 2, 2012 0 6 comments
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Why do I attend a CRC church? It is a relevant question for my wife and me. Presently I am a member of a church that is twenty five miles from my home. Within a five area there is a Presbyterian Church (USA) that because of travel distance we attend rather frequently. In fact I was asked to participate...

May 21, 2012 0 10 comments
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To belong to a specific denomination means more education as to the specific church one joins. One is being a member of the body of Christ; the other is being part of a specific denomination of that larger body. I confess that I believe I did have a “handle” of what it meant to profess ones’ faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but besides having ...

May 16, 2012 0 0 comments
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Article 65 of the Church Order went through an interesting editing process in recent years. The article addresses the age old custom of “Family Visiting” in the Christian Reformed Church. It formerly read, “The minister of the Word and elders shall conduct annual home visitation”. Presently it reads, “whenever possible..."

May 10, 2012 0 4 comments
Resource, Webinar Recording

This webinar was recorded on: Wed, 05/09/2012 Now you are ordained by the church to provide spiritual oversight to the body of Christ. What does that involve? How is that carried out in today's culture? How can I serve in an office that I feel "unqualified" for? Together we will explore the nature of spiritual leadership in the church.

May 9, 2012 0 0 comments
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The Christian Reformed Church during my ministry has gone through many changes in how it worships, functions, and reaches out to the community. Change is a good thing...

May 7, 2012 0 1 comments
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Today, I retire from writing this blog. The regular writing and posting has been demanding. And yet the simple exercise of writing a few words has forced me to give attention to passing thoughts and deepen my reflections. For this I am grateful. That some took time to read these thoughts humbles me. 

May 1, 2012 0 2 comments
Resource, Webinar Recording

This webinar was recorded on: Wed, 04/25/2012 Is your congregation reflecting on Synod's decision to welcome children to the Lord's Supper? Join us to explore the roles of the pastor, elders, and parents in this significant process - and equip your congregation to move forward with joy.

April 25, 2012 0 0 comments
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Good daily habits are harder to maintain in a disruptive culture.  The daily habit of Prayer and scripture reading at the table ... The weekly habit of church attendance ...Yet good habits are essential for the good Kingdom orientated life. 

April 16, 2012 0 1 comments
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When looking for solutions to problems, the cross and the resurrection aren’t the pragmatic solutions we are looking for.   It does not put food on our table, get our loved ones out of the hospital, pay our bills or get us to work on time...  And yet, God sent Jesus into the world to the cross

April 2, 2012 0 1 comments
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If your congregation is like many we’re in conversation with, you’re seriously considering Synod 2010’s decision to welcome baptized children to participate in the sacrament of communion. But with change comes challenge—along with the need to replace old processes and practices with new ones. That’s the challenge we’d like to address

March 27, 2012 0 1 comments
Discussion Topic

I am concerned about the fact that people watch all kinds of shows on TV and form an opinion that supports the view being presented, which they now believe to be true, and it then seems to be a problem when trying to understand Reformed thinking and how it fits in with their new understanding. ...

March 20, 2012 0 1 comments
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Two words commonly used among God’s people are forgiveness and repentance.... Yet in my pastoral work, it seems to me that these are two practices that people often acknowledge are most difficult.

March 19, 2012 0 1 comments
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On April 16-18, a first-ever Prayer Summit for our denomination will take place in Los Angeles, Calif. By way of the “Each Church Send One!” campaign, I am inviting — and strongly encouraging — your congregation to send at least one person to this event. 

March 16, 2012 0 11 comments
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There is a journey of renewed identity that some churches experience. They remember fondly the fruitfulness in their land of the past. Then they cross the first holy river into the desert where, through prayer and holy conversation, they climb the jagged mountains to discover renewed vision. They cross deep valleys

March 11, 2012 1 0 comments
Resource, Webinar Recording

This webinar was recorded on: Wed, 03/07/2012 This webinar will present basic principles of discipling and enfolding which will help you embrace the new people God is sending to your church.

March 7, 2012 0 0 comments

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Hi Roger - Just search for 'membership transfer' on the CRCNA website (www.crcna.org) and the first result is the form you're looking for. It's available through Faith Alive as a free download (or as a hard copy).

Hi John,

There is a program called "Caring for Inactive Members; How to make God's House a Home" by Kenneth Haugk published by Tebunah Ministries. I have a copy you can borrow.

They could check with most or all of the social agencies and ministries to find out how they as deacons of the church could serve them.

 

Larry

Are there any Churches of Christ near Mt Juliet that believe in the healing process described in James 5?

Please let me know.   Carl Kelley 615-390-5009 or email kelleyc12@gmail.com

I think many denominations have this problem.  Too often the roles are not based on biblical definitions but on tradition, a tradition that might have evolved only in the last generation.  And too often that tradition is more of an organizational or business tradition than what God calls us to be.  Yearly examination of the roles against scripture would be an excellent practice.

Yes, I think it's a great idea for us to review the Biblical mandates and qualifications for deacons and elders on a yearly basis. It's helpful for the people in office as a mission statement/focus, and for the members so they know how the church functions.

Steve, you make a valid point(s), but I think we need to strike a balance.  The Bible is filled with the concept of "fellowship, community".  It is also reminds us to seek sound doctrine, to remember history, and recounts the ones who were faithful in the past.  I believe knowing what the reformation is all about enriches my personal faith, reading the Catechism question and answer 1 enriches my faith, reading the past theologians, and authors such as C.S. Lewis enriches my faith.  If your past was one in which you lacked the ability to spread the Gospel in Word and Deed then you ought to find ways to build up what you consider a shortcoming of the past but not at the expense of sound theology and community building.

My point is that today spirituality is nebulous and undefined with no knowledge of the past.

Al

Thank you for your questions on this topic, Al. With all due respect, I have to answer no to your question on the importance of being connected with church history and tradition. While there is no question that the CRC denomination has a rich history and tradition, expecting our younger members as well as newer members to spend a lot of time on these topics is not what church should be about. I find your title for this post interesting - "Are We Promoting Individualism or Community?" I'd like to suggest that too often we have a tendency to "Promote Denominationalism" through an emphasis on doctrine and church history, instead of "Promoting Christ" through an emphasis of living out our faith within our extended communities. I have been a life long member, almost 56 years, of the CRC and I am just now learning how to reach out to the suffering, homeless, those with disabilities. When Christ was with His followers, He spent more time teaching them by example and by encouraging them to "practice" what they were learning, rather than by studying in a classroom. They learned and practiced loving God and their neighbors. They learned how to reach out with the Gospel, how to disciple the converts and then how to encourage the new followers to reach out to their communities and practice what they had learned.

As the church, we need to be doing the same thing. Our pastors need to be discipling leaders who then go out and disciple others. Our young people, as well as everyone else, need to experience the excitement and frustrations which the first disciples experienced when they were sent out. Placing emphasis on our history will not challenge us to grow in our faith, but placing emphasis on relying on the Holy Spirit to help us as we attempt to reach out and share the love of Jesus will help us to grow in our faith. I am convinced that our young people want to be more than hearers - they want to be doers. It is the mandate of the church to challenge the community of believers to get out of the pews. If we begin to take this mandate more seriously, we will be blessed beyond our wildest dreams.

Blessings,

Steve

If I recall correctly when this has happened in our church, the council nominated an elder who had just recently finished their term. They brought that single nominee to the congregation for a vote of affirmation (done in a very brief congregational meeting after a service).

They were then installed in a later worship service (again, probably an abbreviated form; similar to how we might if an elder/deacon wasn't able to make the main installation service).

If you are interested in a short but helpful book to consider this issue, I suggest,

Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, by J. Clif Christopher

I don't agree with everything in it, but on the whole it offers helpful guidance. It is especially relevant for churches with a substantial portion of people who are not long-time faithful givers because it is a window into how most people view their giving today -- church is one place of many worthy places to give.

At our church, I suggested the deacons read a chapter a month in their meetings. It has helped educate and broaden discussion. The highlights of the discussion have even made it to the full council meeting.

The author's premise is that churches need to highlight the life-changing effect of the gospel that is augmented by their ministry so that Christians can be excited about being a part of that mission.

More relevant to the original question, there is a whole chapter on reasons the pastor should have offering information as well as what migh be done with the information. I'll offer a couple quotes.

"When one is gifted with extraordinary talent, one has the choice of using it for God’s purposes [for Kingdom purposes] or for some other purpose. Pastors need to share with individuals how to use their talents and gifts for the Lord."

"Just as it would be clergy malpractice to not visit someone who was dying and needed prayer, it is also clergy malpractice to ignore a member who is being pulled into hell by the weight of his wallet.... There are not many indicators available to us on what is happening inside one’s heart, but giving is a good one."

In summary, there is a "wealth" of information in giving statments, both about the giver and to some extent, their view of the importance of the ministry. The pastors and leaders of a church who ignore such information do so at their peril -- especially since the generation who unquestionably gives to their local church is shrinking.

In the CRC church order (Article 4) it states that:

"In calling and electing to an office, the council shall ordinarily present
to the congregation a nomination of at least twice the number to be
elected. When the council submits a nomination which totals less than
twice the number to be elected, it shall give reasons for doing so."

The language of the above article is very vague and therefore almost anything could be justified under the clause, "it shall give reasons for doing so."  But traditionally, and the church order shows this through the supplement 4-a and subsection 4-c, the congregation is to have a voting voice in the selection of elders and other offices.

I can, however, tell you that his is not uniform throughout the denomination.  There are churches that do not abide in the spirit of this Article, but have taken liberties that could be justified under the wording of the Article.

That is a good question. It depends on the denomination in which one is assoicated. Elder means " one that is long standing in Gods true Church:. A local Elder in the Church is automatic because of his long standing in Christ ways and dedication. It is automatic. One who has not been in the Church very long is not an Elder, one older in the faith. To be an Elder is automatic in the Church, ther is no appointment or departure from it. It is for Life.  

Obviously, this depends on the context and mindset of each individual congregation and its pastor. This is one of the questions pastors disagree about regularly, even for themselves. And this has been reflected in the various answers already given.

My current congregation has a policy that the Revenue Administrator may contact the Pastor of Congregational Care and/or Co-Chair of Elders (Pastor of Care is the other co-chair) if the Revenue Administrator is concerned that a member is not giving faithfully (read 'giving $0'). The Pastor and/or Chair of Elders may also request to know if a certain person is giving faithfully (and thus receive an answer of "yes" or "no."). Note that in this set up, the Pastor nor the Chair of Elders never know the exact amount unless it is zero. They only know if the Revenue Administrator deems a person's giving as faithful or not. The Pastor of Care can then deem which of these need new follow-up. (For instance, a college student living in another city may not need follow-up and a stay-at-home mom whose husband abandoned her is already being cared for.) The Consistory or Council as a whole NEVER know those numbers, and I would advise against it. Only the Revenue Administrator knows numbers.

I would observe from your post that the concern the elders have is not individual giving, though it may seem like it. Their concern is with overall giving and "the pattern of zeros." The elders would be well served to look at the overall culture of the church and what they can do foster generousity, understanding of the giving process, and enthusiasm for the ministry of the church. The 'touchy' issues can be dealt one-on-one by those specially trained to do so.

We have a marriage statement that our Consistory came up with if the couple is going to be using one of our pastors.  We also have building use policy if they are just renting the facility.  Email me at office@brookfieldcrc.org and I can send them to you.

I'm the church treasurer. We handle things a bit differently in that we base our annual budget on the pledges of our members. (We start with the pledges and build our budget on that--sort of zero-based budgeting, if you will.)

Most, but not all, of our members pledge. For those that do pledge, I do create a report that goes to the Pastor (only) reporting on pledge giving. This is used primarily for pastoral concerns: sometimes we know that someone is not meeting their pledge due to public circumstances (job loss, etc.). In that case no contact is made directly referencing the pledge. But if there is a significant discrepancy where there isn't a known reason, contact is made--both for diaconal and pastoral concerns.

Giving by non-pledgers is not reported. In addition, we have some members who pledge but then give in cash, so that is not tracked (although hundred-dollar bills in the offering plate are a pretty good indication).

The pastor does preach annually on giving. We are a church with a large number of recent converts and have found that there is a need to introduce the concept of tithing. We also cover it in our membership class, but we have found that the annual teaching does help remind everyone of the importance of this type of faithfulness in the Christian life.

In my last church, after being there about 7 years I asked the elders for permission to get the names and numbers for the last 3 years of every member and to let the congregation know publicly that I was aware of them. They wanted to know why, of course. Reasons: 1. so I can say thank you to the 60+% who generally generously and continuously support the Lord's work, (the response to just that was worth it!) 2. to have an honest conversation with those who don't or who do little, when I have a  chance to do so. Sooner or later I will run into them, and amazingly, once they knew I knew, it was surprising how many came looking for me!  Sometimes someone would bring  up the subject at the most inopportune place or time.  For many guilt was bothering them and they were relieved when we could honestly and  openly talk about it. I also learned that many had no idea how the giving system works in their church, we assume they understand local budget, classical and denominational shares, etc.  Many younger don't and really don't care all that much either. For a number their motto is simple, "just send me a bill and I'll pay it," as they do everything else. For others it became a practical teaching opportunity.    

But I also became aware of the 10-20% who year after year do nothing.  Most of them avoided me or raised a stink about me knowing all this confidential info. I just tell them I ask WWJD and then point to Him sitting by the door of the temple watching everyone put in their offering and making a big deal of the widow who gave the most by giving the least!  

I think this needs to be part of a bigger approach. I regularly informed and told stories about the joy of giving and the need for gifts, the blessing of generosity and the open windows of heaven for those who will "test me." I also believe and stated that it is impossible to be a Christian and not give, Self-centered people end up in hell, in fact, they are already unhappy at experiencing the foretaste, if not the first bites of it. 

I also got the numbers for the elders and deacons and ledarned I had to start there. Once the motion passed, 3 of the 5 "guilty" came to me and immediately acknowledged they were going to change. I don't know if they did or not (that would show in next year's numbers.)

I believe giving is a simple spiritual thermometer, generally pointing out spiritual health but especially illness or "unhealth."  For a long time I preferred not to know any of this for then I was not accountable or responsible.  Because money is the other big god, we ignore it at our peril and very much to the detriment of our people. 

As an aside, once the congregation was aware that this is the "new reality" the overall income went up significantly every month, which led to more praise and .... it was a good cycle!  It probably proves the old adage, "We don't do what is expected; we do what is inspected."  

I also taught that using the 10% tithe as a "starting guideline for giving to God and others" (not in a cold legalistic way) was a good place to start.  In sermons l urged members to try if for 6 months and if they regret it, to let me know and I'd go to the deacons and ask them to return the money that they gave.  I also offer to subsidize it with 5% interest.  Though I have made this offer for nearly 20 years, no one has ever come to collect; I have had many testimonies to the opposite, "I wished someone had challenged me to start this long ago!" One just can't outgive the Lord, many need to "test Him" to discover that He means it, for others, nothing less than repentance is needed. We do them a favor by calling and discipling for that!

This a complicated issue because it deals both with raising money and with pastoral care. When we look at the upper tier of donors, we have the issue of how to thank them, and how to acknowledge them. While persons who give large gifts may not want a lot of public recognition, they can and perhaps should expect that the pastor and few other key leaders know of the contributions they have made. Moreover, if you have a group of relatively wealthy persons, they usually know each other, and they often look for some assurance that everyone is pulling their weight.  This becomes complicated, however, if in your church, as we have in mine, you have made an issue of complete confidentiality about pledging and giving. I am hoping we can retreat a bit from that policy, because we need good relationships with these crucial financial supporters.

On the lower end of the scale, however, it is a matter of pastoral care. For those who give zero, the reasons could hardly be financial alone -- and even that would be a matter for diaconal concern. Almost always this is a matter of faith. Such people have more serious issues with their church and themselves and their relationship to God. Should the elders know this? Or the pastor? Perhaps so, but it does no good to bring up the poor giving as an entry point for discussion. As I read somewhere, but can't place it right now, you can't ask $10 from someone with a $5 faith.

Then there are those whose gifts are small. I had a conversation recently with a man who did not like to receive reports on his giving from the treasurer. He did not say directly, but I concluded that he felt some shame that his gifts were so small. I assured him that no one except the one person who recorded the gift knew what he gave. No one else saw his report. He relaxed. That man wears his faith on his sleeve. No one can doubt he is a follower of Jesus. I doubt that it would help any elder to know his record of giving.

So, I am leaning towards a policy where a small circle of people have some access to the giving records, a circle that would include the pastor. The pastor, who also knows the elders and deacons, might occasionally alert an elder or deacon privately about a particular case, but would not share this knowledge generally.

I recently metnioned the Cannons of Dort in a sermon about witnessing (Art 1 pt 3) and our Reformed tradition. Two years ago, I went through a 5 weeks series looking at the Cannons of Dort using the acronym FAITH (Fallen Humanity, Adopted by God, Intentional atonement, Transformed by the Holy Spirit, Held by God). That went over very well.

Thanks for the response.  I agree with your comments about "Tulip" but my real point is, "Are we teaching our confessions to our members both young and old?"  Glad to hear that you are preaching it!

Good thoughts, thanks Al.  I sometimes wonder if the CRC was (intentionally or not) trying to get away from Reformd/Calvinist distinctives at the same time that so many seemed hungry for Reformed theology.  Incidentally, I've been preaching through the Canons of Dort for the Last few months, and so the answer to your question is that "Tulip" was mentioned by name just two weeks ago... :)  However, I'm with Randy -- there are a number of problems with the acronym TULIP -- not least of which that it does not match well with the Canons themselves.

I really appreciate and resonate with these reflections. Even though I don't use the TULIP acronym (because I don't think it does a good job of communicating what the Canons of Dordt actually teach) I really find that young adults have a hunger for the Reformed faith that sometimes we find stale or irrelevant. I'm glad to see signs that the tide is turning. I am a product of Home Missions evangelism myself, and it was the depth of the Reformed faith by which God grabbed us and held us.

Its nice but when the pastor has no back up or support system or supervision to help with troubling situations what he can do?

Regards,

 - christian forums

wow thanks for inspiration

Maybe it's also about bringing our cultural freight into the process without asking whether the "communion of the saints" requires a counter cultural stance, i.e. being in the world, but not of the world. Are we molding the church to conform to the cultural values of the world we live in?

posted in: Church is Boring!

Maybe I did not make it very "clear" but my point is that the church is more than worship - it is about "communion of the saints".  It is about serving as well as being served.  It is about interaction.  I think the person who critiqued the church as boring in her book only looked at worship because as a former attendee of a church see was part of a mega church here in Scottsdale, AZ which I am familiar with and she only attended worship services with no emphasis on the interaction of "communion of the saints".  Church was boring because she lacked participation in the church.  Having been a past president of a Chamber of Commerce, I encountered people with the same complaint about the Chamber but much had to do with it being their fault for lack of interaction and serving.

posted in: Church is Boring!

Just for fun, let's look at it from a different angle.

Theologically, boredom is often the manifestation of the deadly sin of sloth.

Good book on this "Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment: Recovering Passion and Wonder" by Richard Winter.

posted in: Church is Boring!

I don't think that churches should be boring. That doesn't mean they need to be entertaining in the pop culture sense of the word, but the congregation should be engaged. I'm not sure how to describe it, but sometimes when I attend a church as a guest it has the feel of being incredibly stifling. This has happened to me in both traditional and contemporary churches. The difference is in traditional churches it makes me feel like everyone is just punching in their time in the pew, whereas in contemporary churches it feels like I might just as well have stayed home and watched it on TV.

I currently attend a church plant so we do drink coffee during the service. It's definitely not boring. But neither is it boring when I visit a traditional church - the singing is often very beautiful and the people friendly. 

So, I guess the question boils down to, if one thinks their church is boring, it is important to identify what is boring about it. 

posted in: Church is Boring!

Al, when you are talking about church, are you referring to Sunday worship or everything else that we think about such as the ministries that take place throughout the week? i think that's an important distinction.

Steve

posted in: Church is Boring!

In our congregation we only serve grape juice. I don't believe it matters what you serve. I believe in scripture that the only thing we have to focus on is the CUP. Jesus or even the apostle Paul never talked about what is being served in the cup. Jesus  took the CUP.  Paul says that after supper he took the CUP.     The symbolism and meaning is not in the wine or grape juice it is in the cup. This cup is a new covenant.    So whatever is served doesn't really matter.  says 

I don't think it's a black and white issue, or that any genuinely caring and loving person will automatically insist on having only grape juice at the Lord's Supper. There are certain contexts (e.g. an inner-city ministry) where the choice might be more obvious. But how does this choice, consciously or not, reflect how we view God's gifts in creation, and the biblical symbolism of the elements, and the meaning of the sacrament? I think we need more reflection and dialogue on that matter, without quick judgements levelled at those who disagree. Exclusive use of grape juice has the benefit of not being a temptation, and of not requiring a choice, and of being the same for all. On the other hand, there might be things we lose, biblically, liturgically, spiritually, theologically, and formation-wise, in the process. Consider a few reflections by thoughtful Christian pastors and writers. First from Frederick Buechner:

"Unfermented grape juice is a bland and pleasant drink, especially on a warm afternoon mixed half-and-half with ginger ale. But it is a ghastly symbol of the life blood of Jesus Christ, especially when served in individual antiseptic, thimble-sized glasses.
Wine is booze, which means it is dangerous and drunk-making. It makes the timid brave, and the reserved amorous. It loosens the tongue and breaks the ice, especially when served in a loving cup. It kills germs. As symbols go, it is a rather splendid one."

Second, from William Willimon, "Communion as a Culinary Art":

"Wafers and pellets that look more like fish food than bread of the world will not do. Grape juice with too much water and too little spirit will not do. What is more basic and symbolic than bread? What is more joyous and sad than wine? And yet, bread and wine, like all human creations, are ambiguous gifts. In a world where one-third of humanity is starving or close to starving, do we Americans need to be reminded of the demonic nature of selfish, egocentric gluttony? (Christians have an age-old answer for the sin of overconsumption, and it is called fasting.) And do we pastors, who so frequently encounter the human ravages of alcohol, need to be lectured on the evils of drink in a lonely and desecrated world?

Against my own abstaining Methodist forebears I would argue (and I think John Wesley would back me up on this) that wine is necessary at the Lord’s Supper not only because it is obviously related to the full range of biblical imagery of the “fruit of the vine” and the “spirit” but also because it is a symbol of humanity’s creative and demonic potential. We sometimes use God’s gifts in a way that makes them humanity’s curses. What is more blessed than fine wine at a good meal? What is more destructive than addiction and Dionysian submission to wine when it is used in inhumane, unredeemed ways? For the Christian, all foods are good and clean, not only because they are gifts of God but also because these ambiguous human creations have meaning only under the name and blessing of Christ." (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1186)

So, I think there are lots of issues swirling around under the surface that maybe we don't think about. I prefer to have both available, because of the rich symbolism of wine that just is not there or there to the same extent with the over-sweet breakfast drink: the antiseptic germ-killing, purifying nature of wine; the celebratory, banquet-evoking nature of wine; even the dangerousness, the non-safe nature of wine, and the amorous and social connotations that Buechner brings up, and which I think are definitely present in the biblical imagery of wine. There may also be a certain piety at play that looks at wine, consciously or slightly sub-consciously, as somewhat naughty or sinful. Add to that a de facto Zwinglianism that says "it's just a symbol so who cares?" Clearly there must always be an alternative for persons who cannot or choose not to drink alcoholic wine; hospitality and Christian charity make that abundantly clear and non-controversial. But even in that case, alcohol-free wine would be preferable in my book; I find grape juice sickeningly over-sweet and a less than satisfying substitute. But even discussing this in some quarters invites an attack on one's motives (which I know from personal experience), and that should not be the case. Hospitality also implies listening to different points of view.

Matt,

One of my fellow Elders, in response to some of the comments said that Communion should be one place where people are not forced to make a choice--that it is a table of grace where all are welcomed into the loving arms of Christ.  Your thoughts on the physical community formed by all partaking of the same type of elements, elements that remove barriers are very powerful.

I am glad that my fellow Elders are discussing this in such a compassionate way.

Tim,

I think that part of the objection is cultural--a long background in the Roman Catholic church.  I was not an elder when those objections were voiced a few years ago.

Beautifully put, Matt.

In general in life I prefer wine to grape juice and gluen rich bread to gluten free bread. When I first came to our church and found that we served only grape juice and gluten free bread for communion, I was glad to do it as an act of hospitality at the table. Now that I have been here for a little over two years, what began as hospitality has become an act of love and a sign of unity. I now prefer grape juice and gluten free bread at the Lord's Supper because of the wholehearted oneness the elements themselves represent. There is something powerful about sharing one cup and one loaf (rather than two of each) that trumps my prior preference. Should it ever surpise us that God uses the physical aspect of celebrating the sacraments to drive home the deeper truths?

Paul, I hope your council will listen closely to those who cling to wine, and I hope that group will be able to hear the voices of those who desire to eliminate physical barriers. No easy task!

In Canada, for years we had a church service on Thanksgiving Day.   Today we have a special service on the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day, turning the regular service into a Thanksgiving Service, possibly because we are often still harvesting on Thanksgiving Day (second Monday in October).  Possibly because we seem to have less time to give thanks than we did in the past.   In a way, every sunday is a thanksgiving day, giving thanks for life, for redemption, for food and clothing, for work, for God's blessings and provisions for us.  So on Thanksgiving Day, or the Thanksgiving Sunday, its nice, and fitting, that we spend some additional time on our Thanks to God. 

Paul - I can imagine that this is a sensitive discussion in your congregation.  At the church I attend we have chosen to have only grape juice served.  This decision was made before I was attending there - and I can't be speak as to whether that decision was made because we have an AA group that meets in our building - or because alcoholism can exist in our pews - but I like to assume the decision was made so that the Lord's Supper was inclusive of as many people as possible.  I'm under the opinion that we should not create barriers for others to participate in the Lord's Supper - nor needless temptations.  We've recently changed our bread so that it's gluten free, again so that everyone can participate. This month there is an article in the Banner which adds some food for thought to this discussion.  http://www.thebanner.org/departments/2012/09/christian-tradition-or-temptation.  

Paul - What is their objection to switching to all grape juice? I'm trying to think of one, and drawing a blank. Going with all-juice seems like the best solution, but maybe that's just because it's what I'm used to from my own church.

What do you propose as a solution? Alcoholics face this when they go out to eat, walk by or inside a store that sells alcohol, etc. They need love, compassion, and the encouragement of others in AA who undersatand the challenges. Talk top someone from the AA program and get their input as well.

I believe thjat as long as you are serving both, you are providing the alternative. That person has to face those decisions on a biggger scale daily.
Ken Prol

Good question. I think Romans 14, in particular verses13-21, is worth thinking about while considering the solution.

In my opinion, you should inform both the pastor of the church and the head of the elders (this may be the same person) of the grievances that you have, preferably in writing.  Be specific about the facts and which behaviours you felt were out of line.  Ask that you receive a follow-up phone call to discuss the situation.

What should then happen is that a small group of elders will meet with this person to discuss the concerns.  It may be that this person will deny these charges, or they may confess them.  In either case, the situation is exposed to the light, and everyone becomes aware of the seriousness of confidentiality.  If there are other complaints about this individual's conduct as well, council may decide to take a stricter action, but understand that one case is probably not enough to remove someone from council.

The hard part for you will then be to move on and forgive this person, even if the issue does not receive closure in the way you are hoping.  Trust that the leadership of the church will make a good decision, and pray about it.  But don't hang on to anger and bitterness, and remember that you are not responsible for the actions of others, only for the way you respond to them.  When dealing with church leadership in the future, emphasize that you expect confidentiality.

I'm sorry that this situation has happened to you, and I hope, and pray, that justice will be done.

Greg, in our church we have an adult bible study every Sunday before church.  Most adults who are not teaching sunday school will attend this, while some do not attend and just drink coffee in the hall.  Various topics in the past have included the Book of Romans, Parables of Jesus, Ezra/Nehemiah, Heidleberg Catechism(two years), videos of various reformers, and John Piper on video, just to name a few.  This adult bible study lasts about 45 minutes, and provides opportunity to discuss and learn about what the bible says to our lives.  This group has often been held in the sanctuary, but in some years held in a larger classroom. 

I know this is two years after you posted this, but in case you are still curious, I thought I'd let you know what we do. 

I want to apologize a bit for a comment I made yesterday about "official acts of ministry" not being defined in the church order.  They are half-defined in the supplement to article 53 and article 18..  The article/supplement says these official acts are entrusted to the church, and to ordained leaders (including elders) and not to a specific office.   Yet the article says that they should not be performed by someone delegated to lead a service or to read  a sermon.   The article does not deal with elders vs non-elders reading a sermon.  It does not make clear in the end whether an ordained elder therefore could be proclaiming a blessing, although Henry deMoor in another conversation indicated this was deemed "approved". 

The supplement to article 55 indicates that an ordained person could administer the sacraments, but should be approved by classis, and should be an elder.   Presumably, the council would recomment someone, and classis would approve.  But the need for classis to approve such an elder, since they do not approve other elders, is not made clear.   Since the church order speaks to the fact that the sacraments are entrusted to the church and ordained leaders, not to classis, nor to a specific office, it seems a bit strange to require classis approval for a consistory to appoint someone who is already ordained, to lead in the sacraments in the local church. 

In any case, does it seem that classis approval is not required for elders to install other elders, since installation is not identified as requiring that approval? 

posted in: Leading From Behind

Al, you are right that other articles also include tasks of elders.   However, the articles mention "consistory", not "elders".  Consistory consists of elders, but includes ministers, commissioned pastors.   There is a distinction made on the one hand, and then in the process of referring to "consistory" rather than "elders", the church order puts the onus on a group, on an elder collective, rather than on the calling of elders individually.   While this is sometimes valid, it is done virtually exclusively to the elimination of significance of individual callings of elders. 

In other articles, we see a reference to council.   Elders are assumed included in that too, but again, there is not a specific reference to elders, and of course, ministers or pastors are also included in that, assuming they are members of the church in question, and thus this really identifies a decision making process, rather than a specific calling of the elders. 

So, we have two specific articles dealing with the function and calling and task of ministers, but I do not see any articles dealing in the same specificity and directness, about the function of elders, and the calling and task of elders.  Article 99 talks about equal honor of the offices, but the church order itself does not honor the offices equally. 

The fact that they are not honored equally has an impact on the spiritual growth or lack of spiritual growth of the congregations, since the responsibility and potential impact of the office of elder is not perceived nor observed by many.   

There is an article 17 dealing with termination of office of ministers.   But the church order spends no time delineating the significance of a term of office for elders, nor providing an understanding of lifetime spiritual service and leadership in the context of specific terms of office.   Again, this is directly contrary to the spirit of article 99. 

With such a lack of respect for these offices, we should perhaps not be surprised that the church order does not always receive the respect it should perhaps have? 

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I just read through the entire church order and I think consistory (elders) are mentioned more than the two articles you mention and with the authority to regulate worship, education, etc.  So I either misunderstand what you are saying or I disagree (you pick).

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In 2010, Neil DeKoning identified two articles, 25 and 35, that spoke to the office of elder.  The 2008 church order identifies section D. article 25 as the only article speaking specifically to the office of elder (and this article also throws in the office of deacon for good measure).   On the other hand, we see articles 6-24 dealing with "ministers" and minister associates (now called "commissioned pastors".  Nineteen articles. 

So what does that tell us about the responsibility of elders??   well.... yeah, they are there, but they fill a kind of functionary, perfunctory role.   Kind of a necessary requirement, but not so significant...   Certainly not so honorable.  Certainly not so essential.   Placeholders are okay.  If they don't work out, it's only a short term, after all.   Then the dustbin.  Don't worry, be happy. 

That's the church order.   It's not a total reality.   Elders do make significant decisions, especially financial and structural.  They do often get really involved, and do often provide significant spiritual leadership.   But without honor.   Often without respect.  Without a sense of calling, often.  Desiring the greater gifts?   Having the ability to teach?  

The fact is that the church order does not define the official acts of ministry, but custom often denies these to ordained elders.  The fact is that the term vacant is used to define a church without a minister, but not a church with a missing elder.   The fact is that the term "ordination" is often used in an unqualified sense, creating confusion as to whether it applies to to ordained preachers, ordained elders, or ordained deacons.   Thus creating the potential for confusion in the the way it is used in the church order, and in various synodical studies, such as 1995 and 2001, as to what it is actually referring to.   The fact is that when customs are not identified or dealt with in the church order, they sometimes become even a stronger tradition than the church order itself, ironically.   Yet, some of these customs have no scriptural grounds, no scriptural basis, which is partly why they are not in the church order to start with. 

The church order contradicts itself in some places.  For example saying in article 3 that all who meet scriptural requirements may fill an office, but then later adding academic achievement as an "extra-scriptural" non-biblical requirement.  

The church order could be revised to respect the office of elder.   It could respect the ability and responsibility of elders to make local decisions, by having classis provide advice instead of approvals.   It could respect the office of elder by indicating it is a life-long calling with terms of service.   It could respect the office of elder by recognizing that as spiritual leaders, teachers, and pastoral elders, they have been ordained, annointed, appointed, and chosen to serve the congregation in providing the word of God, providing spiritual leadership, providing a blessing to the congregation, and carrying responsibility for the sacraments, with or without a specialized preaching elder (minister or pastor) presiding. 

When elders do not have the ability to lead on the assumption of the church order, they will only carry out certain expected tasks, instead of searching for the leading of the Lord, and as a result the church will suffer.  

It would be interesting to have an article in the church order that specifically states:  The congregation shall respect and honor the office of elder as an office of spiritual leadership and authority within their church, giving respect and honor within the context of scripture as guide.    

We should recognize that we do not need so many articles about ministers...eg.  eligibility for call of a terminated minister, loaning a minister, requirement for a demonstration of need to classis before extending a call or establishing a new ministry, trying to forbid a local church from asking certain questions to a candidate, or discussing "proper" support.  This would actually improve the honor and respect to local elders in recognizing their ability and responsibility to make decisions on these issues, without babysitting by classis or synod.   Much better would be for classis or synod to provide advice and information and guidance, and realize the decisions need to be made by the elders.   

posted in: Leading From Behind

The advantage of a church order which everyone follows, is that you don't spend a lot of time discussing policies and procedures everytime something administrative or governmental is done in the church.  The disadvantage is that you don't spend much time discussing policies when you practice churchly activities.  Taking things for granted often results in people not knowing why certain practices are better than others. 

Tom's statement that "We rest in his completed sacrifice.  Sabbath is fulfilled in a person, not a day." is true, but is still a non-sequitor.   All of the law is fulfilled in Christ, not just the Sabbath.  We know that Christ is the true image of God, therefore we don't need idols or images.  We know that Christ kept the law perfectly, but that doesn't mean we don't have to keep it;  it doesn't give us license to murder or cheat or lie or covet.  Why does it give us license to disregard a sabbath rest? 

If we don't keep the Sabbath, we begin to lose the sense of what it means to rest in Christ;  we will lack understanding of what it means to rest in the sacrifice of Christ, to rest in Christ himself.   The Sabbath was given as a gift to man.  Disregarding that gift shows a lack of respect and honor and love for God.     is

I've wondered for many years about why Christ did not emphasize this commandment the way He mentioned murder, theft, adultery, false witness.  honoring parents, coveting.  But today I realized that Christ also did not mention taking God's name in vain, nor idol worship.  Matthew 19, Mark 10, Luke 18, Romans 13. The Sabbath is part of our direct worship and honor to God.   It is part of our love for God;  loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  The sabbath is a gift from God, which when we receive it, becomes sweet incense to God. 

In my previous post, I did not mention a slippery slope, but Tom did.   However, I will note that it is very difficult to slide uphill unless you have a lot of momentum.   The reality is that sliding downhill was   common in the old testament when Israel so often slid into the practice of worshipping false gods, and it is common today   in the life of Christians who forget to or refuse to stand up for their spiritual priorities.   But a church order does not solve that problem, obviously.  Romans and Galatians 5 talks about being free from the law.   But only if you live in the spirit.   If you don't live in the spirit, then the law will have its consequences.   The slippery slope is only one of those consequences. 

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I'll have to ponder all these things in my heart

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“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed.[f] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10. 

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we don't have a worship service to stick to the rules.  We have a worship service to worship our Redeemer.  We rest in his completed sacrifice.  Sabbath is fulfilled in a person, not a day.  That person calls us to be his feet and hands in this world. Sometimes we have to be shaken out of our comfortable patterns to remind us of this.

I don't know what to say to the rest of your post. Slippery slope arguments aren't always so convincing.

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