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I would disagree with Vandonk and Rohr (as quoted above) about membership due to the historical importance in the rise of "membership." Even at the time of Paul and the Apostles, there was arising a need to distinguish the holy from the profane; the believer from the non-believer or heretic. It truly became necessary to determine who was in and who was out, not for the purpose of excluding people, but including them. We had to know what the Gospel was and what constituted correct belief and life in order to properly minister and evangelize. Paul spends most of his epistles doing just that. Perhaps the nuance has been lost, in that the Church has, at times, gotten too interested in cloning Christians, rather than growing disciples. True discipleship will help avoid some of this unwarranted focus on membership, but it can't and shouldn't be thrown out entirely.
I don't know how much theology you have read, but I am drawn to much of existentialism's dealing with these types of issues, mostly as represented by Paul Tillich. I will caveat this by saying that the Existentialists begin everything with man, and are very human-centric throughout, almost to the exclusion of God in some respects, so they are not to be read without caution, but, in dealing with man-centered problems I find their thought helpful and enlightening. They developed a sense of being able to hold two seemingly contradictory positions at the same time in counterbalance of each other. For example, Rudolf Otto (another dead existentialist) wrote an excellent book on holiness in which he described the wonder and terror of being in God's presence. On the one hand, we are accepted and can stand before God's throne, but on the other hand, and at the same time, we are terrified at the very prospect of standing before Ultimate purity and truth because of our fallenness (see Isaiah 6 for that prophet's reaction to this exact situation). We need to be able to hold the standards of membership, without excluding people who are not yet members.
We are in an interesting time demographically. If you read the studies of the Millennial generation (born 1980-200) they are taking longer to marry and longer to join because they are looking for authenticity and genuineness. In this sense, we need to be more about what is real, than what is true, but they should be the same. It's all in how it's presented. It's like the Church a couple generations ago had a problem stating what they believed, instead, they focused on what they didn't believe in (smoking, drinking, dancing, etc). The Church is now so focused on right doctrine that it is missing a generation that cares about that, but isn't interested in it until they have tried out the church first to see if the people are genuine. They can cope with brokenness, because they recognize their own brokenness. They want their's healed through relationships with other broken people who can point them to the Healer. In this sense, I think the Millennials are seeking an excellent part of what the church is supposed to be about, community, and isn't that a hallmark of reformed theology? Perhaps that is also why there is a new influx of people into Reformed churches and some of the more popular church thinkers being published today are Reformed (Challies, DeYoung, etc).
Zylstra, I know I avoided answering your question about the sin of nailing down the non-essentials, but I'm not sure I understand the direction you were heading with it. (PS: sorry it took me so long to respond. I have a very tight and busy schedule. God bless you for thinking through things like this).
I very much appreciate the tone and intent of this conversation. It seems like we are looking for ways to be inclusive, while at the same time wanting to draw a line between who's in and who's out. We want to know what it means to belong, and we want to be somewhat clear about some sort of communal identity.
Dan, you mentioned pharisaism. What came to my mind is the line: "Thank you, God, that you did not make me like so-and-so". There's that line again. In Jesus' story such line-thinking was juxtaposed with a posture held by all who realize their position vis-a-vis Creator-God: "Have mercy on me, a sinner. I am not worthy to be in your presence".
What if it is not so much about what we know, but about that we are known?
What if it is not so much about "we hold these truths", as it is about that we are held in the palm of the hand of a loving God.
What if it is more important to love than to be right?
What if God were very pleased that we worship Him for graciously providing for our every need, and invite others to worship Him with us, and not quite so pleased when we worship Him for making us "distinctly Reformed"?
When it comes to who's in versus who's out thinking I agree with Richard Rohr, who says that the church's preoccupation with membership may well have been its greatest failure.
What if all of us concentrated on informing the world that all are in: God loves all. God's grace is extended to all. Jesus died for all. God's providence holds all. Come, believe, participate, connect, grow, love, serve.
What if the only really significant line is the line between those whose eyes have been opened by the Spirit of God to the reality of God's love, and those who are still in the dark? And what if our only responsibility as a church is to live with our eyes wide open, loving, praising and worshiping God in everything we do, and let the Holy Spirit worry about opening more eyes?
What if we could appreciate any and all differences among denominations, worship styles, emphases, as simply different ways in which different communities respond to God with their newly opened eyes?
What if................what if?
Sorry it took so long for me to get back to you, Richard, but let me just say that I LOVE what you've written here. It's very helpful for me.
But now I have another question: What if I said that "nailing down" innessentials is a SIN (not saying that's what I necessarily think--but just take it as a proposition)?
If that proposition were true then:
1) It would be a SIN to require infant baptism over believer's only baptism and vice versa.
2) It would be a SIN to require women be allowed in office, but it would also be a SIN not to.
3) It would be a SIN to require that people be amillenial, premillenial, etc.
4) etc., etc.,
In other words the more we "codify" what the gospels supposedly teach on matters that can be legitimately debated, the more we fall into the sin of phariseeism.
Would that be a fair definition of phariseeism? If so, then wouldn't things like this year's "Faith Formation Report" (for Synod 2011) be a problem? It's stated madate is to "discourage" infant dedication. I myself agree wholeheartedly with infant baptism and the covenant theology surrounding it, but there are many who do not and who can make very good arguments the other way. Shouldn't we, as a denomination do something different here?
What do you think, everyone?
My thoughts on this are as follows,
You are talking about the difference between Doctrine and Dogma in a certain sense. Academicians will fault me on this doggerel distinction, but Doctrine is generally accepted as what the Bible teaches and by its very nature cannot be vague and Dogma is what the Church believes and/or requires. This is an oversimplification, but for the purposes of argumentation I hope you'll allow it. Historically, where to draw the line in the sand between the two has always been fuzzy. Each denomination was born of some historical necessity for separation (no judgment here on if it was a good or bad reason) which became a deeply ingrained raison d'etre and it's hard to change that for one main reason. People NEED to believe that what they believe right now is the truth. This is the only way people can be comfortable in their thoughts. The corrollary to this, however, is that we need to be aware of the fact that what we believe right now is not the whole truth and some of it will likely be changed as we live, learn more or experience different things. The truth is, though, that it's hard to go back and say (as an organization expecially) at worst, "we were wrong," and at best, "we aren't the only ones with truth."
This should be mitigated in Protestantism in the fact that we (read, Luther) tried reforming inside the church and was not so nicely asked to leave, so we were forced to create identity outside of the, then, Church. We have a big, biblical, raison d'etre, but those churches who have split and formed new churches over the color of the carpet or some other sort of trivial issues are confusing dogma and doctrine, but this just goes to prove, albeit in an extreme manner, the difficulty of identifying just where that line between the two is. The church exists as an authority for a reason, so how do we decide what exactly is an essential and what exactly is important but non-essential, and what is not important at all?
You may or may not be familiar with the guidance attributed to Augustine on these matters, but he apparently said, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." When we're talking about truth like we do in the church, it's difficult to know where to draw the line between essentials and non-essentials, but like you implied, if we can at least love each other enough to see past these differences we'd be better off.
One caveat, though; when it comes to the issue of leadership. I have definite reservations about allowing people in leadership who don't "tote the party line" (to be real crass), because they are not there to push their own ideas, but to support the denomination that put them there. Why would we elect someone who doesn't agree with what we say we believe as a denomination? Certainly it is true that not everyone, even in leadership, monolithically agrees with everything, that's why we have the debates we have at Synod and elsewhere. The lesson learned, I think, is that there is a proper time and place for disagreement in leadership, that is distinct from disagreement in the pews.
In a very real, practical sense, I think what you asked in your post is actually going on. The pews are filling up with people now (at least the trend in the US, I don't know about Canada) who are seeking more stability and legacy than just the Mom & Pop church in the old Grocery store building that just started last week "for Jesus." There is a lot of liberty in the Church for disagreement, but if we are going to have purposefully vague theology, we muct be purposeful about it.
I appreciate this article
Dear Iowa Baptist,
Thanks for contributing to the discussion. I'm not sure what the baptist denominations are like in your neck of the woods, but in Ontario here you are absolutely correct in one sense, but I would humbly submit, totally incorrect in another. The truth of the matter that pretty much any Christian denomination would echo your statement that belief in Jesus is the only requirement for membership in the church.
However, the reality is that, practically speaking, almost all denominations and churches require more for actual "membership" per se. For example, most baptist churches require not only belief in Jesus Christ, but also they require that a person be baptised as a "believer" as opposed to not being baptized at all or being baptized as an infant. Most of the Baptist churches I've been involved with (and there've been quite a few) will not accept a person into full membership in the church without this believer's baptism.
Some baptist churches will not accept a person into full membership unless they've been baptized by full immersion as a believer too.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that this is evil somehow or anything like that. In the Reformed tradition we have other "requirements" for full membership--not just belief, but a baptism (infant or believer's) and/or a profession of faith afirming the promises of that infant baptism. Some of these requirements are good for sure.
But, we sometimes hold on to a "reformed" or "baptist" or "pentecostal" distinctive at the expense of the gospel, I'm afraid. If reformed people truly believed that saving faith in Jesus was all that was required for membership in the church, then we wouldn't have the forms that we do have for profession of faith or baptism, would we? No. Those forms include not just that saving faith in Jesus, but also that saving faith in Jesus + belief that everything that this church teaches is the true interpretation of the gospel + that we've gone through whatever hoops we believe are required in addition to "just believing"
Anyway, sorry for being long winded, Iowa Baptist, but in the end I'm afraid that, unless your church/denomination is quite a bit different from all others I've come in contact with, I'll have to disagree with your statement that your church only requires faith in Jesus--that's not all my church requires either.
in His service,
I am reponding to your remarks about Baptists. There is only one thing that is required to join our church and that is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Only Christ's blood is sufficient to make someone a member of the church. I hope I am being theologically clear.
Ken, beautifully put...and you might add- those who are humbled are the "servant leaders" of our denomination, seek them out...
We are all broken,sinful and narcissistic. Some Christians know this and are humbled. That group can get along with most anybody. The other group of Christians don't understand this and that is what leads to intolerance of most idea"s or persons that do not think the same way. That is the difference. and the reason we don;t get along.
I think a couple of them asked for the digital file, which was easy enough to give them, but we published it as an "online photo directory" from the beginning, so they knew it was for that purpose. I did print it from the web for new people as they started attending, and that worked out fine.
When you published the photos online, how did the congregation feel about not having a physical product?
It's funny you should ask this. We just decided to do the "usual" thing that you describe - hire a company to make a pictorial album - because we hadn't done that in a long time. However, like you said, the experience wasn't necessarily so great. The photographer sometimes posed people in weird positions and the participation wasn't as high as we'd hoped. It all took a lot of work and I'm hoping it was worth it (we don't have the book yet).
Looking back, I was much happier with a different method we used a couple years ago. A church member with a good digital camera (SLR) volunteered to take photos and make an online album. We posted announcements in the bulletin and he would just catch people after church, during coffee hour, have them come over to a place with nice green leaves growing up the fence, and took their photo. It turned out quite nice. You can see it here. If I were to do it over, I'd choose a better site for hosting it but still the photos are very nice. People got to choose the pose they liked right there on the spot. Also, it even looks quite good when just printed right off the web, so people with no computer can enjoy it, too.
I'll be interested to hear what other ideas people may have.
I haven’t read the man’s book, but it seems to me that not enough people out there are concerned with proper biblically and scripturally correct doctrine these days. Many want to introduce leaven like Molinism and deride those that want to keep the leaven out as divisive or bullies. The Pharisees Sadducees, and Scribes called Jesus and the apostles divisive because they spoke out rather vigorously against men that had allowed leaven in. Like Molinism, these Pharisees introduced manmade, scripturally unsound, non-biblical ideas into the church and as part of God’s word; trying to intermingle their ideas (philosophies) with His word in ways that couldn’t be found in scripture. Many an intelligent learned man has made the serious mistake of allowing leaven in by giving equal consideration into a debate on doctrine when one side hadn’t any biblical basis and should have been treated as such from the outset. In the case of Molinism many scholars flat out ignore the historical background under which it was invented by three Jesuit priests at the request of and for the Catholic Church during the anti-Reformation and was later used to help persecute Reformed Christians as part of an official practice, that was the sanctioned persecution of Reformed Christians. Hitler, in a similar manner and for similar motivations commissioned highly intelligent learned men to create studies that showed Jews to be inferior to Arians and was undoubtedly used to help bolster their persecution. When an enemy who hates you creates something from outside of God’s word as weapon to harm you, you must automatically reject it because its source is evil and no good fruit can be produced from evil. When this rather simple and fundamental fact is kept in its proper prospective, people won’t waste debating manmade philosophical ideas contained in doctrine like Molinism and thereby allow leaven into the church and as part of doctrine.
I don’t remember Jesus acting in a humble manner when dealing with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes so I don’t think it is scriptural to describe someone that ardently defends the faith as a bully. That is exactly the kind of attitude Jesus faced. But, we know who was ultimately behind these human emotions. We must be careful not to replace agape love with human emotion because they are as far apart as the east is from the west.
Synod designed the pension plans in the US and Canada to serve the retirement needs of ordained ministers. "It is only by full participation of all congregations that there will be reasonable assurance that all active and retired ministers will receive a pension on retirement; that their eligible widows will receive a pension upon the minister's death; and that disability, survivor, and orphan benefits are paid." (Ministers' Pension Plan Summary, p. 8).
A minister may go inactive in the Plan for a time (and therefore not receive credited service for this time). However synod has determined that all organized churches who are vacant (or don't have a minister participating in the pension plan) would continue to contribute to the pension plan on a per member basis.
When churches fail to pay amounts rightfully due, other churches must eventually assume the obligation. We realize that financial constraits sometimes make payment difficult. However, the assistance of classis should be requested, and all other means should be explore before any denial of payment is the only offered course of action.
If you have additional questions about the pension plan, please call or email the Ministers Pension Office: firstname.lastname@example.org or call Sheri Laninga 616-224-0722 or Katie Henry 616-224-5886 with any questions.
I'm so glad Marlin shared...as a member of the same church, I will confirm that the council did a good job...i would even say great job, of leading the congregation through some tough issues...the prayer was key, and I think a beautiful testimony of how God honors when we seek to do it His way, not our way...then the "conversations" were great for bringing communication to a more comprehensive level for anyone interested. There was good "sharpening", but also a good sense of community, as we wrestled with these concerns together. Marlin didn't share this, so I will...he helped facilitate most of them, and I definitely sensed that he was being led by the Spirit through it. Also, last night we had a "fun" conversation that focused on the various ministries going on in the church (instead of something controversial), and supporting and encouraging each other.
I am in total agreement with Marlin, prayer and open communication were key in our congregation. It really seemed the Holy Spirit helped us with an attitude of love and honor, even when in disagreement. I am also truly amazed at how God has worked in our church over the last year, and my prayer is that every Kingdom church will experience Him anew.
Thanks for all of your helpful suggestions so far. Please keep them coming! I will share these posts with our VP (1st time position for her as well). We have had one meeting to present and gather feedback on our ministry goals for the future with a PowerPoint presentation and round-table discussions. Then we mailed all of the information on the parsonage vote and the building-related documents and drawings to the members, and in the bulletin and during announcement time we've solicited questions/comments from members. After our meeting on the parsonage vote this April, I think I'll recommend to council the idea of soliciting questions by email and holding some post-service "congregation conversations" with small groups during the coffee hour. The vote on the building project will be in May. Any other ideas about how to handle amendments to the Council's proposed motion during the meetings, or how to handle people who want to submit a total new and differently worded motion?
Having gone through several potentially controversial situations in the past year, including a financial pinch due to a building project and a personel change, I have found 2 things to be crucial - transparency & prayer. Often in council we feel the weight of responsibility - but we don't need to go it alone. We used what we called "Congregation Conversations" to bring the situation to the people and actively solicited their input and their prayers. While the council must make the decision - that does not mean it must make the decision in isolation from the congregation. The more informed the people are to the scenario, options, pitfalls and consequences of a situation the more understanding they are. By actively informing them and seeking their input the better informed they are to pray for you and the church. Whenever I look back over the past year I am amazed at the miracle that God pulled off right here in our church.
Great idea, Mike. Thanks for posting.
One thing that I've seen work well, whether the meeting is expected to be controversial or not, is to have a "town hall" type of meeting prior to the meeting where the votes are called for. This provides for a time of discussion followed by a time of waiting prior to voting. Emotions that come out during the discussion portion don't carry over into the voting time, and issues/concerns that are raised during the discussion time are followed up with time for consideration, research, prayer, etc.
This is a small suggestion...but one thing I've done in leading a couple of congregational meetings over the past year is to invite questions ahead of time.
In the materials distributed a few weeks before the meeting, I invited members of the congregation to email me their questions/concerns before the meeting. I explained that it wasn't to squelch comments at the meeting itself, of course, but to have a better meeting. If council gets questions beforehand, we know what some of the key issues to discuss will be. Plus we can even do a little research ahead of time or brainstorm some possible solutions to offer to the congregation. I think that leads to better decisions than on-the-spot scrambling!
I've only had a few take me up on it, but I think it helped. We had a big decision to make at our last meeting and I was able to respond to the person with some clarifications before the meeting. But then I also kicked off the congregational discussion with those same emailed questions....figuring they were probably on other peoples' minds as well.
Something to consider. Hope this helps.
Why would you describe a man who devoted his life to Christ as bully!?
I love Pastor Driscoll, how humble he is, and how clear and deep his message is.
I definitely agree that Driscoll is sometimes not the most benificent Reformed leader, but I'm not sure I'd go quite as far as you did. Even though I may disagree with him on some issues and the way he presents his arguments, I think this book is actually fairly well written.
I love the focus on God as the source - each chapter is "God Is" or "God Speaks" or some other action of God. I also loved some his choices of themes throughout the book - particularly some of his insights on our idolatry of sexuality.
I think sometimes what our theology books get wrong is that they're trying to solve problems rather than affirming the solution. In many ways, this is a book written for postmoderns, and though I may not agree with all of it, is fairly on point, in my opinion.
Have you read it?
Driscoll is a fundamentalist neo-Puritan bully who runs with a pack of rabid dogmaticians who are obsessed with hunting heretics. The not so subtle subtitle of "Doctrine" is clear on this - "What Every Christian Should Believe".
Thanks for your comments Shawn.
As I am seeing the reports from Synod, I cannot help but see that we need to be appreciating the challenges the emergent community has leveled and embrace some changes.
Yes. I went through Deep Church in November of 2009. I enjoyed Belcher's description and I appreciated the way the book was written in a narrative format. Good content and good resource. I would have to revisit the book to highlight specific points but I do remember appreciating his approach to "Deep Worship." Although, having loosely followed Tim Keller and the Redeemer CPC for a few years now, I didn't hear anything too revolutionary. (Especially concerning "Deep Gospel" and "Deep Culture.") I do think the book could appeal to and be a very helpful aid to those within the emergent community or who have emergent tendencies. (Which seems to have been, at least in part, the authors intention.)
I just came home from a meeting about how to begin to reach this demographic, not just in our (small-ish) congregation, but also perhaps by connecting with other local congregations. Unfortunately I don't have anything congrete to offer yet, but plan to follow along and hope that somewhere, someone is doing some great things for this group within the church and perhaps there is a viable model somewhere that other churches can benefit from implementing.
I usually like Wright a lot, and find him carefully biblical, and this book really resonated with me! By God's good grace, I read it very shortly before losing my daughter to leukemia (Nov 1). It was excellent preparation for that loss and the journey of grief. Truly we mourn, but not as those who have no hope. He is risen.
Sounds interesting, how have you been able to compare it to Reformed so far?