30 April 2010

Thirty-Five Years...What Have We Learned?

Thirty-five years ago today, Saigon fell to the communists.

I just finished reading Goodnight, Saigon, by Charles Henderson.  It is the story of the last months of the Republic of South Vietnam, and specifically of the last American troops there, including the last 11 Marines who were flown out under fire as the NVA and VC swarmed the city.  While the book tended to wander at times, it managed to convey the sense of betrayal that all Americans should feel at our abandoning our loyal supporters to the hands of the communists.  Many died; others spent years in 're-education' camps; families were separated, women and children were abused and tortured, and most had to fend for themselves as homeless on the streets of the newly-named Ho Chi Mihn City.

What have we learned from this?  Will it speak to our current engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Or will we again call the blood of (then 58,000, now close to 4,000) American troops wasted by walking away when we can't have what we want right now?

I pray we learn from our history rather than choose to repeat it, and may God bless those men and women who were left to fend for themselves when we lost our moral resolve to stay the course.  And thank God for the Marines who didn't lose their moral resolve to fight the fight!

28 April 2010

Saving the Local Church

My local church leadership is in a bit of a quandry right now- they are aware of the changes in demographics in the community and aware of the drop in numbers over the last few years at the church.  The question then is, "What do we do about it?"

Even asking the question is full of pitfalls.  When we talk about the culture and the church, and how they do/should intermingle, we bring multiple perspectives into play, and many time folks end up arguing points without having any agreement on what terms mean or where the focus should be in making changes.

Our church does not seem to have any agreement on some basic building blocks from which to create a plan for dealing with the negative changes.  For example, do we believe in a regenerate worship, or an evangelical worship?  It seems that we need to establish that fact before we start talking about how to engage our local community.  And, where do we believe the emphasis comes from in moving the lost toward the cross...is it from common grace that God gives all to be able to come to Christ, or is it from saving grace God gives to the elect that brings them to Christ?  I don't see how we can come up with a plan to evangelize our city until we agree (at least in principle) on that belief.

These are hard questions.  There are sincere believers on both sides of the above arguments, and getting all these to an accord on these important questions is daunting.  I was speaking to the pastor this past Sunday about one parallel issue, age-segregation.  It seems, based on comments in the meetings we've had, that one of the few things almost everybody agrees on  is that we want age-segregation to stop in our church.  Yet, the solution to that is seemingly unobtainable.  We have two vastly different worship styles in our two main services (contemporary and traditional), and the median ages in the two services are probably close to 40 years (an entire generation) apart.  We have age-graded Sunday School, separate worship services for our children and college students, separate ministers dedicated to age-delimited groups (youth, college, senior adults), and so on.  In other words, the entire church is built around age-segregation.  It would appear we need to dismantle most of the church's structure to get away from age-segregation.  That's not an easy task.

My point of emphasis that I've tried to say in multiple ways through this process is, we need to change the methods to reach our culture, but we cannot change the message of the gospel.  The gospel itself is our true relevance to the culture around us, not our ability to look like the culture around us, or relate to its participants.  This is one facet that I hope we have enough wisdom to cement into place as we look for ways to reach our culture for Christ.

22 April 2010

Splintering in Neo-Calvinism

I've been taken aback recently by several comments I've read on blogs, and maybe more so by a particular blog and the direction it has taken.   The comments that have bothered me have had to do with those in reformed churches calling many folks in the, "young, restless, and reformed" (YRR) movement illegitimate with respect to being reformed.  There are two important considerations that are not being taken into account by these people- (1) their definition of 'reformed' isn't shared or known by those new to the doctrines of grace, and (2) they don't understand how much damage their attitudes can do in those who are new to the doctrines of grace.

First, look at the flap over John Piper's invitation to Rick Warren to speak at Bethlehem's national conference.  No, Rick Warren isn't reformed, nor even a proponent of the doctrines of grace, but the way Piper has been treated by some in the blog world has been truly mind-boggling.  They are attacking him as if he'd denied the faith itself.

Second, look at the popular Internet Monk blog.  The founder of the blog, Michael Spencer, recently died of cancer.  The person (or people) who took over the blog have turned it into a cheerleading platform for evolution.  It is supposed to be a reformed blog, but it is rivaled only by Hitchens and Dawkins in its fervor for evolutionary origins of humanity.

Michael Horton posted on the White Horse Inn page, just today, a blog which helps to clear up some of this confusion.  At least, it will if enough people read it.  Now, Horton has made some comments in the past that (in my mind) put him in the group calling YRR folks illegitimate.  His work, particularly Christless Christianity and Gospel-Driven Life have been very influential on me, so I was certainly bothered by his apparent attitude.  The new blog today has cleared up some of my concerns by clarifying some of what he has said.  Getting the 'big picture' is always a good idea, and Horton has helped with that by his latest post.

I hope the YRR movement can come together better on some of these issues before too many 'seekers' of the doctrines of grace are driven away by the in-fighting.  There are huge differences between reformed ecclesiology and Calvinistic soteriology/christology.  Some in the reformed churches seem ready to cast out all those who believe in the doctrines of grace and support the solas of the reformation unless they also adopt covenant theology in its entirety.  I don't think that's a wise choice.  Horton has advocated calling the movement of non-reformed adherents to the doctrines of grace, "Calvinistic evangelicalism".  I don't know if that's the best choice, since 'Calvinism' has been given an unfortunate baggage of derision by the Arminian movement, but if it keeps the splintering to a minimum, I'll take it.