The form of our worship

Does it matter how we worship God? Does anything govern the actions and rituals we perform in gathered worship? Quite often it seems that churches worship with little or no thought about the theological right or wrong of a given practice. Most of us would realize that we cannot erect a golden calf in the sanctuary and offer incense to it, but what about a cross? Are there areas of indifference, where we can do whatever we want, or must we have a command from God for everything we do?

One wing of the Reformation reacted against Roman excesses by enacting the “regulative principle” where anything not expressly stated by God should not be done. Others move in a completely opposite direction and do just about anything, so long as they have a “tradition” to fall back on that justifies the practice. Many others, perhaps the majority, just do whatever they grew up with and add a dollop or two of whatever the cool church in town does.

Peter Leithart offers a convincing, Biblical way forward in his book From Silence to Song. He says:

…a word must be said at this point about the hermeneutical assumptions underlying the Reformed “regulative principle of worship.” In the hands of at least some writers, the regulative principle is, in practice, hermeneutically wooden and theologically Marcionite. It is wooden because an explicit “command” is required for every act of worship, and it is Marcionite because it ignores the abundant Old Testament liturgical instruction in favor of exegeting a few passages of the New.

He says later:

I adhere to the regulative principle in the sense that we are to worship God as He has taught us to worship Him, but He has taught us in myriads of ways, and not merely in explicit commands.

Using syllogisms, Leithart shows how strict regulativists contrast with how David approached worship:

Major premise: Whatever is not commanded is forbidden.
Minor premise: Singing is not commanded in the Levitical Law.
Conclusion: Therefore, singing in worship is forbidden.

David appears to have reasoned by analogy:
Major premise: The Law governs worship.
Minor premise #1: The Law prescribes that trumpets be played over the public ascensions, in public worship.
Minor premise #2: The trumpet is a musical instrument.
Conclusion: Analogously, song and other music are a legitimate part of worship.

In place of a “regulation-by-explicit command” principle, David operated according to a “regulation-by-analogy” principle.

What the Heck is Going On?

Everywhere you look there are problems being exposed in the Church. God is not mocked. But still, when I read the following comment, I was sick:

So I get a phone call from an old friend today. She wants information about a couple books. We go back almost 30 years to a church together. We now live four states apart as both of us have moved over the years.
Her husband got his PhD in some area of christian counseling….or maybe it is a ThD, whatever. From a seminary, and the thing after your masters is a ThD I think. Really kind man, godly couple, true intercessors. They are in their 70′s and semi retired.
Haven’t talked in many months, and she tells me that her husband was asked by an evangelical association with members in several states to counsel pastors who have been addicted to pornography. So for months now he has been counseling these various pastors, all from born again bible believing churches, not liberals.
She said the recent cases are not just guys looking at gorgeous adult babes, but they watch the most vile stuff, like little girls being raped and worse. She said it is so dark and so horrible and her husband said from what he hears it is all over the place in churches.
Here is the kicker. Her husband is beside himself because this evangelical organization requires that these pastors have 16 counseling sessions with him, and then, back to the ministry. He thinks they should be removed from ministry for a very very long time if not for good, and he is speaking up, but he can’t change it. All he can hope to do is get the pastors to realize they need to resign. You just don’t go to sixteen sessions and they say all is well when you were hooked on filthy perversion.
Anyway, this is the state of modern evangelicalism in the bible belt from one perspective. While I think God wants us to gather with others and ideally be part of a church, you really do need to be cautious and prayerful. What kind of pastors get off watching little prepubescent girls be raped? How sick is that? And they are out there.

Is this what it has come to? I am amazed that churches still exist if this kind of sickness is rampant.

Pastors and the Internet

Alastair has a very perceptive post up called “The Loss of Pastoral Credibility in the Age of the Internet.” The entire post is spot on and I recommend it to you. An excerpt:

All of this leaves people singularly unprepared for the world of the Internet, where they are exposed to opposing viewpoints and have to engage with them more directly. People who can appear to be brilliant in non-oppositional forms of discourse can crumple when subjected to critical cross-examination or manifest themselves to be emotionally incapable of interacting in a non-reactive manner with contrary perspectives. No doubt we can all think of many instances of this online. However, my concern in this post is to draw attention to how commonly I witness this failure in pastors and church leaders.

Worthen on Conservative Church Growth

Molly Worthen says that the Stark / Finke church growth analysis does not hold water. Stark and Finke said that churches which are conservative and demand more of their followers experience the most growth. This analysis was the rage a decade ago. She writes:

Stark’s and Finke’s book was panned by historians, largely because they cherry-picked statistics to divide American churches into “winners” and “losers” without nuanced attention to historical context.  If you step back and assess the big picture, few conservative churches are growing anymore (the Assemblies of God is, but by less than 2 percent per year). Evangelicals’ recent strategies—ranging from a hipster makeover to appeal to the Millennial crowd to the mistaken hope that millions of Latinos are leaving Catholicism and becoming conservative Protestants—cannot hold off the world-historical forces of secularization. As the historian David Hollinger has argued, even if liberal churches have lost the battle for butts in the pews, the steady advance of civil rights, the sexual revolution, and gay liberation suggests that they are winning the wider culture.

You’ve probably heard that the United States has been the exception to the decline of organized religion in the developed West over the last 200 years, and that’s true. But American exceptionalism has merely delayed secularization, not halted it. Poll numbers—rising numbers of “nones” who say they have no religious affiliation; slowly falling rates of church attendance—suggest that even if Americans continue to believe that life has a supernatural dimension, many may be drifting out of institutionalized worship. Traditional religious organizations are losing their grip on the public sphere and their influence in the lives of individuals. “All things considered, I think that religion is slowing down, in decline … everything is clearly going in the decline direction,” said Duke University sociologist Mark Chaves, who has written one of the best synthetic studies of the polling data on contemporary American religion.

Wise as Serpents?

I have remarked before about how naive Christians can be when it comes to evil and original sin in the hearts of mankind. Critical thinking is totally lacking in situation after situation. 1)see this horrible story for a great example. Today, I came across a new story of pastoral adultery, but I want to focus on how church members reacted to the news of the adultery, and not on the story itself.

The story concerns Rev. Reggie Weaver, someone I have never heard of, who cheated on his wife. Apparently, Weaver was an up and comer in his neck of the woods. Listen to the reactions of those around him:

It was certainly not something I knew about before.


I worked with him very closely. The time that I was here he was a very private person and very devoted to his craft. I didn’t see that coming. I’m totally surprised. They seemed like such a great couple.


When asked if there was not even the slightest hint of trouble for the young couple prior to their jump to the much larger Westminster church, he said he was totally blindsided.

“None whatsoever. The two of them were so devoted. She traveled a lot. She was out of town quite a bit … this is a total surprise to me. I did not see this coming at all,” said Butler.

My point is not that these parishioners should have somehow caught on to his adultery, but rather that the “shock” they all express does not mirror what we know of our own hearts. This is the same kind of naivety that I run into all the time when dealing with Rwanda, and people who choose not to believe highly sourced U.N. reports because they “know” the bishops involved, have stayed with them, have been on retreats with them, etc. and those bishops would never do such things.

People cannot exercise basic critical thinking about a church totally embedded in a police state with all that situation entails, but rather trust their gut about the integrity of people. These are the same folks who will be “shocked” when even more evidence comes to light in the future. They are not wise as serpents.

References   [ + ]

1. see this horrible story for a great example.

Inside a Dysfunctional Church

A friend of ours who has had a couple brutal experiences as a church staffer has this blog which allows him to talk about what he went through and how he is recovering. Part of his latest post says:

With Church, the myth is also the ideal. I always had this ideal that what I was supposed to do was to highlight Christ in worship. I always, even until the end perceived that as my job, even though the majority of that job was trying to micromanage all of these politically driven moving parts, knowing that the breathing wrong can potentially create chaos.

At least with this church, the ideal of cultivating spiritual growth, at least trying to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, was kind of a myth. If you took the word “church” out and put “country club” in its place, we’d be on to something.

With these thoughts in mind, identifying toxic patterns of my own, and kind of getting this sensation of sinking, I went through all of my Outlook folders with work-related emails from the churches I’ve worked at, and I deleted them all.

My observation is that people who do well in church leadership (or staff positions) are people who are unquestioningly loyal. Loyalty to a person or people becomes the highest virtue, and that person is quite often not Jesus.

In one sense, church is probably no more or less dysfunctional than many human occupations, but the problem is that our expectations of church are vastly different. And we have to spiritualize church jobs, so a pastor can’t come out and say, “I am taking a new job because it pays better and is more stable.” He has to say something about calling, struggle, being released from his current call, and so on. In other words, normality goes out the window. In our friend’s case, he put up with a lot of garbage that would make many of us look for a new job, but since it is church, there is added pressure to stay the course because it is thought of as a calling.



I used to have really high expectations for church. I was looking for the best possible confluence of liturgy, doctrine, practice and (once upon a time) that overused word community. Eighteen long years of banging my head against a wall have disabused me of most of these notions. I used to see Anglicanism as possibly the last, best hope of a future for Western Christendom if only it was properly revitalized and returned to its foundational tenets. Now I see it as just another vessel that is deeply flawed and may not be trending in the right direction.

A wise friend of mine told me that if you are primarily being spiritually fed outside of the church, then it is best to just pick the best local church and go there. After all these years of striving for something better, I am inclined to agree with him.

Funding the Clergy

Robin Lane Fox addresses how the early church funded its clergy:

…both the bishop and the clergy depended on the good will of the laity for funds in the first place. At first, they were supported by a “dividend system,” financed by the total of their Christians’ offerings: the sum seems to have been paid monthly, and a bishop’s share was probably twice as big as an Elder’s. The offerings included first fruits from crops and produce: Christian polemic against the letter of the Mosaic law did not extend to its rules on first fruits and tithes: tithes, on one view, were payable to the minor clerics, widows, paupers and virgins. The notion of fixed clerical salaries was considered an outrage as late as c. 200, in both Rome and Asia. It was the shocking practice of Christian sectarians and heretics. In the Christian Empire, however, it became the orthodox system in the East. Salaries are the heretics’ one lasting legacy to Christian life.

Financially Unstable Churches

I came across this old post from Mark Horne today. He discusses the financial instability of many churches and the toll that takes on a pastor’s family and future. He writes:

Churches that should have long ago been closed down because they are financially incapable of supporting a pastor go on and on and on, and because there are more graduates from Reformed seminaries than there are churches, these congregations will have a regular supply of over-optimistic cattle with their young wives and children to drive through their slaughterhouse. More often than not congregations get tense with their pastor in these situations and lower their expectations so that they are even less likely to want to pay one more.

In America, this is mostly hidden. Most people going to seminary come from healthy suburban settings where they see the pastor provided for (usually) in a way commensurate with grad school education. They think they know their own country and they think they can minister anywhere and they assume that finances will work out. They are, in short, totally deluded. What they think is normal is actually a major success story that requires beating odds and leaving other pastors in the other situations. Some, realizing the true situation and having the ambition to match it will do all right. Others will not realize what it really takes. They will expect as a natural outcome to pastor the sort of church in which they came to feel called to the ministry.

Pray that such people have an extended network of friends and family who are financially well-off. 

I have never yet seen a presbytery refuse a call because the finances were pathetic. This is America. Buyer beware. After all, the guy has been through seminary so what else can he do but pastor? We’re keeping him unemployed if we prevent him from his call. He wants it. The church wants it. And we all know it is “Liberal” to close down churches. We have to let them limp along and damage as many families as possible.

“Ministry should be sacrifice.” First Corinthians 9 makes it clear that Paul believed that–and thus remained single and childless. That has nothing to do with calling husbands and fathers to pastor churches. A lot of these gifted men would be a ton better off if they found other work, got to the point where they were skilled and self-sustaining, and then tried to plant churches themselves. Yes, that is really hard to do, but the stakes are lower than what is going on now.

Read the whole thing

Churches Believing Lies

Rod Dreher refers to a recent article on the LDS Church and another article on the sexual crisis in the Catholic Church in a pair of recent posts on his blog. In both posts, he point out how churches need to embrace truth telling. For example, he writes:

An LDS spokesman…says that the way to handle it is not to try to silence those asking hard questions, but to try to provide them information to address their doubts. That is also true. Seems to me that no church can suppress serious questions for long and expect to hold on to future generations, not in this skeptical day and age. You may not be able to provide the answers the skeptics require, but being willing to address the questions — whether about theology, history, or the behavior of church leaders — honestly is, as a Mormon historian quoted in the Times story says, the only way to go. This is true not only for Mormons, but for all of us.

Dreher also says this about embracing an easy lie:

Yes, this will happen. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. It’s human nature. People would rather believe the lie that helps them make sense of the world and sleep well at night. It’s true in religion, it’s true in politics, it’s true of everything that our humanity touches. A few years ago, I knew a woman whose family was really messed up. Her father had serious mental problems that were dramatically affecting the emotional health of the family system. But everybody in the family had to pretend that Everything Is Fine With Dad, because to face the obvious would mean that everything is not fine, and nobody wanted to deal with that. My friend really suffered from this, as did everybody in the family — and one component of the suffering was the sense that the situation was hopeless, because too many of her family members were emotionally dependent on not confronting the problem. I’ve heard this kind of thing over and over from friends who have had alcoholics in the family — and who, in a couple of cases I can think of, had to separate themselves from their families to protect themselves and their children from the family system that demanded assent to the Big Lie — that Dad Is Fine — in order to be a member in good standing. My friends felt the cost to their own integrity, even their safety, depended on separating themselves from a system that crushed the truth for the sake of maintaining itself.

Dreher continues:

The book I’m reading now, The Captive Mind, by the Polish anti-communist dissident intellectual Czeslaw Milosz, examines four cases of fellow intellectuals who embraced the Big Lie of Communism, and what it cost their minds and souls. The danger to men like Kevin O’Brien is that the people who demand that the Big Lie is true, and that anybody who denies the Big Lie is an Enemy, will drive the truth-tellers into a place of bitter cynicism. In the case of the Church, if you come to see authority figures as profoundly untrustworthy (or worse), you may come to cease believing in their authority in other areas, and come to think everything they say — even the truthful things — is part of the Big Lie, or at least might be.

Fr. Jiang and Archbishop Carlson may be innocent here, but presuming their innocence does not require turning oneself into a credulous fool. It is very, very hard to walk the tightrope between cynicism and credulity; I struggle with this every day. The problem is when you don’t struggle at all. Hardcore cynicism is a different kind of Big Lie.

This applies in spades to Anglicans in the realignment. Embracing the fairy tale of Rwandan reconciliation is a comfortable position, but it is a lie. If clergy and laity cannot confront this lie, the story will just unravel eventually and do more damage when it does.

I hope to write a book exposing this facade that GAFCON, ACNA, AMiA and now PEAR USA have embraced, and to show how it is a massive failure on our part.