Embrace Division

Peter Leithart offers timely advice for Republican Christians:

My advice to Bad Republicans is: Let it come. If the price of regaining power is to abandon any semblance of Christian sexual morality, the price is too high. If the Republican party can’t bring itself to endorse a traditional understanding of marriage, let it split. If the Republican party can’t be bothered about the slaughter of the unborn, let it shatter into a million little pieces. Good Republicans will blame Bad Republicans for tearing the GOP to pieces. So be it.
One might hope for better. One might hope that shrewd and principled leadership from a courageous few would re-galvanize the Republican party on social issues. That might not provide a path to power, but it would turn the GOP into a genuine alternative to social liberalism. One hopes; anything can happen. I think it more likely that Obama will get his way and leave the Republican party in greater disarray than ever.
There is a time for peace, but in my judgment we’re not in such times. For the next four years, perhaps longer, social-issue Christians must recognize that smoothing differences is a temptation, and must learn to resist the temptation. Christians have to be willing to follow the example of Jesus, who came not to unify but to divide father from son, mother from daughter, brother from brother. Division was essential to the social renewal he came to accomplish, because those who followed him, torn from comfortable networks of kin and religion, formed the nucleus of a new kind of community. For Jesus, division was the means for achieving a new unity. Christians have to be willing to imitate the Prince of Peace who declared, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

I tend to think that this future is inevitable. Sellouts on the important policies will continue apace and the GOP will break into an economic party and a social party. It may take one or two more elections for this to happen, but I don’t see how it can be avoided under the current circumstances.
Along with this, sections of Protestant Christianity are hurtling into apostasy on moral issues just as the Mainlines did in the last century. Another winnowing is taking place.

On City Churches

Steven Wedgeworth takes a look at the rage for city churches and says:

To me this distinction illustrates the basic problem.  If you feel the need to call your social gathering a specifically churchy title, you’re confusing nature and grace.  You see, Christians don’t have to talk about culture.  They just have to be culture, and they do this by living a human life and doing human things with other humans.  So too, “city churches” should just be churches in the city, made up of people who live in the city.  And really, they don’t have to do specifically “city” things beyond just being a church in the city made up of people from the city.  Preach the gospel and live your life.  Love God and do what you please.

On a similar note, I also saw a city church video on Youtube, and they were talking about how weird (in a good way) their congregation was.  It was made up of such different, interesting, and even wacky people!  And again, this is fine as far as it goes.  But for the church to be made up of wacky people is not exactly the same thing as a mission statement.  It isn’t our job to go out and cultivate interesting personalities.  I’d like to see that happen, don’t get me wrong, but that’s actually the job of parents, schools, arts, and letters.  The church’s job is to cultivate disciples.

Perhaps this is all a rather long way of saying “Be yourself.”  If you’re in the city, then do things that come naturally to city people.  If you’re in the country, then do things that come naturally to country people.  If you’re in the suburbs, then do things that come naturally to suburbanites.  I say all of this, assuming that you understand that Christians do all of these “natural” things with a continuous focus on truth and righteousness, faith, hope, and love.  That’s how grace restores nature, by spiritually filling it from within.  That will always cause you to be counter-cultural, but as we said last time, that’s a slow-grind that should be carried out in a humble manner.

Got it? We don’t need to do special programs just because we live here or there. Be yourself and do what God puts in front of you to do.

Rebooting Christendom

Another blog references an essay by Fr. Arnaud Rostand and his suggestions for what Catholics can do in the present circumstances:

Two suggestions offered by Fr. Rostand include having a political presence in one’s local community and forming trade associations/guild with other Catholics. On the matter of politics, Fr. Rostand is clear that he doesn’t envision a “Catholic Party” emerging out of thin air, but that does not eliminate the possibility of traditional Catholics seeking (and winning) local elections; making their voices heard collectively at community meetings; and even using forums like newspaper op-ed pages to promote Catholic social ideals. As for trade associations, Fr. Rostand stressed the importance of likeminded Catholics who share a particular profession coming together to support one another and, where possible, promote a distinctly Catholic outlook within that larger profession. This will not be easy work, but it is feasible even at a time when there appears to be no place for Christianity in the public sphere. But if these modest steps are not taken, there will be no hope that greater gains for Christ and His Church can be made.

I think these are excellent suggestions that Protestants can embrace in the same way. Creative thinking like this needs to flourish in order to maintain and nurture the seeds for a Second Christendom in the wake of the Dark Age we are now in.

Urban Church Architecture

I came across this drawing in an architecture competition:

I don’t believe it’s intended to be a church, but I thought it might pass for one nicely. It struck me that in dense areas where land is at a premium, this sort of building up might work well for a parish. The sanctuary could be in the main dome in the center, while rooms for classes and study would be in the tower area.

Bishops must Rebuke Emperors

In the Year of our Lord 390, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I exacted retribution on the citizens of Thessalonica for an uprising. The Church Father Theodoret recounts what happened:
The emperor was fired with anger when he heard the news, and unable to endure the rush of his passion, did not even check its onset by the curb of reason, but allowed his rage to be the minister of his vengeance. When the imperial passion had received its authority, as though itself an independent prince, it broke the bonds and yoke of reason, unsheathed swords of injustice right and left without distinction, and slew innocent and guilty together. No trial preceded the sentence. No condemnation was passed on the perpetrators of the crimes. Multitudes were mowed down like ears of grain in harvest-tide. It is said that seven thousand perished.

St. Ambrose of Milan heard of the massacre and forbid the Emperor from entering the Church. The entire account can be found in Theodoret, but in part he says:

Fired with divine zeal the holy Ambrosius exclaimed “Rufinus, I tell you beforehand; I shall prevent him from crossing the sacred threshold. If he is for changing his sovereign power into that of a tyrant I too will gladly submit to a violent death.” On this Rufinus sent a messenger to inform the emperor in what mind the archbishop was, and exhorted him to remain within the palace. Theodosius had already reached the middle of the forum when he received the message. “I will go,” said he, “and accept the disgrace I deserve.” He advanced to the sacred precincts but did not enter the holy building. The archbishop was seated in the house of salutation and there the emperor approached him and besought that his bonds might be loosed.

“Your coming” said Ambrose “is the coming of a tyrant. You are raging against God; you are trampling on his laws.” “No,” said Theodosius, “I do not attack laws laid down, I do not seek wrongfully to cross the sacred threshold; but I ask you to loose my bond, to take into account the mercy of our common Lord, and not to shut against me a door which our master has opened for all them that repent.” The archbishop replied “What repentance have you shown since your tremendous crime? You have inflicted wounds right hard to heal; what salve have you applied?”“Yours” said the emperor “is the duty alike of pointing out and of mixing the salve. It is for me to receive what is given me.” Then said the divine Ambrosius “You let your passion minister justice, your passion not your reason gives judgment. Put forth therefore an edict which shall make the sentence of your passion null and void; let the sentences which have been published inflicting death or confiscation be suspended for thirty days awaiting the judgment of reason. When the days shall have elapsed let them that wrote the sentences exhibit their orders, and then, and not till then, when passion has calmed down, reason acting as sole judge shall examine the sentences and will see whether they be right or wrong. If it find them wrong it will cancel the deeds; if they be righteous it will confirm them, and the interval of time will inflict no wrong on them that have been rightly condemned.”

In a letter to the Emperor, St. Ambrose says:

Should I keep silence? But then my conscience would be bound, my utterance taken away, which would be the most wretched condition of all. And where would be that text? If the priest speak not to him that erreth, he who errs shall die in his sin, and the priest shall be liable to the penalty because he warned not the erring.

Ambrose believed that it is the duty of a priest to correct all those in error, up to and including the Emperor of Rome, lest the priest become responsible for not speaking the truth to him. He is referring to Ezekiel 3.18:

If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.

This is the testimony and example of the ancient Church handed down to us as a pattern of how to deal with tyrants who massacre their own people.

Ventrella on Sovereign Grace’s Deficient Cultural Engagement

I just ordered, and look forward to reading, Jeff Ventrella’s new book Church and Culture. The synopsis says:

Full-orbed response to a proposed statement on the church’s responsibility in culture by Sovereign Grace Ministries — and a valuable resource in elucidating a Faith that champions a comprehensive Gospel amid a church culture that all too often reduces the Gospel to personal salvation.

Sovereign Grace reflects a typical Annabaptist take on culture, so it’s good to see it called out in a public way.

Churches Data Mining for Net Worth?

I have heard that some churches now employ data mining software on their websites to determine parishioners net worth and presumably attempt to get more money from them. Perhaps it works something like this:

Whether a patient comes in for a gall bladder operation or to have a baby, the routine remains the same for staff at Sharp HealthCare hospitals in San Diego. The front desk checks insurance records to make sure the bills get paid on time. Nurses take vitals and tag their charges with a bar-coded wristband that helps them avoid treatment snafus. And behind the scenes, the fund-raising staff runs scans on the assets of each patient. The goal? To find out whether they re megarich, wealthy or merely comfortable.

While the folks checking in don t know it, the nonprofit hospital chain is hunting for prospective donors. Armed with powerful data-mining software, they screen hundreds of admissions records each morning to find a handful of wealthy patients who ve shown prior interest in the hospital. Those who make the cut may enjoy a bedside visit from a patient relations director who offers concierge services. Extra pillow? Free parking passes for visiting friends? The director will make it happen. It s all about building a relationship at the point of service, says foundation CEO Bill Littlejohn, and it has proven to be effective: We ve gotten many letters and gifts from people who said, It was so nice you stopped by.

When your favorite nonprofit isn t busy saving the whales, chances are it s making a serious behind-the-scenes effort to know you better and using increasingly sophisticated technology to do so. Whether it s the local museum or an international relief group, a charity s prospect-research staff can survey your salary history, scan your LinkedIn connections or even use satellite images to eyeball the size of your swimming pool. And if it s really on the ball, it s keeping better tabs on your financial life than you are. Should your stock holdings double, your friendly fund-raiser can get an e-mail alert prompting her to make an impromptu call.

See the rest here.

Predictive analytics the science of identifying and cultivating new donors by analyzing characteristics of existing donors has become indispensable to many nonprofits. It helps them determine who will send a $100 check at Christmas and who might give $50 million for the new memorial wing. The patterns that emerge can be surprising. Lawrence Henze, managing director of Target Analytics, a Blackbaud firm, learned that liberal arts majors are more likely than business grads to remember their alma mater in their will. And when nonprofits add commercial data to the mix, even finer patterns emerge. Don Austin, analytics director at infoGroup Nonprofit, says folks who donate to food banks are more likely to live in an apartment, carry credit card debt and play the stock market.

Will churches treat these prospective targets better than the average parishioner? Hospitals do:

Aggressive fund-raising has become standard procedure at hospitals, clinics and even hospices, as medical institutions try to make up for higher costs and dwindling insurance reimbursements. No one tracks the statistics, but the practice of screening admission records to find rich patients is pretty common, says Kathy Renzetti, spokesperson for the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy. And once the hospital determines you re a VIP, the perks roll in. At Penn, there are 1,200 donors and volunteers who get bumped to the front of the line for appointments with specialists and get special assistance with billing mix-ups. At San Diego s Sharp HealthCare, major donors receive a card printed with staffers pager numbers, to ensure they receive top service around the clock.

Here’s an example of this software: DonorScope. How on earth can this be squared with the Scripture?

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
(James 2:1-7 ESV)

Larry Tomczak on the SGM Whitewash

An email revealed today from the co-founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries minced no words with the attempt at whitewashing the behavior of C.J. Mahaney. Tomczak says in part:

Addressing the illegal, immoral and documented blackmail plus the reprehensible conduct that shattered our reputation, relationships and family ties (plus our livelihood) was afforded a dismissive SIX sentences in the report!  Unbelievable.

I couldn’t agree more. I searched the PDF of the AOR report for Larry’s name and was surprised to see nothing about the blackmail imposed on him. And the Reformed “big dogs” Piper, Mohler, Duncan and Dever seem to think that C.J. is just fine, despite his attempted blackmail. They shouldn’t be taken seriously on much of anything.

The Cult of Personality Leadership Model is Broken

By now, you would think that Christians would start to wake up to the fact that the cult of personality model of Church is broken. Mega church, micro denomination, best-selling books, people emulating your hairstyle and inflections, everything being about how gifted the visionary leader is – this is a recipe for disaster. Don’t believe it? See:

1. Mark Driscoll and Acts 29.

2. C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.

3. Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel.

4. Chuck Murphy and the AMiA.

If there is a common denominator with these leaders and their problems, it is a lack of accountability. God help anyone who is in their shoes, powerful, charismatic and not beholden to anyone but themselves. It is a recipe for disaster. The Church must wake up and reject this model of the great leader.