Needy Churches

Father Dan Claire has a good post up at RenewDC on how healthy churches should be needy churches. He says in part:

A healthy church grieves the departure of members not because of the loss of revenue, but because of the loss of gifts. Departures drive the remaining members to their knees to pray for new body parts, so that the body might be complete, and the church might fulfill her vocation as a kingdom outpost. Likewise, when God sends new people to a healthy church, there are legitimate holes to be filled and everyone rejoices in the Lord’s provision.

Anglican Church Planting Done Right

There are a lot of bad church plants and established churches out there in the Anglican world. Theology is thin, sometimes Arminian, sometimes idolatrous. Discipline is lacking, discipleship does not exist. Some churches don’t want to be terribly liturgical despite a 2,000 year liturgical tradition. A focus on digging into the Bible isn’t there, mission mindedness towards the local community is lacking, and the list goes on. At the top level, the AMiA looks corporate and atheological. There are simply a lot of problems.

And yet, there is hope. Here on the East Coast there at least six parishes pastored by men with strong Augustinian convictions, a commitment to the Bible, a desire to see healthy Christian living and a focus on mission. A new article outlines the history and status of the three RenewDC parishes, one of which I attend:

Through AMiA, Claire became a Rwandan missionary to Washington, D.C., and started the Church of the Resurrection on Capitol Hill.

Now Resurrection is about to celebrate its seventh year in the same rented historic church building near the Library of Congress. Two new churches have already been planted out of Resurrection, and a fourth and fifth in the D.C. region are in the works. The three current churches meet inside the Capital Beltway on Sunday evenings, renting historic church buildings in keeping with a mission-minded, streamlined budget where church planting is a priority.

Together, these congregations compose a church-planting movement known as RenewDC.

Consistent with the theology of Anglicanism’s founding documents, Claire is Reformed and paedobaptist. But joining RenewDC churches requires subscribing only to Christian essentials, which are “hopefully the same among all the gospel-centered churches in the city,” Claire says. The churches focus on gospel essentials (worship, discipleship, and community) leading to mission. As a result, the RenewDC churches resemble missionary outposts and could perhaps be compared to military chapels outside the United States.

The diversity of backgrounds among congregants is striking, if not surprising given the urban environment. In the midst of such diversity, one perhaps counter-intuitive strategy for bridging the gap between people is simple, liturgical worship. “It provides a common framework,” Claire says, “a common language for people.” These Anglican worship services follow the same basic outline as most Christian churches since the earliest days of the church: worship, prayers, Scripture reading, sermon, affirmation of belief (creeds), and the Eucharist. They practice these ancient rites using contemporary music and language.

It can be done right, it should be done right, it will be done right! To read more about it, click here.

Losing Old Church Buildings

I’m hearing that the court case against the Virginia CANA churches may not go well. Truro, Falls Church and others may be forced to leave their historic buildings. I’ve never been a fan of the “defend the property” strategy, but this is still very sad news. Turning these buildings over to heretics is akin to the North African Church falling to Islam a long time ago.

With that said, it occurred to me today that one reason that it is such a blow to lose these venerable buildings is because there is so little chance of replacing them in our lifetime. Our theology of architecture is so impoverished, and the buildings that we typically build as Protestant churches are generally so awful, that losing these old buildings is a great tragedy.

Most new church buildings are ephemeral, not durable. They are ugly, functional, “multi-purpose” facilities where people worship in the gym. There is generally no art, no stained glass windows and nothing that would really differentiate these buildings from the prison-like school buildings that we build today. On the other hand, places like Truro have a simple elegance and exude a sense of tranquility and “churchiness” that is lacking in most modern Protestant facilities. It seems that Catholics have kept their senses and are producing some great buildings even today. I live down the street from one and I’ve seen many others, such as the gorgeous Holy Apostles in Meridian, Idaho.

So if we are going to continue to think that buildings don’t matter or that we need to build the cheapest, ugliest thing we can get away with and call it good, then losing the old places like Truro (and the many, many United Methodist parishes in Virginia that are gorgeous and given over to heresy) is a very sad event indeed.

Continuing AMiA Confusion

The issue of women’s ordination in the AMiA is old news on this blog. But the latest press release from AMiA (I refuse to call it “theAM”) continues to display the problems that American Anglicans have with this issue. Specifically:

In 2007, the Anglican Mission expanded its structure at the request of Archbishop Kolini by creating the Anglican Mission in the Americas as an umbrella organization which includes the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), the Anglican Coalition in Canada (ACiC) now under the leadership of Bishop Silas Ng and the Anglican Coalition in America (ACiA). This structure embraces two countries (the U.S. and Canada) as well as two theological positions on the ordination of women to the presbyterate. Both the ACiC and the ACiA ordain women to the priesthood, as does the Province of Rwanda, while the AMiA maintains its policy of ordaining women only to the diaconate. This structure provides a way to maintain the integrity, and honor the consciences, of those with differing positions and policies on women’s ordination, which mirrors the period of reception within Anglican Christianity.

Let’s see, there is:

1. Anglican Mission in America – no women’s ordination

2. Anglican Mission in the Americas – yes to women’s ordination and includes:

—-[1] Anglican Mission in America

—-[2] Anglican Coalition in Canada

—-[3] Anglican Coalition in America

Now there is a “initiative” called  Churches for the Sake of Others (C4SO). Got it? With all those organizations and abbreviations, it’s like a front company being run out of Barbados! Websites exist for AMiA and ACiC. The bottom line to me is that it is one group, but it has created sub-groups in order to allow for the orthodox position on ordaining women (AMiA) and to look generic and not terribly Anglican to west coast hip people (C4SO).

Bishop Hunter is quoted using buzzwords like missional and celebrate when he says:

Bishop Todd explains. “It’s not about ordaining a particular gender or an issue of social justice for me – ordination is not a ‘right’ for anyone. While I recognize and celebrate the differences between genders, I want to raise up human beings gifted and called to Kingdom ministry…I guess you can say I’m an egalitarian of the complementary sort.”

What does that mean? I have no idea. My guess is that it means he is OK with ordaining women.

“I am excited about the potential for women to be part of our church planting movement on the west coast and am already seeing fruit of such ministry in C4SO,” he adds. “This is all about facilitating a missional commitment.”

The Bible and church tradition could not be more clear on this issue.

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?  (1 Timothy 3:2-5 ESV)

I will continue to press the following beliefs:

1. AMiA, CANA, REC and all the other groups should cease to exist and merge into one body, namely ACNA. Disband all the regional headquarters and websites.

2. Women’s ordination should be totally rejected by all these bodies.

3. A common prayer book and liturgy should be used by all parishes in ACNA.

4. The 39 Articles should be central to ACNA, not just in lip-service, but in testing candidates for holy orders.

A Church Home At Long Last

We have been wandering in the Wilderness for four years. Moving out of range of a good church was the worst decision we ever made. We left The Church of the Resurrection and weren’t willing to sacrifice to stay closer. We tried to hack it at unfriendly churches, shallow churches, churches with bad theology, or all the above combined. We got to go on a grand tour of what is wrong with churches today.

Being liturgical, sacramental and whole-Bible in the Kuyper/Van Til/Jordan and Leithart way limits your choices. For the first time in our Christian lives we experienced the total despair of essentially giving up and not going anywhere for almost six or seven months. And I didn’t miss it. I didn’t miss the clueless worship, lack of Bible, historical ignorance, Great Commission absence or lack of community. If your church has no community, then staying home on Sunday isn’t much different from going on Sunday morning except for the lack of driving and going through the motions in a service that grates on you from beginning to end as people ignore you on the way in and the way out. I can’t justify not going – I know the commandment and I know I was not keeping it, but I didn’t see any way to keep it and stay sane.

And then, sort of out of the blue and not painlessly, God allowed us to move. This move is life-changing in many ways, but the best of them is that we get to go to a church that gets it. Last night we went to The Church of the Ascension (AMiA) in Arlington. A place with people who talked our ears off after the service – some old friends and some new. We almost had to tear ourselves away to go home. A place with clergy committed to evangelism, discipleship, the sacraments, the liturgy, and to sound theology in a Reformed via the 39 Articles way. During the entire service I was thinking, “this is it, this is where we belong.” It is almost too good to be true and I am grateful in ways that I can’t fully express for this long period of trial to seemingly be over. There will be challenges no doubt, but it will be worth the fight.

It’s hard out there in American churches if you have any sort of convictions beyond “I want a rocking praise band and programs for the kids.” I don’t know how people do it in much of the country. My suspicion is that they give up like we were and stay home. Read a book, mow the lawn, watch football, do anything. What are they missing? A goofy guy with a goatee trying to be relevant? Not much of a loss. I hope that in the few decades I may have left on the earth, people everywhere will at least have one good local option that is robustly Protestant, sacramental, liturgical and Bible-saturated. I guess that would be some form or revival, and it would be welcome.

Ending the Anglican Alphabet Soup

With the creation of the Anglican Church in North America, the time has come to end the various sub-groups which were necessary for the time of trials just passed through. Part of me doesn’t like this much because I think that parts of the AMiA are the best current representation of what a Biblical Church should look like. But it seems to me that every dollar spent on maintaining separate organizational structures is wasted. Why have a separate communications structure for CANA, AMiA, REC, etc? It’s waste of effort and money. And yet we see Bishop Minns saying:

Since Day 1, CANA has been and will continue to be a full participant in the life of the new province, and will continue to maintain our own identity.  We will encourage groups of congregations when they are ready, to establish themselves as free-standing dioceses.  Our goal is to support the work, mission, and ministry of the gospel on this continent and bring our own particular distinctive to that task.

Bishop Murphy has said similar things about AMiA continuing in something of a “Canterbury and York” model. Indeed, as I was writing this I received an e-mail from AMiA where Bishop Murphy says:

As a founding member of both the Common Cause Partnership and the emerging province, we will continue to fully participate in ACNA.  As we have consistently explained, however, we remain a missionary outreach of the Province of the Anglican Church of Rwanda under the authority of Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini.  This allows us to enjoy dual citizenship, a similar relationship to that of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).

But I think we need to ask whether in ten or twenty years we will need all of these separate groups? It’s great for AMia and CANA to continue missionary efforts, but they should be able to do this as some kind of missionary diocese under ACNA, without needing their own leadership and headquarters. How much of this division is due to leftover animosities between bishops and churches?

I do understand some legitimate reasons for staying apart. As my friend Jim said to me, many folks won’t want to be under a Bishop who approves of women’s ordination, for example. But these issues need to be worked out from within ACNA unless it becomes obvious that it will never change and is un-reformable, which is hardly the case right now at its inception. I think good Anglican in all the bodies that make up ACNA should voice their desire for unity to their leaders and pray for change.

A Drive to Kilmarnock

This past weekend we drove to a town called Kilmarnock which sits in a region of Virginia called the Northern Neck, on the Chesapeake Bay. It is something that I’ve wanted to do for three years but have been prevented from doing for one reason or another.

The drive over was beautiful and very typical of Virginia. By that I mean rolling hills, trees, farms, small towns and lots and lots of old churches with their attendant graveyards. Why is it that our modern churches never have graveyards? I understand that property is at a premium for most churches and perhaps a graveyard would be “wasted” when it could be a parking lot, but I think we would do well to re-establish the practice of Christian burial in a church graveyard.

Most of these old, rural towns have a United Methodist parish, a Baptist church or two, and sometimes an Episcopal parish. It is truly heartbreaking to see these gorgeous old buildings most of which are in the hands of heretics. Just imagine working and praying to build a parish, teach, preach and serve. You go down to your grave when your alloted span is done only to have the entire thing fall into the hands of the enemy within a century or so.

The churches that we saw were mainly built of brick. I imagined what life would be like if they were inhabited by preachers with evangelical fervor and sound doctrine. What would it be like to have our rural areas dotted with churches that were sacramental and reformed? Instead we have these sad monuments to a bygone age inhabited by the opponents of the truth.

Kilmarnock itself is not much to shout about, but if you drive down the roads that lead to the Bay, you find mansions of breathtaking size, all of them new. Apparently there is a lot of old money in Kilmarnock, or else folks in D.C. and Richmond who weekend down there. These homes are unbelievable, sitting right on the Bay with no neighbors to speak of. Trust me, these folks aren’t working in town. It never ceases to amaze me how no matter where you go in this country there are loads of rich people (or massively indebted people).

We ate lunch in the parking lot of the local Episcopal parish which is gorgeous. It looked like a small version of Truro in Fairfax. I looked it up on the web and of course it is in the revisionist camp and will probably vanish within a generation.

The entire drive led me to think about the AMiA and ACNA in general with regard to church planting. For obvious reasons the AMiA has focused most of its church planting activities on cities and urban centers. I favor this and think AMiA should have a 50-state strategy of hitting key urban areas. My question is how do the rural areas get served in any new evangelization? In some sense it is much easier to plant churches in urban areas because you have so many more people to potentially draw from, whereas in a small town there are only a limited number of people.

So do entire swaths of the country stay unserved by a Medieval Protestant alternative to unbelief? Can we reach small towns as well as urban areas? How many guys would we need in the pipeline of ministerial training in order to reach these places? What kind of resources would it require? I imagine that in the old days most of these churches rose from within the ethnic communities that were pioneering these new towns, but that pattern is gone now. What is the new method of reaching the rural parts of America with a liturgical, Bible-centered church?

Two Methods of Church Planting

I have observed two methods of church planting, both of which have something to commend themselves to us. The first method is practice by Sovereign Grace. They have folks pray about being part of a church plant in another city, sometimes in another state. Those folks then join the pastor being sent out and get new jobs, relocate to the new city and put down roots. This way the new church starts with a core of tight-knit people that are on the same page.

The second method is that of the AMiA parishes in the D.C. area. The mother church has planted two churches in two years. Rather than becoming a mega-church, the mother church hives off when it hits about 250-300 people and starts a new church in the area where a big cluster of current attenders live. The mother church had 3-4 full time clergy and sent one guy to plant each of the daughter churches. The pastors can also rotate in and out and preach at the other parish. This model is also effective, logical and preserves a parish mentality.

The things I don’t like about the Sovereign Grace method are that Sov Grace seems to have no problem with mega-churches. Their churches get huge and lose intimacy and real relationships between all members. They seem to be too slow to ordain men, so they don’t have a huge base of guys to launch multiple local works. They also don’t seem to want to do multiple local works – at least not to date. They seem more inclined to launch in new cities or states rather than to hive off and establish tons of local works that reach the same region/city.

Perhaps combining these two methods would be good. Rather than sending 30 families to a new state, the parish could send 30 families one suburb away. That would make ties to the sending church more effective, but might decrease the sense of mission that the new work has in that the people are still in their comfort zone to some degree.