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Charlotte Pence. (AP Photo)
Charlotte Pence. (AP Photo)

The German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote extensively on the importance of diversity in the church. We can learn from his example and take his messages to heart today.

Diversity has always been a crux of the gospel message. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul admonishes the Corinthian church for treating their community meals as a place to separate the rich from the poor.

“In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent, I believe it…So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.” (1 Corinthians 11:18,33 NIV)

He sees this as a problem because of the lack of inclusivity within the church. The sacred meals are being used as a place where some people are considered better than others. Paul is disgusted by this, as he knew Jesus would be.

During the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany, the Aryan Paragraph was introduced to exclude Jews from certain areas of life. When this began to affect the Evangelical Church in Germany, pastors had to decide how they would respond to the government’s move to exclude Jewish Christians from the clergy and church community.

The German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was involved in anti-Nazi resistance. When he heard of these divisive and racist actions being taken by the Nazis, he spoke out against them. This eventually led to the splitting off of the Confessing Church from the Nazi attempt to create a pro-Nazi Protestant Reich Church.

We can see that the split ultimately began with the knowledge of exclusivity–and the view from those like Bonheoffer that this was entirely contrary to the message of the Gospel.

“This is the very point where it must be made crystal clear: here is where we are tested as to whether we know what the church is. Here, where the Jewish Christian whom I don’t like is sitting next to me among the faithful, this is precisely where the church is.” (The Aryan Paragraph in the Church)

Bonhoeffer saw church as a place that challenged the status quo, that called into account and made people answer for the impurities of their human nature.

Additionally, he wrote, “The exclusion of the Jewish Christians from our communion of worship would mean: The excluding Church is erecting a racial law as a prerequisite of Christian communion. But in doing so, it loses Christ himself, who is the goal of even this human, purely temporal law.” (The Jewish‐Christian Question as Status Confessionis)

Church should be a place where our prejudices are to be put to the side, where we are meant to find common ground in the reality that we are all sinners.

For the rest of the post…

At the beginning of his eighth school year, he casually announced that he had chosen Hebrew as his elective, and the die was cast. He was fifteen years old at the time. In March 1921, when he and Klaus were invited to a party at their friends the Gilberts, he declined because Lent had begun. This made did an impression on his friends, who had not previously come across such a reason for refusing an invitation. He now sometimes went to church, occasionally accompanied by his mother.

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 37.

Things to do during lent

 

Bonhoeffer decided to be a minister and theologian when he was a boy, and he never seems to have wavered in this ambition. At home he made no bones about it. Even when his brothers and sisters refused to take him seriously, he did not let it disconcert him. When he was about fourteen, for instance, they tried to convince him that he was taking the path of least resistance, and the church to which he proposed to devote himself was a poor, feeble, boring, petty, and bourgeois institution, but he confidently replied: “In that case I shall reform it!” 

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 36.

Image result for bonhoeffer boy

By Don Chapman

Why Rock Star Worship Leaders Are Getting Fired

A megachurch is a unique breeding ground for a RSWL—he probably couldn’t survive in a smaller ministry. A typical church music director is a busy guy or girl who schedules volunteers, conducts rehearsals, writes charts, arranges music, and plans Christmas and Easter events. Some megachurch RSWLs surprisingly can’t even read music, let alone create a chord chart.

So why are they hired?

They often don’t have musical training or organization skills, but they look and sound good on stage. This will blow some of your minds—I know of one RSWL who makes about 100K a year by going to a weekly staff meeting and picking out six songs for the praise set.

That’s it.

He has a full staff who does his work for him—making charts and tracks, scheduling volunteers, and even leading rehearsals. This type of RSWL could only exist at a megachurch—he’d be helpless if he had to do everything himself in a smaller ministry.

The RSWL unfortunately tends to inherit bad habits from his secular counterparts.

A famous rock star making millions from his music can afford to be self-absorbed and narcissistic—it even enhances his mystique. Narcissism doesn’t go over so well in a church, and people start resenting the guy. A Google search on the subject showed me it’s a growing topic among fed-up churchgoers.

Here are some thoughts I found on a blog by a disgusted person about their RSWL that sum up what congregations are thinking:

Worship leaders are like reality TV stars: They’re regular people with a disproportionate sense of self because people are looking at them. They’re rock stars without the fame or talent … or money (all things that redeem rock star behavior). But ultimately, it’s the disparity that kills me. So many of them are spiritually/emotionally/socially immature, but just because they can sing, they’re placed on this ridiculous pedestal.

One megachurch claims their narcissistic RSWL is to blame for an attendance drop of almost one-third (at least until they fired the guy—attendance is on the way up again).

For the rest of the post…

The family, including Dietrich’s mother, had its own direct relationship with Bible, and the traditions the church, without feeling a need for any ecclesiastical guidance; thus, any direct connection to the institutional church seemed unnecessary. No church dignitary or minister seems to have played a role in the Bonhoeffer’s social relationships at that time…The impulse (for Dietrich) to become a theologian for the sake of the real church belonged to a later period.

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 35.

Posted by | Apr 13, 2019

Eighty years ago, a 33-year-old Christian theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to his native Germany after a short stay in the United States. He would not live to see his 40th birthday.

The Lutheran and Episcopal Churches, as well as other religious bodies worldwide, recently commemorated the annual remembrance of German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and resister of Nazi totalitarianism and terrorism. On April 9, 1945, after being in held prisoner for two years, Bonhoeffer was hanged for his association with others who resisted Hitler and the atrocities his party committed against Jews, Germans, among others.

Evidence showed the group he worked with also plotted to assassinate Hitler. A week later the Allies liberated that very POW Camp. As he was being led away to what all knew would be his death, Bonhoeffer said, “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer wrote a book “The Cost of Discipleship,” that is now a classic. He compares “cheap grace,” which is like a head nod or an “atta boy” to the ethics of following Jesus, without actually getting in the water and risking a swim – with “costly grace,” that throws people into the deep end because they are formed by and live out the ethics of Jesus.

This is not a church and state issue. It is the involvement of a person of faith, regardless of religion, using politics, political action, and involvement to change the world for the poor, needy, oppressed, voiceless and powerless. Such costly grace brought Bonhoeffer into the resistance movement against the Nazis.

Bonhoeffer was also a founder and leader in a church-based resistance movement, the Confessing Church. When he was imprisoned, he refused the prayers of that Church. At a 50th Anniversary commemoration of his death, Klaus Engelhardt, then Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Church of Germany, lifted up Bonhoeffer’s reasoning, and challenged the church on it.

Bonhoeffer felt that exercising political means to resist evil and injustice set him outside the circle of prayer. Only those imprisoned for their proclamation and work on behalf of the church, not political resistance, should be prayed for, and that exempted him. Engelhardt challenged the religious communities to reconsider Bonhoeffer’s position that separated resistance and faith.

Today what does “costly grace” look like? How do we separate holding religious principles from applying those principles, regardless of their origin, on behalf of the poor, needy, oppressed, threatened, and voiceless? What drives many who risk speaking up in our country against while privilege and nationalism, threats to Muslims, Jews, and law-abiding immigrants?

People of religion and no-religion share a vision of a common good for all. Almost daily tragedy strikes a blow to our hearts and vision for a better world – whether in New Zealand, threats to synagogues, mosques and churches here and worldwide, the continuing rise of gun violence and absence of adults to stand with our children against it. Health care costs for the needy and elderly rise. The opioid epidemic – suicides…

For the rest of the article…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Quote

by 

In our better moments of spiritual self-awareness, we Christians are forced to acknowledge our capacity for actions and ideas that shatter an individual and collective “witness” as followers of Jesus. It’s been like that from the start. Judas Iscariot betrayed him with a kiss. After declaring absolute loyalty, Simon Peter denied Jesus three times: “I never knew the man.” The brothers James and John, perhaps anticipating the Prosperity Gospel, demanded “the best seats” in the coming kingdom. In every era of its history, certain Christian individuals and institutions have compelled an “orthodoxy” from others they refused to require of themselves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called that kind of gospel cheap grace.

In The Cost of Discipleship (1937), Bonhoeffer called us all to account, warning:

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace. . . . Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception” of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, ipso facto, a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God (emphasis mine).

I returned to Bonhoeffer’s admonition after reading a heartrending series of articles recently published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram regarding years of sexual abuse perpetrated by various “Independent Fundamentalist Baptist” ministers, individuals often protected and “moved on” by their pastoral supervisors or church constituencies.

“Underneath it all is a powerful emphasis on ministerial authority, with pastor-figures as ‘God’s anointed’ whose leadership is not to be questioned.”

After months of research, a group of Star-Telegram investigative reporters documented “at least 412 allegations of sexual misconduct in 187 Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches and their affiliated institutions” based in 40 states and Canada. Their study suggests that some 168 “church leaders” were accused or convicted of sex crimes against children, with as many as 45 of them continuing in ministry after being identified. The articles detail occasions when women and children were sexually molested by pastoral figures who were then moved on to other churches or church-related ministries. The accusers, almost all females, were often ignored, doubted or blamed for enticing the men.

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) movement has its origins in the 1920s and the infamous “Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy” that divided American Protestants around issues of biblical authority, creationism, “new science” and the nature of Christian orthodoxy. By the 1950s, the movement claimed some of the country’s largest congregations, many begun as “church start-ups,” others through schism with older Baptist denominations. Although asserting their autonomy as free-standing congregations, most IFB churches participate in certain loose “fellowships,” Bible colleges and evangelism programs.

For the rest of the post…

We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.

~ Letters and Papers from Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

‘American Gospel’ Blows a Hole in the Prosperity Gospel

The new documentary American Gospel: Christ Alone, directed by Brandon Kimber, takes aim at this scourge. America has always been a pragmatic, can-do kind of country, and the film argues that the material focus of the prosperity “gospel” suits American culture.

In offering this searing critique, which applies not merely to “them” out there but to us (for many of us love money and ease more than we might be comfortable admitting), Kimber first establishes what the true gospel is: good news centered in the finished work of Christ. Standing in the place of sinners like us, Jesus has absorbed the perfect wrath of the Father and made a way out of hell and into heaven. When we trust Christ as our Lord and Savior by God-given faith, we are instantly justified and counted righteous in God’s sight, the very merit of Christ’s now being our own (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 5:1–2; Eph. 2:8–9). Numerous evangelical theologians and pastors comment on this truth in the film, together building a clear and potent case for faith in Christ.

True Stories of True Faith

American Gospel traces the stories of real Christians whose lives have intersected with prosperity teaching in some way. One woman sobs as she recounts how health-and-wealth teaching ripped her life apart, piece by piece, until she had nothing. The film also introduces us to Katherine Berger, a woman suffering from numerous dreaded illnesses—one after another, it seems—who nonetheless radiates bright faith in God.

Also prominent in the film is Costi Hinn, nephew of faith-healer Benny Hinn. Costi served on his uncle’s team as a “catcher” who witnessed apparent miracles around the clock. His testimony—soon to release as a book—takes us into the seamy experience of the faith-healer, an enterprise that preys on the poor and suffering to enrich the flush and covetous.

The moment that crystallizes the shameful nature of faith-healing comes when Costi discusses how Benny Hinn would (and does) “heal” people with minor ailments. When it came to terminally ill children and other sufferers facing profound challenges, the “healer” refused. This was the first jarring note in Costi’s young life that eventually led him out of prosperity religion (and that’s what it is—a different religion than biblical Christianity).

American Gospel does not hold back; the camera pans back to the outer boundaries of auditoriums at Hinn crusades, where desperate parents cradle diseased children, ignored, unwanted, and unhealed. We watch this, and we hear Justin Peters testify to this experience personally, and we cannot help but feel both sadness and righteous anger—Christ’s own anger. The money-changers are still in the temple, still making God’s name a mockery.

This is an exact parallel of what Jesus did not do. He did not enter the ministry to make money. He did not work in the name of God to be popular and liked. He did not heal those who could do anything for him. Rather, he came to the physically and spiritually poor and made eucatastrophes of them all—not only addressing their bodies but, in many cases, saving their souls. He was not in it for himself; he was in it for the Father’s greater glory and the sinner’s true salvation. “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). Sadly, Christ’s name is invoked by “faith healers” like Hinn and others whose ministries don’t reflect him.

Call Your Skeptical Friends

American Gospel succeeds in its mission. It shows the spiritual and even eternal stakes of prosperity religion. It reveals the danger of allowing any endeavor, however virtuous on the surface, to seep into the preaching and application of the biblical gospel. The movie champions the true, saving gospel, and it unpacks this message with clarity and conviction. Here’s hoping many viewers will come across American Gospel on various streaming platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo), and that Christians will find opportunities to watch the film with unbelieving neighbors and friends. The prosperity “gospel” is a great foil by which to evangelize, for it is patently a sham to many outside of the church. A film like this could be a great apologetic for those with a skeptical bent, for example.

Though nicely shot and edited, the film could be a bit tighter, and the summation of the gospel message takes some time to unfold. So many voices speaking to different issues can begin to send the brain whirling, though I did appreciate how Kimber mixes in Christian leaders both well known and also lesser known. As is not uncommon today, American Gospel presents the gospel message primarily in terms of justification, which is the heart of the euangelion but not the doctrinal sum. The film references the local church but could say more about its importance. Similarly, the moral implications of the gospel are somewhat muted in American Gospel. If we must not make the moral dimension of Scripture the point of every passage, neither should we lose sight of it. But these are small critiques, not major ones.

High Stakes

The prosperity gospel comes with a terrific cost, as all false teaching does; it does not merely ruin intellectual systems, it ruins individual lives. We see this firsthand in the film.

American Gospel does not merely “destroy arguments” of the prosperity kind in keeping with apostolic aims (2 Cor. 10:4–5). It also shows us that the natural man craves miracles: healing, wealth, favor, better “benefits” and sales “commissions” (this is literally what a Bethel pastor leads a congregation to ask God for), a life stripped free of suffering and challenge. But the miracles God brings in most of our lives are often quite different: quieter, less showy, but powered by the saving gospel.

Instead of immediate healing, Christians may well be called to persevere in suffering. Instead of wealth, we may be called to learn contentment in our situation. Instead of coming back from the dead as in “heaven tourism” books, we must all face death and square with mortality. Instead of the cessation of trials upon the exercise of faith, we may be called to endure trials over the long haul. Instead of undimmed favor with power-brokers, we may be called to anonymity and unappreciated toil. Instead of a life of globe-hopping circuit-riding, we may be called to tuck in with our families (especially our children) and love them well, normal day by normal day. Instead of experiencing an unbroken string of personal triumphs, we may take many hits as we await the ultimate cosmic triumph of our warrior-savior, Christ Jesus. These are “ordinary miracles,” the very work of God in us.

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