Sunday, August 7, 2022

Pelagius, Augustine and original sin.

I've recently come across a couple of really fascinating videos on YT. Fascinating as one who was educated as a Calvinist at Capernwray. Note, I don't think this teaching, from the 1980s, still occurs at Capernwray.

On Augustine and Calvin,

And was Pelagius really a naughty boy.

The idea of original sin popped up from time to time, and I recently read a comment on a video, which I can not now track down, where a self-proclaimed atheist decried the concept of 'original sin'.

I'm guessing that he objected to Adam's sin (rejection of God), being imputed to all his offspring.

I don't think this is the implication of Adam's error.

The risk of deflecting from godliness is given in Genesis 2:16, etc. So we have a tree that gives A&E the option before them: be with me or be against me. Against is an option, but there is a down-side.

In Genesis 3:4, the serpent gives half of the truth, but fails to say that the knowledge of good and evil: knowledge by participation in the converse of God (evil) cuts one off from life and brings death.

Death arrives not just in Adam and Eve, but in creation. The creation from the word of God is complete, and aligned with his glory. It's a world more than wonderful and God shares it with his creature-in-his-image to be the steward of it and make it the place for human habitation.

The creation is now fatally marred. Sin is in it and the whole is now no longer the thing of total beauty and peace and joy that he made. Horror has stepped in. It cannot be stopped by the creature who introduced it, Adam's very constitution has been marred and the marring continues to all of us. We see it in a degraded and degrading genome, we see it in all human interaction. 

We are not alienated from God by Adam's sin in us, but by the effect of Adam's rejection of God in the whole creation wherein he (and his offspring) were to be the image of God, drawing to each other's attention the wonder of the creator's generosity towards us.

Rejection of this places us all in a creation that is no fatally marred, misses the mark, falls short, and we can do nothing but also fall short. One rotten apple makes a barrel of rotten apples.

Nevertheless, the creator does an end run and will remake the creation: Revelation 21 (the New Jerusalem is the church, the bride of Christ).

So in a way, the doctrine of original sin is a great relief, ultimately, because it tells us that this is not who we really were made to be, that sin is unnatural, it is something gone wrong, and has brought from God a salvific response.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Heal the earth

One of the ministers at my church  (ministers are both paid and volunteer in our usage, we have about 20 of them, five or whom are paid) has a young son.

The young son was mentioned, with some parental approbation, as having prayed that 'our earth might heal'. Doubtlessly the indoctrination of the school and media.

Now, I'm not going to unload on the child, but I am concerned at his parent's grasp of things and the teaching and encouragement the young one has obtained.

For a start, the personification of 'earth' is striking. The earth is the place over which we, as in God's image, have dominion as caretakers. We are to 'subdue' it: make it right for people, I'd take that as. Not exploit, damage, destroy, as our detractors think it means. Care for it, make it a productive, beneficial delight, after the theme of the 'very good' evaluation of the Creator in Genesis 1.

The only healing the earth needs or will get, is by God's grace in the new creation, when all things will be made new.

Meanwhile, on a spiritual aspect, we need to attend to God's promise to Noah in Genesis 8:22.

Then, when we hear the prognostications of the wicked, remember Jeremiah 17:9, and cast our mind back to Matthew 7:15 and Deuteronomy 18:20-22.

Then, be always sceptical of those who make totalising scare predictions that will destroy the peace and enjoyment of the ordinary person and accumulate wealth and power to the few.

Finally, look at all the data, not the selection tendentiously presented by the common media.

Beware of 'social justice' tropes that are mere echoes of Marxist talking points.

The child's fear demonstrates the indoctrination of kids to the leftist fantasy that 'earth' needs healing, in a world that is feeding more people than ever before and as nations get richer are able to be more conservative of their natural environment for people's health and enjoyment, etc.

We must always be on the lookout in schools of people's duplicitous misuse of data to scare us into totalitarian poverty.


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Run a tight ship

After the great expose of the inability of successive governments to govern: the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, churches lurched to their normal posture before government: simpering abjection.

The real posture should have been pointing the finger at the government and law enforcement for failing the community while pretending to outsource law enforcement to a bunch of hapless priests who were not supported by the authorities. It was all the authorities fault. No vigorous inspectorate policing institutions, no agressive pursuit of complaints, no putting accused before judges, no MPs speaking out in parliaments, no one believing children.

Indeed, the Victoria Police actively covered up abuse and protected the abusers and church officials. Disgusting lot.

So, the churches now pretend the government was right, and they have 'safe church'  programs; creating an instant double bind that the 'safest' place in the community is not, so we have to have a safety program.

I'll all for conducting ministry with integrity and openly.

We don't need 'safe church' systems, but we do need systems of Ministry Integrity. These would screen all ministers and helpers, volunteers and staff, obtain relevant government checks on criminal records, and have orderly and  open recruitment and validation processes.

  • Ministry Application Questionnaire
  • Annual Program Approval for each specific ministry activity
  • Code of Conduct
  • 5 yearly training, or refresher in Integrity Practices, general health and safety, including immediate first aid (fainting, burns, lacerations, CPR, epi-pens), fire-reaction and evacuation/protection drills.

Records need to be kept of qualifications, attendances, etc. of course, but at general gatherings only of serving staff and volunteers.

Monday, July 4, 2022

In translation

I had the opportunity recently to read a church program from a Chinese church.

It was one of the best church programs that I'd encountered, after I found its translation into English.

Sundays were the day of both general connection and study. We meet to sing and pray together and share some testimonies of thankfulness or (wise) observation from our week. The pastor or an elder then gives a talk from the scriptures or related to the scriptures.

These follow the general framework of four sessions over the year, with breaks for Easter, Pentecost, Trinity and Christmas when activity is focused on the subject of those seasons.

The four seasons are devoted to: Old Testament, New Testament, Themes (i.e. systematics), and Society. Society is about apologetics and the analysis of ungodly views of life and the world.

The talks are of a general nature: encouraging, informative and practical.

Then one can stay for lunch, or not.

After lunch there is a two hour Bible class. This is optional but it is run by a qualified teacher with the aim of giving a 'theology diploma' level of education in the Bible over a four year cycle. Lent season, running from Candlemas to Easter is always an overview of the Bible, teaching its background and general 'story' of reality. This is run every year, so some may skip it in subsequent years. The following three seasons of the year work through:

Year 1: Pentateuch, History, Minor Prophets 1

Year 2: Wisdom, Major Prophets 1, Major Prophets 2

Year 3: John, Minor Prophets 2, Acts,

Year 4: Synoptics, Paul, General Epistles & Revelation

 The cycle really ends at Advent when seasonal topics are considered.

In the afternoon another option is a Christian Education program. This is about apologetics, gospel conversations, and church history, It runs after Easter and up to Advent in two session each year.

Each week there are Disciple groups. These might be 'home studies' or 'Bible study' groups. They are about prayer, reading through and discussing the Bible in step with the Sunday general teaching program and prayer and personal discussion.

The church has a 're-group' once a year as a weekend away, which includes reflection on church life and learning, and an 'equipping' weekend at their premises, usually around Pentecost for some intensive teaching.

Seems pretty good to me!

The outreach program I'll cover in a future post.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Angels

I sometimes wonder if a strange encounter with an old woman was an encounter with an angel.

I had just started treatment for a potentially fatal disease. Wife and I went to a local coffee shop for a coffee. I know my wife was more worried than I was at my condition. As we sat down an elderly woman, a stranger and one I'd not seen before locally came in and made directly for us. My recollection (this was 4 years ago) is that my wife, J, struck up a conversation with her and mentioned my diagnoses. The old lady stood by our table and prayed briefly and cheerfully (if that's a good description), then moved on...then I didn't see her again.

Now, it could have been that I didn't notice what she did, but my view was of the exit to the cafe...it appears that she...just vanished.

Could be an angel, because I know from the scriptures that they travel in ones and twos; and of course, groups of 10 million! It would have really been a big deal if a group showed up!

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Yahweh the scale balancer?

In his video on 'transgenderism' (sic) Mr Pints with Aquinas said (from transcript...thanks to Mr YouTube):

Monday, June 13, 2022

Peter Kreeft

In a commencement address he gave very recently, Peter Kreeft ended with this:

"God did not put you in this world to be successful he put you in this world to be faithful."

Perhaps one of the most encouraging words I've heard in a long time.

Friday, May 27, 2022

On the days of Genesis 1

Much is said about the days of Genesis 1; much of this muchness is about explaining that they aren't days as we know them. But this presents massive theological problems, which seem to be put to one side.

If you make the days figurative you dehistoricize the creation, removing it from our time-line, and you depersonalize it, removing God from our world.  
 
In denying the creation account really happened, you mean that something else happened, and it is this something else that defines and expresses what is truly real and denominates every aspect of our being and nature. Whence the information about this 'something else'?

The days connect God to us: they show the tempo of creation is the same as our life tempo...the first move of fellowship between creator and creature. God thus shows himself present and active in the same world and by using the same basic denomination of existence that we are in. The world created as the setting for that fellowship.

The days ground our relationship with God, our understanding of ourselves and the point of salvation in Christ.

The days are there for a reason!

Because the days historicise time: give it tempo and dimension, they show the dynamic conjunction of God's domain and our domain. That God, the one who is love, not only 'is' but is here with us. Genesis 3:8 exemplifies. The God who is near, not far of, and with connection defined in terms of the shared tempo of passing time.

The days thus show 'heaven and earth, creator and creature, come together' in the same flow of time and material realm that circumscribes our living. Yet at the same time they show that God creator is distinct from, prior to and sovereign over the creation he has authored.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Thinking about planning

I don't know how many churches have a well thought out strategy for their work.

No, I don't mean the trivialities of a sweated over 'vision' statement, mission statement, etc. We already have those in the New Testament. Paul is quite clear on this.

Strategy is a 'how to do it' game that takes into account the people, the place, the challenges, over the medium to long term (you could also use the 5 Ps of church planning: People, Place, Performance, Proclamation, Pastoring).

More structure is needed.

An approach I've used in preparing a church strategy used a framework of three elements. Now, to be clear, this is the church as a corporate entity, the strategy operates at various levels that rely on individual Christians proclaiming their faith in the ways that come to hand and according to their gifts.

1. Contact: acquaint and gain mind-share, recognition, low spiritual intensity, may raise idea of Bible reading if and as appropriate.

2. Engage: introductory spiritual activities and events; set the course to moderate spiritual intensity, not seeking 'closure' on person's response; rarely would involve attendance at a church gathering but may include Easter, Christmas attendance, may involve small group/SIG (special interest group) attendance, general community/cultural courses or functions. Personal bible reading encouraged with brief guides available, perhaps for some, start indicating the discipleship path if they have expressed Christian interest; or offer a 'course' of say 10 weeks on Christian faith and growth. This might be modelled on the Didache or Augustine's Enchiridion (but without the parlous elements of his theology, of course)

3. Integrate: moderate to high spiritual intensity, regular attendance at gatherings, on the discipleship path: small group, training course attendance, serving (in some way),  personal bible reading and study expected. Avenues opened for formal Bible/theological and specific serving skill training (e.g. for youth, elder, work, adult education, facilitation, Koukl's 'Tactics', etc.).

This is just the framework. Your strategy would hang activities off these that form an connected set of movements of people from 1 to 3 that are right for your church and its setting.

Here's an example of one line of a church strategy.

This church was in a location with significant numbers of recent Chinese immigrants.

It started 'contact' events in Mandarin for them on English and Australian Culture

The next step was Mandarin-English Bible classes and finally a Mandarin speaking Congregation, with English gradually enlarged, without overtaking in the short to medium term.

Alongside this the congregation was encouraged to a series of social events on Chinese culture and history. These were public.

They included people from the Mandarin group contributing their 'story' from home, introduction to Chinese crafts and food and stories about cultural celebrations.

We also did intro to Mandarin. People could then write and speak simple polite words and phrases: thank you, hello, please, how are you?


Monday, April 18, 2022

Now for a game of 'let's be pagans'.

It has become fashionable (now, there's a give-away) in some church circles to pay some sort of honour to the Aboriginals who inhabit, or previously inhabited, or were thought to have or claimed to have inhabited parts of Australia.

It's called the 'acknowledgement of country'. It pretends that this is not a recognition of the spiritual binding of people to the land in animist terms. But, even though recently invented, that's what it amounts to.

Then there's 'respects' paid (how?) to elders past present and coming down the line. Ancestor worship is here promulgated.

Contrast this with the scriptures.

Here's how interaction with pagan practice were handled: just think of the Golden Calf, the sons of Korah, the priests of Baal.

Or in the New Testament: the gospel irrespective of persons (Galatians 3:28), not binding the worship of our creator-redeemer to pagans (2 Cor. 6:4), or our call to worship: Romans 12:2.

Imagine if we had a hitherto unknown second epistle of Paul to the church at Ephesus:

'Hi, Paul to the church at Ephesus. But first, let me acknowledge Artemis, the god of this great city, and pay my respects to her priests past, present and emerging. Now, on your being pulled back into your pagan past, like our pals in Corinth. Don't....' 

Wouldn't work, would it?

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The youth worker job

Our church has advertised for a 'youth worker'. A very difficult role to recruit to these days.

Here's my advert for it.

First, wrong title. Youth worker/pastor! Who wants that?

Wanted: Youth Ministry Supervisor.

There; a proper job with a great title. Because that's what's needed to be done. Supervise, develop, create, youth ministry/youth-in-ministry. You are not a youth entertainer; you are a builder of disciples and an organiser of ministry effort.

The pay is pretty bad, I think usually about $50k but with a tax free benefit for religious purposes. So it netts out more like $65k.

Still more. We want staff, we want to encourage them.

We will sponsor you to one overseas conference of relevance every 5 years.

And just to keep the sizzle going

We will sponsor you to one local conference or training short course of relevance every two years.

This would be work time, so you would be paid. We'll pay the conference fee and fund raise for the travel and accommodation. Thus, incentive to perform for your direct and indirect 'customers.

Go to it baby!

Aww...how come Jesus is the only way to God?

I saw a couple of videos on YT dealing with the question; a few with Winfrey.

No one really dealt with the issue in terms of who Christ is: Creator.

So, the direct answer is; of course Jss is the only way, because he is the creator God. A lot can flow from that, of course.

The question comes from a basic monist view: that god is within the cosmos and determined by a prior reality.

Next time I get the question, I'll ask a few probing questions: why is this an issue for you? do you think people can invent their own way into reality? why do you ask, would you prefer another way? because only Jss deals with the problem that we have. It's like fixing a broken arm. reiki, chakra meditation, yoga, applied kinesiology, chiropractic, etc, won't fix it. What will fix it is proper setting of the bone and a cast. Reality is what it is, not what you want it to be...

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Jesus as pet!

Have you detected, as I have, the contemporary trend in evangelical circles to 'de-nature' our Lord. He's now 'Jesus the pal', or 'Jesus the pet'. We are barely aware that he is Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Everlasting Father. The Creator!

One of the deacons at my church prays to him with 'Hey, Jesus', like he's a bell boy!

Now, I wonder if the monism that pulls the great Christ fully into our world in the popular mind is influential here?

This is the same conception of reality that enables the question 'why is Jesus the only way to God?' It's a monist question that places Jesus, indeed the more diffusely conceptualised God of the Bible (never known as Yahweh) within our Cosmos, dependent upon an ontologically prior reality. I blame Plato!

Thus opens a line of probing questioning when someone asks that question: 'why would that be a problem to you?"...my plot here is to lead the questioner to their monism. My end game is to two points: (1) that Jesus is the creator of all there is, upon whom the entirety of reality depends; and (2) he is the only one who solves the human problem. He is the only one who can make the way for us to return to fellowship with the creator! Indeed; He is the one who demonstrably overcame in his death and resurrection the basic human problem: rejection of and therefore alienation from our creator. There is no other God.

Friday, April 8, 2022

The first 30 billion years solved!

When I was young, in a youth group with a non-christian 'leader' I was puzzled by his cynicism about how long 'eternity' would be as the after-life.

I guess his big deal would be...what the heck would we do!

Well, I've got the first 30 billions years solved.

Let's say, over history, there would be at the end, 1 billion Christians.

Now, it takes a good 10 years to really get to know someone. To really know them, probably another 10; to fully connect, 10 on top of that: a full 30 years.

So to get to really know all the others in the New Creation, co-ruling with Christ...30 billion years.

But, what next?

Solved: the infinite God gives a taste of what infinity means. We would never come to an end of exploring, learning from, growing from knowing the infinite God who is love.

This video gives an illustration of a 'tangible', but conceptual, infinity. Just think about the endless unfolding patterns it shows. Perhaps this gives a hint of coming to know the infinite creator who Is.

[If the link fails, it is Dr Lisle on the the mathematics of Mandelbrot patterns.]

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Modern church

The  modern church is a parody of church. The NT, 1 Cor. 14:26ff, for example is utterly different from the pretend captain of our souls: the pastor/minister/priest. The 'pastor' is a transmogrified priest, that's all. The NT talks about a plurality of service and oversight; not 'leadership and authority'. Yet we resist this at every turn.

Sermons, lectures, would be the poorest of teaching modes. Something like tutorials at uni would offset the largely ceremonial waste of time that a sermon represents. Our church has started to recognise this and we reserve our serious teaching for short courses. Church is not a spectator sport, but in the West has largely descended into that.

Special interest groups?

Be wary of these. I like the idea, but 'social 'justice' groups' (an interest group so biblically bizarre that I had to use quotes within quotes), for example, will usually attract the left side of the church and will go on to interpret everything in the freedom- and soul-destroying doctrines of socialism; often without even knowing it. Such groups must be given instruction that is biblical, and not just cherry picking verses, but grounded in the whole teaching of scripture.

Further, we must remember that political activism can only go so far. An unsaved 'pro-lifer' is as condemned to perdition as a hired killer. So goes for the unsaved solar panel maven, and so on.
Our one core job is to preach the gospel. Not just 'John 3:16-ing people, but...here's an example of a friend's practice:

At his Uni there was a large Muslim forum on Jesus. He went along, ended up having a 90 minute discussion with the mufti. The mufti was much challenged; but my friend knew the Koran and the more prominent hadith. He was well versed in Muslim thinking and culture, he keeps reading and thinking and watching sources that analyse Islam; he keeps rehearsing with every public Muslim he meets his talking points. He keeps track of what was successful, what was rebutted, and improves.

At the same time as this function, the Uni Christian group contented themselves with standing by their tables hoping a Muslim would come along! No! We've got to go there, just as Paul did in Acts 17.

It takes work, study, conversation and endless practice. There's no time for 'social activism'.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Pagans might know what they are talking about!

Only kidding.

Well, in one way they might: there is a non-material realm. Only they've got hold of the wrong part of it.

Two podcasts on Truthxchange shine some light:

Karma Summit report by Pamela Frost

and

Karma Summit 2 report by Pamela Frost

The first podcast has a great summary and rebuttal of 'mindfulness' at about 30:00: what it is and what the scriptures give us contrary to it.

The second has a report of the 'fairy cosmology' (at about 35:00).

This set me to thinking of the importance of  Genesis 1-2. This account places the creation in human history (via the 'days'), personalises it (the God who speaks, acts and evaluates..in the same days that we do, showing himself active and present in our history), and demonstrates that the foundation of reality is personal thought: God's. This enables great evangelistic conversations with pagans who probably are aware of the immaterial realm; but the wrong territory within that realm.

Along these lines, we can handle easily detractors who seek to lampoon the scriptures in the report of the talking snake and the talking donkey.

Both are examples of the unseen reality breaking through into the material realm. But this happens all the time. Every time we speak, the unseen realm of our soul: our minds producing ideas and propositionally communicable content) breaks through into the material realm.

We use propositional content to communicate and to do. To give effect to our will.

Yahweh showed that he created a communicable and rationally understandable cosmos with his use of propositional content. A demonstration to us that we engage with 'real' reality!



Communicate the gospel?

I've been thinking about Paul's approach in Acts 17:22 on.

The topics in Paul's discourse are precisely how we should move in this pagan culture we are in.

Creation

Purpose

Relationship

the problem of evil (as we call it these days)

and its resolution in Repentance.


The problem of evil is our 'friend' rhetorically.

Yeshua gives us the example in Luke 13:2-5. Bad things happen; they are to incentivize repentance, to show us the world is dislocated and calls for resolution.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

What should church 'look' like?

On reading the New Testament, one would not get the idea that the church would be like it is in most places today.

The modern Western church, and probably over the entire world, is like the pre-reformation church. The reformation, like most revolutions, merely changed the people at the steering wheel, and some of the fuel, of course.

We still isolate 'worship' into a set of performances in a special room, with a ceremonial talk called a 'sermon'.

Paul tells us otherwise.

The closest thing I got to what I'd call a 'real' church expression was in a small 'church plant' in a lower income area.

First we collected the kids in a bus for Sunday School. We taught SS, then drove the kids home. Back at the church premises we gathered for a pre-'service' morning tea; we chatted, mingled and were a community.

Then we had the 'service' which became a performance of sorts. Another morning tea was then provided, noting that most attendees had not participated in the 'between tea'.

The middle bit was good.

So how might church be at meeting.

Informal, sitting around tables, talking about life, faith and the scripture, a light meal,  perhaps or morning or afternoon tea. Singing, of course, but not as performance, as community.

After we might break into a few learning groups; groups for new, younger, and older Christians.

We might also meet during the week for prayer and conversation, with reading of the Bible together.

For special events: Christmas, Easter, Pentecost we might have special celebrations. Proper liturgy, choir, etc. followed by a special lunch or dinner together.

Once year we might have a conference, or we might alternate a conference and a 'regroup' (not a retreat) annually. These might be at our premises, or away at a special venue.

Years ago we had a men's conference at a hotel in the local mountains. It was great. Not lavish, but good to be in decent accommodation, a room to oneself, good food and lovely meeting rooms.

All this would be tricky for me, as I find a formal liturgical 'service' wonderfully helpful and enthralling. Every time we meet we together read the Bible, say the creed, the confession, respond to prayer and commune together. The 'service' is full of the scripture and its sentiments, all reinforcing of our faith and commitments.

Enneagram, Women and Men

Much to learn from here. A comment to "Gospel Truth or Pagan Lies" at https://youtu.be/B7TDardwrS8

I'm glad he mentioned the enneagram; this piece of NewAge pabulum has regrettably found its way into the undiscerning in the church who are, like the world, detached from the worship of our Creator-Redeemer and so must seek the resolution of sin elsewhere...in the made up world of the enneagram as it is here. The enneagram works by confirmation bias. Being self -centred we tend to see in it what we want to. Mitch Pacwa has done good work on exposing this particular piece of charlatanry in the Christian Research Journal .

OTOH, I must take issue with the family 'roles' at 21:25.

The family in the scriptures is not a command structure. Paul's instructions in the occasional epistles are to oppose the paganized destruction of relationships, where the 'earth mother' is supreme over the male and respect for the male is deprecated. Paul says that women are not to teach this, and indeed it was Adam who was made first and Eve as his helper. I.e. Adam was one who needed help.

Thus, a married man who doesn't listen carefully to the advice of his wife is a fool in the making. Further he is to sacrifice for his wife as Christ for the church. in Galatians it is clear that there is no hierarchy of difference between the sexes ('neither male nor female'). Furthermore, we are taught in Ephesians not to frustrate our children. We must bear that in mind at all times, difficult as it can be. Kindness and putting the other before self are the underlying imperatives of Christian life.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Cute church signboards

We've all seen them; droll or twee church signboards; or even just naff! But at last a good one, IMO:

What if there's more?

Good one!

No fake answers, no dimwitted use of Bible passages. Just a question.

Now, I wonder what the follow up is.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Peter Singer

The humanist philosopher Peter Singer is giving a public lecture in a couple of weeks.

A friend and I have prepared a brochure to hand out there.

We'll mix with the participants heading inside and seek to hand it out, maybe converse.

Maybe we'll ask our youth worker to come along and help, along with the Christian group from our local university, a world top 50! It must have some of the brightest people in the world (sorry, fallacy of composition) studying there; but  I'll bet none of these are interested in really seeking to take the gospel to pagans: not to 'John 3:16' them, but to prompt curiosity - check Paul at Athens. Acts 17. It ended with some wanting to hear more. But also to listen to pagans to understand them, to develop conversation skills.

No, the whole church is in retreat!

Friday, March 11, 2022

A church in retreat

I can see my church rolling back.

We sometimes have 'retreats'. Now we've made it a strategy, it seems. We are in full retreat.

Years ago we helped to found a local educational ministry with other local churches. We can no longer find a volunteer to be on the joint committee. Christians might not like committees, but without them nothing gets organised.

We did have outreach type activities every day of the week. Then it went down to three days a week, now we're down to two days a week. None of these produce any real flow of Sunday attendances or enrollment in short courses, so why do we do them?

Our Easter Fair was a bit of a local thing. Not enough volunteers. Can't run it.

Prayer before our Sunday meetings? No. No time, no interest to convene it.

There's a local 'market' once a month. We could have a booth there and sell crafts produced by our mission partners' villages, offer 'fair trade' coffee (I don't think this has any real benefit, but it would allow us to offer free coffee without seeming to compete with others). Then we could use this for quiet outreach activities with volunteers trained to initiate conversations that lead somewhere. No one is interested.

Our youth ministry has fallen flat. Partly due to demographics, partly not.

We make no contribution to local school religious education ministry.

I don't quite know what we do.

We outsource our efforts in family development to secular organisations with secular commitments including to sex confusion (one organisation we host has terminated an employee for standing against its rejection of men's needs).

We do have some courses that are helpful, but not properly targeted (maybe because these needs are not promoted from the pulpit); we have nothing for developing skills in faith conversation, regular courses in grounding faith (for new Christians), and the bones of Christian faith, practice and history. These only need to be 'term' long: that's 10 weeks.

We don't do anything to celebrate and encourage ministry contributions: I could image both an inaugural celebration for group ministers (servants, the biblical idea, not 'leaders', the worldly idea), with perhaps a special morning tea or lunch, similarly at year end; we could have a celebration of our church's founding; maybe not on the date, but on Pentecost!

In the past we've partnered with a small rural church for encouragement and support, and mutual edification. We lost interest!

We do nothing for men or separately for women; true we have lots of home groups; maybe that's good, but I don't know. Men particularly miss out in church, which are very woman dominated in the volunteering effort, and have few occasions to get together as men and do man things. I don't mean tritely, but just a dinner and a guest speaker three times a year would help. Off that we could develop a men's group for monthly fellowship, prayer and discussion. We did have bi-monthly breakfasts, but they've gone. Another local church has a weekly men's breakfast. Has done for decades. But not us.

We're in retreat.



Thursday, March 3, 2022

A weekend away

Most Christian 'conferences' I've attended are terribly biblical. Usually they amount to a set of sermons: similar content, but longer; so even lower content density than from the pew.

But Christian conferences should spring from Romans 12:1-2. "Transformed by the renewing of your mind" should be the aim.

They could do a couple of things. Give a a Scriptural basis for our thinking about life and the world. Our personal philosophy and its function to critique the world and enable point target evangelism.

Some of the work of Stand to Reason heads in this direction, but not entirely, it is, in the end, Calvinistic (and to that extent not Christian, in my view), and does not take the Doctrine of Creation set out in Genesis seriously. It dilutes and de-historicises it with a materialist time scale.

Ironically, the one who really lays out the path for such a conference would be Francis Schaeffer (ironic because he's both reformed, although not entirely Calvinistic, I think, and rather unclear on his historical location of the creation).

I've just re-read his ground-breaking and re-orienting trilogy The God Who is There, Escape from Reason, and He is There and He is Not Silent. Add to that Return to Freedom and Dignity and Death in the City and you have content for a three day conference that studies, reflects on and activates his thoughts in our contemporary setting.

The conference would presume attendees having read at least the trilogy.

It would be fabulous!

Letter to a minister

Dear Agamemnon,

I think the current preaching program is the first time in more than 50 years of attending churches that I've encountered a program on 'commending Christ'. Excellent.

I think it lays the ground for a more concerted offering that might be considered.

People really learn behaviour change through engagement. Just listening to a talk rarely does it.

Could we look at a series of seminars on Communicating Christ? These would include pre-reading, a short presentation followed by facilitated discussion (such as described by Brookfield -- https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.396.577&rep=rep1&type=pdf ) then break into syndicate groups to work up presentations and engage in practice.

I think the questions that would need to be covered would be:

Why do I: believe the Bible, think Christ resurrected, Yahweh exists.
What about evil in the world?
Doesn't science (evolution) disprove the Bible/Christianity?

The big five.

To a more aware enquirer, the Trinity might be a question as well...that could be a bonus! Or, we could figure out 7 topics...the perfect number.

The important thing would be to get past personal testimonies, as useful as these can be, to the grounds of belief. Why these things are justified true beliefs based on (public) objective evidence.

Another or allied approach might be that of Greg Koukl's. His book 'Tactics' describes an enquiry-dialogue approach to 'talking the gospel' that is of broad applicability.

You might be aware of his work, but here are some links that could be of interest.

Tactics 1: https://youtu.be/aTzh6oVbsKk
Tactics 2: https://youtu.be/dPH7O6saijY
Tactics 3: https://youtu.be/C_NnFJak-B8
Tactics 4: https://youtu.be/Qszn4Gg69Tw


Monday, February 28, 2022

Commending Christ

Our sermonettes this season (pre-Lent, I guess) are about 'Commending Christ': evangelism.

This evening we were told about 'giving one's testimony' and declaring the gospel, and we had some brief words on that.

This was not training, it was....vague encouragement...to? Give a 'testimony' and/or explain the gospel.

Here's what was missing. No one is interested in your 'testimony'; unless you find out that they are, of course, but even there, the important thing in my estimation is to get to their world-view as quickly as possible. We are in an age of subjectivity, so a person who hears your 'testimony' can well say 'Good for you,I'm glad you found something that works for you; cheerio.'

Schaeffer encourages us to find the point of tension between their unavoidable experience of life, of their 'mannishness' and its need for an explanatory contextualisation which only God who is There can give: as creator and redeemer. Creation is the starting point (Acts 17) and Christ is the end point (Acts 26).

Koulk encourages us to ask questions to get information and get them to explain their world view, or belief, or spirituality to find a point of gentle confrontation.

In the end we need to be able to set out why we believe Yeshua resurrected, why we trust the Bible on objective grounds and why we have good reasons to believe that Yahweh exists and is the eternal one.

Our faith is the response to good reasons, not a private incommunicable experience (a Jasperian grasp for significance).

We also had a song, a hymn that talked about this world evaporating like snow...alas; no mention of the New Creation, which is the end Yahweh has for us. Not a neoplatonic nowhere land.


Saturday, February 26, 2022

How to weld a church

A church, particularly a smaller one (I mean one that is fewer than 500 members), might sometimes consider that it is isolated and, well, small. But it still has plenty of options to build its community.

If you are not in a traditional formal setting, you don't use the church calendar to pace your year; except for Easter and Christmas, of course. No Epiphany, Candlemas, Pentecost, and even Lent and Advent don't get a real run, let alone the Christians who've paved the way for us ('saints' in traditional parlance).

So, what to do?

I can think of three major celebrations that each church could and probably should have:

1. End of January

This can be a thanksgiving and dedication gathering for all those who volunteer in various off-Sunday ministry activities and groups, a type of Candlemas: Bible Study/Home Groups, outreach ministries, community service (I mean the community of Christ) groups, etc. A couple of contributions from those involved, specific prayer for their work would be essential components. Please model the prayer on Paul's in the NT.

Combine this with a church lunch, or a dinner that evening with a guest speaker and the whole church gets involved in the wider work of their family.

2. Church anniversary of foundation

Each church has, or can estimate, its date of founding. Celebrate it with a thanksgiving 'service', a review of the recent history and growth, an up-scale lunch or dinner: even a dinner the Friday before in an external location, or catered on site, if possible.

This could be an occasion to invite some local dignitaries and politicians along both to make contact and to perhaps introduce them quietly to Christian life.

If you can't determine the foundation day, then celebrate on Trinity Sunday (or on Pentecost; the anniversary of the founding of the church universal) which floats around (it is a 'movable feast' but you could settle it in mid June). While you are at it, you could expound the doctrine of the Trinity and its connection with the Creation (Genesis 1 and John 1), or the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, if you are thinking of Pentecost. Indeed it could be a whole week of teaching, learning and prayer on the theme.

3. End of November

At the start of Advent, and the end of the traditional church year, a bookend for the End of January, but this time, thanksgiving for the work and ministry of volunteers; perhaps not a lunch or dinner this time, but an  up-scale morning tea might be in order, where the volunteers can take the role of waiters to the congregants.

New staff

Whenever new staff, part or full-time, are engaged, a church welcome, dedication and thanksgiving needs to occur. At a church a relative attends a new administrator commenced work and it was merely mentioned in the weekly bulletin. A new minister gets all the razzle, yet Paul includes 'administrators' as ministers of the church. See 1 Corinthians 12:28.

She should also have been brought before the congregation, perhaps asked a couple of introducing questions, prayed over and her role explained.

These are all means of building community and enriching church life, of people getting to know each other, pray with each other and appreciate their brethren. To engage with the mission and vision of the church (the scriptural mission and vision, not the cooked up ones of contemporary interest).

Non-Calvinist; all welcome!

Almost a slogan for a church notice board.

But, no. Just some links:

Soteriology 101 YouTube channel and non-Calvinist references.

Dr Flowers' Soteriology 101 website.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Integration, but not like the maths you studied!

I'm re-reading for the third or fourth time Schaeffer's trilogy: The God Who is There, Escape from Reason, and He is There and He is Not Silent. Wonderful to refresh and think through the books, all quite short (and nothing like the length of the twaddle by Jaspers, Heidegger and Sartre, for example).

In the final of the trilogy 'There and Not Silent', FS makes the point that without knowledge of the infinite-personal and propositionally communicating and thinking creator, people have no point of existential integration. I use 'existential' not as the Existentialists use it, but as pertaining to existence...I probably mean 'ontological', but I prefer the force of 'existential'.

Perhaps the recently blossoming trend of one's own identity being formed almost solipsistically, and without reference to any concrete prior state is a result of the existential detachment that comes from denial of the real world. This world can only make sense in the light of the propositional revelation in history of the eternal-personal creator Trinity. The revelation is information that places it, and our being in it, in the continuous line of history from the creation.

Thus a person 'identifies' as a man or a woman, without that identification having any real meaning...indeed, I'd say that the subject has no idea what it means to so identify; it amounts to a mere narcissistic gesture in the absence of any grounding for who one is. It seems to be the loneliest thing. And this drives a narcissistic competition in the realm of sexuality; 'gender' as it has laughably transmogrified into of late. And so we have all sorts of lexical concoctions that describe nothing but perhaps serve to stabilise or give some vague status to the perversion of the moment.

This analysis maybe provides a point of contact for us with people who make or admire such claims, for steering them to the reality of their dilemma: the tension between the claim for identity, the yearning for what is, in the materialist or pan-everything-ist (to adopt FS's term) cosmos that denies access to any possibility of true identity. Where the soul is unanchored because it denies that an anchor is possible or desirable. Nihilism is the result.

The rebuttal to this might be a counter criticism that our point of reference in the eternal-personal-triune Creator is just another bunch of words. But this fails to appreciate, and the point must be driven that, no, this is about what really occurred in history, in the history that we are in and continuous with, and is propostionally derived from prior personhood in the triune Yahweh who has always and necessarily been and always will be. The world is really real and from his love; but broken by our rejection of his love for our own proud attempt to displace it. This act is discordant with reality and so fails abysmally.

We know all this is communicable to us, propositionally, and occurred in our history, because Yahweh connected his presence and action to our domain of being by matching the unavoidable tempo of our domain: he worked in defined and specific days, as we do, and created describable 'sets' of beings and substance propositionally in the terms in which we experience and know them. We can thus can trust them to be truly true and that our knowledge of them and ourselves, and of our creator gives us significance of an ineluctable eternal dimension.

Redemption is the real movement of resolution and only comes, only can come, from our repentance of the rejection of our Maker and defining ground of all that is.

We all have to walk through door-ways and not walls.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The polite minister

I now understand why the practice of (a) the minister of a church standing at the door to farewell people at the conclusion of a meeting/gathering/service and (b) his moving the parishioners along, is important.

It has become 'twee' in modern circles, it seems, as I've rarely witnessed it.

This evening, for the nth time in recent months I've taken a young relation to her church's early evening 'service' attuned to younger people. She found her friends and had a great time.

I saw a couple of people in my age group, but fundamentally experienced 'demographic dissonance'. It is observable as virtual invisibility of oneself to younger people.

The older people I saw were absorbed with the floor staff and each other. I waited for a short time, but not being happy to sit in a pew alone for an extended period, I left.

The senior minister was near the door, but absorbed in conversation with another staff member. Here's what should be a standard instruction for church staff: the service is not the time for business.

No minister was available to greet waifs such as myself, so, for the nth-1 time I left without being greeted or having anyone to greet.

So the old rite of the 'door-minister' and a polite handshake and some pleasantries took on its true relevance. It ensured no one left un-noticed, un-greeted, or un-befriended.

But, I omit, one person did notice me. I paused to glance in the foyer at the church magazine. A young girl, of about 18 months of age approached me and listened intently while I chatted with her! Maybe she was rostered on for greeting this Sunday. No one else approached me, so I waited for my charge in the car.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Astronomy and the Bible

In his video Heiser seeks to lampoon the Genesis account.

My response:

"the sun created after days...how does that work?"

Here's how it works. 'Day' is a unit of time; it is the unit of time that circumscribes our experience of life within the creation. As a unit of time, it needs to be calibrated. Thus, what type of 'day' is this? Here's the calibration that tells us what type of day: it's an 'evening and morning' type of day. This makes it the type of day that we know, experience and live within. A unit of time passes without any marker necessary (so we don't need to wear a watch to know that our lunch hour will pass in one hour); indeed that's why the markers of time could be created after the unit was communicatively established to tell us that God created in the history that we experience. 

The creation week was not merely contiguous with our history, but it was continuous with it. God shows that the creation is not a pagan myth off in fantasy land, and God is not the pagan nonsense god (compare the trash-talk in Enuma elish), he is the one active, present and personal in the historical domain that we are in. The 'days' serve to place the creation in the continuity of the reality that defines our life-world. God is thus the God near, present, and with us (Genesis 3:8 illuminates this), setting the stage for the theophanies throughout the Bible and culminating in the Incarnation!

Thus we don't need the speculation of some who imagine a 'temporary' light source to produce the diurnal lighting variation of the the day, all we need is the names of times in the day to denote the type of day. The irrelevance of lighting variations is evident if one has traveled in the arctic circle in summer. At 11pm one knows it is late evening and time to sleep, even though there is sufficient light to read a book by. 

A related issue often used to misunderstand the Creation is the creation of light before the sun. Francis Schaeffer deals with this quite adroitly in Genesis in Space and Time  (although he fluffs on the historical significance of the 'days', inadvertently de-historicising the whole creation) in pointing out that the creation of light indicates, must indicate, the creation of the entire energy field that is basic to the physical cosmos. 'Light' had to be created first for the rest to follow, something the ancients could not have known. Without its energy substrate, the sun would have been a mass of inert de-energized 'stuff' (the dark?).


Saturday, February 12, 2022

Denomination-styled prayers

Each denomination has its own prayer styles.

For instance, from a thousand miles one could identify this prayer as Anglican:

Lord God,
we have sinned against you;
we have done evil in your sight.
We are sorry and repent.
Have mercy on us according to your love.
Wash away our wrongdoing and cleanse us from our sin.
Renew a right spirit within us
and restore us to the joy of your salvation,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Baptists do it differently, thus:

Lord God,
we have just; sinned against you;
we just have done evil in your sight.
We are just sorry and we just repent.
Just have mercy on us according to your love.
Wash away our wrongdoing and just cleanse us from our sin.
Just renew a right spirit within us
and just restore us to the joy of your salvation,
in your name, amen. 

The primary liturgical word in some Baptist circles is...'just' and no one knows why.

No one knows why prayers are ended with 'in your name'. Perhaps a misunderstanding of what it is to pray in Jesus name...one can only guess!

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Get to 'amazing'

Letter to my minister:

When you talked about the basic element of the Bible, I thought of the Shema: almost right, but I liked your reliance on Genesis 1:1. The basic teaching here is that 'base' reality is personal; or rather personhood is basic to and the source of reality, explicated in the subsequent verses. We live in a thoroughly materialistic intellectual environment with inevitable overlays of post-modernity (the great reaction to a materialist conception). Contemporary neo-paganistic 'self-ism' is the response to its futility.

Your words about communicating our faith reminded me of being urged as a young Christian in the late 60s to 'tell my friends about Christ'. without any guidance whatsoever. Most attempts ended in a shambles as I had no way of connecting my 'church world' to their everyday world.

I think a Christian needs to be able to cogently answer three questions and have three answers; an arresting 'elevator pitch', a longer 'coffee shop' response, and a fulsome conversation maker.

The three questions are:
  1. Why do you go to church/what's church about/what's in it for you?
  2. Why do you read the Bible?
  3. Why are you a Christian?
There are three types of answer:
  1. the objective
  2. the 'what's in it for me' and
  3. the teleological
But all answers should be able to lead to:
  • the reliability of the Biblical text and its content,
  • that it truly speaks about the reality of human life and experience/the dilemma of evil and its frustrations, and
  • that it is true.

The end game is to get to two crucial matters: why we have excellent grounds to believe God is, and excellent grounds to accept that the resurrection occurred and Jesus is who he said he was.

I was, when I was baptised, urged to 'bring people to Christ'. Pretty hard for a 12 year old to comprehend, but what we need to do is equip people to have conversations about faith that 'put a pebble in the shoe' of our listener. Not a log in their path, or a cliff ahead, but a grain of challenge to their worldview. If every Christian in Oz could do this....amazing!

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Is church really 'safe'?

I was recently looking at the variety among Christian denominations in respect of the Child Safe Standards, recently brought into legislation in NSW.

There seems to be a remarkable lack of both imagination and insight in the name of the various approaches. They seem to be themed around the double bind of 'safe church/ministry'.

A double bind typically creates an internally contradictory message: a sort of gas-lighting. Thus, 'Safe Church' sends the message that church is not safe. Just like Roz Ward and her Marxist colleagues sought to make out that schools would not be safe without her insidious indoctrination of children in destructive immorality.

Unfortunately we live in the shadow of Gillard's vindictively mounted Royal Commission which failed to discover the obvious: child abuse arose because the law was either indifferently enforced, or, in Victoria, ignored while abusers were sheltered by police. Fundamentally it was a problem due to Government failure.

But, as Saul Alinsky would remind: never let a good crisis go to waste (for the Marxist cause).

Church is safe, it's the vehicle of ultimate safety in this corrupt and fallen world. Not that we shouldn't bring good and godly order to ministry and be as sharp as eagles in protecting the vulnerable. After all, we've all read Jeremiah 17:9. But the Child Safe Standards are a good idea; at last the Authorities do their job.

Surely we can come up with a term for this that reflects a Christian ethos though, rather than ape the Marxist scare tactic. 'Ministry Care', 'Good Order', to reflect Paul in 1 Cor 14:40, even simple 'Ministry Standards', seems fine to me. They don't carry the can for Gillard's project and avoid the paradoxical insult of 'Safe Ministry', like we've agreed to reform our wicked ways.
 
I currently work within a denomination that provides training in line with the Child Safe Standards, its called 'Creating Safe Spaces'; a double bind, as thought the spaces we use for ministry would otherwise be unsafe. Safe Ministry is used by another denomination.
 
Here are some alternative names for such training. Free to use!
 
Ministry Prep(aration)
 
Good Order Work/Ministry
 
Baseline (or Ministry Baseline)
 
Performing Ministry/Ministry Performance (Skills)
 
Ministry Place-making

Ministry Conduct

Ministry Skills and Awareness

Ministry Participant (Awareness/Skills) (Certificate)


Friday, January 28, 2022

Paganism swallows the church

One of the quaint ceremonies of government, the ABC, of course, business and some community groups is to intone an 'acknowledgement of country' without a trace of mock seriousness before every meeting, scratch of chin, burp and cough.

No, the last bit is satire.

Churches? Some too, I've mentioned elsewhere.

My objection boils down to two aspects of church life tracked in the Bible and illustrated just to make sure we understand.

1. Galatians 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

2 Corinthians 6:14

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers; for what do righteousness and lawlessness share together, or what does light have in common with darkness?

The 'acknowledgement' apart from being anachronistic splits the church, makes two different classes of Christians; seeks to partition off parts of the body of  Christ from others. Given its reference to the historic animism of Aboriginal Australians it also brings this paganism into the very heart of the church: where we meet together and the Spirit is present, we defer, usually at the very start of our meetings, to the land 'totem' that possesses its inhabitants. WRONG.

I've got to ask, did Paul suggest that the Ephesians acknowledge they are in Diana's city and say 'hi' to the priests of Diana, giving that demon precedence over the gathering of Christ's church?

Did the priests when they entered the promised land first of all acknowledge the demon Baal and its priests? Did they acknowledge the priests of Moloch?

No. Here's what God thought of Baal: 1 Kings 18:25ff

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Conflict of visions

1. Comment in reply to another comment on Warner Wallace's video on the Old Testament's touches of knowledge about the cosmos.

The putative conflict between science and 'faith' is not about the ordinary facts, hypotheses or ever-changing theories of science. It is rather, about the modern underlying dogma of materialism that dominates the philosophical attitude of most modern scientists and indeed, ordinary people.

This is the conflict: has God spoken the cosmos into existence, or is is merely an unexplained 'given' that means nothing. At root the conflict is of worldviews. The worldview of metaphysical materialism (which undoes itself oxymoronically) on the one hand that tells us that nothing means anything (no one lives that way, by the way) and on the other hand the worldview of the Bible is that everything means something because it is the creation of the loving God.

2. The video opens with comparison of Genesis 1 and modern neo-Darwinian evolutionary synthesis. This comment also appears:

Some valuable material here. I would object to the idea that the creation order in Genesis 1 contains science, though. What it contains is a report of factual events. The only 'science' pretended is evolutionary dogma, and that is not science, it is a rehash of ancient mythology. In itself it is a non-credible attempt to say that life made itself by accident; that the vastly complex information system and its material carrier producing interlocking chemical processes 'just happened'. An assertion that has no basis in observation.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The risk of reading verses of the Bible

Some people seem to think that the Bible is a collection of verses. That is, of isolated sayings collected together.

No. The verses serve the purpose that numbering lines does in a legal brief. The system of verses and chapters is such that it preserves reference points across different formats of the text.

The Bible's books are generally just that, books. Usually of narrative (leaving aside the Proverbs and Psalms).

Thus we don't read 'verses' we read passages. Paragraphs or groups of paragraphs are the usual narrative units. Reading 'verses' will get you mislead.

Alongside misunderstanding the ancient world it leads to a few problems.

I read in The Daily Chrenk two typical such problems.

He talked about the horror of  'an eye for an eye' type of punishment for crime, and the equal horror of visiting the sins of a father down two generations.

What he missed was 'an eye for an eye' is a command for proportionate punishment. Punishment that fits the crime. So don't punish a poke in the eye with demolition of the perp's house, or incineration of his harvest, for example.

The three generations of inherited sin is contrasted with the 1000 generations of good. This is teaching that under God's covenant 'sin' dies out quickly, or its ramifications are dissipated across very few generations, whereas the good has an extraordinary enduring benefit to the descendants.

You can read more here: Leviticus 24:17-23 and Exodus 34:7.

The next one is about Noah's ark. Genesis 7:4. Noah and his troop had to sit in the ark for 7 days doing nothing until the flood came?

Nope. 7 days of frantic activity, storing and cataloging food and other stock, planning and trialing feeding and waste disposal systems, practicing ark management routines.

This was a static 'working up' period with the luxury of a stable platform. It's similar to the start of a long ocean yacht race. For a couple of days before hand the crew is on board 'working up' the yacht, their patterns of work and rig changes. Very busy periods in both cases.


Monday, January 10, 2022

The contents of an atheist's mind?

If an atheist claims that she merely doesn't believe in God, she must have a reason, or else she's made a blind 'leap of faith'.

If she merely doesn't believe in God, she must therefore entertain the possible fact of God's existence. That is, the claim that she has no belief about God's existence, on her account, has nothing to do with reality apart from the reality of the contents of her 'belief-set'. Thus she must entertain the possibility that in reality there is God.

So what would overturn that possibility? What would confirm the belief as being true to reality or disconfirm it as being untrue, or, on the balance of probabilities that it is not true?