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 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 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 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)