Monthly Archives: October 2009

Separation of Church and State, Money or Jesus?

A few months back, there was a whole lot of fuss when a zoning official required permits for a home Bible study. When all was said and done, no doubt due to a lot of outrage, it ended up being dropped.

The sad thing is, there were Christians in favor of requiring permits, or even putting restrictions on home Bible studies… All in the interest of keeping their property values higher. It was not the importance of people coming to Christ, growing in discipleship, or even exercising freedom of religion, but more so their property values. Money appeared an even greater concern than the constitution, the great commission, and even the salvation of souls.

Its a sad deal indeed, when Christians put aside discipleship, when they put aside the needs of the local church, when they put aside the constitutional provisions for freedom of religion. Society as a whole sees this, and then no wonder (as taken from Newt Gingrich) that American culture has been marked by “a steady increase in hostility to religion over the last 70 or 80 years, in ways that are a profound challenge, both to Western Civilization and to America as we know it.”

I’m into church history, not so much our nations history… but 1000:1, Quakers would be spitting tacks with the cavalier and greed driven attitudes of much of contemporary Christianity when it comes to freedom of religious practices.

Sure, Christians will fuss over loosing a nativity scene, loosing a display of the ten commandments on public ground, or restrictions on prayer in schools. Those are easy, as they are of little to no cost personally to fuss over… but for far too many, as soon as the call to follow Christ comes, and that it might mean personal monetary sacrifice, Christ looses. I know this all too well… its easy to get caught up in mammon, which is why I tend to be pretty hard core about not doing so going forward.

Now, for those who do not want to sell out Christ or the constitution, this is not the type of deal where one can sit back fat dumb, and happy. For those drafting the zoning regulations, they get pounded on by the economic powers that be, so much so, they may forget things like the constitution, and if they do remember it, they will try to whittle around it due to the pressure they are under.

Even for the faithful drafters of legislation, they may feel they are duty bound to do so as they have to serve all, and thus exception for faith related issues seem out of place. Then add in that the the constitution is so commonly sold out, restricting freedom of religion may in a perverted sense may actually appear the “right” thing to do.

The best way to make sure Jesus is kept first, and that the constitution is upheld is for Christians to be proactive. Its a whole lot better to make ones views known, and lobby before regulations are approved, than having to jump hoops, and spend a kazillion dollars to get them overturned after the fact.

As such, lets look at a few different points of view when it comes to the zoning issue, and practices of the church.

Churches need the ultimate flexibility when it comes to what their work may entail. Perhaps its a commercial looking operation, say a religious bookstore in a facility, or perhaps a kitchen to prepare meals, or perhaps a soup kitchen, or even a homeless shelter, daycare, or school which might fall within a churches domain, or something unusual like a waiver against noise ordinances when it comes to church bells or carillons.

Even public safety issues like new/remodeled construction building codes for kitchens, schools, daycare, housing, while possibly good ideas could interfere with faith practices. If so, and if following Christ and the constitution are held in high regard, reasonable exemptions should be lobbied for and drafted into the regs. The key is reasonable, ie the FDNY code is incredibly intense, and churches are exempt from some parts, but as a touring Christian musician years ago, well, lets just say I learned of some exemptions the hard way. Those lobbying went too far, reasonable is key when it comes to public safety.

Usage on the other hand is another matter entirely. Pretty much any usage a church is led * to via scripture, needs to be as free as possible from government restriction. First, in order to foster the churches mission, but also to uphold their constitutional rights to freely practice their religion.

Fortunately, the courts sometimes do come down on the side of the church and the constitution in such matters. That is of course, when the church has enough money to take it that far, or a religious freedom or constitutional rights organization such as Alliance Defense Fund or the ACLU can step in. In far too many cases, the church simply gives up or runs out of money, and both they, and the constitution loose out to greed.

By the same token, there does need to be a limited level of definition. Just as churches are granted freedom to practice their faith as they see fit… unscrupulous entities must not be allowed to take on the appearance of the church to run rampant over a communities zoning laws. Ie, Acme widget manufacturing, should not be able to call themselves First Acme Church of Widgets to get around zoning codes. The courts have also read through the lines, when a commercial entity tries to call themselves a church in order to build multifamily or transient housing in areas where such is outside the scope of such usage, they do almost always get their chain yanked.

Of course, between the two, ie a church whose primary functions are worship and service, and a disguised church whose primary function is the activity they wish to bypass zoning for, is a significant amount of grey area. Accessory service of churches can include quite a range of activities, some of which might come pretty close to making them appear primarily not so much like a place of worship anymore. Thats the subtle nuance that sadly leads to a ton of headaches and legal hoop jumping.

I do think the process is something every Christian should be aware of and take part in, such that their church doesn’t get put in the position down the road of having to choose whether to follow Christ or follow the law of Caesar. Most certainly there should never be any restrictions on home Bible studies, nor any other activities that clearly fall within the churches mission. That is of course, unless one ranks the importance of money more so than the words of Christ.

*one caveat… churches, and even home Bible study groups should be good neighbors. Just because the constitution grants freedom to practices ones faith, it should not result in a damaging witness to ones neighbor. Blocking neighbors driveways by errant parking, excessive noise all hours of the day or night is not cool. Bearing in mind of course that the cross is offensive… The word of God should never be compromised to placate those who take offense.

3rd Use Imbalance Eavstweetdropping #C21

One of the the issues that’s concerned me for a period of time, is imbalance in the 3rd use of the law. At first, it was just a perception, but having talked to numerous folks, in addition to what I picked up this morning, I’m pretty convinced its hosed up in many churches.

The third use of the law in a nutshell is preaching the law to the regenerate, as contrasted with the first use, civil order, and the second, to convict folks of their sin/their need for Christ.

The reason for preaching the law to Christians, ie the third use from SDvi

(21)So, too, the doctrine of the Law, in and with [the exercise of] the good works of believers, is necessary for the reason that otherwise man can easily imagine that his work and life are entirely pure and perfect. But the Law of God prescribes to believers good works in this way, that it shows and indicates at the same time, as in a mirror, that in this life they are still imperfect and impure in us, so that we must say with the beloved Paul, 1 Cor. 4:4: I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified. Thus Paul, when exhorting the regenerate to good works, presents to them expressly the Ten Commandments, Rom. 13:9; and that his good works are imperfect and impure he recognizes from the Law, Rom. 7:off ; and David declares Ps. 119:32: Viam mandatorum tuorum cucurri, I will run the way of Thy commandments; but enter not into judgment with Thy servant, for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified, Ps. 143:2.

But one needs to make a distinction as to who one is preaching too, again from SDvi.

(26) Accordingly, we reject and condemn as an error pernicious and detrimental to Christian discipline, as also to true godliness, the teaching that the Law, in the above-mentioned way and degree, should not be urged upon Christians and the true believers, but only upon the unbelieving, unchristians, and impenitent.

***** to me, SDvi26 is a prohibition of fire and brimstone preaching to Christians, other folks mileage may vary.

I’ve been following C21 via twitter feed. Its fascinating to pick up the audiences perceptions, albeit its nothing like a video feed or even better being there in person.

A common thread through the twitter feed from Seth Donovan’s talk.. if only church was a place for love, and a place where one could be whole, ie decompartmentalized.

Its as if, believers are getting whacked with the third use so much, and either confession and absolution is skipped, or church is buried so much in whacked third use, confession and absolution arent even heard. Granted, not all churches provide for corporate confession and absolution, nor do many Lutheran churches make known, much less even promote private confession and absolution.

Another possibility is folks are putting on such a show, a perception of violating SDvi21 ie perfection is possible, or even must be the norm in church. A friend uses the term snowglobe Christianity.

Thus, if one adds in imbalanced third use, plus the inavailability, or downplaying of confession and absolution, or promoting snowglobe Christianity masks, absolutely things are going to get backed up in a huge way. Its like opening a fire hose, but then blocking off the sewer. There are going to be problems.

The solution… stop it, just say no to imbalanced third use of the law. If someone is going on a power trip over third use, whack em. Ok, well thats oversimplification, and its unlikely anyone would go that far. On the other hand, once a problem is brought to light, to sit back and do nothing, or just crab about it is as nearly as bad as creating the problem in the first place.

I would hope that when folks return form #C21, they will have their ears on to detect problems, and when they do, heart to heart talks will occur. Conferences are about useless, unless one can come back to ones own venue, and at least apply 1 thing which was learned. Addressing imbalanced third use is likely one of them, and its a biggey. I believe it creates many more stumbling blocks for believers, than nearly any other activity in the contemporary church. Overuse and imbalanced third use would be nearly equivalent to skipping the law entirely.

Youth Ministry Whoa, Relevance, or ???

Phil Johnson tweeted a comment on this article, and I went whoa….

I generally don’t like to judge another Christians faith practices, nor approach to ministry, as I do fully believe we are all on the same team. About the only time I get really concerned is when abuse, toxic soteriology, or other such issues present themselves where individuals are or potentially are being hurt or damaged.

In this case, short of the inherrant dangers of decision theology, if appropriate safety precautions are taken, there really isn’t much danger, other than perhaps folks throwing up, or a few folks being offended. Kids are smart, they are not going to go out and do stupid stuff like this on their own. Same deal with adult/youth interaction, ie as soon as a line is crossed from gross to seedy, such will be called out in a heartbeat. Granted, if this were a lone ranger or even small church ministry, I’d be a whole lot more concerned with the potential for crossing that line.

That being said, there are bigger issues here, and they transcend nearly all of ministry, not just youth ministry trying to go viral.

The first issue: Why on earth do we try to be relevant by going exclusively contemporary? Egads, you want fear factor, look to the Bible and John the Baptist. You want sex in the city on steroids, look to Esther, or Songs of Solomon. You want crazy animals, look at the bear eating youth in Elijah. You want an action adventure story, look to Moses. The old testament mirrors just about every crazy crowd attraction in todays society. Even Burning Man is in the OT, albeit one does need to add in a bit of later history, but its a pretty clear connection in scripture. The problem of course, is not a lack of material, but more so I think the ability to draw the connection to it. Perhaps even an element of “what will they think?” if we mention some of the more intense, violent, or sexual stories in scripture, especially is ones church tends to downplay those parts of scripture.

The second issue: Why the numbers game? Why open the door for the possibility of boasting? I think one can be absolutely positively on fire for God, and yet stay far away from worldly promotion techniques. I’m not saying we can’t learn from the world, nor that we should put talents under a cover… but take the high road.

Look at the latest Ipod… do they span, do they use bots, do they promote Steve Job’s over the product, do they use for the lack of a better term, booth bimbos? No, Apple takes the high road… only the seedier products lend themselves to low road promotion. Should we take what is holy, and promote it in a low road fashion? Should we take Jesus, and market Him like porn, spam, or get rich quick schemes? I don’t think so…

None of the above is to suggest relevance, or creative promotion of ministry is to be avoided. Its merely to suggest much relevance is already laid out in scripture, and if there is a choice when it comes to promotion, consider how it may come across to those you are trying to reach. Associating Jesus with Viagra spam is not cool.