Copyright © 2005 Nathan L. Bostian

I love being a youth minister.  One of the most amazing things that I am privileged to do as a youth minister is to watch as young men and women give their lives totally over to the Lord.  To see that "lightbulb" go off over their heads when they realize that Jesus really is real, that He really does have a purpose for their lives, and that they really can know Him personally.  That is an incredible event to be a part of.  But, do you know what is even better than that?  When it happens to WHOLE FAMILIES!

Do you know why?  Because when a teen comes to know Christ on their own, it may be real and permanent, or it may be the "thing" to do this week.  I hate to be pessimistic, but the unconnected teenager is a plant grown in very shallow soil.  It is very hard to keep that plant alive, because they do not have enough support.  They do not have roots.  But when a whole family is devoted to the Lord, then I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the young person will have roots they can grow on.  It doesn't matter if I stink as a youth minister, or walk on water: statistics tell me that those youth that are disconnected from faithful families and disconnected from the Church have a drastically lower chance of staying faithful to Christ as they grow up.  

Let me run through the statistics with you real quick: Most studies tell us that between 90-98% of people who accept Christ do so before the age of 21.  If they don't accept the Gospel before they leave high school, chances aren't good they will ever accept the Gospel.  Now, here's a surprising statistic: Who do you think would have a better chance of staying a devoted Christian when they become adults, teens who attended youth group regularly or teens who attended regular old Sunday services with their parents?  You would think it was those teens who had the super-cool youth minister who could present the faith in ultra-hip totally relevant ways, right?  Wrong.  

Actually, teens who are brought to Sunday services regularly by their parents (even if they are dragged kicking and screaming) are statistically about twice as likely to be committed Church members when they grow up.  Now, teens involved regularly in Sunday services AND regularly in youth group are EVEN more likely to be committed Christians when they grow up.  But, if you are given the choice between either dropping your kids off at youth group or actually attending Church WITH them, attending Church as a whole family, regularly, is the best option.  Now, speaking as a youth minister, I want you to hedge your bets and drop your kids off at youth group too!

I say all of this because there is a perennial idea out there among some that youth group is like a "spiritual dry cleaner".  Some folks want to drop their kids off for a couple of hours and have them returned stain-treated, pressed, and morally clean.  But it just don't work like that!  The Barna polling agency (www.barna.org) tells us that adults who attended church regularly as a child are nearly three times as likely to be attending a church today as are their peers who avoided the church during childhood (61% to 22%, respectively).  

A 1994 survey in Switzerland showed that if both father and mother attended church regularly then 33% of their children became regular churchgoers, 41% irregular churchgoers, and 25% non-practicing.  But, if the mother was a regular church attender, but the father irregular, then ONLY 3% of their children became regular churchgoers, and 59% irregular attenders, and 38% non-practicing.  This is a strong call to parents to be active in the spiritual formation of their kids.  The priest can't do it for you, and neither can the youth minister, no matter how "cool" they are.  It is an especially strong wakeup call to FATHERS.  Spiritual headship of the family does not begin with a man's "authority" as a husband, but in being a servant-leader and being involved with the spiritual growth of your children, especially by being involved regularly in the worship and service of the Church.  There is simply NO SUBSTITUTE for parental involvement in spiritual development, and that goes double for the involvement of fathers.

So, what can we do about it?  Here are some common sense ideas for connecting your family spiritually to Christ on a regular basis.  Try them out and see which ideas work for your family:

1.  Attend Sunday Worship together regularly as a family.  Nothing is a better predictor of Christian commitment later in life than this, and nowhere else can we participate in the Sacrament of Eucharist for the strengthening of our souls.

2.  Make sure every family member is involved with a growth group outside of Sunday worship.  These groups are important because they provide support, encouragement, prayer, and Bible teaching on age-appropriate levels.  Sunday school is one type of growth group, but there are others.  For adults, growth groups may be "small groups", "care groups", or in home Bible studies.  For teens, there is youth group or youth Bible studies aimed at their age level.  If your Church does not have a youth group, you might pray and seriously ask God if He is calling you to start one.

3.  Make Sabbath times that are off-limits to other activities.  This goes with 1 and 2 above.  God gave the Israelites a Sabbath for a reason: for rest, for recuperation, but mostly as a lesson in priorities.  If Sunday worship and growth groups are always put in last place so that every game, every practice, and every special event knocks them out of place, then you are sending a strong message to your kids about how unimportant Jesus Christ is to you, and you are inviting them to model that.  But if you keep Sabbath times holy for God and His Church, you are sending an even stronger message.

4.  Make a practice of blessing your kids whenever you can.  When you say goodbye or drop them off, don't just say "Bye".  Bless them.  Say "May the Lord bless you and keep you and fill you with His Love", or "May the Lord bless you to be a blessing to others".  Or, come up with your own blessings.  But whatever you do: Bless them!

5.  Say grace at meals.  Take turns and have the kids say grace as well.  Let them know that the gifts you are about to receive are from God and it is important to give Him thanks.  My favorite blessing is "Lord Christ, bless this food to our nourishment and us to your service and make us ever mindful of the needs of others.  Amen."

6.  Whenever talking about decisions with your kids, do not be afraid to bring Christ and prayer into the discussion, especially if it deals with moral choices.  You can ask: "What do you think Jesus would think about that?" or "Have you prayed about it?"  Also, do not hesitate to pray with your kids.  Prayer is a great way to end a discussion.  Simply ask God to give both you, and your child, wisdom about what you have been discussing.

7.  I know this might sound crazy, but watch TV or movies WITH your child.  Choose one show or movie a week to watch together that you both enjoy.  You probably should pick a drama, or something with a plot that is easy to discuss.  Then ask questions like: "What scenes stuck out to you?  Why?"  "What was the message that this show was trying to get across?"  "Is this message good or bad?  Why?"  "What do you think God thought of this show?"  "Which character was most like Jesus?  Which was least like Him?  Why?"

8.  Try and create a daily time of prayer as a family.  It might be in the morning before school (I know, probably won't happen), or at dinner time, or before bed.  Gather everyone together and follow this simple plan:

+ First, read a Psalm (or part of a Psalm if it is long).
+ Then, everyone pray at least one thanksgiving.  
+ Then, everyone pray for their needs and concerns.  
+ Finally, end with the Lord's prayer.  

If you need more structure, grab a Book of Common Prayer and follow the "Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families" found on pages 136-140.

9.  I know this might sound even crazier, but have you ever thought of studying the Bible together as a family?  I know, sounds weird.  But, if you want to try it, here is a quick and painless method.  Start out by going through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  Choose small readings that are marked off by section headings, such as "Jesus feeds the 5000" or "Jesus tempted in the wilderness".  Stick to the parts where Jesus talks, which are interesting to discuss.  Reading genealogies can kill a Bible study!  Now, when you gather, follow this pattern:

+  Pray and ask Christ to speak through the reading.  
+  Read the passage and ask: What word or phrase stuck out to you?  Why?  
+  Read the passage again and ask: What does your word or phrase mean to you?  Why is it important?  
+  Read the passage a final time and ask: What is God calling you to do or change based on this passage?  
+  Pray together and ask God to help you do what He has shown.  

You do not have to be a Bible scholar or know ancient history to do this type of Bible study.  You only have to be willing to explore with your kids.

10.  Pray and ask God for other ways to become invested in the spiritual growth of your kids.  The possibilities are endless!


Why do Anglicans baptize infants?

The short answer to this question is that we baptize children of believing parents because we feel it is more Biblical to do this than to make them wait until "adulthood" before making them part of the family of God. You see, the "Baptismal theology" of many Protestant groups (such as Baptists and Independent Churches) teaches that baptism is a sort of "acted out" confession of a personal decision to follow Jesus. It is an outward sign of an inward, personal choice to trust Christ. In short, it is a symbol of how we feel about God.

Anglicans (along with the early Church and most Christian traditions) would reverse this. Baptism is not about what we do for God. It is about what God, through His family, does for us. It is a "rite of adoption" in which we are "reborn" as part of the Church, which is God's family on Earth (BCP pp. 306-308). It is an outward, visible sign of the spiritual reality of being joined with the Church, Christ's body. In short, it is a symbol of how God feels about us: He Loves us and wants us to be His children.

This is a crucial distinction, because if baptism is about our feelings toward God, then we should only do it after we have feelings for Him, that is, after we have chosen to make a mature faith commitment to Christ. Yet, if baptism is about how God feels about us, as Anglicans believe, then God's family should baptize us as soon as possible to make us part of the Body of Christ. Then, within this body, the family of God should raise us up to make our own mature faith commitment in Christ at confirmation.

Much of this comes from how Anglicans understand God's continuing work through Scripture and history. We tend to stress the continuity of the Old Testament with the New Testament. We believe that the teachings of the Jewish prophets and the temple sacrifices before Christ pointed toward His life and sacrifice, and shared in His life and sacrifice. So also we believe the teachings of the Christian apostles and the sacrament of Communion point backward to, and share in, Christ's life and sacrifice. 

In the same way, we see that people were made part of the Old Covenant as infants by the act of circumcision (Gen 17:7-14; Acts 7:8). Circumcision was not primarily about how the Jews felt about God, but about how God felt about the Jews (although mature Jews tended to take very seriously their circumcision, just as mature Christians take very seriously their Baptism: Rom 3:1-2). Circumcision was done to bring the children under the promises and protection of the covenant family of God (Rom 4:9-11; Gen 17:14). It was then the job of the family to raise those children to have a mature faith as dedicated disciples of the one true God (Deu 4:9-10, 6:4-25, 11:19).

Now, we believe that baptism is to the Church as circumcision was to Israel. In fact, the New Testament draws an explicit connection between circumcision of the Old Covenant and baptism of the New Covenant (Col 2:11-12). But baptism differs from circumcision in one respect: circumcision was for male children only, but baptism is for males and females (Gal 3:27-29). Perhaps this is because the Old Covenant was limited to one ethnic people and focused on one location, the Temple, while the New Covenant is for every tribe and tongue and not focused on any single location (Deu 12:4-11; 1Ki 9:3; John 4:19-24). The universal nature of the New Covenant is represented in the universal application of baptism.

Yet, just like under the Old Covenant, the parents and extended family of the Church have the duty to raise up the children of the Covenant to have a mature faith as dedicated disciples of Christ when they come of age (Eph 6:4; 1Ti 3:4-5). This explains many things in our baptismal service. First, you will notice that we have parents and God-parents involved in baptism, and it is the job of both to ensure that the child is raised up to believe in Christ (BCP p. 301-303). But not only is it their job. 

It is also the job of the entire congregation, and that that is why everyone present re-affirms their own baptismal covenant and promises to raise the child according to that covenant (BCP p. 303-306). Once the child is of age, and can make an adult, informed, choice to believe in Jesus, then they come up in front of the congregation and promise, for themselves, to follow Christ (Deu 29:12-15; 1Ti 6:12-14; Rom 10:9-10). This adult faith decision is called "Confirmation" (BCP pp. 413-419).

Non-infant baptism Churches do the same thing, using different rituals. These Churches "dedicate" the child to the Lord when they are infants, and promise, along with the rest of the Church, to raise the child to follow Jesus. When the child gets old enough, they are expected to receive Christ, make a public confession of faith, and then get baptized as a sign of that commitment. They replace baptism with dedication, and replace confirmation with baptism. While I am sure the Lord accepts this ordering, the more Biblical order seems to be the way Anglicans and most other Christians do it: infant baptism, then adult confirmation.

This ordering of things comes from the very first Christian sermon ever preached in Acts 2. In it, St. Peter is speaking to Jews who had been circumcising their children for over a millennium. These people were hard-wired to include their children in God's Covenant by means of a physical ritual. To these people, Peter says: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins... the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off..." (Acts 2:38-39). Notice that the promise is "for you" (those adults who could hear and understand the message) and for "your children" (the Greek word here is used for small children and infants). It is fairly clear that he meant that baptism was for adult converts AND their children.

If St. Peter had meant "only adult believers can be baptized", then he would have had to specially explain that that to the crowd, who would have expected to include their children under the New Covenant rite of Baptism just as they were included in circumcision. Yet, we find no such special instructions from Peter. In fact, we find the opposite. We find that the apostles baptized entire households on a regular basis (see Acts 16:15-33, 18:8; 1Co 1:16, 7:14). In ancient times, someone's "household" or "family" included all babies, children, wives, and servants in the house. Yet, not just any infants are baptized, but only those who's parents are confessing members of God's Family. If a person comes from a non-Christian home, then they are gladly baptized as adults, just like the apostles did for countless adult converts (see Mat 28:19-20; John 3:22-23, 4:1; Acts 2:41, 8:12-13, 18:8).

A last misconception about infant baptism is that Anglicans baptize infants as some type of "get out of hell free" ritual, as if personal faith were not necessary to enter salvation. Scripture clearly states that it is not external washing that cleanses sin, but personal faith accepting the gift of a clean conscience before God (1Pe 3:20-21). We are saved by grace through faith, not as the result of works, even the work of Baptism (Eph 2:8-9). 

In the Creed, we state that baptism is "FOR the forgiveness of sins", just as St. Peter said in Acts 2:38. Some think this means that baptism causes the forgiveness of sins, but that doesn't mesh with the rest of Scripture. When I say that I got presents FOR my birthday, it does not mean that my presents caused my birthday (as if presents could make me exist). It means that I got presents because I it was my birthday. In the same way, both the Bible and the Creed mean that we are baptized into God's family because we are forgiven by Him (NOT forgiven because we are baptized).

Baptism does not bring automatic forgiveness or automatic salvation. Instead, because of God's forgiveness, he gives us baptism to join us to His Covenant community, the Church (1Co 12:13; Eph 4:1-5). Baptism is an adoption ceremony into God's earthly family (Gal 3:27-29). By baptism, we are joined to Christ's death and resurrection through His body, the Church (Rom 6:4-5). So long as children are too young to exercise mature faith on their own, their parents' faith makes them "holy" to God (1Co 7:14). Although all people are sinners, God does not hold people, accountable for sin they do not understand (Rom 7:7-11; John 9:41; 2Sa. 12:21-23; Isa 7:16). Thus, those who are unable to believe consciously, such as children, are saved through Christ (Mark 10:13-16). Yet, when they get old enough, they must choose Christ for themselves (Rom 10:9-10; John 1:12-13, 3:16-21). Neither baptism nor circumcision nor any other ritual can make a person right with God if they will not have faith in Christ (Rom 2:25-29; John 3:36).

So, in summary, we do not baptize infants, or adult converts, as a magical act of salvation. We baptize to bring people into the family of God, so that they are explicitly under God's promises and protection for His Covenant community. In the case of infants, it is required that this family help them grow to a mature faith in Christ, and that the children confirm their own faith when they come of age. We baptize infants because this seems to be the clear Biblical pattern given for children of believing parents.


Roundtable on Unity and Authority

OK folks, I have several different types of folk who post on this blog. We are [mostly] Christians who acknowledge the Lordship of the Risen Jesus Christ. I am an Evangelical-Charismatic-Anglican. I have a few sort of emergent Restoration Christians who post. Recently we have been joined in conversation with some fairly conservative Southern Baptists from Fide-O. There is at least one Pentecostal brother who joins in sometimes. And we get liberals, conservatives, evangelicals, catholics, protestants, and everyone in between.

There are five main methods of attaining Christina Unity I know of:

1. The method of shared action: Those who work together stay together
Recently, my buddy Brett wrote a comment that it is an "error" to seek unity on the basis of doctrine, but we should instead seek unity on the basis of ACTION, and specifically striving for the liberation of society in Christ's Name. He notes that historical attempts at unity based on doctrine have failed and resulted in bitter dogmatism and unconcern for the needy (whether the Campbell-Stone Restoration Movement of the 1800's or the World Council of Churches in the latter 20th century).

2. The method of shared doctrine: Those who agree with each other stay together
Others object (somewhat rightfully) that unity can only be sought on the basis of an agreed "Gospel". This is a unity based on shared or agreed DOCTRINE. They rightly note that when Christians try to be united merely as "do gooders" it quickly becomes a watered-down version of Christianity that no longer proclaims the Risen Christ. They note that unity without shared belief and shared vision becomes false tolerance. Just look at what happened to the Social Gospel movement of the early 1900's and the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Lots of Churches joined in both of those causes, but it did not result in long term unity, nor a common shared vision of Christ.

But, if we are talking about unity in the Gospel, who's Gospel are we talking about? Do you mean the Campus Crusade Gospel which gives us four spiritual laws? The New Testament Gospel which retells Christ's entire life? The Liberation Gospel of healing the sick and releasing the oppressed? Furthermore how much doctrinal agreement is necessary? For instance, all Christians agree that Christ's death atones for us. But do we have to also agree HOW He atones?

And one last comment: I do not think it is wise to make the statement that "Well, we just follow the Bible" or "No Creed but the Bible", because there are THOUSANDS of Churches and individual Christians who claim this, and yet STILL disagree over HOW to interpret the Bible. I think we can all agree (except perhaps Steve Rudd) that the Bible is FAR from self-interpreting, and that we interpret it in the context of our tradition. So, we must still determine what basic beliefs, derived from Scripture, are required for Church unity (if that project is even possible).

3. The method of shared worship: Those who pray to the same God stay together
Some say that those who worship in a shared way, especially by partaking communion with one another, make up true unity. If we can all just worship together, it does not matter how we believe, because we are all in the presence of the same God. Yet, if this is so uniting, why do we have such problems in the Episcopal Church right now?

4. The method of shared tradition: Those who come from the same source stay together
This is the basic theory for the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches (some Anglicans, like myself, put some stock in this as well). They can trace their Churches and their ordinations backward in time to the Apostles themselves through the process of "apostolic succession". Thus, they are the fullest expression of the Church because they are the only ones that go back "all the way" to the Bible. But, if this is the key to unity, what about the disunity between Catholics and Orthodox? What about the problems in the Anglican Church (which also has apostolic succession). And then there is the Protestant objection: Just because you go back "all the way" doesn't mean you have it right.

5. The method of shared experience: Those who feel the same Spirit stay together
This is the basic method of Charismatic unity. They have all experienced the Holy Spirit in powerful signs and wonders. Therefore they feel immense unity as Charismatics (and Pentecostals). Yet, if this is true, then why are Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians some of the most arguing, church-splitting folks, in all of western Christendom?

All of these methods for Church unity have strengths and they have weaknesses. I do not believe any of them (at least on their own) make up a proper basis for Church unity. But, we are looking at 20,000+ different sects of Christians that argue and hate one another, and an unbelieving world is looking on and saying "What the $&^%? These guys are supposed to be serving the Prince of Peace? Whatever."

So, here is the Zillion dollar question: On what basis can Christians unite? What does Christian unity look like? What should be our common source of authority for unity?

OK... Now debate (and folks- look at my post on blogging etiquette and lets blog in a way that glorifies Christ!)...


New Look

One of my friends asked me to try something with a white background so it is easier to read long posts... and so, here it is.

Tell me if you like it / don't like it.

Also... does anyone know of another site to get templates? It would be fun to try something more interesting than what blogspot offers, but I don't have time to code the HTML for my own.

May the Lord bless, keep, and empower you, now and always. Amen.


Blogging etiquette and sloganeering

I believe that God made us to be filled with what some call "virtue", and what St. Paul calls "the fruit of the Spirit" (cf. Gal. 5:16-25) or even "the spiritual gifts" (cf. 1Co. ch. 12-13).  In all of these lists "Love" comes up as the first and foremost gift / fruit slice / virtue.  Love may look very different at different times, depending on the need.  Love sometimes comforts and consoles.  Love other times disciplines and rebukes.  The first and foremost thing that Love ALWAYS does is that it always puts the needs and the welfare of others before itself.  Second, it never lies about, curses, or belittles the person it loves, even if it may need to destroy a false idea or rebuke an evil action done by the beloved.

From this central virtue of love then flows various "academic virtues" which should be held to if one is going to participate in a debate on Christ's behalf, and if one does not use these virtues, they are not honoring Christ even if they utter true statements.

First, there is truth-telling: One should tell the truth about one's opponents, and not erect a "straw man" which only tells a half-truth about someone and then proceeds to knock that false person down.  A half-truth is a complete lie, because it is based on only selecting those portions of a person you do not like and presenting that as the whole person.

Better than that, debate should not focus on a person at all, but solely on ideas.  And we should not lie about another's ideas, even if we dislike them.  We should seek to understand the ideas (preferably by reading them in their own words and not merely trusting someone you like to critique them for you), and then after fully wrestling with the ideas can we critique them.

Second, there is integrity: You should honestly present your own ideas as well, and do it in such a way that you point out not only your strengths, but also your own weaknesses.  If you cannot see the weaknesses of your own argument, then have the integrity to honestly ask for critique.

Don't merely "sloganeer" things, either by putting them out as catchy one-liners, or by "proof texting" your favorite five word Scripture phrase, but honestly engage the issues.  Don't try and spin things so that you do not admit where your own weak points are.  This leads to pride, and we all know where pride leads to...

Third, there is reason: This goes with the point above.  Show evidence.  Show why something makes sense.  If you quote a Scripture passage, have the rational sense and the intellectual honesty to defend why that passage(s) should not be interpreted in another way.

Fourth, there is comprehensiveness: If something is worth commenting on, it is worth commenting well.  One liners are just useless, unless, of course, they are to ask a question.  If your comment is a critique, then comment in such a way that you defend your point to the best of your ability and are not just throwing out slogans.

Fifth, there is charity: First, if you are in a debate, believe the best about someone but defend against the worst.  Don't take it for granted that you are "God's chosen messenger" and that they do not love God too.  This has been my bad habit on more than one occasion, and since it drives me nuts when it is done to me, and since I get convicted about it when I pray and read Scripture, I figure I better not do it anymore.  We should assume, unless stated otherwise, that a person loves Christ and is trying their best to serve Him, even if they (or we) may be mistaken.

Along with believing the best about someone comes wanting the best for someone.  The ONLY reason for debate is to bring people closer to Christ.  NOT to win.  NOT to show how smart you are.  NOT to demonstrate your Bible knowledge.  NOT to give someone what they deserve.  The ONLY reason for rebuke is to warn someone away from sin and toward the Savior.  Again, I acknowledge and repent from all of the times I have done this myself.

These intellectual virtues DO NOT preclude using hard words, challenging words, rebuke, irony, or sarcasm.  Jesus used all of these things.  What it does preclude is using these tools in the wrong way for the wrong motives.

Why do I say all of this?  Well, recently some comments have come across my blog.  On my blog about whether or not I will turn Catholic, Jason Robertson made the ever-so-intriguing comment "What?".  Yep, that's right, one word.  Why leave a comment if you don’t actually mean to comment?

So, I went to his blog, and evidently he is part of a blog-ring called "Fide-O" (http://fide-o.blogspot.com/).  It seems that most members of the blog are also members of the same Southern Baptist Church in Murietta California, and they are self described as "Baptistic, Calvinistic".  The blog features a silver-spiked dog collar embossed with all the great slogans of the Reformation: "Sola Gratia" (By grace alone), "Sola Scriptura" (By Scripture Alone), "Sola Fide" (By faith alone), and "Sola Christi" (By Christ Alone).  They flat-out forgot the Reformation slogan "Sola Dei Gloria" (Glory to God alone), and I wonder if this is indicative of their deeper motivation... but I shall believe charitably about my neighbor.

Apparently Fide-O is an attempt to merge "Fide" (Faith), with "Fido" (A large, mean looking Rotweiler).  The whole visual picture of the blog is very aggressive, as if they are the tenacious defenders of the true faith who will literally rip the heads off of those who disagree with them, like a Rotweiler ripping off the head of a Poodle.  Their first English slogan is "Guarding what has been entrusted to us. 1st Timothy 6:20-21".

Yet, this is not what this Scripture says.  For a blog presenting itself as a defender of the Biblical text and true Biblical orthodoxy, it is somewhat perplexing that they re-word a Biblical text to fit their own needs and supply no warrant for doing so (at least if they do, I cannot find it).  On deeper inspection, the text actually reads: 1 Timothy 6:20-21  "O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called knowledge which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you." (NASB)  Timothy was an overseer and pastor of a whole region of Churches, and apparently such a reference means that Fide-O has appointed themselves to take up such a calling.  On what basis of authority is this done?  One wonders.

I suppose they see themselves as guarding the true faithful against "worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments".  "Worldly" chatter is "Bebelois", which appears to mean irreligious myths (1Ti 4:7), as well as immoral activity.  "Empty" chatter is "kenophoria", and is literally "empty sounds".  It seems to apply to heretical teachings as well as useless talk.  Yet, it is not only issues of doctrine and morals that Paul is writing against here.  He is also speaking of empty ways of speaking about things that do not matter.  Using similar wording, Paul also says "Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.  For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-- such a man is an idolater-- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words [Greek: kenoi logoi], for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient." (Ephesians 5:4-6)

Thus, foolish talk, course joking, and a lack of thankfulness are all out of place, along with moral and doctrinal heresies.  Yet, does the very blog that purports to defend against "empty talk" not also engage in it by sloganeering, proof-texting without citing warrant, name calling, and erecting straw men out of their opponents?  On one hand, this blog seems to have quite a few witty, informed articles written from a very staunch southern Baptist perspective (the doctrinal statement of their Church is from the FBC's "Baptist Faith and Message").  One great recent example of good blog writing is this one written to defend the acceptability of Christians playing video games for recreation.  

On the other hand, their blog also includes a bunch of sloganeering and demeaning other people's positions (not to mention flat out demeaning other people) without citing support for their rhetoric.  A great example is this one, where they quote a person who has a dissenting vision of God's will, and ALL they can say is: "Heresy alert! Be warned, the following may make you angry, depressed, or even confused. But we must stay alert and prepared to defend the Scriptures... Typical postmodern heresy: false/non exegesis, inclusivism, sycretism, feminism, mysticism, and disregard for authority of God or His Word. . . just to name a few."

Did they actually defend any Scriptures?  Or did I miss it?  Parroting off a string of polysyllabic pseudo-philosophical words does not constitute a proof of one's point, and neither does it defend Scriptural orthodoxy.

One of their favorite people and movements to criticize is the emergent Church movement, headed by people such as Brian McLaren (see http://www.anewkindofchristian.com/).  On one of their posts, they manipulate a comic book to make fun of the emergent Church movement, and put a huge, grotesque brain on a character they name "Emergent Man", with the ironic assumption that emergent Christians think too much and have no true faith in Christ.  

After the ever-so-insightful "What?" comment they put on my blog, I responded with the sarcastic comment:

"Wow! Look at the size of the brain on tht guy! If that is what happens to people who disagree with you, then you have sure taught me a lesson. I don't want a big brain like that. I want a small brain, because it is only people with small brains who sit down and shut up who can really love Jesus. Thanks for showing us all the error of our ways with your super-cool comic book cover.  Or, maybe I should just quote the comment you left on my blog: "What???"

To which, Scott Hill of Fide-O fame replied:

"Nate I would say if the comment you left on Fide-O is the best you got, then you will do well to stay right where you are. I am glad to know you are schooled in Post-modern theology, because you really let it fly on that comment."

Stay right where I am?  Is that some kind of threat?  Will you let the Fide-O Rotweiler pounce on me?  Do you want to meet out in the schoolyard after school is over to rumble?  Are you going to beat me up?

And still, no substantive comment.  With all the bravado and machismo given off by Fide-O, there does not seem to be much substance, just a bunch of sloganeering.  You might say that Fide-O's bark is much worse than his bite.  It seems that a blog composed of Jesus-loving folk, who seem to have critical thinking capabilities, should be able to come up with better comments.  In fact, they claim to be able to.  On this post they clearly state "This blog is for us to become better men and to be on the front lines of theological thought... To those who are not our peers, we welcome your input as well. It is about iron sharpening iron, so jump in here and break out the whet rock. Remember though, for iron to sharpen iron there is going to be friction."

How then will they become "better men" if so much of what they do seems like sloganeering and name calling, and so little is substantive?  I do not have a problem per se with what they are critiquing, but what they do, does not so much seem like critique, as straw-man name-calling.  If their critiques were truthful, well defended, rational, comprehensive, and charitable, that would be one thing.  But, looking at the replies I have gotten and the blogs I have read, this is largely not the case.

They also state that they "need to protect our congregation from the wolves that arise from our own camp. The men who have known the truth and rejected it; this is what we are fighting against. These are the men who are leading millions of “truth seekers” into their heresy. Their motives may be pure. Church history will verify that most of the heresies were begun with pure motives; but motives do not matter where the truth is involved. This blog gives us an opportunity to hone our skills in this battle."

Why fight against individual "men" (I suppose they actually mean people, and not just males, since they rage against women too)?  Why not fight against ideas?  Should we demonize people, or the ideas they hold?  Does not St. Paul say: "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Eph 6.12)  The very writers of Fide-O agree with this implicitly because when they speak of Church history, they speak of the "heresies" (i.e. the ideas) as the problem, not necessarily the "heretics" (i.e. the people who held the heresies).

It is not demonic people we fight, it is demons.  It is not people we curse, it is the cursed ideas, the "doctrine of demons" (1Ti 4:1) that we fight against.  Yes, sometimes when people will not cease and desist teaching heresy and living in sin, we must disfellowship them, but that is ONLY if they are part of OUR fellowship.  Who are we to judge another man's servant (Rom 14:4)?  Judge his ideas?  Yes.  Decry her actions?  Yes.  Judge their souls, call them names, and make straw-men out of them?  No.  That is God's business.  We hate demons and their doctrines.  We heal the demon possessed.

Furthermore, it seems very, very odd that this group of Baptists should devote as much energy as they do to critiquing the emergent Church movement, especially in light of their denomination's past.  The genesis of the Baptist movement was a rejection of traditional forms of Christianity (namely Scottish Presbyterianism and the State Church of England), and a decision to become more relevant to the emerging Enlightenment culture of the 17th and 18th centuries.  The Anabaptist movement of the late 1500's was the first movement in 1300 years of Church history to insist on baptism of adults, but it was decidedly anti-society, and it was not reformed in theology.  So the Baptist movement took up three strands: 1. The emerging individualistic and democratic sympathies of the Enlightenment; 2. The Anabaptist insistence on personal choice and adult Baptism; and 3. The Reformed / Presbyterian insistence of God's grace and positive engagement with culture.

Out of these three strands, they formed a radically new vision of Christianity that was radically democratic, individualistic, and radically heterodox for its time.  Now it has fossilized into a type of orthodoxy, that takes for granted that "this is the way we have always done it".  They have done some radically creative engagement with emerging culture in the past, such as spearheading the "Sunday School Movement" and the "Social Gospel" movement in the last century (both movements were radically criticized by fellow Baptists in their time, but now are taken for granted or even seen as old fashioned).  But, many Baptists have been dramatically on the wrong side of other social issues, such as slavery and women's suffrage.

It does not seem that Fide-O takes into account this historical development, and instead sit in an a-historical bubble telling themselves that the way they do it now is the way it has always been done and always should be done.  Thus they take it for granted that the emergent Church must be wrong for even questioning this, or for even questioning certain aspects of the "Baptist Faith and Message".  This a-historical critique seems very shallowly and superficially done on their site.  They do not even seem to honestly take into account how their own "faith and message" has adapted to emerging culture over the last 400 years.  

The Baptists have a very short history, and are still a movement in their adolescent years, and as adolescents, have much to learn from their elder brothers in the faith such as the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholics.  If the authors of Fide-O would have paid attention to the article they replied on the first time, they would realize that while I hold emergent sympathies, I am not fully on board with the emergent movement.  Some of my views and critiques of the emergent movement are found here and here.  I am actually much closer to Catholicism or Orthodoxy than I am to the emergent movement.  Perhaps Fide-O will learn to have a more creative engagement with these other traditions than shutting one's ears and hurling anathemas.

What is quite sad to me is that the pundits who seem to do the most sloganeering are the ones that most firmly believe in the inspiration, reliability, and authority of Scripture.  Another example of this is my debate with Steve Rudd, a very conservative Church of Christ elder, found here.  I firmly believe that the Bible is true from cover to cover and it is the only reliable, God-given source of data about the Divine-human relationship.  It is the best source of information to talk about what God is, how we know God through Christ, and how to live by the Spirit's power.  Yet, the people who seem to believe this the MOST are the ones who present it in the WORST way, by sloganeering, proof texting, and non-rational argument.  It is like sitting on a mine full of diamonds and choosing to throw them at people we don't like rather than build something beautiful out of them.

It is my sincere hope that all people involved in theological blogging in Christ's Name (my self included) will raise the bar of debate and re-discover the intellectual virtues of being truthful, well defended, rational, comprehensive, and charitable.    

My theological history

When I get in discussions and debates with people, they often call me by a label that I think is completely off base.  Fundamentalists call me liberal.  Liberals have called me a fundamentalist.  Other times I get called a Catholic or an "Emerging Church" person.  So what am I?

I am like you.  I am embodied: I have a limited view of the world around me that is partially formed by my maleness, and I am a finite creation that has a hard time being "objective" about anything.  I am en-cultured: a product of a late 20th century Western consumerism that puts a whole lot of emphasis on personal choice and freedom, and still has a lot of hangovers from Post-Enlightenment modernism.  I am en-languaged: I have a way of thinking about things formed by speaking English, and reading Greek, Hebrew, and a smattering of Latin.  I am en-traditioned: I have come to view God and the world around me from certain traditions, namely the Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Anglican Traditions.  I am en-ritualed: I have certain rituals that I have developed and taken on myself from others that help me relate to my spouse, my child, my congregation, my friends, and my God.

We all are products of our free choice operating within our bodies, our cultures, our language, our ecclesial traditions, and our rituals.  This shapes everything we do, from what we buy at the store to how we read Scripture.  So, the question is: what has shaped me and who am I today?

My ecclesial pedigree includes three "conversions", each of which has deepened my understanding of Christ and my devotion to Him:

1. Conversion to Christ: 1992 in a non-denominational Bible Church, and mentored by a Dallas Theological Seminary student who now ministers as a southern Baptist preacher.  During 1992-1996 I attended a variety of Bible, Baptist, and Non-Denominational Churches, as well as Campus Crusade for Christ and a variety of campus Evangelical organizations.  My best friend and I were also the "resident Christians" for a year at the athiest-agnostic student group at Texas A&M.  This led me to love Christian apologetics, especially the Norman Geisler and Josh McDowell versions that were popular with Campus Crusade.  I also learned Greek and read a whole bunch of books on different aspects of doctrine from within the Evangelical orbit (especially a bunch of those "four views" books put out by Intervarsity Press).

2. Conversion to the Holy Spirit: 1996 after getting to know several pentecostal professors at Central Bible College and Assemblies of God theological seminary, I recieved the fullness / baptism / release of the Holy Spirit accompanied with speaking in tongues.  Also have experienced prophecy, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, discernment of spirits, and some experience with healing ministry.  During 1996-1999 I attended Assemblies of God, non-denominational, and independent Christian Churches.  Also, during this time I started reading systematic theology, of mainly the Charismatic variety (such as Wayne Grudem, J. Rodman Williams), the evangelical variety (such as Ryrie, Demerest, and Erickson), and Reformed (such as Calvin, Berkhof), as well as some more Catholic apologists (such as Peter Kreeft and CS Lewis).

3. Conversion to the Church: After a call from God, and a series of interesting events and dissappointments, I wound up in a place I never thought I would: as a youth minister in the Episcopal Church.  I was supposed to teach confirmation, which entailed finding out what confirmation is all about, which entailed understanding why we baptise infants and then confirm them as young adults.  Immediately I was in a theological crisis: because I will not teach what I do not believe is true.  So, trying to understand infant Baptism drove me back to Calvin, who drove me back to Augustine, who drove me back to Eusebius' Church History, who drove me back to the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Fathers.  Thier arguments and the example of their piety hooked me: I came to believe in sacraments and the fact that the Church is the living sacrament of Christ, His body in the world.  I was confirmed as an Anglican on December 9, 1999.

Now I am a youth minister in an Episcopal Church that calls itself "Biblical, Sacramental, and Growing in the Spirit", which means that we try to strike a balance between being Evangelical, catholic-liturgical, and Charismatic.  We are a blend of all three, and at any given service you will find a fairly "high-church" liturgy, with contemporary praise and worship, with healing ministry in the back of the sanctuary, with evangelistic preaching (and sometimes even an altar call).

Since my "conversion to the Church", I have read a great deal of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology, as well as many more books on systematic theology from Reformed, Evangelical, and Charismatic sources.  I have just begun entering into Anglo-Catholic theology, which I love.  I am also going to seminary to study for the priesthood, which includes a much deeper engagement with so-called "liberal" theologies.  In addition, I have engaged deeply in study of "emergent" and "post-evangelical" writers such as Brian McLaren.  

All in all, I would have to say that my theological orientation is most tilted toward CS Lewis, and I see him somewhat like a personal hero, for a great number of intellectual and practical reasons.

My ecclesial pedigree is best summed up by the "about me" statement on my blog:

::WHO I AM::
i am a jesus follower... but not the blue-eyed, blonde-haired, american jesus of the "religious right" or the "liberal left"... i try to follow the miracle-working, life-invading, career-destroying, dead-yet-risen-again, quirky and sometimes wierd God-man, Lord and King of the Greek Scriptures... so far i am failing pretty badly at following him... but talk to me tomorrow.

If C.S. Lewis attended an Alpha class with Mother Theresa, Socrates, Mike Yaconelli, Brian McLaren, and Peter Kreeft that was taught by Agnes Sanford, St. Thomas Aquinas, and John Polkinghorne. When they all went to dinner afterward and discussed how knowing, loving, and following the Holy Trinity impacted their lives: that would be my theology.

God has called me first and foremost to be a man of God; then a husband to Kim; a father to Elise; a pastor-teacher to my youth and families at Apostles; a scholar-writer as a student at Perkins theological seminary and candidate for the priesthood; and a coach-leader on the Diocese Youth Commission and Young Adult Committee. Whew!


Forum on the Holy Spirit

I posted an article on how the Holy Spirit has moved in the life of the Church, and it has generated some great conversation with Mike (http://mdmcmullin.blogspot.com/) and Matt (http://mtapie.blogspot.com/).  I would like to post that conversation here:

Mike said...

Enjoyed your post. I stumbled onto your blog. Pentecostalism was a breath of fresh air in the stagnation of modernity. Unfortunately, the pentecostal and charismatic movements traded their fresh intimacy with the Spirit for credibility and respect from evangelicals. I have several friends who are a part of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. I am intrigued by the symbolism in formal liturgy and enjoy seeing Christ presented as the great mystery in as done in so many orthodox churches. I'd love to know more about your background. I am an emerging pentecostal seeking to find ways to bring a new depth into the worship service. I don't mind using formal liturgy as long as it leaves room for the Spirit to interrupt.
Nate says...

Thanks!  And by the way... this guy is a thinker!  If you are in the Tyler TX area and want a Pentecostal Church that will challenge your brain as well as warm your heart, it looks like Mike's Church is your best bet...

Check out his blog and his comments below...

Mike said...

I'm not sure that I by "outbreaks" of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the unseen worshipper who has been present and willing to move upon the church since pentecost. The fact that we only have "outbreaks" recorded throughout the medieval period does not mean that they were the only experiences happening, just the only ones recorded that we have today. Nor do they mean that the Holy Spirit was not willing to move when the church could present itself as a pure bride.

The gift of the Holy Spirit (the baptism of the Holy Spirit) is given freely but can only be received subsequent to a clean heart. The awakenings perhaps provided a vehicle by which the church could seek the holiness of God and be surprised to find His Spirit.

Concerning what role theology plays in all of this. A couple of books you might like "Theological Roots of Pentecostalism" by Donald Dayton; "The Everlasting Gospel" by William Faupel (JPT [Journal of Pentecostal Theology] Supplemental Series); and the "Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition" by Vinson Synan. Also, accepted by many (including Harvey Cox and Jurgen Moltmann) as possibly the defining work on "doing" Pentecostal Theology is Steve Land's "Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion for the Kingdom" it is also part of the JPT supplement series and I believe there are several articles reviewing/responding to it by Cox and Moltmann in the JPT. There is a ton of things being written right now in both JPT and Pneuma that may help you on your journey.

Concerning 'the beauty of the gospel of Christ" being replaced by a forced experience or by what I interpret that to mean as a manufactured experience. I'm sure it happens. But I don't think it's wise to make a sweeping statement. I'm not sure of your tradition or if you are pentecostal or if you are even sympathetic to the pentecostal experience. Again I would say, the Holy Spirit, the unseen worshipper, is always waiting for an experience with us. To borrow from the eastern orthodox, if the Father is the "Lover", his Son the "beloved" and the Spirit the "love" between them which is given to us, then "love" is always waiting to express itself. Sometimes in a tender way, sometimes in a demonstrative way (which perhaps is manufactured at times by eager believers) but always he waits to show his affection to us.

Compare it to a love relationship on earth. I love my wife and show affection to her. I am more loving/affectionate at different times for various reasons (good day, bad day, sick, tired etc). But on my anniversary, I buy her flowers, a card, perhaps a gift, take her out to dinner and make sure she knows that I love her. That day is a celebration of our love and covenant. I don't wait for her to ask me, or for her to remind me, we do it every year. Sometimes are more memorable than others but always an experience of love happens. Is the beauty of our love replaced because I forced an experience on that day? Certainly we worship God everyday, and desire his Holy Spirit to be with us at all times, but during worship we celebrate that love and we seek an expression of it. It may look different from week to week, but we are right to be hungry for it and to seek it. That hunger that sometimes leads to manufacturing soemthing is often times a misquided response to the call of the Spirit (unless the person has ulterior motives of pride or greed).
Nate said...

Howdy Mike,

Yep, one of the things that I am is a "Pentecostal", and yes, I have received the gift of tongues and use it regularly, as well as intermittent experiences of gifts of healing, prophesy, word of wisdom, and the like.  So I am a card carrying member of the "spirit-filled" community and able to speak not only as a critic, but as an "insider".  

However, I am also Anglican and rooted in Catholic-Orthodox theology, and am a critic as well.  As such, I do have one correction and one question to make about your response:

First, the originator of the Lover-Beloved-Love analogy of the Trinity is Western, not Eastern.  It is found in "De Trinitate" by St. Augustine.  In actuality, there are some older Orthodox writers who have a big problem with this analogy, since it implies a "double procession" of the Holy Spirit from the Father AND the Son, instead of a single source for the procession of the Spirit in the Father.  The "love analogy" of the Trinity is actually one of my favorites and is mentioned on other articles on this blog, and I think it is compatable with Orthodox Theology, so long as one insists on "proceeds FROM the Father THROUGH the Son" instead of "proceeds FROM the Father AND the Son".

This gets really technical about why this is a big deal... and I may devote a future blog article to it... but not right now.

Second, here is my question to you: If the Spirit requires a "pure heart" in order to manifest Himself in signs and wonders, then how do you explain all the scoundrels and rascals throughout Church history who have been filled with the Spirit?

One might mention Moses, Samson, Samuel, Saul, and David (in the Old Testament) and Peter (in the New Testament) as people who had serious purity and holiness problems, and yet were used powerfully by the Spirit in signs and wonders.

Furthermore, one might mention the scads of morally questionable evangelists and faith healers in the last century.  Either you have to say that they are all fakes, or you must admit that the Spirit sovereignly chooses to use people who are not completely holy and pure for His work.

In short, you have to come up with a criterion for explaining WHY the Spirit uses some people and not others, if it can in fact be shown that he does use people who are impure and non-holy.

I think a better "criterion" to explain who the Holy Spirit uses is NOT holiness or purity, but rather yieldedness and surrender.  I think the broken and the humble are those used by the Spirit, and not the prideful (which is one of the main points of my article, however bad I may have stated it).

What do you think?

Mike said...

Thanks for the reply.

My apologies on not giving Augustine his do.  I agree with you on procession from the Father through the Son.

In response to your second point: "If the Spirit requires a "pure heart" in order to manifest Himself in signs and wonders..."

I don't think the Spirit requires a pure heart to do anything.  The Spirit is a pure heart and can manifest Himself, testifying of Jesus, regardless of the condition of those who he may use.  A pure heart allows the Spirit to be manifest within the believer.  The fruit of the Spirit may grow only on a branch that abides in the vine.  The manifestations of the Spirit move upon us and through us according to God's sovereignty.

How does Caiphas prophecy if purity is a condition? [Jn 11:49-52]   I guess I'm agreeing with your point here.  

Perhaps I'm splitting too closely the work of the Spirit within the believer, within the church and within the world.  I have not fully developed this enough but I think of the work of the Spirit in terms of purity, position and presence:

1 - I believe that purity of heart is required within the life of the believer to truly abide in Christ.  Fruit will not be produced within the believer without it.

2 - I believe that the Spirit often uses position to manifest himself in the church (the bishop, priest, deacon, tv evangelist).  While the person holding the position may not posses purity, the positions of authority set in God's church do.  ("do nothing without the bishop").  Baptism by a corrupt minister still counts.

3 - The Spirit is manifested in the world through the prophetic presence of the church.  Again, individually the church may possess no piety but as the bride of Christ we are spotless and stand as a prophetic presence even symbol of grace (sacrament) to the world. (Rahner is excellent on this topic)

I don't think this gives justification to the thought that the Spirit will move despite personal holiness, so why even try.  Our love for Christ will facilitate motivation to do his commands.  Just some thoughts.
Nate said...


Great reply!  I think we are close to saying the same thing...

I think you would agree that the Holy Spirit can AND does manifest Himself in powerful ways in individuals and in communities that are not completely pure or holy in some areas...

And I would agree that we should never, ever give up on striving to be sanctified and holy, AND I would also agree that the Holy Spirit is able to manfiest Himself MORE POWERFULLY in those who are more holy, specifically if one considers the most powerful spiritual gift of all: Love.

I think we would both agree that the most powerful AND most holy spiritual gift is Love, and those who are truly filled with agape love are those who are the most holy people.
Matt said...


I am still studying about this but can you group Pentacostalism with St. John of the Cross under the same "outbreak" of the Holy Spirit category? I think many of the movements you listed are very different from each other. Just curious for an explanation there.

And, what role does theology play in all of this? I believe that many of the "movements" of the Spirit that we see today are somewhat forced by those who lead them. They believe, as you mentioned, that an experience must happen and so they make it happen. It seems as if the beauty of the gospel of Christ is replaced, as in the days of the Montanists, with an experience. I think we hunger for and force authentic experience because we do not hear the theological "weight of glory" (as C.S. Lewis would say) that is in the basic Christ-with-us-life trumpted (from the teaching office) as the powerful, earth-shaking message that it is.

Great post.
Nate said...

First, I want to say that I think you have stumbled on a VERY IMPORTANT reason for the waning of the power of the Spirit after "institutionalization" sets in.  My hypothesis is that the Spirit wanes because of the spiritual pride that is bred in such movements, and that then "fossilization" comes from a lack of humility and lack of dependence on the Spirit.  I think this is partially right, but you add in another aspect:

Instead of God-in-Christ-through-the-Spirit being the "end" or the "goal" sought after in such movements, the Spirit becomes the "means" to gain the "goal" of personal experience, or "the Holy Spirit high".  Revival movements always start as Christ-centered outbreaks of the Holy Spirit, where people are hungry for God above all else.  When people hunger for God, he pours out His Spirit on all flesh to bring them to Him.  BUT, after awhile, once a certain "experience" gets associated with the movement, whether healing or tongues or ecstatic experience, people start seeking the experience rather than God.  They start seeking the effect, not the cause.  They start making God a means, not an end.  And God never honors being a means.  He demands (rightly) to be the end and goal of everything we think, say, and do.  And when an experience stops being about seeking God, and starts being about seeking the 'experience", God withdraws His Spirit from it.

Second, let me explain why I lump in John of the Cross with the Charismatic movement.  In my mind, I find four basic typologies of Church bodies and movements in history.  Each of them focuses on a specific aspect of the Divine-Human relationship found in the Nicene Creed.  That is to say, there is a stream of spirituality and theology devoted to each of the Divine Persons of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, as well as a stream devoted to creation and humanity.  Each of these "streams" has various tributaries and sub-developments that also merge with other streams to form new developments.  My basic typology is this:

The Liturgical-Sacramental Stream:
+ Focusing on the glory and majesty of God the Father and the power of His grace
+ Strengths if used rightly: A Sacramental view of creation; The deep joy of liturgy and ritual; Connectedness with the Body of Christ through time and space;  Us-and-Jesus, not just Me-and-Jesus.
+ Drawbacks if used wrongly: Dead and rote traditionalism; Fear of excitement and imbalance; Frozen-chosen attitude
+ How we miss out if we ignore it: Beauty, mystery, and history.
+ If Christianity is marriage to Christ: Then this stream focuses on getting dressed to impress and go out on the big date
+ AKA: high church, catholicism, sacramentalism

The Protestant-Evangelical Stream:
+ Focusing on the salvation of the Son and the power of God's Word
+ Strengths: Centrality of Jesus and personal conversion; Love for Scripture; Passion for apologetics and evangelism; Reformation spirit: constantly making the Church better
+ Drawbacks: Protest-ant spirit of continual criticism of others; Religion of the head not the heart- Distrust of experience and non-rational movement of the Spirit; Christian bunker mentality of isolating the "elect" from everyone else; Lack of historical roots.
+ How we miss out if we ignore it: Conversion, commitment, and simplicity.
+ If Christianity is marriage to Christ: Then this stream focuses on getting to know each other personally and deeply enjoying each other's company
+ AKA: low church, reformed, "fundamentalist"

The Charismatic-Mystical Stream:
+ Focusing on the experience of the Spirit and the power of His gifts
+ Strengths: The freedom of the Spirit; The power of spiritual gifts; The victory of Jesus over forces of evil; Passionate music; Direct, personal, mystical connectedness with God through the Spirit
+ Drawbacks: Religion of the heart and not the head; Charismania, imbalance, and experience seeking; Christian elitism: we have the "experience" so we are better than you
+ How we miss out if we ignore it: Excitement, power, and praise.
+ If Christianity is marriage to Christ: Then this flavor focuses on the joy, the power, and the passion of making love
+ AKA: renewal, revival, Pentecostal, spirit-filled

The Liberal-Humanistic Stream:
+ Focusing on the needs of God's creation and the power of God's people
+ Strengths: Speak as prophetic voice to unjust social conditions; Helping the "least of these"; Relevance: honest engagement with the needs and concerns of culture and learning; Concern for salvation of creation and ecological justice.
+ Drawbacks: Revisionism; Bowing to the spirit of this age; Compromise with the world.
+ How we miss out if we ignore it: Compassion, social justice, and reason.
+ If Christianity is marriage to Christ: Then this flavor focuses on the needs of the kids and the extended family
+ AKA: progressive, modern, contemporary

Within this typology, you can see why I see John of the Cross and all of the mystics as carrying on a charismatic-mystical stream that has flowed through all of Church History.


Why I love to hate institutionalized religion

One of my youth asked me tonight about how we experience the Holy Spirit today in our world. That led me to tell a short version of how the Holy Spirit has been experienced in Christian history from the Apostles until now. The history went something like this:

30 AD: Pentecost, and a Holy Spirit revival with signs, wonders, and speaking in tongues for the next century.

ca. 150 AD: The Church begins to be institutionalized in response to threats from Gnostic sects and the need for a stable way of transmitting the faith.

ca. 200 AD: The montanist movement claims experiences of the Holy Spirit outside of the institutional Church, and the movement not only has healings, tongues, and prophecy, but is also severely wacky in a bunch of ways. As a response, the Church begins to insist more on set forms and rituals than on ecstatic experiences of the Holy Spirit. About this time, reports of miracles among the Church fathers begins to wane.

ca. 350 AD: The Church becomes the religious arm of the Roman State. As a result, the monastic movement gets started. Experiences of the Holy Spirit, including healing and miracles, becomes common among the "desert fathers".

500-1500 AD: Every hundred years or so (give or take a few decades) there is a grass roots monastic revival that takes place in the Church in response to the dead formalism of the times. This happens with many of the Spiritual Masters of Eastern Orthodoxy, Benedict of Nursia, Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and especially Francis of Assisi.

All of these revivals are brought on by the spiritual deadness and ritualism of the institutional Church, from which the Holy Spirit "breaks out" through several charismatic figures, resulting in fervent preaching, mass conversion, miracles, signs, wonders, healings, and even tongues-speaking (or what is called "the jubilations").

But, all of these revivals lead to spiritual pride (we are better than the institutional Church because we are more fervent, and more faithful), as well as institutionalization (doing it the way it was done by the spiritual masters, until it is just done by rote without enthusiasm). This in turn leads to the very institutions of revival needing to be revived in the next two generations.

ca. 1500-1600 AD: Holy Spirit revival happens all over the place during the reformation, with the result of outright persecution of revivalist groups because of the discomfort of the ruling Protestant and Catholic factions, who want as much stability and order as they can have, since they are literally at war with one another in the wars of religion that ravaged Europe.

The result of the wars of religion was a very sterile, scholastic, disputational form of Christianity that starved the vitality out of faith. This, combined with fears and doubts raised about Christianity in general arising from the hatred and suffering it caused in the wars of religion, led to a deadness and loss of vitality in European Christianity that paved the way for the Enlightenment and Deism.

ca. 1750 AD: The first great awakening happens. The soul-starvation of enlightenment religion results in a profound unleashing of the Holy Spirit on both sides of the Atlantic. Revivalist preachers such as John and Charles Wesley, George Whitfield, and Jonathan Edwards are noted for fervent preaching, mass conversion, miracles, signs, wonders, healings, ecstatic utterances, weeping shaking, falling under the Spirit's power, and other experiences.

But, like before, the movement becomes institutionalized, then fossilized, and the revival then needs a revival.

ca. 1850 AD: The second great awakening. Second verse, same as the first.

ca. 1905 AD: The Pentecostal revival happens starting from Azusa CA, and Topeka KS, and then spreading worldwide. Emphasis on a second crisis experience after conversion of being "baptized in the Spirit" accompanied with the evidence of speaking in tongues. The revival is also noted for fervent preaching, mass conversion, miracles, signs, wonders, healings, ecstatic utterances, weeping shaking, falling under the Spirit's power, and other experiences, but the IDENTIFYING factor is tongue speaking. Most who undergo this revival are kicked out of their denominations, resulting in the formation of new denominations such as Assemblies of God, Church of God in Christ, and Foursquare Churches.

Then, after a generation or so of revival, what happens? The movement becomes institutionalized, then fossilized, and the revival then needs a revival. Also, there is also a profound sense of spiritual pride that surrounds the badge of "spirit baptism accompanied by speaking in tongues", and many Pentecostal Christians come to look at other Christians as "second class" because they lack the experience.

1959 AD: The charismatic revival happens. Very similar in theology and style to the Pentecostal revival with two important exceptions:

1. The revival largely stays within existing denominations, and the denominations make room for charismatics to function and stay in the same body. Thus, there are charismatic movements among Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, etc. Many independent churches are formed as well, but not many denominations result from the movement.

2. Charismatics are less prone to say that speaking in tongues is the ONLY way to be baptized in the Spirit, but there is still a general sense of spiritual pride: they are better than other Christians because they have the "experience".

So, right now, we are in the middle of the institutionalizing of the charismatic movement. The Spirit has moved on as the movement has fossilized. The question is: where will the Spirit break out next?

After laying all of this out, one of my youth said something like "So, the institutional Church is bad? It sucks all the life out of the Spirit?"

But, that is not exactly what I meant. Yes, I definitely see a STRONG tendency for the institutionalization of the Church to fossilize it, but I do not think this is NECESSARILY the case. Humans are a hopelessly ritual people. Ritual is built into our DNA, and that is not a bad thing. We have rituals that we do with out spouses, our children, and our friends. So it seems only right that we have rituals that we do with God.

Not only that, but the leaders of Holy Spirit revival in the middle ages were always very ritual-oriented people. Monastics like Francis, Bernard, John, and Teresa were steeped in ritual, in praying from prayer books, and in keeping daily offices of prayer and regular partaking of the sacraments. Yet, their ritual was EMPOWERED by the Spirit.

So, if it is not ritual that causes spiritual deadness, then what is it about institutionalization that causes deadness? I think it is ultimately spiritual pride: the idea that we have it all right and we are better than others because of how God has blessed us. This pride leads us to think that if we just do the ritual right, we have somehow bought God off and done our duty. And I say this about ANY ritual, whether it is the ritual of going to Mass in a Catholic Church, or the ritual of the altar call in a Pentecostal Church.

When an institution becomes prideful, it becomes dead, rote, and fossilized, and the Spirit is no longer able to use it as a conduit of His grace. And the quickest way for it to happen is to be in a Church that denies that it is ritualistic and institutional. Every Church has its ritual and its institutional structures, whether written or unwritten, and its members have expectations. Yet, those Churches who deny this and say that they are "non-traditional", "relevant", and flowing with the Spirit, these Churches are the most in danger of becoming fossilized because they do not know the danger they are in.

One of the reasons I am in a highly ritualized Church is that in admitting our ritual, and admitting that it is a constant struggle to keep the ritual "fresh" and "faith filled", we are confronting the problem head on instead of pretending we are not ritualistic. We know what we are: human. We know how we relate to each other and to God: through ritual activities. We know that it is easy to slip into rote, fossilized ritualism. We know what we need to do: consciously, deliberately learn to use the rituals as tools to connect with God, while always allowing the Holy Spirit to intervene and interrupt the normal routine.

And that is another thing about having a normal routine: it easier to identify the Holy Spirit when He wants to make changes. In some Churches that always try and make everything "fresh" and "new", you never know what is the move of the Spirit and what is the desire for novelty. Standardized ritual, when used correctly, does not hinder the flow of the Spirit, but provides a tool, a launching point, for the Spirit to act even more powerfully. The trick is to really pray and mean the liturgy, not just mouthing the words, and to look for the movement of the Spirit when He sovereignly chooses to move in power.

This is, paradoxically, why I am in love with the institutional Church and its liturgy. The stability of the liturgy encourages the free move of the Spirit, just as the basic harmony and melody of a song encourages the free movement of improvisation in Jazz.

The answer to providing a place for the Holy Spirit to move in power is not to devise some new way to worship, or to keep everything mixed up all the time in worship, or to get rid of every ritual we can. That is just to substitute order and stability for novelty and frivolity. Rather, the answer is to embrace our ritual, to breathe new life into it, and celebrate it as a tool by which we can encounter the Holy Spirit.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.