Church Planting and Presidential Politics: Just Don’t Be The Other Guy

January 16, 2012 at 7:22 am

I used to care A LOT about politics. I served as President of the College Young Republicans and, for a while, I even wanted to be a lobbyist. But, gradually, over the years, things have changed. My life is not demonstrably different under a Republican or Democrat President and I’m no longer registered as a Republican. Frankly, I’ve lost faith in the power of politics for any meaningful change. But me being jaded about politics is not really what I wanted to think about today.

As I’ve watched the lead-up to the Republican primaries, I’ve been struck by just how unoriginal the candidates are (with the exception of Ron Paul who is not the subject of this post). As each candidate one-ups the others and tell me why they’re the best, the main theme that seems to emerge across the board is that each of the Republican candidates is NOT President Obama. And at the end of the day, that’s all they have to do. At the end of 8 years of President Bush, all the Democrats had to do was run a candidate that WASN’T Bush. It was only to their benefit that they ran an extremely charismatic politician who iced his message with hope of change. But the truth of the matter is that he simply WASN’T Bush and the Republican candidates AREN’T Obama.

It’s disheartening when our politicians run on the fact that they aren’t like the other candidate, but that’s what it’s come to. But, in reality, it’s not all that different from the genesis of many church plants. I’ve been thinking of the idea of church planting lately, especially in Suburbia.

It is not uncommon for a church plant to basically be the result of disgruntled people leaving one church and simply NOT wanting to be like the church they left, so they plant a church. The result is that the mission of the new church is simply that they don’t have to be like the old church. That’s it. Therefore, once they quickly realize this goal, they’ve “succeeded.” The drive to reach people and become more like Jesus dwindles because they’ve already succeeded at their basic goal of not being like the church they left.

But is this really the point of the church? Shouldn’t we all be striving to become more like Jesus, making, maturing and multiplying His disciples? When this is our drive, we will make progress but we will never “arrive.” There should always be the holy discontent of wanting more Jesus, wanting to be more like Him, wanting others to know Him and know Him better.

If you’re considering church planting, please pray that it isn’t simply in reaction to a situation you want to leave. It’s not all that difficult not to be someone else. We’ve got to have more drive than this.

Cain, Compartmentalization and the Holistic Life

November 29, 2011 at 10:36 am

So, another woman has come forward to make sexual allegations against Presidential hopeful Herman Cain. This is not the first woman, nor will it probably be the last from what we’ve seen. The latest woman claims this time, not sexual harassment but a long-term extra-marital affair. Needless to say, Cain’s got big problems.

But, what I think is more interesting is the “defense” offered in a memo by Cain’s lawyer:

No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life. The public’s right to know and the media’s right to report has boundaries and most certainly those boundaries end outside of one’s bedroom door.

Now, on one hand, I can see the point: we don’t need to know every sexual detail of our public peoples. And yet, we are whole people. We may try to live compartmentalized lives, but the truth is that who we are in one area of life is who we are in every area of life. Al Mohler points out:

Character does not end at the bedroom door. Any effort to make this claim will be recognized by the public for what it is. We live in a morally confused age, but there is little confusion about the fact that sexual behavior and personal character are inseparable. The question of character is among the most crucial issues of a political campaign. Americans may come to different conclusions about the significance of sexual misconduct in its different forms (as in the case of President Clinton), but they know better than to accept being told that it is none of their business.

This is exactly the defense used by Clinton during impeachment hearings. What he did in private was private and did not affect his public life. And yet, if a man is willing to lie to his wife without any apparent sense of remorse, then I simply don’t trust him to tell the truth to the public. A liar is a liar. A cheat is a cheat.

Please hear me. I’m not saying we all need to live spotless lives. There’s only One who has ever done that. Nor am I saying that we should hide all of our past (or even current) faults. But it is nonsense to say that the public and private spheres of our lives are not connected. In fact, we could probably push this even farther; who you are behind closed doors is who you really are. What you do, say or think when (you think) no one is looking is more telling about your character than how you behave in the spotlight.

Cain and his team’s reaction to these allegations reminds us that our lives are whole, we do not exist in compartments (though we may live in apartments).

Who are you when no one is looking?

Mitt Romney Is Not A Christian (What’s the Big Deal?)

October 18, 2011 at 9:54 am

As the GOP Presidential race swings into full gear, Mitt Romney once agin finds himself, not only as a front-runner but at the center of controversy surrounding his beliefs. At root is the question of whether or not Mormonism can be equated with historic, orthodox Christianity.

This is an issue I’ve watched with interest over the years. Before Seminary, I worked for a Christian eating-disorder treatment center. Working in the HR department, one of my roles was to perform basic telephone interviews for professional-level positions. Because the center was distinctly Christian, part of the interview was a ten-question section to determine whether or not the applicant met basic standards of orthodox Christianity (yes, this is allowed under the Civil Rights Act 0f 1964). Because this was a job interview, I was not allowed to ask someone’s religious affiliation but there were always two groups who offered up this information: Roman Catholics and Mormons.

It was an interesting thing because, during the three years that I worked there, I saw a dramatic shift. Towards the beginning, Mormons would not pass this section of the interview process. Yet, by the end of my tenure there, Mormons passed this section. This was accompanied by a concerted effort within the LDS church to present themselves as more mainstream “Christian.”

Growing up, when I encountered LDS missionaries, they were very clear that our belief systems were different and that they were not Christians, though they believe in Jesus. Yet, over the years, there has been a decided shift within the LDS ranks. Now, when I encounter their missionaries, they are quite adamant that we are both Christians, just with different emphases. In fact, many of them seem offended when I assert that we can’t both be Christian because we mean utterly different things even though we use the same language. In fact, in response to mainstream concern that LDS beliefs are not “Christian” Mitt Romney said: “Poisonous language does not advance our cause.” Really? Asserting differences is “poisonous?” Isn’t this the foundation of the LDS faith, that everything had been corrupted? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I live in a heavily LDS area. In fact, they are building a new temple nearby. If anything, their temples should reinforce the understanding that the LDS faith is not “Christian” in any sense that anyone has accepted the term for 2,000 years. The notion that there is still a temple which is not open to all undermines the very work of Jesus. When Jesus died on the Cross, the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). Why then, have the LDS resurrected the separation? 1 Peter 2 insists that we are now the “living temple.” Why then should I go to a building? What’s more, Jesus is our Priest (Hebrews 2:17, etc.). The very notion of the temple is a return to the shadows while Jesus is the substance (Colossians 2:16-19).

There are, of course, other differences. In 1844, Joseph Smith gave what has become known as the “King Follett Discourse” which has become doctrine. In this discourse, he insists that “God was once a man as we are now” while Christianity insists that God is eternal, never created (Deuteronomy 33:27, etc.). Fundamentally, Christians and Mormons do not worship the same God. This is made all the more clear in that Christians are Trinitarian, asserting that Jesus Himself is God.

Though there are certainly other differences, including on-going revelation; authority and others, it should be obvious, even at a cursory glance that Mormon doctrine differs significantly from orthodox Christianity. We don’t worship the same God. We view the work of Jesus quite differently. In fact, we don’t even talk about the same Jesus.

So why is Romney so concerned? What’s the big deal? Why insist that Mormons are “Christians” when they are clearly not? This is not a value statement, simply doctrinal reality. How can Romney call pointing out differences “poisonous”? Isn’t it more poisonous to whitewash those differences as though they are unimportant? Romney is not a Christian in any sense anyone in the past 2,000 years has used the term, so why not be comfortable with that?

Colbert Wants Christ Out Of Christmas (Well, Sort of)

December 17, 2010 at 2:24 pm

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> March to Keep Fear Alive

A Critique of The Vision Forum’s Position Against Woman Holding Office

December 22, 2009 at 7:22 am

woman-presidentI recently read this article by a minister named William Einwechter on the website of the Vision Forum. Einwechter argues that a woman should not hold the office of public magistrate (by which I think he means just any public office that would put her over men) because it is not the sphere in which she has been placed. Her sphere is the home, and God wants us to preserve his created order.

To summarize Einwechter’s argument (within the wider context of Vision Forum): God has created in such a way that government has a specific role and purpose, as do men, women, and children. Women have dominion in the home (see sections 13-14 of the Vision Forum’s Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy). A woman in public office would violate God’s created order. Men are the head of women (1 Cor. 11:3), the Bible laments women leaders (Isaiah 3:12), the virtuous women of Proverbs 31 is busy at home, and Deborah should not be used to build a case for women in public office.

I will look at each of these arguments to show that his argument doesn’t support his conclusion. First, I can agree with Einwechter that there are some very positive statements about a woman being in the home. My wife is a stay-at-home mom with our 3 children whom we plan to home-school. To be sure, raising children is a noble endeavor, the home is a priority for us, and I think the Bible supports this picture. However, just because a godly woman is active at home doesn’t mean that is her only sphere or can be her only sphere. All that those verses show is that the home is a noble place for a woman to serve, but not the only noble place for a woman to serve.

How can a woman be under male headship and still hold public office? I fail to see why this is an issue. Suppose a woman has raised her children, even homeschooled them! Suppose she is a wise and godly woman, and has an interest in local politics. She wants to see more parks built and is concerned about zoning and roads. Having raised 10 children, she knows many families in the community and can build consensus. Her husband, who is busy working a full-time job, encourages her to run for office and be a blessing to the community.

In this case, how would male-headship being violated? No children are ignored. No husband is abandoned. It is a simple issue of a person having the time and wisdom to serve the community, which is a service to her husband! Einwechter says no, but in fact, the 13th Tenet of Biblical Patriarchy states “although her domestic calling, as a representative of and helper to her husband, may well involve activity in the marketplace and larger community.”

Einwechter points out that in Proverbs 31 it is the man who is at the gate, a place of civic leadership. Therefore, it should be the men who are civic leadership. But what does that prove? At best, it would support the argument that men were the civic leaders in that culture. However, that does not amount to an argument that women cannot hold office!

What about Isaiah’s lament that the women rule? Einwechter writes “Now if it is a sign of weakness for men who are civil rulers to be ruled by women, what is it but a sign of feebleness on the part of men to actually seek to have women rule over them?” But arguing that something was the case does not amount to an argument that something should be the case. This isn’t cultural relativism, it is simple logic. I could argue that for much of human history, women were not allowed to vote or own land. Does this mean it should be the case today?

What about Isaiah’s lament? What exactly is he lamenting? Einwechter dismisses the issue by saying “Whatever the exact connotations of this text are, one thing is clear: women ruling over men in the civil sphere is put in a very unfavorable light.” In fact, he is begging the question. Is it put in an unfavorable light? Wouldn’t that depend on the “exact connotations?” The exact connotations will determine our reading of the text!

I think the point of Isaiah 3 is clearly the terror brought by sin; the ravaging effects of disobedience. Rather than being the mighty people of God, Jerusalem and Judah are ruled by those who they should rule over. It isn’t about gender, but about dominion. Were little children literally ruling? Or was it women? I think the point is that, as with Samson, sin brings down the mighty.

But I am troubled with the tenor of this article. So much of the Complementarian/Egalitarian debate is short of charity. While I disagree with Egalitarians (specifically on the issue of male leadership in the home and women elders) I do not dismiss them as Einwechter does those who disagree with him, saying “For those who believe in the full inspiration and authority of the Bible, how can there be any other verdict than this?” Surely the author is a loving husband, fine father, and faithful minister. But this is little more than an ad hominem attack on those who disagree with his stance on women being elected to office. He is clearly an intelligent man, but his argument does not warrant the conclusion.

In conclusion, I respect Vision Forum. I enjoy reading their material, and as I do, I hope to post some reviews. However, I fear that in response to egalitarianism in the church and feminism at large they are over-correcting with a legalistic and rigid patriarchy which is wholly unsupported by Scripture. Does the Bible speak to gender issues? Of course! It gives us a patriarchy with clearly defined positions. Men are spiritual leaders in the home, the head of the wife, protectors and providers. Children are a blessing, that wives are to submit, and that the home should be a woman’s priority but not her only sphere, as is reflected in Proverbs 31 and in the Vision Forum Tenets. However, none of this warrants the conclusion that women cannot hold public office. Scripture simply suggests that such a decision by a woman seeking office should be made in light of other verses so that one’s family is not neglected, that one’s husband is supportive, and that one’s character is virtuous.

These considerations would also apply to a man running for office, however, would they not?

What The Pope Should Have Said

September 9, 2009 at 6:56 am

ted_kennedy_narrowweb__300x4580By Adam Groza

By now you have probably read that the late Senator Ted Kennedy wrote a letter to the Pope and the Pope wrote back. Kennedy is widely reported to have written the following:

“Most Holy Father, I asked President Obama to personally hand deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me, and I am deeply grateful to him. I hope this letter finds you in good health. I pray that you have all of God’s blessings as you lead our Church and inspire our world during these challenging times. I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines. I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago, and, although I continue treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me. I am 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life. I have been blessed to be a part of a wonderful family, and both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained, nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path. I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I’ve worked to welcome the immigrant, fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and been the focus of my work as a United States Senator. I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I am committed to do everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health care field and will continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone. I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings. I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and our Church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.”

The Pope’s response follows:

“The Holy Father has read the letter which you entrusted to President Barack Obama, who kindly presented it to him during their recent meeting. He was saddened to know of your illness, and has asked me to assure you of his concern and his spiritual closeness. He is particularly grateful for your promise of prayers for him and for the needs of the universal Church. His Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope, and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God our merciful Father. He invokes upon you the consolation and peace promised by the Risen Savior to all who share in His sufferings and trust in His promise of eternal life. Commending you and the members of your family to the loving intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of wisdom, comfort and strength in the Lord.”

My condolences to the Kennedy family: However, I cannot help but wish the Pope had written an additional paragraph:

“The Holy Father is deeply grieved, however, that in your 46 years as a senator, you consistently supported the murder of unborn children through legalized abortion. In contradiction to the infallible teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, you voted against defining an unborn fetus as a child. You voted against prohibiting minors from crossing state lines to procure an abortion. You voted against informing parents when minors procure an out-of-state abortion. You voted to increase funding for education and contraceptives, despite the Church’s position against contraceptives! You voted against banning partial birth abortions. You voted against the ban on abortions at military bases. You voted to protect partial birth abortions. NARAL gave you a 100% pro-choice voting record. You could have spoken out against the horror of abortion. You could have used your position and your name to bring an end to legalized murder, especially partial birth abortion. You supported murder, Ted. Before you die, you should repent and seek the forgiveness of God, your church, and your country.”

Acts 29 and the SBC: Stuck In The Middle Again

August 25, 2009 at 12:53 pm

untitled-2NOTE: This post is the opinion of Brent Thomas only and does not necessarily reflect my blogging partner Adam Groza.

 

Surely you know that there is a controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention (when isn’t there, right?!) regarding some SBC churches and their involvement with the Acts 29 church planting network. Let me just say right up front, I am in the candidate phase of the Acts 29 membership process, so I have one foot in that camp (or at least I’m stretching my toes in that direction). At the time I received my undergraduate degree, the school was Southern Baptist. I received my M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While in Louisville, I was a member of a Southern Baptist church prior to taking my first ministry position in a Southern Baptist Church and moving to TX to pastor a semi-SBC church. So I have a foot in that camp as well (at least I have a foot that seems to be coming out but still has a “soft spot” for the denomination, though maybe I just need to grow some calluses and let go?).

When we moved to Arizona to plant Church of the Cross, we tried to partner with the Southern Baptist Convention. But, coming in as a church plant, we needed to find a sponsoring church that would help us through the process. Yes, there were financial considerations involved but that came to nothing because no church was willing to sponsor us. Not only that, I know for a fact that my paperwork was “flagged” by a good ‘ol boy in the AZ SBC. This man went to two different associations (local associations are not geographically based here in AZ) and said “You know this guy’s ‘Reformed,’ right?” In other words, my paperwork was flagged because of a historically Baptist position I hold on salvation.

So here at home, we tangibly felt the sting of rejection from the Southern Baptists. Then, at this year’s convention, there were motions against Ed Stetzer and Danny Akin for their involvement with Acts 29, not to mention the motion to ban all of Mark Driscoll’s books from Lifeway stores. Not only that, it’s now “illegal,” so to speak, to be SBC and Acts 29 in Georgia and Missouri. So now, not only do we as a church plant hear the message that we’re not wanted locally, we hear the message that we’re not wanted nationally. My sentiments may be summed up in something I posted to Twitter on June 23, 2009:


picture-13

 

The SBC thrives best when it has a common enemy and it seems to rotate between “Liberals,” “Calvinists,” and “Tongues-Talkers (Not quite Pentecotals)”. And guess what, they’ve (Falsely) rolled all of those categories into one common enemy in Acts 29, a group that will not only not outright ban alcohol but calls the SBC out on its legalism for going beyond Scripture. Talk about the perfect storm! Such a storm, in fact, that now, as a pastor planting a church, I have members of Church of the Cross that not only see no discernible benefit to partnering with the SBC, they in fact see disadvantages and worry about us trying to fit in somewhere we’re not wanted.

Jared Wilson, author of Your Jesus is Too Safe, recently took a stab at summarizing the “controversy”:

My basic appraisal of this criticism can be summed up this way:

  • a) The SBC is fading and will continue to fade more quickly especially if they keep stiff-arming the young men the Acts 29 Network appeals to, who are passionate about the gospel and about planting evangelistic churches.
  • b) What I continue to see is Acts 29 demonstrating love and affection, and a desire to cooperate, to a denomination that continues to cast aspersions in the other direction. The way things are going, the SBC could seriously use the injection of youth, mission, and passion for doctrine over pragmatism of the Acts 29 Network, and the Acts 29 Network has virtually nothing to gain by hitching to a fading denomination that snubs its nose at them. Yet they still want to find ways to work together. If you’re measuring by Jesus’ prayer for love and unity in the church, who wins that one, do you think?

Wilson contends that the “SBC is fading.” This is not just conjecture, Ed Stetzer himself in April, 2009 wrote a pieces for Lifeway Research entitled “The Southern Baptist Convention: A Denomination (Continuing) in its Decline” and “A Year Is Not A Trend: Decline And the SBC.” There are other voices in the wilderness crying wolf for the SBC. Ed Stetzer’s boss, Thom Rainer posted a “wordle” (a visible representation of words) of a recent survey he conducted about what the first thing people think of when they hear about the SBC:

 


picture-15

 

When “Pharisee,” “Don’t,” “Tradition,” “Legalism,” and “Fried Chicken” are the first things people think of, there’s a real problem (by the way, I’d like to do the same thing for Acts 29. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear of the Acts 29 Network? Let’s compare the results.). The SBC has a self-imposed and self-inflicted identity crisis and many of those at the top simply don’t care. They will go down with the Good Ship Tradition. Of course, there are exceptions. Watch Al Mohler’s recent talk on “The Future of the SBC:”

 



 

But what about those of us stuck in the middle? To be absolutely honest, if they would have taken us, the church I’m planting would have been Southern Baptist. But they made it crystal clear that they didn’t want us. So why would I pursue a denomination that doesn’t want me? It breaks my heart to see a denomination that, honestly, has been quite good to me and I still care for choose sin. And I see no other way to describe what is happening. You may disagree, you are welcome to do so and I’m sure some of you will. But when I look at the loudest SBC voices, I hear vitriol, gossip, slander, and one-upsmanship. When I listen to Acts 29, I hear things like Scott Thomas pursuing a “Ministry of Reconciliation,” saying:

My goal is to reconcile the relationships between Acts 29 churches and Southern Baptist churches so that we can spend our time, money and energy planting gospel-centered churches and not interacting through blogs and comments ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

I typically avoid commenting on the Southern Baptist Convention here for many reasons, but I feel like I just need to say to my SBC brothers “knock it off.” Turn the magnifying glass of criticism inward, ask why people think of fried chicken before they think of Jesus when they think of the SBC?! While one side is calling for reconciliation and partnership, the other is calling for book and partnership banning.

No, Acts 29 is not perfect, but let’s be perfectly honest, they are succeeding in many areas where the SBC is choosing to fail miserably. Guys like myself would have stayed in the SBC if they would have opened their arms just a little. But if I have to choose, am I going to go with the ones banning books are calling for reconciliation? Except that the real issue is that I shouldn’t have to choose at all.

The current situation breaks my heart, as a (possibly former?) Southern Baptist and (possibly future?) member of Acts 29. In the now oh-so trite words of Rodney King, “can’t we all just get along?” After all, isn’t that what Jesus Himself would have for us (John 13:35, Philippians 2:3, 1 Peter 2:17, etc.)?