Too Many Cooks Make a Megachurch

There’s been very little said in the Evangelical press about the election of a committed Christian, Lee Myung-bak, as President of the Republic of Korea.  Given our current woes with our own "Evangelical," this may be understandable.

His position has caused some consternation with non-Christians in Korea (which make up 70% of the population.)  But that not only didn’t stop him from being elected President, but before that being head of the Hyundai conglomerate.  (I’m not aware that an Evangelical has ever been at the head of an American corporation that large.)

But that’s not all that’s different from the U.S.  In the article, Sunny Lee notes the following:

The Somang Presbyterian Church where Lee and his wife, Kim Yoon-ok, a deaconess, attend has 70,000 registered attendants managed by 20 pastors. In addition, Lee Kyung-sook, the head of Lee’s Presidential Transition Committee, other church members are the president-elect’s brother Lee Sang-deuk, who is also the vice speaker of the National Assembly; lawmaker Chung Mong-jun, who last week met with US President George W Bush in Washington as the president-elect’s envoy; Yoon Young-kwan, the ex-foreign minister; Hong In-ki, ex-head of the Korea Stock Exchange; Kim Shin-bae, chief executive officer of SK Telecom who sat next to Google chief Eric Schmidt at the recent Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland. And the list goes on …

Twenty pastors?  What American church would have twenty pastors?  Actually, most of these pastors are associate pastors of the various "districts" that the church is divided into.  Asian megachurches are much better than their American counterparts in dividing their churches into small groups with an elaborate elder/pastor structure to hold things together, which explains why they can sustain such large churches. 

American Evangelicalism and the megachurches it has spawned is too driven by personalities, both at the senior pastoral level and in the parachurch organisations.  We’re constantly being exhorted to copy the Asians in our prayer lives, but let’s try to reduce the "ego" factor at the top.

Perhaps when we do our churches will see their members head the stock exchange and attend the Davos conference and…but that’s too Biblical.  It would require that leaders, like John the Baptist, decrease so that Jesus Christ would increase.  Perish the thought!

The Steps of Brian McLaren

This week’s podcast is Every Step I Take from Brian McLaren’s album Learning How To Love, which is available from Heavenly Grooves.


Ken Scott, the Archivist for "Jesus Music," wondered who had ever heard of Brian McLaren.  Well, many, as it turns out, for now he listed as one of Time Magazine’s top 25 evangelical leaders.  It’s interesting to hear him sing of an outline of his future life in this song, then actually do it.

McLaren is one of the leaders of the "Emerging Church," and is now starting a tour to promote his new book, Everything Must Change, and the ideas that go with it.  As regular readers of this blog may have figured out, I have some serious issues with the Emerging Church, and many of them are the same ones I clashed with liberals in the Episcopal Church (and for that matter the Roman Catholic Church.)   Let me concentrate on one of them, namely the issue of eternity.

He’s kicking off his tour in Charlotte, NC, this weekend, and had the following exchange with Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer:

Q. You say that many Christians should start by replacing the idea of getting themselves and others "saved" so they can go to heaven — the evacuation plan, I think you call with — with this idea of getting out there, in the here and now, and healing the hurts of the world. So when Jesus said, "As the father sent me, so I sent you," he was talking not really about conversions but about tackling the world’s crises — Is that right?

A. Actually, I would put the two together. If we keep recruiting people to evacuate the earth, then every person who gets saved is, in some ways, taken out of the action. It’s like going to the bench of people who want to play in a football game and trying to recruit them to leave the (stadium) altogether.

A better image would be: What Jesus is asking us to do is go into the stands and recruit some people to come on the field and join us to play. The recruiting of new disciples is really connected to wanting to make a difference in the world.

I’ve gone on at length about the centrality of our eternal destiny in Eternity is Still What Matters, but there are several things about McLaren’s idea that need a response:

  1. Evangelical churches–the name notwithstanding–on the whole are not as focused on evangelism as McLaren makes them out to be.  He should try to work for a ministry which promotes and trains lay people for personal evangelism and see the general indifference for himself.  (Barna’s statistics bear that out, BTW.)
  2. His concern for discipleship is admirable, but if people have not experienced the saving power of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, then discipleship is irrelevant.
  3. His hard work to develop an alternative to conservative American Evangelical politics is ironic when juxtaposed with his reservations about the "fire insurance" approach to Christianity he decries.  In the days when he made Learning How To Love, most American Evangelicals concentrated on evangelism and stayed out of politics.  The shift into politics is in some ways a shift away from evangelism and church life as the central vehicle for living out the Gospel, irrespective of the fact that political involvement was initially driven by necessity.  Moving the church in yet another political direction–even if cloaked in the garb of "social justice"–will have the same effect on Evangelical churches it has had on liberal ones, i.e., drain their energy from the mission of the church.
  4. Neither McLaren nor most American Evangelicals have grasped the central fact that the lure of eternal life with God is best appreciated in the context of the difficulties of this one.  That’s certainly the case with me and many others, but that’s something else that has fallen victim to Boomer triumphalism, especially when coupled with prosperity teaching.  (I share McLaren’s ambivalence on this subject, but not necessarily for the same reasons.)  I’d like to solve many of the world’s problems too, but am all too aware that things will inevitably get bogged down in patronage and power holder politics, which is reason enough to be leery of "social justice" movements.

McLaren’s right that we need a new paradigm of Christianity in the U.S.  But what that paradigm should be isn’t as clear as many in the "Emerging Church" movement would have us believe.  To me too much of this is old liberalism tried again, and like Karl Marx used to say, history repeats itself, the first time as a tragedy and the second as a farce.

Note: there are many aspects of the "Emerging Church" that deserve scrutiny. Travis Johnson (who is more on the front lines than I am) discusses some of them here.

Illegal Immigrants Might Get Tax Rebates

I’m sure that many conservatives–to say nothing of Lou Dobbs–will go postal over the idea that illegal immigrants would get tax rebates, as is proposed (unintentionally?) in the House package.

In their bipartisan zeal to quickly cut a deal on an economic stimulus bill, GOP lawmakers overlooked something that will certainly inflame the conservative base–illegal immigrants could receive a tax rebate check from the government.

The text of the House passed bill contains language making "non resident aliens"–illegal immigrants–ineligible for the tax rebates. But every year, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants use individual taxpayer identification numbers, known as ITINs, to file income tax returns with the IRS. These ID numbers are used instead of Social Security numbers. There are no exact statistics for how many illegal immigrants file tax returns, but this New York Times story from last year details the significant increase in use of ITINs.  This story also lays out the issue.

Immigration advocates point out that many legal immigrants use ITINs, so it would be impossible to outlaw rebates for everyone who uses this form of ID in tax returns.

Personally, I don’t see giving tax rebates to those with no legal status here.  (Neither do I see forcing ordinary citizens to be snitches on these people, as some recently enacted state laws require.)  However, it’s more likely that the illegal immigrants would either save their rebate or send it back to their impovrished families rather than blow it on new stuff, as many native born citizens are wont to do.

A good usage for the money would be to pay down debt, sensible especially since this economic crisis is driven by the partial collapse of the credit system, and its danger is prolonged by the high level of indebtedness of our population.

Sad to say, that’s not the "American way" any more.

John Edwards: The Wishful Thinking is Over

Greg Cruey was hoping for John Edwards to stick it out:

If Edwards withdraws and the race becomes a two-candidate race, either Hillary or Obama will most definitely win. Personally, I think both of those candidates have electibility issues in the general election. And they look determined to cripple each other before the Democratic Convention.

Let’s hope Edwards hangs on until Denver.

But it’s over.  Edwards is an anachronism and evidently the Democrats sensed that.

Cruey’s right about the electibility issues.  But, in this very volatile year, one can take nothing for granted.  Nothing.

More Conservative Voting Problems in Palm Beach

I’ve documented some of Ann Coulter’s voting problems in Palm Beach here and here.

Now Rush Limbaugh can’t quite get the hang of it:

On his syndicated talk show this afternoon, Limbaugh said he was trying to vote in today’s primary when the screen seemed to freeze or “stick” on the list of presidential candidates.

“I hit ‘Next’ and it didn’t go there,” said Limbaugh, who lives in Palm Beach and often recounts the county’s electoral foibles on his show.

Then he hit the “Back” button and “got my candidate page again with the vote already recorded there. So I said ‘hmmmmm, I wonder if this is going to count twice.”

So he unclicked his favored candidate, clicked that candidate again and hit “Next” a second time – and it worked.

As I said before, voting in Palm Beach is trickier than it looks.

George Bush: Not The Evangelical We Thought

A couple of weeks ago, I opined the following:

…the whole Evangelical game plan for life is well suited to get people off of the very bottom of society and equally ill-suited to get them to the very top.  People who posit George W. Bush as an example of the contrary forget that a) he comes from a prominent family with the educational and social opportunities that come with it, all of which are missing from most Evangelicals’ personal arsenals, and b) has done some patently unbiblical things (mostly in the Middle East) which indicate he is not as sharp of an Evangelical as many thought he was.

Evidently there are others who are coming to the same conclusion, about George W. Bush at least:

The tapes reveal how political the faith of George W Bush is. Wead said that during the countless hours the two spent talking about religion over a dozen years, they discussed endlessly the implications of attending services at different congregations, how Bush could position himself in relation to various tricky questions and how he should handle various ministers and evangelical leaders. But the substance of Bush’s own faith never came up.

Wead told me that he now struggles with the question of how sincere Bush’s expressions of devotion ever were. He often goes over their conversations and the many memos he sent to Bush advising him how to woo the religious vote. “As these memos started flowing to him, he started feeding back to me what his faith was,” Wead said. “Now what is interesting for me, and I’m trying to understand is, was I giving him his story?”

Obama in Danger? Only News to Some

Mark Finkelstein wonders the following:

I’m measuring my words carefully. Harry Smith has raised the possibility that Barack Obama’s life could be in danger…

When you tell a man with Ted Kennedy’s family history that "you well know" about politicians becoming "targets," the implication is unmistakable.

This time, Kennedy [to his credit I would say] chose to ignore Smith’s suggestion, giving another bland answer about Obama being a candidate for change.

What could possibly have possessed Smith to raise this specter?

But Sir William Rees-Mogg had already raised that possibility:

I find myself worried by the figures with whom Mr Obama is compared. Martin Luther King obviously, John F. Kennedy, but also Abraham Lincoln and even Mahatma Gandhi. All four were charismatic figures who claimed to lead their nations in a new and idealistic way. What they also had in common is that they were assassinated. Such men attract the hatred of those who fear and resent their influence. When General Colin Powell was offered the Republican nomination in 1996, his wife persuaded him to reject it, on the grounds that he would be exposed to the assassination threat. Mrs Powell may have been right. The role of the first black president of the United States will be a dangerous one.

And Lord Rees-Mogg has a long memory, unlike so many of us on this side of the pond for whom the "long term" is after lunch.

Decision Time for the Democrats on Racial Attitudes

Alan Comes thought that Dick Morris had lost his mind when Morris stated that Bill and Hillary were running a race based campaign against Barack Obama (as Morris outlines below):

If Hillary loses South Carolina and the defeat serves to demonstrate Obama’s ability to attract a bloc vote among black Democrats, the message will go out loud and clear to white voters that this is a racial fight. It’s one thing for polls to show, as they now do, that Obama beats Hillary among African-Americans by better than 4-to-1 and Hillary carries whites by almost 2-to-1. But most people don’t read the fine print on the polls. But if blacks deliver South Carolina to Obama, everybody will know that they are bloc-voting. That will trigger a massive whi te backlash against Obama and will drive white voters to Hillary Clinton.

Evidently there was only one political pro on Hannity and Comes, and it wasn’t Alan, as Bill’s own comments demonstrate:

Another reporter asked what it said about Obama that it “took two people to beat him.” Clinton again passed. “That’s just bait, too. Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in ’84 and ’88. And he ran a good campaign. Senator Obama’s run a good campaign here, he’s run a good campaign everywhere.”

The Democrats have a critical decision to make.  Are they who they say they are regarding race?  Or are they the same people who turned Democrat to get back at the Republicans for, in their estimation, elevating blacks too speedily during Reconstruction?

P.S. Morris’ observations on Bill Clinton’s temper are no surprise to anyone familiar with the scene down here.

Everybody Needs Heavy Equipment

It’s gratifying to see that a few people are seeing daylight on the issue of the need of heavy equipment after it was used to help the Palestinians escape Gaza.  The whole adventure of boycotting Caterpillar because their equipment was used to construct "the fence" was idiotic to start with.

Construction equipment–and my family spent more than a century producing it–can be used for good or evil.  It was needed to clean up the mess of Hurricane Katrina, and it’s needed to rebuild people’s homes, businesses, churches and roads when the clean-up is done.  The Iranians use it to hang people from every now and then in lieu of the old gallows.

The use of heavy construction equipment, like any other technology, is in our hands.  We as free moral agents use it for good or evil.  Trying to punish manufacturers just because their equipment is used for purposes you don’t happen to like is stupid, and is an attempt to shift responsibility to places where it doesn’t belong.

Right: more Caterpillar equipment in action, from the cover of my recent reprint Laboratory Soils Testing.

Bible? What Bible?

The complaint from within the Church of England that it’s hard to find a Bible in an Anglican church strikes me as odd, Henry VIII’s decree of having one in every church notwithstanding.

Since the complaint originated with Tim Cox, from Blackpool, one of England’s more visited resorts, it’s fitting to respond with a reminiscence from another resort area, namely South Florida.

Back at the home church, Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, there were only two around: one for the use of the lay readers and the other, an antique Bible, in a glass case in the narthex, shown below.

The only time the lay readers had use for one was for Morning and Evening Prayer, and with Holy Communion becoming the normative service (an issue I bandied back and forth with Robert Easter a few months back,) that usage has become rare, since the Scripture readings are generally printed in the prayer book.

Given that Anglican/Episcopal pew racks are already filled with prayer books and hymnals, many churches might find themselves hard pressed to find room for one!  But that illustrates the central problem of Anglican churches and the Bible.  With worship governed by a prayer book (I hesitate to capitalise because of the 1979 book,) in one sense the Bible has been literally crowded out of church.  But before non-Anglican Evangelicals become self-righteous on this subject, there are a few things that need to be considered.

The first is that, if Morning and Evening Prayer were to be restored to their rightful place in Anglican worship, the need for a Bible in the pew rack would make practical sense.  There are a lot of pluses to that, and it’s something that, in my estimation, needs to be done.  Simply complaining that there aren’t enough Bibles in Anglican churches isn’t enough without realistic steps to make them something the parishioners need to reach for.

The second is that, if we really want the Bible to be rooted in people’s hearts and minds, we need to properly incorporate the teaching of the Word in whatever Christian education and discipleship programme we happen to have.  “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Psalms 119:11)  It’s good to hear God’s Word recited and referred to in church, but true understanding comes with extended study, and that’s something that needs to be done away from the worship setting.

The third is that the use of the Word in "Bible-believing" churches sometimes leaves a lot to be desired of.  This manifests itself in two forms: a) when a passage is read at the start of the sermon but is really just a prop for what the preacher wants to say, and b) the Word is preached superficially and without regard for its actual meaning.  In such contexts the Word’s presence can be scanty, which leads to the strange phenomenon where some liturgical worship has more directly Biblical content than its non-liturgical counterpart.

Fourth, those screens where the worship choruses go are also the home for the Bible readings and references, which means that the pew Bibles end up gathering dust.

If Mr. Cox wants to make some real progress on making the Church of England more Biblical, he can start by organising and carrying out efforts to properly evangelise and disciple those who go "up the ‘Pool."  For those of us who do have pew Bibles in our churches, it’s good but it’s not enough.