Pat Robertson vs. the "Shepherding Movement"

In the midst of the ongoing tragedy of the recent tornadoes here in Tennessee and around the South-east, I received a most interesting document: an exchange of 1975 correspondence between Pat Robertson and Bob Mumford (and some other items) re Pat’s objections to the “shepherding movement” in vogue at the time.  That movement was the Protestant counterpart to the authoritarian covenant communities Catholic Charismatics were embracing, and which I rejected for myself in 1977.  There was a great deal of interchange between the two “halves” of the movement, which shows that ecumenical dialogue is not per se a good thing.

You can read the letters for yourself, but my comments are as follows:

  • Pat’s willingness to “go to the mat” with the likes of Mumford and Derek Prince was a bold move in a world where “go along to get along” is very much the rule.  These men and others were ministry colleagues.
  • Pat lays out a Biblical case against the movement.  That’s in contrast to the assumption of its proponents that a top down, authoritarian structure for the church was God’s way and that was it.
  • Mumford’s retort that Pat’s “going public” with his objections violated Matthew 18:15 is a common one amongst fans of authoritarianism.  Bill Gothard invoked it routinely in his heyday, and Steve Clark did so even after he had consented to an interview!  The root problem here is that Evangelical Christianity has never properly implemented this injunction of Our Lord, either at the local church level or above.  That’s because…
  • …as Pat pointed out, authority in the church was and is problematic.  I deal with this knotty problem in my piece Authority and Evangelical Churches but Pat’s take on it is as follows:

There was clear cut authority in the New Testament, yet it was never really used. In today’s church what is the authority? The Pope? The World Council? The National Council? The Assemblies of God? The Church of God? The Methodist or Episcopal Council of Bishops? The Archbishop of Canterbury? The Full Gospel Business Men’s Board of Directors? Oral Roberts? Billy Graham? CBN? Rex Humbard? Five teachers in Fort Lauderdale? Juan Ortiz? The Southern Baptists? Ten pastors in Louisville, Kentucky.

None of these? Every pastor? The Holy Spirit dealing with a priesthood of believers?

If the Jerusalem Council which included eleven men who lived personally with Jesus, was very cautious and reserved in dealing with their fellowmen, how can any little group of charismatics in our confused state be so terribly dogmatic in trying to dominate others?

Pat’s objections to the “Shepherding Movement” took a lot of the wind out of the sails of this idea in Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity.  Unfortunately the same did not take place on the Catholic side.

I also think that this episode puts into perspective some of the subsequent political events in the history of the “religious right”.  There’s no doubt that many of those who went down the authoritarian road for the church were and are prepared to do the same in the political realm.  With numerous ancestors who knew what swearing to uphold the Constitution of the United States was all about, Pat had a different perspective from his colleagues in the political realm as was the case in the church world.

The authoritarians–and they are numerous in Evangelical Christianity even now–had and have forgotten that they key to the success of Christianity in the United States has been freedom, be that freedom at the personal spiritual, ecclesiastical or political level.  Unfortunately that’s not appreciated as much as it should–and that’s true for both sides of the religious and political spectrum.

I am once again indebted to John Flaherty for this excellent material.

Ark: Voyages

Ark: Voyages (1978)

When one thinks of Southern music–especially in the 1970’s–one thinks of either Country and Western or Southern Gospel. And it’s true that much of what came out in that era was one or the other. A good example of that was the Greenville, SC group Southern Joy that we feature on this site.

But across town in Simpsonville, another group was working on a vastly different sound. The result is this album, a unique production in many ways.

Ark was made up of three people:

  • Eddie Herold, Electric Guitar
  • Charles Moses, Bass and Acoustic Guitars
  • Lee Henderson, Drums and Percussion

Ken Scott (the Archivist) has likened this album’s haunting sound to The Doors, and that’s certainly an influence on them. But it’s broader than that; sometimes it reminds you of contemporary Southern rock such as the Atlanta Rhythm Section, other times it veers into jazz like an early Stanley Clarke. It’s another example of an unique sound that unfortunately didn’t have many successors in Christian music.

The songs:

  • Introduction
  • When The Son Comes Out
  • Sea Of Life
  • Drifting
  • Sidewalk Preacherman
  • In The Desert
  • Blue Angel
  • Lord I’m Learning
  • Peace Of Mind
  • New Civilization
  • Dear Old Friends

Christ has arisen! He has truly arisen!

Without a doubt the most unusual association I developed in my years of making and selling pile driving equipment is my association with the Russians.

I spend some time on this site with some of the lessons I learned. We learn the advantages of monotheism from a train trip in Half a Million Roubles. Is it Enough? The solution to getting stuck in a bureaucracy is discussed in Who’s this idiot? That’s me! And, best of all, our Western tendency towards addled liberalism gets targeted in He is Prepared to Sign Anything.

Anglicans look longingly towards Eastern Orthodoxy. The Episcopal Church is too much like the old Soviet restaurant.  We got our first taste of this in our Visit to Zagorsk. We also found out that Russian Orthodoxy has moments it would rather forget in The Life of the Archpriest Avvakum by Himself.

But beyond all of these things–and more–we learned that the Russian greeting at Easter is “Christ has arisen!” to which the reply is “He has truly arisen!” We still get this greeting from Russia just about every year. All through seventy years of atheism Russians still called the day they sat in their crumbling flats, got drunk and hoped their Soviet-made TV’s wouldn’t explode (Sunday) literally “Resurrection Day.” For all of Orthodox churches’ weaknesses, their emphasis on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is admirable, and needs to be ours too.

So we join our friends in Russia and everywhere else one more time:

Christ as arisen! He has truly arisen!

Month of Sundays: Following

After this many of his disciples drew back, and did not go about with him any longer. So Jesus said to the Twelve: “Do you also wish to leave me?” But Simon Peter answered: “Master, to whom shall we go? Immortal Life is in your teaching; And we have learned to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)

One of the greatest military campaigns conducted in the 20th Century was the guerilla war waged by German General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck in what is now Tanzania. At the beginning of World War, the Allies purposed to overrun every German colony in Africa and the Pacific. They succeeded in short order—except German East Africa.

There, von Lettow-Vorbeck organized his army of askaris, the black troops drawn from the colony itself. He knew that he, surrounded by the British, could not win outright, and that he was cut off from supplies from the fatherland. He therefore kept his troops constantly on the move, striking where he could and moving onward when he had to.

The result was that he was able to tie down a British force many times the size of his own for the full four years of war. The only reason why he surrendered on November 23, 1918 (in British territory!) was because Germany had signed an armistice twelve days earlier!

Accounts of this usually emphasize von Lettow-Vorbeck’s leadership qualities. What’s frequently overlooked is the loyalty and discipline of the askaris. Well trained and immune to many of the diseases that decimated their British counterparts, they were central to von Lettow-Vorbeck’s purpose of keeping British resources in Africa and away from France and Italy, where millions were dying in static trench warfare.

We as Christians have the greatest leader what ever lived. His life, the training and discipleship he gave his first followers, his selfless sacrifice on the Cross and his resurrection are all things we can follow in him. But we must first follow, and follow him unconditionally, so that at the end we too can leave the battlefield undefeated. Where else can we go? He has the words of eternal life.

They Tell Us What To Do And We Do It: A Good Friday Reflection

Today is Good Friday. It’s about as late as it gets in the year. As Lent winds up and we reflect on the Passion and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, it’s also time for those of us in academia to wind up the semester (well, those of us on a semester system…)

It’s been an interesting one here at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Right at the start we got hit with an unusually heavy snowfall (I know, you people up North will laugh at what we call “heavy” snowfall) but it ended up delaying the start of our semester for an entire week. That left the administration scrambling to figure out how to make up as much of the lost time as possible. Once they got back together, they sent out their proposed plan for moving the last day of classes and the exam schedule to put things back on track. They solicited comments, but they were up against some hard dates, namely turning in grades, graduation and the start of summer school, and they needed to make a decision expeditiously. There just weren’t many options out there.

About this time I was sitting in the office of our department head (who is from Kenya) discussing this situation. We discussed things in brief and then he looked at me and said, “They tell us what to do and we do it.”

It’s unlikely that most people who were born and raised in the US would put it so bluntly. We like to think of ourselves as having some input into every aspect of our destiny, endowed with all of these rights and living in a free country. But that’s not the way it is with many aspects of our lives. In our case, the people of Tennessee through their state government operate this University (it was actually established by the Methodists and given to the state in 1969,) the students pay their tuition, the accrediting agencies inspect and give their stamp of approval, the state and others fund the rest, the administration is responsible for the direction of the school, and we as the faculty are charged with giving it our best to instruct our students within the framework set before us. So my department head’s assessment is entirely correct, and the semester now coming to a close is the implementation of that simple fact.

So what does all of this have to do with Good Friday? The straightforward truth is that Our Lord’s voyage through his Passion, down the Via Dolorosa and to the Cross, was an act of obedience:

Let the spirit of Christ Jesus be yours also. Though the divine nature was his from the beginning, yet he did not look upon equality with God as above all things to be clung to, But impoverished himself by taking the nature of a servant and becoming like men; He appeared among us as a man, and still further humbled himself by submitting even to death–to death on a cross! And that is why God raised him to the very highest place, and gave him the Name which stands above all other names, So that in adoration of the Name of Jesus every knee should bend, in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth, And that every tongue should acknowledge JESUS CHRIST as LORD–to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11).

In the garden he agonised over carrying out his Father’s will:

Going on a little further, he threw himself on the ground, and began to pray that, if it were possible, he might be spared that hour. “Abba, Father,” he said, “all things are possible to thee; take away this cup from me; yet, not what I will, but what thou willest.” (Mark 14:35, 36).

But that act of obedience yielded our salvation when he came out of the tomb on Easter morning.

Christians vary on how one should know and follow God’s will. We start with the Holy Scriptures, where God answers many of our questions before we even ask them:

Everything that is written under divine inspiration is helpful for teaching, for refuting error, for giving guidance, and for training others in righteousness; so that the Servant of God may be perfect himself, and perfectly equipped for every good action. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

We have the presence of the Holy Spirit from the first Pentecost onwards:

I have told you all this while still with you, But the Helper–the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my Name–he will teach you all things, and will recall to your minds all that I have said to you. (John 14:25, 26).

Beyond that some believe that the church institutionally is empowered to authoritatively interpret same Scriptures. Others believe that there are prophets among us who can speak authoritatively. Still others mechanistically interpret the Scriptures without further assistance.

Our Lord put a high value on authority and obedience while on the earth:

After Jesus had entered Capernaum, a Captain in the Roman army came up to him, entreating his help. “Sir,” he said, “my manservant is lying ill at my house with a stroke of paralysis, and is suffering terribly.” “I will come and cure him,” answered Jesus. “Sir,” the Captain went on, “I am unworthy to receive you under my roof; but only speak, and my manservant will be cured. For I myself am a man under the orders of others, with soldiers under me; and, if I say to one of them ‘Go,’ he goes, and to another ‘Come,’ he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this,’ he does it.” Jesus was surprised to hear this, and said to those who were following him: “Never I tell you, in any Israelite have I met with such faith as this!” (Matthew 8:5-10).

The beginning of real obedience to God starts when our will is synchronised with his. Although the relationship of the Father and the Son goes far beyond a monothelite model, that sameness of will made Jesus Christ’s obedience, to use the Jesuit term, perfect. That’s part of the unity that he prayed for in those last hours:

But it is not only for them that I am interceding, but also for those who believe in me through their Message, That they all may be one–that as thou, Father, art in union with us–and so the world may believe that thou hast sent me as thy Messenger. (John 17:20, 21).

Our union of will with the Father also means that we are united in will with each other as well.

So on this Good Friday and the rest of the year, our relationship with the Triune God needs to be simple: he tells us what to do, and we do it. May we receive the grace necessary to make it a reality!

All scripture references from the Positive Infinity New Testament.

Doing the State's Bidding: The Church of England, Parliament, Women Bishops and Same Sex Civil Marriage

Andrew Goddard, once more with feeling, points out the obvious about Parliament’s governance over the Church of England:

The Church of England, wrestling with internal differences over provision for opponents of women bishops and over responses to same-sex relationships, could soon find a further contentious topic being added to the mix: the question of establishment, the church’s relationship with the state. This has been highlighted by two recent developments in which government ministers or Members of Parliament have pressed for a certain conception of equality in English law and society.

More than 50 MPs recently signed an Early Day Motion which not only supports women bishops but also “calls on Her Majesty’s Government to remove any exemptions pertaining to gender under existing equality legislation” if that legislation “fails through a technicality to receive final approval in General Synod.” The most likely “technicality” is the requirement of two-thirds support in all three houses of General Synod, which may not be achieved if some supporters of women bishops believe provision for opponents is insufficient…

It is difficult to see how the Church of England could maintain its distinctive position in marriage law — being authorized by statute to marry according to its own rites — if marriage became legally gender-blind but those rites upheld marriage as between a man and a woman and so directly discriminated against same-sex couples. The problem will be even greater if, in contrast, opposite-sex couples retain (with a few exceptions) the legal right to use of their parish church for their weddings.

Obvious?  It was to this blogger at least.  From last year:

The CoE’s position as an established church has always made it vulnerable to state interference and control of the kind that Cameron is implicitly threatening (over same sex marriage).  That’s why North American Anglicans’ endless desire to find validation by the CoE (along with getting into an Anglican Covenant, with the CoE as the natural centre) is misguided and will end in disaster.

And earlier, in 2006, re women becoming bishops:

It just gets crazier and crazier out there…

In our Island Chronicles fiction series, we document the successive edicts of an autocratic Island monarchy which by decree imposes first women ministers and then women bishops on its reluctant Anglican state church. They do this because the first woman to hold each is a favourite of the kingdom’s strong-willed queen and crown princess.

Now we see that certain members of Parliament in London are considering doing basically the same thing to the Church of England to force it to have women bishops. While some have described it as a “constitutional crisis,” the blunt fact is that, as long as the Church of England is basically a creature of the state, the state can pretty much tell it what to do when push comes to shove.

On this side of the Atlantic, we’ve forgotten what it means to have a state church. Some worry about the consequences of religious influences on the state. The rest of us worry about the reverse. This is a reminder of that simple fact.

The only amazing thing is that it’s taken so long.

Katharine Jefferts-Schori: From Litigious to Practical, From Pathetic to Prophetic

This is what she tells the part of the Diocese of Pittsburgh she got to keep:

Although the two churches battled over property in court, Jefferts Schori said she foresees a day when churches will become something different.

“More faith communities will decide not to have a permanent dedicated structure in the coming years,” she said. “They can be a blessing if they are used all the time, but many of them are only used on Sunday mornings. Is that an effective use of the resource?”

Some churches do hold services in other buildings or in homes.

She’s right about that.  The utilisation of church physical plant isn’t a very efficient use of resources, not at least the way most churches use it.  And with the iffy status of Christianity in Western societies, the ability of churches to hold property may become very problematic.

But that begs the obvious dumb question: why did she drop millions of her church’s money into property defence when she’d have been better off cutting a deal?

Sounds like the classic case of too soon old and too late smart…

Tom Belt and God Unlimited

Every now and then a group comes along which represents the best of its genre. Its leadership, those who play and sing with it, everything seems to “click.” Although picking an absolute best in the turbulent era of the 1960’s and 1970’s isn’t easy, for college campus church based groups, it’s hard to beat God Unlimited.

Originally God Unlimited was the Episcopal “diocesan youth choir” at Arizona State University, under the direction of the Rev. Tom Belt. Choir isn’t exactly what they were, at least not in the sense that word was understood in the Episcopal Church. Their music is certainly folk, but their ability to move from the choral to the folk and back again with ease is one of the strong points of the group.

Obviously as a college group frequent personnel changes were a given, so with these, the first four of their discography, we see several repeats in songs. That isn’t bad, and there are several liturgical seasonal songs (which is the main reason why this is being posted during Holy Week.) But their proficiency and their charm give them a special place in the history of the “Jesus Music era.”

God Unlimited (Century 34122) 1968

In some ways a “prequel”, this album is a very home-made introduction to their music, before their years on GIA took them up a notch. But their music shows what’s to come. A couple of tracks reflect some social activism that, although not unusual with Christian music of this era, doesn’t carry over into their later productions.

The Songs:

  1. The Lord Is Come
  2. Break Open
  3. Ride On
  4. Leaves A Fallin
  5. The New Morn
  6. Blow Wind
  7. Joy
  8. Go Forth, My Brothers
  9. Sing Freedom
  10. Where Are We A-Goin
  11. The Freedom Song
  12. Listen Lord
  13. Praise God

Joy, And Other Sublime Aspirations (GIA M/S-120) 1968

Now on GIA, they’re still as good a before but with more polish (and somewhat better recording quality). This is my personal favourite of the four presented here, and I use “The Sun and the Sea” to portray my own home church, Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Palm Beach:

The Songs:

  1. The Lord Is Come
  2. The Sun And The Sea
  3. Songs From My Heart
  4. Break Loose
  5. Blow, Wind
  6. Where The Children Run Free
  7. Joy
  8. A New Song
  9. Love Divine
  10. Streams In The Desert
  11. Sing Freedom
  12. God Unlimited

Ride On (1969)

The Songs:

  1. Open Up Your Heart
  2. Son Come Down
  3. Ride On
  4. Alleluia
  5. Clouds Spinning
  6. Do You Want to be Free
  7. Black the Night
  8. Jan’s Song
  9. Universal Rhythm
  10. Break of Day

Love Knows No Season (GIA M/S-136) 1970

The Songs:

  1. Break Open
  2. Leaves A Fallin’
  3. The Silent Night
  4. The New Morn
  5. Resurrection
  6. God Unlimited
  7. Come Holy Spirit
  8. Fisherman
  9. Getting High On Love
  10. Trouble Lord
  11. Love Knows No Season
  12. Sing A New Song

For more music downloads click here

Month of Sundays: Fruit

It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you, and I appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that should remain, so that the Father might grant you whatever you ask in my Name. (John 15:16)

“I hope you are right.” The Chinese engineer across the table was sceptical about my claims.

Our delegation had come halfway around the world to sell our construction equipment in China, which had only recently opened up to Western businesses. We were well known at home as producing a product that lasted a long time, a century in some cases. The Chinese naturally wanted to know how long the various components would last, and we told them they would last for many years.

That’s the way it is with the world. They look at Christians with scepticism. Why be “religious,” they say, when you can do good and not go to church? Why do we need all of these rules anyway? And we really don’t get past the grave, do we?

Yes, we really do. We’re Christians first and foremost because we want to spend eternity with God, and then take other with us. That’s fruit that lasts far beyond any other “good works” we find in this finite life.

The French philosophers Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole put it this way:

Only infinite things, such as eternity and salvation, cannot be equalled by any temporal advantage: and as such one cannot compare them with the things of this world. This is why the least degree of means to be saved is worth more than all of the goods of this world put together; and the least peril of being lost is more considerable than all of the temporal evils considered only as evils…

Those that come to this conclusion, and who follow them in the conduct of their life, are prudent and wise, whether they be little correct in all of the reasonings concerning matters of science; and those who do not, whether they be correct in all of the rest…make a bad usage of Logic, of reason, and of life.

A Colorado Based Priest Becomes Rector at Bethesda

Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church has a new rector at last:

After a year of searching, The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea has a new rector.

Tapped by the search committee, the Rev. James R. Harlan of Denver has accepted the job and will begin work the second week of June. His first Sunday in the pulpit will be June 19.

Harlan, 45, was born and raised in Colorado and has lived there most of his life. He will succeed the Rev. Ralph “Hap” R. Warren Jr., who retired in April 2009 after 27 years at Bethesda.

For those of us who follow the saga of the Anglican-Episcopal divide, the Diocese of Colorado has been the scene of the unfortunate career of the Rev. Don Armstrong, who led his congregation out of the Episcopal Church only to end up pleading guilty to misdemeanor theft of funds.

For his part Harlan chaired a committee appointed by Bishop Rob O’Neill aimed at heading off division:

The Rev. James Harlan of Denver, who chaired an O’Neill-appointed task force aimed at heading off divides in Colorado, dismissed such talk.

“One of Bishop O’Neill’s basic passions and values is to realize the true communion we all have in Christ, not to do things to divide,” said Harlan, of the Church of the Ascension in Denver.  Harlan said while he knows nothing about the Armstrong situation, he hopes the diocese will focus not on national tension but on working together.

Harlan will be in very revisionist territory in the realm of Bishop Leo Frade, whose stance on same sex civil marriage has been the subject of this blog.

One warning: if he opts to enrol his daughter Hannah in Palm Beach Day Academy, she (and her parents) are in for a culture shock.  Trust me.  In reality, they’ll find the “Palm Beach experience” a very different way of living.