Today of course is the twentieth anniversary of the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centres and the Pentagon. I’ve done this before but I’m going to post again the slide show/video I made for the Church of God Chaplains Commission about that event and the ministry response the church made, presented at the Church of God General Assembly the following year.
The video is divided into two parts. The first is a photo montage of the attacks; they’re still hard to watch. The second is a “roll call” of those in the church who ministered during and after the attacks, including some from Afghanistan.
In preparing this under the direction of the then Executive Director of the Commission, Dr. Robert Crick, it wasn’t our intention to produce a patriotic presentation but to focus on the Christian ministry that took place. Given recent events in Afghanistan, the wisdom of that choice has been underscored. What we do in ministry has eternal results that transcend the successes and failures of temporal nations and causes.
And so Jesus, also, to purify the People by his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go out to him ‘outside the camp,’ bearing the same reproaches as he; for here we have no permanent city, but are looking for the City that is to be.
At most denominational conferences these days, leaders have to recognize and reckon with the challenge of continued declines in membership. But for the US Assemblies of God (AG), which drew 18,000 registered attendees to its General Council meeting in Orlando last week, it’s a different story.
The world’s largest Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God has been quietly growing in the US for decades, bucking the trend of denominational decline seen by most other Protestant traditions.
In the current climate, it’s certainly something that needs our attention, especially with these two trends, which the conventional wisdom deems a contradiction:
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why the Assemblies of God has continued to increase over the past 15 years. Research shows that membership of the Assemblies of God has become more politically conservative and more religiously active today than just a decade ago, but its own numbers indicate that it has achieved incredible racial diversity—44 percent of members in the United States are ethnic minorities. A confluence of these trends may be factors in its ability to keep its numbers up.
On top of all that, that recent General Council elected an Executive Presbytery which is mostly either non-white or female. How did all of this happen in one denomination? I think there are three reasons why the AG’s have bucked so many trends at once.
The first is the cornerstone of modern Pentecost: the people are united in the belief that God is still active in their lives and acts on their behalf on a daily basis. In many ways the entire Holiness-Pentecostal movement was started in reaction to the loss of one or both of these beliefs. People focus with good reason on the speaking in tongues, but the idea that God still does the same things he did in the Old and New Testaments drives just about everything. As a an opposing example, consider what I call the The Baptismal Covenant: The Contract on the Episcopalians, where the shift from what God does to the believe to what the believer does for God is visible. It wasn’t so long ago that all Christian churches were united in this, but times change…
The second is that the AG’s congregational structure dodges the authority issue, which makes it easier for women to advance to leadership positions and keeps the denomination out of that brawl. Modern Pentecost is predominantly (but not entirely) a descendant of the Wesleyan tradition, which has always elevated women to ministry roles more easily than other parts of Christianity. Modern Pentecost also redefines the whole business of authority in churches, something that’s not really appreciated.
The third is that the AG has by and large gotten around the ethnocentricity issue that dogs many American demoninations. The promise of Pentecost, from Acts 2 onward, is that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, but unfortunately the fact that Christianity ended up centred in Europe made the predominant culture primarily European. Getting past that with the realities of the world as it really is has eluded many Christian organisations; it is entirely appropriate that a Pentecostal church like the AG should show the way.
One thing that the author of the CT article found surprising was the continued political conservatism of the majority of the AG’s laity. This is indicative of the simple fact that same laity is voting in accordance with their moral compass and pocketbook rather than their genitals, as our elites would have them to do. An elite that endlessly trumpets their commitment to social justice while at the same time allowing the Gini coefficient to increase and small businesses to die like flies during COVID needs a reality check.
It’s also worth noting that the AG’s growth is not only in the face of the secularisation of our society; it is also in the face of independent, predominantly Charismatic churches, many of which are headed by ex-AG and other Pentecostal ministers.
The Assemblies of God’s success should be commended and emulated; let’s pray that others will stop and consider how it is being done.
This past week my wife and I had the chance to attend the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, DC. It was an interesting conference on a subject that gets the short shrift these days. In attendance were representatives of several religions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and many others. The fact that any kind of consensus is emerging on this topic on with this broad of an audience is encouraging.
In the course of our conversation I brought up a question that should have gotten more interest at the conference: why are so many averse to the whole concept of religious freedom? My explanation of this follows.
All religion is concerned with going beyond this life. How this happens varies from one to another. In the case of Islam and Christianity, the choice is the same: it is the means that differs so sharply, and with that the results. But ultimately religious people look at life as transcending the limitations of our mortality.
Today we have an elite which is deeply corporatist and desirous to maintain control over the situation and to perpetuate their primacy. I’ve characterised their priorities as getting laid, high or drunk, and their desire is to limit those whom they feel are under them to do the same. If they succeed, then the people’s vision is limited to what they place in front of them: there is no beyond. It’s the mentality of “Imagine” imposed by this corporatist bunch, not just a bunch of superannuated hippies out for a good time.
Religious people throw a monkey wrench into all this by proclaiming that there is a beyond, there is a higher power of some kind that transcends this life. This is a threat to those who rule: it means that they are not the ones that ultimately make the rules or determine the final destiny over those whom they control. This they cannot stand. If they make an alliance with a religion, it means that they feel that its adherents and leadership can be controlled. In the old Soviet Union, the Communists did a pretty good job doing just that with Islam in Central Asia; they managed to keep a lid on things without forcing all of them to become atheists. But times have changed, which is why we’re seeing the brutal crackdown on the Uygurs in Xinjiang.
This is why religious freedom is in such a parlous state these days. Our elites do not want us to see beyond them, and as long as we do they will attempt to punish us.
Every now and then I run across an article that has me saying to myself, “What is going on here?” One such piece is Ben Jeffries’ Abiding with Error in the ACNA. There’s a great deal to unpack here, but I’m going to try to focus on one thing: his idea that easing the laity out of the meaningful life of the church is a plus.
Let’s start with a liturgical issue, he notes the following:
1907 — General Convention loosed the ancient discipline that made ordination a required qualification for preaching a sermon in the midst of a liturgy.
Back in the Old Country, the 1662 BCP had provision for lay people to celebrate Morning Prayer. With that is the implication that the lay person doing this might say something outside of the liturgy. That never quite made it into the American prayer books, but since the 1662 book has a special place in the life of Anglicanism, that should not be discounted or classified as a “wound.”
Of course I’ll bet that Jeffries may be thinking that such a provision was the “camel’s nose in the tent” for something like lay presidency, which the ACNA’s allies in Sydney have advocated. In turn that assumes that the Holy Communion is the normative/only service on Sunday. He should be informed that it’s not just Anglo-Catholics who advocated for that: liturgical movement types such as William Palmer Ladd did the same thing. And I’m also sure that there are many in the more traditional parts of the ACNA who feel that the results of the liturgical movement are a wound in a league of their own.
There are some (wounds) that were inflicted while we were still a part of The Episcopal Church, which would have been fatal to us had they not been treated and healed at our founding, e.g. the consecration of women as bishops, the consecration of openly gay persons as bishops, or the laity having authoritative voice in council on matters of faith, etc.
Let’s look at the last one: easing the laity out of their “authoritative voice.” The first thing that statement assumes is that the laity were responsible for the rot that engulfed the Episcopal Church. I rather doubt that; the vast majority of lay people had neither the inclination nor the education to take on such a task. The rot in the Episcopal Church started in the seminaries with the introduction of Higher Criticism of the Bible, going back to the latter part of the nineteenth century. While that isn’t as significant as it is for, say, the Baptists, it’s a start. The Episcopal Church was led down the path of its own destruction by its own ministers, and Jeffries would do well to acknowledge that.
I’ve spent most of my life in churches where the ministers pretty much ruled the roost, and the lack of accountability that results from that can have some unpleasant results, such as we’ve seen in the Roman Catholic Church with Bishop Stika in Knoxville, to say nothing about my own church. Concerning the last, I’d like to repeat an observation I made:
The second is that (with exceptions) our ministers and academics alike have a “trade union” mentality, that thinking and speaking/preaching of the deeper things of God is “bargaining unit” work and that the laity (“scabs” in union terminology) don’t have any business delving into this kind of thing on any level. Sometimes it’s framed as a replication of Roman Catholicism’s view of the priesthood, but that’s too high of a view of what’s going on.
I definitely get a strong whiff of the trade union mentality in Jeffries’ piece.
There are several items that tell me that Anglicans better be in for the long haul on this one:
The difficult process of recognition, as Conger outlines. That speaks for itself.
I don’t see any Archbishop of Canterbury, either the present occupant or any successor that a British Government might suffer, recognising this province. They can talk about the ACC or the Primates all they want, but unless the Archbishop of Canterbury gives the high sign, real entry into the Anglican Communion is impossible.
The issue of women’s ordination (WO.) There’s simply no consensus on this issue, irrespective of which side you take. That goes to the heart of the apostolic succession issue, which is key for a proper Anglican church.
The resolution of the seceding dioceses, which will involve the U.S. court system.
The real possibility that our government, in its desire to be politically correct and its need for revenue, will begin revoking tax-exempt status for churches that do not embrace homosexuality. That will doubtless be coupled with a legal assault based on anti-discrimination legislation and all of the other legal tools I outlined in my 2007 piece Waiting for the Cops to Show Up.
The many “wounds” that Jeffries describes were and are not bugs in the ACNA: they’re features, there from the start. That’s especially true with WO. Either he was and is naive about the reality of, say, WO in the ACNA or he and people like him went into it with the idea that they would be able to beat it into submission.
Either way, I think it’s safe to say that Jeffries would be better off in a Continuing church from a doctrinal and practical standpoint.
Scholastic Reformed theologians claim to be in line with Nicene theology proper. But when you read scholastic Reformed theology, particularly their confessions, what becomes immediately apparent is that scholastic Reformed theology operates out of the apophatic ‘negative’ and/or speculative tradition for thinking a doctrine of God (and Christ); whereas Nicene theology thinks from cataphatic ‘positive’ and/or revealed theology for thinking God. By way of prolegomena or theological methodology this places Niceno-Constantinopolitano theology at loggerheads with something like we see in the scholastically Reformed Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF).
First, the Reformed theologians aren’t the only ones working in an apophatic tradition. Moses Maimonides did likewise, and his contribution is certainly valued by Aquinas and myself.
Second, I am inclined to think that Grow is right on this point. As frequent visitors to this site will attest, I’m not much on Reformed theology in any form, and as the years pass I get progressively sourer on the subject. Pieces like this only justify my antipathy.
Third, I think it’s fair to say that Scholastic theology, of which I am an enthusiastic student, started to go downhill after Aquinas, which is the opposite of the narrative that, say, Francis Schaffer was so enamoured with. The idea of a “Reformed Scholasticism” is somewhere between an oxymoron and a sign of the decline that began years before Calvin and Luther.
But this is to our point: to think God from speculative philosophical notions, as the Arians and Homoiousions did, only leads to unbiblical conclusions, and thus grammar about who God is; indeed, it thinks of God in terms of whatness rather than whoness as a first-step. Athanasius, and the Nicene theology he helped develop, repudiated thinking God from Hellenic frames of reference, and instead allowed God’s Self-revelation in the Son, Jesus Christ, to shape the way he, and the other Nicenes, thought God.
As I’ve noted elsewhere, the whole Arian controversy ran in the context of Greek philosophy. Athanasius and his homoousion colleagues simply did a better job aligning it with the Scriptures. It was ultimately beyond the ken of Greek philosophy to explain essential subordination in the triune Godhead, but I think that problem can be solved.
The Church of England had its Prayer Book, and thus the liturgical way of life was kept alive. But when in the XVIII century, the heyday of the Whig bishops, the easy-going parsons, and the infrequent Eucharists, a prophet arose in the person of John Wesley, the Church knew not the day of its vindication, and literally stoned him. In 1938 many Anglicans, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, joined with Methodists throughout the world in observing the 200th anniversary of Wesley’s ‘Aldersgate Experience.’ That a priest of the Church of England should have had a religious experience was a strange reason for such an elaborate commemoration. And, unfortunately, it identified Wesley with modern Methodist prayer-meetings, whereas he was essentially a Prayer Book churchman, and the embodiment of Anglicanism at its best.
Reared in the churchly atmosphere of his father’s vicarage and of Oxford University, he came to an understanding of sacramental theology by a study of the Fathers, of Jeremy Taylor and other Caroline divines, and of non-juring churchmen like William Law. In his preaching tours throughout England he always attended the services of the parish church. He received communion weekly, and indeed as many as four times each week on the average throughout his entire ministry, so it has been estimated. He urged the duty of constant communion. And his communion services attracted the common people beyond the capacity of the churches to hold them. Few priests in any period of Church history have ever done more to popularize the Holy Communion.
His one lapse from Anglican order-laying his hands on Coke-is to be explained in part by his acceptance of St.Jerome’s teaching of the equality of bishops and presbyters, but chiefly by his intense conviction of the importance of the Holy Communion. It was a desperate step, but he took it only after he had repeatedly failed to persuade the English bishops to provide bishops and sacraments for his American Methodists. Seabury similarly failed. The two were in London at the same time. If they could have met and agreed on a common plan of action. it might have changed the religious destiny of the new world. (pp. 18-19)
Next week the Southern Baptist Convention meets in Nashville. They’re facing a number of serious issues: declining membership, Critical Race Theory, and sex abuse scandals, both opposite-sex and same-sex. They’ve had some high-profile departures from the Baptist universe such as Russell Moore, an enlightening analysis of which is here. The denomination everyone thought “had it all” is in trouble.
People who come out of Apostolic churches always find the Baptist–and Evangelical–idea rather strange. They attribute this to “lack of discipleship” and “lack of community.” Neither of these is true; in some ways, the Baptists can make a more effective case against Anglicans and Roman Catholics than can be done the other way. The reason why Baptist and Evangelical churches are the way they are stem from one simple thing: their idea of unconditional perseverance, or “once saved always saved.” When coupled with a generally Arminian view of election, the results look good on the surface but eventually kick back, and that’s what we’re seeing now.
For me this is personal: I had to get the Baptist thing “out of my system” before moving forward. I always tell people that 2.5 years at FBC was the longest 2.5 years I’ve spent anywhere. I hope this will be enlightening for people who don’t understand how this style of mind plays out.
To do this I’ll take a leaf from the Landmark world, in the form of a debate. I feature the The McPherson-Bogard Debate elsewhere, but this is the Garner-Smith Debate. It took place in Gainesville, FL in May 1974 between Albert Garner, a well-known Missionary Baptist preacher, and James Tilden (J.T.) Smith, one from the Church of Christ. The two topics under consideration are as follows:
Baptismal Regeneration; and
Unconditional Eternal Security
It may surprise Apostolic types that the Church of Christ, so far away in many ways from their idea, supports baptismal regeneration, but in a way they do. The Baptists of course are very strong supporters of eternal security, irrespective of which form of election they pick.
By the time of the Garner-Smith debate projected visuals were reasonably common, in the form of the infamous “view graphs.” Some (like these) look primitive now, although they’re not much better than some of the ones I saw at Texas Instruments. The first one I want to put up is from Smith, showing his idea of what the Baptists believe about salvation (and their idea that baptism isn’t necessary for that.)
Smith doesn’t miss a chance to take a pot shot at groups neither one of them likes (Roman Catholics, Methodists, etc.) But basically he’s spot on, especially with the “straight shot” part of the diagram. Although it’s part of the baptismal regeneration part of the debate, his characterization of salvation as “cannot be lost–unconditionally secure–idolatry and murder not make soul in danger” is basically either what the Baptists believe or the logical conclusion of that belief.
That concept is a game changer for the life of the church. The people I normally associated with being free from moral constraint were the Communists, who deny the existence of a non-material reality. But here we are. And Garner never responded to this. This basically turns the life of the church into a numbers game; once you’ve got them saved, that’s it.
It’s true that the Baptists have a thorough program for follow-up, especially in their Sunday School system and other types of training. But these are not for salvation: these are for giving believers a credible witness in the world. It’s the key counterweight to their idea of perseverance, and I’ve known many Baptists who are faithful to that. (The only thing I never quite grasped was why Baptists, when they prayed, frequently asked God to forgive their sins: my impulse was to ask them “Why?”)
But as anyone who has done church work knows, the higher up you go in the system the fewer contacts with people outside the church–and by extension the lost–you have. That decreases the need to maintain a witness, especially outside of the realm of publicity. In turn this leads to the viciousness of Baptist politics, as was on display in Paige Patterson’s ouster. It’s little wonder under these circumstances that Russell Moore chose the carefully planned exit he did: he knew that an ecclesiastical piranha tank awaited him if he didn’t, and then he would be ruined for sure.
This leads to the next observation for those institutions that welcome Moore and other refugees from the Baptist world: you need to force them to do “pew time” until they free themselves from their Baptistic idea of eternal security. That’s easier said than done. My Baptistic mother, who put me through the Episcopal system of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the Comfortable Words, and being characterised as a miserable offender every Morning Prayer, was shocked years later to discover that I didn’t believe in Baptistic eternal security. She said she “hoped” I would come around to it! Raise up a child in the way he should go…
Which leads to another of J.T. Smith’s graphics, at the right.
All of this should show that the Baptist’s ways are certainly unequal, in this regard at least. They’ve produced a successful system which has transformed a region, but they took a slick shortcut to do it. That slick shortcut has affected the American Evangelical world in ways that it does not understand, even in those groups that don’t formally share its eternally secure theology. It’s the real source of a great deal of “easy believism” that gets attacked by people like Robin Jordan.
The Baptists need to wake up to the dilemma they’ve created. If they don’t, their love of evangelism won’t come to much: the eternities they profess to care about won’t be changed, and then they won’t be the only ones in trouble.
Southwestern’s dispatch in the annual Book of Reports, which presents information for messengers attending the denomination’s upcoming annual meeting, alleges Patterson misappropriated “confidential donor information” and took seminary property after his 2018 termination over allegations of mishandling sexual abuse.
The report comes three months after the seminary settled a lawsuit against a foundation that shifted millions in funding following Patterson’s departure.
But the way the Board reversed its previous decision and unceremoniously dumped him is unfortunately typical of the way Southern Baptists handle situations like this. In their system you’re either highly favoured or cast into outer darkness, there’s no middle ground…I think much of that has to do with their defective combination of Arminian election and Calvinistic perseverance. Once you’ve made your decision for Christ and then mess up, the only explanation left is that you weren’t saved to start with. So how can anything subsequent to that be trusted? Out with you.
In addition to this, the way the seminary booted Patterson is consistent with current corporate practice. “Back in the day” you had some time to wrap up your business, clean out your office and leave. Now it’s standard to change the locks on your office (and your computer) and force you to fight the institution for your own stuff. The fact that Patterson was in Germany was all the better in the eyes of the seminary.
Had the seminary simply appointed a representative to go through the whole thing with Patterson, it would have been better. But that’s not the corporate way these days, and it’s not the Baptist way either.
I never thought I’d ever see a debate on the subject of the inerrancy of Scriptures in an Anglican context. But one Dr. Scot McKnight, Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary and (I think) in the C4SO (the usual source of trouble in the ACNA these days) has put himself front and centre with a piece on the inerrancy of the Scriptures. This is an important topic, but the way he sets things forth shows me that Evangelicals are too deep into their own stuff, even when they try to escape into places like the ACNA.
My first exposure to the term was an article in the original Jerome Biblical Commentary, and needless to say they weren’t too hot on the idea. They also got into the hermeneutical issues surrounding this, which I’ll come back to. Later on I read Harold Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible, which really was the call to arms (not WO) for the Southern Baptist Resurgence in the 1970’s.
I think that the Scriptures are God’s authoritative revelation, period. I used the term “unBiblical” regularly on this site to characterise positions which are either sub-Christian or completely non-Christian; the fact that we have this revelation makes this job possible. The whole push for the inerrancy of the Scriptures a half century ago was the result of conditions which have changed.
The undermining of the basic concept of the truth content of the Scriptures came from the advent of German Higher Criticism. A good case can be made that the whole shipwreck of the Episcopal Church had its genesis in the acceptance of this in the seminaries. Once this is done the Scriptures lose both their claim to truth and their relevance to Christians now. This underpinned the modernist attack on traditional Christianity.
Higher Criticism represented an attempt to beat the Biblical narrative, and how it came into being, into the form of German philosophy. That may have made it possible to think that our seminaries had assumed the mantle of science, but it was pseudo-science, for many reasons. One place where the deconstruction of that narrative has taken place is Biblical archeology. McKnight speaks disparagingly of that, but the process has been going on since at least the days of Roland de Vaux and continues to the present.
All of this created the shipwreck that hit the rocks after World War II. The Episcopal Church bled members during the late 1960’s and 1970’s in the aftermath of this. Evangelical churches picked up some of these pieces, fuelled not only by their affirmation of the truth content of the Scriptures but, in the case of the Pentecostals and Charismatics, the manifested belief that God did the same things to day that he did in the Scriptures. It’s a lot easier to believe the former when you hold to the latter.
Liberals, when surveying the wreckage they wrought, realised (if not admitted) the error of their technique. So they came up with a new approach: postmodernism, where the idea shifts from “the Scriptures say it, but they’re not reliable,” to “the Scriptures say one thing, but really mean another.” They’ve shifted the debate from an textual reliability issue to a hermeneutical one. That, I think, is where the real conflict is, but McKnight and others are still deep into the stuff they started with.
So what is to be done? In one place McKnight gives a clue by saying that “we can talk about “inerrancies”: Origenist, Augustinian, Protestant, Princetonian, and even postmodern!” I give an example of this in my piece Why Evangelicals Don’t Read Philo Judaeus. Philo very much believed in the inerrancy of the Scriptures but had no problem denying, for example, New Earth Creationism. I have discussed Origen himself in my piece The Significance of the Literal Meaning of Scripture: An Example from Origen. Getting rid of the term “inerrancy” really doesn’t accomplish anything except perhaps making him and other refugees from Evangelicalism feel better about themselves.
We need more than that. What we need is some kind of agreement on a hermeneutic. I left out the term “authority” from the discussion because I don’t think that any Protestant church has or can claim authority to interpret the scriptures and make same interpretation stick. Given Anglicanism’s rootedness in the Apostolic tradition, a Patristic-based hermeneutic would make sense, but getting most seminaries and seminary academics to go along with that will be an uphill battle.
So in the meanwhile: McKnight and others like him would do well to leave their qualms about things like inerrancy in their Baptistic past and move forward with what they really believe the Bible says and means.
Right now we are lurching into another of our periodic crises over drinking, and both tendencies are on display at once. Since the turn of the millennium, alcohol consumption has risen steadily, in a reversal of its long decline throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Before the pandemic, some aspects of this shift seemed sort of fun, as long as you didn’t think about them too hard. In the 20th century, you might have been able to buy wine at the supermarket, but you couldn’t drink it in the supermarket. Now some grocery stores have wine bars, beer on tap, signs inviting you to “shop ’n’ sip,” and carts with cup holders.
Some of the points made were ones I did in my 2011 piece Should Christians Drink?, albeit in a different context. And I got blowback from that.
My own family’s history of alcohol isn’t a happy one. I think that a lot of that was fuelled by the pain of being in my family, which is one reason why I don’t attach Scots-Irish sentimentality to the whole concept. That led to premature death and more abuse.
“To be clear, people who don’t want to drink should not drink. There are many wonderful, alcohol-free means of bonding.” That’s part of the problem: the drinkers don’t like abstainers in their midst and will apply the necessary social pressure to dislodge their non-imbibing friends. It was certainly that way in the hard drinking construction and oil industries I came into forty years ago and I doubt it’s changed with our effete, credentialed elite.
This country has a drinking problem, and frankly short of abstinence I don’t know of a good way to fix it. It’s a sad situation, but this country seems to have more than its share of sad situations these days, not the least of which is that a lot that hits social media is enough to drive anyone to drink.