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Made by a young pair of brothers, Divided the movie is the film version of the Family Integrated Church propaganda.  Careful oversight was given by Scott Brown, of the NCFIC, and he was also interviewed extensively in the documentary.  The film follows the research of Philip  Leclerc into the fruits, philosophies, and history of the youth ministry church model.

Divided consists mostly of interviews.  It begins by talking to the authors of Already Gone, Britt Beamer and Ken Ham, who discuss the statistics about youth leaving the Church and at what age they stopped believing orthodox Christianity.  One problem they identify with modern youth ministry is the lack of substance being presented in lessons and sermons at events.  This leads to man on the street shots of students after a Christian concert, and surveys of various youth leaders and conference directors for youth pastors, showing the pervading philosophies of being relevant and giving the students an emotional experience – intentionally not dealing with points of Christian doctrine beyond Jesus’ love and sacrificial death.

Some former pastors and youth leaders are interviewed about why they left the youth ministry model (much as the filmmaker’s parents had chosen to do).  An enlightening testimony suggested that teaching the “right things,” worldviews and Christian theology, still resulted in a majority of students leaving the faith by the end of high school.  This presents a contrast to the first segment, where the flawed worldview of average youth ministry was uncovered.  One church planter stated that if you just read the Bible, you would not think of doing church the way we do it today; his church is trying to function more biblically, and one aspect of that is to eliminate youth ministry.

Next is what I see as the strong point, the most useful part of the documentary, dealing with the history of age-segregated church, beginning with the origins of Sunday school classes for children.  The rest of the movie seems unlikely to enlighten or persuade anyone, as the philosophies of each side (pro-youth ministry and pro-family-based discipleship) are not tested against a biblical standard.

Afterward, Philip Leclerc interviews a series of leaders in the FamilyIntegratedChurchmovement, who point out that the Bible’s prescription for discipling children is that their parents train them up, and that youth ministry – separate from the main meetings and activities of the church – is never mentioned in the Bible.  Questions are brought forward, like the argument that since parents are not taking responsibility for training their own children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, if the Church doesn’t, the youth will fall through the cracks.

I found a few things lacking in Divided.  At the end of the movie, I felt that the criticism against youth ministry was directed at its fruit: people who abandon belief in God and the Bible.  But the alternative put forward is not judged by the same measure.  I remain curious how successful family-centered discipleship and family-integrated churches are at retaining the next generation.  The filmmaker’s mentors are full of ideals which they claim are biblically based.  If the fruit is different from what statistics show for youth in the past several decades, this gives us hope.  If the fruit is the same, perhaps more is going on than negligent parenting and segregated churches.

The movie relies on the worldview of its audience to refute the postmodernism of most youth ministries which is put on display in the first half of the film.  Though presented as the unwanted results of age-segregated ministry, we are left to judge what is wrong with the youth interviewed based on our own notions – whether we would judge them for their style of music or dress, for their poor communication skills, for holding to false doctrines about creation, for caring about authenticity and relationship, for lacking discernment, for laziness, for postmodern relativism.  And if we only notice a couple of these, perhaps we are absorbing the rest of their subtle messages as true – or maybe we are judging everything they say as wrong because of the other things they are packaged with.

This highlights the next difficulty I had with the movie: some of the youth and youth leaders made really good points about what is valuable to people, what they expect – even need – to find at church.  When a student says he is looking for people who will tell him the truth and be real with him, and that he values a mentor for being involved in his life, surely the Church could learn from those needs.  A woman who leads training for youth pastors points out that they need to be relevant to the everyday lives of kids.  True – who has more relevance to the ins and outs of a young person’s life than the family he lives with?  Who is more real to him than his own parents?  But this point was not made, this challenge not extended to parents who are choosing to take up the biblical mandate to be spiritual leaders to their children.  Also, those concerns recognized by the representatives of youth ministry are really universal needs, not applicable just to teenagers, but also to adults.

Throughout the movie, the experts skirt the issue that the way we do church is fundamentally unbiblical.  We have not sought God’s design for our gatherings and Christian life.  The Church that was intended to be a community has become an institution full of programs, and people fill slots and categories and statistics instead of being directed by needs and gifts in the Body.  Perhaps parents are abdicating their spiritual roles because the Church isn’t allowing discipleship to happen among its members, leaving parents ill-equipped to train their children – but also leaving pastors ill-equipped, unsupported by the edification they are supposed to receive from the rest of the Church.

Finally, there is the question of whether people who are middle school, high school, and college age ought to be considered adults, invited and expected to contribute their spiritual gifts (if they are believers*) to the unity and edification of the whole church just as the rest of adults ought to be (but often are not).   I say “the rest of” because until the last hundred years, people in their mid-teens and beyond were counted adults.  In the very least they were not considered children.  And on the assumption that youth ministries are dealing with children rests the crux of the argument made by the Family Integrated Church proponents.  They argue that parents own the responsibility for the spiritual growth of their kids.  But if they’re not kids, in the biblical sense to which the commands would apply…

And even if they are children, if they are saved*, they are members of the body of Christ and the instructions about Church should apply to them.  They ought to receive instruction and admonition from any believer who is so gifted and led.  Parents are responsible, and not to shirk their duties towards the children God has entrusted to them, but they are not alone, and do not own exclusive rights to their child’s discipleship.  Perhaps they ought to do “catechizing” and “worldview training” at home instead of expecting it to be done at church.

I appreciate the call Divided puts out to parents to fulfill their God-given roles in the family.  The documentary shows the variety of people who believe in family integration, and the different reasons people practice it.  Exhorting the Church to be unified by ending age segregation is a great start.  When asked about children whose parents are not believers (the original target of Sunday schools), Family Integration proponent Scott Brown suggested an intense, personal solution: sound families should bring those children into their home during the week to witness to them and disciple them (sending them back to their own families with deference to the parents’ authority), and have those children sit with their family during church meetings.  The family is upheld as an important player in education and morality.  Ultimately, Divided exalts God for designing well, however dismal the results of man’s corruptions of church and family.

*If a child is not yet a professing follower of Christ, should he be required to attend Church gatherings with his parents?  Should he be allowed to participate if he is there?

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Today I read an extra chapter from Frank Viola’s From Eternity to Here.  This is the chapter I bought the book for.  In The Anatomy of the Church, the author lists and describes 14 biblical images of the Church, from the familiar: Bride, Body to the obscure: Field, Loaf.  Each one includes references.

 

“Compare the bouquet of roses to a rose bush. In a rose bush, the roses are one organic whole. Each rose possess its own individuality, but none are individualistic. They grow together for they share the same root. The bush passes through seasons of death and resurrection together. They are one organism. The church that the New Testament envisions is a rose bush, not a bouquet of roses.”

 

Frank emphasizes the communal (non-individualistic) nature of the Church and the headship of Jesus Christ, brought forward in every image.  Jesus redeems individuals in order to make for himself a special people. And He takes us and baptizes us into one body.

 

I’m interested to study a few of these images more.  The Loaf and The Army particularly piqued my interest.  Is the Armor of God given to the corporate Church rather than to individuals?  What does that look like?  Where does this Bible teacher get the idea that the “grains” produced by Christ’s death and resurrection must be crushed and fired and turned into one loaf?

 

On the other hand, how beautiful and exciting to meet with a vision for the Church: for God’s love for her, His purpose for her, and His delight in her.  How do we respond to that?

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I loved these articles on the Lord’s Supper.  They’re written by a professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  So they have good Bible study, and come from a perspective I recognize: Baptist.  Professor Svendsen does delve into a lot of Greek and some early Church history.  For a summary of his points, just read the Introduction, Theological Ramifications and most importantly, the Conclusion.


Introduction

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion that the “Elements” of the Lord’s Supper Constitute a “Supper”? (Part 1) – I like this article, discussing Paul’s reference in 1 Corinthians to a supper, not just a ritual.

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion that the “Elements” of the Lord’s Supper Constitute a “Supper”? (Part 2)

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion that the “Elements” of the Lord’s Supper Constitute a “Supper”? (Part 3)

The Significance of “The Cup/One Bread” – Most churches I’ve been in take 1 Corinthians 11 as a text for their Lord’s Supper ceremony, but they ignore the chapter before that emphasizes one loaf and one bread, and the Lord’s Supper as a means of Church unity.

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord’s Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 1) “The other important point to note in Acts 2:46 is themood of the church while “breaking bread.” It was not with solemn reflection that they “took their meals together,” but rather with “gladness.” The Greek word translated “gladness” (agalliasis), a word unattested in secular writings, in its various forms often denotes the exultation that accompanies messianic expectations.”

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord’s Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 2) “So then, the Lord’s Supper that is being instituted by Jesus has an eschatological element; it is an anticipation and foretaste of the Messianic Banquet to come.”

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord’s Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 3) – “Do this in remembrance of Me” a reminder to us or a reminder to Jesus?

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord’s Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 4)

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord’s Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 5) – Maranatha!’s historical connection with the Lord’s Supper

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord’s Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 6) – “In other words, Paul is not saying one comes under judgment for eating the Supper while in an unworthy state. He’s saying rather that one comes under judgment for eating the Supper in an unworthy way;”

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion that the Lord’s Supper Would Become “Too Common” if Celebrated More Often than Once a Month? (Part 1) – The Early Church probably gathered each Sunday to “break bread” (including the Lord’s Supper).

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion that the Lord’s Supper Would Become “Too Common” if Celebrated More Often than Once a Month? (Part 2) – “In light of this emphasis on the connection between the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper—in the practice of both the New Testament church and the post-apostolic church—evangelical churches must begin to rethink the true purpose for meeting together as a church, and the frequency with which they partake of the Supper.”

Some Theological Ramifications to Our Lord’s Supper Series (Part 1) – “Is the culture of the church at this point based on the surrounding culture, or is it based on eschatological reality? If in fact there is going to be a Messianic Banquet at the end of the age, and if that banquet (as we have seen) is rooted in eschatological reality, then we must see the biblical imagery of a banquet as independent of Hellenistic society.”  and “Since anything resembling the eschatological banquet is rarely found in the context of the Supper within the modern church, so too the accompanying eschatological joy is rarely found. Instead, the mood resembles much more that of a funeral.”

Some Theological Ramifications to Our Lord’s Supper Series (Part 2) – (Who can partake?  Do we have to protect the Lord’s Supper?)  “Bear in mind that the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament was a full meal, and participation in that meal was the very purpose for meeting together in the first place. In fact, the entire meeting was very likely conducted while at table, and the eating likely lasted throughout the entire meeting.”

Concluding Thoughts to the Lord’s Supper Series – “What is needed is not more adaptation of the Supper to accommodate our modern setting; what is needed is more of a willingness to conform our setting to accommodate the Lord’s Supper as revealed in the New Testament. Until we do, much of the theology of the Supper will remain lost to us—and with it, its benefits to the church.”

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Several years ago I emailed my pastor. We’d taken Communion at church that week, and I was curious how we ever got started doing the ceremony as we did. I’ve come to discover that there are two major ways of taking Communion in churches today: The first follows the procedures of the Catholic Mass, where a minister presides over the table and the rest of the congregation comes forward for the bread and cup to be administered. Second is the version with which I am more familiar, where a minister recites a few sentences removed from 1 Corinthians 11, prays for the bread – which is actually pre-broken crackers in a plate, and then the deacons (whose original biblical job was, after all, distributing food) carry the plates to the congregation, passing them up and down the pews until everyone has some, then marching in unison to the front where they all surrender their trays, sit down, and let the minister serve them bread. Then he sits down and one of the deacons serves him. Then the minister stands back up and leads the congregation in “partaking.” We do the whole thing over again for the cup, served in trays of thimble-cups. And all I wanted to know is whence this elaborate ceremony came.
But my pastor either didn’t understand the depth of my question or didn’t know and gave me the best he had. No one knows, I concluded. If they don’t teach such things at seminary, where else could you learn about church traditions?

Pagan Christianity? addresses many points of my inquiry. First of all, it does tell me how we got the ceremony we know as Communion or the Lord’s Supper. Specifically the passing of trays was an invention of the church in Geneva where Calvin and his gang emphasized orderliness. Additionally, this short book describes the origins of several other things I mentioned: pastors and ministers, Communion no longer having to do with community, the Lord’s Supper no longer being a supper, churches meeting once a week in buildings, tables or altars at the front of the building, congregations as distinct from the clergy, pew arrangement facing a stage, deacons being reduced to ushers, seminaries, and even the practice of removing “verses” (an added, man-made invention) from context. Most of these are derived either from pagan temple ritual, Roman government structure and formality, or the style of Greek philosophers. On the whole this book is an astounded critique of how the Church of God has not transformed the world, but rather allowed itself to be conformed. We who are to be the image-bearers of God are looking remarkably like His enemy. This apostasy has dramatically affected the mission of the Church. We stand today divided, running after every new program or philosophy the experts throw at us, losing attendance by the thousands, and exhibiting a very weak testimony of the power, holiness, and love of our God. Pagan Christianity? is a wakeup call to the Church to abandon their manmade traditions with which we have replaced the commandment of God.

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If you happened to come at the Church dilemma from the same direction as Pagan Christianity, meaning, you started to suspect there was something wrong with the way we “do” church, this book is the next step. In Reimagining Church, Frank Viola describes his conclusions about God’s intention for Church meetings, using the tool of contrast with our normal church experience. Not hierarchy, but consensus. Not stage-centered, but participatory. Not merely intellectual, but spiritual. Not program-driven, but organic. Not Pentecostal or cessationist, but charismatic.
Three points stood out to me in Frank Viola’s book.

1) He believes that the Trinity should be the model for our church: unity in diversity, and applies that belief to his theology and ecclesiology. How should our leadership be? How does the Trinity do it? How should our fellowship be? How is it between the Trinity? I don’t see that this method is taught by the Bible, but it
may not be false.

2) Theology should be contextual and Christ-centered. He advocates for a chronological order for the books of the New Testament, the order in which they were written set alongside the timeline and history found in Acts. Also he believes the
meetings should be Christ-centered in that the product of every gathering is a better love for, trust in, or knowledge of Christ.

3) We need fellowship with other Christians. There is no excuse for excluding any of the redeemed from our fellowship unless they are unrepentant about habitual sin or demonstrably only professing “Christianity” without any familiarity with what that means. (We don’t have to fellowship with cultists or heretics, even if they say they’re Christians.) The Bible emphasizes the group-ness of the Church over the individuality of the Christian. Community is essential for biblical interpretation, for evangelism, and for our personal spiritual growth.

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Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer with Todd Hillard
Britt Beemer’s America’s Research Group was commissioned by Ken Ham to survey 1,000 former attendees of conservative Christian churches, who are now in their twenties, to discover why they left. Already Gone is a summary of the survey results, and a challenge to the church to heed the warning and make the radical changes required to remain relevant – not only to the younger generations, but to everyone.

Do you believe in the authority of Scripture? Does your life demonstrate it? Ken Ham poses these questions to young adult Christians both in and out of mainstream churches, to pastors, Christian teachers, to parents, churches, and educational institutions. The subject of Already Gone is the generation of Christians my age (20’s), many of whom have left the church. Of those who have left, there are two main groups: one whose worldview is mostly secular and skeptical of the Bible, and one that believes the Bible is true and applicable but has found the church irrelevant. How is the church failing to deliver a biblical worldview to the children and youth who faithfully attend Sunday school, church, and youth group? Of the twenty-something’s who remain in the church, are they submitted to the authority of Scripture, or is their search for a worship experience prevailing over God’s teachings about the Body of Christ?

What about the parents, pastors, youth pastors, and Sunday school teachers who make up the older generation, the church establishment? Have they sold out God’s teachings on the church for their beloved traditions? How much of what we think of when we hear “church” is actually biblical? Why is the most common accusation against the church that it is hypocritical? The church in America is losing members so drastically that we need to radically reevaluate our practices and teachings. Compromise cannot be tolerated.

As founder of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham must touch on his favorite subject: the foundational importance of Genesis, and how compromise on the historical and scientific truth of Genesis undermines all of Scripture, faith in God, and even the gospel. He calls the church back to teaching “earthly things,” the correspondence between the Bible and reality. Christians need to be equipped for apologetics from an early age, to guard against doubts and to answer inquiries from a godless culture. This, more than music or games or attractive activities, is the only way to be relevant to people living in the real world and desperate for answers.

Already Gone is a fair, factual, and interesting treatment of the systemic problems in the church today. Lest we become like post-Christian Europe, where church is a marginal pastime for a few elderly people clinging to vestiges of tradition in empty cathedrals, we must take action now. Several reactions to the problem are presented, with their disadvantages and perks, but ever a challenge to study for yourself what God says about church and training up children.

As a member of the generation under the microscope, on the edge of the traditional church and ready to flee, I was impressed by the willingness to take us seriously. Some of us are leaving because we see the problems and want a church that does what a church should, and loyalty isn’t strong enough to keep us from looking outside our experience. Ken Ham acknowledges, with some surprise, people in my situation. I appreciated this book. Even though I’m pushing for the more extreme reactions mentioned (abandoning Sunday school and traditional trappings: buildings, sermons, and orders of worship), I have a lot of respect for the way Already Gone ties the whole malady to the failure of Christians to teach and obey the authority of the word of God. If a person is faithful to study and submit to that, he will be led to the mode of meeting and discipleship God intends, strongly equipped for the Christian call to evangelize our world.

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