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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

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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