How does any group, from large to small, create the "world" in which its people live? A world that includes not only a world-view in the mind, but a loyalty of the heart? A world that regenerates itself in each generation? A "world" that shapes the individuals into a people, a community? If a group must explicitly discuss and decide these questions, it is in serious trouble.

I grew up Primitive Baptist: a people-group shaped by a capella congregational singing, long extemporaneous sermons, shared meals, and visitation of members between churches. Shaped by a world-view of an omnipotent God who saves sinners because He decides to save sinners, apart from any efforts on the part of the sinner. As I argued in my book, The Formation of the Primitive Baptist Movement, the "world" of the Primitive Baptists was much more self-evident in a traditional, agrarian, pre-capitalist market society. Today, the Primitive Baptist world has trouble regenerating itself in each generation.

The author of this essay grew up Covenanter, a small Scottish Presbyterian group also in danger of losing their "world" in this new and modern world. The essay is brilliant, and gives a reading to Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that I would never have seen on my own.

Thanks, Tocq, for calling my attention to this gem.

One also can reflect on how this community called America is shaped by a "world," and whether we have lost or are losing that world in the 21st century.
Churches seem by their very nature conservative institutions. Any change is apt to cause controversy. And that is a good thing. Christians are admonished to continue in the Apostles' teaching, to hold to the faith once delivered to the saints, and to remember that it is Jesus' Church, not ours. Also, in an ever-changing world that can put individuals under great stress, continuity in worship from week-to-week and year-to-year provides the reassurance of a stable reference in the midst of a life that threatens to descend into chaos. Chesterton once wrote that tradition is the ultimate democracy, even the dead have a vote.

But, there is a difference between righteous conservatism and mere traditionalism.

While apostolic doctrines cannot be allowed to change in their essence, the manner of explaining them may need to change for different ages and circumstances. The style of preaching that reached one generation, for example the often two-hour sermons of the First Great Awakening, may not reach the generation of the internet effectively. And, some traditions of the church are not exactly apostolic, but are practices that may have arisen for very good reason in their day, but now live on because "we have always done it this way." Sort of like the new bride who cut off both ends of the ham before baking. When asked by her husband why, she replied that her mom did it that way. Prompted to call Mom, the older woman said, "I always had a short baking dish." Some traditions, though, do reflect theological positions that need to be thought-through carefully before changes are made. Controversy can help the reflection process, if done in a Christian manner. At the very least, controversy can prevent change for the sake of change.

Changes in church life always produce stress, and usually produce conflict. Coral Ridge Presbyterian seems be going through both kinds of changes--in style and in substance--and schism is now the result. From the AP:

Hundreds of congregants have left a pioneering megachurch in Florida to form their own congregation because they were unhappy with leadership at the church that's seen as a bedrock of the religious right.
The feud at Coral Ridge appears mostly to be a matter of style, not substance.
Under the leadership of Kennedy, who died in 2007, the church was a forerunner to modern evangelical megachurches, a fiercely conservative voice on social issues including homosexuality and abortion, and a powerful political voice.
Tchividjian, 37, took over earlier this year. While he has shown no sign of theological differences with Kennedy, he has rejected politics as the most important force for change, and his sermons have not focused on divisive issues. Meantime, he cuts a far different image, forgoing the type of choir robe Kennedy wore during services, and sporting spiky hair, tan skin, and sometimes a scruffy beard.
The difference in approach prompted dissenters to circulate a petition urging Tchividjian's removal. Their letter called him "a disaster" who has shown "a complete lack of respect" and made "grievous missteps."

I think the reporter may err in his characterization. Granted, preaching without a robe (Kennedy wore a pulpit robe, not a choir robe), spiky hair, etc. is "a matter of style, not substance." The change in worship style probably is one of the necessary changes made to reach the present age. But, the "rejection of politics as the most important force for change," may be a change of style, or may indicate a change in theology, that is a change in substance. Calvinism (the Reformed tradition) to which Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and D. James Kennedy belong, believes that Christians individually and collectively have the responsibility before God to try to change the world to bring it more in line with God's will. Just as we pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," and then go out and work for it rather than sitting back and waiting for bread to happen, so also we pray "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," then go out and work to bring about godly change in the world, rather than sitting back and waiting for the world to descend into greater depths of evil. Downplaying politics at Coral Ridge could be a stylistic change, or, it could indicate a substantive change. We'll see what develops.

I did an earlier post> on Coral Ridge, and on Liberty University & Thomas Road Baptist Church and the changes now underway.
Very interesting essay.

Is this the inevitable result of a belief in the individual conscience before God?

That is a disquieting question for Evangelicals—especially for Evangelicals. Evangelicals believe wholeheartedly in the individual conscience before God. We preach individual salvation, believing that each person will have a conversion experience. We encourage people to read and interpret the Bible for themselves regardless of age or education. We make it clear that every Christian is responsible for his or her spiritual life and that each can trust the internal leading of the Holy Spirit. We talk about feeling close to or far from God who, from time to time, “lays” someone or something “on my heart.” In short, we have a faith with a large subjective component.

That is why the Episcopalians’ problem could become our problem. Unless we protect the individual conscience before God from the run-away individualism and subjectivity that are rampant in our culture, we risk following the Episcopal Church to the cul de sac.

At their convention this week, not only did Episcopalians remove a moratorium on consecrating more openly self-affirming and practicing homosexual bishops, but also authorized the blessing of same-sex unions. Story.

These actions put further pressure on the relationship with Anglicanism world-wide, where African and Asian bishops--the growing part of Anglicanism--already regard their American kin as heretical.

Episcopalian leadership seems to have redefined "God" into a cosmic Barney, with love and hugs for all, no wrath, and no firm standards, except for "I'm OK, You're OK."

Theologically, there seem to be two basic errors in Episcopal thinking here: 1. there is no conception that the Fall has lasting effects on humanity such that we are born with problems--from physical birth defects to abnormal brain chemistry affecting our mentality to the impulse to sin, so that to say "God made me this way and that's OK" is at best naive; 2. there seems to be no conception of God's holiness, righteousness, and wrath, so that God is fine with us however we are.
Buzz Aldrin, a Presbyterian elder, took communion bread with him to the surface of the moon, eating it in thanksgiving. Story here from Voice of America.
Episcopalians, the U.S. branch of world Anglicanism, recently told the rest of Anglicanism to take a flying leap.


The Episcopal House of Bishops has, with minor amendment, adopted a resolution (D025) essentially repealing a moratorium (B033) on the consecration of gay bishops. The resolution, D025, had previously cleared the Episcopal House of Deputies on Sunday and was quickly picked up by the Bishops on Monday afternoon. It passed the House of Bishops 99-45 in favor, with two abstentions.
This brief article surveys the recent research and comes up with 14 factors cited by various "experts" to explain why some Christian congregations grow. Link from The Layman Online.

Here is a summary of the 14 factors which I document fully below: (1) witnessing, (2) strictness, (3) high fertility rates, (4) caring for children and youth, (5) high involvement, (6) welcoming new people, (7) leadership, (8) prayer, (9) being a church of 1000+ attendees or under 50 attendees, (10) being located in rural counties, (11) being in rapidly growing zip codes, (12) being in a tradition that is altering worship practices slightly but not too much, (13) churches that offer “intimacy and choice” and (14) attractive worship style, senior pastor, and church reputation.

(10)"Rural counties," above seems to mean exurban counties rather than the middle-of-nowhere counties, and so would overlap (11) rapidly growing zip codes. (9) Under 50 attendees would naturally reflect larger percentage changes with fewer numbers, also, many new church starts would be in this group. Numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8 often overlap with theologically conservative beliefs. And, (9) over 1000 attendees (not just members) often would be conservative churches rather than theologically liberal.
For those who like dates and charts, 2007 can be regarded as significant in the decline of the former Mainline Christian Denominations, and the rise of the (formerly)Sideline groups. According to the most recently available data, in 2007 the Presbyterian Church, USA, declined to 2.9 million members, while the Assemblies of God increased to 2.9 million members.

Interestingly, denominational declines were not limited to the Mainline (read Liberal) groups. The Southern Baptist Convention declined slightly, as did the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. So did Roman Catholics. The only large Christian denominations growing are the Assemblies of God, and the Church of God-Cleveland, Tennessee. (There are several groups calling themselves "Church of God," so they are differentiated by the location of their headquarters.)


Both the Assemblies of God, and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) are charismatic--emphasizing personal experience of the miraculous.
The standard story on the Roman Catholic Priest Abuser scandal is that the priests were committing child abuse. But I wonder if that is the correct template for understanding the story.

Former Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who resigned under pressure from Milwaukee, has a memoir coming out shortly. In the memoir he will reveal, reportedly, that he is homosexual. His involvement in the Milwaukee misdeeds was not limited to covering up for fellow priests.

Weakland, 82, resigned as archbishop in 2002 after admitting the archdiocese secretly paid $450,000 to a man who accused him of sexual abuse decades earlier. Weakland admitted an "inappropriate relationship" but denied abuse.

Story here.

Most of the victims of the abuse scandal were not "children" in the sense of pre-adolescent boys. About 51% were between the ages of 11 and 14, and about 27% were 15 - 17. Statistics.

These statistics have led some to conclude that rather than pedophilia, the scandal is really more about homosexuality in the clergy.

To begin with, it took a non-Catholic to point out that the term "pedophile priest" is largely a misnomer when applied to all cases of sexual impropriety. Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, wrote Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis in 1996. Yes, some priests have engaged in pedophilia — exploitation of children below the age of puberty — but their number is very small. By and large, the scandals have involved sexual relations between priests and adolescents — mostly boys — which suggests that homosexuality is involved in most cases.

Simply paranoia?

Among the conclusions of an academic study done about 10 years ago on attitudes toward marriage, celibacy, and homosexuality among Roman Catholic priests was this:

Our conclusion, based on these data and on our focus groups, is that homosexual subcultures increased in visibility, and probably also in numbers, in recent decades.

A search of the web reveals lots of conversation on this topic. I assume my ignorance comes from not being Roman Catholic.

All of this makes the Boy Scout policy seem very reasonable.
My own opinion of Joel Osteen's message is well expressed by Michael S. Horton in this essay on the Westminster Seminary California website. Link from Monergism.

Although explicit proponents of the so-called "prosperity gospel" may be fewer than their influence suggests, its big names and best-selling authors (T. D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, and Joyce Meyer) are purveyors of a pagan worldview with a peculiarly American flavor. It's basically what the sixteenth century German monk turned church reformer Martin Luther called the "theology of glory": How can I climb the ladder and attain the glory here and now that God has actually promised for us after a life of suffering? The contrast is the "theology of the cross": the story of God's merciful descent to us, at great personal cost, a message that the Apostle Paul acknowledged was offensive and "foolish to Greeks."
. . .
Osteen reflects the broader assumption among evangelicals that we are saved by making a decision to have a personal relationship with God. If one's greatest problem is loneliness, the good news is that Jesus is a reliable friend. If the big problem is anxiety, Jesus will calm us down. Jesus is the glue that holds our marriages and families together, gives us purpose for us to strive toward, wisdom for daily life. And there are half-truths in all of these pleas, but they never really bring hearers face to face with their real problem: that they stand naked and ashamed before a holy God and can only be acceptably clothed in his presence by being clothed, head to toe, in Christ's righteousness.

This gospel of "submission," "commitment," "decision," and "having a personal relationship with God" fails to realize, first of all, that everyone has a personal relationship with God already: either as a condemned criminal standing before a righteous judge or as a justified co-heir with Christ and adopted child of the Father. "How can I be right with God?" is no longer a question when my happiness rather than God's holiness is the main issue. My concern is that Joel Osteen is simply the latest in a long line of self-help evangelists who appeal to the native American obsession with pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Salvation is not a matter of divine rescue from the judgment that is coming on the world, but a matter of self-improvement in order to have your best life now.