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This is where I have the biggest beef with the model of church we often see in our cites and towns in America. Often when we look under the surface we don’t seem very humble in how we spend money, and I believe it is directly linked to our view of how we should live the Christian life, and our view of discipleship.

 

 

Look across any town or city, and it will seem as if many churches are in a contest to see who can have the largest sanctuary, the newest “Christian Life Center”, or the nicest landscaping. Or compete in terms of technology and programs by outdoing each other with a ridiculously overdone vacation bible school, “youth programs” complete with video games and sports equipment, expensive outings, etc. Its the religious equivalent of our rampant American consumerism where we tend to judge the things of our world by their packaging and marketing, and not our needs or the product’s effectiveness.

 

To be fair, we see these things more often in larger mega churches and “seeker centered” churches, and not so much more traditional protestant churches. But even smaller churches, though humble in size, might spend money proportionately similar to their larger, more overblown counterparts.

 

So, when you tell someone “The bible instructs you to give at least 10% of everything you earn”, and then you in turn spend that money on incredibly self-focused and consumer-minded things- you lose your own credibility in my eyes and many others. The bible has plenty to say about growing your wealth to the exclusion of growing your reward in Heaven. So ideal church, here some things you could tell me to convince me that you are concerned with glorifying God more than maintaining a status quo……..

 

Tell me you brainstormed, and planned, and found a more economical way to build your meeting place, or that you found an existing space to use when new construction would indebt the church for decades to come, instead of just following what the other big churches did across town with their new facilities.

 

Tell me that you plan on using your facilities to serve the community in ways you can, like offering an affordable after school program if feasible, a recreation program for area youth, or opening up your building as a meeting place if needed.

 

Tell me that you considered hiring an additional minister, but decided against it because you thought it better to raise up more layperson leaders within the church to assist the pastor(s) you do have and see that money go towards more mission-minded goals.

 

Tell me there is a servant attitude within your church that sees that needs within are met, instead of constantly hiring out the smallest projects just because you can afford it.

 

Tell me a large percentage of the church’s budget will go towards seeing to it that children in third world countries will eat today, and then hear the Gospel with a fully belly, and equip native people to build a better future for themselves.

 

Tell me that your church helps support local crisis pregnancy centers, soup kitchens and shelters, bible translation ministries, foreign missionaries, and church plants…… before it thinks about redecorating.

 

Please tell me that if your church ever gets to the point that it struggles to meet budget, it will do more than just grit its teeth and try and do whatever it has to do to keep its doors open.

 

Tell me that your church is concerned with more than just surviving financially.

 

Tell me that the overall mission of Christ’s church is actually of the highest priority to you, and you would consider merging with another church, letting another church meet in your building to share the financial burden, or even selling your facility that is too large or expensive for you…….. even if it hurts people sentimentalities.

 

Do many of the things our churches cling to truly produce disciples by aiding us in maturing in our faith? Or do they cater to our sensibilities and keep us religiously pacified and entertained, all the while spending enormous amounts of money to keep the train rolling on its tracks?

Just a continuation of this series. Go back and read Part I , Part II , or Part III

 

 

Employs various styles of worship music that reflects the congregation’s diversity, from the Psalms, ancient hymns, early American and Puritan hymns, contemporary music, and even music written by musicians within the church, but should ALWAYS done with the utmost reverence and sincerity, not for the sake of entertainment. Excellence should be pursued in worship for God’s glory, not man’s approval from the pews.

 

What I would argue for here, in place of some of the extremes we see in churches across America is an approach that embraces diversity in musical styles, but ultimately is authentic in its worship.

 

How is worship authentic? Well, first I would distinguish “authentic” from “sincere”. We can be copycats of whatever music is coming out of some Nashville based Christian music label, or vice-versa blindly follow a hymnal and organ like its still good ol’ 1890. We can do either of these and still offer it with sincerity in our hearts to God. But neither is really authentic. They are extremes we gravitate toward by not pursuing a richer, fuller idea of how music can be used to praise God.

 

By placing great importance upon the width and depth of musical sources we draw from, we are in effect celebrating the history of the church and the saints through their words, and participating in an ongoing celebration of music that is focused on Christ and our redemption through Him. This stands in very stark contrast to much of the modern church where we become very exclusive in our musical styles and sources, and we enshrine our own tastes as a tradition to be guarded. (Ever heard someone lament the presence or modern music or instruments, or someone complain because a church didn’t have a rockin’ praise band?)

 

The Psalms were the original hymnbook for the nation of Israeal, but take a look at most post-1950’s hymnbooks and try and see how many Psalter tunes are there. Not many, which is unfortunate. When we sing the Psalms, we are singing scripture! When we memorize Psalms that we sing regularly, we are memorizing God’s word to us.

 

Hymnwriters from Puritan England and early America like Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Horatius Bonar, Joseph Addison, Joseph Hart, John Newton, and William Cowper to name a few wrote hymns that beheld a majestic and merciful God, and sinful man in need of mercy. There was not a lack of theological depth or biblical language in their words. We would do well to not forsake hymns from this important period in our own church history.

 

Some contemporary praise music is quite good. Not the majority of it, but I can be forgiving because that is the case with any period of music. Ultimately the majority of it gets weeded out and the best remains. There will be music written in the last 20 years that one day will be included in hymnbooks and become standards (maybe, unless the hymnbook passes away from use in our churches)

 

There is even a place for homegrown music in an ideal church. What better way to pursue artistic excellence for the sake of Christ than to encourage our musicians and songwriters (if you have ‘em) to use their talents within the church? Many musicians have felt as if they had to leave their talents at the door and submit to a stiff tradition that’s inherited. This is wrong. The nation of Israel had large numbers of musicians employed from the tribe of Levi for temple worship, men who pursued excellence musically.

 

But….. think back to my first sentence; Reverence. Without it, our worship becomes empty, our words become hollow, and our music becomes entertainment-driven and is idolatry. This should be our arbiter of judgement, not merely subjective taste. There is room however for differing tastes and opinions. A community of believers should have the ability to talk openly, and not accusatorily, about what elements of its worship it finds lacking in reverence and find some middle ground. No member should be able to stand apart from the rest and demand that their views be catered to.

 

Diversity in the instruments present in worship according to the talents and preferences of the congregation, from piano and organ to acoustic guitars and strings, or electric instruments, but… done with the utmost reverence and sincerity.

 

Here is an illustration: Imagine we sent missionaries to a foreign country and they had great success in sharing the Gospel to a remote group of people. In an attempt to introduce them to parts of the larger Christian tradition and history they taught them a few songs. What if the organ and piano were foreign instruments to them? Would we require they adopt the same traditions as we use in our own cultural setting, or would we encourage the use of their own native instruments to sing their praises?

 

Likewise, when we minister to our communities around us we shouldn’t be surprised if they are more comfortable with instruments they are familiar with. Should we be suprised that to someone in their twenties an singing to an organ is culture shock, or that electric guitars and drums become distracting to someone who grew up in the 1950’s? This is the area that requires the greatest sensitivity. Ultimately its domineering for a generation to expect everything to stay the same for the sake of their own tastes, just as its presumptuous for a younger generation to seek to reinvent a church’s worship in its own ideal overnight. There has to be compromise, dialogue, and a mutual appreciation for differing tastes. Otherwise we end up with segregated services, or people leaving to form their own churches over what is only a cultural issue, and not even a matter of theology or ecclesiology.

 

If a church is to be authentic, we have to allow this. Cultural wars in which we pit our traditions against the “worldliness” we see in music outside the church is a self-defeating position because throughout history the church has borrowed from outside culture, or at times helped fuel it. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Is something sacred because of its nature, or because of its use? I would have to admit that there is nothing inherently sacred about our music, or our instruments, or our songs, but everything sacred about their use.

Earlier this spring I attended a satellite service/ church plant of a large First Presbyterian Church. The dress was casual, the music contemporary (Chris Tomlin and some Hillsong style stuff with drums and guitars), the apostle’s creed was dropped from the typical Reformed liturgy. The pastor spoke fairly clearly and seemed to strive for clarity while preaching from a narrative text (book of Acts).

 

Within his sermon he made mention of being “missional”, but yet… He did not define it, did not articulate what it means, or describe what it looks like in action. And unfortunately, as a first-time visitor I left easily without being greeted by anyone except for an assigned greeter at the door.

 

To me, this attempt seemed very cross-wired between Modern/seeker-sensitive and an attempt at being more forward-thinking missional. Good intentions might have gone into putting together this service, but it wasn’t purposeful and intentional enough. It was just a re-dressing of a typical church service.

 

However, being “missional” does not mean dropping historic statements of faith like the Apostle’s Creed (which isn’t even burdened with denominational or sectarian baggage), to only replace it with more bland praise music.

 

Being “missional” doesn’t mean just dropping the word in sermons hoping people will figure out what it means. It takes talking about specific issues of the church’s mission, grounding them in scripture exposition, and trying to engage your church into thinking about, planning, and pursuing missional goals communally; not merely planting ideas in people head’s that they will individually pursue once they leave the four walls of the church building. That kind of individualism is what is plaguing the church already, we don’t need to blindly continue in it.

 

At this point I risk being very arbitrary and subjective; but I believe being “missional” requires us to faces some challenges, including but not limited to:

  1. Understand the people we minister to, by seeking to understand the people and subcultures we live among, which in some form requires us to be involved in oiur communities.
  2. Place people and our ability to spread the gospel to them ABOVE our buildings and our budgets. When we are capable of giving financially to support the traditions we have built up that serve us as believers, and are willing at times to even guilt a congregation into giving a certain percentage to maintain this, but leave many types of ministry to parachurch ministries- we are showing that our priorities lie with mainly serving our own needs- this hardly advances the Gospel.
  3. Humbly realize our minority status as Christians in our country, city, neighborhoods, etc; and adjust our church’s ministry focus to reflect this. Hanging our sign and worship times out by the road inviting the outside world to come join us is not enough.
  4. Avoid pragmatism, (because the ends do not justify the means); but yet still hold our traditions in question as to their effectiveness in communicating the Gospel to our communities.
  5. Be willing to sacrifice our comfort zones because outreach gets messy, sacrifice our time because mercy ministries demand it, sacrifice our money because serving others sometimes ain’t free, and even sacrifice our traditions if they set up needless boundaries.
  6. and *insert other additional radical, mission-focused, jesus-glorifying, self-sacrificing, neighbor-loving, community-engaging activities here*
  7. All of these things cannot be done by adding them onto what we already “do” or “are” as a local church. Being committed to them requires us to actually change how we do church, and shape what that ultimately looks like in motion.

This list is from a post over at Reclaiming the Mind. Read the whole post here.

 

Emerging Theologically

Calling into question many traditional Christian doctrines. This questioning can result in agnosticism toward the particular doctrine, marginalization of the issue, or a settled humble conviction concerning the issue. This is closely tied to being emerging epistemologically.

Examples:

  • Missional focus concerning the spread of the Gospel (Christians do not go to church, they are the church)
  • Less tendency to recognize or give strong credence to traditional theological divisions (e.g. Catholic-Protestant; Reformed-Arminian)
  • Not too keen to systematic theology since to “systematize” ones theology usually implies a seemingly forced system of harmonization that is seen to be inconsistent with both human ability and divine revelation
  • Hesitancy about taking traditional labels such as Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Liberal, or even Emerger since the labels associate them with a systematized system of beliefs and thought
  • 1) Agnostic with regards to the destiny of the unevangelized (e.g. we don’t know the eternal condition of the unevangelized)
  • 2) Inclusivistic with regards to destiny of the unevangelized (e.g. Christ’s blood can save those who don’t have the chance to hear the Gospel)
  • More agnostic toward the nature of hell
  • Willing to see value in multiple theories of the atonement, not just the vicarious substitutionary view
  • Traditional Protestant theology of imputation questioned

 

First of all, kudos to those guys at RTM for dealing with emerging characteristics in sich a straightforward and irenic way. If you are reading this, you really should go over and read their post in its entirety.

 

Now, I would say that most of the items on this list do not characterize myself, even if I might sympathize with those who might hold these views more than your average Reformed guy would, but I would have to whole-heartedly agree with the first item on the list. In fact, I agree with it so much that I can’t understand why we shouldn’t view the church this way. Read it again:

“Missional focus concerning the spread of the Gospel (Christians do not go to church, they are the church)”

 

Why shouldn’t we view the church this way?

 

Theologically speaking, when did the church cease to be a worldwide universal communion of believers on a mission, that only happened to be expressed in the local congregation that usualy met in a building; and became only a local group of card-carrying members that from time to time has to stop and actually remind itself that they are 1) on a mission to spread the gospel, 2) only a small part of the church universal, and 3) not limited by their meeting place/building in being the church? When did this happen?

 

Why should it take an emerging generation of Christians to re-discover and re-awaken a new consciousness of something that the church was all along; a body of believers on a mission?

 

The early church was scarcely limited in their minds to only existing as a designated place to worship at a designated time. The idea of being on a mission to its immediete surroundings and the whole world while being in dynamic communion with one another and participating in community that was intentional and relational was certainly radical but it was implied and understood who lived it. The motivation and drive to draw outsiders unto the Lordship of Christ caused an explosion of growth while simultaneously inspiring great care and concern to be displayed for all others who were ‘in Christ”, even across the cultural chasm that seperated Jews and Gentiles, and different economic classes.

 

Tomorrow: My thoughts on being “missional”.

The Gospel in All its Forms: an essay by Tim Keller, Redeemer PCA

That is all.

Just another installment as I elaborate on the initial post.

Part 1: The Ideal Church

Part 2: Creeds and Confessions

  • Uses ecenumical creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, Athanasius, and Chalcedonian) to celebrate and reflect on the overarching themes and truth of scripture.

Why? Well, the early creeds of the church are the only confessions we have that are truly ecenumical, or are held to by the church as a whole. The fact that the church was once in enough agreement to draft and affirm such creeds shows us as we sit within our own particular denominations that we are a small part today of a much larger painting of God’s redemptive history. We weren’t the first to believe the Gospel and be changed by it, and we shouldn’t forget that fact.

Creeds celebrate this unity, and aid us in reflecting in the overarching themes of scripture that cannot be expressed from lone passages of scripture.

It is important to provide transcendence in our worship to remind us of this overarching communion we have with Christians from the past and present. I love the fact that even though we can’t avoid differing on finer points of theology with other Christians, we at least have real unity in the content of the early creeds of the church.

But which creed of the major 4 to use? All of them, I say. The Apostle’s Creed is great in its brevity and utter simplicity. But the Nicene Creed is absolutely beautiful in how it refers to Christ’s eternal nature and substance; “very God of very God, begotten not made, being of the same substance as the Father”. As well, the Athanasian and Chalcedonian Creeds are equally significant because they focused on critical matters of the humanity, deity, and substance of Jesus. All of them testify to watershed moments in our church history when a biblical view was affirmed and thus, heresy rejected. Also by using all of these, it lets us rotate them and guards our tradtion from becoming ritualism as they force us to focus on the words and meditate on them when we employ them in worship.

  • Uses denominational creeds and confessions to further affirm theological convictions corporately, like the Westminster Confession, or the Heidelberg Catechism.

Inevitably, when we venture into more recent confessions in Church’s history they become more theologically divisive than the earliest creeds, and they pit our views of finer points of theology against other denominations or churches views.

Rather than avoid this, I think we should embrace it with a sober frame of mind. Even the simplest of believers operates on theological assumptions of some kind, so we all stand on some form of theological foundation whether we realize it or not. We’re going to have different views of election, the sacraments, perseverance, etc. We should observe the hisorical foundation of our particular branches of Christianity, test it against scripture, meditate on it, and use it as an aid in communicating the overarching themes and truths of scripture that we have inherited through scholasticis. We shouldn’t flee from our differences but study them carefully.

I’m Reformed, so I’m obviously biased towards the Westminster Confession and I don’t apologize for it either. The Westminster Confession of 1646 is arguably the most exhaustive and comprehensive statement of faith ever produced, with the Anglican’s Thirty-Nine Articles coming in a not-so-distant second place. Obviously those outside the Reformed tradition would not embrace every article of it, and even many churches who use it as their statement of faith like mine actually use a slightly revised version from 1789, but overall it has stood the test of time and in many a scholar’s opinion has not been superceded by any confession since.

As far as catechisms go, The Heidelberg Catechism is more brief and succint than the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, which is why I like it more, and it is actually divided into 52 sections that allow it to be read corporately and completed in one year by reading a section every Sabbath. 

One great part of responsive readings or recitations is that they allow the whole congregation to participate. In an age where the church is growing more consumer-minded, and “special music” or dramas take a stronger presence, the reading together of confessions cements very objective ideas in our minds through our participation and allows us to reflect on them, refer to them later, and even memorize them.

Some objections:

Some Christians, young and old, might object to creeds and confessions having a prominent place in worship. Some proclaim “no creed but Christ” which is ridiculous because at some point you have to define specifics about Christ. Some might interject that creeds and confessions are stodgy and don’t reflect our freedom in Christ, or are too exclusive. I’m not going to even touch that one. But overall, I think one of the biggest misconceptions Christians might have about creeds, especially from “missional” or “emerging” Christians; is that they turn away new Christians or “seekers” who see them as dogmatic or confining.

I would argue, to this point, that if someone is truly “seeking” then they are seeking answers, answers to questions they have, objective affirmations of a historic faith, not ooey-gooey feel-good pop culture theology. People in emerging generations crave authentic, historic, transcendent…… and not so much flavor-of-the month expressions of faith. Maybe I’m being generous here, but there is very much a sentiment among younger Christians to break out of the box our parents and grandparents built, but that doesn’t mean doing away with what our ancient spiritual ancestors have produced but connecting with it instead.

So, if people don’t explicitly disagree with creeds (which would put them outside orthodoxy anyway) but are still put off by them, then maybe we should handle them differently. Maybe have a sermon series, or a class, or even just a blurb in the bulletin explaining the nessesity, history, and content of these ancient expressions of the Christian faith so people can have a more distinct connection with the words they are reciting.

I’ve been reading Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People by Will Metzger as of lately.

Metzger has been a campus minister for decades with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, traveled to every continent in his ministry, pastored a church, and served students of different nationalities at the University of Delaware.

This book is not a how-to manual for “new” methods and is certainly not riding the crest of any waves in current trends. But it is a very passionate and scripturally referenced manual for personal evangelism from a Reformed perspective, encouraging and admonishing its readers to present the Gospel without truncating it, or being unloving or lacking in grace as we do witness. 

Heres a quote:

This is a book about the scandal of sovereign salvation. In it, I blame God for salvation, in the sense that He is totally responsible. He organized a rescue operation within the Trinity- designing, supplying, accomplishing and restoring those who were in peril. Our Triune God is the Author and Fulfiller, the Originator and Consummator, the Creator and the Redeemer. Its all God’s fault- a grace that gives respone-ability to the spiritually dead.

The Lord of the universe is a lover who woos spiritual adulterers like you and me, providing everything needed to reconstitute a relationship.

The following is a conversation this past weekend that I had with a guy at a church booth set up at our town’s Spring Festival. From all appearances, it is a small church that is relatively new and meeting in a shopping center down the street from my own church.

 

Me: “Hi, aren’t you guys right down the street from the elementary school?”

 

Pastor guy: “Yes sir we are. How are you today?”

 

Me: (I pretend to look at tract) “Good. Oh, so you guys are Free Will Baptist huh?”

 

Pastor guy: “Oh, well we’re our own unique church. We planted it.”

 

Me: “But there’s a Free Will Baptist church less than a mile down the road from where you guys are at, and there’s another one right by my house another mile or two away. It seems like there is already a lot of Free Will Baptist churches in this area, why a new one?

 

Pastor guy: (a bit suprised) “Well the more hooks you put out, the more souls you are likely to catch”

 

Me: “Hmm, but I think there are almost 400 churches in this county alone, and less than 200,000 people living here. That means if every single person alive and breathing in this county went to church then you would have less than 500 people per church.”

 

Pastor guy: (suprised) “Well, I guess we’re trying to reach our 500 then….”

 

Me: “But, it’s probably less than 20 percent that go to church regularly, so that means less than 100 people per church. In your experience does your church make new converts, or just…. Cannibalize members from other churches?”

 

Pastor guy: (slightly offended) “Well that’s not what we are trying to do! We are trying to win souls! The more areas that we have churches in, then the more people we can bring into the Kingdom” he explains.

 

Me: “Kind of like the McDonalds approach? Put a church on every corner, and people will come?”

 

Pastor guy: Well, yeah!”

 

Me:“But it also seems like if every church has fewer than 100 members then they probably pay for a pastor and secretary, and for a building of some kind, and that’s it. It hardly seems efficient to have hundreds of buildings and salaries to pay for, and not be able to plant churches where they are greatly needed or fund missions or outreach with that money. It kind of takes our eyes off the big picture and focuses them only on ourselves.”

 

Pastor guy’s wife: (Getting uncomfortable) “Well, we’ve been doing this for 33 years…”

 

Other than pleasantries and discussing small group models for churches and other things, I just left it at that because I felt like I had worn out their graciousness.

 

Sigh, but this church growth thing in America has gotten out of hand. I mean, this guy is Free Will Baptist, They have a bazillion churches around here. Does he work with these guys, maybe start a small group in an area or something to reach new people and maybe bring new people into existing churches? No he wants to start his own thing, be independent, an island unto himself.

 

I don’t understand it. I’m reformed, and in the PCA. We have only 3 churches in this entire county out of nearly 400 churches total. We team up for things, our pastors know one another. I would practically pee myself if we could have unity with other denominations that are similar (like the ARP) or had more people in this area we were similar enough to work with. That very opportunity is laid right before this guy and he runs from it.

 

But maybe that’s the problem to begin with, that is….. we have way, way, way too many churches all trying to execute their own very narrow vision or accomplish their own inwardly focused goals while ignoring everyone else around them. There’s no “finger on the pulse” of the area’s spiritual needs because everyone’s limited to seeing just their own little slice of it.

 

Which begs the question, with plenty of churches just cruising along focused on themselves, I wonder what happens when theres a problem within the church? Does it split and half of it defects to other churches? Or will some start new churches that will run the way THEY want them to? Either way, I think as a result; the original church would of course be smaller and likely suffering to pay its bills so it probably focuses even MORE inwardly and stops growing physically, and if it becomes frustrated with its new challenges it can stop growing spiritually completely.

 

Meanwhile, the churches who just grew from absorbing members from this afflicted church think they are doing something right, think their new growth is a sign they’re on the right track, so they pat themselves on the back and probably becomes complacent and inwardly focused. Overall, absolutely no progress has been made. If anything, people become disallusioned in the process from the politics and power struggles. I just described half the churches family members or myself went to as a child.

 

 I love the words Thomas Pollock wrote over 100 years ago in Jesus, With Thy Church Abide:

 

“May she one in doctrine be

One in truth, and charity

Winning all to faith in Thee

We beseech Thee, hear us

We beseech Thee, hear us.”

 

“May she guide the poor and blind

Seek the lost until she find

And the broken hearted bind

We beseech Thee, hear us

We beseech Thee, hear us.”

As of last month, I now have a cousin who has relocated from Florida, U.S.A. to New Zealand to pursue youth ministry. He attended Palm Beach Atlantic college in south Florida, and then seminary in New Orleans. After a couple youth pastorates here in the states he sought out ministry abroad. So there he is now, in his late 20s and half a world away, driving on the left side of the road from the opposite side of the car, and yielding to sheep herds. Here’s a couple pics….

the \

Cathedral Cove

 

Cathedral Cove at sunset

Its really cool to know that I have family living as transplants on another continent, in another hemisphere. Its like the world just got a little bigger. I am very anxious for future reports on his ministry there as a small towns first official Youth Pastor. I am also very curious to see his reflections on American/Western Christianity after experiencing the spiritual life and practices on an entirely different continent.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Some interesting links:

The Vatican declares baptism to be invalid and to be redone if wrong words are used http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0801159.htm and the Christianity Today article about it: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/may/17.21.html

And Part 4 of Young, Restless, and Reformed posted today at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/mayweb-only/119-32.0.html

 

 

 

Today I experienced an interesting sign of the zealous but misguided religious culture of where I live. Apparently when kids misbehave, it is a demon or spiritual affliction that must be prayed out immediately. I’ll try and fill this out for you……….

 

A couple young boys were at the local McDonalds playground with what appeared to be a grandfather, playing for what had probably been a couple hours. No doubt they had had their fill of sugar and fun and were probably tiring themselves out like my own sons do. Well, when one of the boys got “out of hand” and was trying to bring a drink into the playground equipment despite his grandfather (I presume) repeatedly telling him not to, he was yanked up. And spanked.

What followed was hard to ignore, and most likely made many people there uncomfortable as myself- The boy screamed like he’d just received a beating with a 2×4 and sobbed to the point that now the grandfather is desperately trying to calm him down. He refused to be touched, refused to be talked to, resisted having his shoes put on by crying that it hurt (he was old enough to put them on himself anyway). By all appearances, he was ashamed that he got in trouble, and probably needed a nap.

 

What surprised me, is that a woman eating there with her son, proceeded to walk over and lay hands on him and pray, most of which I could not hear but heard her many times saying “in Jesus name, in Jesus name”, and “every knee will bow, every tongue shall confess”. No introduction, no small talk, just unexpectedly launching into verbal prayer. This went on for several minutes. Eventually the man had to carry his son out because he refused to walk, and had begun sucking his thumb. I overheard the woman talking to the man about her pastor down at her “Spiritual Guidance Church”.

 

I sat in disbelief. This boy wasn’t trashing on the floor, or a menace to himself or others, or speaking in a voice not his own. It seemed his only affliction was poor behavior.  What was obviously gross misbehavior from my vantage point, and an unwillingness to accept consequences for the behavior on the boy’s part, is seen as some kind of demonic attack by this woman, and she sees the need to pray “in the name of Jesus” over him. I had several questions in my mind:

  • If the boy truly needed intercession, could it have been accomplished from across the room, and silently?
  • Are there limits to the effectiveness of our own prayers for others when we don’t “speak it” over them, or neglect the “laying hands” on them?
  • If this person believed it was necessary to prayer verbally over him, then I wonder why that is. Is it for the benefit of God hearing it? Or is it the person that needs to hear the prayer? I wonder if thats the theory at work here, because I’m sure the boy did not understand what this lady was saying.
  • Or did this person believe that there was a demon present that needed to be verbally addressed and that was the reason for such outspoken prayer?

 

Sadly, I don’t think I would like the answers to any of these questions. I’m well familiar with some of the dogma and superstition that surrounds certain Pentecostal practices, and I’ve witnessed many of them firsthand. My wife has told me she was taught as a child to “prayer in tongues so Satan can’t understand your prayers” (and possibly thwart them, I suppose). I’ve repeatedly heard people espouse a doctrine of praying in “tongues” for people they don’t even know about, because the Spirit directs them to pray for them and reveals information pertinent to that person’s ailments. I’ve heard people “prophecy” publicly in church things that no human should have any business claiming to know. And keep in mind, these experiences were in a middle-class community of many well-educated people. I can’t imagine what its like in smaller, typically less-educated rural communities…..well, the movie “Jesus Camp” comes to mind I guess.

 

Sadly, in the situation I saw today, all this spiritual mumbo jumbo and superstition seems to miss the whole point. That boy, even if it was a result of being tired, still has serious discipline issues. I wonder, what his home situation like? Is his home a healthy household if he breaks down and acts the way he did just for getting in trouble? Maybe his household has problems that only Grace and the knowledge of God can cure. Maybe there are voids and needs in his family that could be emotionally and spiritually met through a local church. So rather than walking out of there thinking something had been accomplished by her prayers over that boy, I would think that his breakdown would display to that Charismatic lady (as it did to myself) how important it is to pray for our children regularly, and see them in some type of Godly instruction, of how important it is to recognize that there are homes where the parents have no desire for God which leads to children growing up in ignorance, which I hope would encourage churches to seek ways to reach such children. There are many ways both small and large, but some typical ones are through a bus ministry, maybe “sidewalk Sunday schools” or Vacation Bible Schools in the summer. Maybe private prayer on a regular basis for our communities would focus our minds on them and ways to minister. Praying words over a person that they have no capacity to understand is nonsensical.