Church – Religion

A More Personal Take on My Issues with The Evangelical Church

My last two posts covered some of my theological, and political, issues with the (white) Evangelical Church at least in the US. But, as I’ve been trying to – and this morning (March 17, 2019) succeeding – get myself back to attending church with at least some regularity, I got thinking about how at least one aspect of the Evangelical Church impacted me, and how I see it impact others. I’m specifically talking about the aspect that gives that portion of the church its name, and in many ways and for many years gave it its identity: its emphasis and and style of evangelism.

As I saw from both the outside and inside, the Evangelical Church, at least in the U.S. at its core is focused around the central ideas that the an individual is only saved if they hear about Christ’s work on the cross, and then make a personal decision to accept that salvation; and that the primary job of any Christian who has been so saved is to attempt to reach out and bring that message to as many others as they can.

I grew up in the Presbyterian tradition, which in the mainstream Presbyterian denominations doesn’t make a big deal about the exact nature of salvation. But many years ago when doing research on the various branches of the larger Presbyterian Church, I came across writings from an Orthodox Presbyterian Church that vehemently condemned the “Armenian Heresy,” which is the belief that is core to American Evangelism. So, while it wasn’t emphasized, my Christian upbringing in fact comes from a tradition that is separate from this idea.

With my eyes open to this, I can look at a traditional Presbyterian worship service, and see evidence that their beliefs tend more towards the idea that salvation is the work of God than anything of man’s doing.

However, starting around the time I got engaged, I started attending various Evangelical churches. For the most part during this time, I had few major issues with the churches. However, one issue continued to bother me to a lesser or greater degree: the fact that while I had believed in God, in Christ, and in the fact that Christ had died for my sins, for as long as I could recall, I had never consciously made the decision to accept Christ in the Evangelical sense. At more than a few points, the pressure caused by being in this environment caused a feeling akin to guilt, which led me to fee that maybe my belief wasn’t enough and that I needed to go ahead and say the salvation prayer. But, that didn’t change anything – either relieving the guilt, nor creating the so-called sense of salvation peace.

Then there is the other part of this. The part I saw more clearly both before and after I was regularly attending Evangelical churches, but still saw at other times. The reverse effect of evangelism.

I’ve known many people who find much of the outward evangelism practiced in this country off-putting. This is true of both the personal evangelism from friends and strangers, and the general evangelism found in advertising and mass outreach.

Telling someone that they are going to be punished because of who they are, or because of what they do, or do not believe, is a very off-putting message to a lot of people. This is even more so to people who have studied disciplines such as science and engineering, so their minds are bent towards analytical thought. Then, the fact that many of the most aggressive purveyors of evangelistic outreach for decades have also been the ones who love to condemn the very people that they think they are trying to save – think Jack Chick and they group who used to show up with yellow signs at Comic-Con International telling us how anyone who reads comics was bound for hell – and you are creating an environment where evangelical outreach is driving people away from all kinds of Christian Churches.

So, between my personal issues where I found that being regularly put into a position of doubting my beliefs based on a model of salvation that I don’t think I ever truly accepted as true, and knowing that that model of salvation was hurting the Church as God’s (or at least one of God’s) outreach to mankind by driving people away from it, I have to suspect that it was only a matter of time before I would reach a point where other factors would make me realize that I could not continue to worship or attend churches built around evangelism.

My Basic Problem with Evangelical Theology and Practices

What I’m writing here may bother some of my friends and family who are or have been part of Evangelical Churches, and still have that as the basis for their Christian theology.  However, this is also key to things that have bothered me at varying levels for years.  And, while the broad support for the Republican agenda and Trump as it shows more and more that it is not an agenda of love, but one of hate and greed that may have been the metaphorical straw that broke the camels back and has led me to want to have nothing to do with American Evangelicalism in any way, what I’m going to write about is a vast majority of what that metaphorical camel was already loaded with.

At least as I understand it, dating back to near the beginning of the protestant reformation, there have been two competing views of salvation that have split the Church.

In the most extreme version, one is the view that those who are going to be saved are elected or predestined and God knows who they are.  Nothing that man can do will impact their salvation.  In this view, the role of the Church is to be there for the saved who have heard the word of God as a place for learning and fellowship, and to provide opportunity for the saved who have not heard the word of God to hear it.

In the most extreme version, the other is the view that the only way to be saved is to explicitly and consciously accept God’s salvation.  And, unless one has made that explicit decision, and made it known to God, they are still unsaved and condemned.  In this view, the role of the Church is to make sure that everyone everywhere hears this message, and as many people as possible make the decision and let God know.

The issue is that in the last twentieth and early twenty-first century, the American Evangelical Church, they practice the most extreme version of this second view.  In their version of Christianity, one is only a Christian if they have at some point when they can recall, have made that decision and said some form of the magic prayer.  Anyone else is condemned to some sort of eternal suffering – which might just be an existence disconnected from God, but that is bad enough (both in my view and theirs).

For someone who spent his first thirty-three years pretty much exclusively in Presbyterian churches, which come out of the first tradition, this was a continual thorn in my side.  I never had that point because it wasn’t a thing growing up.  In my church, my whole denomination and faith tradition, the assumption for the most part was that if you were in the church and believed, you believed.  You didn’t have to know when you were “saved.”  You didn’t have to have explicitly asked God for his gift, he gave it freely.  Confessing sin was something we did regularly – it was part of most services, and something we were encouraged to do as part of our regular prayers.

But, as I look back on it, I see there is more to this idea, and a much worse aspect to it that bothers me, and bothers me more that I’ve been pushed to the point that I’m seeing so much of the American Evangelical movement as broken.  I see this idea as a way that these institutions use to control people.

It starts with the message: “In order to be saved, you need to accept Christ’s salvation by saying this prayer: …”  But, soon it moves into “In order to be part of our church you need to believe …”  This is where these organizations start changing people’s beliefs.  Soon, someone who was spiritually open and seeking, but had been a firm believer in something that the church didn’t like (gay rights, abortion, immigration, Democratic politics, etc.) finds their spiritual needs being met in the church, and then feels like their other beliefs must have been wrong and starts changing them too.

And, given the way that the Evangelical Movement influences people into listening to other Evangelical voices over any non-Evangelical voices, it doesn’t even have to be someone in a specific Church, or even someone who is explicitly speaking in a church role who can push that change in belief.  I’m reasonably convinced that much of the Evangelical Movement’s political power comes from, or at least starts from this ability to influence people.

On the other hand, Churches that work from the idea that salvation is mostly or entirely in God’s hands, concentrate on equipping believers for living the life Christ called us to.  This frees people to use their own facilities to decide many issues.  Yet, quite possibly as a combination of the fact that these churches tend to see social justice (in, perhaps a slightly older sense of the term) as a major part of their mission, and the fact that many people who see themselves as Christian but are politically liberal are pushed away from Evangelical churches, these churches do tend to have a more liberal political bent in their membership.

Now, I confess I’ve not been to church regularly since the summer of 2016.  This was for a number of reasons, but my complete loss of ability to associate with any church (or near-complete ability to associate with any other aspect) that is part of the Evangelical Movement has been part of it.

I suspect that if I could keep from oversleeping (badly) and make it to the church I grew up in, and the one my Mom still attends, at 11:00 am on Sundays, I’d actually be OK.  The three sermons (albeit two were at memorial services – one very short at my Dad’s, and one a bit longer at a long-time family friend’s) I’ver heard there in the last couple of years have been very good.  And I have family and family friends who attend there.  It isn’t the closest Presbyterian church, but it might be a good fit.

Issues and Concerns with the Theology and Practices of the American Evangelical Churches

For many of the last 18 years, I attended or was a member of churches that were part of or could be associated with the American Evangelical movement.  For a lot of that time where I was both spiritually and politically may have kept me from noticing all of these issues and concerns that I now see, they are now very obvious to me.  However, many of them bothered me even then.

At least for much of that time, the churches I was in were not overtly political most of the time.  However, the fact that most or all of the visible and prominent leadership of the American Evangelical movement has seemingly shed the last of its Christian message for one of pure politics, and politics that are opposed to what I can support, and what I believe aligns with the teachings of Christ, I do not foresee my being a regular attendee or member of any church that is part of this movement anytime in the near future.

But politics is far from the only issue I have with the American Evangelical movement – or, I’ll have to admit – the mostly English speaking, white dominated parts of the American Evangelical movement that I’ve been exposed to.  The African/Black and Spanish speaking parts of the American Evangelical Church may have few or none of the features I object to, but I’ve not been exposed to them.

Continue reading

Flatland Theology

I’m about to describe how an understanding of some of the ideas expressed in Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland has helped me understand a couple of difficult theological topics.  I’m 95% sure that I’m following the common (little-o) orthodox Christian theology.

1: On the nature of God

Christian theology describes God as a trinity – one God, but made up of three distinct parts: The Father, The Son (Jesus), and The Holy Spirit.  Many have problems with how can one entity also be three distinct entities.  But if one thinks back upon the 2-dimensional world described in Flatland, and how a three-dimensional object passing through it would appear, at times, to be a different shape.  Now God is clearly an extra-dimensional entity (beyond however many dimensions various theories in physics postulate).  So he can appear to us differently depending on what side or part interacts.

Now, as with any model that attempts to explain God, this isn’t perfect.  One of the oddities is that The Son, while fully God, still prays – or at least in his time on Earth being equally fully Man prayed – to The Father.  I’m not sure how to explain this beyond an idea that it might have had to do with the Son being fully man at that time.

2: On Predestination and Free Will

The teachings of The Bible, as well as the fulfilled and unfulfilled prophecy, show that God has a knowledge of what is to come.  This is further played out in Ephesians where Paul talks about predestination.  However, we also have free will.  Yet, if God knows who will follow him and who won’t ahead of time, how do we have the will to choose freely to love and follow, or not to love and follow, him?

Take an extension of Flatland where their temporal dimension (time) maps into our third spatial dimension.  Now, we see not just one point in Flatland’s history – but all of its history spread out along that third dimension.  The 3-dimensional observer is now able to travel back and forth through Flatland’s history, and may be able to make changes by altering something in “the past” which is connected to “the future.”

Now, I don’t believe that these simple models (and my simple explanation) fully covers the much more complicated reality – but I also don’t think we are (yet) equipped to fully understand God.  On the other hand, these do help me deal with these sometimes seemingly self-contradicting points of (again, little-0) orthodox theology.


Third Day Concert Report

Last night, I saw Third Day at the San Diego County Fair.  This was a good concert, and the third time I’ve seen Third Day live.

Previously, I saw them in December 2007 in Hoffman Estates during their Christmas tour, and two years ago at the San Diego County Fair – that time as part of a mini-festival that also featured Mercy Me, John Mark McMillian, a third singer I don’t recall, with brief appearances from Jamie Grace (who did a longer set on one of the smaller stages earlier) and Trevor Morgan (who was touring with Third Day and did a couple of songs in the middle of their set)

This was the first time I saw just Third Day.  They did a nearly 90 minute set.  During that 90 minutes, Mac Powell’s only breaks were during instrumental solos and briefly between songs.  Other than that, he was either singing or talking the rest of the time.  Mark Lee (lead guitar) and the support musician on the keys had a few more breaks – during long song introductions.  The rest of the band had a longer break during a short acoustic set (vocal, piano and acoustic guitar).

I couldn’t help myself from noticing some of the technical details.

The fair was providing image magnification (imag), so I sometimes paid a bit of attention to the shots, but only spotted two of the cameras, and deduced where a third was.  There was a hand-held cameraman fairly visible on the stage much of the time, and there was a camera position in front of the stage at stage right.  There was also a fixed camera looking over the drummer – so clearly the video crew had worked with the band’s tech crew during setup.  There had to be at least one more camera that had a good view of center stage based on some of the shots.

From where I was sitting, I could also see someone just off stage right who spent much of the evening doing something to guitars for Mark Lee, who swapped them out after nearly every song.  Sometime this was clearly to switch from electric to acoustic, but I think it was also to re-tune the guitars (which was probably what the guy off stage was doing).

Towards the end, once it was full dark, I could see that just off of stage left there was manned console.  At first, I thought it might be the lighting console – which could have been there as well.  But then I realized, it was probably the monitor board.  I’m fairly sure that on a show of this scale, and for a band of this level, the main mixing board sits somewhere in front of the stage so that the operator can use his (or her) own ears for the mix.

On a different topic, I think I was witness to something spirit directed.  During the introduction to the song “I Need a Miracle” from their most recent album, Mac Powell interrupted the story of the song’s creation to share the gospel.  He mentioned that he doesn’t normally do this, and since I’ve seen Third Day twice before (and have a copy of a fourth concert), I have good reason to believe that this is the case.  So it is clear to me that something moved him to share at that point – someone in the audience needed that message.  (Anyone attending the fair could sit in the second level – possibly better seats than I had paid for – or stand in front of the stage, so there were probably people who had never heard of, or heard, Third Day in that audience).

Open Letter to Churches That Want to Reach the Comic-Con Crowd

All weekend – that is Thursday through Sunday – a Christian group sat near the train tracks on 5th avenue with signs and megaphones attempting to reach the attendees and others near Comic-Con.  (See this link – but note that it is to a gallery and the photo may move).  By Sunday, they were joined both by other sign holders and preachers with stronger messages, and by Comic-Con attendees holding up humorous counter-signs.

Early on, I realized the best this outreach could accomplish was to gain a few souls for Christ, and drive an equal but small number further away – and once it reached the level it was on Sunday (one person with a megaphone was all but actively condemning the activities of everyone at Comic-Con as I was boarding the trolley to head home) it was actively driving people away, including the few seekers who might have been saved by the earlier effort.  But, I also came up with something that would probably be orders of magnitude more effective at reaching attendees of Comic-Con for Christ.

Instead of holding signs with provocative words and linked bible verses, the sigs should simply say “Free Water,” or perhaps “Free Water, no strings attached.”  And, instead of boxes full of tracts, the group should have coolers full of water bottles, with a label that says something along the lines of “Courtesy of [name of church/congregation],” and nothing more – except the existing label on the bottle.  They should have someone standing by in case someone wants to talk more, but beyond that, this should simply be an outreach to meet a need (the body thirst of people outside in the San Diego summer weather).

Some Thoughts on Worship Music

This morning, it occurred to me that lyrically music (etc.) used as part of a corporate worship experience in a Christian church generally break into a limited number of categories:

  • Lyrics directed upwards towards God – lyrics of praise, thanksgiving, etc.
  • Lyrics directed outwards about God – lyrics that testify to what God has made
  • Lyrics directed inwards about God – lyrics that are instruction to the believer.

In many cases, a given song, or psalm, can have more than one of these, but all should contain at least one.

And, while I’ve not done any research – and definitely haven’t done exhaustive research (it would probably take a lifetime to read the lyrics to every song and psalm ever written – I am fairly sure that this is true for everything from the earliest Psalms up to the most modern songs and hymns being composed today.

I also think that all three have a place in corporate worship, even if I tend to favor the first two myself.

Church/Worship Reflections – Messages on Stewardship

This morning during and after church, I started thinking (in addition to thinking about the message) about the structure of worship services, especially when the message is going to be on the topic of stewardship.

Continue reading

A Couple Good Perspectives on Worship

Recently, I’ve had two different humorous reflections on Worship.  {In this case I’m using the term “Worship” to refer to the act of corporate singing during a church – specifically a Christian church – service}

I’ll put a cut-tag (at least in WordPress and LiveJournal) for those who don’t wish to continue to read something with explicit Christian content and topics.

Continue reading