Friday, December 29, 2006

Take the Best and Go!

I finished reading The Charismatic Century, by Jack Hayford (with S. David Moore, author of the very thorough The Shepherding Movement), and as requested by KSG, here's a few thoughts on the book.

I think a quote from the late John Wimber actually might serve as the thesis statement of this book: "Take the best and go!"
Hayford and Moore do an admirable job of tracing the history of North American Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third Wave movements in a very engaging and readable style. While acknowledging the charismatic-like movements that occurred independently in other countries -- at times pre-dating the Azusa Street Revival of 1906 -- the focus is largely on the roots and fruit of the Azusa event.
The good news for me is that, after reading their timelines and records of theological development, I didn't slap my forehead and rush to my Post-Charismatic manuscript to make changes! :)
Keeping the quote from Wimber in mind -- "Take the best and go" -- the book is helpful in tracing the history of early Pentecostalism, the Charismatic Renewal, and the Third Wave. While some controversies are acknowledged (the Oneness debate, the Shepherding Movement, the Latter Rain), it may appear as though Hayford and Moore are letting them "off the hook", so to speak, by not going into greater detail on some of the problematic teachings.

For example, William Branham is acknowledged as having developed some "erratic" teachings towards the end of his ministry, but that's about it. Branham is mostly viewed as a significant personality in the era of the healing evangelists; the only other healing evangelist who gets more than a passing mention is Oral Roberts.

As someone who has researched Branham in more depth, I was a little disappointed that he seemed to get a "get out of jail free" card, as a significant number of teachings from Branham are -- to be charitable -- highly questionable at best. 

Likewise, the Latter Rain movement from North Battleford, Canada gets a brief mention, but the teachings that led to its denunciation by other Pentecostals aren't even mentioned.

However, if we keep "take the best and go" as the lens for viewing this book, and recognize that the authors never intended nor claimed to be writing a theological critique or defense of various streams of thought, this book is both encouraging and helpful.

The authors end each major chapter with a short section on what "take the best and go" could look like. They highlight things like:
  • the strong emphasis on missions and missional living that characterized the early Pentecostals
  • the graciousness towards other denominations -- particularly as a result of the Charismatic Renewal of the 60's & 70's impacting the older mainline denominations
  • reminding us that -- whatever our reaction to things like healing evangelists and spurious "deliverance" ministries -- praying for the sick and demonized is a normal part of Christian life
  • rather than letting negative examples and experiences occlude our spiritual sight, to seek the Holy Spirit to give us a fresh look and understanding of how we pursue a  Spirit-empowered missional life
If it's a critique of charismatic theology and/or excesses that you're looking for, this isn't your book. However, if you'd like a good historical primer which highlights, well, the "highlights" and invites you to consider how you might "take the best and go", then I would recommend The Charismatic Century.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Truce

(NOTE: this is not an urban myth. It really happened in 1914, during the First World War)

The "Christmas truce" is a term used to describe the brief unofficial cessation of hostilities that occurred between German and British troops stationed on the Western Front of World War I during Christmas 1914. 

The truce began on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium, for Christmas. They began by placing candles on trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols, namely Stille Nacht (Silent Night). The British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols.

The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were calls for visits across the "No Man's Land" where small gifts were exchanged — whiskey, jam, cigars, and the like. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. 

The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Proper burials took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects. At one funeral in No Man's Land, soldiers from both sides gathered and read a passage from the 23rd Psalm:
"The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the path of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."
The truce spread to other areas of the lines, and there are many stories — some perhaps apocryphal — of football (soccer) matches between the opposing forces. The film Merry Christmas suggests that letters sent home from the war related that the score was 3-2 in favor of the Germans.

(source: Wikipedia -- Christmas Truce)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Para-Church As Church: Addendum

A few thoughts arising from questions or insights that were shared in the comments to the Parachurch as Church post a few days ago, that I thought I'd respond to with this addendum.

Kyle Martin pointed out:
...I guess what I'm thinking is that I agree with a lot of the sentiment, but I fail to see the longevity of the para-church as "church". It almost appears as church "for a time". But perhaps that's okay? But it might not be if when they get home there is no "para-church" for them to plug into. It kind of reminds me of the gap between those in youth groups who, when they graduate, don't connect with adult church.
I really resonate with the last bit of your comment, Kyle; I've noticed many times that former parachurch people have a difficult time re-integrating into church. Blame gets shifted both ways on that one; parachurch is uncharitably portrayed as a hot-house spiritual high that doesn't reflect "normal" life, or the church gets diss-ed as being so dead that totally-alive parachurch ministry only reveals the deadness of the church, etc. That kind of blame-game doesn't do anybody any good (imo).

I don't have a problem with the "season" idea of parachurch ministry; although perhaps we should note that it's not a 'season' for the staff of the parachurch. But even for those with short-term participation, it's their church for that season. And if it creates a greater hunger for authenticity, expectation of the work of the Spirit, and a desire for deep community with like-minded others -- even if that means that they're "ruined" for ordinary church -- I say, "bring it on!"

Chuck had this excellent input:
You didn't include the appointing of pastors, baptism or observing the Lord's Supper in your comparison between a church and a parachurch ministry... perhaps you could comment on the reasons why, and how that fits in with what you're arguing here.
Thanks for pointing out that side of it, Chuck. As Jamie Arpin-Ricci mentioned in the comments to the original post, there are a number of parachurch ministries that do practice baptism and celebrate the Eucharist together. Biblically, I can't find any reason why someone couldn't be baptized in a local pond by their Aunt Suzie and Uncle Jim-Bob, so I'd also extend that understanding to the parachurch's "right" to practice baptism as well.

Remembering the Lord's death, burial and resurrection isn't something that I find that the Scriptures prohibit happening outside of some sort of "official" meeting. Again, it can be (and is) observed in house churches, liturgical churches, seeker-sensitive churches, etc., so I can't see any reason that para-churches couldn't also.

"Appointing of pastors" is an interesting one. The first question that pops to mind is what makes a pastor "properly appointed"? I've been an ordained pastor (yes, I was "Reverend" Robbymac once upon a time), and I know that some denominations make a big deal of that in ways that make me, frankly, really uncomfortable (nay, weirded-out, freaked even). It was all about "the prestige of the pastoral position, and the reverence for those who had attained the office, etc., etc., etc".

I had a hard time reconciling that kind of pomposity with Christ-following, self-denying, cross-carrying servanthood. (Although I have friends who are all of those positive things, and who wear robes in their Reverend positions in their liturgical churches. More power to 'em!)

Like Jamie, I tend to see "pastor" as more about spiritual giftedness and function in a local gathering of the Body. Some with pastoral gifting get paid and are "clergy" according to Revenue Canada, and there's nothing wrong with that, of course, but I'm not comfortable with only paid clergy being seen as "real" pastors.

I've been a pastor for 21 years, and I got paid for it for seven (non-consecutive) years out of that time span. The rest of the time I've worked in detention centres, as an outreach counselor for a school district, a shipper-receiver in a factory, a graphic designer, a bass player in a Celtic Rock band, and most recently as a barista at St. Arbucks -- but I've never ceased pastoring.

All that to say, para-churches "appoint" pastors, but it probably looks a little different than a more traditionally-understood clergy position.

Thanks, Mike, for reminding us:
I think, as Christians in the post-western world, we ought to embrace various forms of expression and and worship; the para-churches are doing just that, living for Christ in a place that isn't all too friendly to an exclusive claim to deity.
Emerging Grace, thanks for the Barna stats. 2025 isn't really all that far off! And judging by the many conversations I've had in the analog world, as well as the blogosphere, we may be closer to Barna's projection right now.
"But by 2025, Barna writes, just one third will have their primary attachment in a traditional congregation, and a like number will be connected with alternative forms of church. He notes that these forms are still emerging, but already include house churches, informal worship gatherings, small/accountability groups, and service ministries and parachurch organizations."
I look forward hearing your input on these, as well. Thanks for helping to sharpen my thinking!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Crabby Detox

When I was but a wee lad, one of my dad's many job transfers took us to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was a beautiful place, although apparently Canucks talk funny, according to the locals. And while we lived there, we discovered that Southern hospitality in Chattanooga is alive and well.

We also learned various slang expressions, and folklore wisdom of the Southerners (although our immediate neighbours were an Italian family from New Yawk and had the accents to prove it), but I can't honestly remember if I first heard about crab-in-a-bucket behaviour while I was there or not.

It's a fairly well-known story that you can put one crab in a bucket, and it can easily escape. But if you put several crabs -- even a LOT of crabs -- within easy reach of the rim, they'll never get out. If a crab attempts to escape, the others simply reach up and pull them back down.

This picture reminds me of a potential trap to be found when people go through detoxing from church in a group setting. Sometimes, people who are in detox join an existing house or simple church, and find safety and healing. Also common is when "a whole whack of" people (another colloquilism apparently peculiar to Canada, or so friends in California tell me) who are ALL in detox start their own group. And that's where crab mentality can show up.

These groups start off as a place of safety and nurture, as people feel free to share their stories and be heard and understood by others who have been through the same thing (often from the same church). But as time goes on, when you'd expect to see at least some of the people starting to come back to life again, there instead seems to be a perpetual commitment to staying angry, bitter, and cynical.

As soon as one person starts to show signs of returning spiritual and emotional health, and ventures to share this with the group, they are immediately pulled back into the vortex of cynicism by their crabbishly-endowed group. It's REVENGE OF THE CRABS, with their patron saint Mordac the Preventer.

Sadly, I've seen some situations where those who were -- for lack of a better phrase -- "coming back to life" actually felt they had no other recourse but to leave the group behind, in order to escape the Crabbites. This tended to produce a second, albeit much milder and shorter-lived, period of detoxing from the disillusionment of what they'd originally hoped for in the home group.

I know I've made this plea here several times before, but please indulge me yet again:
We all talk about "journey" -- and even the original byline of this blog was "robbymac: an ecclesiastical anarchist's journey" -- but we need to respect where others are at in their journey as much as we'd like them to respect our journey. And that has to include allowing people to come to terms with how they will relate to the larger Body of Christ around them, without imposing some kind of uniformity enforced by cynicism.
Some people may stay in house churches for the rest of their lives. Others may return to a more "institutional" setting, perhaps even -- *GASP* -- the same church they left. Does that make them a "sell-out"? A quitter? No longer considered part of the Enlightened Remnant?

And finally, have you ever seen a happy crab? One capable of being extremely jaded and simultaneously Christ-like? If you have, please adjust your medication let me know.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Robby's 4 or 5 Theses

Has anyone else noticed that it's impossible to nail something to a blog?

Or even harder to nail something to a computer screen?

Has anyone learned this lesson through unfortunate and rueful happenstance?

I've never had much of a "commenting policy" here. Honestly, with the exception of the occasional troll shuffling by, it's never really been much of an issue. People here have generally been respectful, thoughtful, and I've always been grateful for that.

But, just for the record, here's a few "blogging theses" that I'd like to nail up for (these may sound eerily familiar to anyone who's ever been a part of any youth or young adult ministry I've been in):
  1. Nobody can be sent to hell for voicing their honest opinion.

    True, when in youth/young adult ministry, this meant that at times we had to patiently endure some questionable ideas as people worked out their salvation with fear and trembling
    (Philippians 2:12), but creating a "safe place" that was "safe" for everyone -- even those who belonged but did not yet believe -- was worth it. Same goes for this blog.

  2. We listened to you with respect, so (of course) you will listen to others with respect.

    Should be a no-brainer, but just so it's said: When iron sharpens iron, sparks sometimes fly
    (Proverbs 27:17). But there's a difference between spirited conversation and the typical troll-like behaviour of, well... trolls.

  3. Normally, in an "analog" situation involving youth and young adults, I'd say at this point: "One at a time, people, one at a time!" But blog visitors are so mature and respectful when it comes to taking turns, looking to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4), that it really isn't necessary here.

  4. No Squirrels!

    This related to a goofy & cheezy apocryphal story of a little boy who wanted to sound super-spiritual, a well-intentioned Sunday School teacher trying to get her class of kids to say "squirrel" but they thought the safest answer was "Jesus", because it was Sunday School, after all, but the joke was lame even when it was analog in the 1990's, which just shows how old I am, and the cheezy illustration is pretty much impossible to replicate digitally online, so maybe I'll just shut up and get to the point by saying:

    No plastic, super-spiritual-wanna-be, Sunday School-ish, Christianese-based, jargon-infested clap-trap. Please and thank-you.