Archives for 10.8.06

on where fundamentalism is forged (or any other ism)

A few years ago, a fellow said something like this to me: “A church is only as fundamental as its pastor.” As it turned out, that pastor wasn’t all that fundamental and disgraced himself and the Lord. But he was right in his observation.

Fundamentalism, evangelicalism, neo-orthodoxy, liberalism, or any shade of meaning in between is forged in the church by the leaders of the church. At the local church level, a church tends to follow the lead of its pastor. Whatever that pastor is, that church will be.

There are some occasional skirmishes that may seem to belie this principle. Churches will be embroiled in a controversy, parties form, acrimony ensues, sometimes even leading to a church split. You might be tempted to analyse these controversies to see if the people opposed to the pastor are really more theologically conservative than the pastor, but on almost every occasion you will find the controversies are much less sharply defined than that. If the split is over issues affecting fundamentalist philosophy, likely it is one or two men (often deacons) who lead the charge and become in effect de facto pastors of the dissenting group, at least for the time being.

In the ongoing (and interminable) discussions in the blogosphere regarding separation and fundamentalism, much has been made of ‘what if’ scenarios attempting to define a template for separation. “What if church X believes this and church Y does this, what should church Z do?” The fact is, the churches won’t do anything. A pastor who believes something will decide whether he is comfortable promoting a young people’s activity or a special speaker in another church based on his own philosophy of ministry. Generally speaking, his flock will follow his lead. (Quite often, they won’t know what is going on at the other church because they are full of the life of their own church — if it isn’t promoted by their pastor, they won’t bother, largely because they won’t know.)

When it comes to the wider world of conferences and meetings, the local pastor has less control over what his folks know simply because of modern technology. But the pastor (and the other leaders of ‘his’ group) will still tend to promote those organizations and activities that they think are in keeping with their own philosophy and are most suited to the spiritual needs of his flock. Thus, wider friendships and alliances are formed with leaders who tend to coalesce around similar ideas.

To illustrate, in my own ministry, I tend to move in the FBF circles. I am comfortable with the direction the most prominent men in the FBF are taking, I get a bulk subscription to Frontline for our church, I promote the regional FBF meeting, I promote a family camp sponsored by a like-minded pastor, I bring in speakers who would tend to travel in FBF circles and I preach a message that would likely be acceptable in most churches pastored by FBF men. What kind of flavor does that put on our church? (I’ll give you three guesses…)

Suppose I got hit by a bus, and someone with a different philosophy shows up to take over. They stop the Frontline, start promoting other magazines, other meetings, other speakers. What happens to the church? It starts moving into another orbit. This does take time, and if handled poorly, can cause the tensions that lead to a church split. With effective leadership, the direction of a church can be changed so that it becomes something entirely other than previous leadership envisioned. It is leadership that sets the agenda. The church is only as fundamental as its pastor.

Young preachers do need to sort out where they are on the theological spectrum. Their associations will determine the direction they take and the philosophy of the churches they will pastor. They should ask questions, but they shouldn’t assume that there is a cut and dried template that will answer all questions about association and separation. They will determine their own philosophy. Hopefully the young fellows coming up will choose well, making astute observations of history, avoiding past mistakes and forging forward faithfully for Christ.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on hockey

The regular season of the NHL has commenced. With my new method of writing my messages first in the week, I had a little time tonight to watch a bit of Hockey Night in Canada.

Now hockey is pretty much a religion in our country, in every sense of the word. Christians need to be on guard against the religious aspects of sport. But I do enjoy hockey – there is no sport quite like it.

I caught a bit of the end of the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens won on a shootout, an innovation I could do without. The part of the game I watched was a bit slow, but it was hockey so I watched. Then my Oilers came on against the hated Calgary Flames. Edmonton beat Calgary in the opener two nights ago. This game had a lot of jump — a number of factors, the nature of the two teams compared to the rebuilding Habs and Leafs, the style of play in the West, etc. Lots of speed and action, but not much scoring. The Oilers got on the board first with a power play, but then Calgary tied it near the end of the first and went ahead at the end of the second.

Then I quit watching. It wasn’t the game, it was quite appealing. But it just isn’t that important. I don’t need to live and die with every shot. There will be other games and other days and it just doesn’t matter who wins. (Although I do like it when the Oilers win.)

Earlier, I mentioned that the Christian must be on guard against the religious aspects of sport. How do we do that? By limiting our intake. By eschewing the tokens of the hockey gods (emblems, logos, key fobs, mugs, what have you)… or those of the football, baseball, basketball gods …

Is it a sin to wear a cap with a logo on it? No. But is there something wrong with our hearts if we must have all kinds of memorabilia and become a walking billboard for ‘my team’? Quite probably.

The way to deal with this is to put the body under, keep it under control. Turn your attention elsewhere, especially to Christ. Become enamoured with him, as a man and as God, and not just another idol. Give your time and attention to him. Labour for him. Spend your spare time on him. Serve him. Serve in his kingdom.

And if you relax and watch a period or two of hockey or an inning of baseball (or even a whole game now and then), you have not sinned. But keep your body under. Keep it in control.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

PS: I did check to see how it all came out — the Flames won 2-1, no more scoring in the third. So I saw all there was to see as it turned out!

on our Wednesday 10.4.06 message

I am a little late writing this summary. With Thanksgiving next Monday, an all day meeting later in the week, and a work day the following Saturday, I am feeling just a little cramped on study time. I am going like mad to keep the head above water on this project. The study and the fruit in our spiritual life at church have been worth it, but there is a lot of work.

Wednesday we had a little distraction outside our building during the service. Three young fellows decided to visit on the steps outside the exit door by the piano. One of our men checked on them. They were quite insolent and appeared to be drunk — and they appeared to be about twelve years old. This is not typical of our neighbourhood, but all the homes around have tremendous needs. Well over 90% don’t attend church at all, let alone profess salvation (or even have a clue about what that means). Our great burden is to somehow get the attention of a few and see them come to Christ.

Our message covered Luke 17.20-18.14. There are several events and parables strung together in a row here along a theme, and there are parallels in the other Gospels. We mostly stayed in Luke for the message. The subject was preparedness for the Second Coming. Just before our passage, the Lord healed ten lepers at once, with a Samaritan demonstrating faith. The Pharisees, with no faith, ask for a sign of the coming of the kingdom. The Lord cahllenges their lack of faith, but then calls the disciples to be prepared: they must be prepared for deceivers saying the kingdom is already come; they must be prepared to receive Christ, for the kingdom will come suddenly (a la the Flood, or the destruction of Sodom); they must be prepared to persist in prayer (as in the widow before the unjust judge); and they must be prepared with a humble spirit (as the publican in contrast to the Pharisee).

The last two points in the message were the point where the disturbance happened outside. It was quite a distraction to me for two reasons: the noise and worry of ‘what’s going on?’ and as I look back on my outline, those were the two weakest points of the message! I think that I summed it up better than I preached it, but even in summing it up, I realize I may have been stretching the theme a bit on the last two parables.

This is probably a reflection of trying to cover too much too fast, and being too detail oriented. I have a compulsion to ‘fit everything in’. Sometimes you just have to leave stuff out.

This Sunday and Monday should be better. We are expecting guests in the AM service tomorrow (10 am Pacific Time), so pray for softened hearts. We are also expecting unsaved guests on Monday for our Thanksgiving dinner and service. Pray for that service also, about 1:15 pm Pacific Time.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3