Dismantling the ‘cathedral of the self’


In a recent post on his blog, ‘The Flaying of the Missional Church Upon The Cathedrals of the Self‘, Mark Sayers’ leaves a challenge to the missional church movement, namely:

The church moves into the cafe, the pub, the home, and the sporting club in the name of mission and as a protest against attractional concepts of Church. Yet the individual sense of entitlement is never truly challenged, there will be much focus on the immanent Jesus who is our friend, yet little emphasis on the transcendent ‘otherness’ of God who reminds us of our falleness and cosmic smallness. The huge danger is that whilst the incarnational, missional approach rejects the idea of the medieval cathedral, the cathedral of the self is never truly dismantled.

As he explains earlier in the post:

The individual now operates as a kind of personal cathedral. Social media arms and aids the growing sense of entitlement in the contemporary therapeutic self. The individual creates a facade that will shock and awe. An exterior that will garner respect and acknowledgement. If the medieval cathedral was an attempt to connect with a palpable sense of the transcendent, the contemporary self attempts also attempts to create a sense of transcendence through the correct assemblage of consumer experiences.
The difference between this and the medieval vision is that the contemporary cathedral of the self is religion free, instead it seeks to eek out transcendence in what David Brooks calls a ‘low-ceilinged world’. Instead of plainchant, stained glass windows and the drama of the liturgy, the modern self attempt to find transcendence in budgets breaks on the beach in Thailand, 3D movies, killer Ipad apps, and in the torque of a SUV.
The cathedrals of the 21st century self like their medieval counterparts demand that you come to them. They demand to be taken seriously. They insist on being the only show in town. Therein lies the danger for the missional church. The missional church which attempts to incarnate, which tries to ‘go to’; can find itself shifting from an attractional mode of church, to becoming enslaved to an attractional view of the self. Incarnation can quickly degenerate into syncretism for the missional operator who is unaware of the cathedral of the self.
Many missional leaders who have critiqued the therapeutic and individualist tendencies of the contemporary church growth movement, can easily and naively find themselves serving an even more pernicious expression of the therapeutic self as Church is completely taken to and rearranged around the habits, locales, tastes and wants of the individual in the name of incarnational mission.

This is well observed and to the point – just because a congregation has moved out into community and no longer meets in a church building doesn’t mean that they have moved away from an attractional construct of church.  They might consider themselves ‘incarnate’, meeting together amongst the people group that they feel called to reach, and yet still live ‘enslaved to the attractional view of the self’ because they haven’t come to terms with the transcendent otherness of God, the King who should be feared and obeyed above all else, and truly recognised their eternal dependence upon Him rather than on disposable and transitory, worldly pleasures.

I think this is a real problem for the church in its contemporary context – or should I make it more personal and admit that it is a real problem for me in my personal context.  Is Jesus really Lord and King of every area of my life?  Have I truly experienced first hand the fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom (Ps 111:10)?

I have just been watching the first of the Francis Chan BASIC series – amazingly entitled ‘Fear God’.  I intend to review it more fully over the next few days, but it has really hit home to me how much I need to get to a proper understanding of the fear of God – and put my understanding of the ‘immanent Jesus who is my friend’ into it’s correct context.

Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost in their book ReJesus encourage the viewing of discipleship from a Hebraic perspective, focussing on the concepts of orthodoxy, orthopraxy and orthopathy – right thinking, right acting and right feeling.  It occurs to me now upon reflection, and after reading Mark’s post, that none of these adequately incorporate our response and attitude towards the holiness of God.  Maybe another should be added – how about ‘orthodikasy’ (yep, I just made it up but it sort of works) – which I will define as our ‘right standing’ before God.  I think this would complement the Hirsch-Frost Hebraic framework – and acknowledges the need for a proper understanding of the otherness of God in the missional context.

The intrepid blogger returns…..with a note about Quran burning

The summer is coming to an end, my holidays are over, and so is my blogging break.  I’m back, whether you like it or not, after a four week rest – and am glad to say that I have loads of things to write about – plenty to keep me going into the autumn as the nights draw in to shorter days.

One thing I couldn’t avoid during my time away was the fun and games over in Gainesville, Florida where Pastor Terry Jones and his 50-member congregation church threatening to spark global conflict between Islam and the West by his ‘Burn a Quran Day’ event, which, thankfully, didn’t take place as planned last Saturday.  Instead, so it seems, Pastor Jones found a more peaceful and conciliatory way to respectfully commemorate the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre nine years ago.

But the whole ‘Quran burning’ debacle has raised some serious questions that need to be answered, one of which is why the World leaders who have been so quick to speak out in condemnation of the actions of Pastor Jones don’t condemn with equal force the continuous and unabated persecution of, and injustice shown towards, Christian believers across the Islamic world, frequently as a result of much less provocation than the burning of a copy of the Quran?

Don’t get me wrong on this – I, along with the large majority of Christian believers, do not, and would never, support the malicious burning of the Quran by Pastor Jones or anyone else.  How such a blatantly controversial act can be squared up with the Christian message of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and dignity is beyond me – and only seems to be fuelled by hatred and fear, which, as I understand it at least, are alien characteristics to a true understanding of the Kingdom of God. 

Islamaphobia is alive and well, and to a large degree I understand why this is the case – but the fact that it is being preached and practiced by people who claim faith in God’s eternal saving grace in Jesus truly saddens me.

Why?  Because in Jesus we have nothing to fear from anything this world can throw at us.

As Dallas Willard explains in his book The Divine Conspiracy:

….this is a God-bathed and God-permeated world. It is a world filled with a glorious reality, where every component is within the range of God’s direct knowledge and control – though he obviously permits some of it, for good reasons, to be for a while otherwise than as he wishes.  It is a world that is inconceivably beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it.  It is a world in which God is continually at play and over which he constantly rejoices.  Until our thoughts of God have found every visible thing and event glorious with his presence, the word of Jesus has not yet fully seized us.”

We have no reason to react to anything with hatred and fear, because, as Willard continues later in the book:

“With this magnificent God positioned among us, Jesus brings the assurance that our universe is a perfectly safe place for us to be”

A perfectly safe place for us to be. 

Think about that for a while.

Whether our situation is good or bad, hard or easy, the world is still a perfectly safe place to be because it is God-bathed and God-permeated.  We might not understand the purposes of God, but that doesn’t mean he is not in control!

So, as good Christians, does ‘turning the other cheek’ mean we have to ‘humbly’ stand aside and allow evil and injustice to reign unopposed?  No, not at all!  The exact opposite in fact.  We stand against evil and injustice because our experience of the love and justice of God constrains us to do so, but with grace and mercy rather than hate and fear.

Am I a pacifist – no.  Do I believe there is such a thing as a just war – yes.

The responsibilities of government before God are many – but as I understand it from the Bible, my individual response to the love and forgiveness I have received in Jesus is to love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul and with all my strength and with all my mind, and to love my neighbour as myself.

No mention of Quran burning anywhere…..


Why do we need religion?

There was an article posted a few days ago in the Opinion section of USA Today written by Oliver Thomas explaining in his opinion why we need religion:
Why religion? In the face of pogroms and pedophiles, crusades and coverups, why indeed?
Religious Americans have answered the question variously. Worship is one answer. Millions gather each week to acknowledge their higher power. The chance to experience community is another. Healthy congregations are more than civic clubs. They are surrogate families. The opportunity to serve others also comes to mind. Americans feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless largely through religious organizations. Yet as important as community, worship and service are, I am convinced that religion’s greatest contribution to society is even greater.
Religion makes us want to live.

Or as he concluded later in the article:

….religion makes it easier to be decent. The positive core values, mutual accountability and constant striving for self-improvement help one to be a better person. And I want to be a better person. Not because I’m afraid of God. Because I’m grateful for another trip around the sun and, like a good house guest, want to leave this place in better shape than I found it.

Read the full article here.

I must admit that this article made me sad.

If this is what the acceptable face of Christianity has become then we really have lost faith in the power of the gospel.

Temporal, therapeutic, moralistic deism – is that it?

Where are the hard won benefits of the cross and new resurrection life in Christ?  Where is the power of the Holy Spirit?  What about transformation and new life in the inaugurated Kingdom of God – with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour – freeing us to experience the present reality of the future new creation?

Is faith in Jesus only about becoming ‘a better person’?

But this is where I got sad…..

As I found myself getting angry and disgusted by Thomas’ description of the value of ‘religion’ it suddenly occurred to me that maybe he was describing the reality of my spiritual experience more than I initially realised.

Am I truly living in the transforming power of the gospel – or am I just slowly becoming ‘a better person’?

The hard truth is that it is too easy for us to lose the cutting edge of faith – for the refreshing transcendent experience of freedom in Christ to become a mundain shadow of what it used to be – for the Holy Spirit power that worked so freely in us and around us at first to become a distant memory.

Christ in me, is my hope of glory – that is the truth that must be a constant and present reality in my life!

Life doesn’t come from practicing religion – it comes from knowing Jesus – not by becoming ‘a better person’ but by being transformed by God’s love and grace.

Anything else is just a poor copy – a tawdry imitation!

Lord, I repent.  Forgive me.

Walking barefoot – spiritually as well as physically


Walking barefoot is hard.  Mainly because our feet are made soft by our wearing shoes and socks all the time.  If we walk or run a long distance we don’t think about doing it in bare feet.  Why?  Because the pain would be unbearable.

And yet, maybe, our comfortable and pain-free podiatory experience is not what is best for us – maybe a bit of pain in order to toughen up our feet would do us good.

Two articles by Jeff Dunn on the Internet Monk blog last week reflect on this thought:

The worst feet in the world undoubtedly belonged to St. Francis of Assisi. Francis walked miles everyday throughout the region of Italy where he and his followers preached the Gospel. He walked on broken rock, bare dirt, ice, snow, and thorny weeds each day–in his bare feet. His feet were a mass of bloody wounds, blisters and scars. Francis never owned a pair of shoes for long. If someone gave him sandals, he would only wear them until he met up with someone who had no sandals, and he would give his shoes away. Thus he was almost always barefoot.
Perhaps he knew better than we the importance of walking barefoot.

And maybe the importance of walking barefoot is that it keeps us in touch with reality, as Dunn explains:

Walking barefoot allows me to touch this world as it really is, not as my soft-soled shoes tell me it feels like. And this world is a mess. There is a lot you will step in that is nasty and smelly if you go barefoot. There are rocks and sticks and thorns that will rip and tear your feet to shreds. It hurts to walk barefoot…
But we don’t like pain and suffering. We buy books by the bushel that tell us God doesn’t want us to be in pain. We insulate our hearts against any kind of pain with conferences and sermons and songs that promise us unending good days. Yet without sensing pain, we do not know when we need to change something in our lives. If we are always wearing padded shoes, we will never feel the rough places in the ground, we will never learn to adjust our gait, we will never learn to walk–and run–with endurance. Pain may be telling us that we need to get off of this trail and take another. No, we are not to live in a place of pain purposely. But we need to be aware of what is causing the pain in order to take the proper action. And can we really feel that pain with shoes on our spiritual feet?

Taking the shoes off our spiritual feet – now there’s a thought.  Do we really need to take ourselves out of our comfort zone so that we can feel the pain of the world around us?

Walking barefoot spiritually is where all followers of Jesus should be heading. We need to set aside the padding we have to keep us from feeling pain and enter the world as it truly is. As someone said….the ultimate barefoot walker is God Himself, who set aside His shoes to walk with us here on earth. But we need some practice walking barefoot. We need to build up calluses on our feet so they are tough enough to withstand the hard places we will be called to walk. Are we really ready to walk barefoot in this world?

Good question.  Well, are we?

Walking barefoot with Jesus means taking this world as it truly is and presenting the gospel of grace as it truly is. There will be times when we will do this walking through lush, cool grass. There will be times when we do this walking on sharp, ice-covered rocks. Our call is to walk, not to judge the surface we are walking on.

Walking barefoot is hard physically – so why should we expect it to be any easier if we do it spiritually as well?

Maybe St Francis of Assisi had something after all.  Maybe we should listen again to his witness.  Maybe going barefoot is where the church should be, where we should be – and maybe a bowl and towel will help when we get there.

Read Jeff Dunn’s articles in full here and here.


Thinking about the ‘De-Churched’

Most of you who know me will at some time or other have heard me talk about my faith in and love for Jesus.  It’s not something I hide, but then again its also not something I force onto others.  I’m not a pushy Christian – one of those annoying self-righteous types who insist on hijacking every conversation and making it about sin and damnation.  I don’t have a hidden agenda.  My faith is what makes me who I am, and therefore it is important to me.  But this is my point.  If the gospel of Jesus is good news, then that is what I should be to others – good news – not a pain in the backside who is tolerated as long as I don’t mention Jesus.  I want my friends to know about my faith and see it as an integral part of me.  I want them to recognise that what and who I am has come about because of, rather than despite, my Christian values and motivation – as a consequence of my ongoing Christian journey.
I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and admit that there are times over the years (mainly at the end of and just after my University years) when the pub was more home to me than church, but I have never doubted God’s love for me and my need for Jesus.  I might have ignored God’s call on my life but I never denied it.  I might have ‘back-slidden’ at times (a phrase I really do not like) but I still felt the presence of Jesus with me.  I knew what I was doing was selfish and wrong, but I did it anyway.  And even when I was far from God, I still went to church – even then, I looked for fellowship.  I might have been a hypocrite, but I was trying to get back.  It was just that during that part of my life the world around me had a greater attraction than my faith.  What I found, however, was that no matter how hard I tried to run away from God, he wouldn’t let me go – and in the end I came back, tail between my legs, because I needed to feel again the love, hope, grace and forgiveness that only comes from staying close to Jesus.
But one thing I have never understood, and don’t think I ever will, is why apparently Spirit-filled, faithful believers just stop coming to church, no longer see the need for fellowship and never return.  I have seen it many times over the years, with even some very close friends just giving up on church.  They say they haven’t stopped believing in Jesus, they just don’t want to attend church any more.  More disillusioned with the sheep than dis-believing in the Shepherd.
It seems that this group of people are now coming to be called the ‘de-churched’, as Skye Jethani explains in his recent articles entitled ‘Who are the de-churched?’ posted on the Out of Ur blog:
“…..another new term is on the rise and gaining attention among evangelicals in North America. Those without a past relationship to the church are called unchurched, but there are many with significant past church involvement who are exiting. They are the de-churched.”
The two Jethani articles, found here and here, ask why this exodus of previously faithful people takes place, and after some discussion, and use of a YouTube clip of a Matt Chandler sermon extract, he comes up with two specific groups of dechurched:
“…..those who have left the church because they had received a false gospel, and those who have left because they’ve encountered the true gospel.”
The first group of de-churched people are viewed as those who have been:
“…..fed, knowingly or unknowingly, a false gospel of morality. They believe that if they just follow God’s rules he will bless their lives. When things fail to work out as promised, they bail on the church. Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion, has called this belief MTD—moralistic therapeutic deism. I prefer a more sinister and downright damnable name: Moralistic Divination—the belief that one can control and manipulate God’s actions through moral behaviours.”
As he continues to explain:
“The biblical understanding of a “wonderful life” looks dramatically different than the consumer culture’s definition of a “wonderful life.” If this assumption is never identified, named, and deconstructed, a person may hear “God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life” very differently than we intend. This is the problem we must begin to address if we hope to slow the exodus of people from the church. It’s not that we are failing to preach the gospel, but that we are failing to deconstruct the consumer filter through which people twist and receive it. The result is a hybrid consumer gospel in which God exists to serve me and accomplish my desires in exchange for my obedience—voila, Moralistic Divination.
When this consumer gospel fails to deliver on its assumed promises, as it inevitably does, frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment quickly follow. And the pool of the de-churched gains another swimmer. “
But then there is also a second group of de-churched:
“….that has not held to a false gospel of morality, and they haven’t walked away from faith in Christ. These Christians have simply lost confidence in the institutional structures and programmatic trappings of the church. For them the institutional church is not an aid in their faith and mission. Rather it’s become a drain on time, resources, and energy. It feels like a black hole with a gravitation pull so strong that not even the light of the gospel can escape its organizational appetite.
As I’ve travelled and encountered de-churched Christians, including some friends, I’ve found they tend to fall into three categories. (These are generalizations, as all categories are, but they may prove helpful.)  
1. The Relationally De-Churched
These Christians have come to recognize that human beings are the vessels of God’s Spirit and not organizations. They may have first engaged the institutional church because they longed for meaningful relationships with other followers of Christ. They may have joined a small group or found a tight network of friends through whom they lived out the “one another” commands in Scripture.
But over time it dawned on them—This small group is really my church. These are the people I am living out the gospel with. Why do we need the big institution?….
Ultimately the relationally de-churched leave the institution because the programs proved less effective at fostering faith and love than relationships with actual people. And the authenticity they crave and experience in their small group eclipses the relative shallowness of the wider church. Let’s face it—authenticity becomes more difficult the larger a group becomes. But it’s worth noting that these folks haven’t abandoned the church theologically, they’ve just redefined it apart from the 501c3 organization we culturally identity as a “church.” 
2. The Missionally De-Churched
“If the church were doing the work God appointed it to do, there would be no parachurch organizations.” Have you heard that one before? It’s a popular defense I heard many times while serving with a campus ministry in college—and there is some truth to it despite the self-righteous cheekiness.
If the relationally de-churched abandon the institutional church because they desire authenticity, the missionally de-churched leave because they are die-hard activists. They are driven to see the world impacted by the gospel whether via evangelism, compassion, justice, or other facet of God’s restorative work. They may become frustrated that the institutional church spends enormous amounts of energy and resources maintaining itself rather than advancing the mission.
I’ve had a few friends deeply involved in such parachurch groups confess that “even though we don’t take communion or baptize, in every other regard the ministry functions as my church.”
He also goes on to mentions his third category in this group of de-churched:
3. The Transformationally De-Churched
This category of people are those who have left church because they have found deeper healing and transformation through the ministry of parachurch groups than they ever experienced in conventional church.
As he explains:
“When deep life change happen outside the church, it can make you second guess the church’s vital role and….drop out altogether.”
These are all well and good – and I can see where he is coming from with all the groups and categories that he describes, but I can’t help but feel he has maybe missed some.
Reflecting on the friends that I have seen leave the church over the last twenty years, most of them have gone because they have been damaged in some way or demotivated and tired out by the practice of church life.
For those that have been damaged, often it is because of things that, on the surface, seem quite trivial, or that could be put right with some grace, understanding and forgiveness.
One family of close friends stopped coming to church because they had three children under five and found it difficult to get to church on time for the start of the Sunday morning service.  They frequently came in late – and the reaction of other church members meant that after a while they just didn’t come to church if they were going to be late – and then they just stopped coming.
Another friend was damaged whilst working for a Christian based organisation attached to the church, and the bitterness that resulted took root, ending up with him and his wife becoming very critical of the church and its workings, and eventually they just stopped coming.
I can also, unfortunately, give examples of people who have left church because they got demotivated or tired.
One couple I can think of now, were very active in the church but wanted more in worship than the church could offer them at the time – so demotivated and tired of trying to bring change from the inside of the church, they left to find more passionate worship at another church, but ended up after a while going no-where – even more demotivated and disillusioned they stopped going to church all-together.
However, I think Jethani’s conclusions still hold even for these additional groups:
When the church loses sight of this and begins seeing people as a means of bolstering the institution, it breeds cynicism. The faithful begin to feel like cogs in a machine, a means of production, human commodities. They don’t feel valued for who they are, but for what they can do, give, or contribute. And to be fair, this confusion between means and ends can happen in both large and small churches, in a megachurch or a house church.
The call then is too investigate anew our ecclesiology—both on the level of theory and practice. What do we really believe about the church? What is the proper role for structures and programs? What do we believe about God’s intention for his people and the role of spiritual leadership? And do our beliefs align with the structures we create and sustain?
Ultimately,  church is not about the institution, services, structures or programmes – its about Jesus and his people, living and loving in community together.
We need to keep that in focus – and be willing to consider changing what we do and how we do it in order to ensure that disciples can be disciples living and loving in Christ on a day-to-day basis – not just on Sundays!
For me, I see no reason why churches can’t just add to or change what they do to cater for peoples needs.  We need to listen to the voices of the de-churched rather than insist that they fit in with the way we do things, whether they like it or not.
I know this is a difficult subject for most small churches to come to terms with – but maybe looking to the experiences of the organic, and dare I suggest it, Emergent church movements might allow new ways to do church that will minister to the needs of those at the edge, and reduce the number of faithful people who get disillusioned and leave church all-together.
Maybe the time is coming when, as Neil Cole puts it in his new book, Church 3.0, we need to upgrade the operating system of our churches to become more open and flexible in the way we minister, to ensure that we maintain healthy disciples now, who are focussed on making new disciples for the future.  As he explains:
….we need to replace old ways of thinking about God’s church with new ones that can release the health, growth and reproduction meant to be characteristic of the church.
So, Skye, thank you for your articles.  I found them very thought provoking and they have motivated me afresh to reflect on the way I do church.  Maybe if we all did the same, we might be able to head off the next set of friends who become disillusioned, demotivated and ultimately de-churched.

Pandora – a metaphor for the Kingdom of God?

I posted last week about Mark Driscoll’s opinion of Avatar (here), but here is a completely different take on Pandora as a spiritual metaphor by Jason Clark on the Deep Church blog:

“I wonder how many of us, if we were able to be transported to the new eden of Pandora would pay that price, and with that commitment.  How long before the lack of home comforts, technology, consumer identity would reality hit home and we’ be declaring, ‘don’t you tell me I have the earn the right to speak!’.  

Avatar is powerful not because it is demonic, but rather it reveals the human condition in it’s falleness and brokeness, and the need for a retraining of our desires to enter into a new way of life.  As Augustine would say, human beings have fallen not from God but into themselves, so overwhelmed by the plentitude of life, that we collapse life into ourselves. Overwhelmed with desire, we desire desire and consume.  The way out is the retraining of our desires, around their correct orientations with other.  It’s not that we don’t love the world too much, its that we don’t love it enough and rightly, and have to learn that with others.  

I left the movie, moved, and grateful, rather than depressed.  Thanking God that the worship of the Christian Church, gives me language, grammar and ascesis for entry into a new world.  I have a new body in Christ, and one who would have my imagination through worship opened to the dimensions of his Kingdom, that one day I will be resurrected into, and that I can experience now. 

Pandora is real, it’s here now for all who would enter it, in Jesus.

Wow – what a dramatically different conclusion about the same film!

I can see where he is coming from, but if Driscoll is too harsh, maybe Clark is a little too soft and cuddly.  I can’t help but feel they are both being a little one eyed.  Maybe the truth lies somewhere inbetween?

What do you think?

Hologram preachers to appear in churches

Hologram preachers?  Oh boy, what will they think of next! 

A recent article in the Christian Post (here) outlines plans by Tony Morgan, pastor of ministries at West Ridge Church near Atlanta, to introduce the technology as a possible church tool.  As the article explains:
“He (Tony) had visited with the company Clark (formerly Clark ProMedia) at their offices in Alpharetta, Ga., where they demonstrated the 3D tool. As he stood on the stage of the company’s new theater, an image of another person was projected next to him.  From the audience’s perspective, it appears as if the other figure was actually present.”
It sounds great, but it’s raising a few eyebrows around the blogosphere.  Bill Kinnon commented on his blog (here):
“Since so many of us in the west are convinced that entertaining pew fodder is critical to advancing ‘the gospel’ and that only a very few have the necessary gifts to preachertain – this will become the ‘perfect’ solution”.
Ouch – but good point, well made!

However, it seems that this could be the future for multi-site churches who have the preacher at one site being beamed to screens in other locations.

I’m not really sure what I think at the moment.  I can see the advantage in some ways – and it could be useful for some applications, but I can’t help but feel that it’s a backward step, another move away from interactive, face-to-face fellowship.  And isn’t it just another example of the promotion of celebrity – but this time the celebrity preacher?  It seems a bit impersonal to me, distant and cold.

What do you think?

Mark Driscoll attacks Avatar during sermon

It seems that Mark Driscoll has made his opinions of the blockbuster film ‘Avatar’ known through his sermon at Mars Hill Church a few weeks ago, and branded it “the most demonic, satanic film he has ever seen”.

It seems he has caused a bit of a stir – have a look at the post on the SeattlePI Big Blog here.

His comments about Avatar are only a small part of his sermon on Luke 4: 31-41 about Jesus and Demons, but to quote him:

“The world tempts you to sin, to use people, to disobey God, to live for your own glory instead of his own, to be a consumer instead of generous, that’s the world system.

And if you don’t believe me, go see Avatar, the most demonic, satanic film I’ve ever seen. That any Christian could watch that without seeing the overt demonism is beyond me. I logged on to christianitytoday.com and the review was reflective of Christianity today, very disappointing. See, in that movie, it is a completely false ideology, it’s a sermon preached. It’s the most popular movie ever made, and it tells you that the creation mandate, the cultural mandate is bad, that we shouldn’t, we shouldn’t develop culture, that’s a bad thing.

Primitive is good and advanced is bad and that we’re not sinners, we’re just disconnected from the divine life force, just classic, classic, classic paganism, that human beings are to connect, literally, with trees and animals and beasts and birds and that there’s this spiritual connection that we’re all a part of, that we’re all a part of the divine.

It presents a false mediator with a witch. It presents false worship of created things rather than Creator God in absolute antithesis to Romans 1:25, which gives that as the essence of paganism. It has a false incarnation where a man comes in to be among a people group and to assume their identity. It’s a false Jesus. We have a false resurrection. We have a false savior. We have a false heaven. The whole thing is new age, satanic, demonic paganism, and people are just stunned by the visuals. Well, the visuals are amazing because Satan wants you to emotionally connect with a lie.”

You can listen to his whole sermon here, or watch the YouTube video of the ‘controversial’ part below:


What do you think?  Have you seen Avatar?

As for me, I agree with him!  In fact, I said very much the same to my wife and son as we left the cinema after watching the film. 

Techncially, it was amazing, especially in the 3D format, where the integration of the CGI and real life filming was just awesome, but the subliminal spiritual message of the film for me is a worrying indictment of the rejection of God in our post-Christendom culture.  To use my exact phrase, “It’s just mother-earth paganism dressed up in a beautiful costume” – which ultimately is exactly what it is!

Well said Mark – keep telling the truth.  Be controversial because we need to hear it – it makes us think and seeds discussion.

Outrage as vicar urges women to submit to husbands


Looks like the rector of St Nicholas Church in Sevenoaks, Angus MacLeay, has caused a bit of a stir after preaching a sermon urging women to “be silent” and “submit” to their husbands.

The report in the Guardian (here) explained that it didn’t go down very well with the women in his parish who thought his comments:

“…..were more in keeping with a sermon from the dark ages than the modern Church of England”

It must have been highly offensive if:

“….MacLeay’s words were too difficult to swallow for the dozens of women who cancelled direct debit subscriptions to the Anglican church and vowed not to return”

For me though it raises a number of questions:

Firstly, I wonder if Rev MacLeay balanced his sermon by explaining the role of husbands to love their wives as “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5: 25).  The problem is that if the balance is not preached then it makes Scripture look sexist and mysogynist – which it is not in any way, shape or form!  As the minister who preached at my wedding said, “Martin, if you love your wife as Christ love the church, then there is no reason for her not to trust you and submit to you”.  Why?  Because if I love my wife ‘as Christ loved the church’ then I would adore her for life, share everything with her, serve her with every ounce of my being, be willing to die to protect her, would include her in every decision and make sure her opinion is at the forefront of my mind in everything – because that is what love is all about – isn’t it?  I can guarantee that no women in that congregation would complain about being loved like that – they would agree with that part of Ephesians 5 – so why not the rest?

Secondly, I wonder how many of those women who took offence at Rev MacLeay’s sermon are actually accompanied to church on a regular basis by their husbands?  There seems to be a large number of women who go to church whilst their husbands stay at home on a Sunday morning – and nobody every asks why.  Maybe, just maybe, it could have something to do with the fact that those women don’t expect their husbands to be spiritually alongside them or even ahead of them.  Women by nature are more emotionally and spiritually aware than men, and as such, men need to be encouraged to take their spiritual responsibilities before God seriously – and maybe wives actually have a role to play in this by expecting their husbands to make spiritual decisions with them and encouraging them to walk in Christ along side them rather than leaving them behind.

Thirdly, what is the opinion of the men in Rev MacLeay’s congregation?  The article talks about the offense and reaction from the women – but what was the reaction to the sermon by the men?  Does his church have any men in it?  Are they willing, or allowed, to stand up and have a different viewpoint?  Maybe the men agreed with their wives?  Then why wasn’t it reported as such?  Or are their opinions, as it seems in a lot of cases in our culture, not really worth much nowadays?

Please don’t get me wrong, this is a difficult subject that needs to be handled carefully – but why do people automatically assume the Bible is wrong?

What do you think?  Do you agree with those who have left Rev MacLeay’s church?  Are you willing as a wife to submit to you husband?


Long Live Organic Church

Christianity Today‘s Mark Galli wrote an article in his online SoulWork column a couple of week ago titled Long Live Organic Church’.

In it he explains his rather interesting, if not a little negative, or maybe pragmatic, viewpoint about the future of the organic church movement and its main proponents, advocates and ‘thought leaders’, such as Neil Cole, Alan Hirsh, Bob Roberts and Frank Viola.  He expresses some admiration for them and what they dream to achieve, but also worries that the disappointment of experiencing inevitable failure will cause disillusionment with church in general:

“I love the passion. And the prophetic word to institutionalism …. and the vision to make Christ’s love and grace known to the four corners of the planet…..What I worry about is the coming crash of organic church. And after that, I worry about the energetic men and women at the forefront of the movement. Will they become embittered and abandon the church, and maybe their God?”

As he continues:

“That the organic church movement will crash, I have no doubt. Every renewal movement in church history has either derailed immediately or produced temporary renewal at the expense of long-term unintended consequences. Church historians tells us that in 11th- and 12th-century Europe, churches and chapels sprang up all over the continent, signaling a revival of faith after the centuries formerly called “the dark ages.” It was one of the most viral, church-planting movements in history. Unfortunately, it nurtured a fervency that longed to transform the world for Christ—which soon bore fruit in the Crusades.”

He follows this with what he calls a ‘more excellent way of love’, which basically means not to desire to change the world but to focus on obedience to God’s call on our lives and not expect too much, because if we do then we will inevitably end up disappointed:

“When the focus is on loving obedience to a loving Father, what difference does it make if it doesn’t seem to do any good? What difference does it make if the world or church is not transformed by our lights? When our motive is results, we are bound to be disappointed, because we live in a tragically fallen world that is stubbornly resistant to transformation. But when we focus on obedience to a sovereign heavenly Father, who in love is redeeming his creation in his own time and way (often mysteriously)—well, how could we ever be dismayed?”

What sort of gospel is that?  Just plod along and don’t expect too much because you’re not going to make any difference and you’ll end up disappointed.

I agree with his focus on love and expressing the purposes of God through our function as salt and light, and that our primary focus should be on obedience not making changes for changes sake – but does he honestly believe that Jesus doesn’t expect transformation as a result of the ministry of His church?

When the focus is on loving obedience to a loving Father, what difference does it make if it doesn’t seem to do any good? What difference does it make if the world or church is not transformed by our lights? When our motive is results, we are bound to be disappointed, because we live in a tragically fallen world that is stubbornly resistant to transformation. But when we focus on obedience to a sovereign heavenly Father, who in love is redeeming his creation in his own time and way (often mysteriously)—well, how could we ever be dismayed?

I wonder what the world would have been like today if the Apostles and early church has taken a similar view?

To be honest though, I think I get where he is coming from, that as Christian people in a fallen world we should be good news to people and not expect reward – the fact that we are being obedient in serving others should be enough . 

But is this really all God has planned for us and His church? 

Personally, I don’t think so, and I think that the likes of Neil Cole, Alan Hirsh, Bob Roberts and Frank Viola are with me on this one.

Thankfully, Neil Cole and Frank Viola are much more articulate than I am – and they have responded to Mark Galli’s article, Neil Cole with five posts on his blog, Cole-Slaw (here, here, here, here and here) – the first of which has also been reproduced in Christianity Today (here), and Frank Viola in on his blog, Reimagining Church (here) – also in Christianity Today (here).

All five posts are worth reading and make a coherent and convincing rebuttal of Mark Galli’s original post.

Mark Galli seems to have resigned himself to the conclusion that the expression of church that we see today is the best we are ever going to get – that somehow we shouldn’t expect any more or anything better.  And yet many, many Christian people want more, expect more and are finding more through ‘organic’ expressions of church.  To quote Frank Viola as he considers organic church as a movement:

“I believe it would be more accurate to say that there is a phenomenon today where countless Christians are leaving institutional forms of church and exploring non-traditional forms of church in pursuit of authentic, shared-life community.  I’ve been gathering in organic expressions of the church…for the last 21 years. And from my observations, many of the people who are leaving the institutional form of church presently are leaving because they are following a spiritual instinct. They are saying and thinking, “There has got to be more to Jesus Christ and his body than this.” Or as Reggie McNeal once put it, “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost their faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith.””

Rather than accepting the status quo as inevitable, maybe we should be on our knees pleading with God to send revival to our churches – to breath life back into our traditional denominations and expressions of church!  Who says the organic church has to be separate from traditional church?  Who says it is bound to fail?

The story goes that Rodney ‘Gypsy’ Smith, the noted evangelist from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, often pleaded with God to do great things by drawing a circle around himself with a piece of white chalk and praying, “Lord, send a revival, and let it begin inside this circle.”

Sounds good to me – now where’s my chalk?