What We Have Here, Is a Shortage of Rope

More people need a short-drop hanging than I have rope.

This will make your skin crawl. Read the details. It is long and sad to read.

As I have often said, I am not surprised that pedophiles target churches. I am also not surprised that pedophiles target Christian schools. Pedophiles want kids, and that is where the kids are.

It seems that Covenant Life Church, C.J. Mahaney’s flagship church, had multiple leaders who were given to pedophilia and/or other very dark sexual fetishes unbecoming of a minister of the Gospel.

That Mahaney and others in his inner circle actively sought to cover up the abuses is not news. However, I challenge you to read the details.

Yes, they are sad and sordid and dark. Yes, some very high movers and shakers of Neo-Calvinism are implicated.

I hope this pisses you off. And I hope you stay pissed off.

If you expect God to bless a Church that hides this crap, then you don’t get it.

That is why the fictional John Kelly is my alter-ego.

Class dismissed.

CBMW, TWW, and the “Nashville Statement”: Discuss Among Yourselves

Here is the original Danvers Statement, by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, on masculinity and femininity.

Here is the Nashville Statement, by the same council, which was released August 25.

Here is Deb’s assessment of it at TWW.

Here are my initial thoughts on which I will expound later:

(1) The original Danvers Statement is otherwise Biblically-sound. I see no problem with it. I’m not saying that every signatory of that statement has necessarily fleshed out the details properly–I think some of the Patriarchs/complimentarians, in their attempts to flesh out what that relationship means, have been more rigid than necessary, as the complimentarian framework, even as one looks at Scripture, carries great flexibility–but the statement itself is good.

(2) The Nashville Statement, at first glance, appears to be, for the most part, Biblically-sound. I will delve into more details and make a more in-depth assessment of it.

I would add this, however: having studied the issue of intersex–not to be confused with “transgenderism”, which is a sexual fetish–I cannot say that I oppose such a one, who may have genetic properties of one sex while having anatomical ambiguity, getting surgery. I see nothing in Scripture precluding that, as surgery, in such a case, would be tantamount to correcting a birth defect. It would seem that such surgery ought to be looked at as a good thing in those cases, which are not the same as “transgenderism”.

As a result, I would pick better wording for Article VI to provide clarification.

(3) Deb is conflating two issues: (a) the Nashville Statement–which, at face value–is good, and (b) the questionable doctrine of Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS), which many complimentarians have used to frame their case for complimentarianism/Patriarchy.

My view on ESS: that doctrine needs to be tabled, as any attempt to frame this issue in terms of the Trinity–something that NONE of the Biblical writers do–is risky and requires decades (perhaps even a century) of assessment and deliberation. I would stop short of calling it heresy, but I am leery of framing in issue in a way that the Biblical writers did not pursue. I wrote about that last year.

The Biblical case for Patriarchy is rooted in (a) Creation, (b) the relationship of Christ and the Church, and–in the context of Church offices–(c) the Fall.

When Jesus addressed the issue of divorce, He framed it in terms of Creation.

When Paul explicated the relationship between husband and wife, he did it in terms of Creation and the relationship between Christ and the Church.

When Paul precluded women from particular offices of Church leadership, He framed it in terms of Creation and the Fall.

None of the Biblical cases for Patriarchy are connected to ESS, so I’m not about to go there.

At the same time, The Nashville Statement is not about ESS, and I think Deb is going off on an unnecessary tangent here. They would do better to discuss the particulars of the Nashville Statement.

By focusing on ESS, they are creating a red herring.

TWW and Abuse in the Church: It’s Not About “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing”

Lise, writing in TWW in a firsthand account of an abuse situation handled very badly at Providence Baptist Church, makes a very salient point:

People called Doug Goodrich a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I call the Pastors who knew and did nothing the shitty shepherds who let the wolf in.

Everyone should read Lise’s story. Sadly, her account underscores some key points I have made from here on many occasions:

(1) Pedophiles and molesters will flock to churches for the same reason (that’s where the kids are) that armed robbers hit banks (that’s where the money is).

If your church has a substantial children’s and/or youth ministry, you should expect that someone who is sexually-attracted to kids or teens will be trying to get a foot in the door. Don’t ever think that because (a) your children’s minister is a respected seminary graduate, or (b) you run background checks on everyone, or (c) that your people are of sterling character, that “that would never happen here.”

(2) Pedophiles generally don’t look evil or creepy. In fact, they are often the most trusted people you’ll meet. They will be “cool”, they will have charisma, they will be good with people, they will often be married and have kids.

When someone accuses them of wrongdoing, you won’t want to believe it!

(3) But what YOU do when an accusation is made is the difference.

Are you going to dismiss the accusations and even malign the accusers?

Are you going to “do your own investigation”, and intimidate the accusers into recanting?

Are you going to ignore the accusation altogether?

Or are you going to report the matter to law enforcement and allow them to investigate?

At Providence Baptist Church, leaders allowed Goodrich to skate: they dismissed and maligned accusers, they ignored obvious red flags, they even tried to cover up the truth when it became crystal clear that Goodrich was very guilty of heinous abuses.

Even worse, the pastor showed no sense of gravity of the situation. While I get that he was on sabbatical, there comes a point when one must show up for battle–ready to “bring it”–when a wolf shows up.

It’s time to say to Hell with the vacation. If you don’t understand that, then you aren’t worthy to be the shepherd.

In the case of Providence Baptist Church, it wasn’t about David Goodrich, who was a wolf in sheep’s clothing; it was about, as Lise puts it, the “shitty shepherds” who gave him an executive pass.

IFB Baptist Pastor-Pedophile Richard Mick Facing More Charges

Already on the hook for two life sentences plus five years, Richard Mick, a former IFB pastor–convicted for the rapes/molestations of two children–is facing an additional 8 counts of gross sexual imposition.

Yeah, I know he’s not on trial for the acts for which he has already been convicted, and he’s entitled to a fair trial for the pending charges.

The larger problem, here, is twofold: (a) the folks in his church have not supported his victims, and (b) his denomination–Independent Fundamental Baptists (IFB)–has not lifted a finger to have him defrocked.

And while Baptists can generally only be defrocked by the church that ordained them, the denomination could easily put the heat on the ordaining body to take action.

I cannot say that my personal experiences with IFBs have been bad; I actually have had mostly good experiences with IFBs, even if the KJV-only folks among them can be irritating. Then again, I’ve never been a member of an IFB church, either.

But covering for child sex criminals is a big honkin’ deal, and the IFB needs to re-assess their existing mindsets which may be exacerbating the problem.

Race Relations, Part 1: The Attack on Statues, Monuments

Having lived on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, and having attended both de-facto segregated schools (grades 4, 7-8.5,10-12) and integrated/de-segregted schools (grades 1-3, 5-6,8.5-9), and having worked in environments that included multicultural settings, I’m going to offer my $0.02 on race relations and confederate statues and monuments.

When I was in 3rd grade, we moved from Dayton, Ohio to Albany, Georgia. That May, we did what we had always done: we took Memorial Day off from school. But at that school, they didn’t take that day off.

Other than the accents, that was the first serious difference I noticed about the South. We hadn’t been taught much about the Civil War at that time, but we would get quite the education in the coming years.

In 7th grade, when we moved to Nashville, I attended a private Christian (fundamentalist) school for the first half, and then transitioned to a public school when we moved to nearby Hendersonville. In the former, we learned Tennessee history, and the coverage was fair. We had not, however, reached the coverage of the Civil War. When I moved, we had just covered Andrew Jackson. At the public school–where I finished 7th grade and the first part of 8th grade–nothing was ever addressed. The Civil War was not covered, pro or con.

However, over the years, we traveled between Ohio and Florida. Oftentimes, we would stop in Lookout Mountain. We got to see different perspectives on the Civil War. It was covered fairly.

Over the years, I’ve seen a number of memorials and monuments. Each tells a story. Sometimes those memorials can represent unsavory times in our history; sometimes those memorials celebrate great victories; some of them–Vietnam in particular–represent a painful testament to very bad choices by our leaders.

In America, we have a tendency to memorialize our history for both better and worse. Sometimes we over-romanticize the accounts; other times, we tell the sobering truth. But monuments and memorials provide an opportunity for reflection regarding the person, the event, and the outcomes.

This is why, as much as I HATE the KKK, I have no problem with a statue of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, perhaps one of the most enigmatic military figures in American history. Yes, he was a founder of the KKK. But you know what? If you study about him, you will find that, near the end of his life, he provided the following remarks in a speech:

Ladies and Gentlemen I accept the flowers as a memento of reconciliation between the white and colored races of the southern states. I accept it more particularly as it comes from a colored lady, for if there is any one on God’s earth who loves the ladies I believe it is myself. (Immense applause and laughter.) This day is a day that is proud to me, having occupied the position that I did for the past twelve years, and been misunderstood by your race. This is the first opportunity I have had during that time to say that I am your friend. I am here a representative of the southern people, one more slandered and maligned than any man in the nation.
I will say to you and to the colored race that men who bore arms and followed the flag of the Confederacy are, with very few exceptions, your friends. I have an opportunity of saying what I have always felt – that I am your friend, for my interests are your interests, and your interests are my interests. We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, and live in the same land. Why, then, can we not live as brothers? I will say that when the war broke out I felt it my duty to stand by my people. When the time came I did the best I could, and I don’t believe I flickered. I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe that I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to bring about peace. It has always been my motto to elevate every man- to depress none. (Applause.) I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going.
I have not said anything about politics today. I don’t propose to say anything about politics. You have a right to elect whom you please; vote for the man you think best, and I think, when that is done, that you and I are freemen. Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you. I am not much of a speaker, and my business prevented me from preparing myself. I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment. Use your best judgment in selecting men for office and vote as you think right.
Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. I have been in the heat of battle when colored men, asked me to protect them. I have placed myself between them and the bullets of my men, and told them they should be kept unharmed. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand.

Does a statue tell me all of that? No. But statues often leave me wondering about individuals, and give me a note to look that person up and check out the balance of his or her life. I often do the same thing regarding monuments to battles.

Monuments and memorials represent a story. Sometimes that story is sordid and bitter, as every great nation in history has had sordid and bitter periods in their histories. Sometimes that story is glorious. But those are about who we were and how they have shaped who we are today.

Almost every year, MrsLarijani and I flock to Dayton for the Air Force Marathon, which is held at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB. It was a place I frequented during my grade-school days, it is where I did my first marathon. We always tour the museum the day before.

In that museum are aircraft of all types, going back to attempts at flight before the Wright Brothers. It includes aircraft of all types throughout every era of aviation, including World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Cold War, and even the era since the Cold War.

Those aircraft include German WWI aircraft and WWII aircraft, Japanese aircraft from WWII, and even Soviet aircraft from the Cold War era. Among the aircraft on display is a North Korean MiG-15 that was flown by a professor of mine who defected at the end of the Korean War.

The Germans and Japanese–and dare I say the North Koreans in collusion with China and the Soviet Union during the Korean War–killed thousands of Americans. Ditto for North Vietnamese who flew Soviet aircraft.

I have no problem including those in the museum, as they provide a forum that one may learn (a) the history of flight, (b) the history that drove the development of such aircraft, and (c) the state of flight today, for both better and worse, as a result of those factors.

I once believed that the equitable solution here with respect to statues and monuments was to create museums for their inclusion, while opposing their destruction. Having seen what is going on today, however, I am opposed to moving them. Leave the statues and monuments as they are.

Today’s leftist fixation on monuments and memorials is a recent thing and is being driven by mostly Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) who have nothing in common with the movers and shakers of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

I cannot help but question the SJW preoccupation on statues and monuments at this time, given that (a) that war has been over for 150 years and (b) not even the iconoclastic movers and shakers in the Civil Rights movement targeted them. While some could argue that MLK had other irons in the fire at the time, many years have passed between then and now. Race relations had been improving greatly until the push for reparations began circulating in the late 1990s.

The cynic in me suggests that there is a more insidious agenda going on here, and it isn’t simply about race relations, but rather something more totalitarian in nature, with the lure of reparations in the form of “social justice” as bait, as an endgame.

I have some good friends who are totally on-board with removing Confederate statues; at the same time, from what I see from the SJWs, it won’t stop there. In fact, they’re already aiming for statues of our Founders, including Washington, Jefferson, and–ironically enough–even Lincoln.

To that point, those who ask, “When will it end?”, indeed have a legitimate question.

One thing we must remember: SJWs, at their core, are cultural Marxists. The authors of their playbooks are Marx, Mao, and Alinsky, their leanings Communist, and their appeal to the Christian is merely to recruit useful idiots.

And when understanding Communists, we must remember that it is not a political or an economic ideology but rather a militant Atheist religion that seeks to impose itself through political , military, and economic means. They have killed more of their own people in peacetime alone than any system on earth.

There are radical totalitarian groups in the Middle East who are destroying statues and monuments: they are ISIS.

The only difference between ISIS and our SJWs is that the former is motivated by Islam and the latter by communism.

Are SJWs seeking to kill you? I doubt it. They do, however, seek to rule over you and impose their system of law and justice on you. And to do that, they must gaslight you into accepting their narrative about history.

But for that to happen, they must make it more difficult for you to identify with the truth.

What you must remember, however, is this: even if you are a minority, the SJW is not your friend. You are just a means to his end, just as the laborer was to Lenin in the Bolshevik Revolution.

What The Gospel IS and IS NOT — Part 1

When I was a kid, my earliest theological instruction amounted to the following:

  • God made everything.
  • Jesus is God’s Son.
  • Jesus died and came back from the dead.
  • Good people go to heaven.
  • Bad people go to Hell.

As I grew, others explained to me that Jesus died for our sins. I hadn’t quite connected the dots about sin, though.

Then, when we moved to a town in the southeast, my stepmom began taking us to a Church of God (the denomination based out of Cleveland, TN).

I couldn’t stand the service: the pastor yelled and screamed a lot, but my stepmom liked him. I thought he was a blowhard.

So, as a compromise, my stepmom sent us to children’s church. The other kids in there were jerks who made fun of me, as I didn’t know the Bible at all.

But I had received a children’s Bible for Christmas that year. So I started reading that.

I also started reading a real Bible; there were plenty around, given that my dad worked in a hotel and The Gideons always left them in the rooms. (I’m not in the KJV-only camp, but I really enjoyed, and still enjoy, reading the Bible in KJV.)

Things started clicking.

Yes, good people go to heaven. But none of us are any good! I began to realize that, if it were up to us to be good enough, we would all fail.

Yes, bad people go to Hell. But we’re all bad!

So if none of us are any good, and all of us are bad, and God is good and heaven is only for good people, we are otherwise screwed. Hell is what we all deserve.

Enter Jesus, who took the punishment we deserve, and came back from the dead, and acts as our High Priest in heaven.

So easy a third-grader can understand, but so complicated that many adults won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.

I can’t recall the exact nanosecond, let alone the date that I received Christ, but it was definitely in the Spring of 1976. I was 9.

Before long, I was the one in children’s church who knew the Scriptures better than everyone else. And it wasn’t an intellectual pursuit, either; I believed it.

I would get baptized that Summer, along with others in that church. I never embraced Pentecostalism–the only tongues I have ever spoken are English and Redneck–but I can’t say that my experiences at that church were all bad, either.

Nine years later, as a college freshman, I began to hang out with the Christian Fellowship Club. They were dominated by Pentecostals, good folks but definitely overzealous. They were members of the local Assemblies of God (AoG) church, and I typically hitched a ride on Sunday evenings. (I worked Sunday mornings in my first semester.)

That AoG church was a mixed bag.

On the positive side: the pastor at the time–JA–was a good man who preached the Gospel faithfully. One of the engineering professors–JJ–was also a member there, and occasionally preached. He was a good man.

On the negative side: many folks within the church were steeped in Prosperity Theology and her bastard cousin Word of Faith Theology.

There were folks within that church who taught that, if you are living “in the Spirit”, you will never get sick and will have more material wealth than you know what to do with.

While I had no doubt that God could–and did often–heal people, and while the Bible was very clear that God will provide for your needs, these “Prosperity” teachings did not seem to ring true with Scripture.

And Word of Faith theology? That was even more insidious.

I remember, during my time at a Fundamentalist school in 7th grade, spending significant time in the library. In that time, I stumbled across a pamphlet about three popular cults: Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Scientists.

Word of Faith theology struck me as straight out of the Mary Baker Eddy School of Christian Science, all with an evangelical/charismatic spin.

I remember a tract that was on display in one of the charismatic churches: How To Write Your Own Ticket With God. By Kenneth Hagin, one of the granddaddys of modern Word of Faith theology.

It struck me as downright arrogant. I wasn’t an expert in Scripture, but I couldn’t recall one instance where someone went to God and said, “Here is what I want…give it to me.” (The closest thing to that, the prayer of Jabez, still does not cross that threshold.)

In Scripture, it is God who tells His people what to do, not the other way around. Clay, meet Potter.

At my school, we had a flight instructor who was a Christian. He had become paralyzed, from the waist down, in a car accident. He was a faithful member of that AoG church.

He had prayed many times for healing, and many fine men of God had laid hands on him and prayed for healing. And yet he remained paralyzed.

“Is this man living in sin?” I doubted that was the case.

“Is God’s word not true?” That was a logical possibility.

“Does God’s word really mean what these Prosperity peddlers tell us?” That was also a logical possibility.

But as I looked at Scripture, it became clear: while God does heal people and deliver from suffering, there are times where God allows suffering. I was well aware of the historical persecution of Christians by hostile governments from the Romans of old to the modern Communists and Islamic governments.

If Prosperity Theology or Word of Faith theology was valid, then why have Christians suffered so much in the past? Why do Christians in the Communist bloc suffer so much? Do they not pray for deliverance?

I figured if Robert Tilton or Brad Champion (a Word of Faith hothead who was big for a season in the Daytona Beach area) were so right, then surely all they had to do is go to the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and Iran and preach their bold word, and all those people would be free! Surely all Champion had to do was go to the Halifax Medical Center and lay hands on the sick…he could put the hospital out of business!

But of course they wouldn’t do that…because they were full of crap!

If we are concerned about finances and physical health, I’d say American Christians have it pretty easy. Today, we speak in terms of “First World Problems”.

During those years, the Christian world would be rocked by scandals among the Prosperity peddlers: Jim Bakker would go down in flames and even end up in prison; Jimmy Swaggart would be caught in a sex scandal of his own; Peter Popoff would be caught using a transmitter, exposing his faux “spiritual gifts”. Pat Robertson, during his Presidential run, would have his own premarital scandal–more importantly his lying about it–exposed.

But others would arise to fill that vacuum. Robert Tilton, Paul Crouch, Benny Hinn, Keneth Copeland, and Marilyn Hickey would rise to prominence. Tilton would get his cover blown by network television, and Benny Hinn would get caught–time and time again–making theological pronouncements that were not just heretical but downright bizarre.

P.T. Barnum once said it: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” And there will always be a critical mass of people looking to have their ears tickled.

Those contentious years–the 1980s–gave me a boot camp of sorts on what the Gospel is and is not.

Jim Bakker, as he languished in prison, began to study everything the Bible taught about money and prosperity. He would arrive at the conclusion that would be the title of his best work: I Was Wrong.

Jesus, when preaching about material things, rarely had good things to say to those who had lots of money.

When He challenged the rich, young ruler, the man chose his riches over Jesus. A man asked Jesus to intervene in an estate dispute–to force his brother to divide the estate with him–and Jesus would have none of it. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus punctuates a comparison against the parable of the shrewd steward: the former, knowing his reckoning was imminent, taking action to prepare whereas the rich man arrogantly disregarded the most basic form of compassion for Lazarus, who begged at his gate for food.

He also had a terse word for those who expected Him to bring political revolution: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

The prosperity He preached pertained to eternal life, not life on earth. In fact, regarding this earth, He said it plainly: “Heaven and earth will pass away.” He promised He would prepare a place for us, and that He would come back and receive us. He did not promise to make this earth better; He did not promise us great wealth on earth.

In fact, Jesus told the Disciples that things would get very bad for them: many would pay the ultiimate price for following Him.

He did, however, promise ultimate prosperity:

He promised that He would go and prepare a place for us;

He promised that He would come back;

He promised that, when He came back, He would receive us unto Himself.

While we humans are created a little lower than the angels, when we–those of us who are in Christ–are resurrected, we will be like the angels in heaven.

And yet we will have it even better than the angels. You know why? None of the angels are children of God. And yet, when you receive Christ, you receive the gift of adoption as His child.

That gives you a privilege that even the angels don’t enjoy.

You know what that means? Even the lowliest toilet scrubber in Heaven will have more wealth than the richest men on earth–combined–ever had.

Think about that the next time you hear Joel Osteen or Benny Hinn or Paula White or Joyce Meyer or Creflo Dollar or any of the other Word of Faith wackos.

They wouldn’t know real wealth if it bit them in the nether regions. And unless they repent, this earth is the closest to heaven they will ever get.

SBC Pastor Robert Jeffress May Have Stepped In It

Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor and one of President Trump’s “spiritual advisors”, has made a very bold proclamation.

When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary – including war – to stop evil…In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.

He’s either on-par with the best of the prophets and Apostles, or he is on the same footing as Hananiah.

If he turns out to be wrong–as Hananiah was–then it’s a very big deal, as he will have established himself as a false teacher.

I don’t throw that tag–false teacher–around lightly. There are many folks with whom I have disagreements, but I would not hit them with the “false teacher” tag. That carries huge theological implications.

I reserve that tag for teachers, preachers, and other would-be “church leaders” who, among other things, either (a) preach a false gospel, (b) deny essential doctrines of the Christian faith (e.g. the Fall, the Atonement,  the Resurrection), (c) engage in behaviors that are immoral, malevolent, fraudulent, or otherwise disqualifying and then reject discipline when confronted, or (d) make prophecies that do not come to pass. There are other criteria on that list, but I’d say those four cover most of what qualifies one as a “false teacher”.

Examples of such teachers: Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Rob Bell, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Benny Hinn, the late Jack Hyles, the late Harry Emerson Fosdick, John Shelby Spong, Harold Camping, and Jack Schaap. That is not an exhaustive list, but those are examples of teachers/preachers who would fall under my understanding of “false teachers”.

And if Jeffress is wrong here, then he has earned a spot on that list. This is because he has taken an opinion, and–using Scripture–boldly asserted a word from God.

That’s a heck of a truth claim on his end. And while he could be right, he does not seem to carry the gravitas of Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Daniel. His exegesis of Romans, quite charitably, leaves some room for concern.

Keep in mind that this is no small matter, as Trump could act on Jeffress’ advice and start a war that quickly goes nuclear and leaves millions dead.

If Jeffress is wrong, that will put the SBC will be in the mother of all dilemmas, as they will be under severe pressure to take decisive action against a popular pastor.

Don’t get me wrong: I will cry no tears for Kim Jong-Un. If things go south, it will be the end for the Kim dynasty. Having been good friends with the son of one who escaped that regime, I will drink Guinness…Extra Stout…to the death of Ding Dong IIIKim Jong-Un.

Still, it’s a very bad idea to claim to have some special word from God on these matters. Unless, of course, you actually have such a word.

Having said that, as a recovering Baptist, I’m a tad and a half skeptical of Mr. Jeffress’ truth claim.

Rainer, TWW, and Church-Killers

Fair disclosure:

(1) I’m not a Thom Rainer fan. I am skeptical of anyone or anything coming out of LifeWay.

(2) I’m not a Calvinist, let alone a NeoCal.

(3) I absolutely reject the mindset that accepts that the pastor can do no wrong.

I generally give the pastor the benefit of the doubt until the facts won’t allow it.

With that out of the way, we have this from Rainer, HT to Dee at TWW.

Rainer provides a quick blurb on what he calls seven reasons why churches often experience dramatic declines in their attendance.

(1) Scandal. I agree with him on this one, having seen a couple of them firsthand. Sex/adultery scandals are often the worst here. When a pastor (or anyone in church leadership) falls–or, more accurately, swan-dives–into sexual indiscretion, he’s committing treason: against his family, against his church, against Jesus. He’s effectively dropping a nuclear bomb on everyone around him. (And yes, those scandals can include women in key positions, too.)

(2) Sudden departure of a pastor or staff person. Most of the time, this occurs when a popular, well-respected pastor either (a) retires or (b) gets “the call” to go elsewhere. Pastors can do the latter for a number of reasons, some of them good, others not so much.

On one hand, a pastor may have reached the point where he has outlived his usefulness at a particular church. In a perfect world, this would never happen, but–in case you didn’t get the memo–we do not live in such a world. At some churches, it’s a given: their niche is for the training of itinerant pastors. I know of churches in rural Kentucky that are like that: seminary students preach there every Sunday and Wednesday, and they cycle in a new one every couple years. These are typically very small churches who cannot afford to have a full-time pastor.

OTOH, I’d have to admit that I share Dee’s skepticism. When a pastor gets a “call” to go elsewhere, it’s almost never a call to preach at a smaller church; oh noes: it’s almost always a “call” to a larger church that is paying more money and offering more perks. I’ve often observed that today’s “ministry” is more like a corporate ladder: get a 4-year degree, go to seminary and get an MDiv (and maybe even a DMin or PhD or ThD), then take on small-ball ministerial gigs. If you manage to speak well, not piss off the wrong people, you will progress to medium and then larger churches where the sky is the limit.

That’s a very corrosive culture, and the Church is worse for it.

(3) Closure or decline of a major employer. I would have labeled this Economic decline of the area. Yes, this can be a big deal, particularly in a town where there is one or two major employers and plants start getting shut down.

Sometimes, this can happen over time, however.

I was one a part of a church that experienced such a decline over a couple decades. In the early 1900s through the WWII era, they were in the prime part of town and church attendance was booming. But as a tobacco plants and distilleries began to cut jobs and then eventually close altogether, families moved out. And then the government housing projects moved in, and more families moved out. This dynamic impacted every church in that area. Even the prominent black church–which was a mile away from my church–moved out, as they didn’t even want anything to do with the decaying community.

I used to run outside after church on Sundays in that area. Today, I would be an idiot to do that.

(4) The Church changes its position on a Biblical/moral issue. While Dee focuses on churches that fell victim to what I call “NeoCon hijackings”, I will attest to what Rainer is describing: churches that embrace liberalism or reject conservatism. I know of churches that have bolted the SBC, not because of their coverups of abuses (that would be a good reason) but rather their conservatism. These are churches that endorse homosexuality, abortion, communist economics, and a lower view of Biblical authority.

I also know of churches that bolted the Presbyterian Church USA due to their liberalism. The PCUSA has embraced the pro-gay, pro-abortion, anything goes paradigm that is common in mainline protestant circles. As a result, many PCUSA churches have jumped ship and joined forces with the more conservative PCA and OPC.

When churches depart from Biblical standards, it should lead to a serious disruption in attendance.

(5) A power group continues to wreak havoc in the church. Like Dee, I see the importance of such groups, as they can often be a defense against those who (unwisely) would take the church in any direction that might seem popular at the time. They can also be a defense against a pastor whose wisdom has not kept pace with his charisma.

OTOH, what Rainer is describing is a whole ‘nother insidious dynamic: where you can’t take a restroom break without consulting with that “power group.” Such churches often have committees, often dominated by the same people, who obstruct almost everything, and are resistant to even the most benign change.

Such churches can become graveyards for pastors. My church was started because a group of folks was run out of a church by a “power group”.

(6) Another church moves close by. Unless that other church is a megachurch or very large church with similar theology, that is not as much of a factor. If people are leaving your church for the New Church In Town, then they’re probably doing you a favor.

(7) A highly-contentious business meeting. I’ve seen this dynamic, and I place the blame mostly on the pastors on this one. Sometimes, these are the work of insidious “power groups”, but I’ve mostly seen this done by pastors who seek to foist very divisive plans on the church.

Sometimes, it is a “relocation” proposal, which is very difficult and sometimes is done for all the wrong reasons.

Sometimes, that involves an initiative that requires big financial commitment. Again, that is very difficult and sometimes done for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve seen pastors press their churches to add a gymnasium (aka, a “Family Life Center”) and put the church into big debt that they could not sustain. I’ve seen pastors attempt–in spite of all wisdom to the contrary–to relocate their churches, and fail badly.

In other cases, as Dee points out, you have churches where pastors, often with a NeoCal bent, seek to foist a whole new form of church government (“elder-led”) and church membership (“covenant membership”) on parishioners. Of course, such meetings will be contentious, and people will leave (this time for good reasons).