Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Six-Point Plan

Mondays are always tough days: lots of homeschooling, an extra student to teach in the afternoons, and preparations to do write in the evenings for my Tuesday morning Bible study.

But two things make Mondays enjoyable: Dancing with the Stars and the arrival in my e-mail box of John H. Armstrong's weekly Act 3 op-ed articles.

Over the past three weeks, Armstrong has been writing up some advice he's given to seminary students. The last two weeks' stuff was okay, but this week's was absolutely extraordinary. It's good advice for every church, for every pastor. I'll rehash the main points but the entire op-ed article can be read here.

The six points Armstrong makes:

1. Understand and Teach the Plotline of the Bible
At Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity, Father Acker is doing exactly this at the opening of each service: going through the Scriptures chronologically. I think it's a great concept and a practical application.

2. Learn the Value of the Creeds and Learn How to Teach Them Well (This one is so important that I want to include the details -- it's something horribly overlooked in evangelical churches, unfortunately. I really love the emphasis placed on the creeds in the liturgical traditions:)
The earliest creeds were written to guide believers and congregations so that they would not stray far from the central message of the Bible. These creeds are distinctly Trinitarian in nature. Much of what we do and say in the Church today, at least in evangelical churches, is not deeply Trinitarian. The loss of perspective in spiritual formation, prayer, worship and right living is immense because of this flaw. A right use of the creeds can correct this over time.

Ministers ought to know the creeds and learn to use them well with their congregations. People should be taught to love them and learn them. A creedal church is a better taught church and one that can handle the important things of Christian thought and doctrine.

3. The Place for Catechism
Again, this is so very important, especially for the young people in the church, but also for adults as well. Our young people really need to understand doctrine, especially as they grow into adults. Armstrong makes a really good case for teaching via catechism.

4. The Church Must Become "A House of Prayer"
Amen! Alpine Anglican just started a prayer ministry, one that I'm excited about joining. Certain prayer requests will be prayed over daily by the members of the prayer ministry, whether those be requests from the church or from people outside the church.

5. Understand and Teach Epistemology
How we know is an important matter to study. We gotta know how we gotta know, you know?

6. We Must Love the Church
(This one is really important, too, so here's the scoop right from Armstrong:)
Most of you would expect me to teach this truth wherever possible. I believe Christ loves the Church and gave himself up for her. I believe he calls on us to love her and to live at peace with one another. This takes me to John 17 and the prayer Jesus prayed for us to be one. Too many ministers help foster divisions by their personal opinions and leadership styles. We must learn to cherish the bride of Christ, and the only bride we can now see is the visible church with all her flaws.

This is as much my personal passion now as anything in my life. I am writing my next book on this very subject: Your Church Is Too Small. I do not understand how you can love Jesus and not love his Church, not as a theory but as a real, visible and whole reality. I urged the seminarians to make this their life's passion as well.

I agree with Armstrong on all of these, but most especially on the use of creeds to unify the church in its beliefs and in the love of the church that also creates unity. I take Jesus' prayer of unity in John 17 VERY seriously and also lament the divisions between factions within Christendom that are fostered by sometimes well-meaning pastors but which definitely defy Christ's intention for the Church. As I assert often (climbing up on my soapbox...), we Christians -- whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, mainline, evangelical, charismatic -- are ALL ON THE SAME SIDE. Our enemy is Satan, not each other!!!! But one would think by the way Christians judge one another, treat one another, and have even killed one another, that we are enemies indeed. And meanwhile, our REAL ENEMY is laughing all the way to the underworld, reveling in our divisions and in his resulting power over the Church. But if we truly LOVED one another, as Christ prayed, then Satan would be powerless over the Church. And the Church could be a real agent for change in the world if we were all on the same side, working together, praying together, fighting the enemy together, and loving together. And that's God's will for His Beloved Bride....

(Stepping off the soapbox now....)

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