Sunday, November 30, 2008

Practial Ecclesiology 6 - Uncertainty

The following post is the text of a an email sent by Frank Harrison, a friend and fellow traveler at Concord Covenant Church. I have always valued Franks insight, and his ability to cut through clutter to determine the biblical heart of an issue. I believe the Holy Spirit has often used Frank to speak to me and so I value his comments highly. This is his response to some of the discussion taking place in our church about future direction. Frank hits squarely one of the points I have in mind to pick up at a future time, and he says it so well I got his permission to simply reproduce it here.

When we discuss church matters and "new direction", it can be intimidating for many because it leads to general uncertainty.  We don't know what is going to happen in the future (near or far), which is important to admit, yet unsettling at many levels (emotionally, financially, etc.)

We are uncomfortable (even terrified) with uncertain times because we have clear direction from the Lord to be confident in His plan.  However, listen to Paul's thought on this matter...

"I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory." (Ephesians 3: 7-12)
Note that Paul, as a church leader and missionary, was facing a rather uncertain future, yet he responded to this uncertainty by denying any worldly interpretation or response and claimed the peace of Christ and was not discouraged.  We also need to claim that Jesus Christ is the head of our church and that He is VERY interested in managing our affairs and providing new direction and fresh understanding of our role in his service.  Why would Jesus keep his purposes for our church a secret? 

Jesus said: "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (John 14:26)

So, know that Christ is our CEO, our leader, our head, our counsellor, and we can come to him in confidence that He will lead us in the right direction.  We must pray and be patient to see and hear what He is doing among us, so that we may join Him in his work.  We may experience a Crisis in Belief that will require Major Adjustments, but this is according to God's plan to bring us One Step Closer into fellowship with Him and each other.
"For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (Ephesians 1:15-23)

Practical Ecclesiology 5 - Accountability

Now let me speak for bit in defense of those who would call our little church “at risk.” 

First, I am entirely glad that our church is part of a denomination. Certainly there are dangers inherent in any sort of church polity or structure, and denominational structures are not immune from to those dangers. Nevertheless, I believe that the dangers of denominationalism are ultimately less worrisome than the dangers of a church going solo. “Independent” churches are sailing in dangerous waters – accountable to no one, disconnected both from the history of the Holy Spirit working through the ages and from the larger movement of the Spirit around the world at this point in time. If we are indeed the Body of Christ, then we had best be listening to some other parts of that body. If you saw a disattached hand that trying to crawl around on it's own, you would think that not just odd, but very very wrong. The church that tries to do the same with no attachment to the Church at all times in all places is just as perverse.

Second, I am glad that our denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, cares enough to watch for the condition of the churches that fall under the care and shepherding of the denomination. It is good that churches that are struggling in any number of ways should be identified and should be offered help. The Spirit works in ways that are both miraculous and ordinary. We may learn to forgive one another, or to humble ourselves in service to those who are ugly and hurting and wretched, or it may be in helping us to use our money and resources more wisely. Either way can be the examples of the God's Spirit in our midst. We should not spurn the help that God is sending us just because it doesn't look like the help we want.

We are not the only church that is in this group or process of evaluation. From what I understand, there are some other that are indeed literally on the verge of collapse, legally and/or financially. I believe it is good that someone is attempting to work with these churches to create a good outcome. More on that in a bit.

Third, the process of reflection, of looking at who we are, what we want, and where we want to go is always valuable. Let’s be clear about what gifts God has granted us. Then let us be clear about how we plan to use those gifts, as meager or as extravagant as they may be. And then let us be about the work given to us without apology that we are not doing some other work, but with joy that we are doing OUR work because we are confident that it is HIS work for us. 

Some of this process may involve recognizing our weaknesses, confronting brutal and harsh truths about gifts we have completely missed or misunderstood. This too is good. But let’s make sure again that these are indeed our gifts, our particular calling, according to the Word and the Spirit’s leading in our midst. Accountability should not mean that we are obligated to be in submission to studies, surveys, and theories that are founded on scientific method more than upon Biblical wisdom. 

Fourth, I am confident that the motives of our denominational shepherds and staff are good and upright. I believe that they seek to serve the Lord faithfully, and to assist us in our calling. Therefore any discussions like the one I am carrying on here should assume the highest and best motives. I do not see here any attempt to force us either in or out or up or down. I see no ulterior motives involving power grabs, theft of money or property, or 

As I understand it, the purpose behind the At Risk identification process is really about helping churches that are close to death to plan their demise in such a way as to allow the principle of resurrection to rule their thinking and actions going forward. In other words, the ECC seeks to encourage those churches to recognize their position, and act in such a way that when the end comes, any assets remaining after the dissolution can be used to fund church planting projects. In this way, the death of a church will mean the birth of several other churches. This is both biblical and poetic. 

It is biblical because it seems to be a principle built into the fabric of the universe that everything requires death and resurrection. The seed dies to sprout into the plant. The plant dies to create soil to nourish the seed. The star dies to create the planets. And of course the GodMan dies to raise us all in Himself. There is a beauty and symmetry to it that we all recognize for it is a picture of the home we all long for.

I think this is ultimately a wise approach. I hope those who need it take advantage of it. I don’t think that’s us. I just happen to believe that we have more in common Peter than we have with Lazarus.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Practical Ecclesiology 4 - Gifts

Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
So says the Apostle Paul regarding spritual gifts. In our evangelical, american subculture we read this and we automatically assume this applies only to individuals. A spiritual gift is my gift, given to ME by the Holy Spirit. But what if the application of this idea is much much wider? In other words, when Paul says, " each one.." might he also be taken to mean each church? Cannot churches be gifted in the same way that a person might be?

I have been to way too many seminars and workshops that intended to help me determine what is my spiritual gift. As a rule, they have not been particularly helpful. But if I can borrow from them here, I will recall that they all agree that just because we have a particular gift, does not excuse us from practicing the other spiritual disciplines that are the specific domain of the gifted. For instance, just because I may not have a special gift for giving, I am not excused from dropping a check in the offering plate, or giving a dollar to the homeless guy who needs a meal. In the same way, do not churches -- who obviously have many people with a variety of gifts -- have a certain gift or emphasis? This does not excuse us from the other disciplines, but it recognizes that we have certain areas where God gives us special desires, talents, and abilities. 
One church may be all about reaping the harvest of evangelism. Another may stand strongly for justice in society. Another may be about teaching and training disciples, or donating time and money to the poor and needy. If this is true, then what does it say about how we should gauge and measure what we are doing? If this is true, then how should I feel if my church does not measure up to some other churches definition of what a church should do? If we are faithful to our gifts, but not to some other gift that is considered by some to be more important, what should I do with that?

The Glory of a Feast!

"Why do we marry, why take friends and lovers, why give ourselves to music, painting, chemistry, or cooking? Out of simple delight in the resident goodness of creation, of course; but out of more than that, too. Half of earth's gorgeousness lies hidden in the glimpsed city it longs to become. For all its rooted loveliness, the world has no continuing city here; it is an outlandish place, a foreign home, a session in via to a better version of itself -- and it is our glory to see it so and thirst until Jerusalem comes home at last. We are given appetites, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great" 
 -- Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, p. 189).

"I wish you well. May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable. May they rejoice that they will never again be taken for callow, black-haired boys. And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed. May we all sit long enough for reserve to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at the table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men . . . The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it" 

(Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, p. 180).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Practical Ecclesiology 3 - What's the Difference...

What is the difference between a CEO and a pastor?

What is the difference between making a sales presentation and preaching the gospel?

What is the difference between paying membership dues and placing a check in the offering plate?

What is the difference between targeting a market niche and drinking with sinners and tax collectors?

What is the difference between making a return on investment and caring for the fatherless and widows?

What is the difference between hiring a management consultant and calling a pastor?

What is the difference between tracking market trends and keeping Sunday attendance records?

What is the difference between a motivational workshop and a worship service?

What is the difference between a company mission statement and the Great Commission?

What is the difference between balancing a budget and the forgiveness of sins?

What is the difference between an annual report and the prayers of the people?

What is the difference between the Board of Directors and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

What is the difference between increasing market share and advancing the Kingdom of God?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Practical Ecclesiology 2 - Picture Frames

It occurred to me during a recent church meeting how much we think in pictures, and how much our pictures are affected by the dominant pictures of the culture around us. 

You can use any number of different images when you think of an organization – like a church. You could think of an army, a farm, an ant colony, a plant, a herd. You could picture a solar system, a single celled animal, a symbiote or a machine. The image you use will affect your expectations about the organization, how you structure it, and the decisions you make about and within that organization. 

During our recent conversation about the future of our church people continuously and unfailingly returned to ideas that related back to their image of our church as a business. This is the predominant organizational model of our culture, and it seems that it is difficult to picture an organization of any kind functioning any other way. This became especially apparent as we discussed what we should be on about in the coming year. The Church Chair wrote the items on the flip chart and as I looked at them I found that they all fell into basic categories that we normally apply to business, even if they did not use the strict terminology. People essentially were saying that we need to advertise, build our brand, target specific marketing niches, do market research, and clearly communicate the features and benefits our church offers. This pointed out to me how thinking in terms of business is natural to us, like breathing. It is simply the way we expect an organization to work 

The problem is that a church is fundamentally different from a business, both in purpose and structure. Therefore the metrics used to judge the success of a business are not the same as those used to judge the success of a church. Yet because in this country we live, eat and breath commerce, it has gotten into our blood. Instead we should be talking about faithfulness, ministry, suffering, joy, sacrifice, kingdom, community, love. 

These are more difficult to represent with numbers, and so they seem less real to those of us (all of us) who are so accustomed to balance sheets, controlled studies, statistical analysis, and management by spreadsheet. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Practical Ecclesiology Introduction

My family belongs to a small church. Quite small. Historically, it was a new church plant about 14 years ago. Membership, attendance and involvement has gone up and down a bit since its establishment, but we have never approached medium size, never mind large. Rather than MegaChurch, you might refer to us a micro church – although that carries overtones of a house church structure – and we certainly aren’t that. Specifically we are running at approximately 36 active adult members in a very traditional congregational polity, with Worship on Sunday mornings, and a few other minsitry and fellowship opportunities throughout any given week.

This size is just about enough to sustain a small membership with a full time pastor and limited organized ministry. Part of the reason this works is that we rent space to meet from a local Seventh Day Adventist congregation. In some ways it works pretty well. They meet on Saturdays. We meet on Sundays. They have generally been very supportive of us, and our rent is very reasonable.

To paraphrase Daniel Webster’s famous quip about his Alma Mater, Dartmouth College, “It’s a small church, but there are those who love it.” We are very good at certain kinds of things. First and foremost, we are pretty good at being a church – as opposed to being merely a provider of religious goods and services. Our worship is a blend of liturgical and less formal styles that is definitely “churchy” and God centered, yet seeks to be reasonable accessible without being about performance or entertainment. (I see this as a strength, not everyone would agree) Our conversations after worship, whether informal talks around the coffee pot, or more structured discussions in our “Adult Formation” class have been very important shaping points for many of us. We are good at providing a place where your kids love to be. We are good at rising to meet various needs of our membership and community that come to us. One of our members summed it up by saying, “We are pretty good at swarming.” By this he meant that we are good at just throwing a lot of energy and resources (such as we have) at a challenge that presents itself to us. We are pretty good at providing a web of friendships and connections that support and nurture our connection to Jesus. Many of us can testify about how Christ is using our church to help us to grow spiritually as individuals and as a group. In general, I see us as a group of people who seek to follow Jesus and are busy working out how to do it together - knowing that we are far getting it down pat. 

In spite of these positive qualities, and many other good things I could write about, our denominational bureaucracy (Evangelical Covenant Church) has recently identified us as an “At Risk” church. By this the denomination means that on paper we manifest a number of qualities that indicate that we are likely to fold within a few years. These qualities include, but are not limited to, small membership, declining membership, small budget, able to support only a part time pastor, etc. While not all of those risk factors strictly apply to us, enough do so that we have been flagged for special attention. We are small. We have not grown much in numbers. We have not brought in any converts in some time. We have had some close calls financially in the last few years, but are currently stable.

So for the past 12 months, we have been engaging in a process to determine what should be done about this. Today, we had a discussion amongst the membership about exactly these questions. What do we need to do to intentionally lift us out of the “at risk” category into something more “viable.” As you might imagine, this was a lively discussion. Some of us vehemently object to the characterization, and for some very good reasons that are worth discussing. Where people land on these issues says a great deal about their theology of church. 

As you might guess, I have some thought about what church is and how God wants us to do it. Rather than post one long post on some of the key ideas rising out of this conversation, I will be posting several shorter articles outlining a few of my thoughts on the matter. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pride and Joy

(I wrote this several months ago, and it got lost in my files. I discovered it and decided it might be worth putting up here)

I suspect that there is no way to predict with certainty the outcome of raising a child. Just look around you. There are untold examples of children of decent parents with lousy kids. It is the stuff of proverbs. Of course there are proverbs that say differently - that parents shape children, either intentionally or unintentionally.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

A chip off the old block.

Yet, if you look around you, the truth of these other proverbs is also apparent. You can look at a child and every once in a while, the veil falls away and you can see the parent -- in a gesture, in a turn of phrase, in an approach to a problem. Of course, this cuts both ways. Bad apples fall as close to the tree as good ones. 

The outcome of child rearing is not predictable but I am pretty sure that that how a child is raised has some effect. The interplay between nature and nurture is complex, and very far from being a straight line thing. It isn't so much an simple expression ( 2+2 = 4) as a complex equation with many variables.

Much (perhaps even a majority) of the influence is unintentional and below consciousness. I'm not sure how it works, but it is really something to watch. Every once in a while I see something in my girls that just amazes me.

Today, my Bride took our youngest to her Girl Scout meeting. This included a trip to the library -- a big treat. I was home when they arrived. After kissing everyone hello, I noticed that Little Bright Eyes was not in the house. "Where is she?" I asked. "In the car reading some of her new books from the library" I was told. I looked out the door and sure enough, she's still sitting in the car, happy as a clam in the sand, looking through her new stack of nice fresh books. I watched her for a second, thinking, "That's my girl! Brought her up RIGHT. Yes I did." 

You see, I love books. Books are among the greatest joys of my life. I was truly excited to see that joy transferred to her. It was a little moment of pride.

But I fear such pride is misplaced. Really. There must be thousands of examples of parents who read and read to their kids, and yet the kids grow up to hate reading. And just as many examples of brave and prolific readers who rise out of families who don't even own books. The transfer of such things from one generation to the next is neither sure or predictable. I believe that I did influence my girls' love of books, but my influence alone is insufficient as to be thought of as a primary cause. It's all just too complex to be reduced to any kind of "just that" or "merely this."

So I can't take pride in it really. But I can take joy in it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Your Mama...

Your mama is so fat, when her beeper goes off, people think she's backing up.
Your mama is so fat, when she goes to the movie, she sits next to everyone.
Your mama is so fat, when she goes in a resturant, she looks at the menu and says," Okay ".
Your mama is so fat, she has to iron her pants on the driveway.
Your mama is so fat, she puts her lipstick on with a paint roller.
Your mama is so fat, she has to pull down her pants to get in her pocket.
Your mama is so fat, you have to take a train and two buses, just to get on her good side.
Your mama is so fat, she has to wake up in sections.
Your mama's so fat, she sat on a quarter and a boogger popped out of George Washington's nose.
Your mama is so fat, she put on some BVD's and by the time she got them on, they spelled boulevard.
Your mama is so fat, the National Weather Service gives a name for each one of her farts.
Your mama is so ugly, they're going to move Halloween to her birthday.
Your mama is so ugly, she makes onions cry.
Your mama is so ugly, she went to the beauty shop and it took three hours, for an estimate.
Your mama is so ugly, when she goes to the beach, cats try to put sand on her.
Your mama is so old, when she was in school, they didn't have history.
Your mama is so old, when I told her to act her own age, she died.
Your mama's so fat, when she's standing on the corner, police drive by and say, "Hey! Break it up!"


In a desperate effort to garner more readers for this drivel, I've gone and created a profile on Facebook and linked this blog to it. So now whatever I write here will also appear there. Now I will be second guessing myself even more.

Should I publish this? Should I not publish this?

When there are only 3 or 4 readers, who cares? But when I already have 50 friends (WOW!) and they all get notified every time I publish something new...and these are people that know me...the stakes just seem higher.

We'll see how it goes. Even the illusion of anonymity has it's comforts.

Meanwhile, I appreciate those of you who trouble to comment. The rest of you, feel free to at least grunt periodically. Even if your comment lacks coherence, wit, or style, just seeing that someone commented gives me an inordinate thrill.

I don't know about you, but I could use a few more inordinate thrills.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Two Sides of a Coin

I’ve learned that it takes a lot to get me exercised about politics. Mostly, I just like to sit on the outside and watch other people jump up and down and get all histrionic. I’m not above throwing a comment or question in just to instigate more fireworks. I’m really more of a spectator, although I do enjoy a good show.

Other people find certainty much easier to come by. I am simply not convinced that Obama is going to turn the U.S. into a socialist state all by himself. I’m pretty sure that we won’t all be muslims by 2012. I doubt that some kind of government sponsored health care plan will be a complete and utter disaster for our nation -- and I suspect that a good one might actually help.

Although I love to listen to Mr. Obama speak, and I am a sucker for powerful oratory and poetic, majestic themes, I don’t mistake those for the day to day grind of running a government, and I simply am waiting to see how he manages that.

On the other hand, although I voted for McCain, I was not convinced that his plans to lower taxes, offer health care rebates, and appoint “conservative” justices would usher in the New Jerusalem either. Nor would he launch the country into a tyrannical police state.

The peculiar thing is that although the President wields tremendous influence on the shape of future events, that manner in which their actions actually shape those events is much more difficult to predict. It must be a corollary to Murphy’s Law that if any unintended consequences to a decision, regulation, or law is possible, it will almost certainly come to pass. I suspect that in the long run, most consequences are unintended, most blessing unlooked for and most disaster will take us by surprise.

GWB certainly was a man of decision. He was very clear in his own mind. His world is a very simple place, a matter of black and white, yes and no. No compromise, and no wavering. This was his great strength, and turned out to be his downfall. It is common for a man’s weakness to be the obverse of his greatest strength -- 2 sides of a coin. I can only imagine how surprised he has been by the consequences of his actions. I don’t think this has turned out at all the way he expected.

So now we will get to see what Obama’s greatest strengths are, and in time how they also reveal his great weaknesses. When 4 years (or eight) are past, we will see whether it all played out as Mr. Obama expected…and all his supporters as well.

Personally, I hope it all works out great, and all the most noble visions of Mr. Obama come to pass. We’ll see how noble are the outcomes the grow from his ideals.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day, November, 1884

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
'Twould not be you, Niagara - nor you, ye limitless prairies - nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite - nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyserloops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon's white cones - nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes - nor Mississippi's stream:
This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name - the still small voice vibrating -America's choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen - the act itself the main, the quadrennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous'd - sea-board and inland - Texas to Maine - the Prairie States - Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West - the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling - (a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's): the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity - welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
- Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify - while the heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.

by Walt Whitman

Monday, November 3, 2008


So----the preacher was dissatisfied with how little his congregation put in the collection plates on Sunday, so he learned hypnosis. He preached the sermon in a monotone and he swung a watch slowly in front of the lectern and at the end of the sermon he said, "Give!" and the collection plate was full of twenty dollar bills. It worked for weeks. The congregation sat mesmerized during the sermon, staring at the watch swinging, and when he said, "Give!" they gave everything they had, and then one Sunday, at the end of the sermon, the chain on the watch broke, and the preacher said, "Crap!"

Purists, Coalitions and Tin-Foil Hats

This is just too good not to share. Still along the theme of voting/not voting/third party voting, etc. 

When told that he is throwing his vote away, the third party purist often says that he wants to take theprincipled approach instead of the pragmatic one. But pragmatism always needs to build coalitions in order to get something done (and that something can be much smaller than winning the election), and so this coalition building is not something that disappears when you leave the mainstream parties. I left the Republican Party many years ago because I didn't like a lot of the company -- suits, haircuts, PR-meisters, pollsters, liars, liberals, charlatans, and clowns. Great . . . that's a good reason to leave. But in the world of third parties, you soon discover, if you have kept your wits about you have haven't drunk the Kool-Aid, that . . . you don't like a lot of the company. In the third-party world, pragmatism places certain people in charge of state organizations who couldn't organize a two-car funeral. On top of that, you have your racialists, your whackos, your tin-foil hat people, and your conspiracy nuts. Now of course, the fact one is paranoid doesn't mean that "they" are not after him, but still, there it is. Just because you have separated yourself from the corruption does not necessarily mean that you have become a noble member of the Council of Elrond. But mixed all through this you have intelligent people who really love God and their nation, and who really understand how corrupt the mainline parties are. Just like back in the Republican party -- there are people there who understand all this as well. We are all in the hands of God, and so those who see the crisis accurately should strike hands gladly, regardless of how we believe God would have us respond to it in the polling booth. I exclude from this broad call for political charity anyone who votes for Obama, or who would secretly like to in his heart. Every Christian who votes for Obama is part of the problem. Most Christians who vote for McCain are part of the problem. And most Christians who vote for the "pure" third part candidate are part of the problem also. But there is no reason for despair. Every Christian who gathers on the Lord's Day to worship the Father in the name of Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, in order to renew covenant with Him, is part of the coming inevitable restoration.

Borrowed from Doug Wilson at Blog and Mablog. Read the entire post here. This is the best of it, but it's still worth reading it all.

Two Differing Opinions

Giving the recent lively exchange between myself and my good friend Ron (I do not mean that ironically – he is a good friend. If he was not, I would not have been willing to utilize quite the level of rhetoric that I did) I thought it might be useful to publish a few comments I ran across at The post is titled Election Day 2008: Wine and Sheesh Party. In it, Imonk explains his discontent with McCain and his aversion to Obama. Way down the comments, I came across a very well reasoned explanation by a commentor named Kirk on why he thinks not voting is a manly-- and more importantly, a christian -- option.

I’d like to suggest that not voting is very much an option. And not just because there isn’t a candidate you are happy about. The Bible never addressed appropriate Christian responsibilities in a republic, but Jesus did say not to lord it over other people like the Gentiles do. He was offered the kingdoms of the world and he turned them down. He subverted political systems with something better and more powerful–the inbreaking of the kingdom of God.

Since God is our king, perhaps it would make sense to confine our methodology for effecting change to reliance on his power and his Spirit. I don’t trust princes or horses or chariots anyway. Shouldn’t we believe that God in his church can do more than any human being to bless this world, bring peace and care for the poor?

I’m nearer every day to deciding that I don’t want to be invested in this system at all. I don’t want worldly power, even the fairly minimal power of casting a ballot. I don’t want to be deluded into thinking that I’ve made a difference by checking a box besides someone’s name. I don’t want to be tempted to start believing that if we get just the right person into office, that suddenly it will make a difference.

A humble book recommendation: I would love to see your response to “Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting,” edited by Ted Lewis. You might find it persuasive.

Rich Mullins once said something like “Democracy is the belief that a million people are less corrupt than one. That’s not bad theology; it’s bad math.”

In this case, he is not  talking about not voting in THIS election, but about not voting ever...on principle. Of course, this puts him in very good company with millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses who practice an assiduous neutrality regarding this “world system.” I can respect this approach, but I do not agree with it. It at least has a consistency that is lacking for someone who is simply fed up with this election, or who doesn't care for the current names on the ballot.

On the other hand, Michael Spencer, the Imonk himself, followed up with this comment.

I believe that not voting is a violation of the stewardship we have received as citizens of this country. It is in effect saying we don’t believe God has a common grace will or that there are any moral issues at stake. Render unto Caesar, and my fellow Americans have purchased my participation in this process with their blood. I am not a non-citizen. I am a citizen of two Kingdoms.

This is closer to my sentiment. I'm not sure that voting has the same weight as paying taxes, but at a moral level, I'm not sure it doesn't. If Jesus hadn't done his little trick with the coin in the fish's mouth, and then said his thing about rendering unto Caesar, would JW's abstain from paying taxes as a matter of neutrality? It's merely hypothetical of course -- Jesus said nary a word about voting.  

Personally, I’m still going to vote, but I will almost certainly walk out of the polling place praying, “God have mercy on us all.”