reformers are the new legalistic fundamentalists.

The thought hit me about a month ago. I don’t know why I’ve never seen it before, but it’s true, clear as day. The mod­ern day reformed guys (and girls) are no dif­fer­ent than the very thing most of them grew up in and reacted against–namely the legal­is­tic, tra­di­tional fundamentalists.

Let’s start by defin­ing legal­ism. Legal­ism is tak­ing an extra-​​biblical stan­dard that you have cho­sen for your own per­sonal holi­ness that’s inher­ently good and apply­ing that expec­ta­tion on every­one else, using oth­ers as a gauge of your merit, and find­ing assur­ance of your sal­va­tion through your mea­sur­able standard.

So, in walk reformed guys. It’s edgy, it’s cool, and we’re bring­ing accu­rate, bib­li­cal truth back into West­ern Chris­tian­ity. These guys know what the Bible actu­ally has to say about issues, they know bet­ter than to think we can attain right­eous­ness through works, and they know their the­ol­ogy, so weaker-​​minded legalists…watch out!

Ya they can define the finer points of sote­ri­ol­ogy, have a formed opin­ion on N.T. Wright’s new per­spec­tive on Paul, and they always have fan­tas­tic off the wall, the­o­ret­i­cal hypothe­ses about some the­o­log­i­cal trea­tise. Oh, and at any given time you can ask what they’re read­ing and they’re sure to be work­ing on 2–3 books, not includ­ing the Bible (that’s a given because of course if they’re read­ing the­ol­ogy books that would only be on top of their Bible read­ing, so we won’t ever ask about that).

These guys are doing good. They feel pretty good too. They never would impose their stan­dards on some­one else. They’re the essence of devout Chris­tian­ity because obvi­ously being steeped in knowl­edge is a strong indi­ca­tion of a person’s spir­i­tual temperature.

Are you catch­ing the drift yet? Mod­ern reform­ers are find­ing their merit/​assurance in what they know. It’s mea­sur­able. If you can under­stand the ins and outs of the gospel then surely you’ve got the gospel in your heart because only a per­son who’s blinds have been lifted can under­stand the gospel. It’s a good feel­ing to go to bed hav­ing fin­ished up your fifth Christian/​theological book this month. And at least you know more than the major­ity of Chris­tians you come across and even more than 34 of your own church.

Herein lies the ironic over­lap of tra­di­tional fun­da­men­tal­ists and their reac­tionary coun­ter­parts, the reformed circle.

Do you see other similarities?

a psychology of modern prayer

Let it be known from the start that this is not a the­ol­ogy of prayer, nor is it even an objec­tive stance on the sub­ject. These are merely obser­va­tions and con­sid­er­a­tions that I’d like to leave with you on the tra­di­tional and some­what mod­ern approaches to prayer.

Prayer preach­ing. This goes out to those pas­tors who went over their unof­fi­cial allot­ted preach­ing time. In an effort to get a few last words in and drive the point home, they take the oppor­tu­nity of their clos­ing prayer to do so. It ends up they’re not really pray­ing to God, they’re con­tin­u­ing to preach to the peo­ple with their eyes closed. The prayer goes some­thing like this:

Dear Father, thank you for the mes­sage we heard this morn­ing. I ask that we would com­mit to liv­ing by these prin­ci­ples. Our hearts are prone to wan­der, but your Word says we need to stay in prayer to fight this war. We can­not let the desires of this world to pull us from doing what’s right. We must stay in com­mu­nity, call each other, and encour­age one another to stay strong through­out the week. Thank you for the strength you offer, but we must rely on it daily and ask for it daily. Etcetera, etcetera. Amen.

Group prayers. These are becom­ing less pop­u­lar, but still found in many tra­di­tional churches often on Wednes­day nights. A time is set aside for the entire church (no mat­ter the size) to pray out loud. In these prayer meet­ings, there’s always the reg­u­lars who pray. Usu­ally one of them starts it off, often after a few moments of awk­ward silence (espe­cially for vis­i­tors who are unac­cus­tomed to this prayer format).

There tends to be a con­sid­er­able amount of peer pres­sure in these groups. Depend­ing on the spir­i­tual matu­rity of the indi­vid­ual, there’s an expected time to pray and a cer­tain level of elo­quence. Though no Chris­t­ian would say there’s an expec­ta­tion, each indi­vid­ual tends to self-​​impose the expec­ta­tion upon them­selves. In between prayers, there can be lengthy times of silence as the group waits for some­one else to pray. In the mean time, peo­ple are count­ing down how many more reg­u­lars are left to pray.

Peo­ple tend to be very dis­en­gaged which you can eas­ily tell by sit­ting in the back and watch­ing as you see the over­whelm­ing major­ity with their eyes open, look­ing around, check­ing their phones, inter­act­ing with their kids, or some other obvi­ous action of dis­en­gage­ment from the main event.

Per­son­ally, my obser­va­tion has been that 8 out 10 times, smaller groups tend to be more pas­sion­ate, engag­ing, and deep in their prayers over­all. Also, I’m not sure how spirit led the prayers are or how help­ful they are if most peo­ple are dis­en­gaged. It seems like peo­ple pray some­times just to pass the time and con­tribute to the prayer time end­ing. How can we make these more engag­ing, spirit led, “flow­ing”? I have some thoughts (but that’s a dif­fer­ent post), but I don’t think we should rel­e­gate to fault­ing only the indi­vid­u­als for being dis­en­gaged. There’s also a respon­si­bil­ity of the lead­ers to…LEAD…people into engagement.

“Cap­tain obvi­ous” prayers. I’m not really sure the psy­chol­ogy behind these prayers. They’re some­what bib­li­cal as we can see by look­ing at exam­ples in the Psalms. Pos­si­bly it’s peo­ple who haven’t devel­oped a higher prayer matu­rity and this is a safe fall back. These prayers are those when a per­son states truths about God. That in itself isn’t bad because David does that a lot, but in restat­ing truths, he typ­i­cally had an agenda and pur­pose that he was lead­ing up to. Some peo­ple state truths and just leave it at that. Not nec­es­sar­ily wrong…this is just an obser­va­tion that stands out to me.

List prayers. These prayers often are pre­ceded by prayer requests. We store all the requests in our mind and then pray through them while men­tally check­ing them off. Here are some of the pit­falls. When there’s a list, it becomes goal ori­ented, and the goal is to get through the list. Usu­ally each item on the list is allot­ted the same amount of time. They’re very cookie-​​cutter and typ­i­cal words included with each request are: give them peace/​comfort/​strength, in Your time, may Your will be done, help them to trust You, etc.

Fer­vent prayers. This is some­thing that is not psy­cho­log­i­cal but entirely spir­i­tual, but lack­ing in most prayers. I’m a firm believer that God answers prayers, but he hears the prayers of the earnest and fer­vent per­son. Both of those char­ac­ter­is­tics can­not be fab­ri­cated. It’s a state of being direc­tion­ally pro­por­tional to our walk with God. If the fervency/​relationship is miss­ing, we default to psy­cho­log­i­cal ruts as men­tioned above.

what’s wrong with local church planting? just about everything

I told an old col­lege friend that I thought church plant­ing was unbib­li­cal and I’m pretty sure he thought I fell off the deep end. He quickly explained what his def­i­n­i­tion of church plant­ing is and asked how I could dis­agree with that. I had no qualms with his def­i­n­i­tion, but what he may not real­ize is that his def­i­n­i­tion is def­i­nitely in the minority.

Here’s my beef with the preva­lent model of church plant­ing. The whole thing is peo­ple putting the cart in front of the horse and very lit­tle reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit. Here’s what I see, and cor­rect me if I’m wrong.

A church is a body of believ­ers. All ele­ments within the church such as elders, dea­cons, build­ings, wor­ship teams, etc are all prac­ti­cal out­flows. How­ever, what hap­pens is some guy gets an idea that he wants to start a church some­where across the coun­try. Why not in his home­town or in a neigh­bor­ing state? That’s for another post.

So, he starts rais­ing sup­port, starts a blog (if he’s really pro­gres­sive), takes a “sur­vey trip”, begins writ­ing down a plan for the first church-​​done-​​right, fig­ures out a name with a great story/​biblical expla­na­tion behind it, finds some min­istry part­ners, and then fig­ures out a cul­tural strat­egy to get peo­ple into this great church that doesn’t even exist yet.

Therein lies the prob­lem. I thought a church was a made up of a group of peo­ple? Yet, you’ve already got a “church” and you’re try­ing to find peo­ple for it? That doesn’t sound like a church to me and def­i­nitely not a healthy way to start one.

Let’s con­sider for a moment per­haps some­thing a lit­tle more bib­li­cal. Last time I checked, the apos­tles were just going out, preach­ing the gospel. Some­times they stuck around for a few years, some­times they were just pass­ing through. They didn’t raise sup­port (though some churches sup­ported them). They had jobs and they made their own liv­ing as they trav­elled around. As men and women came to know the truth, they began meet­ing reg­u­larly, and voila! they had a church.

Going with the intent to plant a church and with pre­con­ceived notions about how it’s going to work is 1) unbib­li­cal, 2) will most likely dis­ap­point, 3) is harm­ful to the poten­tial real church body that you might have. I feel like the men­tal­ity of these church planters is “I’m going to go be a pas­tor or bust”. If it doesn’t work out, they either give up or go some­where else where they think it might work bet­ter which calls into ques­tion whether the Holy Spirit was really lead­ing in the first place.

Instead their should be a men­tal­ity of “I’d like to live here, work here, and while I’m liv­ing in this place, I will inten­tion­ally make God’s name famous.” That way, if you don’t see a con­vert in 5yr, it’s no sweat off your back because you didn’t come with the intent to build a “church”, you don’t feel the pres­sure of sup­port­ers with expec­ta­tions, and con­vert or not, you’re still accom­plish­ing God’s direc­tive for every Christian.

Sec­ond, these pre­con­ceived notions do not allow for the spon­ta­neous work­ing of the Holy Spirit among a church body. Instead of let­ting the church organ­i­cally grow, let people’s gifts come out and uniquely serve in the body, and the church mak­ing deci­sions among them­selves how they want their spir­i­tual fam­ily to func­tion; it’s all dic­tated by some guy who comes in think­ing he’s got the right way with­out real­iz­ing that the Holy Spirit is far larger than he can com­pre­hend and works in ways we have yet to see.

So, do I have a prob­lem with this model of church plant­ing? Yep…a big one. I’m more a fan of liv­ing life that glo­ri­fies God and mak­ing dis­ci­ples while you’re at it. Let­ting the out­flow of that hap­pen nat­u­rally and in God’s timing.

As a clar­i­fi­ca­tion, I rec­og­nize that most things are prac­ti­cal out­flows of a group of believ­ers, but some things are man­dated once a church has formed. These include elders, dea­cons, and the sacraments.