One of things to which this blog is committed is keeping its readers abreast of breaking news concerning the latest research, exploration, investigation, and discoveries with regard to the Bible and biblical times. Well, have I got news for you. Hot off the press, just this morning, is the latest issue of the peer-reviewed and internationally respected interdisciplinary journal, Bulletin of the Organization for Gallimaufry and Unusuality Studies (a publication perhaps better known by its acronym). One of the reports in the journal gives details of an absolutely amazing set of discoveries – yes, I said “set” of discoveries. It seems that a group of extremely rich and philanthropic benefactors got together and funded simultaneous exploration projects of all known ruins of first-century Christian church buildings. This same group of donors, by the way, also previously funded other successful researches, which resulted in the discovery of Noah’s Ark in the Himalayas, Egyptian chariot wheels at the bottom of the Gulf of Suez, the lost ark of the covenant in, of all places, Little Rock, Ark-ansas, three of the seven basketfuls left over after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and eighteen lost verses of the song, Kum Ba Yah.
These research teams, as I said, simultaneously carried out on-site explorations of these ancient church ruins. What they found may, indeed, be the most important discovery of this or any other century. Amazingly, these research teams discovered that many of the churches mentioned in the New Testament had—you’ll find this very hard to believe—WEBSITES! Yes, that’s right. Many of the churches we know of from the pages of the New Testament had websites on which they put important information about the church, information which the church considered to be crucial for visitors to the website to read on the home page. (By the way, in case you’re wondering, it seems that all of the churches used PCs rather than Macs. Evidently the Mac symbol, the apple with a bite taken out of it, was just a bit too reminiscent of a particular Old Testament narrative.)
Now, unfortunately, the researchers were able to recover and view only the home pages of these church websites. But, almost certainly, as I said earlier, the home pages communicated information which the staffs and membership of these churches most wanted the visitors to know about them. So, by reading these home pages, we can ascertain what these ancient churches were most concerned about as they tried to be a witness in the communities in which they were located. Below, I provide you a list of some of the advertising lines these churches highlighted on their home pages. If the line was found on more than one church’s website, I have chosen not to identify any one particular church. But, sometimes the line was sufficiently unique that I decided to include the church’s location, as well as the name of the church, if the name is actually known.
We are a relaxed congregation. Our values are balance and “finding the happy medium.” You’re as likely to find someone barefoot as to find someone wearing sandals. Some people will come clad in the more formal toga; but others will be wearing their non-Sunday lounging clothes. We don’t care. Come just as you are. (Laodicea Chapel)
You’ll find a blend of traditional and contemporary music. Our contemporary music, in particular, will make you feel to be right at home, inasmuch as it won’t be any different from the music you’re used to listening to everyday. Indeed, some of the music for our most popular songs was composed by our most illustrious emperor, Nero. (First Church of Rome)
We are an historic church, located in the heart of downtown Corinth. We trace our roots back to Apollos, though we also have Pauline and Petrine influences as well. If you are concerned about pedigree, then we are the church for you. (First Corinthian Church)
We are a church made up of just regular people. As opposed to some rather stuffy churches in our city, pedigree is not one of our values. In fact, we like to refer to ourselves as simply being “of Christ.” (Thirteenth Corinthian Church).
Your worship experience is our number one concern. For those mornings when you are running late, feel free to stop at one of two coffee shops located just across the street from our beautiful church building, either Second Chalice or Starshekel, and bring your coffee and pastry with you into the sanctuary. Worship should be a laid-back experience. Sit down, relax, and stay a while. Come back often.
At our church, you will always be exposed to positive, inspirational, uplifting, upbeat, exciting preaching and messages. At the end of the service, you will walk out with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Indeed, in our city, we have the reputation of being the “lively” church. Come to our church for that weekly “fix.” (Sardis Assembly)
We have a reputation in our community of being the “friendly church.” You will always be warmly welcomed, and probably, from the very first Sunday you visit with us, you’ll have a sense of belonging. And that’s what really important. Belongingness is the number one thing we all have in common. Won’t you please, Won’t you please, Please won’t you be our neighbor.
We are a welcoming, inclusive, affirming, non-judgmental congregation. Lifestyle choices are very personal decisions, and you should never be made to feel uncomfortable about the choices you make in life. You will never be made to feel conspicuous, guilty, or judged in any way in our worship services.
You have arrived at the website of a progressive church. We are committed to newness and diversity. We refuse to be stuck in the past. This is not your grandmother’s church. Old and stodgy is out. New and exciting is in. Come and progress with us.
We are all about making sure that you feel the presence of God in our services. Indeed, we guarantee that you will meet God in our highly charged, intense, almost electric, atmosphere. (Ephesus Heights Church) [Incidentally, this is the only church website where the researchers were able to load up additional pages other than the home page. On one of the pages, there was a “Lost and Found” section with this curious notice: “The golden lampstand located in a corner of our church sanctuary appears to have been misplaced. If you, by any chance, moved this lampstand for some reason, would you please put it back in its place.” The research team was not able to come up with any reason why someone would have removed the lampstand from the sanctuary.]
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At the ruins of the Greater Galatian Church, one of the research teams also found a papyrus which purports to have been written by the Apostle Paul. Its authenticity is doubtful, but it does give evidence of the fact that there were some regressive figures in the first-century church who were not completely happy with the home page content of these church websites. The memo reads as follows:
“I am astonished that those among whom I have labored are so quickly deserting the gospel I preached among them, and are turning to a different gospel, which is not really a gospel at all. The good news in Jesus Christ is not:
We are diverse
We are relational
We are normal
We are relaxed
We are friendly
We are welcoming
We are affirming
We are historic
We are traditional
We are contemporary
We are liturgical
We are spontaneous
We are progressive
We are positive
We are upbeat
We are comfortable
We are exciting
We are inclusive
We are missional
We are formal
We are casual
We are aesthetically-oriented
We are artsy
We are ambience-minded
We are neighborly
We are balanced
We are big
We are small
We are emergent
We are dignified
We are rockin’
We are this
We are that
As for me, I was determined not to know anything among the churches except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
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In 1988, the Presbyterian theologian, John Leith, wrote a highly insightful book entitled, The Reformed Imperative: What the Church Has to Say That No One Else Can Say.
If you are not Calvinist or Reformed, don’t let that word “Reformed” in the title bother you. What Leith had to say should be said in any church that names the name of Christ. Listen to these wise, convicting, prophetic words, about the decline which was taking place in his own denomination (and continues in that denomination still today) as well as in many other churches. The relevance to this blog is indicated by the words and phrases I have chosen to emphasize.
“This book is written, however, in the conviction that the primary source of the decline is to be found in the loss of the theological integrity and competence of the church’s witness, in particular in preaching, teaching, and pastoral care.”
“The only contribution that the church in its official life has to bring to political, economic, and social processes is commitment to the Christian faith and competence in biblical and theological studies which may illuminate political and social and economic life.”
“In recent years the so-called mainline churches have sought to stem the decline with better management and emphasis on processes, with liturgical reform, with reorganization, and at times with an obsessive desire to become relevant. None of these strategies has been successful.”
“The primary source of the malaise of the church, however, is the loss of a distinctive Christian message and of the theological and biblical competence that made its preaching effective. Sermons fail to mediate the presence and grace of God. Many sermons are moral exhortations, which can be heard delivered with greater skill at the Rotary or Kiwanis Club. Many sermons are political and economic judgments on society, which have been presented with greater wisdom and passion at political conventions. Many sermons offer personal therapies, which can be better provided by well-trained psychiatrists. The only skill the preacher has—or the church, for that matter—which is not found with greater excellence somewhere else, is theology, in particular the skill to interpret and apply the Word of God in sermon, teaching, and pastoral care. This is the great service which the minister and the church can render the world. Why should anyone come to church for what can be better found somewhere else?
“The secularization of the church, and especially the demand that the church be relevant to an increasingly secular society, has confused the theological task of the church, and preaching in particular. In a secularized church, theology frequently becomes the effort of rational people to discover a credible God. In a secularized church, ethics become the endeavor of political activists to find a relevant prophetic message to be pronounced in the name of the transcendent God. This is a reversal of the ancient tradition. The result is that there is little difference between what the church has to say and what we hear from therapists, from political advocates, and from the various political parties.”
Luther and Calvin – “they insisted upon giving a theological answer to the human problem and steadfastly refused to allow the theological message to be identified with any human cause.”
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The crucified and risen Jesus is the only message the church has. Jesus Christ himself was the one who authorized this message. He committed this message to his holy Apostles. The Apostles passed this message down to subsequent generations of Christians by their preaching and by their writing of the New Testament. The church accesses this message by reading the New Testament. And it reads the New Testament most competently when it does so by the path of biblical theology.
September 26, 2013