Monday, October 29, 2007

And now for something completely different

I have no idea where this path is leading, but I'm not nearly so terrified anymore.

I've come to the conclusion that if we're genuinely trying to walk with the Lord, making a mistake is not the end of the world. There is a difference between willfully walking contrary to what we see in Scripture, and making an honest effort only to get it wrong. So anyone who reads this blog and prays for us based on it, please pray for our hearts and attitudes in this. Finding the right place the wrong way is no better than finding the wrong place the right way...

I can see three possible outcomes from where I am right now. The eventual outcome may be nothing like any of these, but from where I sit, there seem to be three possibilities:
1. We could end up back where we started. This might be the best outcome, although right now it seems unlikely.
2. We could end up in another assembly/gathering/church in the area.
3. We could end up part of a new gathering.

Of those, #3 seems the least likely; but I won't say it won't happen. I've been part of a new gathering a couple times: it's a lot of work, but can be wonderful. The biggest problem I've seen in a "new work" is people discontent with being small, new, and unknown. Full parking lots are a strong attraction, and the lack thereof can overshadow everything, until the gathering collapses on itself and dissolves.

#2 is the default answer, but I'm strongly concerned about it. What I don't want to see happen is, fading into an existing gathering because it's easy. That is, if gathering with an existing group is what the Lord wants, that's fine; but I don't want to do something like that out of laziness. That's a path I've seen some take, and it's wrong. And I guess that same concern can apply to #1 as well.

But the alternative to gathering with an existing group is, further fragmenting the church in this area. That's a pretty serious thing to do, something we need to be sure the Lord is leading into, before we start.

I suppose the last option is just sitting at home. I don't see that as viable for me for a couple reasons. Please don't misunderstand: I know several people who sit at home, many or most of whom I highly respect. I'm not trying to kick against them. But I have three daughters who are still of a very impressionable age: I can't let them grow up as virtual heathens. Yeah, we love the Lord, yes Christianity is much more about the individual walk than the corporate gathering; all that is true. But my kids need to see the church, even in Ruin and Apostasy. They need to understand that even though we are in the middle of the post-Apostolic, apostate Church; there is the need for Daniels and Ezekiels and Jeremiahs. We can't let the failure around us become an excuse for our neglect. If nothing else, we need to live out Daniel 9. And I can't teach them that if I deliberately keep them from gatherings.

Now, I can see us sitting at home now and then: that's not evil. But already one daughter has told her grandmother "We're not doing a lot of memory verses these days, because we're between meetings right now."

Right at the moment, my honest conviction is, my family needs to be gathering with other Christians.

So yesterday we tried something completely different, and attended a meeting at a local Continuing Anglican church. What's "continuing anglican?" It's basically the Episcopal/Anglicans who have denounced the mainstream Anglican/Episcopalian church as apostate.

It was an interesting experience, and frankly rather positive. I won't go into a lot of detail: I'm still digesting it myself. But I was struck by the short homily/sermon at the start of the meeting, where the speaker said (and I can't quote exactly): "There's no place for pride in the Christian life: our value is entirely based in the fact that the Son of God came here and died for us. We can't be proud when all our value is in another. But on the other hand, the Son of God came here and died for us, that ought to make us feel so good!"

That man gets it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Phone Call

I just got off the phone with an older brother from the assembly. It was a wonderful phone call: an older person calling me because he hasn't seen me, has read on this blog that I've left, and wanted to clarify some things. It was a phone call based on his care and concern for us, not a guilt trip.

Apparently my blog has caused some furror. I've been going back and forth on whether I ought to blog this stuff for months now. On the one hand, I think there is value to having some open discussion on church issues. On the other, throwing stuff out into cyberspace might seem a little imprudent: it can lead to misunderstanding and confusion. And I don't want to fall into publicly maligning my brothers and sisters in the Lord.

So I may end up pulling the plug on this blog: I'm still wondering about that one.

But I do want to say it was wonderful to get a call from a concerned Christian that was based on love for the Lord and for us. It meant a lot.

Monday, October 15, 2007


I can't sing to save my soul. I Katzenjammer at the top of my lungs driving to and from work, but I know my singing is terrible: I don't do it much where anyone can hear me. But as I read the New Testament, I see lots of places where singing is encouraged (or even commanded) and none suggest the quality of sound that's produced matters. So I consider my singing sacred, if not any good.

I have an objection to the music I see and hear in most churches these days. I've commented on it before, but to quickly re-iterate: I consider the whole "worship team" phenomenon a travesty, because it takes something Scripture contemplates as interactive and replaces it with a performance. But even in churches where the singing is largely interactive, I've noticed a trend away from actual hymns written for congregational singing and towards songs written to be performed. I'm not saying they're bad songs, just that the vast majority of people can't sing them. So making me try to follow some (possibly wonderful) song made famous by some professional singer or another doesn't really move me to worship: I don't hear a wonderful song, I hear many people (like me) slaughtering it.

But I didn't actually set out to regale you with my curmudgeonly views.

I remember several years ago a friend told me a professor of his in Bible School had encouraged his students to keep a hymnbook to use in their devotions. I had already stumbled across that through experience, but I find it's excellent advice. Singing is part of worship, and no less a part of individual worship.

So I have a few hymnbooks. Most (all?) of my hymnbooks are of a "brethren" persuasion, which ought not to surprise anyone. Here's the list of my hymnbooks I can remember off the top of my head:

  • Spiritual Songs: I have several of these: some in leather, the rest in hardcover. This is probably my favourite hymnbook: it's the 1978 hymnbook from the "reunification" of "grant", "kelly", "booth", "stuart", and "nhh brethren," to name a few. So it's basically a convergence of several versions of Little Flock, but with some jewels from people like CAC thrown in.

  • Little Flock: my copy is old and battered, but I still love it. It was a gift from my wife before we got married.

  • Believer's Hymn Book: this is what I grew up with---the classic "open brethren" hymnbook. My copy is leather-bound, and has music in it. Those two features cost me a pretty penny back in '92 or so. I sometimes wish I was in an assembly that uses BHB, just so I could use this book once in a while. I think I've taken it to fewer than two dozen meetings since I bought it.

  • Hymns of Worship and Remembrance: this is the black, hard-bound hymnbook so popular among "chapels." It was supposed to be an improvement on the Believer's Hymn Book, and it is in some ways. I had them engrave my name in the front cover when I bought it, just in case I ever take it to a meeting. I don't want it misappropriated.

  • Redemption Songs: old-school "chapel" gospel hymns. Good stuff.

  • Choice Hymns: gospel hymns. It's all right, but nothing brilliant.

So why do I have some many hymnbooks? Part of it's culture: in many "brethren" circles, you're expected to bring your own hymbook to the meetings. But part of it is devotional: singing quietly by myself is actually part of worship and devotion.

I frequently find myself remembering a line from a hymn I sang at one meeting or another: having a hymnbook there helps me remember exactly what it was we were singing. And perusing a hymnbook can be a good way to start out worshipping. A few idle moments can turn into a private little worship service.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Well, there are already some things being said to me that indicate people haven't been listening. So let's run through this one more time.

I am not saying "brethren" teach what is wrong. I am saying they have developed a system that is collapsing under its own weight. I am in complete agreement with "exclusive brethren" as far as things like church order and inter-assembly relationships. That is, I think what they say about those topics is correct. If they would only do what they say, I would have no problems with them. If they really would allow the Holy Spirit to lead in the meetings, if they really did act in unity instead of descending into schism at every crisis, then I'd be onboard.

I'm not looking for "open reception." I completely buy the whole "guarded fellowship" idea. I'm not in any way suggesting we ought to allow strangers to break bread, nor am I advocating a freelance model of fellowship wherein people just sort of drift from assembly to assembly as they feel inclined that day. What I am saying is, our tests of fellowship are all wrong: we receive based solely on whether someone's a member of the group.

I'm not saying we ought to have clergy, elders, or anything of the sort. I'm saying we're hypocrites when we condemn others for their "pastor" then have a roster of men whose word cannot be questioned. I'm saying that when a man or group of men can effectively overturn an assembly decision, we have clergy in fact, if not in name.

I'm not saying we are wrong to have books, commentaries, and various publications. I am saying that we are in fact committing idolatry when we consider them to be the authority, rather than Scripture.

I'm not saying we ought to jettison things like church order, I'm not even saying things like headcoverings or "open ministry" are unimportant. I am saying that getting externals right is not an excuse to be backbiting, self-righteous, or complacent. The scripture warns very strongly about "having a form of godliness" and denying it's power.

My desire for "occasional fellowship" is not because I intend to visit a whole slew of other assemblies and break bread there. It's based on the conviction that there is no membership other than that in the Body of Christ, and (one-line disclaimers in assembly phone lists notwithstanding) what we practice is sectarian membership.

I'm not saying the assembly where I have been fellowshipping is in sin. I'm saying that I have been compromising on certain things in order to get others. For example, I've been compromising on the issue of reception in order to be in an assembly where the meetings are largely unscheduled so the the Holy Spirit can lead. But I've started to realize that I've made compromises on "intangibles" for "tangibles." That is, I've compromised on issues like pride and complacency so I can see a certain level of correct church order. I no longer feel free to make those compromises. I am not condemning anyone, but I no longer feel free to continue on this course.

That probably won't clear things up to any significant degree, but I felt it worthwhile to lay it all out like that.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

On a jet plane

It's been a while since I posted last. Has everyone stopped checking this blog?

Well, I've finally decided to withdraw from "brethren". If you've read my blog at all, you know why. You also know this hasn't been a hasty decision.

The final clincher was, the knowledge that the Scriptural admonishment to "flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart" (2 Timothy 2:22, NASB) is impossible when the test of fellowship is whether someone is a member of a certain group. In other words, so long as I am a member of a group that demands exclusive fellowship, I cannot possibly be said to be "pursu[ing]... with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart," because I am knowingly refusing to fellowship with any number of them.

I know, it's impossible to be in fellowship with all such Christians: there are any number of pure hearts in any number of places, and not all will be willing to pursue with me. But there is a tremendous moral difference between being in limbo fellowship-wise so that others don't even know I exist; and being in a place that knowingly and deliberately excludes godly Christians. If I can honestly say that I am willing to walk with any true believers who are genuinely seeking the Lord, then I'm at least not in violation of any Scripture I've seen.

I'm terrified. I have no idea what's next. I'm sure there will be some guilt-trips from well-meaning people; but the conversations I've had so far have been highly sympathetic. People seem to "get it" on some level at least. That's good enough for now.

It's possible we'll end up in a meeting in someone's home, but that's not something I'm planning at the moment. It's possible we'll end up in one of the "open" assemblies in town, but that doesn't seem too likely right at the moment either. I've visited both "open" assemblies I know about in town in the last six months: one was appalling, the other was more or less what I expected. I'm not saying I won't end up in one of them, but I'm certainly not rushing into them. In the end, going from "exclusive" to "open" just means trading one set of problems for another. They're no less a sect than "we" are, they're just more subtle in their approach to it.

And I've come too far in the Christian life thing to settle back into an evangelic church. I know they mean well, but I've done that, and I don't think I can do it again.

So please pray for us if you think about it. I am woefully inadequate to deal with this, but I honestly think it's something we had to do.